Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. Do not be led away by diverse and strange teachings, for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, which have not benefited those devoted to them. We have an altar from which those who serve the tent have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy places by the high priest as a sacrifice for sin are burned outside the camp. So Jesus also suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood. Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured. For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come. Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.
Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things. I urge you the more earnestly to do this in order that I may be restored to you the sooner. (ESV)
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The Office Is the Lord's
Wednesday of Advent 1
2 December 2015
Gregory Nazianzus became the Archbishop of Constantinople in A. D. 381; a year made momentous by the gathering bishops there to ratify and restate the Nicene Creed. When Meletius of Antioch, the chairman of the council died, it fell to Gregory to chair this meeting of the leaders of the church, which became known as the Ecumenical Council of Constantinople. Unfortunately, some of his episcopal colleagues disagreed with his accession to the see of Constantinople, even though he was the choice of Emperor Theodosius. A flap ensued among the bishops, a flap that deeply troubled Gregory, who did not want to become a cause of conflict in the church or the reason why the council might fail to come to a God-pleasing conclusion. He approached the Emperor with his resignation, which was delivered in a speech so passionate and pleasing that the Emperor applauded Gregory and immediately accepted his abdication. Gregory then delivered the last of his theological orations to the council, informing them of that fact in the presence not only of the bishops, but also the members of his Constantinopolitan flock.
His speech is remarkable for a number of reasons. In it he submits himself to the authority of the council itself, subjecting himself to its judgment. This fact alone ought to arrest our attention, given the later claim that the papacy was not subject to the authority of church councils. For here was the patriarch of the Eastern church intentionally subjecting himself to the authority of a church council. No claim to infallibility comes from the lips of this pastor of the faithful and confessor of the truth. How great the humility of Gregory that he was willing to decline the highest office of the eastern church, even though he had the support of his most powerful parishioner, Emperor Theodosius. Would that our pastors were more like this humble man, who at the height of his power laid it aside for the good of the church and her teaching. How different this is from the little popes that control many churches, standing on their authority when they ought to plead the need of the flock that the Lord has given to them. Kyrie, eleison!
Gregory returned to his old episcopal see in Nazianzus, which, even in the ancient world, was a no account town, the modern equivalent being a truck stop and two traffic signals. He took up his labor there with great vigor and zeal until his health failed. Then he retired to his family's estate to live out his days quietly until relieved of all his earthly struggles. He came into the world with nothing, and with nothing he went out. But he recognized even at the height of his power that he came offering nothing, and that the office was not his to possess and hold, but God's both to give and take away; blessed be His name. When he resigned at Constantinople nothing was being taken from him that belonged to him. He was losing nothing, because the office belongs to the Lord in the first place. Gregory was willing to have nothing of his own, that he and his would ever be the Lord's.
"What do you think of my affairs, dear shepherds and fellow-shepherds, whose feet are beautiful, for you bring glad tidings of peace and of the good things (Rm 10:15
) with which you have come; beautiful again in my eyes, to whom you have come in season, not to convert a wandering sheep (Mt 18:12
), but to converse with a pilgrim shepherd? What do you think of my pilgrimage? What do you think of its fruit, or rather of the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22
) within us (2Ti 1:14
), by whom we are ever moved (Acts 17:28
), and especially have now been moved, desiring to have, and perhaps having, nothing of our own?
"Do you understand and perceive? Are you constructive critics of my actions? Or must I, like those from whom a reckoning is demanded as to their military command, or civil government, or administration of the public treasury, publicly and in person submit to you the accounts of my administration? Not that I am ashamed of being judged, for we are ourselves judges in turn, and both with the same love. But the principle is an ancient one; for even Paul communicated his gospel to the Apostles (Gal 2:2). He did so not for the sake of display, for the Spirit is far removed from all pretension, but in order to establish his success and correct his failure, if indeed there were any such in his words or actions, as he declares when writing of himself. Since the spirits of the Prophets are subject to the prophets (1Co 14:32), according to the order of the Spirit who regulates and divides all things well. Do not be amazed that, while Paul rendered his account privately and to just a few, I do so publicly, and to all. For my need is greater than his, of being aided by the freedom of my overseers, if I am proved to have failed in my duty, lest I should run, or have run, in vain (Gal 2:2). And the only possible mode of self-defense is speech in the presence of men who know the facts."
Gregory Nazianzus, Theological Oration, 42.1
Lord Jesus Christ, send us shepherds who are men after your own heart. Keep them in Your Word, that it may be their meat and drink. Help us to listen to and respect them when they proclaim the divine truth to us. Protect them from the assaults of Satan and send your holy angels to guard them. Amen.
For Jo Lodholz, as she lives out her days as a faithful and patient child of God, that her Lord would bring His comfort to her
For Jeff Mischler, that he would recover fully from hip replacement surgery
For the gift of beautiful weather, that those who enjoy it would give thanks to the Lord who is its author and giver
For the capital campaign, A Memorial for the People, as it comes to a conclusion, that God's people would be led to offer sacrifices appropriate to the generous gifts that their Father has given them
Art: VOUET, Simon Annunciation (1640s)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015