Lenten Formation: Inquirer’s Class
A class introducing our Episcopal tradition as we have it here at Christ Church. We will begin after our 5:45 pm Wednesday night mass around 6:15 pm.
You are very welcome to join this class in person or via Zoom (Meeting ID: 879 5811 2312).
We will begin with a historical introduction on March 1st, then the following weeks move on to talk about the Bible, Baptism, Eucharist, and offer some time to pick up questions and loose ends.
Mar 1st: Historical Overview.
I’m interruptable throughout if you would like for me to be, if you’re out there (I’m pointing at where my computer actually is) you can wave at me and I’ll probably notice you, and you can ask a question, or you can wait until we’re done recording at the end.
My plan is to talk in the 25 to 30 minute range for each of these, I think that’s a digestible amount of stuff to listen to, and the plan at least for today is to talk about some of our history, and then in the next one probably do some more talking about Bible and things, and then to go through our worship a little bit, and then to also probably have one night that’s just questions people have, so if you do start to get questions you can ask them or you can email me or text me or whatever, but we’re going to start with history if that’s all right, if that sounds okay to everybody.
Y’all hear me all right out there? Very good, so I’ve limited myself to two quotes, one at the beginning and one at the end, so I’m going to read you a quote in just a minute. My other plan though is not to give you a lot of dates and so if you’re a dates person I can give them to you later, I just don’t like numbers and they confuse me so I’ve not done any of them, but actually Ray who’s here with us probably is better at numbers than me, but so we’re going to begin with quote from a man named Fenton Hort who was wonderfully named and was one of the revisers of the Greek text of the New Testament with Bishop Westcott in the 19th century, and there is now at Westcott House, a seminary in Cambridge, a turtle named after him who is exceptionally old, that is Hort the turtle. I’ve seen him, they keep him in a refrigerator during part of the year.
Anyway, this is a quote from our friend Fenton Hort, this is in his book about the early church: “In this as in so many other things is seeing the futility of endeavoring to make the apostolic history into a set of authoritative precedence to be rigorously copied, without regard to time and place, thus turning the gospel into a second levitical code. The apostolic age is full of embodiments and purposes and principles of the most instructive kind, but the responsibility of choosing the means was left forever to the Ecclesia, the church itself, and to each Ecclesia, guided by ancient precedent on the one hand, and the adaptation to the present and future needs on the other. The lesson book of the Ecclesia, of every Ecclesia, is not a law but a history.”
Port I think is getting at something really important here for us, which is that when we look at church history, one of the I think typical approaches for our tradition in the Episcopal Church and the Anglican tradition is to look back very appreciatively in the past, but not to, as it were, say “well if we would only go back to that time and do exactly what they were doing we would be all right.” My guess as you know churches like that right? “We wish it was the 18th, or the 17th, or the 5th century” or whatever. We tend to avoid that.
That being said, I’m gonna focus on two times I think are very important for us this evening. The first is the very early church, or the patristic age. The second is our church at the time of the Reformation. So in doing that, I’m going to do the sort of thing that always annoys me when other people do it, which is I’m mostly going to skip over the medieval church, not because it’s not interesting and fun, but because it doesn’t play the same role for us that these other two times play. So we’re going to start with the early church, which is very important for us and I’ll pick up on that later, but for now you have to trust me that the early church is going to be very important for us.
When you think about the early church, we think about the patristic age, we think about the first few hundred years of the church, right? So this is the early councils of the church, people will debate just how far in the numbers you ought to go forward, whether it’s four or whether it’s seven or all that kind of stuff. We won’t get into that. But we’re thinking some here something like the first 400 or 500 years of the church. And there’s a sense that after that, as the church increasingly starts to be a part of you know sort of Mediterranean society, that it enters into something more like a stasis, something that’s much more settled, that we’ll pick up a little bit on later, but it doesn’t have quite the dynamism of the early church that we want to return to again and again.
So, we think about the early church, we’re going to go through thinking about it in three little ways: we’re going to think about tradition, about scripture, and about the Creeds. We’re going to think about them in that order, even though as we see, they’re all intertwined and can’t really be pulled apart entirely.
So, early on, in the very earliest times of the church – this is the stuff we see in the New Testament itself, in the early Apostolic Fathers of their writing, so think like 200 and earlier, something like that – at that stage, we don’t have anything like a specific statement of belief or a particular confession you have to hold to. We don’t even really have the list of scripture that we’ll now have. We just have this thing that is developing, which we kind of sometimes talk about as tradition, they’ll talk about as the Rule of Faith sometimes. So, in Latin, that’s “Regula Fidei,” and in Greek, it’s sometimes referred to as the “Canon,” which is where it’ll show up for scripture later. But “Canon,” C-a-n-o-n, really just means “rule” like a ruler, so it’s what you measure each other by. We start to get this development in the rule of faith, in these groups that we see things, like Acts of the Apostles, right? Think of Paul getting around and checking on everybody. That’s what he likes to do. He shows up, checks on everybody. He usually gets mad about something, sets everybody straight, and then he’s off. This is the emerging model of the church that we’re getting.
One thing that’s important even at this early stage is that this teaching that we get from Jesus that comes from the apostles is thought of as a public thing. So, we’re already getting people who want to say, “No, there’s a secret knowledge,” but most of the church wants to say, “There is no secret knowledge. He’s told us what we need to know.” So again, it’s public. It is something that we’re getting taught. It is not really written down, or it’s only written down in bits and pieces.
And so, what they will go back to again and again when we think about this rule of faith is precisely what was given by Jesus to the apostles to these people they know. Some of the early stuff we get, you know, up until say 150, there were very old people who could still know somebody who knew somebody, right? So there was this sense of relation that was going on here. This becomes more and more important as Christians and Jews start to pull apart. We’re going to come back to this again and again, but we have a decent amount of time where Christians and Jews don’t think of themselves as necessarily two groups. So if you’re reading the Acts of the Apostles, you know Peter goes to the temple to worship, James the Just is taken out of the temple and killed, for instance. Paul goes to the Temple of worship, and he shows up in synagogues. Synagogues are really just getting going at this time, so our friends down the street who worship in the synagogue, that tradition really starts the destruction of the temple in 70 AD (one of the few dates that stays in my mind). So there’s a sense that as Jewish people are beginning to say, “What’s it look like for us to live in the synagogue, to not have the temple?” Christians are asking the same thing, and those groups are increasingly saying, “No, we can’t really get along.” This is why we get some things in the New Testament, probably some of the later things in the New Testament, that don’t like the synagogue. It’s probably best not to think of that in terms of our friends down the street, but instead of this sort of defining of identity that comes with this rule of faith.
So it’s public, it’s developing, and it’s dependent on the apostolic witness. And the way in which this starts to happen is that people continue to do what the apostles did, which is to go from place to place and leave somebody in charge. This is what starts to develop Bishops for us – people who go around, right? Eventually, at first, Bishops and Priests are the same sort of thing. But then, as the church starts to grow, well, the Bishop’s got to send somebody to go be the priest over there. There’s still someone who says it or is on top, is connected to other Bishops, and again, it’s not formal, it’s a matter of relation at this point. So everyone’s always writing everybody letters, which is really helpful if you do early church research. They check in with each other about these things, and they’re checking in that you say the same sort of thing I say. If you know in Acts of the Apostles, this is also the time at which Deacons come about – first, they have seven of them. Deacons do two things, which is they look after the poor and they administer a lot of the church. So they’re people who were looking after the poor, but also freeing up emerging priests and bishops who are kind of the same thing at this point, to do the work of sacraments, do the work of preaching. They is how job descriptions work that that’s what the job description is. Within about three verses, Stephen in Acts preaches a fine sermon, so already he can’t stop doing other things. This is an emerging order that’s happening, and one that, again, is allowing them to do this work locally while maintaining links sort of throughout the Mediterranean world.
That’s our tradition, but this becomes even more acute when we turn to think about the scriptures. So we’re sort of thinking the first few hundred years. The Canon of the scriptures that we have is not set yet. So unlike what we’ll learn about some of the councils and things, there is no real Council that sits down and says these are the books. As Christians start to sort of emerge as a group, we run into a problem, which is still a problem – there are two versions of the Bible people tend to read at this point. There’s a Hebrew text and a Greek text. A Greek text hundreds of years old already when Jesus is born is referred to as the Septuagint, which has got to do the fact that it was translated in Alexandria by 70 translators who all got the exact same results – that’s the story. It also adds in a bunch of books that are not in the Hebrew Canon. This is where we get this thing of Apocrypha, right? We know about Apocrypha for a little bit. These are these extra books, they’re going to come up again for us in our tradition. We’ve got a really neat way of getting around it, which is you still get to read them, but they’re a little different. But we have a Greek text which begins to be the main Bible used by Christians at this point. There are some holdouts in Antioch who only like the Hebrew, but most people are going with the Greek text. And when they think of the scriptures, they’re looking to the Old Testament. So when you read in the New Testament and someone says “the scriptures,” they don’t mean any of the New Testament, they just mean the Old Testament that they had.
