Bread From Heaven
The Reverend J. Howard Cepelak
The Sacrament of Holy Communion
Pentecost X – 5 August 2012
Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15; Psalm 78:23-29, Ephesians 4:1-16, John 6:24-35
From the Book of Exodus:
The Lord said to Moses, I will rain bread from heaven for you…
From St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians:
Regarding the church’s unity in Jesus Christ, the apostle wrote, we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful wiles. Rather, we are to grow up in every way into him, [that is, into Jesus Christ].
From the Gospel According to St. John:
Jesus said, Do not labor for food which perishes, but for the food which endures to eternal life….my Father gives you the true bread from heaven to eat. I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst.
Let us pray.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
Back in mid-July, Carol Bailey e-mailed several of us a July 14th New York Times article entitled, Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved? The author, Ross Douthat, focused on the Episcopal Church in the USA in his article but what he has to say applies to all of our major, mainline denominations.
The article comes as a surprise since it was published in the New York Times – a paper now well known for its pro-spiritual diversity bias with an outright prejudice against traditional Christianity. Yet this article pretty much hits most of the nails on the head when it comes to an explanation of why our major denominations are failing. Failing is not the word – dying is. And that’s the word the author uses.
To say that all of Christianity is dying a slow death would be to distort the reality that traditional, conservative, morally and doctrinally orthodox churches continue to grow; in some places, at an astounding rate. We even see significant growth in atheist, Communist China. Although the government maintains a harsh surveillance on the churches, often intimidates and even imprisons Christians, the church nonetheless grows. Pastor Dae Kim just returned from a mission to China and has many inspiring stories to tell.
But the so-called liberal churches in America and in Europe have declined by about 70% since the mid 1970s. And since the year 2000, Sunday worship attendance has dropped another 23%. This applies not only to major Protestant churches but also to the progressive Roman Catholic congregations as well with only slightly different figures.
Just a note. We always need to define our terms. The progressive spirituality of today is regressive. Everything to which they hold fast and teach as truth is simply pre-Christian paganism redressed in contemporary clothes. Make no mistake; progressives regress. Forward means backward. And progressivism in the name of Jesus Christ blasphemes His most Holy Name. When I say blasphemes, I am being gentle in the tradition of St. Paul.
In spite of this, the progressive churches continue to proclaim their distorted religion, claiming relevance as they make themselves irrelevant, committing a slow suicide.
Yet we still hear the clarion call for change for the sake of relevance. We have to change to attract the young people, so they say, as precisely the opposite has happened. The changing churches have alienated the young people – young men and women who seek to cast their anchors in eternal Truth rather than be tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, [created] by the cunning of men, by their craftiness in deceitful ways.
As I said, young people today – as in previous generations – want to cast their anchors in the safe harbor of Jesus Christ and avoid the stormy seas of relativity, of the ever-changing and crafty and deceptive claims to truth. The ever-changing false doctrine offers no safe harbor.
In the traditional churches that held fast to Biblically revealed, sound doctrine flourishes and continues to do so. And their growth has come from young people -the very people that the liberals said were being driven away.
A bit of history. Progressive Christianity began in the late 19th century when the writings of Karl Marx had become fashionable among the academic elite. The Christian – Marxist dialogue began with the introduction of the social gospel, a combination of traditional Christian missions with the so-called progressive Marxist socialism.
It flourished for a while due to the fact, in the early days, the sound doctrine of the Biblical faith had not been abandoned. But that doctrine has been abandoned and the foundation for a wide variety of good works disappeared. Without the solid rock of Jesus Christ as the incarnation of God Himself – as The Way – The Truth and The Life, the movement morphed into a thinly veiled secularism. It fell apart. It had to fall apart. Christianity and Marxism are mutually exclusive religions; and Marxism is, in fact, a religion.
