Reading of Scripture within the Community of Faith is shaped by our common worship, we also carry forward the old tradition of meeting for the purpose of reading and coming to terms with scripture.  There we learn the power of the voices and the power of the stories within the text to address us directly at our deepest level.  The voice that is heard in the text of scripture is the voice of the Living God that we worship.  In all our worship and all our study, we bear witness to the God whose voice is heard in Scripture, whose voice is heard in the cloud of witnesses that preceded us, and whose voice is heard in our own life and circumstances.

THE AUTHORITY OF SCRIPTURE IN ANGLICAN THEOLOGY:

REFLECTION

Through the previous we have learned the following:

  1. Holy Scripture is indeed the authoritative and foundational source of our Anglican theology.
  2. Holy Scripture comprises the first of three factors making up our theology, the others being Christian tradition and reason.
  3. Holy Scripture provides the authoritative witness of the acts of Almighty God in our salvation history, and is essential to proclaiming the good news of our salvation in Jesus Christ.
  4. Scripture is also essential in shaping the norms of our ethical behavior.
  5. The Bible as canon has been instrumental in informing and shaping all other canon and doctrine of the Anglican faith.
  6. Regular, dedicated and critical study of the Bible is necessary if one is to grasp the fullness of our Anglican theology.

CHRISTIAN LIFE AND FAITH: PART I

THE NICENE CREED:

One self-defining aspect of being and Anglican is affirmation of the Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith. This section explores creeds, what they are, how they developed, their place in our faith and history. Particular attention is paid to the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds.

Comparing the Nicene and Apostles’ Creeds:

The Apostles Creed is a statement of a person who has affirmed their inclusion in the Body of Christ, the Church – through Baptism (the original intent of the Apostle’s Creed); and is thus properly an individual affirmation.  The Nicene Creed, on the other hand, is the commonly held dogma of the Christian Church, and as we say it together we both affirm the reality it describes, and the commitment of  ourselves to the manifestation of this reality on earth.

The Nicene Creed speaks of the Trinity:

The Jewish idea of monotheism was unique in the history of religious thought.  Judaism arose in the context of Near Eastern religions that knew many gods, each of whom controlled aspects of the world around us, like rain, or the fertility of the crops or flocks. The Hebrew people once shared such a religious view but came to understand that they worshipped not simply the greatest among a host of gods, but the only true and living God. Maintaining a monotheistic religion in the midst of the Canaanite peoples with their religions organized around many gods would have been daunting, in the least.

God the Father:

The first section of the Nicene Creed acknowledges the fact that a single God, called both Father and Almighty, is the creator of all that is. It is the acknowledgement of Judaism’s monotheism at the very outset of the Creed.

God the Son

The Son and the Father each had genuine, distinct personhood, but were of the same substance with one another (and, again, with the Holy Spirit). The affirmation of the divinity of the Son, Jesus Christ, was revolutionary against the backdrop of Jewish monotheism, as true incarnation was against the backdrop of Hellenistic paganism.

God the Holy Ghost: The Holy Spirit was originally God’s Power in the Hebrew Scriptures.  As God’s power, the Holy Spirit was granted to God’s servants and messengers, prominently the prophets.  Wisdom has long been understood to be a name for the Holy Spirit, and so in this passage from Proverbs (“The LORD created me the beginning of his works, before all else that he made, long ago.  Alone, I was fashioned in times long past, at the beginning, long before earth itself…Then I was at his side each day, his darling and delight, playing on the earth, when he had finished it, while my delight was in mankind.”) we see one of the fountainheads of the thinking that led to the Church’s recognition of a Third Person of God, thus completing the Trinity.

CHRISTIAN LIFE AND FAITH Part II: THE NICENE CREED

One God continues to be confessed and yet in three persons of the Trinity.  Let us take a few moments to connect this concept (Trinity) from the Book of Genesis through The Revelation of St. John the Divine…the following summary is from Introduction of Christianity by Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI.)  From the story of the Burning Bush and God proclaiming who He is: I AM that I AM…the God of Abraham, the God of Issac, and the God of Jacob (this within a world saturated with gods) and now a God reveals Himself within an intellectual element of communicating with Moses, the God of Creation who’s Spirit moves upon the face of the water and then there was Light at the command of God (later Jesus proclaims He is the light.)  In Isaiah at the end of the Babylonian exile (the Deutero-Isaiah – chapters 40-55) we are told in Is: 41:44 – “Who hath wrought and done it, calling the generations from the beginning?  I the Lord (Yahweh), the first, and with the last, I am He” so it is He from the first to the last – eternal.  And in The Revelation the same is repeated…Before all powers he stands already, and after them he still stands (see Rev: 1:4; 1:17; 2:8; 22:13.)  So we go from the beginning of Scripture to the end, and from Greek of “I-HE” renders itself to accuracy as “I AM.”  It is God, the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost who proclaims absolute superiority to all the godly and ungodly powers of this world.

