Monday, March 31, 2008

GAFCON, before or after Lambeth Conference, July 2008: A re-evaluation from a critic!

Peter Toon March 31, 2008

Since 2007 I have written various pieces arguing that (a) if GAFCON [Global Anglican Future Conference] is to occur then it ought to be after not before Lambeth; (b) that the East and West African Bishops, who are boycotting Lambeth are needed there; and (c) that an extraordinary effort needs to be made before, at, and after Lambeth to make room for the healing grace of God our Savior to flow into the life and affairs of the Anglican Communion of Churches. In stating this, I am fully aware that the in any reform and renewal of the Anglican Family, now so dysfunctional, the present dominance of the (in general, secularized) North will need to give much way to the (in general, dynamic and orthodox) South.

As I have continued to study carefully the statements and mindset of those who are behind GAFCON (e.g., the Primates of Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, along with allies in America, Britain and Australia) what has come reasonably clear to me is this: that according to the developing mindset of the organizers, to have the conference and pilgrimage before Lambeth was essential to their deep sense of ministerial vocation and witness—a matter of conscience. This mindset has been profoundly influenced by the observation of the failure of the Anglican Communion of Churches, through its various Instruments of Unity and Lambeth Commissions and Reports, to do anything to halt the advance of the homosexual agenda in both The Episcopal Church and The Anglican Church of Canada, or to discipline these Churches for their heresies and immorality. Also there is the sense that Dr Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, is at heart in sympathy with the innovations and has not done and will not do what was/is necessary to oppose them or to discipline the offenders.

To understand the mindset of GAFCON leadership, here is a message posted widely on the internet from GAFCON— :

Date: March 18, 2008
GAFCON is organized to enable the Anglican Orthodox to think, discuss and pray about the future of the Anglican Communion.

Many Anglican Orthodox leaders have come to the conclusion that the 2008 Lambeth conference as it is structured and led is fundamentally compromised and will not provide the environment and process to struggle with the challenges threatening the future of the communion.

The GAFCON gathering does not mean schism. It seeks to set out a clear biblically faithful and orthodox vision for the future of the Anglican Communion, share with the rest of the communion in all available forums and work at shaping the communion towards that end.

The Conference and Pilgrimage will identify the biblical and theological truths that unite and empower us, work on ways of equipping the whole church for ministry and mission, identify approaches and resources for the economic empowerment of the Church in the Global South, share experiences and resources of churches in their work addressing poverty, HIV/Aids, human rights, engagement in advocacy and policy and ministry in contexts of religious hostility and plurality.

Your support will enable Bishops and their wives to join with others not only in addressing the issues facing the future of orthodox witness in the Communion but particularly to chart a new path for developing enterprise solutions to poverty in many dioceses with important implications for their future well being... We believe this is one of the most important meetings involving the Anglican Communion that we have seen in our lifetime today. History is poised potentially to turn on its hinges if this gathering of world Anglican leaders is successful.

Sincerely in Christ

The Gafcon Leadership team
Donate to GAFCON by clicking here or going to

Let us now look at some of the main points or themes of this Plea for financial assistance.
The Conference is for those whom the organizers judge to be orthodox not for anyone who chooses to attend. Orthodoxy is probably defined as holding basic evangelical tenets and being opposed to the same-sex innovations.

The Conference is in some sense in opposition to or an alternative for the Lambeth Conference because the judgment is explicitly made that the Lambeth Conference, as organized under the leadership of Dr Williams, is incapable of addressing the real issues facing the Anglican Communion or doing anything about them, or of planning wisely for the future.

The holding of Jerusalem Conference in June 2008 does not meant that a schism is being formed; what it does mean is that an alternative vision (to the Lambeth 08 one global diversity) of what the Anglican Communion ought to be (when real input from the Global South is taken seriously) will be set forth in order to be carried around the world and made known to all who will listen.

At the heart of this new vision is commitment to Mission, but not only narrowly to evangelization of peoples and their conversion to Jesus Christ, but also to the ministry of healing and social service, facing some of the massive health, political, social and cultural challenges of our time—including poverty within many African dioceses .


Let us seek to get inside the minds of the GAFCON leadership.

If, as leaders of a very large proportion of Anglicans in the world, you feel so deeply and strongly that the leadership of the Anglican Communion has so profoundly failed to address the deep doctrinal and moral errors of two of its prominent provinces; if you think that the A. of C. has failed in particular and has compounded his failure by inviting to Lambeth 08 the bishops who actually consecrated Gene Robinson—more culprits than Robinson himself; if you believe that the whole context and content of Lambeth 08 is deeply flawed and compromised and that instead of joyful orthodoxy there will be heresy or deeply-compromised faith dressed up as reasonable religion on view; and if you believe that being a part of this compromised conference will be to deny that Jesus is Lord and that his Church is to be faithful to his Word, then obviously you cannot attend. Further, you cannot stop there by being absent: you have to do something to proclaim to the Anglican Communion, and its friends around the world, that there is another and a better vision of what is the Communion—and this vision needs to be declared and known before the world is presented, via a big media presence, with the vision of the erring leadership and vision of Dr Williams and his team!

With me, a growing number is coming to understand and appreciate GAFCON and the powerful matter of informed, godly consciences involved, but this does not stop us also hoping and praying that, after the two Conferences, in 2008 a way will be found by God’s guidance to keep the Anglican Communion as ONE Global Family, but renewed in truth and grace and for mission.

Just how that can be is totally beyond my predictions right now but I can dream and pray and hope.

The Revd Dr Peter Toon March 31 2008

Saturday, March 29, 2008

1995, the critical year of definition for “orthodox Episcopalians” of the U.S.A., and what has happened since then.

Reflections from an observer of these events in these years.

If we can fix a point in the 1990s when the minds of “orthodox Episcopalians” in The Episcopal Church [TEC] began seriously to look abroad, primarily to Africa, for help to maintain their presence in their own Church, and even an Anglican witness in their own country, it was most probably during 1995.


At the General Conventions of 1991 and 1994, as well as at Diocesan Conventions and House of Bishops Meetings in that period, conservative organizations had spent much time, money and energy lobbying to restrain the liberal, progressive agenda of the leadership of TEC and to persuade its moderate majority to opposite that agenda. Yet things got worse not better in TEC, as seen in the increasing prominence of the extreme feminist agenda and the call for full rights for gay persons.

So ten Bishops associated with the American Anglican Council, led by James Stanton of Dallas, decided to challenge what was going on in sexual innovations. They chose the case of the ordaining of a “gay” man, who lived with his male partner, in the Diocese of Newark; and they brought the ordaining bishop Walter Righter, an assistant bishop there, to an ecclesiastical trial. The trial was held in the small Cathedral in Wilmington, Delaware.

Righter admitted to doing the ordaining, and the ordained man and his partner were present for the whole trial. So also, and this is important to bear in mind, was the third wife of Walter Righter. The bishop had been married three times and all his wives were alive in 1995 and thus, by traditional Christian rules, not only had he engaged in serial monogamy but also he was now living (1995) in adultery.

I was present at the trial (sat right by Mrs Righter III) and I read the various court papers. It was then, and remains today, a mystery to me why these ten “orthodox” bishops did not challenge also, if not solely, Righter’s primary sin, his adultery. Indeed, several of the lawyers working for Righter, when they came over to speak to Mrs Righter III remarked on the oddity of the case against their client from a traditionalist viewpoint, actually citing the words of Jesus on divorce, and wondering how the “orthodox” bishops understood Jesus!

Righter was found not guilty of heresy because he violated no core doctrine of the Church, no doctrine within the Creed, for example. The failure to gain conviction in a case that seemed straightforward to the Ten Bishops and their supporters in the American Anglican Council and other organizations was a major blow to them. It was becoming apparent in their circles that TEC would not, by its own volition, change its course. but would, rather, continue to pursue an approach fuelled by modern doctrines of human rights, personal self-fulfillment and human liberation. The minority in TEC who wished to retain “orthodoxy” as commonly known in the 1990s (i.e., the worship, doctrine and discipline of the TEC 1979 Prayer Book) began to make their plight known to sympathizers around the world, and to look abroad for relations and alliances with friendly primates and bishops.

So the American story began to be told in earnest around the Global Anglican Communion and initially no-one did this more widely and often than Bill Atwood of The Ekklesia Society, itself founded in 1995. He travelled vast distances to bring together an international alliance to stand with the marginalized American minority; and he also channeled aid to needy parishes and dioceses.

Out of the friendship, alliances and networks created from 1995 onwards, and very much cemented at meetings before, at, and after the Lambeth Conference in 1998, the strategy later developed of (a) the adopting of American Episcopal congregations leaving TEC by overseas bishops; and (b) the creation of networks and groups of churches outside TEC and directly under the pastoral authority of overseas Primates; (c) the consecration of bishops by overseas provinces for specific missionary work in the U.S.A. totally outside TEC; and (d) the adoption of whole dioceses of TEC by an overseas province.

In 2008 we are very familiar with these developments, but we sometimes forget that they have occurred very quickly and much against any prediction or expectation of the early and mid 1990s.

The high point of this development that began in 1995 thus far is the cooperation of the “orthodox American Anglicans” (i.e., Common Cause Partners led by Bishop Duncan) with the Primates of Nigeria, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda in the organizing and (also most importantly, funding) of the Conference/Pilgrimage in Jerusalem in mid-June 2008. For many involved this is seen as an alternative to the Lambeth Conference of July 2008 and also the beginnings of a rejection of the centrality of the See of Canterbury and the Mother Church of England in the Anglican Family.

