Sunday, July 5, 2009

Ten Theses contra General Convention

It is time, as General Convention approaches its rendezvous with fate and the Holy Spirit (how is that for high drama?), to lay down a few markers. In doing so, although I cannot presume to claim the calling of a prophet, I have been moved to declare a firm position by this passage from today's Old Testament reading (our priest for the service, who has been in the Church for more than fifty years, observed wryly that it is "almost every minister's favorite sermon text"), from Ezekiel:
2:3 He said to me, “Son of man, I am sending you to the house of Israel, to rebellious nations who have rebelled against me; both they and their fathers have revolted against me to this very day. 2:4 The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and hard-hearted, and you must say to them, ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says.’ 2:5 And as for them, whether they listen or not – for they are a rebellious house – they will know that a prophet has been among them. . . ."
In addition to Ezekiel, I take as my model Martin Luther, who tacked his 95 Theses on the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg 492 years ago. He did so in response to the actions of the Catholic Church in sending into Germany a papal commissioner who offered indulgences to all baptized sinners that would let them, in exchange for money to be used to rebuild the edifice of St. Peter's in Rome, buy themselves (or any other baptized Christian) out of any unpleasant or inconvenient aspect of the afterlife. Well, as you read this, ECUSA is assembling its General Convention in my home State, and I feel similarly moved to put up my own "Ten Theses" in order to oppose what is a foregone conclusion will take place there.

(N.B. This is not a "proof-text" argument. Those who would dismiss it as such intend a disservice: the passages from Scripture which I cite are not intended to prove my theses, so much as to illustrate and support them. The proof of what I argue rests not in the supporting texts as rather in the reader's mind, after he/she has fairly taken to heart both what I say, and what I cite. Moreover, please bear in mind that this is written strictly from a traditionally religious point of view. Those who want to take up the civil legislation of what religion advocates as a moral standard would do well to read this post for some perspective on the current gap between religion and civil society.)

"Here I stand; I can do no other. God help me. Amen." No claim is made to equal Luther's forensic skills, but as he set the example, so I also will defend my theses to anyone.

1. The purpose for God's Holy Church Catholic is to bring the faithful together in the love of Jesus Christ. It has no more to do with sex (heterosexual or homosexual) than it does with food, drink, fine cigars, good books, or any other appetite of the mind or body.

Phil. 2:1 Therefore, if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort provided by love, any fellowship in the Spirit, any affection or mercy, 2:2 complete my joy and be of the same mind, by having the same love, being united in spirit, and having one purpose. 2:3 Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. 2:4 Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. 2:5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had,

2:6 who though he existed in the form of God
did not regard equality with God
as something to be grasped,
2:7 but emptied himself
by taking on the form of a slave,
by looking like other men,
and by sharing in human nature.
2:8 He humbled himself,
by becoming obedient to the point of death
– even death on a cross!
2:9 As a result God exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
2:10 so that at the name of Jesus
every knee will bow
– in heaven and on earth and under the earth –
2:11 and every tongue confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord
to the glory of God the Father.

2. We do not go to church to ask God's blessings on our appetites. Nor do we ask God's blessing upon us as we are. We ask God to bless us in the love of Jesus Christ, that we may grow in that love and teach others about it also.

Phil. 2:12 So then, my dear friends, just as you have always obeyed, not only in my presence but even more in my absence, continue working out your salvation with awe and reverence, 2:13 for the one bringing forth in you both the desire and the effort – for the sake of his good pleasure – is God. 2:14 Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 2:15 so that you may be blameless and pure, children of God without blemish though you live in a crooked and perverse society, in which you shine as lights in the world 2:16 by holding on to the word of life . . .

3. To be faithful to the tradition of the Church fathers is not to be homophobic. One cannot be homophobic and love Christ at the same time.

John 15:17 This I command you – to love one another. 15:18 If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me first.

4. To demand "equal access to the sacraments for all the baptized" is to mistake the nature of the sacraments. Sacraments cannot be defined by "access"; sacraments are given to us by grace, and are by grace received. The receiver has no power to command, or to compel, the giving of God's grace as expressed in the sacrament.

