Saturday, April 22, 2006

A neglected, even rejected, cause of ecclesiastical apostasy - what was once called “hardness of heart” & “bondage of the will.”

Preachers have used the call of Isaiah to be the Lord’s prophet, recorded in Isaiah 6, very often as a basis for sermons; and the Liturgy of the Church has used the Threefold Holy of the seraphim as a means of worshipping the Holy Trinity. Yet the general use of this important chapter is only of verses 1 to 9a, for the message that the LORD gave to Isaiah in 9b – 13 does not make for comfortable reading or easy use in sermons and homilies.

But 9b-10 may in fact be a divine word to those seeking to understand what has happened to the Episcopal Church in terms of its moral and spiritual state before the Lord of hosts in 2006.

In fact, from a human perspective Isaiah’s mission as clearly stated by God in 9-10 seems one big mistake! He was commanded to make the heart/mind of his people fat, to make their ears heavy and to shut the eyes, lest they see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart/mind, and then actually turn and be healed of their apostasy and wickedness. This wholly negative result is to be seen, in the light of the rebellious nature of his listeners, God’s elect people, as an inevitable state of affairs. The prophetic word uttered by Isaiah would serve to crystallize the character and seal the destiny of those who heard it (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:15-16).

It is clear from the contents of the book of Isaiah that the prophet did not understand his commission to be that of blinding people with obscurity of expression and complexity of message. Rather, the material bears all the marks of a plain, systematic and reasoned approach. In fact he was accused (see 28:9-10) of teaching with too much simplicity and with a clarity suitable to the understanding of the very young. What this dedicated prophet did was to preach his message clearly and powerfully and, when resisted, to try again to make it even more clear. And, of course, the more this rebellious people of God refused to hear his message, the more they hardened their hearts/minds against truth and the way of the Lord. Thus the prophecy came true in reality as God’s people were confirmed in their rebellion and apostasy.

Isaiah’s task at a crucial point in the history of his people, who were God’s covenant people, was to bring the Lord’s word with fresh, even unparalleled clarity, but in their response his hearers would reach a point of no return – of total hardness of heart and of utter bondage of the will to evil and rebellion. The decisive word of the Lord was spoken and refused – even as much later the word of Jesus, the Messiah, was also refused (see Matt 13:14-15; Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10 & John 12:39ff.; Acts 28:26-27).

In our modern church life and theological atmosphere, it is not common or even deemed proper to reflect upon these themes, and to suggest that there may be a hardening of heart and mind with a bondage of the will occurring in people who belong to the Anglican Way (Episcopalians & Anglicans, clergy and laity). But how else can one explain the seemingly total commitment of large numbers of people within the ECUSA and other western provinces of the Anglican Communion to that which not more than a few decades ago was judged by all to be (at the bar of Scripture and tradition) erroneous, heretical, sinful and wicked? How else can one explain the virtual overthrow by ECUSA since the 1960s of God’s ordinances in creation and the new covenant for the right ordering of human beings one to another?

Hardness of heart/mind can be either total, where there is complete rejection of God’ known will (and this is where Isaiah’s contemporaries had arrived), or it can be partial, depending on the degree of such rejection and rebellion (a moral and spiritual state where Israel of old and the Church of yesterday and today often found herself).

According to St Paul in Romans 7 – 8 all of us suffer from the bondage of the will, in the sense that while we are free to pursue daily living and work and make choices of many kinds, we are not free to believing savingly on the Lord Jesus, repent of sin and walk in the way of the Lord. Only the act of the Holy Spirit, the new birth of regeneration, can free the will so that a person can then truly serve the Lord in spirit and in truth. This is why the Lord Jesus said, “Ye must be born again”, that is “it is necessary that you be born again” of the Spirit of the Lord (John 3). Further, only the spiritually regenerate can begin to love what God loves, delight in what God delights, and see things from the divine perspective. Even so (Romans 7) there remains even in the choicest of saints the diseased human will and it is capable of reviving and causing trouble, if spiritual disciplines are neglected.

So, where there is nominal religion, an outward profession of Christianity, but no internal regeneration and holiness, then there will be rejection of God’s will either deliberately and knowingly or habitually and constantly. It is possible, maybe probable, that many of those who embrace the new Episcopal religion that all love is of God and that God is the God of the outsider who welcomes people “just as they are” to be “what they are by orientation and nature” display a real case of bondage of the will – in this case to corrupt religion. For even if they have been baptized with water, they appear not to have been baptized with the Holy Spirit in regeneration and thereby to love God and hate sin.

Also, and perhaps more frightening, there is the real possibility that some who have been truly regenerated and illumined by the Holy Spirit and have begun a Christian life, have (for a variety of possible reasons) succumbed to the temptation of the world, the flesh and the devil and have embraced heresy, error, immorality and wickedness and done it all in the name of a “superior” and “enlightened” form of Episcopal religion. Further, as they have rejected the calls to return by grace to where they came from, so they have hardened their hearts and made it increasingly difficult to hear the word of grace and pardon any more. Such people then become devotees of that religion which meets the approval of their hardened hearts and enslaved wills.

How can one explain what has happened to the religion of the mainline denominations of the USA (and in Europe) over the last century or less, if one does not bring into the cultural/social/theological explanation this very (in biblical terms) common spiritual condition, which causes apostasy often and in many places. The bondage of the will and the hardening of the heart/mind are surely present among us – in all our hearts to some degree and (perhaps clearly) in the leadership of the ECUSA at national and diocesan levels, which presses on into more rebellion and apostasy, with its innovatory agenda, using whatever form of words and types of action necessary for this onward movement.

Against this form of corrupted religion, the use of political methods and strategies, the spending of huge sums of money and the employment of the latest technology and communications, will not avail, if the aim is to seek to cause hard hearts to be melted and softened by the sweet mercy of God and the bondage of wills released into freedom in grace by the action of the Holy Spirit. What is truly required, alongside the normal means of grace gracefully employed, is a total dedication to the ministry of petitionary and intercessory prayer – both for those whose hearts seem to be totally hardened and for those of us who, despite our desires not to be so, also suffer from a certain hardness of mind and heart.

What we must face up to is that even when there is prolonged, powerful and pure prayer offered to the Father in the Name of Jesus and in the Spirit, the ECUSA may remain in its selfish autonomy on the road it now travels on, the road of apostasy, rebellion and wickedness. Here celebration is not of the blood of Jesus which cleanses the repentant sinner, but of the supposed warm embrace of the inclusive Jesus who receives a person just as she/he is in order for him/her to remain so with divine help!

Isaiah preached and preached and preached; Isaiah loved and loved and loved, and also Isaiah prayed and prayed and prayed. God takes care of the future and all events in his providence; our duty and privilege is to be his faithful servants. So let us pray earnestly, and love sincerely and preach faithfully.

The Rev’d Dr Peter Toon April 19 2006

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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One of the finest things I've heard in some time. It needs to be said repeatedly. I deeply dread that the theme of Amos is before Western Anglicanism and that the sin has been "filled up" and the judgment irreversible.