Monday, 31 March 2014

CHURCH AT HER BEST WHEN SHE'S TELLING THE APOSTOLIC TRUTH

At least the vicar in the last episode of the BBC's Johnny Worricker spy trilogy, written and directed by Sir David Hare, is not mendacious and foul-mouthed like the one in Rev. But he is a passive rather than an active character, and thus is fitted to serve at the altar of the morally slippery god of urbane postmodernism.

Benignly, he lets his vicarage be used as a safe house for his old Cambridge friend, disillusioned MI5 agent Worricker, 'a great loss to theology', who is on the run with his girlfriend from the torture-condoning British Prime Minister whom he has set out to expose. As the cleric explains to the character played by Helena Bonham Carter:
It's the Church's traditional function. The thing we've done best for two thousand years - provide sanctuary. 
Actually, the best thing the Church can do is actively to tell the eternally saving truth of the Lord Jesus Christ in all its counter-cultural glory. She is at her best when she is courageously obedient to the ethos of the Apostle to the Gentiles, Paul:
For though I preach the gospel, I have nothing to glory of: for necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel! (1 Corinthians 9v16 - King James Version).
Proclaiming and living by the biblical gospel of Christ is the way to transform postmodern society, portrayed in all its ugly moral uncertainty in Sir David's film. As David F. Wells put it in his brilliant book, The Courage to be Protestant - Truth-lovers, marketers and emergents in the postmodern world (IVP, 2008):
Christian truth is simply not amenable to adaptation. It requires application, but that is an entirely different matter. Apostolic Christianity was doctrinally shaped. The churches were instructed to guard and preserve that teaching.

This apostolic framework of belief is not something that many in the contemporary church want out in the open. So they hide it. The first Christians guarded it. We venture far beyond it. They treasured it and lived within it. We think it will get in the way of our church's success. They thought that without it, front and center, there could be no church. They were right and we are wrong (p94-95).
Cranmer's Curate is blogging off until after Easter. He leaves the youth group with the Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Lent:
Grant, we beseech thee, Almighty God, that we, who for our evil deeds do worthily deserve to be punished, by the comfort of thy grace may mercifully be relieved; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
Why 'move on' won't wash over same-sex marriage appeared on Christian Today.

Am I a consumer Christian? by Richard Lacey on his pastor@woodgreen blog, reproduced in April's Evangelicals Now, is highly commended.

Taking illegal drugs is no less evil than sexual harrassment appeared on ConservativeHome.

Saturday, 29 March 2014

JESUS DID NOT MENTION THE GOOD SAMARITAN'S 'SEXUAL ORIENTATION'

The Anglican blogger Archbishop Cranmer has certainly caused a stir with his post last Wednesday: World Vision: The Parable of the Gay Samaritan.

Through a modern retelling of Jesus' parable of the Good Samaritan, as recorded in Luke 10v25-37, Cranmer sets out to present as latter-day Pharisees those who objected to the decision by evangelical children's charity World Vision USA, now reversed, to employ professing Christians in same-sex marriages.

The bad guys are three American conservative evangelicals who publicly objected to the original decision. They pass by on the other side when faced with 'a six-year-old starving boy and eight-year-old trafficked girl' who were attacked by 'fanatical militia' whilst 'going down from Djibouti to Hargeysa in Somaliland'.

The good guy is a gay guy in a civil partnership:
He went to them and gave them bread and water, and bandaged the girl to stop her bleeding, hugging them both to comfort them. Then he carried the weeping girl and put the boy on his own bicycle, and brought them to a World Vision shelter and took care of them. The next day he took out $100 and donated it to the charity. ‘We must look after them,’ he said, ‘and I'm happy to reimburse World Vision for any lost sponsorship you may have as a result of your employing me.’

Two points need to be made in response to this: 

1). The controversy related to World Vision USA, not to the UK arm of the World Vision International Partnership. On Thursday, World Vision UK put out the following statement: 
Our colleagues in World Vision USA yesterday reversed a policy decision which had enabled Christians in same sex marriages to be eligible for employment. While this decision doesn’t change anything we do at World Vision UK, it has prompted questions.
World Vision UK does not discriminate on grounds of sexual orientation.  Individuals are hired and their performance monitored on job-specific criteria only. 

World Vision UK and World Vision USA are part of the World Vision International Partnership which operates in 97 countries. It is a partnership of interdependent national offices, each one has different policies regarding employment practice, in line with local law, culture and customs. 

This Christian partnership comes together with a core humanitarian mission to serve the world’s poorest children as a sign of God’s unconditional love. We serve all people, regardless of their faith, ethnicity, nationality, gender, disability or sexual orientation. 

At WVUK we are saddened by any distraction to our core mission to bring hope to the world’s most vulnerable children.
So the gay Samaritan in a civil partnership in Cranmer's parable would have been employable by World Vision UK in its overseas projects.