As the break from the synagogue happens, we become more and more Greek-speaking sort of people, something happens which is that we start to refer, later on, to some of these (we think of the New Testament and some other literature that’s coming out at the same time) as scripture. So, think like 200s, we start to get people who are doing things like quoting Isaiah and then saying “and the scripture also says,” including a bit of Gospel of Matthew or something like that. This is a gradual process, and it happens that those Bishops who are talking to each other, who are making those sorts of connections, they send each other lists and they say, “Well, this is what we read at church, what do you read?” Most all of that is the same sort of thing, so most of what we recognize as the New Testament at the time we’re sort of in the 200s, people agree on.
There are some outliers. People are not sure about the Book of Hebrews, partly because they can’t figure out who wrote it. This remains a problem, we don’t really know who wrote it. Some people said the Saint Paul wrote it, but basically everyone all the way back to sort of Origin in this 200s region says no, this can’t be Paul, this doesn’t sound like him, doesn’t write like him, doesn’t think like him. John Calvin thought Luke wrote it. My guess is neither of them wrote it, but we got it. It eventually goes in, but there’s some worry about it. There’s some worry about the Book of Revelation, so we have a very funny thing early on of Bishops writing and basically saying, “What is this about? Like, what’s going on? Are you gonna read it at church?” So we don’t read a lot of the church still, because it is all a bit strange.
There are also books like there’s one called the Didache which is the teaching of the twelve which I’ve talked about before, some, and it ends up being a text that some people say should we put it in here and the answer is no.
–Hello Claire, we’re talking about the Bible, awesome, and we’re almost done. I don’t know if that’s good news or not–
And there’s one called The Shepherd of Hermas. If you’ve never read that, if you think Revelation is wild, this is a wild book. A shepherd falls asleep, and the old woman who is the church appears to him and gives him visions. This was pretty popular back then. Thankfully not in the Bible, did not know how to make sense of it. So, we have these lists that are going on, we’re getting an emerging sort of consensus, but we’re getting the consensus out of that Rule of Faith that’s already there, and again, it’s a matter mostly of relationships. So, if you’re the bishop of Antioch and you write to the bishop of Sardis or wherever, and you say, “Well, do you read Mark?” “Yes, of course, we read Mark.” “Do you read Matthew?” “Of course we read Matthew.” “Do you read Barnabas?” “No, we don’t read Barnabas.” These are all letters that still for the most part come down to us. So we have a tradition, a tradition of a rule of faith, and a relationship that’s emerging say the first few hundred years. We have increasingly a list of scripture which now begins to include these later Greek works, and we’re mostly using that to read the Greek Old Testament.
Pretty quickly, we start to get in very big and real disputes about what that means. This is where we get fun people like the Ebionites who are good heretical sects who don’t think Jesus was God; they think he was a really great dude, the Jewish messiah in fact. We get people like Marcion who thinks he was God but definitely not the Jewish Messiah. Right? You see how this is starting to go and sort of kind of combat. So, the church says we need to actually get explicit about a few of these Rule of Faith things. The way it does that is by having church councils. Again, that means we get all the leaders, so all the Bishops at this point, we cram them into one place, some little town usually in Turkey, and we get them to work out what’s going on.
The two big disputes in the early church, so we think first seven councils, sort of 500 and earlier, are about is: “Is Jesus God?” and “Is he human?” The answer is yes and yes. And then, “Is the Spirit God?” The answer is yes. These are the two big things that we go back and forth about. So, it tends to be that if you make decisions about that, you then make your decisions about say, scripture.
So our friend Marcion who was at Rome, he decides that Jesus is definitely God, but he’s definitely not Jewish. So, this is something we do still occasionally, and so he starts saying, “Well, we’ll throw out the Old Testament, and we’ll throw out most of Paul, and all of Matthew, we’ll just keep Luke, and then some special versions I’ve edited of other things.” But it’s the insight about who Jesus is that matters. This is going to come up again with the Spirit, and it’s not the case in either of these that this is all unanimous or nice, that we figure this stuff out. But instead, there’s some real back and forth. There is a huge portion of the church, for instance, that doesn’t really think Jesus is God, and so they become Arians. There’s a good bit of them. There’s a good bit of the Bishops that go that way too, but the people maintain the faith when we’ve passed it. The Orthodox are not, who we’re sort of the descendants of, are not blameless in all of this, so they’re known to occasionally cart in Egyptian monks to basically rough people up in the councils to make sure the right thing goes through. Again, it’s a matter of working this stuff out.
What that ends us up with is two things that we still make use of, which is the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed. The Apostles’ Creed is our creed of baptism. It’s probably an early Roman baptismal creed, but it was what you needed to know, right? I mean, if you’re used to other traditions where you need to know a whole lot in order to be a part of the community, the Apostles’ Creed is something a child can learn. That’s what I learned, right? The Nicene Creed is longer. We use that most Sundays at Christ Church. It’s technically, and now this is a real fact you can have, it’s not actually the Nicene Creed; it’s the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed. As at the Council of Nicaea, which is what it’s first written, which is I wrote this date down, 325 in a little town in Turkey, you can still go there, it’s right outside of Constantinople. It’s a bit like we need to have a thing, but we don’t want to do it in the middle of the city. Nicaea, it’s out there. It’s nice. We can house everybody. Yes, yes. Eastside Resort, exactly. And so it is a creed which has to do with Jesus and mentions the Spirit almost not at all.
So in 381, about 60 years later, they rerun the whole program, but now it’s about the Spirit being God. People would say, “Right, Jesus, definitely God, but the spirit? That can’t be right.” Everyone came back and said, “No, no. Spirit too.” And it’s actually that version of the creed that is the only one we have really intact because although the Nicene Creed is written, it’s used for Bishops. Basically, the Bishops say, “You’ve got to agree. Now go home and teach everybody this.” But it’s after Constantinople that it begins to be used, as we use it still, in worship. So, we take this early church thing, we have a tradition, an emerging rule of faith. We see witnesses to that and people like Ignatius of Antioch, Irenaeus of Lyons, Athanasius of Alexandria, these emerging fathers. This leads us to disputes about that rule of faith and disputes about scripture that we begin to get into a stable, although not settled, form in the creeds we start to have. You’ll notice that the creeds themselves, though the councils have lots of stuff they say, the creeds themselves are pretty minimal. This is because a lot of what we think of as whether it’s moral or canonical matters is left up to local decisions. So except for quite extreme things, the councils tend not to intervene about that stuff. This will stop being the case as the church begins, as it does at this point, to cooperate with Imperial power. So Christianity is becoming legal at this point, and we’re settling into being a part of Mediterranean Roman society. That’s a big change for us. We mostly don’t like that. For the most part. It’s a bit scary.
So, that’s our early church vision, right? Which is centered on Jesus, it’s relational, and it’s asking for enough belief that we can all sort of trust each other, but it’s not, as it were, really parsing out everything for the average believer. Now, if you want to go into that, you can, and our church fathers who will go into it with you about just how the divine and human parts of Jesus interact. The statements we get are much more minimal than that, though, that are agreed-upon statements. That’s our early church.
We’re now going to do thing I said this is very bad to do, which is we’re going to jump to the Reformation. So, a lot of stuff happens, of course, in between there. Most of this is the growth of what we think of as Christendom. There’s a lot that’s good about that. There’s a lot that’s bad about that. Tends to lead to sort of dilution of faith, but also it tends to also develop some theologies that really build off one of the great things about the medieval Church, which is the sense that grace doesn’t do away with who you are, but grace perfects who you naturally are. This is one of the great medieval developments as to building these big sort of ideas about that. And they build universities, we still go to some of them, they build up lots of learning. It’s not a Dark Age bad thing. It’s slow and steady. We stop calling church councils for the most part, for instance, because we kind of have stuff worked out. East and West Church is split. Still not so sure about that. Some attempts to get them back together doesn’t really work. We come to the Reformation, and what’s going to be important for us, at least initially, is the English Reformation, because that’s the one that puts its stamp on our church.
The English Reformation, from the very beginning, is a mixed Reformation. There is no one in the English Reformation who comes out looking great. There is no one who is a total exemplar of courage and virtue and commitment. It is, instead, lots of people working things out. So, the Reformation begins in many ways with Henry, King Henry, declaring himself the Supreme Governor of the Church of England. He does this because he would like to not be married to his wife, with whom he has been unable to produce a viable heir. Also, she was his brother’s wife before his brother died, and he thinks this is kind of weird, and that’s actually one of his arguments for why they shouldn’t be married: It’s not allowed in levitical law. Giving kings and princes dispensations from their marriage is a really normal thing the pope does at this point in time. The problem is, he’s being held hostage by Catherine’s (his wife) nephew, and he says to the pope, “Well, you’re definitely not doing that because she doesn’t want to stop being married.”