The Nicene Creed speaks of the Trinity. It is important to grasp that the doctrine of the Trinity flew in the face to many people, seemingly, of the hard-won truth of Judaism, radical monotheism.  Deut. 6:4 proclaims “Hear, O Israel, the LORD your God is one”  (the Shema), which is the defining proclamation of Judaism. To speak of a Triune God seems to be a complete departure from the central insight of Judaism, yet the theologians of the early Church claimed, finally, that it was not.

It might be well to consider how important the Jewish idea of monotheism was in the history of religious thought and how hard won it was, before considering the Trinity.  By so considering the Jewish theological base, it is easier to understand both how revolutionary the idea of the Trinity seemed to be, and how important it was to find a true connection between the two ideas.

Judaism arose in the context of Near Eastern religions that knew many gods, each of whom controlled aspects of the world around us, like rain, or the fertility of the crops or flocks. That the Hebrew people themselves once shared such a religious view is indicated in traces still to be found in the  Bible, such as the Genesis creation statement in I:26: “Come, let us make humanity in our image, after our likeness.”  Rather than the royal we, this expression, found in the creation accounts of Genesis, is probably a trace of a time when the high god addressed the council of gods (these words still present a problem for those of the Jewish faith who deny The Holy Trinity.)

Gradually, however, the Hebrew people came to understand that they worshipped not simply the greatest among a host of gods, but the only true and living God. All the other so-called gods came to be as mindless forces anthropomorphized by humans, empty of person-hood.

Another aspect of Judaism’s monotheism important in understanding the emergence of the doctrine of the Trinity is that the God of Israel was beyond human manipulation. While the Canaanite gods could be conjured, cajoled, or coaxed into helping humanity, the God of Israel was wholly other, and so beyond the reach of sympathetic magic.

Monotheism also gave gifts to humanity in terms of human consciousness. The concept of one God opens the door to the understanding of the human personality as whole and united in its parts.  Jesus’ famous summary of the law, and his identification of the heart of the Torah (Matthew 23), for instance, may be seen as an understanding shaped by the container of monotheistic thought.  To love the whole of one’s self is furthered by being immersed in a world where one must rigorously view the whole of creation as coming from the one single divine source, instead of proceeding from several divinities or powers.

The first section of the Nicene Creed, on God the Father, is the briefest, showing not that this section is unimportant, but rather acknowledging a tenet universally agreed upon: the fact that a single God, called both Father and Almighty, is the creator of all that is. It is the acknowledgement of Judaism’s monotheism at the very outset of the Creed.  Passing on, however, immediately we are in the realm of paradox, for we begin to affirm that the Second Person of the Trinity was begotten, not created by the Father God, and co-eternal with him, “God from God, light from light, begotten not made…” This compact statement is the compressed product of serious, sustained debate that involved both spiritual and intellectual and indeed physical struggle.

To summarize this in general, the followers of Arius maintained what seemed entirely reasonable and most probable, given the monotheistic background outlined above; that Jesus the Christ was created by the one Creator God.  Arius’ followers were willing to concede that the Messiah was the first, in terms of temporal sequence, and also in terms of importance, of all creatures, but was, nevertheless, a creature like all that is. The orthodox idea, that we take  now to be given, that the Christ is the second person of the Trinity, co-equal with God the Father and with the Holy Spirit (more on the third person of the Trinity later), was seen as a shocking innovation, even as blasphemy.

Finally, some consideration must be given to the role of the Emperor Constantine.  Constantine’s “policy was to unite the Christian Church to the secular State by the closest possible ties” (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church.)  This preceding statement is simple and bald, and speaks an enormous and troubling truth about a long relationship between secular authorities and the Christian Church. It was Constantine himself who summoned the Council of Nicaea in 325, acceding to a request from contending parties around the Arian controversy.

