Thursday, 2 May 2019

The Cross

In addition to my usual reading - the Bible and Christian literature - I find myself more and more drawn to Christian history and esepcially the early centuries after Christ, because the closer we get to the source, the fresher the water. Here is something I came across by Theophilus of Alexandria who was a Coptic Pope from the latter part of the 4th century, beginning of the 5th. It is a wonderful celebration of the Cross:

The cross is the consolation of those who are afflicted by their sins.
The cross is the straight highway.
Those who walk on it do not go astray.
The cross is the lofty tower that that gives shelter to those who seek refuge in it.
The cross is the sacred ladder than raises humanity to the heavens.
The cross is the holy garment that Christians wear.
The cross is the helper of the wretched, assisting all the oppressed.
The cross is that which closed the temples of the idols and opens the churches and crowns them.
The cross is that which has confounded the demons and made them flee in terror.
The cross is the firm constitution of ships admired for their beauty.
The cross is the joy of the priests who dwell in the house of God with decorum.
The cross is the immutable judge of the apostles.
The cross is the golden lampstand whose holy cover gives light.
The cross is the father of orphans, watching over them.
The cross is the judge of widows, drying the tears of their eyes.
The cross is the consolation of pilgrims.
The cross is the companion of those who are in solitude.
The cross is the ornament of the sacred altar.
The cross is the affliction of those who are bitter.
The cross is our help in our hour of bodily need.
The cross is the administration of the demented.
The cross is the steward of those who entrust their cares to the Lord.
The cross is the purity of virgins.
The cross is the solid preparation.
The cross is the physician who heals all maladies.
Theophilus of Alexandria

Easter Sermon

This Easter past I was rushed for time having two sermons to write for two different kinds of service with two different sets of readings. So I decided to do what Orthodox Churches do across the world every Easter, and that is read out an Easter sermon written by St. John Chrysostom - John the Golden-Mouthed - acknowledged by many as the greatest of all Christian preachers. This sermon was first preached circa 400 AD. Here is my introduction and the original sermon:

Introduction
St. John Chrysostom was a bishop in the early church and lived from 349-407. He was called Chrysostom which means ‘golden-mouth’ because he was considered one of the greatest preachers the church has ever seen.

He wrote his Easter Sermon in AD 400 and it is read every Easter Day in every Eastern Orthodox Church. It is a simple proclamation of the victory Jesus has won through His resurrection from the dead.

One term has to be explained before I read it, and that is the word ‘Hades’.
Hades is synonymous with death and the power of death over humankind. It is a Greek word of the Old Testament word ‘Sheol’ which is the land of the dead where everyone went when they died. It therefore had the last word over everyone’s life. It had a power that no one could break. Until the coming of Christ.

Sermon
Is there anyone who is a devout lover of God?
Let them enjoy this beautiful bright festival!
Is there anyone who is a grateful servant?
Let them rejoice and enter into the joy of their Lord!

Are there any weary with fasting?
Let them now receive their wages!
If any have toiled from the first hour,
let them receive their due reward;
If any have come after the third hour,
let him with gratitude join in the Feast!
And he that arrived after the sixth hour,
let him not doubt; for he too shall sustain no loss.
And if any delayed until the ninth hour,
let him not hesitate; but let him come too.
And he who arrived only at the eleventh hour,
let him not be afraid by reason of his delay.

For the Lord is gracious and receives the last even as the first.
He gives rest to him that comes at the eleventh hour,
as well as to him that toiled from the first.
To this one He gives, and upon another He bestows.
He accepts the works as He greets the endeavour.
The deed He honours and the intention He commends.
Let us all enter into the joy of the Lord!
First and last alike receive your reward; rich and poor, rejoice together!
Sober and slothful, celebrate the day!
You that have kept the fast, and you that have not,
rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!
Feast royally on it, the calf is a fatted one.

Let no one go away hungry.
Partake, all, of the cup of faith.
Enjoy all the riches of His goodness!
Let no one grieve at his poverty,
for the universal kingdom has been revealed.
Let no one mourn that he has fallen again and again;
for forgiveness has risen from the grave.
Let no one fear death, for the Death of our Saviour has set us free.
He has destroyed it by enduring it.

