Bible Study 11-21-18 Nature of Anglicanism

THE APOSTLES’ CREED / Church Mission

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?

Christian life is not easy. It requires the discipline of perseverance and on-going repentance. We understand that there is a spiritual battle going on in the world and in the human heart, a struggle between good and evil.  We who follow Christ are imperfect and tempted like all people, and we fail at times to choose what is good.  So we must at once persevere in resisting evil and temptation and, when we stumble, be ready to repent and turn again to the way of God.

The Scripture describes the world God made as “very good.”  God the creator filled all things with blessing and grace, and he created men and women in his own image. Anglicanism sees life and human nature as originally and essentially good.

The world and human nature, however, are “fallen” from perfection thus become flawed.  This is what Genesis 2 describes and what the Church teaches as “original sin.”  It is as if the human race has a disease called Sin…and Jesus Christ is the cure for the sin and heals us.  God gave us the gift of freedom, an essential aspect of being made in God’s image.  We misused our freedom, choosing evil rather than the way of God.  To be human is to be tempted constantly to fall into sin, to allow ourselves to give into things such as greed, hatred, pride and prejudice, to name only a few.  The Great Litany of The Book of Common Prayer is one of the best summaries we have of the perpetual evils and temptations of human existence.

As Disciples of Christ we are to strive to say “no” to the sinful desires of the heart and to all the forces that hurt and destroy God’s good creation. This requires prayerful discernment, self-examination, and will power – all enlivened by grace, without which we cannot choose rightly.  It is the Church’s responsibility to feed the flock with the Sacraments of the Church, thus strengthening the sheep so that they can resist the wolves.

We are to “persevere,” to hold fast in choosing good and resisting evil. Yet the reality is that we all choose wrongly at times. We do fall into sin, behavior and attitudes that separate us from God and one another.  The compassion and mercy of God are infinite, as the Bible ceaselessly tells us.  Jesus Christ poured himself out on the cross for our salvation and healing (curing us), that we might know that we are forgiven and reconciled.  As Paul wrote in Romans 8, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus… [and] if God be for us, who is against us?”

It is such grace that enables us to repent and return when we miss the mark.  Repentance is what we must do when perseverance fails.  The word “repent” has become distorted for many of us, carrying loads of guilt and threat.  “Repent or else!” the sign on the mountain road tells us.

“Repent” is really a very positive word in the Bible.  It comes from the Greek metanoia, which means to change your mind or change your course.  It is about transformation, turning from our way to God’s way.  William Temple said it very well once, “Repentance does not merely mean giving up a bad habit.  What it is concerned with is the mind; get a new mind…[for] to repent is to adopt God’s viewpoint in place of your own.  In itself, far from being sorrowful, it is the most joyful thing in the world, because when you have done it, you have adopted the viewpoint of truth itself, and you are in fellowship with God.”

The essential thing necessary for true repentance is the vision of God.  It is when we see God as all love and goodness and joy that we deeply desire to walk in his ways rather than in the way of self and the world.  This enables us to turn toward what is the good and walk in the way of peace.

To say, “I will, with God’s help” to this question means to strive for the good and to contend against evil.  But it also means for us to understand that no one of us is perfect and that our spiritual journey is one of on-going repentance. We cannot make ourselves like Christ, but Christ can make us like himself, when we turn ourselves to him.

The Creed commits us to striving to be persons who communicate and show forth the Gospel of Jesus Christ to others.  This is critically important both for us as individuals and for the mission of the Church.  If the Gospel of grace is life-giving for us, we must bear witness to it.  As the old saying goes, “a joy that is not shared, dies young.”  Think of it this way – you may be the only bible some people may ever know – through your life you show forth the Gospel to others.

Asked late in life why they were a Christian and he replied that he believed that it was because of a woman who was a librarian in the small town of his childhood.  Her kindness to him and her shining faith were a witness to the love of Christ that touched him deeply.  It was because of her witness that he was a Christian!

Most of us can remember someone like that in our lives, whose witness and example were instrumental in our coming to know the love of God in our lives.

Proclaiming by word and example the Good News of Christ means simply sharing your enthusiasm and joy about the Christian faith with others so that they can discover it for themselves.  The Good News is the life transforming word that we are saved by grace through faith, a word the world desperately needs to hear.  The saying goes “Christianity must be caught, not taught,” and there is some truth in this saying.  If the faith is to be caught we must be contagious Christians.  Faith is caught from others who are passionate enough to share it with us, to invite us to church or to a Bible study, or to join in ministries which are showing forth the love of God.  We catch it from those whose lives are animated by the grace and mercy of Christ and who live their faith in visible ways.  We catch it from others whose joy in God shines forth.

Francis of Assisi is credited with saying, “In all things preach the Gospel; only if necessary use words.”  Sometimes we Anglicans are unsure about the words to use.  We are not comfortable with simplistic formulas, preferring the mystery of liturgy and the practices of love.  Sometimes we need to be less shy and reserved and speak of the power of God’s grace in our lives.