Henry works it out that he can be in charge, and he can give himself a dispensation from being married. He does not initially turn towards reformed figures of the time, so he writes a great screed against Martin Luther at one point, for which, before they get in the fight, the pope names him Defender of the Faith. British monarch still claims this title. It’s great irony. Eventually, though, he does begin to turn towards real Reformation. This happens mostly for him because of two people: Thomas Cranmer, who writes all the briefs that let him divorce his wife, gets to be Archbishop of Canterbury. I have a picture of Thomas Cranmer right here. This is our picture of Thomas Cranmer. He looks very solemn I think. This is one of my props I’ll use in just a moment. That’s our friend Thomas Cranmer. Bishop still dresses like that, except for the hat. Cranmer begins to push for reformed liturgy and for liturgy in English. So past Sunday, we did the Great Litany. That’s the first English liturgy we get is the Great Litany, but eventually he starts to translate more and more of it, and we get this book, which is the 1549 prayer book, the first English prayer book. There we go. This is a sort of reasonable version of it. Cranmer begins to push in this direction, and Cranmer is writing and talking to everybody. So Cranmer writes to Calvin and all these people, and works things out the other. In some ways, I think initially more decisive influence on Henry is his wife, Anne Boleyn. While she’s his wife. Ann is a good Lutheran gal and she wants to begin to push the English Reformation in that direction. So we have Lutherans, we have sort of Continental Reformed Calvinist types, people who aren’t very happy about it. They’re all basically at war over the Church of England. None of them totally gained the upper hand at any point, so they’re constantly always revising stuff and putting things out and going back over it. And they’ll print a prayer book that says one thing, and then somebody else prints one three years later that says the opposite, okay? So this book, which is printed in 1549, it’s followed by the 1552, which is much cut down and says mean things.
So it’s going back and forth. The inability of the Church of England to decide what sort of reformation that it’s going to have, and what sort of church it wants to be, leads to not a big church council, but a civil war. This is how it gets decided. So, Oliver Cromwell comes to power and imposes a mixture of Presbyterian and Congregationalism on the Church of England. The Westminster Catechism and Confession of Faith are written by Parliament and promulgated both in England and in Scotland. Scotland, of course, does become a Presbyterian State Church. That’ll be secretly important for us later. Eventually, though, everyone decides that this not having a king, having a Cromwell in charge of you, being Presbyterians is no good. They’re not really getting stuff done. They just keep fighting each other all the time. So, they get the king back. The king has been living in France, he’s picked up some French things, he comes back, and we start to settle things out again. We see the reinforcement of the Church of England and its episcopal order. We take away the Westminster Confessions, and we get something called the 39 Articles of Religion, which remain our confessional standard for a long time. If you’re used to big elaborate Reformed confessions, this ain’t it. It’s much more minimal. It’s made so that if you’re a Lutheran, you can sign it. If you’re a Calvinist, you can sign it. If you’re a strained sort of Protestant, you can sign it. If you’re a Catholic without a lot of consistency, you can sign it. Not if you’re one that’s really committed, you can’t sign it. And this becomes a test for whole parts of English life. This all really comes together with the first Queen Elizabeth in 1662. She gives us the prayer book that is still in effect in the Church of England, and she says pretty straightforwardly, “I don’t really care about men’s souls. I don’t care to look into them. I just want peace.” So, she gives a prayer book that basically no one loves but no one hates, and a set of confessional documents that no one loves but no one hates. (A few people hate them, but very few people hate them.) And she does this with the 39 Articles. She actually goes and crosses out three of them that she doesn’t like, there were 42 once upon a time.
So we start to settle into a building up of the church and the Reformation there. One of the things that happens though is that we return to a great interest in the early church. So, the Church of England becomes a huge haven of learning about the patristic church. If you go back, and you probably won’t, but if you read John Jewell, one of the first great Anglican theologians, his apology for the Church of England, it is a lot, a lot, a lot of quotations from the early church. It’s him saying, “this is just what we’re doing, we’re just going to go back to that.” He’s appealing to it again and again and again. As that happens, and all of those sort of documents come forward and that study happens, there starts to be a pretty significant and pretty large group, mostly clergy, not all clergy, who see that what they learn about in the early church strangely does not add up with the more extreme sorts of Protestantism that they see around them, and they start to push for something else.
You can be a sort of moderate. George Herbert, if you know George Herbert, the great poet. Herbert was a kind of moderate reformed person. You can do that and start to study the fathers and go back to them, but there’s a real push towards what, depending on what tradition you came up with, you might think this is a very bad word, towards an Arminian position. I don’t know if, was that a bad word for anybody growing up? No? Arminian, no, no, I don’t know. I won’t make you on this computer tell me that, but so, this is an increasingly opinion that comes into force, which doesn’t want to go along with much of the Continental Reformation. It thinks, “we’re a Reformed Church here in the Church of England, but we reformed ourselves back to the purity of the early church. That’s us.” So, you get wonderful polemics from the Church of England to Roman Catholics, going, “you need to stop it with all this innovation and come back with us, where we have the pure marrow of patristic Christianity.” And you also get things, which is one of my favorite titles for a book, a book by Richard Montague in 1624 that nearly gets him thrown in jail, which is, “A New Gag for an Old Goose.” I don’t know, it’s a joke, but I don’t totally get it. I just find it amusing that you go to jail for a book called that.
So, there is a push in all of this to see the Church of England as it is, as a church that did a Reformation but did not come into being at the Reformation. Now, therefore, it is free to return to its sources. The most significant part of this that happens eventually in the 19th century (mid-1800s) in England is a thing called the Oxford Movement. No prizes for knowing where it started; it starts in Oxford, starts with John Keeble, John Henry Newman, and these people. What they say is they finally say the quiet part loud. They say when we go back and we look at the faith of the Apostles, it sure doesn’t look like Conformist English Christianity, and we’ve got to do something about it. This gets them in all sorts of trouble. Edward Pusey, a saintly man, is banned from preaching for years. John Keeble is run out of his post as poetry professor and goes to be a parish priest. John Henry Newman kind of has a mental breakdown and becomes Roman Catholic. His sermons, while he’s an Anglican are pretty good though. Then all of this, of course, is warmly received by a certain church across the ocean. That’s our church, the Episcopal Church. The church here in the U.S. The Episcopal Church has always had a tendency towards that view, I think, for the most part. So we’ve had high church, low church people all the time, but from the very beginning, even before the American Revolution, we had to set ourselves apart. Because although we were a State Church in England, in the U.S., depending on what colony you were in, you might not be the state church. That could be the Presbyterian ones, well, you know, what do you have to do? That could be the Congregationalists, you know, no one fun like the Quakers, but like these other people. And so you had to start working out who you were going to be. And it couldn’t be that you were just the Lutherans with the bishop, that you were just the Calvinists with a bishop, you were just the Quakers with a bishop. You had to find some other view. So from the very beginning, among saintly people like John Henry Hobart, we start to get a claim again and again that we are again, the apostolic church, that we are the ones who get closest to it.
One of the big things, of course, that happens is that the American Revolution happens. So lots of people who’ve been functionaries of the English State have to decide what they’re going to do. The ones who really don’t like the idea of Revolution have a way out – they go to Canada. There is a huge exodus of Anglican clergy into Canada. The ones who stay tend to be patriotic types who throw themselves in with the revolution. So George Washington has a chaplain, and it’s an Anglican who’s looking after him, in this regard. Who knows what George Washington thought about religion? Don’t worry, he was a church warden, but I don’t know. There’s a tendency among those who stay to think that they ought to be part of an independent church, that this is, in fact, going to unleash something for them. However, they begin to run into a problem, which is what you need in our tradition in order to ordain somebody is a bishop. What we don’t have is bishops, because the bishop of London was in charge of all of America. The church I was posted at for a while was next to one of the bishop of London’s palaces and therefore had the bishop of London’s arms, and one of those was the bishop of London’s arms in a boat on top of the ocean, being like “I’m in charge of everywhere Not-England.” So, we’re in a problem, and we need priests, and we’re going to need bishops. So they select a man from Connecticut, Samuel Seabury, whom we still love, and he goes over to England and he says, “Right, they’ve sent me, so you can make me a bishop.” It’s just one problem – you’re going to be a bishop; you have to take the oath of allegiance to the king. You can’t really do that then. You can do it now. I know you can do it because I did it. There have been some laws passed that make it clear you can do that now. At the time, you couldn’t do it, so this is very embarrassing for the English, but they don’t know what to do. They work out a solution, which is they send him to Scotland, where there is a Scottish Episcopal Church. Briefly, the English tried to make everyone in Scotland be Episcopalians. The Scottish had none of it – “we’re Presbyterians, and you can get out.” So, there’s a good time. There’s a famous story about one of them, an old lady, throwing a stool at somebody. It’s a great moment in church history.
So, there is a small Episcopal Church in Scotland that is descended from the Church of England, but it’s not a state church, so you haven’t got to sign up to do that and say, “Oh, I love the king.” So, in Aberdeen, a little town in the north of Scotland, in a little chapel, they make Samuel Seabury a bishop, and then he comes back to America. He becomes the first post-reformation bishop in our tradition to wear a miter – that’s the big pointy hat the bishop wears. For him, however, it is basically a top hat that his daughter has glued things onto. It’s not very impressive, but he’s the first bishop. He’s the bishop of Connecticut. Not too long after that, they send Bishop White over, and since then, the English have worked out a solution so that he can then be ordained by English bishops, and both of the lines come together.
We’re almost done.
