Thursday, October 12, 2017

Why do we make the sign of the Cross

Recently, someone has asked about the practice of the Sign of the Cross.  The questions were straightforward: how? why? when?

We can first begin simply by acknowledging that “manual acts” (sign of the cross, hand-raising, bowing, genuflecting etc) are ways in which we engage our whole person in worship.  During Eucharist, we pray this: “And here we offer and present to you, O Lord, ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable, holy, and living sacrifice;…”
Worship is meant to engage our bodies and all the senses.

Specifically concerning the sign of the cross, we can also acknowledge that it has been common practice among the Church since the early days.  The amazing thing about Global Christianity is that we could go anywhere in the world, during any century, and the faith, practice, and worship would be very similar.

So, why do we make the sign of the Cross?
There’s a great (brief) article that can more fully answer this question (you can read it here: http://catholicexchange.com/21-things-cross), but here are a couple highlights:
·      Open ourselves to the Grace of God
·      Affirm our Trinitarian Faith
·      Recall the Incarnation of Jesus; Remember the Passion of Christ
·      Reaffirm our baptism
·      Crucify ourselves with Christ
·      Mark ourselves for Christ
·      Witness to others

And, how do you make the sign of the Cross?
There are a variety of ways, but in the West, the most common would be beginning with the forehead (signifying both that the Father is fount of the Godhead, and that we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds), down to chest (showing that Jesus descended from Heaven to Earth as the beginning of the New Covenant of Grace), and then moving from the left shoulder to the right (a reversal of the Fall, from the left side of the curse to the right side of blessing; as well as our passage from present misery to future glory in Christ).
There are several different ways of positioning our fingers: with two fingers together it shows the dual nature of Christ (humanity and divinity).  Bonus for the Eastern tradition of using the thumb with the pointer and middle finger representing The Trinity, with ring finger and pinky representing the dual nature of Christ.

Finally, when do you make the sign of the Cross?
In our personal, every-day life I would say early and often.  When waking up, before and/or after prayer, when leaving the home, throughout the day, and before going to bed.

In worship, here are some common practices:
·      When entering the nave with holy water from the baptismal font – reaffirming our baptismal vows.
·      When the Trinitarian formula is used (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).  This can be the sign of a cross or a profound bow (more than just a head nod).  The first time in worship is when we begin: “Blessed be God: the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”.
Usually, the next time this is used is the beginning of the sermon – a message in the Name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
·      When receiving God’s forgiveness (after the General Confession), and receiving God’s blessing (at the end, right before the dismissal).
·      During the Eucharist Prayers:
i.               “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” (that’s Jesus)
ii.             When the priest elevates the consecrated bread and wine (that’s the Body and Blood of Jesus)
iii.           When the priest says, “…we may be filled with your grace and heavenly benediction…” (open ourselves to grace and blessing)
iv.           The Great Invitation – when the priest shows the Body and Blood and says, “The Gifts of God for the People of God”, or “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.”

In short, there are many (great) reasons why, a couple variations used, and several appropriate times during worship. May our practice of the sign of the Cross continued to be used for our greater knowledge and love of the Lord.

Fr. Mark Polley+

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Do Christians and Muslims worship the same God?

Q: I have a Muslim friend who believes that we worship the same God, the God of Abraham. Is this right or wrong? How do I explain this to a Muslim?

A. This is a great question and one that must be addressed with great care and concern, especially in the fragile (and tragically, sometimes hostile) religious environment in which we live, but even more importantly, so that people who want to have faith in God may properly understand the object and substance of their faith.  Accordingly, three things come to mind in responding to this question.

FIRST, the nature of the question evidences a right and good desire to see that humanity is united - and not divided - in our understanding of who God is and the implications of that understanding in this life and the next. The simple concern that we (would/should) worship the same God - and, by extension, that there can only be one God - expresses this desire, and for this we should be thankful. But, we must be careful to see that what is presented on the surface also matches the substance that is underneath it, because the answer to the question drives to the real heart of the matter, which is the nature of Truth and divine revelation itself.

