Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Mystical Union Of The Believer, Christ and His Church

Feast Day Of Brigid 

(February 1st)

Fr. Dale Matson

"For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, 'Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.'” (1 Cor. 1:26-31, Epistle reading for Feast Day of Brigid).

Do I worry about righteousness and redemption and sanctification? I think not if I am in Christ. If I am in Christ, I am a new creature. I am putting off the old man and putting on the new, empowered by God the Holy Spirit.  Does this mean that our personality is being destroyed? Is this self-naughting a kind of self-destruction? Of course it isn’t. It is our false self that is being burned up. Christ has baptized us with the Holy Spirit and fire. God the Holy Spirit is the refiner’s fire burning up the dross of our old nature.  As St. Seraphim stated, “The true aim of our Christian life consists of the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God."

Paul states in Colossians, “"To whom God was pleased to make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Col. 1:27). “Paul then passes beyond the mystery of the church and comes to the words of the text, "Christ in you, the hope of glory." The church consists of souls in whom Christ lives. This is another mystery, never to be explained by or to the unspiritual, never to be perfectly explained even by the spiritual. The mystery of individual souls in whom Christ dwells lies at the back of the mystery of the church.” (G. Campbell Morgan).

But is it not also that we are born again by our baptism into Christ and His body the Church? Christ is the light of the world and the lamp inside me searching my inwards parts. Just as Brigid transformed a pagan location into a Christian community, Christ is exposing the darkness in us by the brightness of His light. He is transforming us so His Father may be glorified.  He is not making new things. He is making all things new. Just as Brigid took the pagan land and water and fire and consecrated it for Christian purposes and posterity. He is the tree of life within us and we live eternally on this fruit of the Spirit.  So, we are in Christ and He is in us. His body is the Church and we are members of it. The good deeds we perform, we do for Him and through Him and He does them through us. It is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us and for us. Amen

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Charismatic Renewal

Fr. Dale Matson

          Probably the last place one would expect a fresh infilling of God the Holy Spirit was the liturgical churches yet, the Anglican/Episcopal, Lutheran and later, the Roman Catholic Churches were some of the first churches to experience a contemporary renewal. This Neo-Pentecostal renewal began in the early 1960’s and remains evident in those same churches today. The Charismatic renewal has had less impact on the reformed churches and I believe this is possibly related to their dispensational approach to Scripture.
            I was a Missouri Lutheran in the mid 1980’s and was struck with the wording of a lesser known creed accepted by those churches. The Creed of St. Athanasius (Quicunque Vult) was recited only once a year in our congregation on Trinity Sunday. The following passage in particular resonated with me and I read it over several times. And in this Trinity none is afore, or after other; none is greater, or less than another; But the whole three Persons are co-eternal together and co-equal. I had been thinking a lot lately about God the Holy Spirit and why Jesus seemed to be the only focus of my brothers and sisters in our congregation.
I heard that Pastor Erwin Prange (he passed on less than a year ago) from Minnesota would be preaching at Pastor Ferd Barr’s church near Milwaukee. Pastor Barr was the lone Missouri Synod pastor who boldly dared to be Charismatic in the heart of the LCMS.  He spoke on Baptism of the Holy Spirit and his experiences as a Charismatic pastor and with a deliverance ministry as a consultant to a local psychiatric hospital. I also read one of his books, A Time To Grow. I was seeking this experience within my faith tradition guided by Scripture and trustworthy leaders yet there was some apprehension. A local Baptist pastor told me, “Speaking in tongues is of Satan.”  
I had a cautious yet irresistible desire for this “second blessing” and privately studied Scripture with many examples of both water and Holy Spirit baptism. I wanted a deeper relationship with God the Holy Spirit and knew in my heart that it would not be a false path. After all, the LCMS was not a dispensational church and didn’t God give good gifts to those that asked? (Luke 11:13, Matt. 7:11).
As a member of a home bible study mostly populated by Roman Catholics, I asked to be prayed over for the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. I trusted those around me and stepped out in faith that God would provide. Following the prayer, I simply said two words. I did not know what the words meant but repeated them in my head phonetically. I had a Young’s Analytical Concordance at home and looked them up. I had said “Zebina (acquired) Shekinah (God’s glorious presence). I had spoken in faith the words Zebina Shekinah and did not know at the time that they meant that I had acquired God’s glorious presence. It was the beginning of a private prayer tongue that I have used for over 25 years. I was involved in the Charismatic renewal for over 15 years and attended the Conference on the Holy Spirit in Minneapolis. I remember Lutheran pastor Larry Christenson as an excellent author/speaker there. I can also remember being moved by the Holy Spirit to tears as thousands of souls sang Amazing Grace. I looked around and everyone was in tears. There were many workshops and lots to learn. It was an ecumenical experience to be there and my friend Morton Kelsey once told me that ecumenism was the heart of the Charismatic experience.
I must end on a note that is an unfortunate reality for Charismatics. There was a great deal of misunderstanding and divisiveness associated with the Charismatic renewal. The Charismatic movement was ecumenical since the Holy Spirit is a God of Unity but the human side of it was divisive and literally split congregations in two. I primarily blame the Charismatics for giving the appearance that they were a special class of Christians. If only, the fruits of the Holy Spirit had also been manifested. We should have memorized 1 Cor. 13 before we preached 1 Cor. 12.
Finally, I am also sad to report that the home bible study, where there was such openness, honesty, trust and love, no longer exists. Some have moved, some died and most no longer even attend church. It is truly tragic that what appeared to be good soil for so many turned into rocks and thorny ground. I pray that someday they would again turn to Christ.       