So, the Episcopal Church chugs along. It has some advantages. It uses some of the Scottish prayer book, which basically looks back to some early patristic versions more than the famous English book. And it goes along as basically another Mainline, middle-of-the-road Protestant church, with a few outgrowths of ritualism here and there, but one that prides itself on its Apostolic Foundation. But there’s a sense in all of it that it needs to be different, and it needs to figure out what that difference is going to be. The way in which this basically gets settled is a move away from certain parts of that doctrinal heritage towards a renewed sense of our compatibility and our continuity with, you guessed it, the early church. What that means practically, I think we can see it in two big ways. The first is that we no longer have to subscribe to the Articles of Religion, so clergy no longer have to sign up for the 39 Articles. So if you go and you have a prayer book, they’re in the bit that says historical documents. So you might like to read them, but you haven’t got to believe them. There’s a move away from that towards another thing that’s in our historical documents, which is something called the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral. This is a terribly named thing. It starts at Chicago, it’s approved at a Lambeth Conference, but it basically sets out the idea that the bounds of the church that we recognize are fourfold: the Holy Scriptures, you like them; the Nicene Creed, the sufficient statement of belief; two sacraments, which is Baptism and the Eucharist, the dominical sacraments; and what they call the Historic Episcopate. That does not necessarily mean that you’ve got to be in the apostolic succession, but that you’re using a historically appropriate sense of bishops. So we have no Lord Bishops in America, like they do in England, right? Not a thing we have. That starts to be the markers for who we are.
This is helpful, as around this time (early 20th century), if you might have seen this in some of your own other denominations, from other denominations, we have the big controversy between fundamentalists and modernists. Have you ever heard about that before? This is sort of like, one of the ways this really flashes up: is do you believe in evolution, or do you believe in a Six-Day creation? Basically, the modernists say “Yes, we believe in evolution and, like Saint Augustine, we do not believe in a Six-Day creation.” St. Augustine is very good on this, he says, “Well, first off, how are you gonna have a day without a sun? That doesn’t make any sense.” And then he also says in his commentary On Defense, he says, “This is very literally a metaphorical text.” Gus is good on that. That modernist category basically wins out in our church. So there are people who were Six-Day Creationists for a while, that kind of stuff. They hold on, but basically the modernists win. And the Quadrilateral is part of what allows them to do that, is that the Nicene Creed tells us nothing about doctrines of inspiration, doctrines of inerrancy, and evolution, that kind of stuff.
Okay, so then our last thing that happens is that we get the prayer book that we still use today because the 1979 prayer book is revised to keep as much as it can with the older prayer book traditions, the one that is really explicitly framed as a return to ancient worship, so that there is a bunch of wordiness cut out. So if you’ve been here on Sunday, Rite I is, for all of its joys, you say a lot more stuff, right? If you’re the people out there, you’ve got to say a lot more to go along. It’s returning us there, but it also is envisioning itself as a church which is no longer within Christendom. It doesn’t have a Christendom model for itself. We know this, for instance, because the normative rite of baptism is actually the rite of baptism for adults. It assumes that people will convert, not just that they’ll be brought up in the faith. Now, it’s very easy to make that for infant baptism, and we will on Easter. I mostly baptize infants. But what it wants to prepare itself for is being a sort of post-Constantinian, post-Christendom Church. And you’ll also notice that the only serious statements of belief are the baptismal covenants and the creeds. We do a lot of other fun stuff in the 20th century. After we do that, we’re one of the first parts of the church in the Anglican communion to ordain women, and we are the first to ordain an openly gay man as a bishop, which gets us in a lot of trouble that we’re still in, in some ways.
And so I’m gonna, I’m gonna, I’m gonna end us with my other quote that I allowed myself. This is how you know we’re over. This is from one of my favorite people, a man named Charles Gore, who wrote a great book called “Lux Mundi”, the Light of the World. He was a good high-church Anglo-Catholic type but also a good engaged progressive thinker. This is from a report of the Church Congress in 1889. So, I thought that was an exciting title. It’s not. This is a quote from Charles Gore, sometime Bishop of Oxford:
“I believe with a conviction, the intensity of which I can hardly express, that it is the God-given vocation of the Church of England to realize and offer man a Catholicism which goes behind the Reformation in real and unimpaired connection with the Catholicism of the past, which is scriptural and represents the whole of scripture, which is rational and can court the light of all genuine inquiry, which is free to deal with the new problems and wants of a new time while it does the old work of conversion and sanctification, which acknowledges the authority of its Ministry but an authority constitutional not absolute, scriptural not arbitrary.”
So, for Gore, that’s a vision of what he thinks our tradition is at its best. There’s a ministry with an authority, but it’s constitutional, not absolute. There’s an appeal to the whole of scripture, which is not arbitrar, but instead is in keeping with all the other faculties you have as a human being, and God wants you to use that. That’s how we get to someone like Gore. It’s the way our Reformation looks, the way we keep going back again and again to that ancient past, and actually, in fact, the character of that early church.
That’s our history I’m going to give you – I went for about 40 minutes instead of about 30 minutes, my apologies – now I’m gonna stop recording us. There we go.
Mar 8th: Scripture.
I’ll begin my little spiel in earnest here in a moment, and do interrupt me if you want to interrupt me. So, our topic tonight is scripture. If you recall last week I said, are we gonna talk about how you read scripture, or am I gonna try and tell you what’s in it? We’ve gone with how you read it. If we want to do a sort of big overview of what’s in it, we can pick that up. Not next meeting, but the next, which I have left sort of open to sort of fill in gaps and do that. So the topic we’re gonna go over is how we read scripture and how we engage with it. You’ll see on the little handout that I’ve given you, I put this in the wrong order really, you’ll see that we have from our current Book of Common Prayer catechism about what is holy scripture, which as you’ll see is basically descriptive until the last two questions: “Why do we call the holy Scriptures the word of God? We call them the Word of God because God inspired their human authors, because God still speaks to us through the Bible. How do we understand the meaning of the Bible? We understand the meaning of the Bible by the help of the Holy Spirit who guides the church and the true interpretation of the Scriptures.”
One of the things you’ll notice there is that we do indeed believe that the holy scriptures are the result of God’s inspiration of their human authors. What you’ll also see though, is that that doesn’t commit us to any theory for how that inspiration works. Oftentimes people will take inspire, which itself looks back to a New Testament verse about all scripture being breathed in the spirit, spirit breathed, and then go on to give you a big elaborate theory of inspiration, inerrancy, and all that kind of stuff, right? Have you heard that sort of thing before? Mm-hmm. , right? We’re not getting that here. And if you even go to the very bottom of your page, you’ve got the 39 Articles, which tells us holy scripture “containeth all things necessary to salvation.”
Both of these are ways of talking about, cause I wanna pick up here not sort of giving scripture categories, like saying it’s inspired, therefore the text, the scripture, the words have this sort of way of working or quality of them. But instead, this is picking out how we use scripture. So, we think they’re probably written about like the way anything else is written. You use your same, you know, faculties to read them, right? The same way you parse out grammar and try and hold things together when you read a novel or something. But of course, we read, we do read scripture differently. I think that this is a matter of us thinking about what we use them for. And again, in that question second to last one of the catechism. “Why do we call the holy scriptures the word of God? They are both inspired and because we think God still speaks to us through them.”
What it means is that when we go to scripture, we believe that God is going to speak to us. God is going to tell us something there, the actual engagement with scripture. What this means, though, is that we can’t just assume that we know exactly what it means, or in fact that the meaning is totally fixed all of the time. Cuz if that was the case, we would never learn anything new. And, we wouldn’t have any reason to go read it with other people, which is another key aspect of how we use this. We read it together. So if you actually go to the top of your sheet that I gave you, you’ll see a quote from our friend, Saint Ephrem of Syria, Saint Ephrem the Syrian.
His dates are apparently about 306 to 373, so he’s an early church father and a very prolific hymn writer. But he says, this is a good quote from him, “If there were only one meaning for the words of scripture, the first interpreter would find it, and all other listeners would have neither the toil of seeking nor the pleasure of finding. But every word of our Lord has its own image, and each image has its own members, and each member possesses its own species and form. Each person hears in accordance with his capacity, and it is interpreted in accordance with what has been given to him.”
So Saint Ephrem’s giving us a nice picture of how scripture works, which is that it still rewards our toil with real finding, and that we each are going to find in it what we need. I think that is a good definition of how we’re going to use scripture. That it is something that we use in order to find, to learn something about, to engage with God.
And as Efrem points out to us, this means both that we’ve got to apply ourselves to it, to reading it in such a way that we expect to find something we need here, or something that is to be given to us. Sometimes if we’ve got a real developed, real specific theory about how all of these things work, right? About how inspiration and all that, how the text goes, we’ll start to get really nervous when people engage in certain sorts of reading of scripture, right? So you can think of the way people who engage in very historical-critical readings of scripture sometimes make certain people pretty nervous. Or even when we start to look at what may seem to be tensions or contradictions in the Bible, we can start to get a bit nervous. And we don’t want those, do we?
So people try and explain them away often. I think we shouldn’t be worried about those. I think when we engage in those sort of questions, we’re thinking really of the Bible as a kind of historical source as opposed to a tool or a canon for our own understanding. So if we think back to last week, right? We had that picture of the early church, which is for hundreds of years just reading the Old Testament. And when it does that, and if you look at where the New Testament reads the Old Testament, what you’ll see is that a lot of that reading is not historical reading. There’s a stitching together of various verses without acknowledging it for instance. But instead, there’s a, looking back to the Old Testament as a sort of treasury of images, symbols, ideas, and stories that allow us to think through who Jesus is.
