Sermon transcript, 12 April 2015

We believe… by Fr. Dana


One of the things I want to start talking about today is the Catechism of the CEC.  If you were around in the really early days of the CEC, there was a lot of excitement; the Holy Spirit was moving and things were happening.   We were a little quick to lay hands on people and ordain or consecrate them: everyone wanted to be a part of this thing that God was doing; and that’s natural, but it turned out that some of them were “ambulance chasers”: people who sit at home with their radio scanner on, listening for things happening, and when they hear something they want to go and watch.  That doesn’t mean their heart wasn’t in the right place: they got excited and they jumped in; but when things got a little difficult, that wasn’t what they were looking for.  Part of that is because we didn’t understand what the Church is.  We have learned a bit over the last twenty or so years, and part of that is embedded in our Catechism.  A Catechism is the teaching of what is true; and I want to go a little bit into what the Church is and what some of us thought the Church was because of where we were coming from.

Who are we?

The Catechism says, regarding our identity, that “We are men and women of faith from diverse backgrounds, seeking an expression of the church that is fully sacramental and liturgical, evangelical and charismatic…” – those are the three streams; “a Church fully submitted to the authority of Scripture, as interpreted by the continuing witness of the ancient church…”  That means that the people who first heard the Word know best what it meant.  Have you ever played “Telegraph” or “Chinese whispers”?  You sit in a circle and one person whispers something to the first person, and they whisper it to the second, and it goes around the circle… and the fun part is comparing what the last one says to what the first one said.  How did you get that?  That’s exactly what happens through history if we don’t go back: they wrote it in 33 AD, and here we are in 2015 and people go back and say “I want to do some research and see what it really meant”, and they look at all kinds of things, except the people who received the letter: how did they act when they received the letter?  What did they do when they heard the Word?  That’s where the faith is not sola Scriptura: it’s not “just the Scriptures”, if you mean by that “just the Scriptures and whatever I feel like they say”: it is the Scriptures as the Church has always known them and has always understood what they meant.  We have to apply them in new ways: they didn’t always have mobile phones and the internet; but they did have other temptations, other things that could consume their time, and other tools that could be used rightly or wrongly, so it still applies.

We are “…a church fully submitted to the authority of Scripture, as interpreted by the continuing witness of the ancient church and governed by consensus. Our worship is Biblical, liturgical…” – We have a liturgy; the truth is, just about everybody’s worship is liturgical, even if the liturgy is just a bulletin that says “Call to worship – Scripture – Song – Sermon…”: that’s a liturgy and an order.  “Our worship is Biblical, liturgical and Spirit filled, ancient and contemporary, holy and joyful. We are committed to advancing God’s kingdom by proclaiming the Gospel to the least, the lost and the lonely.”

We believe in the seven Sacraments: at the centre is the Eucharist, the Lord’s Supper; there is also Baptism, Confirmation, Reconciliation (or Confession), anointing for healing, Ordination, and Matrimony.  What distinguishes the sacramental Church from evangelical or Protestant churches is mostly the Sacraments.  The church I came from had Baptism, Communion and marriage; we prayed for healing but didn’t do anointing; and some sort of ordination.

We’re fully evangelical: we believe that the Bible contains everything that is needed for life and salvation.  We believe in the Great Commission: that we are called to go into all the nations and baptise [Matthew 28:18-20].  We believe that we are saved by grace alone and justified by faith, and saved to do good works [Ephesians 2:8-10].

And we are a church that is open to the working of the Holy Spirit, the gifts of the Spirit which are specified in the New Testament, and that all believers are empowered to participate in that ministry: it’s not just for the clergy [Romans 12:6-8, I Corinthians 12:4-31, Ephesians 4:7-16, I Peter 2:9, 4:10-11].

What is the Church?