Sunday, January 22, 2012

What Is Christian Mysticism?

Fr. Dale Matson

          “The business and method of mysticism is love.” (Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness, p.85, 1930).
            There are many definitions for mysticism but my operational term is restricted to Christian mysticism. There are other paths that are wider but the parameters provided by Holy Scripture and the tradition of the Christian church provide secure guard rails for the spiritual pilgrim. Mysticism is a perilous road to travel and I do not encourage people to take this journey if it is the mystical experiences and not God that they are seeking. It is to those who have an insatiable hunger for God and have had several mystical experiences that I encourage on this path of self-discovery. Actually it is in Christ that we learn who we truly are. In Him our personality is not annihilated; in Him our personality is brought to fruition.   The ultimate aim of the Christian mystic is union with Christ. This is also the hope and end for any Christian pilgrim. In Him we know as we are known (1 Cor. 13:12). We are saved by God’s grace through faith in His son Jesus Christ. On earth we are incorporated into a mystical union with His body the church through the sacrament of baptism. There is salvation in no other and there is no other name given in heaven or on earth whereby we may be saved (Acts 4:12). “There is one Lord, one faith and one baptism.” (Eph. 4:5) These are the non-negotiables of the Christian faith.
            I also believe it would be useful to include Bernard McGinn’s definition to round out our understanding of mysticism.  Christian mysticism would be "that part, or element, of Christian belief and practice that concerns the preparation for, the consciousness of, and the effect of a direct and transformative presence of God.” (The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism). The key word here would be “presence” of God. Perhaps it is a less intimate word than “union” but may be a better descriptor of most mystical experiences.
            Finally, I would like to stress the reactive aspect to mysticism (see Adolf Deissmann, The Selly Oak Lectures ,p. 245, 1923). It is God acting and the mystic reacting. St. Paul was not seeking Christ when he was knocked off his horse. Both St. Teresa of Jesus and St. John of the Cross advised against trusting private revelations and encouraged others not to seek them. Within the church itself, I believe the Word of God, the sacraments and loving service to others is the best avenue for those seeking a closer relationship to God, for ultimately, mystical experiences are really a byproduct of a life devoted to God.  It is ultimately God’s decision if, when, how and why He will bless anyone with a mystical experience. This is because He is gracious but more important than this; He is sovereign. If we could determine the time and place of a miracle, then we ourselves would be God. To even believe that through some effort on our part we will obtain anything from God is to exchange the precious faith God has given us for magic. In humility, patience and submission to His will we seek Him and Him alone.
“But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you”. (Matt. 6:33). 

