Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Fourth Sunday After Trinity

(Today we continue our series of comments on the Prayer for the Whole State of Christ's Church.)

We concluded last week's comments by observing that heresy and apostasy are genuine spiritual dangers for Christians and for the Church itself. So how is that danger to be avoided? The Inquisition and religious wars have proved ineffectual, as will law-suits and internet battles. In this great prayer we pray for two remedies. First, “to agree in the truth of thy holy Word,” and secondly, “to live in unity and godly love.” The true Church will always be recognized by its adherence and obedience to the Scriptures. But it must also be discernible through a corporate life where bitterness, acrimony and finger-pointing are treated as sins. Christians are marked—not only by the purity of their faith in Christ, but by the power of their love for all mankind.

We beseech thee also, so to direct and dispose th hearts of all Christian Rulers, that they may truly and impartially administer justice, to the punishment of wickedness and vice, and to the maintenance of thy true religion and virtue.

The second paragraph contains only one petition, for “all Christian rulers.” Since this is a Prayer for the the Church and not for the generality of mankind, this petition might seem somewhat out of place. This petition harks back to another age, in which the king or queen was the “supreme governor” of the Church of England and the Defender of the Faith. Occasionally we hear a snide remark about that phrase “Christian rulers” since it truly seems that very few in civil authority today can be seriously described as Christians. In a decadent age like our own, in which some regard it as illegal for a judge to hang the Ten Commandments on the walls of his courtroom, is it somewhat unreal to pray for “the punishment of wickedness and vice” and “the maintenance of thy true religion and virtue?” The literary vandals who attempted to revise our Prayer Book ruthlessly removed this whole petition.

But they were quite wrong. When we speak of “Christian rulers,” we are not presuming to declare that any king, prime minister or president is personally a believer in Jesus Christ. A “Christian ruler” as we must interpret the Prayer Book today, is any civil ruler, be he Buddhist or Hindu, who has the authority to rule over Christian people. The petition is offered for the safety and wellbeing of the Christian community. In a century of atheistic tyrants, when the persecution of the Church and of believers is on the rise, we do well to pray that the God of nations will miraculously direct and dispose their hearts. Wickedness and vice must indeed be punished, if Christian people are to live with any degree of safety and security in this world.

(to be continued)

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