Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Don’t trust in Princes [? Prince-Bishops/Primates ?]

A meditation from the Revd Dr Peter Toon

In Psalm 146 we hear:
O put not your trust in princes, nor in any child of man: for there is no help in them.
For when the breath of man goeth forth, he shall turn again to his earth: and all his thoughts shall perish (BCP 1662)

This may be translated from the Hebrew in contemporary English in this manner:

Trust not in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no security.
When his breath departs he returns to his land; on that day his projects perish.

Here in verses 3-4 of this “Halleluyah Psalm”, in the context of heartfelt praise of the LORD God of Israel [known as YHWH – Yahweh], the Hebrew poet contrasts the futility of human resources with the help and strength of the God of Jacob/Israel.

There is, of course, a proper sphere of life wherein it is right to trust in human beings – e.g., the baby lying in mother’s arms; the husband and wife living together; the people traveling in the taxi relying upon the skill and knowledge of the driver; the person on the operating table having confidence in the surgeon and medical team, and so on. However, in the case of adults, especially those who claim to believe “in God the Father almighty maker on heaven and earth…”, it is never right to trust in one or another human being totally, unreservedly and completely for the present and the future. For, after all, is not the best human being not only a creature but also a sinner?

Especially is this so when that which is in view is the doing of the will of the LORD God by the people of God – e.g., the returning to the keeping of his will, laws, statutes and ordinances from a wandering from them; or the recovery of the blessing and guidance of the LORD God after a period of rebellion and experience of his chastisement and judgment.

Not only in this Psalm 146 but often in the Psalter, we hear the call, “Put not your trust in Princes [human leaders].”

The human tendency in ancient society that was patriarchal was to trust natural and appointed leaders to get the tribe or people to the point where they needed to be and ought to be. And to trust them not simply as the agents of the LORD God, but as if they were capable, because of their God-given position, to achieve the goal themselves.

The human tendency within churches today in democratic society, where political thinking, maneuvering and action are dominant in all areas of public life, is to “trust” in the persons and methods that belong to, or become part of, ecclesiastical politics – for are not church synods conducted in much the same way as secular assemblies? That is, if a given group knows how to use the rules of order and to present resolutions and get the right persons on board, along with raising much money and having a good communications team, then it is believed that such has a good chance to achieve its aims.

No doubt, in modern denominations, one cannot escape from the political way of conducting business - after all, is not the ECUSA General Convention modeled on the USA Congress? Yet what one can do – and this is a massively difficult task for Americans whose mindset includes acting politically as the norm in church and society – is to learn to “Trust not in princes”, that is to trust in no man or human being or group thereof, as if he or they were ultimate Being, the One True and Living God.

To be more specific, in the present ECUSA situation, a word that may be heard – though it is a very quiet word – from the psalmists of heaven addressed to zealous Episcopalians who see themselves fighting the “revisionists” (progressive liberals) of the ECUSA is this --- TRUST NOT IN PRINCE-BISHOPS, NOR IN ARCHBISHOPS, PRESIDING BISHOPS AND PRIMATES.

In Psalm 146 the person who is counted as blessed by the Father in heaven is the man and woman, the congregation and the diocese, “whose help is in the God of Jacob” and “whose hope is the Most High, the LORD God.” That is, those who knowingly and deliberately are committed to and trust in the LORD God firstly and supremely.

The Holy Trinity may use in the days ahead the Primates as a whole, or the Primates of the Global South, in his sovereign providence as part of the reformation, regeneration and renewal of the Anglican Way in America. That is God’s choice and his alone. He does not need our advice or help in this matter for he is the LORD!

What the Father expects of us is to trust Him and Him alone as the LORD of heaven and earth, and to trust Him in the Name of His Beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, and as the people who are indwelt, sanctified and guided by the Holy Spirit. To trust Him as the unique and holy Creator, Judge, Savior, and Redeemer.

By all means, let us do what we have to do within the political ordering of synods and conventions, but let us not put our trust in our ability to use or manipulate this system. Likewise, honor the Primates as is appropriate but let us not put our trust in their authority or their ability to change the Anglican system and communion.

TRUST IN THE LORD, THE HOLY TRINITY, AND TRUST IN HIM ALONE, for he alone, is truly worthy of our trust, as his forgiven, adopted children, being saved by grace and grace alone. And, after all, His love for the Church purchased by the blood of his Incarnate Son is infinitely greater than is ours.

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