Monday, October 23, 2006

On Christian Marriage and Divorce

Fr. Will Brown
October 2006

In today’s readings we have God’s teaching on the relationship between men and women: what it means for men and women to be in relationship with one another. Let’s begin at the beginning. In the lesson from Genesis, we read God’s compassionate utterance with respect to mankind: it is not good for him to be alone. Its not good for him to live by himself, in isolation. And notice that this is the first “not good” to come out of God’s mouth. God beheld everything else that he had made up to this point, and “behold it was good.” But he sees that man is alone, and for the first time he says “not good.” “It is not good for man to be alone.” He needs a companion.

So God decides to fix human loneliness. And how does he do it? He looks around at all the creatures he has already made, but he does not find among them a companion fit for man. And, by the way, this is the real reason the Church has always taught that homosexual practice is wrong. Not because of the ritual impurity passages in Leviticus about it being “an abomination” and what not – but rather because single-sex companionship as an alternative to marriage falls under this category of human isolation that God calls “not good.” So God differentiates between the genders, and institutes a similitude and complimentarity between them such that they are flesh of a single flesh, and bone of a single bone – but in their similitude, in the human nature which men and women share, there is complimentary difference. Man and woman are, according to Genesis, complementary expressions of a single human nature bearing the image and likeness of God. And therefore, it says, a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. In short, God instituted this complementary differentiation between the sexes to fix a situation that was, in his words, “not good” – the situation of human isolation and loneliness.

Jesus comments on this very passage in today’s lesson from Mark. The tricksy Pharisees, “in order to test” Jesus, ask him whether divorce is okay. Lets skip to the end: God Incarnate says its not okay. Jesus says divorce is not okay, and he cites today’s reading from Genesis to explain why: because God himself has instituted marriage between one man and one woman as a component of the goodness of his creation, and in order to remedy the not-goodness of the alternatives, the not-goodness of human isolation. And by the way: the Church has always recognized the only alternative to marriage, the celibate estate, as a special case, a special calling, sanctified by being for the purpose of being more ardently devoted to the Lord’s business (cf. 1 Cor. 7.32-34).

But guess what? Things are not as they seem. They never are, right? Put another way: there’s more to this story than meets the eye. Consider again the problem and its remedy: It is not good for man to be alone…. Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh. The real problem of human isolation is not that its another Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody. The real problem is that humanity has been isolated from God – because our human nature has been broken by sin and corruption. Because we are inundated every day with temptation and toil and suffering, all of which seeks further to isolate us from one another… and further to isolate us from God. And that’s real isolation… that’s real loneliness. And if we let that stuff get the better of us, if we let the temptation and the toil and the suffering master us, that’s called Hell.

[And that’s why Christian hermits, who live in caves and see other humans once a year or something… that’s why they’re not necessarily really lonely: if they’ve embraced a special calling to celibacy and solitude in order to devote themselves to intimacy with God, then they’re not really lonely. And conversely, that’s why you can find some of the loneliest people in the world in big cities, surrounded every day by the chatter and bustle of lots of other people.]

Hell is the situation of perfect, unmitigated loneliness. It is not good that man should be alone. That’s the problem. Here’s the remedy: Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife. Things are not as they seem. A man leaves his Father. There was once a Son who left his Father’s house… and then he came down from Heaven, and by the Holy Spirit became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and was made man, and for our sake was crucified. Why did he do it? Because God was not willing that humankind should continue to live in its mortal isolation. It is not good that man should be alone. God was not willing that we should be so subjected to the temptation and the toil and the suffering of our broken human nature that we should die in our isolation from him. So God joined his own nature, his own divinity, to our broken human nature in the one flesh of Jesus Christ, perfect God and perfect man, like us in every respect (Heb. 2.17). Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.