Concluding Observations

Those who have left TEC to unite with African or South American Provinces in the last eight or so years have in the main taken the supposed orthodoxy of the TEC, before it adopted its radical sexual agenda, with them (i.e., its Formularies—liturgy, ordination rites and catechism— as contained within the 1979 Prayer Book).

This commitment to TEC formularies is one important reason why this movement in general can so determinedly oppose same-sex partnerships and all “gay” sex, and, at the same time, have within its ranks as clergy and laity, and often in leadership positions, a very large percentage who are divorced and remarried and engage in serial monogamy. The 1973 Canon on Marriage of TEC, the wording of The Marriage Service in 1979, and the rules established by diocesan bishops for marriage discipline from the 1960s onwards, all served to make remarriage in church after divorce common rather than rare—that is in accord with the American divorce culture!

Therefore part of the modern “orthodoxy” of the Common Cause Partners includes the tacit acceptance of divorced and remarried members in the context of the statement that “the ideal” (notice this word—as something to aim for but not necessarily the divine commandment) for marriage is two persons in a one-flesh, hallowed relation for life, until the death of one spouse. And let it be said, not a few of their courageous and committed leaders, who have suffered because of their secession from TEC, are divorced and remarried.

Despite the Theological Statement of Common Cause that it is committed to the classic formularies of 1662, the reality on the ground is that the 1979 formularies provide the major mindset and guidance to most congregations. And to the surprise of some participants and observers, this does not seem to bother their sponsoring African and South American provinces: Why? Possibly because Nigeria has a Prayer book from the 1990s like the American 1979, and parts of the Southern Cone actually use the 1979 Prayer book of TEC in its Spanish form. Further, they regard the homosexual aberrations as so much more sinful than the heterosexual failures they for the sake of the greater good they ignore the marital situation within the American divorce culture.

Thus as we bow low before the Almighty Father in the Name of the Lord Jesus in prayer for the prosperity of the Anglican Way in America, the questions arise:

Can these former Episcopalians now become Anglicans truly be the first-fruits of a new, truly biblically-based, orthodox Anglican “province” in North America?

Is their movement and realignment truly the beginnings of a real Reformation?

Is their long-established failure in terms of godly marriage discipline, displayed so clearly in (a) the basic mindset to bring Righter trial in 1995, and (b) the large percentage of divorced and remarried persons in their membership and leadership, always going to be there to haunt them, or can they make a new start with on a new foundation?

One thing is sure and that is that God our Father is the God of mercy and grace, and that he forgives, cleanses and heals us if we are penitent; but, we cannot forget in approaching him through His Son that he is also the God righteousness and holiness, and he wills that his Church, for which his only-begotten Son shed his precious blood, be pure even as He is pure.

And so we pray to the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit:

Lord have mercy,

Christ have mercy,

Lord have mercy.

[For an excellent account of how “Episcopal Dissidents” forged links with Africa between 1995 and 2002, read Miranda K. Hassett, Anglican Communion in Crisis: How Episcopal Dissidents and their African Allies are reshaping the Anglican Communion, Princeton University Press, 2007]

The Rev’d Dr Peter Toon


Friday, March 28, 2008

Anglicanism in 2008: What is the Anglican Communion? Where is it going?

Without any doubt Anglicanism, as a form and expression of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church is changing, being reshaped, and undergoing a series of crises. This causes great pain to some and joy to others, while many are confused.

The Anglicanism that we knew between the Lambeth Conferences of 1978 and 1998 is only visible as a shadow or as a memory. It is gone for ever.

Though we still speak of the Global Anglican Communion, this, at best, is more of an International Federation than a universal fellowship based on common worship, doctrine, and polity. Yet within the thirty-eight provinces there remains genuine Communion between some.

In her most important book , Anglican Communion in Crisis: How Episcopal Dissidents and their African Allies are reshaping Anglicanism (Princeton University Press, 2007), Miranda K. Hassett describes two competing definitions of “Anglican Communion” that she found repeatedly in her research, which covered the years 1995 to 2004.

The two are (a) Diversity Globalism, and (b) Accountability Globalism. I shall describe them and then suggest a modification of them in the light of events since 2004.

Diversity Globalism

First a quotation from the book:

“Moderate and liberal Anglican…leaders who planned Lambeth1998 shaped the Conference to uphold a particular vision of global Communion, characterized by acceptance of and engagement across differences of culture, experience and belief. This vision…of globalism posits encounter across differences as beneficial in and of itself, and the innate value of cross cultural encounter is often described as the central, motivating good to be obtained from striving for unity across difference.”

Since Lambeth 1998 progressive liberal bishops in the North (West) have developed the argument that if large parts of the Communion do not feel able fully to welcome diversity (especially in relations within and between the sexes), then the Communion should not seek to impose conformity. They make much of the autonomy of each of the provinces and that each province by its own canonical methods has a duty to seek for the truth in its own context and meeting local needs. To this they add that internationally the experience of meeting other Christians is a way of discerning truth together within the ambiguities of local tradition and culture. There is no clear, absolute, universal expression of truth, but there is “truth for me/us” in our context and experience and this we can share.

Accountability Globalism

Again, first of all, a quotation:

“One of the most central fixed elements for this conservative Anglican globalism lies in its leaders’ conviction that Christian doctrine and morality, as stated in Scripture, is normative for all the world’s Anglican churches. Conservative globalists reject the liberal idea that tolerance of homosexuality is a cultural value compatible with the Bible’s message…the issue of homosexuality is not a matter of acceptable cultural differences but of unacceptable straying from the gospel.”

While rejecting the idea that tolerance or rejection of homosexuality belongs to cultural differences, the minority of conservatives in the North and the majority in the South do place great emphasis on the positive value of cultural differences and on inter-cultural engagement, and a thus a common expression in their circles is “cross-cultural.” Yet in the differences there is a common agreement of absolute truth based on the Bible.

Where Lambeth Resolutions are seen as clear expressions of scriptural truth (as the one in 1998 on sexuality) then, although technically like all the many Resolutions on a great variety of topics they are non-binding, they should exert a powerful pressure for conformity in all the provinces. For they represent, the triumph of the universal over the particular and the global over the local.

In the work of conservative North American groups, along with that of the association of provinces and their Primates known recently as The Global South, this theme of accountability has been articulated over and over again, both before the appearance of The Windsor Report (2004) and then after its publication during what has been called “The Windsor Process.”


In 2008 as the Lambeth Conference in July looms on the horizon, it seems fair to state that these two global, Anglican visions remain in place but that a third has been added, not as a totally new creation, but by a division within one of the visions.

Up to late 2007 one can say that both the Diversity Globalism and the Accountability Globalism maintained their major differences but, nevertheless, were committed to a common center—the required relation to the See of Canterbury and through it to the Mother Church, the C of E., together with a general acceptance of the existence of, and need for, the so-called “Instruments of Unity.”

Since December 2007, it has become apparent that the Primates of Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya, along with their supporters in the North/West, have become committed to (or are seriously experimenting with) a wholly new form of Accountability Globalism. The outward and visible sign of this is the decision of the Bishops not to go to the Lambeth 2008 Conference and instead to organize a Pilrimage/Conference, based upon Jerusalem in June 2008. It appears—though details are only slowly emerging—that the revised form of Anglican Communion envisaged is one where there is no unique place for the See of Canterbury and the Mother Church, and where the present “Instruments of Unity” are modified or reduced. Finally, the membership is restricted to those provinces which are biblically orthodox and missionary-minded.

Thus at Lambeth 2008 will only be those Bishops, who subcribe either to Diversity Globalism or Accountability Globalism, but yet who believe that there is value in meeting together so that each side has the chance to convince the other of the rightness of its position. However, the advocates of Accountability Globalism (the reduced Global South association) will be without their former colleagues, including the bishops of the two largest Anglican Churches in the world, Nigeria and Uganda.

--Peter Toon


ANNUNCIATION The Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

The normal date for this Festival is March 25, nine months exactly before Christmas Day, but since March 25 was in Easter week in 2008, most churches transfer it to March 31, a Monday.

Let us look at the Collect in The BCP. It is a translation of what was the Post-Communion Prayer in the Latin Medieval Service according to the Sarum use/Rite.

The Reformers of the Church of England were not able to use the actual Collect in the Sarum Use because of its perceived doctrinal errors concerning the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Here it is in a traditional English rendering from the original Latin:

O God, who didst will thy Word to take flesh from the womb of the blessed Virgin, at the announcement of an angel: Grant unto us thy suppliants that, as we believe her to be the mother of God, so we may be assisted by her intercessions with thee, through the same, thy Son, Jesus Christ.

In contrast, the Collect that became the reformed Catholic Collect of the Anglican Way in The BCP is:

We beseech thee, O Lord, pour thy grace into our hearts; that, as have known the incarnation of thy Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel, so by his cross and passion we may be brought unto the glory of his resurrection; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

In a more contemporary and modified form this could be:

Pour your grace, O Lord our God, into our hearts, that we may not be as those who received in vain from the angel the announcement of the Incarnation of your Son; but, being led by the Spirit, we may go on in faith to be conformed to his death and resurrection, through the same Jesus Christ our Lord.

In this Collect, the church speaks of the merciful, dynamic relation of the Father to his adopted children under the image of dew or rain, which descends to fertilize the heart and life. Further, the church utters a prayer for grace, not only to receive God’s message of reconciliation but also to be so established in it, as to be conformed by it to a suffering and glorified Lord and Savior.