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Mysticism Of St. Paul

Fr. Dale Matson

Christ is the prototype of the perfect human and I would say that St. Paul is the prototype of the converted and sanctified human. As a psychologist with a background in developmental psychology, the domain of spiritual development is of particular interest because I am a priest.
Sanctification is the process of spiritual development following conversion. Most would agree that Paul had a powerful conversion experience as reported by St. Luke in Acts chapter nine.  Paul was on his way to Damascus to arrest followers of the Way and was knocked off his horse.  There he encountered the resurrected Christ.
Paul, though he was converted, was not fully formed. Christ is revealed by St. Paul more than any other New Testament author and in so doing; Paul revealed much about himself also. While he focused on revealing the mysteries of Christ, he also provided a longitudinal record of his own spiritual development lasting about 30 years.
Just as the Synoptic Gospels and St. John’s Gospel give us a differing perspective on the portrait of Christ, St Paul gives us a differing perspectives on Christ in his early, middle and later writings. This is not to say that any period of St. Paul is less inspired than the others.
The model of spiritual development that has been traditionally employed by the church consists of the Purgative, Illuminative and Unitive stages. For an expanded explanation of these stages, please refer to my previous posting on Soundings. http://sanjoaquinsoundings.blogspot.com/2011/08/sanctification-iii-doctrine-of-three.html
Evelyn Underhill in Mystic Way A Psychological Study In Christian Origins , wrote the following, “There is a marked development in the Pauline epistles, which also throws light on their author’s growth in the new life. The series of letters from 1st Thessalonians to Philippians, from A.D. 50 to A.D. 60 clearly reflect the changes taking place in the mind which composed them: its steady process of transcendence, its movement on the Mystic Way.” (1913, p.180).
The late Bishop of Durham J.B. Lightfoot offered fascinating comments in his book Biblical Essays (1893) “1st and 2nd Thessalonians reveals Christ as Judge and penance. This would coincide with Paul’s Purgative stage of spiritual development. Romans, 1st and 2nd Corinthians and Galatians would coincide with his Illuminative stage of development and reveals Christ as “Savior-God”. Philippians, Philemon, Ephesians and Colossians portray Christ as the “Indwelling Word”. This would be a product of the Unitive stage of spiritual development. “We turn to the third group of Epistles and at once we notice a change of subject-matter. The metaphysical, mystical, contemplative aspects of the Gospel are brought out into special prominence.” (p.232).
The church has traditionally attributed all the epistles mentioned here, to Paul. Modern scholarship has cast doubt on the authorship of many of Paul’s letters but has not always taken into account the fact that Paul was not the same person thirty years after his conversion.
It is also worth considering when conducting Bible studies, what stage of spiritual development the participants are at. Curriculum development should be geared to the level of those being instructed. For spiritual directors this also has application. For those who want to focus on doctrine, it might be useful to take a second look at the end of Paul’s writings, not just the middle.
“Many a phrase which has provided a handle or an obstacle for critics, is but the hopeless attempt of the mystic to communicate by means of artistic symbols his actual and supernal experience to unmystical men.” (Mystic Way A Psychological Study In Christian Origins  (Evelyn Underhill, p.194)  

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Baptism Of Our Lord: Action And Reaction

Fr. Dale Matson

There are parallels with both our Lord’s baptism and His transfiguration. Unlike miracles that Jesus performed they are miracles that happened to Him. There is the miracle that happened to Him following his baptism where God the Father also said, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Luke 3:22). There is another parallel. The Baptism of Jesus is celebrated on the first Sunday after Epiphany and it is at the beginning of his ministry.  The Transfiguration account is part of the lectionary for the last Sunday after Epiphany and it is near the end of his ministry. God identified Jesus as His son at the beginning of his ministry and as His son at the end of his ministry. Both His baptism and transfiguration were supernatural manifestations by which God the Father authenticated Jesus as His Son. There is one other occasion where God speaks in response to Jesus asking for God to glorify His name. It is in the temple in Jerusalem. “”Then a voice came from Heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again” (John 12:28). Although Jesus initiated this, He did not do this for His own sake but for the sake of the listeners that His Father would be glorified.

These are miracles of God, Who, in His sovereignty, acted unilaterally. His actions were followed by responses by those who observed and witnessed to the miracles. I am convinced at this point in my life that God can be asked to intervene in our affairs but in His sovereignty may chose not to intervene or intervene in a way that we did not ask. I also believe in those things He commanded us to do, He will faithfully involve Himself. This is especially true of the sacraments. The onus is not on God to show up. The onus is on our expectant faith to look for Him. Even the faith we employ was given to us by God. I believe with all my heart that even a Eucharist with only two believers is also attended by all the company of Heaven.

