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Amazing Grace - Our Mission - Old Pillars, New Pillars

Preached by the Rt. Royal U. Grote, Jr, at the 49th General Council of the Reformed Episcopal Church.

In his first letter to young Bishop Timothy, St. Paul gave him instructions as to how he was to act (lit: behave as a bishop) in “the household of God which is the church, the pillar and ground of truth.” (Chapter 3:15) Embedded in this statement are four descriptions of the church, Each one sets forth a different facet of a multifaceted church.

The first of these miniature portraits is that of the household of God. St. Paul isn’t talking about a building, he is talking about the relationship of the members of the household to one another and to the master of the house. Philip Towner said, “The Greco-Roman household consisted of different groups, duties and responsibilities, and in the larger one, stewards were given authority to see that each did his or her share so that the master’s purposes might be achieved. The concept of household with its associated notions of interdependence, acceptable conduct and responsibility were so strong that St. Paul could borrow it to illustrate the nature of the church. It too, both then and now, is made of different groups (men and women from every level of society, parents and children, employers and employees) who must depend upon and, in love, serve one another; and it is the task of the stewards (the bishops, presbyters and deacons) to ensure that the household accomplishes the masters’ goals.” In other words, the church is a family, not a corporation, not a program but a tightly knit family. And that family has an organizational structure, with a carefully defined leadership; and it has a purpose, to serve the Lord of the house - Jesus Christ.

Next, we are told the church is the “pillar of truth.” To appreciate this image more fully, we need some background on the city of Ephesus, the place where Timothy administered his diocese. This reference to the church as a pillar would have had special significance because Ephesus was the place where the spectacular and extravagant temple of the goddess Diana stood. One of its features was its pillars. It contained 127 pillars, every one of them a gift of a king. All were made of marble. Many were studded with jewels and overlaid with gold. The people of Ephesus knew well how beautiful a thing a pillar could be. They also understood its purpose. It was to display the beauty of their God. Here St. Paul tells Timothy that the church is the pillar of truth.

Here we stand on the brink of the next Millennium. We have just celebrated our 125th year. Please permit me to speak most frankly. Why have we made it this far? Why was God’s grace so good that we lasted a century and a quarter? Is it because we are better than everyone else? Is it because we sing the Canticles better than any other Anglicans? Is it because we possess more truth than anyone else? Is it because we have done a better job of being a household, a select people, a pillar of witness and beauty and a bulwark of truth? I don’t think so!

Listen to Dr. Wilson {Joseph Wilson preaching at the 7th General Council}and ask yourself how we, as a church, have measured up to the purpose and goals first envisioned. “God has brought the Reformed Episcopal Church into being for the purpose of revivifying the Anglican Communion, out of whose bosom have come the brave, self-reliant, truth-telling, conscientious, liberty loving race of English speaking men, to tell that church and those men that what made saints of old, makes saints now.”

A felt Christ in the soul, an alliance with something higher than the earthly, whether gold or mud, an alliance with the superphysical and eternal. - to call that church away from its poetic crooning by an empty tomb - to cry aloud to that English church, ‘Why seek ye the living among the dead?’ Life is in the living souls of men.” That was the dream of the past, the first generation - to revivify the Anglican Communion; to be the church that this world needs - the family of God, the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of truth.

Well, how have we measured up 125 years later as this familial, select group of people, intended to be that attractive, winsome display and bastion of truth? Our founders wanted this church to be the vehicle for calling the Anglican Communion back to life! How? With the demonstration of the gospel lived out and proclaimed in this church!

Well, how have we done? We could pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves half truths. “Well, brethren, we’ve remained faithful to the gospel. We still believe the truth! We’re still orthodox in our beliefs. We haven’t given in to the liberalism and pluralism and out and out paganism that has infected so many of the other denominations today.” Yes that is true! But that’s the half truth. We, as a church, have not gone down that path. But, neither have we gone down the path of discipleship and ministry either.

What has the last 125 years produced in us? Brethren, this is a hard question but it must be asked. One of our past bishops, now in the presence of Christ, told me he did not expect to see this church make it into the 21st century. Why could he say such a thing? Because almost all of our efforts and energies have been spent on telling people what we are not, rather than what we are; because too much of our time has been spent focusing on our past, on building our walls and hiding behind our self imposed fortress, and not on the goal Christ has for his church. The gospel has almost gotten lost because of our obsession with what might happen. Too many worries over what might creep in and pervert us have resulted in a paralysis that really doesn’t commend us to Christ or man. We were brought into existence to be a testimony to life! The life of God in Christ. The power of God working in His church! Midway through the eighth decade of this century, it really was questionable as to whether we could stand up and become the kind of church that would make our Saviour proud. But, in those thirteen short years, we have seen the beginning and the stirring of a renewed hope and spirit in this church that are simply remarkable. New parishes springing up in every diocese.