In my opinion, the big distinction between those three streams when they’re separate – the sacramental stream, the evangelical stream, the charismatic stream – is their view of what the Church is and what the Sacraments are.  If you came from a charismatic church or another Protestant church, it’s quite likely that your view of the Church is that it’s the people – true statement – and that it’s really a kind of democracy.  If your church had to search for a pastor, you probably published a notice somewhere in a denominational publication or a newspaper, or somehow got the word out that we’re a church and we don’t have a pastor.  Prospective pastors would apply; they would come in and preach a sermon and you would get to know them, and some small Council of people from the church would decide which one we should recommend, and they would recommend it to the church, and the church would say yes or no, and then you would make the offer and they would say yes or no.

The Kingdom of heaven is not a democracy: we don’t elect the king – the King is Jesus.  And He appointed apostles, and they went around choosing Bishops, leaders in every area, to be administratively over the Church and to shepherd the Church: it was their responsibility.  Multiple churches in an area were under a Bishop, like the Bishop of Jerusalem and the Bishop of Rome.  The Bible talks about Bishops and Deacons; Priests came along when there were so many churches that the Bishop couldn’t handle it, and so the Bishop ordained Priests to be his representative, not to be the owner of a church.  The Priest could only act under the authority of the Bishop; if the Priest and the Bishop didn’t agree, guess who won?  The church doesn’t belong to the Priest; the Priest isn’t elected.  A good Bishop listens to the people under him: to his Bishop’s Council, to the clergy in the Diocese; when there’s an opening, he talks to people: “Who do you think would be good?”  People put in names that they know, and they talk and pray about it.  And the Bishop tries to get the mind of the Lord; he doesn’t have to follow what the people or his Council recommends: they can agree that this is the person and he can say, “I’ve heard what you’re saying, but I think God is saying this…”  It’s not a democracy: that doesn’t mean we don’t have a voice, but it does mean that the Holy Spirit can overrule.  And if the Bishop is wrong, whose fault is it? – The Bishop’s.  That’s why the Bible says it’s not a good idea to want to be an overseer, because you have more responsibility and accountability.  The Church is not a democracy where we elect the people over us, so that they reflect our personality – that’s what’s happening in democracies all over, especially America – and then we complain about what they do.  He told you he was going to do it, and you elected him: he’s not leading you – he’s actually following you: he’s doing what you elected him to do.  That’s not the Kingdom of heaven.

The Kingdom of heaven is a monarchy: there is one King, and authority flows down from the Head.  That’s why Jesus was so impressed with the Roman army captain who came to Him and said, “Come and heal my servant.”  Jesus said “Sure, I’ll come”, and the captain said, “Wait a minute – You don’t even have to come.  Say the word…”  This was a Roman army captain, and Jesus turned to the people, the Jews, and said, “I haven’t seen faith like this anywhere in Israel!”  Ouch!  The captain said, “I have authority because I’m under authority.  If I’m not under authority, I don’t have any authority, and it’s just my word against anybody else’s.  But if I’m under authority, I say to this one, ‘Go!’ and he goes.”  And he says to Jesus, “If You say my servant is healed, that’s good enough for me.”  And Jesus said it, and he left.  And the next day on the way home he meets some servants coming to him, and they say, “You’re not going to believe this, but your servant just hopped up and he’s fine.”  And the captain says, “Oh yes, what time did that happen?”  “Oh, yesterday about three o’clock.” “That’s when I was talking to Jesus.” [Luke 7:2-10, John 4:46-53]

That’s what the Church is about – being under authority.  As long as we listen to what God is saying, then we can be confident about doing it.  We can do crazy things if God is saying it.  If we just do it because it’s crazy, we’ll look stupid: I know, from personal experience…

What are the Sacraments?

How we view the Church affects our faith; it affects our behaviour; it affects what we call the Sacraments.