I am not attempting to set up another formula for invoking God’s presence for to do so would be making God nothing more than a puppet on a string at best and superstition or magic at worst. What I am saying however, is if we are seeking God’s glory and not our own and willing to submit our will to His, He will show us extraordinary things.

Does this require of us that we must reach a certain level of holiness before God will show up? Does it require self-flagellation and self-immolation and an ascetic life? Does this mean that we must climb some spiritual ladder? If this is your plan, then Satan will either fill you with empty pride or the despair of a treadmill going nowhere. No, it is none of these things. As the Blessed John Henry Newman once said, “It is the saying of holy men that, if we wish to be perfect, we have nothing more to do than to perform the ordinary duties of the day well.”(A Short Road to Perfection, 1856).

God was initially in the Charismatic movement but was later excluded by those who attempted to  formalize, systematize and catalog ways to buy and sell His power. God is not wooed by false praise and self-appointed prophets. He is not manipulated by quoting a series of Bible verses and does not need a cult following of this or that guru in a crowded venue. God is sovereign. Our role is to react to His actions. We are to wait upon Him and to follow Him when He chooses to reveal His will to us. We did not earn nor do we merit God’s grace. Because of both His sovereignty and grace He can even offer consolations when we least expect it whether we deserve it or not. Be ready at all times.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

He In Us And We In Him

Fr. Dale Matson

“…that He may dwell in us and we in Him.” (From Great Thanksgiving, BCP, Rite I, page 336)

It has been said that good theology is God centered and I would add that it is reactive also. I have a spiritual kinship with the Apostle Paul. We both have a background in religious training but are at heart, blue collar Christians as tradesmen (like our Lord). We both have experienced visions and I would say that at heart, we are both mystics. For me, Paul was not just a converted Pharisee who reinterpreted the Law in the light of Christ’s teachings, yet that is how some theologians have portrayed him. They have made doctrine out of situation-specific advice he gave to the churches. It became an early version of “What would Jesus do?” Reformation theologians understood Paul as a lawyer using legal language to convey his Gospel but Paul was chiefly speaking as a man with a converted heart who considered himself to be crucified, dead to the world and a new man “in Christ”.  
Years ago, the phrase “In Christ” in St. Paul’s writings gave me pause every time I encountered it. What did Paul mean by this phrase? Adolph Deissmann noted that the phrase “in Christ” (or a similar form) occurred 164 times in Paul’s writings, while it did not occur at all in the synoptic Gospels. Paul uses “In Christ” 27 times in Ephesians alone.  Does this phrase point to the heart of Paul’s Gospel in some way?
Many evangelical protestants believe that justification by faith is the heart of Paul’s Gospel and the church, particularly the Protestant church, has viewed it this way. By doing this they have diminished the church. It is my contention that justification by faith while important was not the heart of Paul’s Gospel. Paul, ever the reactive Christian stated, “But when God, who set me apart from my mother’s womb and called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, my immediate response was not to consult any human being.” (Gal. 1:15-16)  The heart of Paul’s Gospel is the mystical union of Christ and the believer and the mystical union of Christ with His body the church. How closely is Christ identified with His church? “And he [Paul] fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” (Acts 9:4)  This mystical union of Christ with the believer is also illustrated in John’s Gospel in the parable of the true vine in Chapter 15. Some writers believe that John incorporated some of Paul’s ideas (James S. Stewart and Aldolph Deissmann among them). One of the reasons this is so important is that it means that Christ is not just an impossible standard and exterior “role model” but empowers and acts through us. It is really the difference between living in Romans 7 and life in Romans 8. It is this Christ in me/me in Christ understanding of Paul which is the heart of Paul’s understanding of his Gospel. It is this me in Christ that helps us understand the church as the mystical body of Christ and explains the church as such a leveling force in the world. It is the believers in Christ that make up the mystical body of Christ, the church. It is this mystical body of Christ that is the Kingdom of God. Paul’s Gospel is directed to the non-Jew and intended to rescue sinners and bring them into God’s Kingdom through baptism and faith “in Christ”.
“Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink His blood, that we may evermore dwell in Him, and He in us. Amen. (From Prayer of Humble Access, BCP, Rite I, Page 337).
“…and we are very members incorporate in the mystical body of thy Son, the blessed company of all faithful people” (From concluding prayer, BCP, Rite I, page 339).