Today, we have over 130 missions, and parishes in the United States and Canada. Twelve years ago, that number was 60 less. We had lost our young people for the most part. Today, we see a resurgence of young people and young families who have come to love the liturgy and the church and the truth she stands for! Today, you can travel from one end of this country to the other and, along the way, you will find people everywhere who know about our church, people who want to join this fellowship, people who are watching and waiting to see what we will do.

Today, the Anglican Communion is facing another crisis. In our fathers’ day, it was the Tractarian movement which, for the most part, died the death it so richly deserved. That is not today’s problem. Today, it is the challenge of the authority of Holy Scripture. It is the liberalism and pluralism which is eating away at the fiber of our society. Those standards which our forefathers held so dear are almost gone. What are we going to do about it Why did God preserve us all these years?

I do not believe that God preserved this church so that she could hide her light under a bushel; or, so that she could continue to fight a fight that ended 100 years ago - a fight that no one else is fighting or understands.. Today, there are new enemies and issues which are meaner and more vicious than anything the church has had to confront since her early years of persecution. Other branches of the church, the Anglican Communion itself, is in jeopardy from this wicked attack. Who will bring life to them? The responsibility is ours, my brothers and sisters. As children of that noble heritage, it falls our lot in life to bring them renewal and life. Brethren, we are our brother’s keeper. To say we are not, or we won’t, is to affirm that we are only the children of Cain, but not the children of promise.

Imagine with me what it would be like if this Reformed Episcopal Church would step up to the forefront and become what God intended for her to be - salt and light to this world. Imagine, if you please, what it might be like for every city and town in this country to have the option of a Parish where worship was beautiful and biblical and liturgical, where preaching declared the truth and nothing but the truth. Do we dare dream this way? We do, if we want to obey Christ’s mandate concerning the building of his church. “You shall be my witness, in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the uttermost parts of the earth...go ye therefore..” How would we ever achieve such a dream? We achieve that by making ourselves ministry oriented instead of corporately oriented; by being the four images of the church St. Paul laid out for young Bishop Timothy. A family - with leaders who are willing to pay the price it takes to be leaders and pastors.

A pastor came to me and said, “Bishop, do you know the difference between an Anglican and a Puritan world life view?” The Puritan says, “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through and it’s evil and wicked and I’m against it!” Not so the Anglican. He sees the world and says, “Look at that! My God made that! Oh, yes, sin has tainted it, but that world belongs to my Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. He bought it with his own blood. It belongs to Him! And, because I am His, and He is mine, what He owns, I own! So, it’s all mine! Give it to me! We’ll transform it by the power of the gospel and give it back to Him as an expression of our love and devotion!” Do you dare to claim your community? Brothers, it’s all yours! Do you dare do it? If you do, it won’t be long before we reclaim our society for Christ. Do we dare to be the catalyst for revivifying the Anglican Communion? To be the cause of evangelical unity.

Be careful with your answer - it might stretch us! It might take us into uncharted waters! But, it also just might let that great dream come true and enable us to capture our world for Christ - to add beautiful new pillars of witness to the glorious old pillars of Truth.

Old Pillars, New Pillars. Don’t we need them both? Amen.

[This abridgment contains about half of Bishop Grote’s sermon. The entire text may be found on the RE Web page at www.recus.org]

Missionary of The Month
Rev. Dr. Thomas Schirrmacher and Dr. Christine Schirrmacher. Bonn, GERMANY.

Domestic Missions
Keep in your prayers the work of the Board of National Church Extension, (B.N.C.E.), Bishop Royal Grote, President; Mrs. Joan Workowski, Treasurer.

Sunday School
Classes for all ages resume September 12th at 9:30 a.m.

Happy Birthday!
Sept. 01 - Nancy Toomey
Sept. 16 - Paul Zaleski
Sept. 19 - Sadie Case
Sept. 20 - Frank Sellers, Jr.
Sept. 23 - Steve Horosinski
Sept. 28 - Brian Sutton

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