Moral Problems due to Metaphysical Confusion

The Creation of Man by Michelangelo Sistine Chapel

“Christian theology makes it clear that what it means to be good is part of a larger account of the kinds of beings we are and the kind of reality we inhabit. When Paul was in Athens at Mars Hill, one of his first public claims in that pluralistic setting was an assertion that God was the maker of the world and everything in it. That is not just a “religious” claim; it is a claim about human nature that has consequences for all social and cultural life. It’s not just about morality but about metaphysics, about the nature of things. Modern culture’s moral confusion is a function of its metaphysical mistakes, so Christian championing of the common good thus requires more than moralism.” [From Ken Myers’ newsletter, Spring, 2016.]

A lot of this applies to a superfical Christian ethic which is simply good-doing-ism and winning souls to Christ.

But there’s more here.

Connect this to Augustine’s observation that the good in this universe – all good anywhere – is based in the being of God, its Creator. Evil, and its various manifestations, is like a parasite. It cannot create, it can only use what is created. And evil, as it extends itself away from the Source of all being, thus becomes less and less substantive – it fades away into nothing. It becomes true vanity, true emptiness. Read The City of God, Book 12.

Thus the Christian, in seeking reconciliation and the full development of the renewed image of God in the heart, existentially re-roots his being in God, the Source of being, and becomes increasingly more of what he was made to be: a human, a good creature in God’s image. He “partakes of the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) as his mind is renewed and he puts on (i.e. lives consistent with) the newly-created divine nature (Ephesians 4:23-24).

CS Lewis seeks to illustrate this principle in his book The Great Divorce. The closer one is to heaven and God, the more solid one becomes, the more real one becomes, the more “good” one becomes.

We must then ask why we, as sons of God, would be fascinated by that which ultimately becomes nothing. How can a good life be built upon vanity?

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What is the rite of Confirmation in the Anglican Communion?

I have put this together for my parishoners today – thought I’d post it here. Unedited. 🙂

What is the rite of Confirmation?

Confirmation is the last step of Christian initiation into the Holy Catholic Church.(1) Hippolytus (d. AD 235) explains that, in apostolic times, confirmation was immediately administered after baptism, along with anointing with oil (the chrism). See Hebrews 6:2: “laying on of hands.” Confirmation was understood to be the same kind of thing that we find in The Acts of the Apostles, when the apostles would lay hands on believers in order to receive the Holy Spirit. So far so good. We know that, theologically, a person is assumed to be regenerate by the Holy Spirit with baptism (and, of course, thus indwelt), but we do see occasional instances in Acts when there is a differentiation between the regeneration signed and sealed by baptism and the “giving” of the Holy Spirit, with the laying on of the hands of the apostles. It doesn’t always happen like that, but there is a pattern evident. Because of this pattern, the Church practiced confirmation along with baptism. They were two parts of the same rite.

Problems arise when a period of time is allowed to separate baptism and confirmation. In what sense is the Spirit given or not given in this initiatory process?

A separation of baptism and confirmation occurred in the Western Church when it was required that only a bishop could administer confirmation. Since bishops would be limited in their ability to get about, a separation would naturally take place. It was understood that all a person really needed in order to be a Christian was to be baptized. That was the only necessary condition laid down by our Lord (Matthew 28:19). Confirmation, then, had to be something extra to regeneration, and was understood as such. Any subsequent giving of the Holy Spirit to a believer must be for the purpose of strengthening the new life via regeneration for discipleship and service.

There is another issue here: full communing membership. In the Western Church, Paul’s warning in I Corinthians 11:27-32 is taken to mean that a person should not be allowed to partake of the Lord’s Supper unless they are of an age of understanding and responsibility. In apostolic times, first communion was taken immediately after confirmation. Logically, if confirmation then is prerequisite and even the occasion of first communion in the historic church, then it makes sense that confirmation should not be given a person until they are old enough to take communion. As the historic church increasingly changed from members coming primarily from adult conversions to members being born into the church, confirmation would be separated from baptism: there were so many infants that were being baptized, and they were too young to finish full initiation. Of course, there would be no separation for an adult convert.

There is also a strong tradition in the Church of preparation for initiation, and thus we have in our Prayer Book the requirement of catechesis before confirmation – which thus also assumes confirmation being later in a person’s life, if baptized as an infant. They have to be old enough to be catechized.

We actually have two “tracks” here, have we not? Those born into the covenant family are baptized as infants as per the Abrahamic covenant. If born in the Western Church, that person then has to grow up until they are able to be catechized, confirmed, and take first communion. For adult converts, or adults who are coming into a Church that requires confirmation for communion, there is no reason for delaying anything.