It’s not always obvious that those stories are about Jesus, right? There’s some bits that are easier than others. I think that is one reason why we get lots of common images that we keep going back to. But again, we’re thinking about Old Testament as a kind of treasury. I know one author, John Bayer, who’s very good on these things. John Bayer talks about the Old Testament as a thesaurus. He says the Old Testament is a kind of like thesaurus, which means treasure house in Greek, a treasury, that it’s one of these things that we go back to in order to find these images that we’re going to use to grasp Jesus. This of course, becomes a little different once we start to get into the New Testament itself which is much more straightforward telling about Jesus.
But even there, I think part of this is an attempt to find in all of that a picture of Jesus and to come at that in different ways. So when we come to those things that are maybe notorious, like when exactly is Jesus crucified in reference to the Passover, right? Is it the day, the night of the Passover? Is it the night when the lambs are slain? This is a debate that shows up in biblical studies. And one way is to think, well, we’ve got to sort of smooth that out and figure out how it works. The other way is to go to it and say, you know, we’re getting these different pictures of Jesus that are revealing things to us more like a facet of diamonds might reveal something to you. And so, again, we’re using the text in order to know something about God, know something about ourselves and what we’re supposed to do. That I think is what we’re using it for. That’s what we mean when we talk about the Bible is inspired, is that God still, right? So inspires, inspiration, in-spir-ation, it’s breathing into, right? So we think God still breathes into us through this text, that the spirit still comes to us through it.
Again, that means you can answer all of these historical questions lots of different sorts of ways. You haven’t got to answer ’em in one sort of way, I don’t think, because our use of it is not to say what is the best history we can have? One of the places where we see this again, I think pretty acutely, if you look on your sheet here, it’s a much shorter quote from St. Augustine of Hippo. Like we don’t know who he is. And his dates are 354 to 430. So right after Saint Ephrem, and this is from his book On Christian Teaching, he says, “so anyone who thinks that he has understood the divine scriptures or any part of them, but cannot by his understanding build up this double love of God and neighbor has not yet succeeded in understanding them.”
What Augustine wants to tell us is that the point of reading the scriptures isn’t to acquire knowledge of the trivia of scripture, right? You can think of people who, depending on how they grew up, they might be able to reel off to you biblical genealogies. But when you go into it, what do they know about love? You might contrast that with some of the church fathers who will go through those genealogies and show you, of course, what this tells us about God and his care for us and our care for others. Our friend Origin of Alexandria is pretty good at that sort of thing, but what we’re using the scriptures for is knowing God in Jesus in order that we can begin to love God and to love our neighbor. So if our readings aren’t doing that, we need to ask ourselves some questions both about ourselves, about what we’re reading, and about how we’re using it.
I think this also frees us a little bit, especially with the Old Testament. And if we’re gonna focus on our use of the text, we’re I think probably going to have an easier time talking to our Jewish brothers and sisters because we can say to them, well, we’re not really doing the same thing with this, are we? So there you go. So I think we have this tendency to think, I think in our culture, especially of the Bible, in very static, very fixed terms, very there’s one meaning that oftentimes some important person needs to tell you, and that this often short circuits our ability to engage with the actual words of scripture for the reason that we have it, which is, again, love of God and love of our neighbor.
That’s how we at a sort of abstract level might think about using it. I wanna think now slightly more practically about how we use it in our church, key way that we use it, and how that’s gonna tell us something about how this process of learning and engagement takes place. So if you have, you both have Books of Common Prayer who are with me but if you’re listening later and you need one, I can give you one, you can take one from church. We got some new ones. Nut one of the key parts of the Book of Common Prayer that goes all the way back to our friend Thomas Cranmer’s original revisions, is Morning and Evening Prayer, Matins and Evensong.
What had happened up until the Reformation was that the daily prayer of priests, of ordained people, and monastics, had developed itself into praying seven times a day at various times. If you ever read Luther, and there’s worse things to read than Luther, this is one of the things he gets worked up about in his conscience, is that he doesn’t pray his office, and then he finds that when he gets to it, his daily prayers, he’s gotta make ’em all up. And so it’s, it’s eight at night, and he’s starting with the first morning office of the day and, oh, he can’t handle it. And this becomes, again, the office, the Daily Office, but it’s the daily duty of the clergy and the monastics to pray this, eventually, up to the medieval period. When it comes time for the Reformation, our English Reformation, we get our, from the very beginning, our first Book of Common Prayer in 1549, all the way up until our one we have now, the 1979 book, Morning and Evening Prayer form a very important part of it.
Thomas Cranmer is the big architect of these offices, of these daily prayers. And what he does is he finds that he can basically take those daily prayers as sevenfold offices and squeeze them into two. So if you’re really familiar with them, you can see how that works. So Vespers and Compline becomes Evensong. (We’ve kind of split Compline off again, but don’t, don’t, don’t get worried about that.) And then Matins and Lauds gets squashed into Morning Prayer. He takes that and then he takes what two key aspects of that older prayer office. One is the recitation of the Psalms. So the traditional scheme will put you saying all of the Psalms, that great prayer book of the Bible, once a month. Our current one in the back of our Book of Common Prayer is not quite so often, but it sends you straight through them beginning to end. He then takes what was, you do that morning and evening, and then he takes what were short readings from scripture that were traditionally followed up with big readings from the church fathers and theologians. And he throws out all the extra-biblical stuff, and he just gives you big chunks of scripture. So in the original calendar, if you said your morning prayer and your evening prayer as all clergy were bound to do, you read through the Bible in about a year.
Cranmer’s goal here, which he I think accomplished gloriously, was to basically turn this morning and evening prayer into a sort of scripture delivery system for people, to get them in contact with lots of scripture, regardless of what was going on in their lives. You’ll notice, of course, that the thing that this focuses on in many ways is the Psalms. You’re gonna go through them regularly if you take up this prayer and you’re going to go through them kind of regardless of what’s going on. So they’re not, (at least initially, this has kind changed now) but they’re not initially themes around the readings or the days of the year or anything like that, really. You just get the Psalms with all their emotions and desires and wants and needs and nice parts and scary parts, and those all then become part of your life. You become exposed to them.
And it’s kind of the same with scripture, because you’re moving through the Old Testament, the New Testament, you’re getting Old Testament morning and evening, and then you’re usually, same book, and then you’re getting different books outta the New Testament morning and evening, but you’re working through them so that you’re getting a lot of the Old Testament and you’re going through it systematically. So you’re just getting put in contact with it. This is of course, a great reformation principle. It’s a good one, one that what we need is to be in contact with scripture and that you need to be in contact with it, not just somebody who you pay to be in contact with it for you. And also that you’re going to read lots of it that isn’t going to be initially attractive to you, because what you’re gonna find out in that is that things will surprise you. So if we go back to that sense that right, part of what scripture needs to do is to tell you new things, to surprise you, to do that stuff for you just having to get through once a year, Leviticus or Numbers or whatever, you might find that stuff in there.
So it’s not exactly what we seek out, but it might be in fact what we need. So again, what is Cranmer trying to show us about how we use scripture in this? We use it to think about our lives. We use it to see what God actually needs to say to us, but then also that we’re reading it in a spirit of prayer. I think that is one of the important things that he starts to set apart, is that this reading of scripture isn’t just an academic exercise that we do because we like it and it’s nice, but that in fact, that academic study of it that would eventually become historical-critical kind of study of it is related to for most people, but not the same as that contemplative-devotional-ruminative reading of scripture. So again, we don’t get a theory here of what exactly scripture is, what exactly the way in which it is inerrant or whatever it is, we simply get shown a way to use it.
And the daily Morning and Evening Prayer continues, I think even now, to model that, even though it’s a little, it’s a little more complicated to use now, I think than it was in the old books. There’s a lot more options, which is nice if you say it regularly, but if you just pick it up, it’s a little, can be a little confusing. So if you do want to know how it works, and I’m happy to show you sometime, there’s a table , there’s a table, there are apps on your phone, you can get to take care of it all for you. Yeah, , and that pulls all that together, but it takes you through scripture regularly, both that we can engage with it, engage with it in surprising ways. And I think if you start to read scripture that way regularly, it also gets into your subconscious, I think at some level. I think suddenly you’re thinking, you’re like, oh yeah, I do know about that.
So I think when thinking about scripture, I think it’s best for us not to immediately go to sort of theoretical descriptions, but I think more of it and what we do with it. That being said, I do think it’s worth mentioning, especially given where we are in the world, what we do think in some ways about that doctrine of inspiration. You’ll occasionally hear the Bible described as inerrant, and that it’s inerrant in its manuscripts. This is sometimes, this is a difficulty, I think it’s not a description the early church would’ve given of it. It’s not really a description that I think even the reformers would’ve given of it. Yeah, it’s a very recent development. Some very recent developments are good. I don’t think this one is a great one. Mostly because it takes a whole, if you want a $10 word, epistemology, a theory of knowledge and applies it to the Bible. It also doesn’t really work very well because it insists upon us having things like easy to get at manuscripts. So if you remember last week we talked a little bit about different versions of the Old Testament. So Hebrew versus Greek, you know, what does it mean when the Hebrew and the Greek disagree? What does it mean if the New Testament quotes the Greek instead of the Hebrew? So there are, you know, some places where these differences can show up and to think of it as inerrant is to think of it as fixed in a certain sort of way. And it’s to stop treating it like something you can actually read I think actually.