That’s why Christian marriage is for life. Because God joins each of us to himself in the one flesh of his Son, and he said that this union of his divinity with our humanity would be until we should be parted by death, just like in the marriage vows. And then Christ did die, but we were not parted from him: the union of humanity and divinity survived in his resurrection… because God’s love is stronger than death. God took on our broken human nature so that he could break its brokenness. He took on every aspect of our humanity, and he perfected it. He took on temptation, and did not sin. He took on toil, and he did not grow weary. He took on suffering, until he cried out on the cross this marriage is consummated! He took on death, until he rose from the grave. And that life and that death were the perfection (Heb. 2.10) of the union of God and man in the one flesh of Jesus Christ. And there’s no divorce in that union. Its for life, for eternal life, because the one person in whom the union of divinity and humanity is consummated and perfect now sits forever at the right hand of the Father. The one person, Jesus Christ, is forever perfect divinity and perfected humanity. And there’s no turning back.

Take every opportunity to give yourself to the Bridegroom of your soul. Most problems in human marriage boil down to failures of trust – to our inability to give ourselves freely and perfectly to one another. That’s hard – from what I’ve seen, it looks like one of the hardest things in life. That’s the hardness of heart on account of which Jesus says that Moses allowed for divorce. And sometimes it almost can’t be helped. God knows sometimes people’s ability to give themselves freely and completely to their spouses is so corroded by fallen circumstances that its impossible to judge culpability for a marriage’s failure. And that’s why we’re told never to judge others. Only God can judge the causal connections between our choices and the circumstances that formed us. Sometimes people come from alcoholic backgrounds, or sometimes people have been formed by sexual abuse. Overcoming that kind of baggage and getting to a point where you can trust someone totally, where you can freely and completely give yourself to another person can seem impossible. And the Church knows that. She makes merciful allowances.

And our ability to give ourselves freely and completely to Christ, the Bridegroom of our souls, requires inhuman trust. The Church calls that kind of trust faith. It too is corroded by circumstances and can seem impossibly hard. But that’s what the Church is for. If any of you are perfect, you don’t belong here. In fact, if you were perfect, you’d be dead. The world hates perfect people. It nails ‘em up. Rather, the Church is a hospital for sinners – not a fortress for the self-righteous. The Church is sweet counsel for the reticence of our souls. The sacramental life is premarital counseling that prepares us to be joined to Christ in the hour of death, that we may be joined to him in the eternity of his risen life. And he never gives up on us. He was willing for his nuptial bed to be a cross so that our honeymoon might be eternal life.

It is not good for man to be alone. Therefore a Son left his father in heaven (and his mother on earth) in order to cleave to his Bride. And they become one flesh. And Christ woos us day by day from the altar: take; eat; this is my body – drink this all of you; this is my blood.

Happy indeed are those called to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Amen.

Mark 10: The Rich Young Ruler (wealth, poor, poverty, kingdom, following Christ, simplicity)

Sermon for the 23rd Sunday in Pentecost
Mark 10:17-27
Fr. Lee Nelson

The story goes that a little boy had gotten his hand stuck in his mother’s prized Ming-dynasty vase. It had been a gift to her grandmother by her grandmother, and so on and so forth through the generations. It was by all accounts priceless.

No flowers had ever been displayed in it – not to anyone’s recollection anyway.

It had never, ever been anything more than a prized family heirloom, a priceless treasure, and therefore, the children were never, ever allowed to touch it.

After all, the very presence of the vase in the house had raised the homeowner’s insurance burden fourfold.

Of course, his mother was away for the weekend, and had left charge of the house to his father, who was out mowing the lawn when the little boy came running out into the front yard, dragging the vase behind him.

The father immediately tried just about everything he could think of – pulling, jerking, hot water, olive oil, motor oil and Goo-gone, but nothing seemed to work.

Loading all the kids into the family minivan, they headed to the emergency room, where after waiting the obligatory four hours, they finally saw a doctor.

The doctor peered down at the catastrophe before him, the vase wrapped in bubble wrap to protect it, and of course, the boy looking comical with his new and unnatural appendage.

“Well, it seems to me that we only have two choices,” said the doctor, after assessing the situation.

“Choice number one: we break the vase with this hammer.”

The little boy shuddered.

The father nearly passed out.

“Choice number two: we amputate the hand.”

The little boy shuddered.

The father knew exactly what must be done.

“Well, the choice is clear, hand me the hammer.”

“Wait!,” screamed the little boy, imagining the look on his mother’s face when she returned home.

“Would it help if I let go of this quarter?”