In the Christian / Marxist dialogue, Christianity lost and Marxism won. That’s because authentic Christians would not participate in the discussion in the first place. The faithful Christian would never consider a compromise with an atheist. Only those already enamored with Marxism involved themselves in the dialogue – which quickly became a Marxist monologue. Rather than Christian missions like the Salvation Army, an authentic non-socialist, social mission which feeds the hungry and clothes the naked in the name of Jesus Christ, the social gospel – that is, the socialist gospel – a false gospel against which St. Paul and all of the other apostles preached – has turned our churches into political lobbies, advocating for the progressive, socialist movement. Government financing has replaced support from the pledges and tithes of faithful church people.
Lobbying the government to do what our Lord commanded us to do has become the norm in the dying denominations. Evangelizing for Jesus Christ has been eliminated – in many cases, prohibited – as has Christian worship and prayer. Secularism as a religion has taken its place.
The progressives grumble – they complain, proclaim themselves victims, devoid of rights and as marginalized persons. They always shout, I am offended! But as they have taken power – and they do have the power in our mainline denominations – they have not been kind, inclusive, open minded or generous. As they continue to grumble and complain, they victimize and marginalize traditional, conservative Christians.
A major turning point came in 1976 when eleven women were ordained to the Episcopal priesthood, illegal under canon law. They pleaded for acceptance on the grounds of conscience. Conservatives, respectful of personal conscience as a moral force, accommodated that plea.
But now as the progressives have won the day, they marginalize those who do not believe in the ordination of women, preventing them in many cases from serving as priests or even receiving ordination. They even attempted to confiscate the pensions of previously ordained men. Thankfully, secular law prevented that. But they tried in astounding self-righteousness.
Every Episcopal priest today knows – as do all the men in the ministry of any mainline Protestant church – that if you seek to advance in the denomination you must comply. Conscience, as well as faithfulness to Biblically revealed doctrine, no longer has anything to do with ministry. Submission to the power brokers is the current name of the game.
Well, as I said, the progressives grumble and complain. Nothing new about that. Even before our Lord called His church into being, God’s chosen people grumbled and complained. They grumbled and complained when they were enslaved in Egypt. Then God sent Moses to deliver them from Pharaoh’s bitter yoke. No sooner out of Egypt, they immediately grumbled and complained once again. Better to be slaves in Egypt where we had the fleshpots from which to eat that to starve out here in the wilderness. So went their lament.
Yet the Lord provided. He sent bread from heaven – manna in the wilderness – a miracle of His saving grace and of His astounding mercy shown to those who had little or no faith in Him. Remember the idol of the golden calf? They worshipped the idol. Yet in spite of that idolatry, God provided. Such is His great goodness.
The New York Times article concludes with these words regarding the progressive denominations. [T]heir fate is nearly certain: they will change, and change, and die. And so they must. And so they should.
Yet we know one great Truth. Jesus Christ is the bread of Heaven. Like the sustaining manna in the wilderness – itself called the bread from heaven, so Jesus Christ came later in history as the living bread from heaven. Feeding on deception brings death. But feeding on the True Bread from Heaven brings life – both in this world an in the next.
As we keep on keeping the faith, even in the face of the most intense progressivism in the nation so heavily concentrated here in the northeast, we know that finally, our Lord will prevail. Much will be lost in the ongoing battle between His Truth and progressive deception. True saints will fall defending the cause. Some battles will be lost.
But the final victory belongs to Him. He has already won the war – the war that He fought on the cross. Those who believe in Him and feed on Him as the living bread from heaven will, in the end, prevail.
So remember our Lord’s words when He said, I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst. Come to this sacred table. Feed on the bread from heaven – His true body – and drink from the cup of salvation – His true blood – and live forever.
Let us pray.
Heavenly Father, deliver your church from the prevailing deception. Let your living Truth set your people free. Feed us with the bread from heaven and satisfy us with the cup of redemption that by your grace, through our faith, we may inherit your eternal kingdom. We ask this in the name of –
and for the sake of – your Son,
the only Savior, Jesus Christ,