SECOND, it is curious that a Muslim would say to a Christian that "we worship the same God, the God of Abraham". More often, this is a sentiment expressed by (some) Christians, not Muslims, and here is why. Islam classically label Jews and Christians as infidels because we do not follow the teaching of the Qur'an. But, even more to the point, Islam knows itself to be a monotheistic religion and declares Christianity is polytheistic and not monotheistic because Christians say that we worship God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In fact, Muslims commonly criticize Christians when (some) Christians try to syncretize the two religions by saying we worship the same God, based on the common claim of Abraham. Muslims would much rather see Christians represent their faith with integrity and "let the chips fall where they may" so to speak.

Indeed, here are six texts from the Qur'an, written by Mohammed concerning Jesus and the Christian doctrine of the Trinity:

1. O People of the Scripture, do not commit excess in your religion or say about Allah except the truth. The Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary, was but a messenger of Allah and His word which He directed to Mary and a soul [created at a command] from Him. So believe in Allah and His messengers. And do not say, "Three"; desist - it is better for you. Indeed, Allah is but one God. Exalted is He above having a son. To Him belongs whatever is in the heavens and whatever is on the earth. And sufficient is Allah as Disposer of affairs. — Qur'an, sura 4 (An-Nisa), ayat 171

2. Those who say, "God is the Messiah, son of Mary," have defied God. The Messiah himself said; "Children of Israel, worship God, my Lord and your Lord." If anyone associates others with God, God will forbid him from the Garden, and Hell will be his home. No one will help such evildoers. Those people who say that God is the third of three are defying [the truth]: there is only One God. If they persist in what they are saying, a painful punishment will afflict those of them who persist. Why do they not turn to God and ask his forgiveness, when God is most forgiving, most merciful? The Messiah, son of Mary, was only a messenger; other messengers had come and gone before him; his mother was a virtuous woman; both ate food. See how clear We make these signs for them; see how deluded they are. - Qur'an, sura 5 (Al-Maida), ayat 72-75

3. And when Allah will say, "O Jesus, Son of Mary, did you say to the people, 'Take me and my mother as deities besides Allah?'" He will say, "Exalted are You! It was not for me to say that to which I have no right. If I had said it, You would have known it. You know what is within myself, and I do not know what is within Yourself. Indeed, it is You who is Knower of the unseen. - Qur'an, sura 5 (AlMaida), ayat 116

4. They say: "(Allah) Most Gracious has begotten a son!" Indeed ye have put forth a thing most monstrous! At it the skies are ready to burst, the earth to split asunder, and the mountains to fall down in utter ruin, that they should invoke a son for (Allah) Most Gracious. For it is not consonant with the majesty of (Allah) Most Gracious that He should beget a son. Not one of the beings in the heavens and the earth but must come to (Allah) Most Gracious as a servant. - Qur'an, sura 19 (Maryam (sura)), ayat 88-93

5. No son did Allah beget, nor is there any god along with Him: (if there were many gods), behold, each god would have taken away what he had created, and some would have lorded it over others! Glory to Allah! (He is free) from the (sort of) things they attribute to Him! - Qur'an, sura 23 (Al-Mumenoon), ayat 91


6. Say: He is Allah, the One and Only; Allah, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him. - Qur'an, sura 112 (Al-Ikhlas), ayat 1-4

THIRD, with the Islamic self-understanding in place, let us now articulate the Christian position. Here it is essential to remember that Christianity claims nothing for itself, but rests upon the claims Jesus Christ made of himself. And, as C.S. Lewis posits in Mere Christianity, we are only given three options concerning Jesus; that is, He is a liar, a lunatic, or the LORD. Here, we will find this statement in particular by Jesus most useful. Jesus says to the Jews, "Truly, truly I say to you, before Abraham was, I am," (John 8:58). A Jewish person living in Jesus' time would have understood this to be a claim of divinity. And, the Jews crucified Jesus for blasphemy for claiming to be God. Moreover, modern Jews still reject the idea that Jesus is God, as do Muslims, as do all other religions. However, we Christians declare emphatically, over and against every other religion, that Jesus is, in fact, God!