[PAUSE] [Fr. Nelson holds up a quarter.]

In this hand, I hold a quarter.

In this hand, the Kingdom of God.

In this hand, I hold wealth, and status, and upward mobility, and the keys to my car, and my house, and everything else that isn’t the Kingdom of God.

In this hand, I hold the pearl of great price, discipleship to the Lord Jesus Christ, I hold following Him wherever He may go.

In this hand – I hang onto what is familiar, what is safe, what is pleasing to me, what brings me happiness.

And in this hand – I hang onto salvation, that which is wild, and untamed, which will cost me my life, and bring me great joy.

In this hand – I hang onto a Gospel that is easily digested, that only transforms what I let it, a Gospel that is neat and tidy and does not require much of me.

And in this hand – I cling to a Gospel that is messy and bloody, that transforms everything about who I am, a Gospel that is costly and untamed and requires my whole life.

I use these hands to illustrate the very dilemma that frustrates the rich man in the Gospel of Mark.

With his right hand, he grips tightly his money, wealth, notoriety, and image as a benefactor. He enjoys his place in society, he gives to the Temple, he gives to the synagogue.

In his left hand, he desires eternal life, he keeps the commandments – about this, by the way, Jesus does not challenge him, he does not defraud anyone, he honors his father and mother, he observes the Sabbath, he does not commit adultery.

He is, by all accounts a moral man. But is that enough?

Who knows what he had hoped to hear when he asked: “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Probably, he wanted to know what the requirements are, and in this, he might as well have asked “Teacher, what is the bare minimum that I must do to inherit eternal life?”

He is asking: “What is the checklist?”

Rather than telling him what he has, Jesus tells him what he lacks, saying “one thing you lack.” The Gospel of Luke, changes this line to “if you would be perfect.” But, the point is the same – this man is incomplete. In order that he may lack no more, he is told to sell everything he has and give to the poor. That’s not usually something you hear. You don’t hear things like: because you lack something, get rid of everything.

But, you see it is not possessions that he lacks – what he lacks is discipleship, he lacks the obedience and submission of being a “student” of Jesus.

What he wants is to be able to hold the quarter in his right hand – his possessions, his status, his wealth, while at the same time grasping eternal life.

He would like to have both.

He would like to have Jesus and 30 pieces of silver.

He would like to have Jesus and his possessions.

You see, the way of a disciple is a way of simplicity and obedience, the disciple following Jesus wherever He goes. The disciple must be unencumbered by wealth and possessions. He must forsake everything – even his own family to follow completely and perfectly. The disciple cannot hang on to the quarter with one hand and Jesus with the other. He must cling to the Savior with both hands.

The rich man wants to follow Jesus – but only periodically, and only insomuch as being a disciple does not interfere with the rest of his life.

Yet, at some point following Jesus requires letting go of the hand with the quarter – the hand with the possessions and the wealth, and the safety – and clinging to the Lordship and Mastership of Jesus – and clinging to Him only – with both hands.

We have committed the great sin in the Church of being somewhat moderate on this point. We have said that if you are interested in being a disciple of Jesus, you are more than welcome to keep your status in the community, your house, your cars, your investments, your possessions. We have done this with the rationale that being a Christian is either a primarily moral enterprise or a primarily spiritual enterprise, and we have exempted the monetary and civic character of the individual from the scrutiny of the Gospel.

We have essentially said that you can have one hand in the Kingdom of God and another in the Kingdom of this World, and be more or less living out Christian vocation.

The problem with this line of thinking is that the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of this World – the left hand and the right – are not compatible. – they are fundamentally opposed. And, what winds up happening to the Christian is that he winds up being stretched out.

He pursues the intimate knowledge of God and of His Son, while at the same time being in pursuit of wealth and status. He longs for eternal things, for treasure in heaven, while at the same time attempting to satisfy himself with material gain.

The great problem comes when the Kingdom of this World fails to satisfy – when the right hand is dropped – and the Christian must lean on the left hand, only to find that what he is left with is a rather dull and unchallenging Jesus who doesn’t say things like “go, sell what you own.” He’s is a domesticated Jesus – a Jesus who is there for you when you’re down and who says nice things about you.