The church also recalls the means used by God to communicate first with Mary and then with Joseph of Mary’s miraculous conception (which is the human side of the Incarnation of the Son). God sent an angel, probably Gabriel, the very same angel who had announced to Daniel the future advent of the Messiah (Daniel 9:21ff.).

The Incarnation, the taking to himself by the Son of God of our human nature in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, makes it possible for him to the true Savior of the world, since he is both one with us and one with the Father. Therefore we come to the Father through union with him. We know these truths not merely as statements to be understood and learned, but also through faith and spiritual union with the Incarnate One himself.

We are brought to the glory of his resurrection by his cross and passion, and this in two ways. First, at the Cross he paid the ransom for our sins objectively as our Representative and Substitute, making for us a right and everlasting relation to the Father. And secondly, through our being conformed to his suffering in two ways— through the putting to death all sinful passions and thoughts in our hearts and by suffering patiently adversities, sickness, pain and tribulation.

The Festivals of the Blessed Virgin Mary in The BCP all point to her Son, who is her Lord concerning whom she once said: “Whatever he says to you, do it!”


Thursday, March 27, 2008

A prayer that St Paul would approve!

Easter 1 (The First Sunday after Easter): Praying the Collect with understanding

Almighty Father, who hast given thine only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification: Grant us so to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may alway serve thee in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of the same thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Almighty Father, You who gave your only Son to die for our sins, and to rise again for our justification: Grant that we may so put away the old leaven of malice and evil, that we way always serve You in sincerity and truth; through the merits of the same your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

This Collect was not translated and adapted from a Latin original, but was composed by Archbishop Cranmer for The BCP of 1549, where it was appointed for the Second Communion of Easter Day. In The BCP of 1662 it became the Collect for the Sunday following Easter Day.

It is rich in doctrine, primarily that of the Apostle Paul, and thus lends itself to serious meditation.

The opening invocation of the First Person of the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity as “Almighty Father” occurs only here in the Collects. Usually it is “Almighty God,” where, of course, “God” is understood as the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, since Easter Eve is the great time for Baptisms in the churches, and since it is from Baptism that a believer, as an adopted child of God, can with confidence call him “Father,” it is most fitting that the Collect for the Sunday following the Easter Festival addresses God directly as “Father.” Further, “almighty” points to the working of his mighty power when he raised Jesus from the dead (as Ephesians 1:19-20 declares).

The relative clause, which follows the invocation, is based on Romans 4:24-25: “Jesus our Lord who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” The death of Jesus, the Incarnate Son of the Father, was the death of the One who was a Representative and a Substitute for sinful man; he was the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. His glorious resurrection and exaltation to the Father’s right hand made possible the Gospel of grace and the declaring of repentant believers justified, that is, accounted righteous in God’s sight for Christ’s sake and merit.

With this solid doctrine in mind bowing before the Almighty Father, baptized believers are emboldened to make a large petition, which we know will be pleasing to our Father since it is according to his revealed will and based on his Word.

To appreciate this petition we need to have before us in memory the biblical basis for it: “Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (1 Corinthians 5:7-8).

The background of St Paul’s statement of putting away the old leaven lies in the Jewish practice in the seven days before the Feast of the Passover of searching out, removing and destroying of all traces of leavened dough and bread in the kitchen and eating areas. Then a fresh start was made from the new grain, and the first batch of dough was unleavened.

Because Christians have been forgiven, accepted and blessed by their heavenly Father, they are deliberately and constantly to put away whatever in their hearts and lives does not adorn the Gospel and belongs to the old life—and they are to do this not for seven days but always. Then following Christ and with the strength and guidance of the indwelling Spirit of Christ, they are to live in the light of the Resurrection!

The Prayer closes with a most timely recognition that the putting away of the old leaven and the receiving of the new, that is the mortification of sin and living in the power of the Resurrection, is only possible “through the merits of Jesus Christ.” Though commitment and faith(fullness) are required in human beings, they can only begin the journey of faith, hope and love because of what Christ is, has done, and will do for them! They live by grace!

--Peter Toon

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Friday, March 21, 2008

Eight Meditations for Holy Week and Easter from John’s Gospel 8. Easter Sunday, March 23. The Empty Tomb and the Risen Lord.

[The Gospel and Epistle of The BCP: John 20:1-10 & Colossians 3:1-7]

Over the last week, in seven meditations on John’s Gospel, we have followed Jesus from his Entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, through events in Jerusalem, to his Crucifixion and Burial. Now we prepare to realize and rejoice that he is fully glorified, truly risen from the dead. In the Gospel from, John 20:1-10 we come to this realization, and in the Epistle, from Colossians 3: 1-7, we see are made aware of some of its doctrinal and practical aspects. Thus Sunday, the first day of the week, is also the Eighth Day, the beginning of a new epoch and era!

THE GOSPEL: The evidence of the Empty Tomb

This Gospel passes over the great day of the Jewish Feast (Saturday) as if it had no importance. However, on the first day of the new week, the third day after the Sacrifice of the Lamb of God, we read of Mary Magdalene (with other women?) arriving at the tomb, to discover to her horror that the stone sealing the entry has been removed. Jumping to the conclusion that this means that the body of Jesus has also been removed, she ran (imagine a Jewish woman fully clothed running!) to tell both Peter and the Beloved Disciple, who were in different locations (cf. John 16:32).

Finding the two men, she tells them what she (and other women?) saw and what she believes about the body of Jesus. Like Mary, the two men also run to the garden tomb near the place of the crucifixion, with John getting there ahead of Peter. The Beloved Disciple looked in and saw only the linen sheets without a body in them. Peter was not content to look in, he went in! He saw the linen sheets and also the napkin that had covered Jesus’ head folded.

Whatever had been done in the tomb had been done in a calm and orderly way!

Yet Peter at this stage seems to have drawn the conclusion that the body had been stolen (cf. Luke 24:12).

Then the Beloved Disciple went in and he came to a different conclusion. He SAW and he BELIEVED. That is, what he saw led him to conclude instantly that things were as they were because Jesus had been raised from the dead! He believed that Jesus was no longer dead but risen. And he believed that the risen Lord had left the burial sheets behind as a sign that he had burst wide open the bonds of death and was alive for evermore. Thus he became the first of the long line of disciples who believed the Gospel without actually seeing the Resurrected Lord in person.

The faith of the Beloved Disciple is the climax of the narrative. For him, the reality of the empty tomb illuminated what he had learned from O.T. prophecy and what he remembered from the words of Jesus during his ministry (2:19-22; 10:18; 16:16ff.).

Much more will happen on this first day of the week, this Eighth Day, but it begins with the discovery of the empty tomb and the faith of the Beloved Disciple in his Lord. We do well to begin with John and his faith and then expect to see (as we read on in John 20) the Resurrected Lord (as they all did) later that day!

THE EPISTLE: Lift up your hearts at Easter and each Lord’s Day

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. [Colossians 3:1-4]

The message of Easter Day begins with the proclamation that God the Father has raised his Incarnate Son from the dead, and has changed his mortal body into an immortal, spiritual resurrection body of glory. By the action of raising and exalting him, the Father has thereby also accepted all that Jesus, the Son, has done in his obedience to his Father, and in his fulfilling the divine will for the salvation of the world.

The same message continues by spelling out how the Resurrection of Jesus, the Son, affects millions of other persons, in particular those who believe on his Name and become his disciples. The resurrected and exalted Jesus is the Head of the new creation, Lord of the Church, the King in the kingdom of heaven, the High Priest and Mediator by whom forgiven sinners come to the Father, the Prophet who proclaims the Word of God by the Spirit though his servants, the Judge who will return to earth to judge the peoples, and the Second Person of the Blessed, Holy and Undivided Trinity.

The Death of Jesus was different from the death of any other person, because he died as the Messiah, the Representative and Substitute Man, that is the Second and New Adam. His Resurrection was unique both in its reality and in that he was raised as the Messiah, the Representative and Substitute Man. In him, as it were, when he died, when he was buried and when he was raised were all the elect, all those who would believe upon him, when they heard the Gospel proclaimed (see further Romans 5 – 6 & 8).

With this background, St Paul begins to make sense when he writes: “If then you have been raised with Christ…” He does not doubt that as baptized Christian believers they were “in Christ” when he was raised from the dead; and further that in their baptism/conversion they received the new life of the Spirit, resurrection life. “Then” is not a word indicating doubt but of a fact of redemption.

So he continues: “Seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.”

Since the elect of God have been raised in and with their Lord to the highest possible place to which they could ever ascend—the closest proximity in Christ to his Father in glory—this amazing fact ought to give powerful direction and strength to their lives, what they aim for and what they say and do. “Things above” contrasts, of course, with “things that are earthly”. The Greek verb used points to the orientation of the human will, and here the will is being guided in the direction of “the things above.”

What Paul is saying is of such importance that he restates it in a related but different way: “Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on the earth.” The apostle urges them to let their thoughts dwell on that highest of realms where Christ is enthroned as Lord. Meditating upon, and contemplating Christ the Lord, in his exalted glory, is a powerful motivation for living for him in ways that please him on earth.

The Christian is to be in the world; not of the world; but for the world in the sense that God is for it. He can only be so if he is genuinely “heavenly-minded”.

Having made his exhortation for Christians to live in the light of the fact and message of Easter, the Apostle recalls the doctrine which was taken for granted when he began the exhortation: “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Jesus Christ is One Person, the Second Person of the Holy Spirit, and he is made known in two natures, divine and human. Those who are united to him by the Spirit and in faith are—as it were—enclosed within his glorified human nature and thus “are hidden with Christ [the Incarnate Son] in God, the Trinity.”