Mark 14:22 While they were eating, he took bread, and after giving thanks he broke it, gave it to them, and said, “Take it. This is my body.” 14:23 And after taking the cup and giving thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it.

5. The words of Jesus Christ and St. Paul were not spoken or written in order that they might be twisted to support current cultural beliefs, however popular or high-minded.

Gal. 2:4 Now this matter arose because of the false brothers with false pretenses who slipped in unnoticed to spy on our freedom that we have in Christ Jesus, to make us slaves. 2:5 But we did not surrender to them even for a moment, in order that the truth of the gospel would remain with you. 2:6 But from those who were influential (whatever they were makes no difference to me; God shows no favoritism between people) – those influential leaders added nothing to my message.

6. "Dialogue" or "conversation" to the end of changing the traditional understanding of their words is futile --- not because meanings can never change, but because it is of the very nature of God's word that it does not change.

1 Pet. 1:23 You have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. 1:24 For

all flesh is like grass

and all its glory like the flower of the grass;

the grass withers and the flower falls off,

1:25 but the word of the Lord endures forever.

And this is the word that was proclaimed to you.

Heb. 6:17 In the same way God wanted to demonstrate more clearly to the heirs of the promise that his purpose was unchangeable, and so he intervened with an oath, 6:18 so that we who have found refuge in him may find strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us through two unchangeable things, since it is impossible for God to lie.

7. The changes which the "social justice" activists are forcing upon the Church are appetite- and ego-driven. No one has to demand equal access to Christ Jesus.
Gal. 3:1 You foolish Galatians! Who has cast a spell on you? Before your eyes Jesus Christ was vividly portrayed as crucified! 3:2 The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? 3:3 Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort?
. . .

3:26 For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. 3:27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female – for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

8. Those who demand that Scripture be reinterpreted so as not to discriminate against their lifestyle are seeking affirmation in themselves. No one needs affirmation in the love of Jesus.

Phil. 3:13 Brothers and sisters . . . I am single-minded: Forgetting the things that are behind and reaching out for the things that are ahead, 3:14 with this goal in mind, I strive toward the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. 3:15 Therefore let those of us who are “perfect” embrace this point of view. . . 3:18 For many live, about whom I have often told you, and now, with tears, I tell you that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ. 3:19 Their end is destruction, their god is the belly, they exult in their shame, and they think about earthly things. 3:20 But our citizenship is in heaven – and we also await a savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, 3:21 who will transform these humble bodies of ours into the likeness of his glorious body by means of that power by which he is able to subject all things to himself. . . .
4:8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. 4:9 And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you. . . .
John 3:14 "Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 3:15 so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life." 3:16 For this is the way God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world should be saved through him. 3:18 The one who believes in him is not condemned. . . . 3:20 For everyone who does evil deeds hates the light and does not come to the light, so that their deeds will not be exposed. 3:21 But the one who practices the truth comes to the light, so that it may be plainly evident that his deeds have been done in God.

9. As a sacrament of the Church, marriage is not a blessing of the heterosexual lifestyle, but of the union of a man with a woman which reflects the love of Christ, in fulfillment of God's purpose for them.

Mt 19:4 He answered, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator made them male and female, 19:5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and will be united with his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 19:6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. . . .”

Such a sacramental union is not based on appetite or ego, but reflects God's purpose for such couples ever since the beginning of the human race --- with us now having the benefit of Jesus' confirmation of that purpose, in such sayings as the one just quoted, and in such endorsements as His miracle at the wedding in Cana.

Be it noted that Jesus Himself never married. For Him to have done so would have elevated the sacrament of marriage over His purpose while here on earth. Thus, without going to the extremes acknowledged just six verses later, Jesus Himself set the example for others who cannot marry because of their circumstances --- a lesson which is all but forgotten in today's aimless quest for reinforcement of one's self-affirmation before God.