He is not Lord. He is not Savior. He is mass-market cute.

And the only hope for Jesus and His Church is that some of you get that and sell everything that you have, give the money to the poor, and follow Him and Him only.

There. I’ve said it. I know you were waiting for it, but now I’ve gone and said it.

That’s right – for some of you, following Jesus in completeness will mean you can’t live in your house anymore. You can’t drive the car you drive. You can’t wear the clothes you do.

Note that I say some.

What we find in the Scriptures are some very rich people who don’t have to sell everything in order to be complete disciples.

We can look to Zachaeus. We can look to Joseph of Arimathea, to Lydia, and then to the great saints – Elizabeth of Hungary, Margaret of Scotland, and King Louis of France – all of them unimaginably wealthy, yet generous, and kind, and hospitable. They are those camels who have managed to get through the eye of the needle.

But what that does not mean is that you can be attached to your possessions and Jesus at the same time. You can’t be. Idolatry is idolatry. But, what it does mean is that wealth comes from the Lord Himself and it is to be held in His stewardship. That means that that big house is not yours, it’s His, and so you had better start using it like it’s His.

It means that car is not yours, it’s His, and you had better start driving it like it’s His.

It means that your bank account must be governed by the Lord Jesus rather than by the principles and ideals of the Kingdom of this World.

But, for some of you, I daresay many of you, your possessions and wealth may be the very things which keep you from discipleship, from grabbing hold of Our Lord with both hands.

You might say to me “Father, my possessions and wealth are not my gods. I’m fully capable of keeping things in perspective.”

To you I ask one simple question: “If the Lord appeared to you in a dream, and asked you to sell your house and everything in

“Would you do it?”

Or, would you, like that little boy – hang on to the quarter, the baubles and the trinkets, and walk away grieving, dragging behind you a very expensive vase? [pause]

We must never forget, my beloved brothers and sisters, that we were bought with a price!

That the cost of our salvation is high! And that Our Lord paid it! And He extends both hands to you! And you withhold one?

May we not be so cold to Him!

Our Lord gives us His very self, that we might live with Him, and yet, all too often, it is our materialism which stands in the way, which stretches us out between two hands.

And so, it becomes clear that our attitude towards material things must change in order for our attitude towards Jesus to change, so that we might love Him and trust Him more.

Letting go of our attachments in this world frees us to be disciples.

Let me suggest some more practical ways of giving over our possessions to the Lordship of Christ?

I offer you an acronym: SIMPLE - S. I. M. P. L. E.

The S stands for Smaller. Does your house have rooms that are unnecessary or exist merely for show? Is your car more about status than about transportation? It might be time to downsize. Consider selling what is unnecessarily big, and giving the difference to the Church or another worthy charity.

The I stands for a big word – Inconspicuous. This means getting rid of things which are meant to draw attention to us. Perhaps you have some clothes which have as their most important attribute the drawing of attention.

The M stands for Minimal. This means decreasing the number of a possession, perhaps all the way down to one. To one TV, one set of golf clubs, one dvd player, one computer, one set of dishes, etc. Or it can mean decreasing the number to what is actually necessary. Perhaps you only need 7 shirts instead of 25. Perhaps you only need three pairs of shoes. Stuff all the extra into garbage bags and take it to GRACE.

The P stands for “Paid-For.” This means buying things that you can pay for, not things you can afford. There is a subtle yet important difference between the two summed up by over 1.6 trillion dollars charged on consumer credit cards by Americans every year. Consumer debt is little more than a subtle form of slavery and as Our Lord says “No one can serve two masters, he will either love the one and hate the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”

The L stands for “Lose it!” A major part of simplicity is getting rid of things entirely. It is very healthy to go through a bit of purging from time to time. Are there things you haven’t used in a while? Are there things that have become idols for you? Are there things that eat away at your time? All of these are candidates for the “Lose it” method.

The E stands for “Employ it.” This means using what you have. Once you’ve gotten rid of all the excess, it is important to use the things you do have, but again, not according to the principles of this world – but as members of the Kingdom of God, using what we have under His rule.

So, in review, possessions should be small, inconspicuous, minimal, and paid-for. Possessions no longer useful, or possessions that are occasions for sin should be Lost and possessions retained should be Employed.