And to this mysterious but profound teaching he adds the word of hope: “When Christ who is our life appears, then you will also appear with him in glory.” St Paul looks to the end of the age when Christ returns to the earth to judge the living and the dead. He will not come alone but will be accompanied both by the holy angels and his redeemed saints in their resurrection bodies of glory.

So it is that the message of Easter Day is the message for all Lord’s Days, which are festivals of the Resurrection of Jesus. Further, the application of the Easter message is for every day until the same Lord Jesus returns in glory!

“You must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus” (Romans 6:11).

A Prayer

O God our Father, You who make us glad with the yearly festival of the resurrection from the dead of your only Son, Jesus Christ: Grant that we, who celebrate this Paschal Feast, may die daily to sin, and live with Christ evermore in the glory of his endless life; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Eight Meditations for Holy Week & Easter based on John’s Gospel 7 For Holy Saturday, March 22, John 19:31-42, The Interment

Between the death of Jesus on the cross and his resurrection from the dead, John’s Gospel provides an account of what happened to the body of Jesus, first while still on the cross, and then secondly being taken down and buried according to Jewish custom in a new tomb in a garden. Each of these accounts contains what we may call selected historical fact and theological symbolism, and for our true edification, we must notice both, as we await liturgically within the Christian Year the Easter cry that Jesus is risen from the dead.

Verses 31-37, The Effusion of Water and Blood

Only in John’s Gospel is the story told of the breaking of the legs of the two men, who were crucified with Jesus, and then the piercing of the side of Jesus (already dead) by one of the soldiers, leading to the effusion of water and blood. The fact that no bones of the body of Jesus were broken because he was already dead is presented as a clear fulfillment of prophecy (see Exodus 12:10 & 46 with Numbers 9:12) as is also the sight of the pierced Jesus (Zechariah 12:10).

The witness of the mysterious disciple, who must be the Beloved Disciple of verses 26-27, is solemnly recorded, and the truth of his witness is attested by the Lord himself. John perceived that purification (water) and new, sanctifying life (blood) flow from the completed Sacrifice of the Lamb of God; and thus John bears witness to the truth and efficacy of the Gospel, in order that those who read this account may believe both that Jesus is the Saviour of the world, and that they are cleansed and given new and everlasting life by his shed blood (cf. 1 John 1:7).

It is also possible that the Evangelist understands the effusion of water and blood also to prefigure the two Gospel Sacraments—Baptism (Water) and Lord’s Supper (Blood)—for both take their meaning and gain their efficacy from the unique death of Jesus. In the Eucharist in the churches the mixing of a drop of water with the wine in the chalice also recalls the flow of water and blood from the pierced side of Jesus.

Verses 38-42, The Body of Jesus

Pilate gives his approval to a secret disciple of Jesus to take down the body of Jesus from the cross and give it a burial that would be both in accordance with good Jewish custom and with the dignity of Jesus himself. Normally the bodies of the crucified were given as food to the vultures. This secret disciple is then joined by another, who provides a lavish amount of sweet-smelling spices to be placed on the body of Jesus as it was wrapped in linen sheets. Then the two secret disciples place the embalmed body of Jesus in a new tomb in a garden near to the place of crucifixion. Thus the site of the Crucifixion will be also the site of the Resurrection, the former witnessed by disciples, the latter seen only by angels!

Both the secret disciples have been mentioned already in the Gospels. Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin. who visited Pilate for permission to take the body, is described in Luke 23:50f. as a good and righteous man. Nicodemus, who provided the spices for anointing, is the man who came to Jesus by night (see John 3) to ask Jesus about his true identity.

In terms of theological symbolism, we may suggest two basic themes here.

First, the theme of the lifting up of Jesus on the cross: when he is lifted up he will draw all unto him (12:32). The testimony of the Beloved Disciple, who saw the effusion of water and blood, is to all those who have true faith in Jesus. Such disciples represent one group whom Jesus draws to himself when lifted up on the cross and then in Resurrection/Ascension to heaven. Here we meet a different group, nevertheless a real one, another kind of disciple, the secret disciple ,who is not fully and openly committed but yet who is nevertheless drawn by the love of Jesus towards union with him.

Secondly, the theme of Jesus as the king. The lavish amount of spices points to the burial of Jesus as a king and so does the fact that the tomb is in a garden (see 2 Kings 21: 18, 26 & Nehemiah 3:16, Acts 2:29). That Jesus was buried as a king fittingly concludes the Passion narrative in John’s Gospel in which Jesus is crowned and hailed as a king in his trial, and then enthroned and publicly proclaimed as king on the cross (John 19:19-20). He is the King whose kingdom is not of this world but of that greater world, the kingdom of heaven/God. In fact in glorification he is the King of kings and the Lord or lords.

Less clear as theological symbolism, but very attractive to devotion, is the suggestion that the royal gift of such a great amount of spices suggests the sweet-smelling, holy, healing and distinctive smell , which went forth into the world, into all space and time from the unique, once-for-all Sacrifice of the Son of God (cf. 2 Corinthians 2:14-16; Ephesians 5:2).

A Prayer for Holy Saturday-Easter Even

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the living God, You who, on this day, rested in the tomb, and by this act sanctified the grave as a bed of hope to your disciples: Make us so to abound in sorrow for our sins, which were the cause of your passion and death, that when our bodies rest in the grave, our souls may live with You; who lives and reigns with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

Meditations for Holy Week & Easter based on John’s Gospel 6. For Friday, March 21, John 19:25-37, Words from the Cross

Three only of the seven words from the Cross uttered by Jesus are recorded in John’s Gospel, and we shall look only at these three. Here is the usual order in which they are reflected upon on Good Friday: Luke 23:34, “Father, forgive…”; Luke 23:43 “Truly I say to you…”; John 19:26,27; Matthew 27:46, “My God, My God…”; John 19:28; John 19:30; and Luke 23:46, “Father into your hands…”.

O Lord Jesus Christ, who out of your silence on the cross bequeathed to your church seven Words: Grant that we may ponder them as an insight into the inexhaustible gospel of your love and of the redemption of the world; and also grant that we may learn from them to glorify by speech and silence the Father in heaven, who with You and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God world, without end.

Verses 25-27 “Woman, see, your son” and “See, your mother.”

The names of the women who stood near the Cross are carefully noted. Here we see how what was known as the “weaker sex” appeared the most manly: they are the faithful counterpart of the four soldiers who crucified Jesus!

John focuses attention on one of the women and the apostle John, neither of whom is referred to as being at the Cross by the other three Gospels. What he records is a simple but profound event illustrating a truth and reality—that is, that at the time of the Lord’s death, a new family is brought into being. Mary receives John, and John receives Mary, at the Lord’s direction. This union prefigures and foreshadows the genuine love (agape) and family nature of the Church of God. Mary, the Mother of the Lord, becomes the mother of the faithful, while John, the Beloved Disciple, symbolizes the ideal disciple.

Of course, we are not to allow this important symbolism of the unity of the Church to remove from our view the loving concern shown by Jesus for his beloved mother in making sure she is cared for, and which is also emphasized by the later comment of John that “from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.”

If this word from the Cross proclaims the true unity of the new people of God, then what happened to the seamless robe of Jesus when he was actually crucified by the four soldiers (verses 23-24) presents yet another truth concerning the people of God. Since it remained intact, the seamless robe points to the unity of the believers who are joined to the Lord and who feed on his body.

Verses 28-30 “I thirst” and “It is finished.”

“I thirst”

Having been on the Cross for a while, Jesus has accomplished the work that the Father gave him to do, and rightly and naturally his attention and desires turn towards his return to the Father—he longs and inwardly, spiritually thirsts for this return. In using the verb, “ I thirst,” of the desire for God Jesus was making use of a familiar image found often in the Psalter –see e.g., Psalm 42:2; 63:1-2 & 69:22. The devout Israelite often cried out, “My soul thirsts for God…”

Not surprisingly, the soldiers take the cry literally and in their cruelty offer him not water but vinegar, which would have intensified any physical thirst! However, they offer the drink on a twig of hyssop, not realizing that they were pointing (for those with eyes to see) religiously to the use of hyssop in the Passover, and beyond this to the meaning of the death of Jesus as the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. During the Passover season, in order to recall Exodus 12:22, the doors of Jewish houses were sprinkled using twigs of hyssop. For John’s Gospel, the Jewish Passover is fulfilled in the sacrifice of the true Paschal Lamb, the Lord Jesus, who is also the Door (John 10:7) of entry into the kingdom of God.

“It is finished”

The Divine Victim has completed his mission and work. The salvation of the world is accomplished. And the life of Christ on earth is at an end. The first stage of the glorification of Jesus is come to an end.

This, as a cry of victory, is not to be contrasted with the last words of Jesus in Matthew and Mark as if these were a cry of defeat. The latter are from Psalm 22:1, “My God. My God why have you forsaken me….?” And though they may seem to be a cry of apparent defeat, they are not, if one reads the whole Psalm carefully—and Jesus no doubt had the whole psalm in his mind when he began to quote it. At the ending of Psalm 22, all the ends of the earth turn to the Lord (cf. the words of Jesus, John 12:32, that when he is lifted up he will draw all unto him”). The clue to the harmonization of these two different words from the Cross is to see “It is finished/completed” in John as the summary of the content of the whole Psalm, which begins with the sense of abandonment, but does not end there.