In the end, it comes down to truth and divine revelation. In his book Handbook of Christian Apologetics, Dr. Peter Kreeft posits truth as that which corresponds with objective reality. So, we ask the questions: how has God revealed himself? Is Jesus God, or isn't he? There is only one correct answer to the question. Either Jesus' claim to be God is true, or it isn't. Either Mohammed is right in saying that Jesus is not God, or he is wrong. And, by implication, either God is triune, or He isn't.

While our ability to fully understand how God is 3 in 1 remains a mystery, we cannot say that it is irrational. St. Patrick used the example of a clover leaf to show how God is three processions from one substance. Another helpful illustration is that the chemical compound H2O is one substance with three "processions". Of course, we cannot press the analogies too far, but they are helpful for a basic understanding of the triune nature of God.

Now, here are two more Christians Scriptures, which are most useful in drawing a conclusion:

1. "But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied." - I Corinthians 15:12-19

2. "No one who denies the Son has the Father. Whoever confesses the Son has the Father also." - I John 2:23

With all of that said, we come back to the questions: "Do we worship the same God?" and "How do I explain this to a Muslim?" Concerning the first question, Islam itself commonly says we do not worship the same God. Therefore, why would we Christians cede something to Islam that it does not claim for itself? Moreover, when we Christians try and syncretize the two religions on the basis of Abraham, we inevitably must reject the words and the claims that Jesus made of himself; specifically, that is God! Moreover, we must also reject his deeds, how he endured death on the cross for us and for our salvation, and that he rose from the grave to demonstrate the hope of everlasting life! How can we do that with integrity and knowing what's at stake?! Indeed, let the Gospel be preached and let the chips fall where they may. God is big enough to handle it and Jesus is "man enough" to take care of himself, and strong enough to take care of us!

And so, perhaps the best way to answer the second question is to ask more questions: on what basis would a Muslim - or a Christian - say we worship the same God? On the basis of the claim to Abraham alone as a common "ancestor" in the faith? Then how would one resolve the contradictory claims of the two religions; specifically, is Jesus God, or isn't he? The difference between the claims of the Qur'an and the Bible are obvious enough that the conversation will take its natural course. If Jesus is not God, then we should convert to Islam immediately. But, if he is....

Thanks for asking. Keep the questions coming!

Fr. Chris Culpepper
Rector, Christ the Redeemer Anglican Church
Fort Worth, TX



Friday, September 29, 2017

Are angels naked or do they wear clothes?