2). The good news for Christians who wish to uphold the historic biblical teaching of the Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church on the heterosexual nature of marriage is that in the New Testament the Lord Jesus Christ told a story about a good Samaritan not about a gay one. The Samaritan's 'sexual orientation' did not feature in the story. If it had, then its inclusion might have led people to believe that the Lord Jesus was dissenting from the teaching of God's Word that the only right context for the expression of sexual love is life-long, monogamous, man-woman marriage.

By God's grace, the story Jesus told causes no such confusion.

And it is a story that is inspiring many Christians around the world, who uphold the Bible's teaching on sex and marriage, to countless deeds of love and self-sacrifice for suffering humanity.

Sunday, 16 March 2014

REDISCOVERING THE LOST ART OF LEARNING BIBLE VERSES

Do the older members of the youth group still learn Bible verses like they used to?

Your curate was challenged on this matter last week by an older pastor speaking to an evangelical ministers' meeting here in Sheffield. He asked us whether we were still learning verses because we seemed to have trouble identifying the Bible passages he was quoting from.

Thirty years ago cc had a notebook with the Bible verses he was learning. The verses were pertinent to the temptations he was facing at that time.

The temptations have not gone away but the notebook has.

Evangelical ministers converted to Christ before the 1960s - the kind of men who taught those of us at the older end of the youth group - were very keen on learning Bible verses because they thought that it would help them with their personal work.

And they were right. Provided biblical quotations can be introduced naturally into evangelistic and pastoral conversations, they enormously enhance our Christian calling 'to speak the truth in love' (Ephesians 4v15).

The rise of the expository preaching movement in the last 30 years has rightly made UK classic evangelicals wary of the chocolate box approach to the Bible. But such caution should not blind us to the fact that there are particular verses that do express wonderful distillations of biblical truth. With proper awareness of their context, they surely deserve to be committed to memory.

Pre-1960s evangelicals were helped by the fact that the Authorised Version was still pretty much standard. The plethora of versions in our generation can perhaps make learning verses verbatim more difficult. But the answer to that of course is to stick with one modern English version for our memorising, for example the New International Version or the English Standard Version.

Regrettably, in our prima donna culture it needs to be said that memorising verses in order to show off one's biblical knowledge and/or make other Christians feel ignorant is entirely the wrong motivation, for 'knowledge puffs up, but love builds up'.

Reference?

Why the UK media are not that bothered about Syrian Christians appeared on Christian Today.  

Biblical ignorance of Anglican politicians is no laughing matter appeared on VirtueOnline.

Friday, 14 March 2014

ATHENASIAN CREED TORPEDOES SHEFFIELD SMEAR

The accusation that conservative evangelical Anglicans hold a 'recent' view of the Trinity denying the equality between the divine Persons of the Godhead reared its ugly head at Sheffield Diocesan Synod during last week's debate on women bishops.

But this charge of 'subordinationism', which included the grave allegation that conservative evangelicals are in breach of the Church of England's 39 Articles of Religion, is thoroughly torpedoed by the Athanasian Creed.

This ancient Creed, published probably in the mid-5th century AD, affirmed by Article VIII as 'proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture', and included in the Book of Common Prayer, clearly expresses the complementarian view of the Trinity upheld by 21st century conservative evangelicals serving the Church of England. It declares:

The Father is made of none: neither created, nor begotten. The Son is of the Father alone: not made, nor created, but begotten. The Holy Ghost is of the Father and of the Son: neither made, nor created, nor begotten, but proceeding.
So there is, according to the received teaching of the Church, a complementary, 'economic' ordering of relationships within the Trinity, which does not vitiate the 'ontological' equality of Father, Son and Holy Spirit as divine Persons. The Father is not begotten, but the Son is. The Holy Spirit is not begotten but proceeds. It is therefore quite legitimate and indeed necessary to argue that the complementary nature of the Trinity is reflected in the way in which God has ordered the relationships between men and women in the family and in His church.

Will a retraction be forthcoming? The youth group, none of whom (your curate is confident) is a gambling man or woman, would be ill-advised to put money on it.

A couple of other thoughts emerging from the Sheffield debate:
  • Is it wise to predict that the Church of England will lose conservative evangelical candidates for ministry if women are made bishops? That may be true but the revisionists are equally able to say that it will lose their candidates if women are not. Would it not be better to point out that our conservative evangelical constituency has a responsibility to deploy confessing Anglican candidates whom God is calling into Word ministry? That should not be used as a threat but presented as an urgent spiritual and moral  responsibility incumbent on our UK constituency in partnership with the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.
  • The tone of the Sheffield debate showed the limitations of the declaration of love in the women bishops' measure for opponents. There may be some in the institutional hierarchy who genuinely want our churches to 'flourish'. But the unrebuked smear at Sheffield Diocesan Synod against conservative evangelicals is surely indicative of deep hostility towards our constituency amongst the revisionist power-brokers.
At least, that shows the kind of bowling we are called to face in Christ's service.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

NO MR MONTEFIORE ST PAUL WAS NOT A 'PURITANICAL LONER'

Simon Sebag Montefiore's magnificent book Jerusalem, The Biography (Phoenix, 2012) is by and large respectful of Christianity but unfortunately projects a fashionable caricature of the Apostle Paul, describing him as 'an unmarried puritanical loner' (p141).