No other joining of any two humans but a man and a woman qualifies for the sacrament of marriage, because any such other joining depends on the former union for it even to be conceivable. To demand that the sacrament of marriage be extended to other unions is to conflate Jesus' affirmation of the purpose of such a union with the purpose itself. (UPDATE 07/05/2009: Father Dan Martins has put up a post along these same lines; see also this post.)

10. By maneuvering the Church so as to bless and affirm a particular lifestyle, those who do so are changing it from a Church into a cultural club of the like-minded, whose members mutually affirm their goodness because of their self-proclaimed inclusiveness. They should not, therefore, be surprised at the anger or refusal to participate invoked by these machinations. Such anger, and such refusals to participate are, to repeat, not the evidence of homophobia, narrow-mindedness --- or even fundamentalism (as they so frequently disparage it): they are the responses which Scripture itself commends.

Acts 13:8 But the magician Elymas (for that is the way his name is translated) opposed them, trying to turn the proconsul away from the faith. 13:9 But Saul (also known as Paul), filled with the Holy Spirit, stared straight at him 13:10 and said, “You who are full of all deceit and all wrongdoing, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness – will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? 13:11 Now look, the hand of the Lord is against you, and you will be blind, unable to see the sun for a time!” Immediately mistiness and darkness came over him, and he went around seeking people to lead him by the hand.
Also, from 1 Timothy:
1:3 As I urged you when I was leaving for Macedonia, stay on in Ephesus to instruct certain people not to spread false teachings, 1:4 nor to occupy themselves with myths and interminable genealogies. Such things promote useless speculations rather than God’s redemptive plan that operates by faith. 1:5 But the aim of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. 1:6 Some have strayed from these and turned away to empty discussion. 1:7 They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not understand what they are saying or the things they insist on so confidently. . . .
Paul, who had earlier been one of the greatest of false teachers, acknowledged the righteousness by which he was extended ---in the ignorance of his unbelief --- the opportunity of God's grace in Jesus Christ:

1 Tim. 1:12 I am grateful to the one who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me faithful in putting me into ministry, 1:13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor, and an arrogant man. But I was treated with mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief, 1:14 and our Lord’s grace was abundant, bringing faith and love in Christ Jesus. 1:15 This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” – and I am the worst of them! 1:16 But here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate his utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life. 1:17 Now to the eternal king, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever! Amen.

UPDATE #2 07/05/2009: As great minds continue to concatenate, first Father Tim Fountain, and now the Underground Pewster has affirmed this same message:

Has my church sufficiently grounded me in Christ to defend His name?

Or should I just keep being a "good person" and be a silent example for Him?

To the last question I say, "No!" A vision of the rocks themselves refusing to be silent came to mind: Luke 19:37-40

"And when he was come nigh, even now at the descent of the mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen;

Saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest.

And some of the Pharisees from among the multitude said unto him, Master, rebuke thy disciples.

And he answered and said unto them, I tell you that, if these should hold their peace, the stones would immediately cry out."
I declare! Praise to the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost!

Shout it out! Keep those stones from singing!

* * * * *

Non nobis, Domine, sed nomine tuo da gloriam.

By way of an extended P.S., for the musically and literarily inclined:

I have chosen the Deller Consort version of this magnificent psalm text, in recognition of that group's contribution to our sacred heritage. The musical setting, by the way, is probably not by William Byrd. And my favorite story about Alfred Deller is this one:

After a concert in Germany, with an audience most of whom didn't really know what a counter-tenor was and who probably had never had an opportunity to hear one before, a well-meaning lady from the audience eager to learn more came up to him. She'd probably read something about castrati, but didn't know the proper English word. So she asked Deller, in heavily accented English:

"Excuse me, sir, are you eunuch?"