Friends, if you desire freedom, freedom to follow Jesus, simplicity is the way.

One of the great saints of the Church, Teresa of Avila, had this to say:

“He who has God has all things: When we have God, Who is infinite, we will want less or even nothing extra.

God alone suffices: God supplies everything we need, but not necessarily everything we want. Learn spiritual simplicity by adoring Him and His Blessed Simplicity.”

This is where we get to heart of matters.

God wants us to love Him from the depths of our souls. He wants us to positively adore Him. When we are busied by what we possessed – it makes us impossible to love, adore, and be possessed by Him.

We are like the boy stuck in the jar for the sake of a quarter.

We need only let go to be free.

If you would be perfect: “Learn spiritual simplicity by adoring him and His Blessed Simplicity.”


Monday, October 02, 2006

Syllabus: Introduction to Christology in One Lesson

Christology of Chalcedon

Jing Cheng
Proposed, Southern Methodist University
Fall 2006

Motivation of the Course

The imaginative audiences are young adults who are curious of Christian culture but find it weird to believe in a human being as the Son of God. This course attempts to help them understand the formation of a Christian doctrine and the concerns involved during this process.

Reading Assignments

1. Richard A. Norris, The Christological Controversy (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980), pp. 1-31.
2. Cyril of Alexandria, “Second Letter to Nestorius,” in The Christological Controversy, pp. 131-135.
3. Cyril, “Third Letter to Nestorius,” in Christology of the Later Fathers ed. Edward R. Hardy (Louisville, London: John Knox Press), pp. 349-354.
4. Cyril, “Letter to John of Antioch,” in The Christological Controversy, pp. 140-145.
5. Leo I, “Letter to Flavian of Constantinople,” in The Christological Controversy, pp. 145-155.
6. “The Chalcedon Decree,” in Christology of the Later Fathers, pp. 371-374.

Lecture Outline

1. The doctrinal achievements of the Council of Nicaea I and Constantinople I

Council of Nicaea I: the first Ecumenical Council, summoned by Emperor Constantinople in 325. Athanasius was the leading champion of orthodoxy. The council condemned Arianism, which denied the full divinity of Jesus Christ and accepted “Homoousios”—the Father and the Son are of one substance—as orthodox.

Council of Constantinople I: convened by Emperor Theodosius I in 381. The council ratified the work of the Council of Nicaea with regard to the doctrine of Christ, and confirmed the humanity of Christ by condemning Apollarianism, which denied the presence of a human mind or soul in Christ.

(Now that the real divinity and real humanity of Jesus Christ was affirmed, what is the relation of the two in the God-man?)

2. Nestorianism: The christology of Theodore of Mopsuestia and Nestorius

Theodore of Mopsuestia: The Word of God dwells in the man Jesus of
Nazareth by God’s good pleasure. Therefore, there are two subjects in Christ: the Logos united himself with the man Jesus ever since his conception started and the union of the two grew with Jesus’ human life going on and is fully expressed in the resurrection of the crucified Jesus.

Nestorius: Virgin Mary should not be called “Theotokos”—mother of God; she was only the mother of the humanity of Christ and could only be called “Theodochos”—recipient of God. The Logos is not the ultimate subject of the human attributes of Jesus, so He was not born of Mary, did not suffer, did not die, nor was raised. Jesus was only a human being, in whom the Logos dwelt, though intimately and completely.

3. Cyril’s response to Nestorius and the Council of Ephesus (431)

Cyril of Alexandria: The second person of God Himself took flesh and became a human
being, but he did not thus undergo a change and ceased to be God; remaining God he took on
the conditions of human life. “[A]lthough He existed and was born from the Father before
the ages, he was also born of a woman in his flesh.” And “the Logos was born of a woman
after he had … united human reality hypostatically to himself.” (Norris, 133) There was
only one subject in Jesus. The one hypostasis is the Logos himself, making a full human
existence his own. Though as God He is impassible, in the human body He assumed He
suffered for our sake; therefore the resurrection is also His according to his human nature.