In the current ACNA Bishop’s Visitation Customary, confirmation is first considered the equivalent of a public profession of faith, required for membership. This seems to be a reference to the practice at confirmation of affirming one’s baptismal vows. Next is a statement of the traditional idea that there is more going on than mere profession of faith. There is also a strengthening of the Holy Spirit for life and service. The statement also recognizes that the subject of confirmation would already be a born again and baptized believer. These statements together summarize the culmination of the understanding of confirmation through history, from a Western and Protestant view.

If you will read through the Book of Common Prayer (1662 or 1928), from “Baptism” through “Confirmation,” you see the whole tradition on display, with the Reformation strengthening the practice of catechizing.

(1) Anglican’s do not consider confirmation to be admission just into the Anglican Communion, but to the Catholic Church as a whole. That is why Anglican’s can accept confirmations from other communions for reception of members.

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Love as Action – Don’t fret over your feelings

C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity says of …  divine love in the heart of the believer: “But love, in the Christian sense, does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people” (129). [He refers, of course, to the command to love your neighbour as you love yourself.]

Think of the relationship of feelings to love this way. Consider a pipe or faucet of water. If you run water through that pipe, you know that – depending on the kind of water running through it – mineral deposits will gradually develop along the walls of the pipe and build up over time. Well, think of the water as love in its purity of action, and the deposits as the feelings that can accrue and grow, depending on the circumstance. When the water first starts to flow, the pipe has no deposits. But if you keep the water flowing, eventually you’ll start having deposits. So it is that, with God’s love, we may have no feelings for the person – the pipe may be quite clean – but the point of having the pipe is for the water, the acts of love, not the deposits. So we act, like God acts, and we give to the other person, and, in time, the feelings – the deposits – will start to grow. Many of us have had that experience.

Of course, there are those occasions when, not only may we not have loving feelings for the person, but they may actually be hurting us in some way. The result is that, though we keep giving – though the water keeps flowing – we have to put forth so much effort to just keep the peace, that there’s no energy left for the feelings to grow. Loving that person may never seem other than a kind of chore. But that’s fine. To keep up the action in the face of discouraging circumstances is a great victory of God’s grace. After all, the people around Jesus when he died on the cross, were not all being very appreciative, were they. But he still loved them and prayed for them. If our feelings are not what we think they ought to be, forget about them. Just keep the love flowing.

And, actually, we get to that kind of situation in the latter part of our passage, do we not? For Paul here [in Romans 12] talks about how to keep up our love for people when they turn out to be our persecutors.
14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.
17 Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all.
18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Beloved, when it comes to people who are our enemies, people who are hurting us, whether it be our persecutors or whoever else they may be – a fellow student, or a co-worker, or a family member, if we take up that offense, or that hurt and decide we are going to hurt them back, whether by an action or a word, or by foolishly thinking that staying mad and bitter is somehow going to affect them in some way, what are we doing? We are turning off the water, aren’t we. The decision to be bitter, the decision to resent, is a decision to not love, to not act in a loving manner toward this person.

Of course, we feel like saying, “How can I love? Look at what they did!” Well, I may not see what they did, but God does. And God, though he hates the sinful thing this person has done, nevertheless still loves the sinner. Just like he loves you, in spite of the way you have hurt people in the past yourself. But God is also just, and when he looks at what this person has done to you, He cares about it. He cares about the injustice. And, if you will let him; if you will trust him to do the right thing, he will be sure that that person gets what is coming to them, either by way of making it right through the redemption of His Son, or otherwise.

But our duty toward that person remains plain, for we are to be the children of God, who show the unique love of God in this dark world by the words we say and the things we do. Our prayer for our enemies is the same as the prayer of our Saviour for his enemies, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,” and we may have to pray that prayer every day. But we pray it. And when we pray it, we may add, based on Romans 12, “and Father, if they do not repent, thank you that you will make all this right in your own way in your own time.” You see, grudges destroy your soul, and your heavenly Father doesn’t want that to happen. He wants you to be a whole, loving person. So, he will take care of the wrongs that happen to you, so you are free from them and their bitterness. Isn’t that kind of him?

Dear friends, God’s love is unique and it outstrips our love every time. That is why we have to have help understanding it, if we are gong to love the same way. And that’s why we have passages like Romans 12, where we have these little word pictures, showing on a case-by-case basis, what this love looks like in action, because that’s what matters; the action is what matters. Not the theory. Not the feeling. But the words and the deeds. And that is what the Lord is going to give you the grace to do. We not only need help understanding what that love looks like, we need help doing it as well. And He is that help in us. He dwells in your heart, by His Holy Spirit, and he not only loves you, and wants you to know that love, but he loves that person beside you that can be hard to love. All the power of God Himself is with you to help you to show that person the love that God has for them. Beloved, we are all in this together as the children of God. Let us have faith and trust our God to keep our hearts as we, like him, give them to others. It’s risky, but it is the way to glory.

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