To return to the theological struggle that lies behind the formulation of the Nicene Creed, and particularly regarding the second person of the Trinity, the Son, against the backdrop of radical monotheism, the solution employed tools of classic Greek philosophy in order to hold that the Son and the Father each had genuine, distinct personhood, but were of the same substance with one another (and, again, with the Holy Spirit).  The term “personhood” is very important in this formulation.  It would be relatively easy to maintain the integrity of a monotheistic faith alongside a Trinitarian doctrine if one regarded the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as being modalities of being, mere masks of the one, undivided God.  Or, similarly, if the three persons of the Trinity were not so much persons as functions (as in the recent formulation, “Creator, Redeemer, Sanctifier,” reducing the persons to what they do, an example would be rather like saying you, in your complexity, could be adequately summed up by your job title. The resulting doctrine says that God is a Trinity of divine persons sharing one undivided substance.

Finally, the last section of the Nicene Creed deals mostly with the Third Person of the Trinity, the Holy Ghost. The Holy Ghost was originally used to show God’s power, often imagined as wind or breath, in the Hebrew Scriptures. As God’s power, The Holy Ghost was revealed and used by God’s servants and messengers, prominently by the prophets.  A good place in the Bible to consider this aspect of Holy Spirit is in the story of Elijah and Elisha, at the end of the Elijah’s ministry and life. Elisha asks his teacher and master to give him a gift from God of a double portion of the spirit that had been granted to Elijah. We must understand that this was not a request that had to do with ego or selfishness, but rather is recognition in the narrative that the demands on Elisha, as he contended with the prophets of Baal, would be even those strenuous challenges Elijah had faced.

So, The Holy Ghost as God’s power for mission is one aspect of the person of the Trinity.  As such, however, we recognize that if that is all the Holy Spirit is, it hardly qualifies for personhood.  Other biblical sources, though, give us the emerging sense of personhood.  In Proverbs, Wisdom is personified in this way: “The LORD created me the beginning of his works, before all else that he made, long ago. Alone, I was fashioned in times long past, at the beginning, long before earth itself…Then I was at his side each day, his darling and delight, playing on the earth, when he had finished it, while my delight was in mankind.”  Wisdom has long been understood to be a name for the Holy Spirit.

This combination is even laid out by Christ in His Mission to His Church:  “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost” (Mat 28:19).

THE BAPTISMAL COVENANT:

Food for thought

Christianity is about our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. It is centered in faith in God and in living in personal relationship with God. We believe that God has bestowed upon us the gift of his grace in creation, in redemption in Christ, and in on-going sanctification by the Spirit. Faith is trusting in God’s abundant love and saving grace in Jesus Christ.

At the same time Christian faith is about how we live our lives.  It involves both faith and action.  It is about believing in God and striving to live a godly life following Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.  Simply put, it is life lived in grace and in discipleship, following in the way of Christ.

None of us can do this alone.  Our faith is not a solo spiritual journey.  The Church is a community and we live our faith corporately.  Anglican Christianity especially emphasizes the “we” of the faith, stressing that from the beginning of the biblical story it is evident that God calls a people to live in covenant with him.  The Church is the continuing journey and witness of the people of God in history.

Paul wrote in II Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”  With his usual passionate clarity the apostle is describing his faith that, in the Incarnation, cross, and resurrection of Jesus the Christ, God has brought into being a new order and a new way of life.  This new order is defined by the grace and love of God as we experience them in Jesus.  God has manifested his unconditional love for all humanity and by the cross has reconciled us to God and to one another.

This saving, reconciling love makes us into a new humanity, a humanity renewed and reformed by God’s love, mercy, and forgiveness.  Regardless of race, nationality, ethnic heritage, gender, or language, all have been reconciled and made one through the cross and resurrection of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit.  The Church is meant to be the embodiment of this new humanity.  In spite of our many imperfections, we are the new community where the love and reconciling grace of Christ are proclaimed and lived for the sake of the world.

Becoming this new humanity and new community of grace is a lifelong and ever unfinished process.  We are always becoming what we are in Christ.  Christian life is one of ongoing spiritual formation and continual transformation.  As Paul wrote in Romans 12:2, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  Paul is describing the new value system of the Christian life, which is different from the value system of the world without God.  To be formed by the love of Jesus Christ means that we must be continually converted from the world’s often self-centered, materialistic way of living to a life centered in the compassion and mercy of God and in self-giving for others.

This is why Christian faith is a lifelong journey of formation in community.  We need to share with each other in worship and study and prayer as we learn Christ and grow into the mind of Christ.  We need to be in community as we reach out and minister the love of Christ for others.  We require the vitality and encouragement of one another as we grow in the Spirit and embody the new humanity given to us in Christ.