The second half of verse 30 (“bowing his head he gave up his spirit”) may simply mean that Jesus gave up his spirit to his Father and thus died peacefully, his work ended.

It may also mean that Jesus hands over the Holy Spirit to those at the foot of the Cross, particularly to his Mother, who symbolizes the Church as the new people of God, and to John, who symbolizes the true disciples. In John 7:39 the Evangelist affirmed that those who believed on Jesus were to receive the Spirit once Jesus had been glorified. This moment at the Cross is the glorification of Jesus and thus Jesus looking down from the Cross to those below hands over to them the Spirit, who has been his Guide and Strength and will be theirs as the Paraclete. However, if we follow this interpretation, we must go on to say that we are to receive this reference to the giving of the Spirit as evocative and proleptic (the representation of a thing as existing before it actually does), pointing out to us the ultimate purpose for which Jesus has been lifted upon the Cross. (The actual giving of the Spirit is by the Resurrected Lord, John 20:22.)

[We shall meditate on Holy Saturday in Meditation 7 upon what happened to the dead body of Jesus after he gave up his spirit.]


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Meditations for Holy Week & Easter based on John’s Gospel 5. For Thursday, March 20, John 13:1-17, The Foot Washing

One of the biggest mistakes in reading this passage is to see the washing of the feet of the disciples by Jesus as basically only a lesson in humility, where the Lord emphasized an ethical truth by a concrete example. Such isolated moral instruction is beyond the horizon of John. In truth, the foot washing (Pedilavium) by Jesus rests upon and interprets the death of Jesus, even as the very context in which it occurred in Holy Week strongly indicates. However, to say this is not to state that there is no holy lesson in right attitude of Christians presented by Jesus in this foot washing; but this is a secondary purpose, arising out of the primary one.

First of all, let us notice that the washing of the disciples’ feet did not occur before the meal began, that is, soon after they had come in from the dusty road. No! “Jesus rose from supper and took off his clothes, and taking a towel tied it around himself…” (verse 4). There are plenty of examples in the Bible of the usual washing of feet after a journey (Luke 7:44; Genesis 18:4,5; 24:32,33), but this is not one of them. This foot washing is an unique event. In the Greek the verbs “took off his clothes” (v.4) and “takes his clothes” (v.12) have been previously used by John with reference to the death and resurrection of Jesus. “I lay down my life that I make take it again,” said Jesus (10:17,18). Further, the putting of a towel around his waist is traditionally the mark of the action of a slave.

Secondly, we do not know in what order Jesus washed the feet of the disciples; but, whatever it was, John focuses upon the reaction of Peter and through it allows Jesus to make clear what the real purpose of this symbolic washing is all about. Jesus tells Peter: “What I am doing you do not know at present, but you shall understand after these things.” He refers to his own glorification in death and resurrection, followed by the descent of the Spirit as his Paraclete (John 14-16). But Peter, impulsive as usual, becomes more obstinate, “Never shall you wash my feet.” To this outburst, Jesus answers, “If I do not wash you, you have no share in me,” and Peter quickly responds, “Lord, not my feet only but my hands and my head.” The contrast here is not between the humiliation of Jesus and the pride of Peter, for there is no pride in Peter’s word. Rather, the contrast is between the divine knowledge of Jesus which is the basis of his action, and the ignorance of Peter, who does not yet perceive that the humiliation of the Messiah is the one and only effective cause of human redemption and salvation.

Jesus refuses to do what Peter craved but insists that only the feet needed to be washed: “The man who has had a bath has no need to have anything but his feet washed, but is wholly clean.” Here the “bath” is a metaphor for the effect of the death of Jesus in cleansing the faithful (cf., 1 Cor. 6:11; Rev.1:5). So when Peter mistakes the symbol for the reality, and wants a total bath, Jesus pronounces the adequacy of the symbolic act by declaring the feet washing to be, by God’s design and purpose, a complete bath, and thus no further washing of hands and head are needed. Thus when the divine relation between the washing of the feet and the death of Jesus is truly recognized, then the foot washing is a complete bath and cleansing—but Peter would only see this when Jesus was risen from the dead.

Not only Peter is clean but also so are the other disciples—except one, the betrayer (see verses 21-30).

Verses 12-17, The Words of Jesus

Jesus proceeds to give to his disciples a partial explanation of the foot washing. As we have noted the full significance of his action will only be understandable by them after his glorification and their receiving of the Holy Spirit. What he says here is dependent upon the primary meaning and filled out in his later teaching that evening (see chapters 14-16 and the teaching on the new commandment, 13:34 & 15:12).

A disciple/apostle is not greater than the Master and so the disciples of Jesus must model their behavior on that of Jesus himself. His action in washing their feet expresses the very essence of Christian authority. It consists of mutual humility of which the washing of the disciples’ feet was a concrete illustration.

Verse 17 is worthy of deep attention: “ If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them.” Here we have a sentence which has two conditional clauses (“If…” and “if”) with the main clause between them. This has the effect of emphasizing the point that to know that we are to imitate Christ’s example is necessary for salvation, is not sufficient in itself, unless we actually put it into practice (cf. Matthew 7:24 & James 1:25). That is, knowledge must be supplemented and fulfilled in attitude and action.

In this context, the Collect for the second Sunday after Easter comes to mind:

Almighty God, who hast given thine only Son to be unto us both a sacrifice for sin, and also an ensample of godly life: Give us grace that we may always most thankfully receive that his inestimable benefit, and also daily endeavour ourselves to follow the blessed steps of his most holy life; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty God, You who have given your only Son to be for us both a sacrifice for sin and also an example of godly life: Give us grace that we may always be profoundly thankful for what he has so graciously provided, and also that daily we may make the effort to follow in the blessed steps of his most holy life; through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Foot-washing today

“You ought to wash one another’s feet” (verse14). Though this word of Jesus has been taken literally by a few from time to time in the history of the Church, and though it has also has been incorporated as a symbolic act in the Liturgy of Maundy Thursday in some places, the general understanding of it over the centuries has been to read it, not in its literal meaning, but in terms of its symbolic meaning—that is, mutual humility as the basis of authority.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Meditations for Holy Week & Easter based on John’s Gospel 4 For Wednesday, March 19, John 13:1-3, Introduction to the Passion

Before the feast of the Passover Jesus, knowing that his time had come to pass from this world to the Father, having loved his own while they were in the world, loved them to the end. And during supper, when the Devil had already put it into his heart that Judas Iscariot, the son of Simon, should betray him, Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he came out from God and was going to God,….

On the one hand, Matthew, Mark and Luke, and on the other, John, agree that Jesus was crucified at the time of the Jewish Passover. However, they do not agree on the precise relation to the feast itself.

In Matthew, Mark and Luke, the twenty-four hour period (sunset on Thursday to sunset on Friday), in which the Last Supper was eaten and Jesus was arrested and then crucified, constituted the 15th of the month Nisan, which is the feast of the Passover.

In John the Last Supper is before Passover and the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus are clearly dated to Passover Eve, the 14th of Nisan. Thus only after the body of Jesus was in the tomb did sunset mark the opening of the feast, when the Passover meal could be eaten, on the 15th of Nisan.

The Calendar of the Church follows the three synoptic Gospels rather than John. Usually, in preaching and teaching, the special material in John is then “slotted” into the time sequence of the synoptic Gospels. Here we shall simply seek to enter into the theology presented by John in verses 1-3.

What Jesus knew at the Last Supper

John introduces us, at the eve of the Crucifixion, to the self-consciousness and the inner knowledge of Jesus. The “hour” of his death as the necessary beginnings of his glorification had arrived; and Judas has accepted the diabolical suggestion that he should betray Jesus. In this context, Jesus knew not only that the Passover Festival would be inaugurated by his death and that one of his disciples would betray him, but also what the significance of his death must (by divine necessity) be.

John summarizes in four phrases the foreknowledge of Jesus concerning this “hour” (14th Nisan):

1. That he should pass from this world to the Father;
2. That the Father had given all things into his hands;
3. That he came out from God; and
4. That he was going to God.

Consequently, having loved his own which were in the world, he loved them to the end.

For us to enter into the depth of the meaning of these four phrases we need to read meditatively the rest of this Gospel. In brief, the death of Jesus is the appointed means of the return of the divine emissary, the Incarnate Son, to his Father in heaven, for by his death as the Lamb of God for the sin of the world, his mission is completed. At the same time, his death is also an end in itself, since it is the final and complete act of holy love of the Son of God for those whom he had gathered out of the world, that is his disciples. In his passion and death Jesus loved his disciples completely and finally, to the uttermost.

We are rightly amazed to read (verses 4-5) that Jesus, super-conscious at this hour” of his divine origin and destiny, undertakes the menial task of washing the feet of the disciples, and thus, by powerful, active symbolism, presents glory in humiliation, which also characterizes the whole Passion. (See Meditation 5, for the reflection upon The Washing of the Disciples’ Feet.)


The narrative of the events of Holy Week, from the Entry into Jerusalem to the burial in the tomb, can be told and understood as if it is the moving story of a holy martyr, laying down his life for a cause he passionately believed in. No doubt many have and continue to interpret it in this way. John’s Gospel protests against any such reading and interpretation, and calls upon us to see Jesus as the Logos made flesh, the Son of God made man, the emissary of the Father, sent from heaven to earth to bring God’s salvation and redemption for sinful man living in an evil world. At the very center of this bringing salvation is the sacrificial, atoning death of the Son of God made Man on the Cross of Calvary.