  • In the Protestant Church, Communion is all about remembering.  Jesus said it, and we say it, in the Eucharist: “Do this in remembrance of Me.” (Luke 22:19)  That is true.  But they ignore the other part, which says, “Unless you eat My flesh and drink My blood, you have no part in Me.” (John 6:53) – “Oh, well, that was a mistake; He should have clarified that.”  Guess what – He had plenty of opportunity to clarify it; and in fact people said “That’s a hard teaching”, and people left because of it [John 6:60, 66].  If He didn’t mean that and He started seeing people wander away, do you think He would have said something?  “No, wait a minute, I didn’t mean that – it’s a just a spiritual picture.”  He didn’t say that, because it’s not true – it’s not just a spiritual picture.  Jesus is really there: it’s really His body and blood.  It may look like bread and taste like wine, but it still is His body, because He said it is.  That’s a Sacrament, not a remembrance: a Sacrament is something that God does, not something that we do.  In the Sacramental Church, the Sacraments are things God does; in the Protestant Church, they are things that we do. 
  • In the Sacramental Church, marriage is God putting two people together and making them one [Matthew 19:4-6]: you are making vows to Him to love, honour and obey your spouse.  In the Protestant Church you are making vows to each other – “I promise to do this” – and God is signing as a witness: it’s something we do instead of something God does.
  • Ordination: becoming a Priest; or Consecration as a Bishop:  In the Sacramental Church, you have to be called to be a Deacon or a Priest (that doesn’t mean we can’t make mistakes and think someone’s called because they really want to be); and when you are called, you have to make vows – just like marriage vows.  When I made my vows to my Bishop in the CEC to uphold the Gospel as the CEC understands it and to obey my Bishop, that’s no different from the vows that I would have made to my wife if we’d been in the CEC when we got married.  Then to say, “I’ve decided that I like a different Church better” is the same as me saying, “There’s this thirty-year old that I like better”.  We laugh, but I’ve heard people make that kind of argument about leaving the church – not only the CEC, but it could be Rome or another Church: “I made these vows, and I really meant them, and I want to be true to them, but I can’t be true to them, so rather than stay in the Church and be untrue to them, I’m going to leave the Church.”  That’s like saying, “I want to be faithful to my wife, but I can’t, so I’m going to divorce my wife: that’s the best thing for her.”  That’s the best thing for her?  No.

Dying to self

But some of that is because these people came from the Protestant Church; and in the Protestant world, to become a pastor all you need to do is go to Bible school, go through a course of study, get your degree, diploma or certificate of ministry; and then – you remember those churches that are looking for pastors?  You start sending out your resumé: you’re looking for a job; and you send it to the ones where the jobs look best, or that fit your particular personality.  And you get hired, and it’s good.  And you’ve been going a few years, and you think, “I could make twice as much if I was a pastor in a big city…” and so you start looking for another job.  That’s all I knew when I was in the Protestant Church: that’s how it worked.  You could even look for jobs outside your denomination: you could go to a Baptist seminary and come out and be a pastor in a Methodist Church.  That’s not a shepherd – that’s an employee.  And if I think I can get a better deal somewhere else, I’ll go somewhere else, or I’ll tell you, “I can get a better deal somewhere else.  Can you give me a raise?” – just as you do in the corporate world.

There’s no dying to self.  And that doesn’t mean there aren’t Protestant preachers who have died to self: I’m not saying that everyone is bad.  I’m just saying that the system doesn’t teach you what the Church is; it doesn’t teach you what a pastor is.  A pastor is a shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, not an employee who’s looking to build a good retirement [John 10:11-13].  And so we have to deal with the consequences; but we’re learning in the CEC is what it means to be a Church; what it means to be a Deacon, or a Priest, or a Bishop; what it means to lay down your life for your friends.  That’s what love is: “Greater love has no man… than… [to] lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13).