In the Anglican Church one of the best summaries of what Christian faith and action entail is Holy Baptism in The Book of Common Prayer and Offices of Instruction, found on pages273 and page 283 respectively.  Its appearance in our Prayer Book shows how crucial it is to our understanding of the Christian faith and life as an Anglican. It gathers together the essentials of what we believe and how we are to live as Anglican Christians.

Some Anglicans read through Holy Baptismal in a time of meditation after receiving Holy Communion. It reminds us of us of our relationship with God and our commitments as Christian persons, serving as a kind of spiritual examination to help us remember what is really important and what we need to do.

Holy Baptism has two major parts: the Apostles’ Creed (which was written for Baptism preparation) and questions that summarize living this faith. In the Bible, covenant is often used to describe the relationship between God and his people. God always initiates the covenant, as a gift and loving invitation.  Those who respond with an answering love, enter into a faith-covenant with God. This covenant means living in certain ways and being faithful to certain practices, as God has given them to his people.

In the Old Testament we have the story of the covenant God made with his people in several contexts, with Noah and the whole earth, with Abraham and Sarah and their descendants, with Moses and the Exodus community, and with David and his house. The Ten Commandments are a central example of the laws and practices that covenant involves. As Christians we are an integral part of the old covenant with the people of Israel.

With the incarnation, cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, we believe that God has made yet a new covenant with the world. This new covenant is founded not on law but on grace. God has given himself wholly for the world in the love and sacrifice of the cross and has initiated a new covenant relationship between him and those who believe.  It is Holy Baptism that describes, emphasizing both the faith and practices of those who are in Christ.

Let us look at each part in some depth in order to find how they invite us to live our faith.

THE APOSTLES’ CREED:

The Apostles’ Creed, our baptismal creed, is the most ancient summary of Christian faith.  All churches in the catholic tradition hold to it, and it is considered a sufficient statement of Christian faith.

The creed summarizes the story and revelation of God in the Old and New Testaments.  It describes our understanding of the one God as Trinity:  Father/Creator, Son/Redeemer, and Holy Spirit/Sanctifier.  God’s being includes three persons, in one substance.  “Persona” is a Latin word persona derives from the ancient theatre where actors wore masks called persona to show the part they were playing – thus is not appropriate to describe the Trinity.  Trinitarian theology holds that the three persons of the one God are the threefold essence of the divine being and the three ways that God is known to us.

The communion of the persons of the one God is the heart of all reality.  God the Father is the creator and source of all that is, whose love and power are sovereign over all life.  Jesus called God “abba,” an Aramaic word that means “daddy” or loving parent.  God the Son is the second person of the Trinity, whom we know as the Word made incarnate in Jesus Christ.  As the great prologue of the Gospel of John tells us, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…and [in Christ] the Word became flesh and lived among us…full of grace and truth.” In Jesus, the incarnate God, we see who God is and what God is like.  By this revelation and by the Son’s sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection, we are forgiven, reconciled, and made whole.   This is why we call Christ Saviour and Redeemer.

God the Holy Spirit is the third person of the Trinity. The Spirit exists in threefold oneness with the Father and the Son.  In Genesis I it was the Spirit who was the wind that moved (or “brooded”) over the water, in the beginning of creation. The Spirit is the “Lord and giver of life,” the Nicene Creed says, the energy of God giving life and vitality to creation. The Holy Spirit was revealed in a special and fresh way to the early Church on the Day of Pentecost, fifty days after the first Easter.  In the mysterious wind and fire and forgiveness of this experience, the Holy Spirit filled Christ’s disciples and gave them a unity, a joy, and a power they had not known before.  The Spirit creates the Church and dwells within those who believe.

So the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are the Trinitarian being of God and the ways that we know the God who reveals himself and acts in our life and human history.  We say that they are “three in one, one in three,” each fully God and yet each distinct.  They are communion itself, at the very heart of all that is.  As one has said, the Trinity shows us “being as communion.”

St. Augustine classically said that the Trinity is expressive of the very nature of love.  Love requires a lover, a beloved, and the love between and among them. This is the Father, lover, and the Son, the beloved, and the Spirit, the love that flows among them. This is a glimpse into the mystery of God, revealed to us in scripture and in creation itself as Trinitarian.

The Apostles’ Creed remembers the essentials of what we believe about God in God’s creating, redeeming, and sanctifying/life-giving work.  It describes what God has done in creation and in the redeeming work of Jesus, and what God continues to do in the on-going action of the Spirit.

The word “credo” does not just mean “I believe” in an intellectual sense. It means “I set my heart.” When we say the creed, we set our hearts on God, Father, Son, and Spirit, as revealed in scripture and in the breaking of the bread.