Council of Ephesus: took place in 431. Both sides went but met separately and mutually excommunicated each other. The imperial authorities recognized the meeting Cyril presided over and Nestorius’s doctrine was condemned and he himself was excommunicated. The council reaffirmed the Creed of Nicaea and gave formal approval to “Theotokos.”

4. Eutyches’ claim
After the union, Christ had only one nature.

5. Leo I and the Council of Chalcedon (451)

Leo I (“the Great”): condemned Eutyches. Christ is one “person” having two natures,
each of which was the principle of a distinct mode of activity. The inner, ontological identity of Christ is the Logos himself.

Council of Chalcedon: convoked by Emperor Marcian. Condemned Eutyches; confirmed the Nicaea and Constantinople Creed and drew up a statement of faith—Chalcedon Definition, according to which Chris is the one divine Son, possessing at once complete deity and complete humanity. Christ is not “out of” two natures but “exists in” two natures, which are neither divided from each other nor confused with each other.

Discussion Questions

How do we understand that a historical man is believed to be the eternal Son of God? What is at stake throughout this debate? Are you satisfied with the definition in the Chalcedon Decree? How can it be more than a human concomitant?

Syllabus: An Exploration of Modern Christian Demographics in Two Lessons

Teaching Christian Demographics: Two Lessons
David Whidden
Proposed, Southern Methodist University
Fall 2006

Objective: Help students think through the implications of broad demographic changes in world Christianity, as well as different theological proposals that may support different visions of Christian renewal movements.

Key Questions: What will the future of Christianity look like? How will different demographic and theological proposals influence this future?

Session 1 – The Exorcism of a Gay Man at Lambeth 1998

Reading assigned:
Dave Barrett, Todd Johnson, and Peter Crossing, “Missiometrics 2005: A Global Survey of World Mission,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Volume 29, number 1, January 2005, pp. 27-30.
Philip Jenkins, “Next Christianity”, Atlantic Monthly 290.3 (October 2002), pp. 53-55, 58.
Philip Jenkins, “After ‘The Next Christendom’,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Volume 28, number 1, January 2001, pp. 20-22.
Joseph Claude Harris, “The Future Church: A Demographic Revolution,” America, March 18, 2002, pp. 7-9.
Spiritual Tidal Wave: The Origins and Impact of Pentecostalism, podcast or transcript at:

Introduction: Lambeth 1998. A brief history of how world demographics have impacted the Anglican communion. What does this foretell for the future of Christianity?

Lecture: Broad areas of content to be covered
a) Demographic growth in the South
b) Declining birthrates in the West
c) The corresponding growth of Islam
d) The growth of Catholicism
e) The emergence and continued growth of Pentecostalism

Discussion: What kind of local impact do demographic changes have locally? What are the implications of global demographics on Christianity? What might the re-evangelization of Europe look like? Is there a possibility of religious reverse-colonization?

Summary: Religious growth is not just about demographics, but the demographic issues will have a huge impact on the future of Christianity. At our next session we’ll talk about some specific proposals for the future of Christianity.

Session 2 – Further Discussion

Reading assigned:
John Shelby Spong, Why Christianity Must Change or Die: A Bishop Speaks to Believers in Exile – A New Reformation of the Church’s Faith and Practice, San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 1998. pp. 3-21 (On Saying the Christian Creed with Honesty); 56-70 (Beyond Theism to New God Images); 184-199 (The Future Church: A Speculative Dream)
William Abraham, The Logic of Renewal, Grand Rapids Michigan: William Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2003. pp. 1-8 (The Logic of Renewal); pp. 71-92 (Dying for Renewal); pp. 153-172 (Renewal and the Quest for Intellectual Integrity).

Introduction: To follow up on last session, we’ll discuss several proposals for the future of the church.

Discussion: Which of these visions of the future of the church do you find appealing? Which one, if any, do you think will win out? Why? Is either of them viable given the demographic information we discussed last time? Is there such a thing as Christianity without God? What would a successful renewal look like for each of these authors? How would they respond to the Pentecostal movement we discussed last time?

Mark 9: Things are not as they Seem: The Greatness of the Poor, the Wounded, and the Little Child

There was not a dry eye in the place when Fr. WB preached his latest sermon. Find it here.