He destroyed Hades when He descended into it.
He put it into an uproar even as it tasted of His flesh.
Isaiah foretold this when he said,
"You, O Hades, have been troubled by encountering Him below."

(Hades) was in an uproar because it was done away with.
It was in an uproar because it is mocked.
It was in an uproar, for it is destroyed.
It is in an uproar, for it is annihilated.
It is in an uproar, for it is now made captive.

(Hades) took a body, and discovered God.
It took earth, and encountered Heaven.
It took what it saw, and was overcome by what it did not see.
O death, where is thy sting?
O Hades, where is thy victory?

Christ is Risen, and you, O death, are annihilated!
Christ is Risen, and the evil ones are cast down!
Christ is Risen, and the angels rejoice!
Christ is Risen, and life is liberated!
Christ is Risen, and the tomb is emptied of its dead;
for Christ having risen from the dead,
is become the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

To Him be Glory and Power forever and ever. Amen!

Turned off and tuned out

Whenever the Bible is read or heard, it is an opportunity for the one seeking God, to encounter or meet with Him. It is an opportunity for Him to speak to them and for them to hear what He has to say. Which is why the Scriptures are read in Church services. And, provided that we are open - that is asking, seeking and knocking (Luke 11:9-10) - then for those who ask it will be given to them; to those who seek and they will find; and to those who knock the door will be opened to them. “For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened”.

Of course the opposite is true and if you go to Church and not ask, seek or knock, then you are hardly going to hear God or meet with Him. And what applies to the Scriptures, applies to all the service. God is there to be worshipped, and encountered. If we go expecting to give nothing or to receive anything, we will always be disappointed, and worse still, bored! 

When a person is bored they are either not interested in the subject or are not committed to getting to grips with it. Either way if that is applied to worship and someone is bored, one has to wonder why the person is in Church in the first place?

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Rising Persecution of Christians

Everyone was utterly appalled by the killing of Muslims while at prayer in a mosque in Christchurch, and the response by the people of New Zealand was incredible. I have enothing but admiration for the way they, and especially their Prime Minister Jacina Ardern, responded with compassion, love and determination to not let the terrorists/extremists win. We have prayed for them at St. James, that such a tragedy and such hate, will not have the upper hand.

And this outpouring of support and sympathy has resounded around the globe and governements have spoken out of their outrage and their concern about the rise of right-wing extremism. But what worries and concerns me is that we don't hear the same outrage expressed consistently across the board when Christians are at the receiving end of Islamic extremism. In Nigeria, for example, 120 Christians were killed by Fulani militia just two days later and the news barely registered with the media.

Barnabas Fund contacts report that in all nearly 300 people were killed in at least seven predominantly Christian villages across Kaduna State, Nigeria, in February and March 2019; brutal rapes and maiming with machetes were also reported.

In a dawn attack on Karamai on 14 February, 41 died when some 300 gunmen engulfed the village, chanting “Allahu Akbar!” as they fired their guns and ransacked homes. Almost all the dead were women and children, apart from a few elderly and blind men who were unable to flee.

Up to 71 people were killed and 28 injured in a Fulani militia attack on 11 March in Dogon Noma village, Kaduna State. According to eyewitness accounts, the gunmen were “torching houses, shooting and hacking down anything that moved”. Some 100 houses were destroyed in the attack.
This is reported across Christian media but not the secular press, and one can only wonder why that is?

We are living in a time when persecution against Christian believers is the highest in modern history. According to Open Doors’ 2019 World Watch List—an in-depth investigative report focusing on global Christian persecution—11 Christians die for their faith every day. That is in excess of 4000 every year. 

Every month:
255 Christians are killed
104 are abducted
180 Christian women are raped, sexually harassed or forced into marriage
66 churches are attacked
160 Christians are detained without trial and imprisoned

Christian churches are attacked nearly every day, multiple times a day, in some cases, around the world, by extremists, by governments that are shutting them down. The ten most dangerous places to live as a Christian are: India, Iran, Yemen, Eritrea, Sudan, Pakistan, Libya, Somalia, Afghanistan and North Korea. 

Yet, trends show that countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East are intensifying persecution against Christians, and perhaps the most vulnerable are Christian women, who often face double persecution for faith and gender.