Deller politely replied:

"No, madam, I am unique."
As is each of God's children --- one should just not let it go to one's head, as Mark Twain explained here:
Was the World Made for Man?
Mark Twain

“Alfred Russell Wallace's revival of the theory that this earth is at the center of the stellar universe, and is the only habitable globe, has aroused great interest in the world." -- Literary Digest

"For ourselves we do thoroughly believe that man, as he lives just here on this tiny earth, is in essence and possibilities the most sublime existence in all the range of non-divine being -- the chief love and delight of God." -- Chicago "Interior" (Presb.)

I seem to be the only scientist and theologian still remaining to be heard from on this important matter of whether the world was made for man or not. I feel that it is time for me to speak.

I stand almost with the others. They believe the world was made for man, I believe it likely that it was made for man; they think there is proof, astronomical mainly, that it was made for man, I think there is evidence only, not proof, that it was made for him. It is too early, yet, to arrange the verdict, the returns are not all in. When they are all in, I think they will show that the world was made for man; but we must not hurry, we must patiently wait till they are all in.

Now as far as we have got, astronomy is on our side. Mr. Wallace has clearly shown this. He has clearly shown two things: that the world was made for man, and that the universe was made for the world -- to steady it, you know. The astronomy part is settled, and cannot be challenged.

We come now to the geological part. This is the one where the evidence is not all in, yet. It is coming in, hourly, daily, coming in all the time, but naturally it comes with geological carefulness and deliberation, and we must not be impatient, we must not get excited, we must be calm, and wait. To lose our tranquility will not hurry geology; nothing hurries geology.

It takes a long time to prepare a world for man, such a thing is not done in a day. Some of the great scientists, carefully deciphering the evidences furnished by geology, have arrived at the conviction that our world is prodigiously old, and they may be right, but Lord Kelvin is not of their opinion. He takes a cautious, conservative view, in order to be on the safe side, and feels sure it is not so old as they think. As Lord Kelvin is the highest authority in science now living, I think we must yield to him and accept his view. He does not concede that the world is more than a hundred million years old. He believes it is that old, but not older. Lyell believed that our race was introduced into the world 31,000 years ago, Herbert Spencer makes it 32,000. Lord Kelvin agrees with Spencer.

Very well. According to Kelvin's figures it took 99,968,000 years to prepare the world for man, impatient as the Creator doubtless was to see him and admire him. But a large enterprise like this has to be conducted warily, painstakingly, logically. It was foreseen that man would have to have the oyster. Therefore the first preparation was made for the oyster. Very well, you cannot make an oyster out of whole cloth, you must make the oyster's ancestor first. This is not done in a day. You must make a vast variety of invertebrates, to start with -- belemnites, trilobites, jebusites, amalekites, and that sort of fry, and put them to soak in a primary sea, and wait and see what will happen. Some will be a disappointments - the belemnites, the ammonites and such; they will be failures, they will die out and become extinct, in the course of the 19,000,000 years covered by the experiment, but all is not lost, for the amalekites will fetch the home-stake; they will develop gradually into encrinites, and stalactites, and blatherskites, and one thing and another as the mighty ages creep on and the Archaean and the Cambrian Periods pile their lofty crags in the primordial seas, and at last the first grand stage in the preparation of the world for man stands completed, the Oyster is done. An oyster has hardly any more reasoning power than a scientist has; and so it is reasonably certain that this one jumped to the conclusion that the nineteen-million years was a preparation for him; but that would be just like an oyster, which is the most conceited animal there is, except man. . . .


  1. Well done.

    If I had a hammer...
    I'd nail these in the morning,
    I'd nail them in the evening,
    to the door at 815...

  2. You know,

    I was young when I married my wife, and she was young also at the time...

    She still, being with me, is young when I look at her, much as I am young to myself when I look in the mirror. There is a blessing when two young people marry and stay married. They see each other as they would themselves in a mirror glimpsing. I love my wife. She is still as beautiful to me as the day that I married her. Thanks be to God in all of His understanding as to what the human being requires for a happy marriage!

  3. Thank you for that comment, Milton. Each of us is blessed by the gifts we receive from God's grace, and I am delighted that you shared some of yours with us. My prayer is that each will come to appreciate the blessings God has given them. May His grace and peace be with you always.