It also I think is better gotten at in a category, what that wants to get at is I think not a bad thing, which is that the Bible is always for us, right? And that God really will speak to us in, I don’t think that means that a text is perfect or pristine, but that it’s a real human engagement, right? So our little catechism tells us, right? “God inspired the human authors.” It didn’t stop being human authors, right? So even the things like in the gospels where there’s differences and even if you are really set that there are total eyewitness accounts, people just don’t remember stuff the same way, cause they’re trying to tell you different sorts of things. And so it might be that those are complimentary rather than clashing.
But anyway, I, I think the better category here, if we want to do another word beyond inspired is, (and this might be slightly confusing for a second) to think of the Bible as infallible when it comes to doing what it needs to do. So the Bible always gets the job done. When again, it’s approached in a way in which we are ready to listen. If we’ll let it speak, it will do what it needs to do. To speak of the church itself, for instance as infallible, I think is a bit scarier, I think and we know the church errs, one of our other Articles of Religion tells us the church has erred. And scripture calls it back. I think that’s part of the function of scripture is that it’s the closest we have to an infallible authority in the sense that it does what it needs to do, which is to recall us to God and to our neighbor. This is one of those places where I think that Reformation heritage has actually let us get back into some of those early church practices of saying, the thing that brings us back is itself holy scripture as we listen to it. But if you’re going to do that, you’ve got to expose yourself to it, right? And expose yourself to it in a way that allows it this difficult, this difficulty, it’s strangeness and to do its work on us.
I think when we allow views of scripture to get in the way of that, we have to start asking some questions. And of course there are places too where people will read parts of scripture and say, “well, I don’t like that” or “I don’t think that’s quite right.” I think what scripture requires of us is engagement. Engagement with what’s going on in it, but not simple-minded agreement. I know this is one of those things we have to remind people that you know, not everybody in the Bible is a good guy. Do you know what I mean?
I, I once saw- Yeah, I was gonna say, I’m, I’ll have to wrap up in a second, but I’ll give you one anecdote which is, I was on looking at social media the other day and I was on Instagram and there was a picture of a couple I think they, they must have been famous. I don’t know who they were. And it was a man and a woman, and her caption underneath it was, “I’ll be your Bathsheba.” And I just thought, you must really have not been paying attention to what was going on in there. But then I thought, well, maybe, I don’t know, maybe she knows things I don’t know. But I think, engagement with scripture requires, if you like, engagement with scripture. And that’s tautological. But it does, it requires us to listen to it, to be surprised by it, and to wrestle with it, not just to have the right ideas about it.
So last thing I’ll say is one of the things that we get in our catechism is this question where it says, “what is the Apocrypha? The Apocrypha is a collection of additional books written by people of the Old Covenant and used in the Christian Church.” That is a wonderfully bland and evasive answer. It’s basically true of course, but the position on things like the Apocrypha, if I had given you the rest of this Article Six: Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation, it gives you a list which includes the things of the Apocrypha. and the way in which this was sort of pitched to everybody was, we’re gonna read it in church, but we’re not gonna give it the doctrinal authority that we give to the rest of the Old Testament. The reason for that is, basically, one of the things that comes up in the Apocrypha is prayers for the dead. And yeah, the Book of Maccabees, people get really worried, well, some people still get very worried about this. People used to get really worried about it. It’s not as much of a worry, I think because we have prayers for the dead in our prayerbook now. So we do pray for the dead. That doesn’t imply the whole purgatory system necessarily, but we do pray for them. The other thing is that some bits of the apocrypha have like Bel and the Dragon, like is there a big dragon around? and I think that kind of puts some people off as well.
Yeah, and so it’s, it’s there it’s one of these things that comes up. So if you like the apocrypha, and you like to read it, you can read it. That’s great. A little bit of it comes up in our yearly lectionary and even in the old prayerbooks it did as well. And some of those readings I think actually are treasured ones, especially at funerals.
So scripture, when we think about it, we’re happy if we have different readings of it because it means God’s telling us things within it. We don’t think there’s just one thing it’s got to mean because that would mean that we would not need to read it. We’re primarily concerned with how we use it. And our goal when we use it is to know God, to love God, to love our neighbor. And we have a really efficient, although not required any longer, scripture delivery system in the Book of Common Prayer. Much of which, Morning and Evening Prayer, is in fact quotations from scripture. That puts me dead on at 6:45. Is that all right? Sure. And I’m going to stop this recording. Oh, there we go.
Mar 15th: Baptism.
So we’re due to- I think I originally wrote down that we’re gonna talk about Baptism and Eucharist tonight, but we’re really just going to talk about Baptism, and a lot of other related stuff. Partly because we’re talking about Eucharist a lot at church right now, but also as I try to sort of organize myself into an outline, I thought this is just going to take way too long. We won’t be able to get to both things.
So we’re talking about Baptism some and about Christology some, that’s our expensive word for how we talk about Jesus. And the plan is that next week, we’ll have any questions people have that have come up. But I’ll also do some probably really thrilling stuff about like talking about our church and parish polity and all that kind of thing. Which, one of the stereotypes about Anglicans/Episcopalians is our love of bureaucracy. So, you know, we love to have a committee, we love to have bylaws, that kind of stuff. But hopefully, it’ll be some of that and picking up what we haven’t gotten to yet. So if there are things y’all are thinking about, let me know of any questions that are coming up.
But we’re going to talk about baptism, and also how that helps us think some about what Jesus does, who Jesus is, and part of the reason for doing that is if we think back on some of the stuff we’ve talked about before, the way that a lot of our theology, a lot of our reflection, really comes out of our actual practice and life together as a church. So if we think back to the early church, a lot of the very early sort of theology that’s happening, reflection that’s happening, is happening because people are praying and living differently because of Jesus, and they’ve kind of got to go, “Well, what’s that mean? Why has this happened?” right? Then we start to develop ideas about trying to explain who he is, um, and how this whole Trinity thing works, and that takes us a while, and, it’s sometimes easy to go back and look at those early debates and kind of go, “Okay, was it really important we used just this Greek word here at this point,” which seems strange to us now, but a lot of that, is itself looking back to actual practice in the lives of Christians then. And so one of the ways people can chart this is when we go into the New Testament, the way that Christians are having to really resource new ways of speaking from older scripture from older ideas, so one of my two book props tonight is this wonderful book by Michael Ramsey, one of our great Archbishops of Canterbury, yeah, and it’s a book where he, he really is, for the most part, talking about the word Glory and like tracing how it moves to the Old Testament, but also then how in the New Testament we have to kind of work out how to say all that in Greek language and why are we saying it, you know, what does it tell us.
This is sort of typical, I think, of our early theology that’s happening and happening a lot of is coming out of, well, what does it mean that we now pray in the name of Jesus, what does it mean that we have the spirit that grasps us, what does it mean that we’re, as we’ll go on to in a minute, being baptized, and this is not exactly the baptism of John, right? That’s something that comes up if you read the book of Acts. Sometimes they’ll say, “Well, we’ve only known the baptism of John, of repentance,” and basically all the disciples are like, “What do we do?” And they usually lay hands on people, and it’s okay. But so there’s a question about like what we’re doing about baptism, what it means. We know it’s left to us, also, by Jesus at the end of the Gospels, it’s a thing to do, right? “Go and baptize Nations in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” Still do it that way, so, I think we tend to, because we do it more often, think about the Eucharist in that way, but baptism itself is very foundational. Very foundational also for developments in the Episcopal Church, probably in the last 50 years. We’ve moved really towards seeing baptism is a very important Sacrament and very much, sort of the big one in a certain sort of way, even though we’re not celebrating it as often. But I’m allowing myself one large quote which we’re about to have, and this is from Irenaeus of Lyon. Irenaeus is born in Smyrna, which is now in Turkey, I believe, and he’s born about the year 130.
And so the story goes, however much you want to take it and believe it, that he is a young man who knows a man named Polycarp. Polycarp is an early Christian martyr, and Polycarp was known to have known Saint John the Evangelist of Gospel fame. And so there’s a sense in which people say Irenaeus is really only this far away from the early apostles. It means that everyone kind of meets everyone when they’re young, so he would have known him as a boy, but that’s kind of the idea. He ends up in France and is in Gall in the city of Lyon. He is the bishop there, and he writes a good bit of books. We only get two of them that are left. One of those is a book called On the Apostolic Preaching, which I’ll read from in just a moment, and it’s him kind of saying, “Well, this is what the apostles are all about.” And it’s not very long, it’s a short little book, in the aspirationally named Popular Patristic Series, but it’s a good English text. You can read it in a day sort of thing. The other one is one called Against Heresies, and it’s really, really long. He goes into real, real detail about various people who he thinks are no good, and that’s like we’ve since found some of those texts he’s talking about, and he’s pretty close. It’s good reading if you want to know about Gnosticism; otherwise, it’s not the most thrilling thing to read. He writes those two things, and he loves to engage in lots of explanation of church activities. So even though he’s writing at the end of the second century, and we’re really getting the Gospels into view at that point, he says we have four Gospels because there are four cardinal directions, four winds, and the Gospels meant to go through all the Earth. So four that just works great.