I was in Dublin yesterday; we had our Bible study, and we started this Catechism, and it did not go well: it turned into a lecture…  Then we had some questions, and it took off.  One of the questions that I didn’t have an answer for was, “Why do Priests wear black?”  Good guys wear white, and the guys who wear black are the bad guys…  Last night I had time to find the answer, and it’s a good one: Black is the colour of death.  Black in combination with the collar…  Why do you put a collar on an animal?  It’s a yoke, so that you can lead and guide it where it’s supposed to go.  “Take My yoke upon you…” (Matthew 11:29)  We should be yoked to Christ: when we put on the yoke and say, “Whatever You say…” – to do that, we have to die.  Because if we put this one and say, “I’ll be yoked with You as long as You don’t ask me to do something I don’t want to do”…  That sound silly, but how many people put on the yoke and then say, “I really don’t want to do that; and I don’t want to do that so badly that I’m leaving”?  It does happen.  You have to die: if you want to be yoked to Christ, you have to die – daily.  “Daily die to yourself, pick up your cross, and follow Me.” [Luke 9:23]

Why do we need instruction in the faith?

This is just an introduction to the Catechism, which is just instruction in the faith.  Why do we need instruction?  Why can’t we all just figure it out ourselves?  There are a few Scriptures that give us enlightenment there, and I will touch on two of these quickly:

  • Read Luke 1:3-4: Luke is writing to Theophilus (a name which means “lover of God”) and he is telling him why he is writing.  He’s saying, “I’m writing this down so that you can know for sure that this is what happened, and so that you can communicate it to other people who weren’t there.”
  • Read II Peter 1:15-16: (“Decease” means death.)  They wrote the Scriptures down so that when all the people who physically  knew Jesus were gone and all the people who had witnessed what He did had died, there would still be an account of what had happened so that all those people in the twentieth century who want to say, “Well, He didn’t really say this because it doesn’t fit His character”, or “He didn’t really do this, because miracles don’t happen”…  Peter and Luke and John knew that was coming and said, “I’m writing this down, because I was there, I saw it, I know it happened; and you need to know for sure that it happened, so that your faith can be as strong as mine.  And the people hundreds of years from now can faith as strong as mine because they have our testimony.”

It was important to them.  And there is one argument that is used to say, “Even with all of that, it’s still not true – they made up a story so that they could sell the movie rights, or so that they could be big hotshots.”  Let’s assume for a moment that they made this up, that Jesus died and actually did not rise from the dead, they buried Him somewhere and someone recently found His tomb, along with Mary and their child.  Let’s imagine that this is true, and that you are Peter, Andrew, James, and John, and the government is telling you, “If you don’t recant – if you don’t tell us that this is a lie – we’re going to behead you, crucify you upside down, boil you in oil…”  I’ve made some money selling manuscripts, but I know it’s not true, and they’re threatening to kill me in a very painful way.  Am I going to say I refuse to deny it?  No.  The only way I’m going to refuse to recant my story is if my story is true and I saw it.  Ten of the Eleven disciples were put to death because they were Jesus’ disciples and said they saw, they knew Him, it happened.  They all could have saved their lives by saying, “Ha, just kidding; you know, I was trying to be popular”.  Even if three or four of them had done that, then there would be some cause for doubt.  Not one.  And the only reason the other one didn’t get in that situation is that they never tried to put him to death: John lived to a great old age.

The reason why we have the Catechism is so that you know what you believe, and you can stand on it like a rock.  Jesus said to Peter, “You are the rock, and on this rock I will build My Church…” – not Fr. Dana’s church, Bp Elmer’s church, not Patriarch Craig’s Church, not Pope any-of-them’s Church – “My Church; and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” [Matthew 16:18]  Too often we think we’ve got to go back into the fort and close the gates and protect ourselves until Jesus comes.  He didn’t say, “The gates of heaven will not fall when we’re attacked by Satan”; He said, “The gates of hell will not prevail against the Church.”  Satan is not taking the gates of hell and trying to beat us over the head with them – he’s behind the gates, and the Church is coming after him!  The gates of hell will not prevail: to do that we’ve got to know what we believe; and it’s got to be solid, because the enemy will try everything possible to make us doubt and to make us get back in our hole and be safe and wait until the storm’s over.  That’s not what we’re called to do.

We’ll hear more: we’ll get into the Sacraments, the Creeds, the Ten Commandments, the Lord’s Prayer… and we’ll do this over time… so that we can be prepared, and so that we can do what God’s called us to do.