Q: Are angels naked or do they wear clothes?
A: First, I have to say what a fascinatingly astute question coming from the mind of a child. Reading it theologically, as we should, it evidences a couple of immediate things: this question displays an awareness of the economy of God's creation, particularly the invisible spiritual world that exists all around us; and, the question reveals a sensitivity to the economy of salvation, especially as it concerns the place of angels in relation to humans. So, to answer the question, it will be helpful to observe the similarities and differences between angels and humans in the economy of creation and salvation.
CREATION
To begin, let us first confess that angels are of a different order than humans. Angels are spiritual beings only; that is, they do not have flesh. Humans are of both spirit and flesh; that is, we humans are spiritual and corporeal, otherwise called incarnate. Like humans, angels display power and intelligence (1 Peter 1:12; 2 Peter 2:11) and have been given a will capable of disobedience (Jude 6). Therefore, it follows that they are personal beings and, indeed, we know the names of some of them: Gabriel (Dan. 8:16) and Michael (Dan 10:13), for example. Like humans, they are created to praise and worship God (cf. Rev. 4 & 5) However, unlike humans, angels neither marry nor reproduce (Matthew 22:30, Mark 12:25). And, unlike humans, angels do not die (Luke 20:36).
These similarities and differences between angels and humans in the economy of creation establish an important qualitative difference between angels and humans in terms of relationship. In other words, while humans are intrinsically relational beings by virtue of their ability to procreate, angels are inherently individual beings because they do not procreate. By virtue of this distinctive, we say (as best we are able using human language) that therefore humans are capable of a relationship with God, whereas angels only have a relationship to God, so to speak.
The substance of this distinctive is found in what theologians have classically called the soul. In other words humans, who have been uniquely made in the likeness and image of God (Genesis 1:26-27), by virtue of this "pinnacle position" in all of God's creation, possess something qualitatively different than other orders of creation - in particular, angels (and animals, to use another illustration) - that gives humans the unique ability of having a relationship with God, over an against the relatively limited relationship both angels (and animals) have to God. In other words, the soul uniquely enables human beings to enjoy a relationship with God in a qualitatively unique way that neither angels nor animals can enjoy.
With these observations concerning the economy of creation and the similarities and differences between angels and humans, we are able to see that while having a soul is not a necessary part of being "in heaven", for angels are already part of the heavenly host of God and animals seemingly will be without the need of being saved from their own condition, we say that it is by virtue of having a soul that we are able to see both the kind of relationship God wants to have with humans and, by extension, the nature and need for the economy of salvation in Jesus Christ.
SALVATION
Concerning salvation, because angels possess an intellect and a will, like humans, they are capable of disobeying the manifest will of God - called sin - and are therefore subject to the Fall by their disobedience. Scripture tells us that some angels have, in fact, turned their wills against God. We now call these fallen angels "demons", who do the bidding of Satan, who was once good, as God created all things good (Genesis). By virtue of being the first to fall, Satan was banished from heaven and "fell like lightening from the sky" (Luke 10:18), exercised ungodly influence over a third of the angels, sweeping them from them from heaven and casting them down to earth (Rev. 12:4) and therefore is known the prince of demons and the prince of this world by his evil power and influence (Matthew 12:22-24, John 12:31). Satan and the demons now make war against God and his Church (Rev. 16:12-16), deceive and discourage individuals (2 Cor. 4:4, I Thess. 2:18, Eph. 6:11-12, I Tim. 4:1), lead nations astray (Rev. 20:3), and influence the forces of nature to inflict pestilence and disease (Matt. 9:32-33). Because of their disobedience, God in his justice has prepared a place of eternal judgment for Satan and his demons called Hell (Matt. 25:31-46). Finally, Scripture teaches us that they have already been given their sentence of condemnation for their disobedience, for 2 Peter 2:4 informs us that God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to the pits of gloom to be kept until the judgment. In other words, while Satan and his minions are still wreaking havoc in this world, yet their sentence has been issued and their final fate has been sealed. They are simply outside the economy of redemption. God's perfect justice has meted his perfect judgment against Satan and the demons.