Though he was indeed unmarried (1 Corinthians 7v7), such a contention suggests that Paul was somehow deficient relationally, a proto-extreme-Protestant oddball obsessed with doctrine at the expense of humanity.

But this - dare one say? - cavalier distortion runs completely contrary to the historical evidence contained in his New Testament letters to the churches that under God he founded. Two examples will suffice to show Paul's love for people, the first from a letter to a church with whom he enjoyed a fairly easy relationship, the second to one with whom relations were more fraught: 
I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.  It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me.  God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1v3-8 - NIV).
And:
Make room for us in your hearts. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have exploited no one.  I do not say this to condemn you; I have said before that you have such a place in our hearts that we would live or die with you. I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles my joy knows no bounds (2 Corinthians 7v2-4).
Western church liberals presume to sit in judgement on Paul because his biblical writings stand in the way of the innovations they want to introduce, which they vainly hope will reverse the numerical and financial decline of their denominations. So it is important to defend his integrity as an authentic Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Paul's manifest love for Jesus' people was as much a sign of his true Apostleship as his miracles.   

Wednesday, 5 March 2014

WHEN TRUMPING JERUSALEM WITH NAZARETH DENIES THE GOSPEL

Jesus spent most of his life in Nazareth 'being with us', he only spent a fraction of his time in Jerusalem 'working for us', so Christians should not talk so much about the God who came to save us from the Fall as about one who wants to hang out with us because we are such lovely people.

That is the sales patter for the new brand of 'incarnational' theology being marketed by revisionist Anglicans.

Whatever the wisdom in its critique of the professionalised 'fixing problems' approach to Christian ministry, the theological presuppositions behind this package are profoundly flawed. In fact, they lead to an evil denial of the gospel of God's saving love in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Firstly, the Gospels shape the gospel. The narratives climax in the death and resurrection of the Christ of Old Testament promise, for those are the central events achieving our salvation from sin and death and hell. The Gospel narratives say virtually nothing about Jesus' first 30 years in Nazareth because they are faithful to Jesus' own understanding of His saving mission: the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10v45).

Secondly, there was intention in the incarnation, for the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19v10). That it is why it is vital in discussions about 'incarnational ministry' to distinguish between Christ's work as our Saviour from sin and ours as His witnesses. He was the eternal Word of God who became incarnate in Jesus and as such accomplished our eternal salvation; we Christians are His servants who proclaim the salvation He achieved and live it out. Whilst the servants should not place themselves above the Master by expecting to avoid suffering, we cannot replicate His full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice in Jerusalem for the sins of the world.

The Cross on which Jesus Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures is therefore rightly the central symbol of the Christian faith. For a well-connected revisionist from a fashionable London church to stand in front of a cross in a church building and tell a group of clergy and lay ministers at a Shrove Tuesday lecture in a northern diocese that Jesus would have come to be with us even without the Fall is a wicked denial of the gospel.

The next time such a speaker comes to trump Jerusalem with Nazareth, it would be more intellectually honest to place a black cloth over the cross.

Refuting serious doctrinal allegation against conservative evangelicals at Sheffield Diocesan Synod appeared on Anglican Mainstream.

Friday, 28 February 2014

THE BIBLE IS NOT 'OUR GUIDE': IT IS OUR AUTHORITY

Our anti-authority, morally chaotic Western spirituality is radically different from the outlook that produced the magisterial hymn:
Guide me, O thou great Jehovah,
pilgrim through his barren land.
I am weak, but thou art mighty;
hold me with thy powerful hand.

That was written at the height of the Welsh evangelical revival in the mid-18th century (translated into English in 1771). To say the least, its prayer for God's guidance contains a robust view of His almighty sovereignty and our total human dependence on Him.

Whereas for 21st century Western church-goers, a guide is someone who can show us the route on our walking tour through life but we the paying customers have the ultimate say.

That is not to say that Christians have to adopt a Koranic view of the Bible. The New Testament, presenting Jesus Christ as the fulfilment of the Old Testament's civic and ritual regulations, has no equivalent of sharia law to be imposed on contemporary society. Nor does the Christian Bible present a template for the regulation of temporal human society that rules out political debate. Under the authority of the Bible we Christians need to make informed and godly choices if we are to be fruitfully obedient to God's revealed truth.

But the spiritual and moral principles set forth in the Holy Spirit-inspired Scriptures are authoritative not merely consultative. Because the Bible is the Word of the one true and almighty God, it is to be obeyed in matters of faith and morals. To think otherwise denies the authority of the God who speaks through the Bible.

In the current philosophical climate, an evangelical church that presents the Bible as guide rather than authority is unfortunately liable to find that the customer becomes king and the Lord Jesus Christ gets pushed to the margins. 

Resisting the revisionist interfaith crusade appeared on VirtueOnline.