Sunday, March 16, 2008

Meditations for Holy Week & Easter based on John’s Gospel 3. For Tuesday, March 18, John 12:37-43, Jesus and Isaiah’s Prophecy

Before presenting the final teaching of Jesus to his disciples before his Arrest and Crucifixion, John presents his own comment on the unbelief of the Jews, their preferring of “darkness” to Light. Though technically his own comment, it is in reality but an expansion of what Jesus himself taught (see Mark 4:12; Matt. 13:14-15 & Luke 8:10).

Then to this comment (verses 37-43) on the origins of Jewish unbelief, John adds a concise statement by Jesus himself concerning the ultimate significance of his teaching and the ultimate destiny of those who reject it (verses 44-50).

Verses 37-41

Although the purpose of the signs or miracles of Jesus was not primarily to create faith in him but to confirm it, John reasons that their significance as public events was so overwhelmingly obvious that the unbelief of the Jewish people could only be explained in one way— as part of God’s providence and purpose in bringing salvation to the world. (Note the irony in the reference by John to signs, verse 37, and the comment by the Jewish authorities, chapter 11:47.) We recall that for St Paul, Jewish unbelief was also providential (Romans 11:11f.); but he also hoped that all Israel will be saved (11:26) even as John taught that Jesus will draw all men to himself (12:32).

In fact Jewish unbelief occurred, says John, so that ancient prophecy (Isaiah 51:1 & Isaiah 6:9-10) might be fulfilled. Those to whom “the arm of the Lord” had been revealed (in signs and wonders) had rejected the Messiah because their spiritual eyes were blind and their understanding darkened. And the latter though their own decision was at the deeper level of causation by divine intervention and providence.

In other words, the meaning of the prophecy of 6:10 for John is that the Christ (as the Logos) revealed to the prophet, Isaiah, that God would blind the eyes of the Jews, lest they should perceive the significance of his miracles, and He (Christ) would then of necessity heal them, and, thereby consequently obscure the judgment of God upon unbelief.

Of course, John was not writing out of a controversy on predestination and he was not intending to start a debate on predestination. His Gospel both emphasized the duty of each person who hears the Gospel to believe on the Son of God, even as here it fully acknowledges the role of the action of the sovereign God in the shocking unbelief of the Jewish people.

What John states in verse 41 is most important in terms of a Christian interpretation of the Old Testament: “Isaiah said these things because it was His glory that he saw, and about Him that he spoke.” In other words, the vision of Isaiah in the Temple, recorded in chapter six, is understood by John as a vision of the eternal Logos, the only-begotten Son. We recall his words in John 1:18, “No-one has ever seen God, the only-begotten who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.” Therefore, John understands the ancient word of prophecy through Isaiah as speaking specifically to the situation in Jerusalem as Jesus, the Messiah and the Logos made flesh, approached his glorification via his sacrificial death on the Cross, a death which is also the salvation of the world and the healing of the nations.

Verses 42-43

Now John introduces a modification into the general statement that the Jews as a whole rejected Jesus as the Messiah. To a degree, some members of the Sanhedrin, the “rulers,” believed in him – Nicodemus (3:1ff.; 7:50f.; 19:39) and Joseph of Arimathea (19:38ff.). In fact the way that the trial of Jesus was conducted seems to suggest that his enemies were not sure that they had the whole Council against him. However, the secret disciples of Jesus were not open in their confession of belief for they feared the consequences in terms of their place in Jewish society and religion.

Verses 44-50

John does not bring his account of the rejection of Jesus as Messiah by the Jews to an end with a cold statement that mysteriously it was the fulfillment of prophecy (although it was such). He ends by declaring as clearly as possible using the words of Jesus what the rejection really was. It was ultimately the denial of God, the LORD, YHWH, the God of his elect people, the Jews; and it was so because Jesus, the Logos and Son, came from the Father and spoke and did what the Father commanded him. To reject him is to reject his Father, YHWH. And for this reason, the Jews must bear the consequences of this denial.


The relation of the perfect will of the sovereign God to the free will and decision of man, and vice versa, is wrapped in mystery and pursuing it in attempted depth is rarely profitable for godliness. The better way is to join St Paul in his doxology in Ephesians 1 and accept that the details of the perfect will of God, and how it operates in human lives, will never been known by us. In the case of the Jews in the time of Jesus, it is clear that they rejected him for their own reasons, clear and confused; but, at the same time, their unbelief and rejection were part of the plan of God for the redemption of the whole world. Just how this was so is known only in full by the Lord God himself, and before him we are to bow as his creatures and servants.


Saturday, March 15, 2008

Meditations for Holy Week & Easter based on John’s Gospel 2. For Monday, March 17, John 12:20-36, The Scandal of the Cross

Perhaps we are taken by surprise by what follows the Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. John places before his readers a group of Gentiles (Greeks), also attending the Feast, who approach the disciples of Jesus, and say to Philip, “Sir, we would see Jesus.” When Jesus hears of this, he does not speak to them; but, he speaks of the nature and necessity of his coming death as a necessary stage in his glorification by the Father. And, as he does so the Father speaks to Jesus, much as he did at the Baptism and the Transfiguration! (People do not usually associate a Voice from heaven with the Holy Week!)

Verses 20-22

The Gentiles were most probably Galilean proselytes, who came from the border town known as Bethsaida of Galilee. As uncircumcised men, they were not allowed to eat the Passover, but they could enter the Court of the Gentiles in the Temple and make certain offerings. Possibly the reason why they came to Jesus was their gratitude for his cleansing of the Temple and restoring the Court to its true purpose (see Mark 11:15-19). It is also possible that they approached Philip for he had a Greek name and was from Bethsaida, as also was Andrew. However, Philip’s hesitation to process their request is understandable in that Jesus had not engaged in any ministry to the Gentiles. Nevertheless, it is significant that the desire of the Gentiles to meet the Son of God is mediated by the two disciples, with Greek names, Philip and Andrew.

The presence of the Greeks and their desire to see Jesus anticipate the mission to the world (John 7:35); the gathering together of the scattered children of God (John 11:52); and the coming of the sheep of another fold (John 10:16)into the kingdom. The discourse of Jesus (verse 23ff.) which follows is to be read in this context, although it is addressed in the first place to the disciples.

Verses 23-26

As the Gentiles begin to turn to the Messiah, Jesus recognizes that the time, “the hour,” for his sacrificial death as the first, essential part of his glorification by the Father has arrived. Only in this way can the salvation of the world be achieved. In illustration of the necessity of his laying down his life in obedience to the Father, Jesus tells the story of the grain of wheat. Unless it is buried in the ground, and dies, it remains what it is, a single, unproductive grain of wheat. Death is the appointed means whereby it can be multiplied and produce harvest. Thus Jesus must die in order by his self-offering to bring forth much fruit for Jews and Gentiles. “When I am lifted up from the earth I will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). The universality of the significance of the death of Jesus is the real answer to the request of the Greeks to see him; and it also explains why he cannot as yet come into a direct relation to them.

“He who loves his life loses it; and he who hates his life in this world shall preserve it for eternal life” (v.25). This, of course, equally applies to both Jesus and to his disciples, but to Jesus first. However the final word in this section (v.26) applies to disciples only. Service of Christ means sharing his lot, whatever that may be; but with this is the amazing promise that the disciple who shares the suffering of Jesus will also share the honor which God gives him.

Verses 27-30

The prospect of his death, now felt to be imminent, fills the human soul of Jesus with terror. (Here we may insert as fuller background the account in the other Gospels of Jesus in Gethsemane—Mark 14:34-36. Also we may recall the agony of the servant of God in Psalm 43:5-6 & 55:4-5.) So, quite naturally, Jesus, the Son of the Father, turns to the Father in his agony and in self-dedication.

The surrender of the Son of God is based on his clear recognition that the “hour” of his death is imposed upon him by divine necessity; and, further, that, specifically and precisely, in his obedience to the Father the purpose of his coming in the world is alone fulfilled. “To glorify his Name” is for God to make known and reveal who and what he is, particularly in his redemption of the world.

The obedience of Jesus is immediately ratified from heaven by a word from the Father—as he had heard at his Baptism and Transfiguration. Jesus heard it perfectly for he had the ears to hear, but the crowd heard it but could not identify it precisely—for some it sounded like thunder and to others the voice of an angel. Yet this Voice served to declare to them the heavenly credentials of the Man before them. At the same time, Jesus is assured that the Father already has glorified his Name and that he will glorify it again, most amazingly and wonderfully in the Death and then Resurrection of Jesus himself.

Verses 31-33

Jesus continues his speech, which had been interrupted by the Voice from heaven. The repetition of the word, “Now,” places special emphasis upon it. That is, this is the unique moment in space and time, and in human history, of “the judgment of the world,” when Satan is removed from this rule, and the power of evil and sin broken and shattered. At the very centre of this unique moment is the exaltation of Jesus, his overcoming sin, evil, death and Satan at the Cross, and his being raised to the right hand of the Father in glory. And through this same Jesus God’s salvation will be available, as he, the crucified and exalted One, draws people to himself.

Verses 34-37

From his hearers, who have been interpreting what he said through their own view of the Messiah, who stays for ever (see 2 Sam.7:16; Psalm 45:6; Isaiah 9:7), a question arises, concerning not the identity but the status and function of “the Son of Man” ( see 2 Sam.7:16; Psalm 45:6; Isaiah 9:7). Jesus who identified himself as the Son of Man answers them but only indirectly—he is the light and he will not be with them much longer, so that this is their last chance of escaping the darkness by believing in the Light, in order to become sons of light.