This understanding of angels and demons shows us three important things. First, it reveals God's express intent for Hell, that God created it especially for Satan and the demons, not for humans. But, before you jump to any conclusions from this statement, please finish reading. Second, it substantiates the qualitative difference between their relationship to God and the human relationship with God in the economy of salvation. Angels, who are without flesh and without a soul, relate to God, but being without a soul, do not enjoy a relationship with God in the way humans do. Therefore, they are not part of God's economy of salvation in the way humans uniquely are. Nowhere in Scripture is it said that angels were given the opportunity to "repent and return to the Lord", as with humans. Given everything that is said about angels, we must reasonably conclude that salvation is tied to the soul and the kind of relationship God intends to enjoy with humans. Thus, thirdly, our understanding of these differences between angels and humans in creation foreshadows the salvation of God in Christ Jesus uniquely intended for us humans, as well as the warning and hope contained in the call of the Gospel.
As I stated above, we humans are uniquely made in the likeness and image of God, distinct in all of God's economy of creation, and described in theological terms as the soul. Because angels and humans are of a different created order, we experience the effects of the curse differently; that is, angels are neither incarnate nor procreational and only relate to God; therefore, they neither experience the kind of fleshly nakedness we do as humans, and so nor do they need to clothe any fleshly nakedness - specifically their intrinsically relational and procreational "private parts" - before God as an evidence of their guilt and shame before him, in the way we do as humans, who enjoy a unique relationships with God. And, with this background in place, we are now able to see the victory of God and the hope of humanity plainly manifest in the person and work of Jesus Christ, our Savior.
Hebrews 2:14-18 says, "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, [Jesus] himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage. For surely it is not with angels that he is concerned but with the descendants of Abraham. Therefore, he had to be made like his brethren in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful hight priest in the service of God, to make expiation for the sins of the people. for because he himself has suffered and been tempted, he is able to help those who are tempted." As our Eucharistic liturgy informs us, "You, in your mercy, sent Jesus Christ, your only and eternal Son, to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us, to reconcile us to you, the God and Father of all."
Now, the salvation of God and the relationship with us that he wants to enjoy comes in full view. By virtue of the merits and mercies of Jesus Christ our Savior, who became like us in every way, yet did not sin, endured the punishment of death that we deserved, both because of us and yet for us, rose victoriously from death to life on the 3rd Day (Easter), and won for us the victory over sin and death, he therefore offers us the forgiveness of sins through baptism and the hope of everlasting life by his glorious Resurrection, the foretaste of which we experience every Sunday morning in the great Eucharistic Feast called Holy Communion. Where we clothed ourselves in unrighteous sin by our own disobedience, God clothes us in his righteous salvation . As Isaiah 61:10 says, "I delight greatly in the LORD; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a pries, and as a bride alone adorns herself with her jewels."
Therefore, this earthly life is our season of both grace and warning, when we humans may shed the filthy rags of guilt and shame before God by repenting and returning to the Lord through responding to the Gospel and receiving the merits and mercies of Jesus Christ through the promised gift of the Holy Spirit at baptism, empowering us with divine assistance and becoming for us the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it (Eph. 1:14). This is the Good News of God in Christ Jesus!
But, let us also beware and be warned that the season of grace offered us in this life will come to a close, for Hebrews 9:27 teaches us that man is appointed once to die, and after that comes judgment. And again, II Corinthians 5:10 warns us that "we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive good or evil, according to what he has done in the body."
Finally, then, the assurance of the Gospel is this. "If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." (Romans 10:9).
Have you trusted Jesus for your salvation? The season of grace is now opened to each of us. Jesus loves you, he has forgiven you, and he wants to enjoy a relationship with you forever.
In conclusion, the most basic messages we receive in our understanding of angels and humans is this: Be like Jesus and you will receive God's reward of eternal life. Don't be like the devil and you won't experience God's wrath of eternal damnation.
Feel free to contact Fr. Mark Polley or me if you want to know more about the Christian life and living. And, thank you for the good question. Keep them coming!
Fr. Chris Culpepper+
P.S. For further study on this and other topics, pick up a copy of Handbook of Christian Apologetics by Dr. Peter Kreeft and/or a copy of the Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas.



Thursday, September 28, 2017

Why is the Gospel read among the people?

Q: Why is the Gospel read among the people?
A: John 1:14 declares, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us...." When we process the Gospel from the altar, following the cross, out into the nave and read it among the people, we are symbolically recalling John 1:14 and declaring that God does not stand far off from us, but he came from heaven to earth to dwell among us. See also Hebrews 2:14-18 for further study.
Bonus: As the Gospel is announced, you will see people making the sign of the cross over their foreheads, lips, and heart, indicating Christ be in my mind, Christ be on my lips, andChrist be in my heart, respectively.
Thanks for asking!