Nevertheless we profess “in word and deed,” however, because our actions are always the key element it good to remember “Don’t talk of love; show me” was sang by Eliza Doolittle in My Fair Lady. The most effective way to bring others to know Christ is by living our faith in the world and inviting others to come with us. This happens as we practice the love of Christ in our relationships, in our work, and in our daily living.  This happens as we care about others enough to invite them to church with us and to share in ministries which make a difference for good.  It happens as we are good stewards of our gifts.  “Come and see,” said Philip to Nathaniel in John 1:46, some of the first words of Christian evangelism.  We are called to do the same.

How can your life more clearly proclaim the Gospel to others?  To whom can you reach out and say “come and see”?  How can we be more welcoming and open to newcomers?  How can you more clearly articulate the power of Christ’s love in your life?  Who is waiting for you to be the face of Christ for them?  How can each of us become a more contagious Christian?

Christian living is expressed in active love for others.  Our faith is not just about piety and study; it has to be lived.  When Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, he put together two parts of the Torah in Hebrew Scripture.  “’You shall love the Lord your God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.’  This is the first and great commandment.  And a second is like unto it:  ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (Matthew 22:37-40).  Our “vertical” relationship with God is to be lived in our “horizontal” relationship with others.  The two are like each other.

Thus we see the crucial importance of loving other people as Christ loves us.  Such loving was a hallmark of Jesus’ earthly ministry. He constantly gave himself for others.  His parables, such as the Good Samaritan and the Last Judgment in Matthew 25, often pointed radically to compassion and love as the essential values of the kingdom of God.  This is what faith in action looks like.

The commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves is a challenge to our human nature.  Our natural tendency is to want to take and possess things for ourselves.  William Blake’s famous drawing of Adam after he has been expelled from the Garden shows him saying, “I want.  I want.”  The suggestion is that our fallen nature is hung up on ourselves and our own needs.  As Martin Luther said, we are “incurvatus in se,” turned in on ourselves.

When we are grasped by the love of God in Christ, we are turned around, focusing outwardly on God and others rather than just on ourselves.  It is not in having, Jesus said, that we receive but in giving.  This is the way of agape, the love that the New Testament says is God’s love.  This question goes even farther than this, however. It commits us to seeking and serving Christ in all persons.  That is, we are to see Christ present in others and learn that when we serve them, we are serving Christ himself.

This remarkable challenge is rooted in the Parable of the Last Judgment in Matthew 25, where we are given a picture of the judgment of the nations at the end of time. The ones who are judged to be righteous by the Son of Man are so, he says, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” When they are astonished by these words, he concludes, “as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.”  In other words, the judgment will be based on our love of neighbors in need.

Here we are pointed to one of the deepest mysteries of Christian faith. The word of God was made flesh in Jesus Christ in the Incarnation, so that we could know God as a person. Matthew 25 and this question tell us that the Incarnation is extended as we come to see Christ in one another.

C.S. Lewis once wrote, “Next to the blessed sacrament itself the holiest object presented to our eyes is our neighbor.  For, in almost the same way, in your neighbor Christ is truly present.”  This is why we must seek and serve Christ in all persons, not just our closest friends and family.  Christ is present in the poor, the sick, the alone, the stranger, in those who may differ greatly from us.  To see Christ in them is to be transformed and to be liberated to love them as we are loved.

Christian history has always seen God’s people engaged in the tough issues of human life.  Anglicans have founded hospitals and orphanages, have started soup kitchens and clothing and food banks, have been involved in the struggles for civil rights and women’s rights, and have fought against slavery and oppression of many kinds.  This we believe is an essential aspect of God’s work through his Church

Each human being has dignity and worth because each is made by God and loved by God equally.  However, to love and respect our brothers and sisters does not mean that we condone the sin that breaks them away from that “goodness” of which we were born.  Love the person is required but it is not required that we love the sin.

In their book Christian Believing, John Westerhoff and Urban T. Holmes draw an interesting contrast between what they call “religion of escape” and the “religion of involvement.”  The first seductively invites us to find in God a way to get beyond the pain and difficulty of the world, promising—in one way or another—that God’s primary business is to make us happy.  Religious cults often offer such religion, which is a distortion of Biblical faith.  The faith of the Scriptures and of Christ involves us in the difficulty and struggles of the world, promising not easy answers but trust in the ultimate triumph of God over the brokenness of life.  The religion of involvement sends us into the world to help the poor and work for justice.

Anglican Christians have always strived to engage the hard issues of human history in order to be faithful to God’s vision for the world, and such a way of “worldly holiness is not easy.  The peace that is promised is not that of spiritual tranquility but that of love’s fire and compassion.

The gifts He gave were some who would be: apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: Ephesians 4:11-13.

It is clear from scripture that God has equipped each of us with various gifts and abilities which are best used for the glory of God and the welfare of God’s people. Examine the classic passages of Romans 12: 4-8 (For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness) ; I Corinthians 12: 4-11 (Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are differences of administrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of operations, but it is the same God which worketh all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to every man to profit withal. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues: But all these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.) and you will find confirmation that God intends us to understand ourselves as gifted people with the responsibility of using those gifts to “build up the Church” into its full potential. The church is a community of diverse persons who are called to discern their own unique contributions, to grow in love and unity with each other. We are Christ’s ambassadors (II Corinthians 5:20) and in general our work is to respond both to God’s claim on our lives and God’s call to mission.

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