So he likes to engage in these sort of after-the-fact explanations of things, and so he is going to give us one of those about why we baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. If you want to know how it ended up with him, he might have been martyred, but that’s kind of disputed. He is buried in Lyon, and his relics were there until the 17th century when our friends the Huguenots decided they didn’t need them anymore, smashed his church up, and got rid of his body, which is kind of sad, but there you are. I think there’s still some sort of shrine to him.
Anyway, this is from “On the Apostolic Preaching,” and he’s writing about baptism in the Triune name. “This is the order of our faith, the foundation of the edifice in support of our conduct: God the Father, uncreated, uncontainable, invisible, one God, the creator of all. This is the first article of our faith. The second article is the word of God, the Son of God, Christ Jesus our Lord, who was revealed by the prophets, by whom all things were made, and who in the last times, to recapitulate all things, became a man amongst men, visible and palpable, in order to abolish death, to demonstrate life, and to effect communion between God and man. In the third article, the Holy Spirit, through whom the prophets prophesied, and the patriarchs learned the things of God, and the righteous were led in the path of righteousness, and who in the last times was poured out in a new fashion upon the human race, renewing man throughout the whole world to God. For this reason, the baptism of our regeneration takes place through these articles, granting us regeneration unto God the Father through his Son, by the Holy Spirit.”
So, it’s a big picture of baptism, and there’s a lot going on there, and this is happening like 180 or something, right? That’s probably the sort of time frame we’re in. What I find interesting about that, one thing, is the way in which he’s putting baptism into the central place in the Christian life but also extrapolating all of these details from it. Because there’s one way, someone says, “Well, why do you baptize in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit?” And you say, “Well it’s in the Bible, Jesus sort of tells you to, so you ought to do it.” Irenaeus is going a bit further with this and starting to try to explain that you do that because he thinks the whole Trinity is at work in this baptism. I’ve baptized a decent number of people, you know, I don’t think everyone immediately sees it and thinks, “Here is the Triune life at work in this person.” I think that is what’s happening, and Irenaeus is trying to get us to see that in some ways.
He also is, I think, making a good point of it, that this is our inclusion in that life and it has a certain sort of shape. So if you come back and think about what he lists that Jesus does, this is how he describes Jesus’s work, he says Jesus recapitulates humanity, destroys death, demonstrates life, and brings about communion between God and humanity. That’s his description of Jesus’s work. It’s a very early description we get. What’s interesting about that is what it doesn’t immediately say. So he doesn’t really give us anything about Jesus’s ministry right there. He also doesn’t really say anything about, you know, there’s not a big atonement theory there either, and so he’s not terribly concerned about that, actually, interestingly enough. But instead, what he sees is that Jesus is kind of setting up a life that we can take on, right? So he uses that big word “recapitulates,” which is another big word in Greek. But there’s a sense in whichhe has this idea that Jesus needs to sum up and go through all of human life in order to make it available to us. So he’s got a weird theory that basically everybody else after him says “no” to, and it’s that he thinks that Jesus is crucified when he’s kind of old, he says, “Well, because he’s got to go through the whole range of human life, so he’s got to be old.” I think he thinks old people are like in their 40s, maybe. And so, which, you know, as someone getting closer to 40, I less like this theory, but he thinks that Jesus has to have that whole life so it can all be sanctified, and that’s part of what he does. He views the death in terms of defeating death. This is, of course, an early church thing, which is, they think, part of what Jesus does is to sort of outwit death and the devil. So one of the popular theories is sometimes referred to as a “fishhook theory,” which is the idea that Jesus’s humanity is bait, and then the devil takes it, and then he finds the divinity is there as the hook, and that, you know, they get rid of him. I think it’s fun as theories go, but again, he wants to see the sense that Jesus is defeating death, that he is bringing about a communion between God and humanity, and that this is all happening in baptism.
Part of what Irenaeus is going to go on to say, the early church is going to say, is that the only way that Jesus does all of that stuff is if, in some sense, he is a human being. There needs to be a human life we have access to. He uses that phrase, I mean, palpable, right? He’s touchable. He’s the sort of person you could touch. That he needs to go through and do all of that as a human being. But then if he’s going to have communion, we’re going to have communion with God through him, he can’t just be a human being, right? So even the idea that what happens in baptism is you’re coming into a human community, but it’s also that you’re coming into a relationship with God through the water and all that. And so he’s already starting to develop this idea of, well, Jesus has got to be human and he’s got to be God. He’s not giving us an explanation of that yet. Explanations come later, explanations vary I think, as they go, but that’s the sort of fact that he’s attempting to deal with. And then he really does think it’s all happening in this sort of Triune name.
Then you get that funny stuff about the Spirit, right? Which is basically lots of regeneration and leading us, because he also knows that people don’t come into this right away. And most people, I think, when you try and get them to explain how it is that they have a relationship with Jesus, there’s a kind of bit where we’re sort of like, yeah, there’s something attractive about it, it didn’t quite add up, but then I end up in this situation, and I find that I’m even living in ways that I don’t really think previously I would have found very attractive in some ways. Part of what he’s looking at is the way the Spirit is the one that does that. He’s thinking a lot more about Spirit as well, but again, it’s the idea that in baptism, we’re also being driven by God through the Spirit.
So, he’s got this big idea that, well, the reason we’ve got to use all the names is because they’re all doing stuff in the sort of baptismal act, right? For him, unlike for us, baptism is a big, long-drawn-out process. So, we’ll have a baptism on Easter morning, but when he’s baptizing people, you would have probably been fully immersed, you would have changed clothes into white clothes, you would have been anointed multiple times. Then, you would have been welcomed into the Eucharist for the first time at Easter with all of your new friends. This is kind of the image of how that works. And we also, unlike now, would have had an elaborate series of exorcisms ahead of it. They used to put salt into babies’ mouths when you baptize them because it was part of an exorcism. I once had a person ask me if I would do that for them for their child. I told them no, I said no, he’s fine, leave him alone.
So I think one of the things that gives us about baptism is a big picture of the idea that this thing that we do, we’ll do it on Easter, and there’ll be a big candle, there will be a font, there will be oil for anointing at one point. But the idea is that this is coming into the community but also beginning to have this relationship with God. One of the things, of course, we do is to baptize, we baptize anybody basically. Our prayer book really looks to adult baptism in a lot of ways. I think that’s a smart long-term thing because I think we see more adult baptisms. But we also baptize children. I think this is important because actually that tells us something about what we expect out of baptism. Like, no one expects children to know what’s going on, right? We don’t even in a way appropriate to them. So if you, I mean, I’ve baptized very small children, infants, even two or three-year-olds, you know. We baptized Tallulah, she could kind of talk some, and she tried to drink the water of the font, but she wasn’t so old that we thought we had to ask her if she wanted to be, you know, and I think all Teddy remembers about it is getting to smear oil on her sister. She helped with the anointings. We don’t immediately expect that they understand everything, right?
So again, it’s a big act of the Triune God bringing people into communion with himself and with others. And yet, it’s not a thing wherein you have to understand a bunch of stuff in order to do this. I think that tells us something important about how we think about both that sacraments and about the church. I’m going to steal something from Bishop, former Bishop of Liverpool Paul Bays. He’s got a good book on this called “The Table“. He’s sort of from a kind of progressive wing of the church, but he has an Evangelical background, so he’s a very interesting guy. But he talks about ways in which we think of how we relate to the church, of which baptism is our view of the entry into it. And because he’s a bishop, he gives us three alliterative ways of thinking about it. They are believing, behaving, and belonging. So he thinks you’re going to put these in a certain order. Some churches expect you first to believe, so you’ve got to agree to a bunch of developed stuff first. Then you probably start to act a certain sort of way. Then you belong. So you might think of churches that have much more elaborate catechesis than we have, which I don’t think is just a function that we’re lazy or something. I think it’s something we think stuff is really going on. So you might think of RCIA in the Catholic Church that takes a while if you’re going to join. There’s also a sense of beginning with behaving. This one I might be slightly more sympathetic to, actually. But it’s just the idea that the question is, can you live according to these demands, to these commands, and these ideals? We can think about something in like Anabaptist groups, for instance. I think we tend to take that once you start acting a certain way, you’re expected to believe certain things, and then you can belong. The good Bishop though tells us that’s really not… Well, he’s sympathetic like I’m sympathetic, but that’s really the wrong way around. First, you begin to belong, then you sort of begin to believe stuff, maybe. Then you might think of that making a change in behavior.
I think that this is actually a very good description of how most people come into churches. I think most people are attracted to a community, live with it, and then from there, go on to change things, go on to be a part of it. And then maybe change what they think or what they do. I think by putting belonging first, you also kind of clarify the rest of those things.
So if you think about what we believe, one way is to say like, “We’ve got all of these things we believe, and you download them into your brain, and you think them.” Or you have another way of getting at it where you’re saying, “Well, this is what we in this room, you know, this church, believe,” right? So it’s a reflection. I think, in some ways, I think that’s more what Irenaeus is doing when he’s like, “Well, we know we do the three Trinity thing. Why are we doing it? Let me work it out for us.” That is, I think, an important sort of distinction to make there.