This point marks the end of the public ministry of Jesus as he left the crowd and made himself unavailable. He hid himself! From now on Jesus speaks only to his disciples and to Herod, for the darkness has descended upon his own people, the Jews.


We, the readers of John’s Gospel, are highly privileged. While Jesus hid himself from the Jews of his time, he makes himself known to us, for we can go with John as guide (chapters 13-17) into the Upper Room to see the actions of and to hear the profound words of Jesus.


Eight Meditations for Holy Week & Easter based on John’s Gospel: 1. For Palm Sunday, March 16, John 12:12-19, The Triumphal Entry

by Peter Toon

Though the story of the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem is told by the other three evangelists (Mark 11:1-11; Matthew 21:1-11; Luke 19:29-45), John’s account is sufficiently different in detail to indicate that he wrote independently of them. And it is the account which is the normal basis for the Palm Sunday Festival in churches.

Let us now, with the text open in front of us, look at it, a section at a time.

(Verses 12-13)

“The next day” is usually taken to mean the first day of the week; this, together with the use of palm branches is the origin of “Palm Sunday.”

The feast to which the pilgrims are coming in great numbers is the Passover. The great crowd here refers to those who know about the raising from the dead of Lazarus by Jesus and who therefore think of Jesus as Messiah. Thus, as his ardent if ignorant supporters, they want to welcome him as the Jewish Messiah. Their actions appear to have been spontaneous, arising out of enthusiasm that he is One who will deliver them from their Roman overlords. And the spontaneity is expressed in getting hold of palm branches and greeting him by shaking them as he first came into view and then walked through them. They well knew that palm branches were the symbols of regal triumph. What they shouted as they shook their branches expressed their conviction as to his real identity.

“Hosanna” is a transliteration of the Aramaic for “Save, we pray.” This cry for God’s help, together with the blessing of this Man, Jesus, as “King of Israel” and the one “who comes in the name of the LORD” as His representative, clearly indicate that they look to Jesus to restore the kingdom of David in their present occupied country.

What they were doing in terms of the use of Scripture was taking the words of Psalm 118:25-26 from their usual liturgical setting at Jewish Festivals and applying them to a specific historical person, Jesus of Nazareth. What they said was correct but their understanding and interpretation of what they said was faulty.

(Verses 14-15)

Jesus had not desired, and did not want, the support of this emotional crowd, which was motivated by both a politicized understanding of the nature and vocation of God’s Messiah, and a misunderstanding of the vocation of Israel amongst the nations. And so, since Jesus was not able to get away from this crowd in the narrow streets of Jerusalem, he took a simple, but dramatic step to reject the idea that he was a military, nationalist Messiah. He sat on a young ass, which was available, and proceeded to go into the city riding upon it. By this act he focused attention upon a regal advent of the Messiah, but not for war but in peace and in humility. He went into the city to make salvation for Israel possible, not to lead his people into an uprising against the Roman occupying forces.

Although it was missed both by the crowd and the disciples, what Jesus did, says John, is a fulfillment of prophecy inspired by God centuries before. Specifically, it is the fulfillment of Zechariah 9:9, which is cited in an edited and abbreviated form.

John does not draw out the implications of this action of Jesus because the discourse that follows (verses 23-36) makes sufficiently clear the distinction between the genuine Messiahship of Jesus, fulfilling the prophecies and promises of the O.T., and the false Messiah, whom the Jews desired and expected as a deliverer from the Romans.

(Verses 16-19)

The disciples, long schooled in the popular understanding of the Messiah as a national Deliverer, were spiritually blind as they witnessed in a privileged way the words and deeds of Jesus. It was only after the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, and the arrival of the Paraclete (see John 14-16) that their eyes were opened, and their minds began to understand the true nature of the Messiahship of Jesus, the King of Israel.

The crowd, made up of ordinary Jewish pilgrims, did bear witness to Jesus by their words: “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel.” Certainly they spoke much better than they understood (as did Caiaphas, John 11:50) and further they rightly regarded the raising of Lazarus as a Messianic sign. Yet they were still a long way from the kingdom of heaven.

The despair of the Pharisees at the apparent success of Jesus of Nazareth, whom they planned to destroy, is full or irony. “Look,” they say, “the world (everybody) has gone after him.”


In the ecclesiastical Palm Sunday procession and blessing of palms, the ignorance and misunderstanding of the crowd in Jerusalem is redressed, and the Church welcomes the Christ/Messiah advancing to die for the salvation of the world.

Ride on! Ride on Majesty!

In lowly pomp ride on to die:

O Christ , thy triumphs now begin

O’er captive death and conquered sin.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The LECTIONARY for Eucharist in Classic BCP

May I recommend to those who use The Book of Common Prayer (1662 or 1928 or 1962) and who also use the Epistle and Gospel for each Sunday and Festival a resource for this ancient Eucharistic Lectionary

Peter Toon

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Global South as an Anglican Designation

An exploration in understanding what is behind a new expression

Though the expression, “Global South,” has been in use for a decade or more in the spheres of international relations, global economics, third-world development, and the like, its use in Anglican ecclesiological discourse is very recent. To refer to “The Global South” as one of the various constituencies of the Global Anglican Communion of Churches is now common; but; it has only been so for four or five years. (see the essay by Dr Poon listed at end of this article.)

Further, the economic and political use of the expression refers solely to the poorer countries of the world, the so-called developing nations, situated south of Europe and the U.S.A. (see for details of all this the work of “The Center for Global South” at American University in Washington D.C. founded in 1992); but, the Anglican use strangely includes both the provinces that are in developing countries and one or two that are in developed countries (e.g., S E Asia).

Today, 2008, the constituency called the Anglican Global South is generally associated with both a conservative theology and also opposition to the liberal-progressive agenda in sexuality of provinces in the West, especially North America. This has not always been so, for the original stance of this grouping was a continuation of the former South-South Encounters of representatives of Anglican Provinces not in the West or the North. As such it had admirable aims and sought primarily to do justice to the vocation and experience of being Anglican outside of the West and North and after colonialism. This explains why the relatively affluent province of S E Asia is in The Global South.

Totally separate from the work at, and between, the South to South Encounters, and beginning before the Lambeth Conference of 1998, continuing during that Lambeth Conference, and then more intensely afterwards, has been the persistent work of various American “ambassadors.” They have both made visits to Africa and Asia, and also invited to the U.S.A. bishops from these continents. The aim was to enlist these overseas bishops as orthodox allies in the battle being fought in and around The Episcopal Church over the innovations in sexual practice and ethics.

It is important to recognize that this enlisting process was going on before “The Global South” as an Anglican reality, that is, actually self-consciously emerged and was recognized as a distinct entity with this name. However, after its emergence , and with the arrival of the major, disturbing event of the election of Gene Robinson as a bishop in the U.S.A., some of “The Primates of the Global South” immediately adopted a definite position of opposition to the American innovations, and some provinces (e.g., Nigeria and Uganda) led by determined primates took the further step of declaring themselves out of communion with the Episcopal Church. In all this they were in close touch with the U.S.A. Anglican “ambassadors” and relied on them wholly for their information and interpretation of the complex American religious scene.

Since 2004 it has seemed as if the whole Anglican Family worldwide was in crisis. The situation as seen from London or New York or Lagos has been fluid and changing as the so called Windsor Process has been in play, and the Episcopal Church has resolutely defended itself. The crisis has affected provinces around the world in different ways. We can see today, in 2008, after several years of this Process, with more to come at Lambeth 2008, that the present Anglican Global South is no longer fully united in terms of facing this crisis. It is now very clear that it is composed of provinces that, while agreeing that the new Western approach to homosexual practice is wholly wrong, do not share a common view of Anglican ecclesiology, and, in particular, of the relation of autonomous and interdependent provinces to one another in one worldwide fellowship.

Some provinces definitely plan to stay active within the Global Anglican Communion and have their bishops attend Lambeth. They plan to continue to work towards a Common Anglican Covenant in what they know will require much patience and will be often frustrating. Thus they intend to continue to uphold the general aims of the former South to South Encounter and work through the normal channels of the Anglican Communion, while developing their own unique cultural dimensions of Christian insight, worship and witness.

Other provinces (or more precisely, the primates of Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya) apparently want to re-define what is the Global Anglican Communion, how its members relate to one another, and what are its aims and objectives. They have planned a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for June 08 under the name, Global Anglican Conference (GAFCON), to take counsel together and to agree upon where they will start in their new mission. These primates regard the Lambeth Conference of 2008 as too compromised a gathering to serve in any vital sense as a council to further the true mission of the Church in the world. Thus they feel a duty to be absent. Further, they believe that the present Archbishop of Canterbury cannot be trusted, and the special claims for his See have no real meaning for today.

These Primates have also decided that the way to go in terms of organization is not the old Anglican route, related to the old workings of the British Empire and to the ancient See of Canterbury; but, rather, making use of modern communication and globalization strategy, they intend to reduce or eliminate over-much dependence upon “Process” (patient negotiation and debate in synods and councils) and of old geographical divisions. In fact, this is a movement where the leaders appointed by God, that is, the primates and patriarchs of East and West Africa, lead from the front following a new rule-book.

The two approaches within The Global South are obviously very different and at odds with each other, and it seems that “The Global South” as a distinct Anglican entity will have a very short life, unless there is a change in major circumstances soon.