When we set our hearts on God and commit to follow Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, we engage ourselves to behave in certain ways and do certain things together as God’s Church.  Faith is not just inward trust in God, though it always must begin there and be rooted there.  Faith also involves outward practice.  It is expressed “not only with our lips, but in our lives”. (BCP General Thanksgiving page 19 & 33.)  Furthermore, faith is expressed in community as we, the Church, together seek to grow in grace and in the love and service of God.

The second part of Holy Baptismal contains five questions and answers that express the behaviors, practices, and missional challenges that define what it is to live our faith in Christ (BCP p. 276 and 277.)  Where the first part of the Apostles’ Creed, describes our understanding of and relationship with God, this part describes what we do as those who believe in and are committed to Christ.

Appropriately, therefore, each question is centered in a verb, an action word.  Each answer expresses a commitment of our wills: “I will, by God’s help.”  These five questions and answers challenge us to remember St. Augustine’s words, “Without God, we cannot; without us, God will not.”

We cannot do these things without God’s help.  We are never saved by our good works, nor can we do anything good without the grace and Spirit of God working in us.  Yet we are called to action, to step out and give ourselves and do our best for God.  Faith, like love, is not a feeling but an act of the will. Grace is a free gift; there is nothing we can do to earn or merit it.  Yet there are things we must strive to do in response to God’s grace, so that we may live more fully in grace and act in accord with God’s will for us and the world.

As St. Paul expressed it in Philippians 2:12, “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”  Christian living is both unconditional acceptance by grace alone and also unconditional demand that we live a Christ-like life. These five questions seek to define how we are to will and work for God’s pleasure and purpose.  And they seek persistently, as we repeat them together in worship, to shape and form our lives in accordance with the life and love of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us look at them one by one, focusing on the key verbs and the actions to which each calls us in our life of discipleship.

Page 276-277

WELL-BELOVED, you have come hither desiring to receive holy Baptism. We have prayed that our Lord Jesus Christ would vouchsafe to receive you, to release you from sin, to sanctify you with the Holy Ghost, to give you the kingdom of heaven, and everlasting life.

DOST thou renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow, nor be led by them?

Answer. I renounce them all; and, by God’s help, will endeavour not to follow, nor be led by them.

Minister.  Dost thou believe in Jesus the Christ, the Son of the Living God?

Answer. I do.

Minister.  Dost thou accept him, and desire to follow him as thy Saviour and Lord?

Answer. I do.

Minister.  Dost thou believe all the Articles of the Christian Faith, as contained in the Apostles’ Creed?

Answer. I do.

Minister.  Wilt thou be baptized in this Faith?

Answer. That is my desire.

Minister.  Wilt thou then obediently keep God’s holy will and commandments, and walk in the same all the days of thy life?

Answer. I will, by God’s help.

 

One must be baptized before being confirmed by a Bishop:

Woody Allen once said that 80% of life is just showing up!  The strong verb “continue” here is about showing up and being active parts of the worship and community of the Church.  This is a holy habit.  Never underestimate the power of habits in our spiritual lives.  Such habitual practices shape our minds and form who we are.

A vital part of worship is offering.  We offer our money, our time and talent, our very selves in God’s service.  Stewardship–the giving of a portion of our money, with our time and talent–to God through the church each year is an essential aspect of our Christian life and worship.

This first question emphasizes the vital importance of Christian community – faith in Jesus Christ.  We are Christians together.  Our faithful participation in the Church connects us with faithful people across the centuries who have read the Scriptures, broken bread together, and joined in the prayers and the communion of the Spirit.  “Continuing” in such practice and community is deeply transforming.

To share Holy Communion around the altar table is to be joined with the risen Christ.  It is also to be joined with all humanity who are reconciled by the love of God and nourished in Christ and shaped by divine love in the depths of our being.

It has been said that the heartbeat of our life is “what our Lord gave the church in the beginning – a comradeship, a flame and a table,” and “in the intense comradeship of the water and the Bread and Wine is still hidden the hope of the world.”

When we say “I will, by God’s help” we commit ourselves to be living active member of the Body, that we may grow in grace and keep the flame of the Spirit burning brightly in our hearts.

DOST thou renounce the devil and all his works, the vain pomp and glory of the world, with all covetous desires of the same, and the sinful desires of the flesh, so that thou wilt not follow, nor be led by them?

Answer. I renounce them all; and, by God’s help, will endeavour not to follow, nor be led by them.

Persevere in resisting evil and whenever you fall into sin repent and return to the Lord?

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