It’s one too that we have a history of actually taking up in our church, which is, I’ll talk about that for a second, then we’ll go look at what the baptismal service looks like. And it’s got to do with our friend, we might remember him, Richard Hooker, and he gets into a debate really early on with some of his Puritan friends who he’s incensed by saying that Roman Catholics are within the Church of Christ even though they’re very bad at it, he thinks. They’ve really gotten very mad at him about that, and so he goes back and forth with the Puritans, and they say, “Well, you know, you’ve got to believe all of these sorts of things. You’ve got to have this sort of experience, and you’ve got to take on this very particular understanding of Church law.” And he comes back and says, “I don’t necessarily disagree with some of the ideas you have, but you’ve got it the wrong way around,” because he says, “You know when did people join the church? Not when these Elders approved them,” but he says, “Oh no, it goes back into the very being of God. You know, when they were chosen before the foundation of the world, which baptism is simply the temporal sign.” And he says, “There’s a way in which you want to say, ‘No, you’ve not really thought through this election stuff enough.'”
So, one way of saying that is, you know, why do people end up in churches? Why do they start belonging? Well, one way is you can look at all demographic factors, yada yada. But the other way of saying it, you know, is, well, no, God chose them to be in this church with me, even if they absolutely, positively drive me crazy or if they’re not people I would have picked, or you know, there’s any number of things. But God has chosen for them to be a part of this church, to be baptized, and so you kind of have to start that belonging first, then you can get into the rest of those things. So I think that that’s actually something that comes up sometimes, people viewing that as kind of a laxity, that it’s a sort of lax thing, whereas I think it’s much more of a principled point of, as I feel this way, I don’t get to pick who shows up, it’s not my job, and I’m not really here to test people. That means that running a church, being a part of it, becomes a much more negotiated and slightly difficult business. But again, I think, you know, it’s part of what that thing is that we see, of when these people are baptized, they’re claimed by God into a kind of relationship and they’re part of that body of Christ I’m a part of. So actually, these people who I might find difficult, some people I find not difficult, they’re inherent to the whole enterprise now because we’ve chosen to belong together in a certain sort of way, and we’ve done that like we said before earlier, really because of who we, some things we think about Jesus together, you know, that that’s who sort of who actually has brought us together in this way.
So thinking about baptism drives us to all of that stuff. You can have theories exactly about how baptism works, explanations about exactly how it works. So there’s very classical ones, some of which show up in our tradition, you know, that sacraments are an outward sign of an inward invisible grace. That works great for me, but the idea is that these outward physical things are part of the package that make this all happen.
I don’t know if you have a prayer book or not, but it’s on that thing that I put through if you’re not, about our baptismal service. It’s on page 302 of a prayer book you have, and I just really actually wanted to relatively briefly go through this because I think it does a pretty good picture of how I think that sort of model works for ours, and so we’ll do this again Easter morning.
So we start with these questions. “Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God? Do you renounce the evil powers of this world, which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God? Do you renounce all sinful desires that draw you from the love of God?” This would have been a lot of renunciations in the early church and goes on for a while, but the idea is that you are turning away from something that’s not good for us, that’s driving us apart. You know, “Do you renounce Satan and all the spiritual forces of wickedness that rebel against God?” So there’s a sense that we’re turning away from these things that draw us away from God towards things that draw us to God. So we then go on to the positive things, which are, “Do you turn to Jesus Christ and accept him as your savior? Do you put your whole trust in his grace and love? Do you promise to follow and obey him as your Lord?” You say, “I do.” So again, I think we see in that moment of like, “I’m turning away from these things that are not great for me towards Jesus and towards the dependence on his grace and love.” So it’s a belonging thing, right? But it’s also, you know, that’s where this relationship starts.
And you’ll notice that beyond referring to him as Lord, we’re not getting a ton of big, sort of high-minded developed theology of Jesus at this point, but instead, we’re developing this relationship.
Then, if there are other people who are being confirmed or received, they need to make other things which I do find kind of amusing, which is, “Do you reaffirm your renunciation of evil?” To reaffirm your renunciation of evil, and I don’t know, I don’t know that’s the only thing I find… I think, of course, you’re still renouncing evil, but I suppose the bishop still has to ask.
After that, we go into what we call the Baptismal Covenant. If you spend much time in the Episcopal Church, you will hear about the Baptismal Covenant, and honoring the vows of our Baptismal Covenant, and what it means for us. And I think it’s one of actually a place where we’ve seen a real push for inclusion because of some of the things that happened in the Baptismal Covenant. But the Baptismal Covenant begins with basically the recitation of the Apostles Creed. The Apostles Creed is a relatively minimal Creed, but a very old one, so it probably is an early Roman Creed that gets picked up and used pretty lots of places. It’s the one that, I say morning and evening prayer most days, so I say it twice a day most days, and it really mostly gives you a very condensed picture of Jesus’s life, and then it says, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Holy Catholic Church, the communion of saints, the Forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life Everlasting.” So there’s a sense in which which this is the stuff the Spirit is up to, but again, this is like a pretty minimal statement in a lot of ways. Unlike the Nicene Creed, which we use most Sundays, we’re not talking about “of one being” or consubstantial and all that stuff. Of course, it all goes on to it, but it’s a much more succinct statement, and we think that that’s enough to say for Baptism. It’s also probably the Creed people did learn early on when they were baptized. So it’s very old.
There’s the nice story they’ll tell you that it’s the Apostles Creed because they each came up with one of the lines. It’s a nice story, but I don’t know about that. I’ll be a critical modern person and say I think it’s an early Roman Baptismal Creed. That goes on, again, that’s that sort of believing bit. If we want to think about the belonging, it’s the turning to Jesus and the community. The believing is that Apostles Creed. So I’m someone, as you might guess, who I don’t really think the church needs to require much more of people than belief in the Creeds. We used to have a very long Creed called the Athanasian Creed, which is still in the Prayer Book in the back. It’s very long, though, and I think mostly confuses people. It’s not bad, necessarily, although it does say it’s not going to go well with you if you don’t believe all this stuff. I don’t like that part, but there’s some other interesting stuff in it.
After we have the Creed, we come to a series of questions which you’re meant to answer to all of them, “I will, with God’s help.” It’s, “Will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in the prayers? Will you persevere in resisting evil and, whenever you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord? Will you proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ? Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself? Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being?”
Here we’re getting into some of that behavior stuff, right? How we’re going to live. And this gives us a sort of mix of sort of churchly stuff we’re going to do – I mean, in some ways, the only church really that it gives you is “will you continue in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in the prayers?” That’s the sort of church membership thing it asks you to do. The rest of it, of course, goes on to live in a certain sort of way, but it’s not a super directive way. You’ll notice there’s almost no sort of really specific ethical requirement at this point. I think that’s partly because, we know that what we’re going to do ethically is going to get worked out in our community, but also, again, that we think that’s something that the Spirit is actually doing in people’s lives.
And I think one of the places, where we’ve seen, I think, a real push for inclusion coming out of this is the final question: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being.” This is expecting a certain sort of behavior of us, even, you know, outside the church with people. And so, again, I think that that baptismal covenant, which again, it starts on page 302 and goes just only to the very top of 305, is short but gives us a big picture of the Christian life and of how that works and how that works in a way where our community is important, our community is central, but we’re not having a sort of huge authoritarian sort of view over each other because we think that, you know, like Irenaeus was telling us, God is doing all of this stuff in the baptism, and that starts a Christian life. It goes on, and I mean, I think, you know, almost surprised, I’m surprised at where the Christian life takes lots of people, I’m often very surprised it takes them and very happy it takes them not places I would have taken them, and so I think that’s part of what’s going on when we think about baptism is it’s an attachment to Jesus, it’s an attachment to the community, and an attachment to a way of life. That sort of thing of Christianity as a sort of way of being and a way of life, it comes out of, again, getting caught up in this Divine Life which is probably going to look different for most of us, I imagine a little different for y’all than it looks for me, but whatever that is, the Spirit is working through these very material, physical means to do that.
Last thing I am going to say is, when we think about baptism, sometimes we talk about it, and if we’ve come from traditions and places where that’s not how they think about it, it makes us think about, “Well, what was going on in my baptism?” So I had someone who came to me and said, “Well, I didn’t really want to get baptized, but I kind of did when I was like 15, and I was kind of peer pressured into it.” And I said, “Well, that’s not ideal, I understand, but I don’t think any of us know exactly what’s going on when we say yes to it. I think we’re sort of looking towards a future.” I said, “You know, my daughter didn’t say, ‘Yeah, they wanted to be baptized.’ I just did it because, again, I think that has to do with that life that involves us figuring out what it means.” So it’s not, like – it’s a corny old preacher line about people getting married that when you say, “I do,” you don’t really know what it means then, but then, you know, down the road, you go, “Oh, I kinda said yes to all this.” That kind of thing. And I think it’s the same dynamic going on when we think about our baptism, is we probably thought, “Yes, I’ll be very pious in this sort of way, or my life will have this sort of trajectory,” and it ends up going different places, and that’s all right, the same way in which I think our faith leads us in strange and different places. That’s probably what Irenaeus is talking about, regeneration of the spirit. And again, I think when we think about baptism, we think about that life of Jesus coming into us, that life of the community as well. Those are not things we can really pull apart entirely.
So that’s 6:53 pm for us. Is that good for baptism? That helps us think about that? Do we have any sort of immediate… I’ll stop recording right now.