In conclusion

Within the USA, and its extremely varied and competitive Anglicanism, there is obviously support for GAFCON in Common Cause, CANA, AMIA and ACN , even as there is frequent talk in these circles of the obsolescence of the See of Canterbury and the need to reform the so-called “colonial” structure of the Anglican Communion. However, there is the beginnings of support for those provinces of The Anglican Global South, which have decided to be at Lambeth 08 (e.g., S E Asia & Tanzania) and seek to be a part of the “Process.”

What may not be widely known or understood, except by those who are familiar with the work of AAC, Ekklesia and other organizations in the 1990s and up to 2002, is this: That American advocacy, consistency and generosity played no small part in preparing the way for the origin and development of The Global South and its agenda, but also in the very recent GAFCON movement. Further, from The Global South Anglican Institute in Uganda, itself led by Americans, has come very strong propaganda for the reform of the Anglican Communion. Thus the entrance into the mainland of the U.S.A. by the Provinces of Nigeria, Rwanda, Uganda and Kenya to establish missions, networks and churches is in fact the fruit of the great efforts before, at, and after Lambeth 1998 by “ambassadors” to build strong relations with “orthodox” overseas Provinces.

One cannot change history! The facts are reasonably clear as to the American influence upon the emergence of the strong-minded and militant dimension of The Global South constituency. However, there are a few of those, who supported and encouraged the AAC and Ecclesia in the 1990s in their making ties with overseas bishops, who wish now that the seed sowed by their efforts would not have germinated in such a way as to produce the fruit called “Gafcon”! Rather that it had produced a more moderate fruit growing in all the provinces of The Anglican Global South and leading to a sharing of this as holy desert with the whole Family of Churches.


For further reading:
M.K. Hassett, Anglican Communion in Crisis, Princeton University Press, 2008; $39.95

and March 12 2008

Monday, March 10, 2008

Praying for the Sick

Here are the two prayers to be offered (usually by the Minister but not necessarily so) for the sick person in “The Order for The Visitation of the Sick” in The BCP (1662). I provide each one in its original form and also in a so-called contemporary form to accommodate to the prayer patterns of different persons. The “him” can of course become “her”.

Prayer 1

O LORD, look down from heaven, behold, visit and relieve this thy servant. Look upon him with the eyes of thy mercy, give him comfort and sure confidence in thee. Defend him from the danger of the enemy, and keep him in perpetual peace and safety; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

O LORD, look down from your holy habitation, heaven, to observe, to visit and to bring relief to this your sick servant. Look upon him with the eyes of your mercy, strengthen him, and give him a firm confidence in You. Defend him also from the danger of the enemy, and keep him in continual peace and safety; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Prayer 2

Hear us, Almighty and most merciful God and Saviour: extend thy accustomed goodness to this thy servant who is grieved with sickness. Sanctify, we beseech thee, this thy fatherly correction to him; that the sense of his weakness may add strength to his faith, and seriousness to his repentance: that, If it shall be thy good pleasure to restore him to his former health, he may lead the residue of his life in thy fear, and to thy glory: or else give him grace so to take thy visitation, that, after this painful life ended, he may dwell with thee in life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Hear us, Almighty and most merciful God and Savior: extend your well-known goodness to this your servant who is distressed by sickness. Grant, we pray, that your fatherly correction of him will cause him to grow in holiness; that his sense of weakness may add both strength to his faith and seriousness to his repentance; so that, if it is your good pleasure to restore him to his former health, he may live the rest of his life reverently and to your glory: or , we pray, give him grace to accept your present visitation, so, that, after this life of pain is ended, he may dwell with you in life everlasting; through Jesus Christ our Lord.


It is clear that the experience of pain and suffering by baptized Christians was interpreted in some measure by the exhortation occurring in Hebrews 12:5:

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
Not be weary when reproved by him,
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
And chastises every son whom he receives.”

In other words the presence of sickness and disease is a sign to the individual Christian believer that he or she is very much in a relation to the Father of the Lord Jesus, even if that relation takes the form of chastisement or discipline. The key point is that the relation of grace and mercy and adoption as a child of God is constant in good times and bad. However, for us to try to identify the reasons in the divine mind and will for this “visitation” of ourselves or our loved ones is best not attempted! Rather, let us rejoice in the high privilege of being “visited.”

The doctrine in The BCP is not that it is God’s will in the Gospel to heal in body and mind all who receive the Gospel and for whom fervent, believing prayer is offered. It certainly allows for marvelous healing of the sick in response to such prayer; but it also treats the visitation of God in sickness as part of the care of God the Father of his children to make them holy and humble before him, and prepared for life everlasting with him. March 10, 08

Sunday, March 09, 2008

How to read the Bible profitably: But don’t look to modern liturgists for help

One of the major claims of the liturgists, who gave us the first round of new prayer books thirty years ago, was that they were recovering the shape and content of the liturgy of the ancient Church of the period before Constantine the Great. Much of what they claimed is now severely modified or rejected in academia, but it still is both heard and felt within the churches (a) from clergy recalling their seminary training of years ago, and (b) guiding the liturgies used Sunday by Sunday (e.g. from the Episcopal Church Prayer Book). [See further The Oxford History of Christian Worship, 2006, chaps 1-2.)

One area where the 1970s liturgists certainly did not make any attempt to recover for the western churches of the 1980s the universal doctrine and practice of the Early Church of the third and fourth centuries was in the crucial matter of “how to read the Bible profitably.” In fact, by their commitment to “inclusive language” and by their use of dynamic equivalency in translation they made a recovery of the Early Church doctrine and approach well nigh impossible. In fact, had they even tried to recover it, it would have challenged the very principles they held important in their work of producing relevant liturgy and creating new Lectionaries.

The easiest way to enter into what I am talking about it is take the American 1979 or the Canadian 1985 Prayer Book, and go to the Psalter and to the first verse of the first psalm. Here to conform to current politically correct views of human equality what should be “Blessed is the man…” becomes “Happy are they” (or in other places “Happy is the one…”). In the Early Church only the literal translation would suffice for it was then seen by all as a clear reference to “the Man, Jesus the Christ;” and it indicated that the whole Psalter as Christian Prayer had to be read and prayed not only through Christ but also in and with him. (I have a chapter on this subject in my Worship without Dumbing-down: Knowing God through Liturgy, )

For the early Christians the Old Testament, the Scriptures of Jesus and the Apostles, was very much, together with the New Testament , the Word of God. There was one Bible with two testaments and both testaments testified and witnessed to Jesus, the Christ and Incarnate Son of God. Thus, although the early fathers well knew that the books of the Old Testament originated in specific circumstances and thus had an original historical interpretation, to them the basic way to read these books was by spiritual exegesis or allegory. In fact, unless one bears this in mind one can hardly make sense of many of the homilies and expositions and books of the early Fathers.

Spiritual exegesis or allegorical interpretation –although it is used by St Paul [see 1 Cor. 10:1ff., & Gal. 4:21ff.] – is so far from the ways and methods of modern Biblical Studies in the West that in order to enter into it, and even think it has value, one needs to go through a kind of mini-conversion! That is, without in any way rejecting the attempt to find out what the text meant as originally written, and to those for whom it was intended, one has to come to see that the Christian reading is to see Christ revealed in the inspired Word and along with him the Holy Trinity, the Father together with his Son and with his Holy Spirit.—and thus the word of grace and salvation.

When this conversion has occurred, then one reads and hears in the texts from the Old and New Testament of the Daily Lectionary, and in the chanting or saying of the allotted Psalms, the message of the one Christ, anticipated in the one Testament and made known in the other. The use of the Gloria at the ending of each Psalm indicates that it has been read/sung as a word of the Holy Trinity pointing to the Son of God incarnate. Likewise any use of the Psalter in The Eucharist is of the Word of God pointing to Jesus Christ himself or our relation to him.

[For a concise introduction to the Early Church way of reading the Bible, see “How to read the Bible” in First Things, March 2008, by Robert Louis Wilken.]

With historical criticism in place for a long time as the dominant form of biblical interpretation in the Western churches, allegorical interpretation has been discredited, and confused with the excesses of medieval flights of fancy. Not even those who claim to be “orthodox” Anglicans usually read the Bible as did the Early Fathers for they have been trained to read it using only historical criticism in a measured way. Only within the early Tractarian movement, and here and here within anglo-catholicism, has spiritual interpretation, following the Early Fathers, been found acceptable and persuasive in modern Anglican devotion and piety. And it is difficult to see how there can be a revival of the Early Church doctrine and method in modern times when individualism and rights-monism are so dominant in Christian thinking. (However, traces of the Early Church approach remain in some church use of the Old Testament –e.g., Isaiah 52-53 of the Passion of Jesus and Zechariah 9:9 for Palm Sunday.)

In closing I must indicate that a method that some evangelicals employ and think is a spiritual reading, because “prophetic-historical” reading of the Old Testament, is far removed from the Early Church use of the first Testament. What I refer to is the quarrying in the O.T. for texts that appear to point to events that have occurred, and are to occur, in the Middle East with respect to the ultimate triumph of Israel in that region over all its (God’s) enemies. Such quarrying and the pro-Israeli religion related to it, is a major business in some parts of the U.S.A. and other places (perhaps in parts of Nigeria). Often such quarried texts are used to point as a form of contemporary apologetics to the veracity of the Bible to outsiders in terms of its predictions concerning history in the ancient and modern Middle East.

However, this “prophetic-historical” approach, unlike the Early Church approach, is not Christ-centered, seeing all texts of the first Testament as opening up to the eye of faith by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and for the edification of the faithful. March 9, 2008