Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Honey and Hemlock

It is impossible to take the Church out of the world, and it is impossible to take the world out of the Church.  Jesus forbade it.  “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man who sowed good seed in his field, but while he was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat and went away.”[i]  The weeds were zizanion, tares, a form of darnel which resembles wheat, but its grains are black and poisonous.  Zizanion produces a form of intoxication which can end in death; so also do the doctrines of the apostates in our field of the kingdom.

When the servants asked the Master if they should pull out the zizanion he forbade it, saying, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them.”[ii]  When the grains of wheat are ready for harvest they bend down, but the zizanion stands up above them and can be easily identified and removed.  There is a lot of zizanion in the Church, but the fruit of the Church, thirtyfold, sixtyfold and a hundredfold is not yet mature enough to be harvested.

In the field of the visible Kingdom, the Church, there is good grain and zizanion, and often the servants of the Church become panicky and want to pull out the zizanion, or failing that, pull out the Church from the field.  If you try to pull out the zizanion some of the wheat will be damaged.  If you try to pull out the sons and daughters of the Church you inevitably will pull out some of the zizanion them.  In the premature harvest some of the tallest stalks will not be wheat.  You can’t purify and preserve the Church by pulling it out of The Episcopal Church, or out of the Anglican Communion; and be aware of some of the tallest stalks when you try to do that.

In the field of the kingdom, the world is in the Church and the Church is in the world.  Obedience demands courage and steadfastness, not flight.  Of the servants of the kingdom let it be said, “Your servants love her very rubble, and are moved to pity even for her dust.”[iii]  When you live in the field of the kingdom you will by necessity be faced with the mixture of honey and hemlock.  “So it is most needful that those who wish to separate out the honey from the mixture should beware that they do not take the deadly residue by mistake.”[iv]

There are two basic tests for hemlock, correct doctrine, and love.[v]  Vincent of Lerins is correct when he says, “We take the greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always and by all.”[vi]  To negotiate away from either the authority of Scripture or the witness of tradition is to feed on the intoxication of zizanion.  To sue your brothers over property is a witness the quality of your love.

The first solution is not flight, but in steadfastness and in the clarity of the doctrine held by loving hearts.  When a prominent church leader tells us that a personal saving faith in Jesus is a western heresy, and we know full well that Eastern saints like Cyril of Jerusalem held that everyone coming to baptism must have a personal faith in Christ, we see the parable of the zizanion and good wheat clearly illustrated.  Until the harvest time our clear and loving response is to point out the zizanion and say, “Don’t eat it!” 

Let’s be honest, some of the fields of the kingdom are almost entirely run over with zizanion.  The Lord himself declares, “I know your works.  You have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.  Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die.”[vii]  He does not say that the faithful should flee but rather, “You have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.  The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments and I will never blot his name out of the book of life.”[viii] 

The one who conquers is not the one who flees, or even wins the political battles in the field of the Church, but the one who remains steadfast and faithful.  I and others who refuse to flee, say with Paul, “I make up in my own body that which is lacking in the sufferings of Christ on behalf of his body which is the Church.”[ix]  That is not a ministry of giddy happiness, but it is a ministry of a very real and unique joy in sharing in the incarnate presence of Christ Jesus who loves his Church on earth.

There are others who share that same ministry of suffering joy, and they have been driven out of the Episcopal Church.  It is hard for us who would rather fight than switch to judge when enough is enough.  How does a priest in a diocese in the northeast survive when she is told by her peers that she is not welcome at the clericus because she does not support the homosexual-lesbian agenda?  Woops.  Did I say “she”?  She would not be welcome in some conservative dioceses either.  Some who would reject her because she is a female priest don’t believe in the resurrection either, but they do hold their fingers correctly when they “say the Mass”.  Churchmanship is no guarantee of either orthodoxy or charity.

There is a solution, but whether or not you appreciate it depends on whether or not you irrevocably want your own way despite the cost to the Church itself.  That solution is submission, dare I say “obedience” to the proposed Anglican Covenant.  The Covenant is not a perfect solution, but it will provide the basis for unity for the greater majority of the Anglican Communion.  This solution is actually a submission to Catholic Order and to what has been believed everywhere, always, and by all.  I would suggest that integrity would demand that if you don’t agree with the Anglican Covenant you should humbly acknowledge that and take the necessary steps to remove yourself from the Anglican Communion, instead of trying to drive out those who do share a common faith.

[i] Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43
[ii] Matthew 13:29
[iii] Psalm 102:14 BCP
[iv] Gregory Palamas, The Triads, I, i. 20
[v] I John 4.
[vi] Chapter 4 of The Commitorium, AD 434
[vii] Rev. 3:1b-2
[viii] Rev. 3:4-5
[ix] Col. 1:24