All killing of people of whatever religion or none is despicable and should be condemned by all. But let us not fall into the trap of appearing to claim that the deaths of some are more newsworthy than others, as appears to be the case in recent reportage. 

Thursday, 27 September 2018

The Church in Wales and formal provision of same sex couples

I have deliberately held back from responding to the recent Church in Wales resolution at its last Governing Body to make what it terms "formal provision for same-sex couples'. I won't go into the ins and outs of the meeting because I wasn't there - although I have spoken at some length to those who were. Whatever was said, discussed or voted on, and in whatever way it was done, it is plain wrong, contrary to the scriptures and tradition and will spell disaster for a church which has already been slowly drifting away from orthodoxy since its disestablishment in the 1920's.

As a member of the Evangelical Fellowship of the Church in Wales I am including here our formal statement in response to what has happened:


The Evangelical Fellowship of the Church in Wales
A Statement following the discussion at Governing Body
on “Formal Measures” for Same-Sex Couples

EFCW recognises that churches have often failed in their pastoral care of people with same-sex attraction. We recognise that the way we have spoken about this issue has at times been unloving and judgemental, and that this has caused personal hurt and left people feeling unable to be honest about their sexuality. We repent of these failures, and commit to doing all we can to ensure our churches are fully welcoming and inclusive of all. We welcome the Bishops' wish to offer pastoral support and care for all same-sex attracted people and commit to doing so with Christ-like love.

However, we believe that God’s revelation to us regarding the nature of marriage and the proper place of sex is beyond doubt, and that this must be what guides our teaching and practice as an apostolic church.
Throughout the whole of Scripture, beginning with God’s creation of humanity in Genesis 1 & 2, and continuing until the beautiful picture of the marriage of the Lamb to his bride the church at the end of Revelation, the following things are consistently affirmed:
-That marriage is between a man and a woman.
-That the appropriate place for sexual activity is within marriage.
-That sexual activity outside of marriage is outside of God’s will and therefore sinful.
Jesus explicitly affirms this understanding of marriage in Matthew 19:4-6. The authority of Scripture, its consistency and utter clarity are what make this matter so important.

We therefore do not believe that it can possibly be right for the church to bless what God has clearly said he does not bless, nor to say that what God has said is sin is not sin.

We are all sinners who fall far short of the glory of God, and who stand before him only by his grace through our faith in Christ. This faith challenges all individuals and all cultures in different ways, and Christians are called to live counter-cultural lives, being in the world but not of the world. The difference between the church’s teaching on sexuality and the views of modern Western society is just one example of this.

We stand with the large majority of the Anglican communion and the large majority of the world-wide church in affirming that which the church has always believed and practised regarding marriage and sex. We urge our Bishops not to encourage the Church in Wales to take steps that would lead to impaired communion with our Anglican brothers and sisters in the majority world.

We do not believe that it is “pastorally unsustainable” to teach that which our good and loving Creator says is the right way for his creatures to live: the way Christians have lived for almost 2000 years across a world-wide diversity of cultures.

We affirm Living Out, True Freedom Trust, and other organisations providing support for same-sex attracted Christians, showing the plausibility of living according to the biblical teaching on marriage and sexuality, and challenging churches to be families where all may find deep, loving, supportive and fulfilling relationships.

We commit to doing all that we can in our teaching, personal actions and church communities to ensure that the two gifts of marriage and singleness are equally affirmed and supported as good ways of life in which all people can flourish as the fully authentic selves God has created them to be.

The Executive Committee of the Evangelical Fellowship of the Church in Wales, 26th September 2018

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Buildings! What buildings?

Reading Luke 21:5-24 and was struck by what jesus said at the beginning: In verses 5-6 Jesus shows that when it all comes down to it God is much, much more interested in people than in buildings. Sure the Temple was built at His command and for His glory. He intended it as a place where He would be worshipped and people could gather as HIs people to offer sacrifices for sin and receive forgiveness. It was a place to unify the different tribes into one, centred on their shared belief and trust in the One True God.  But if what is going on in the building has become corrupted, if true worship is not being offered and if His Son is being rejected, then as beautiful as it is (see verse 5) God will raze it to the ground, which He did with the Temple in AD 70. Jesus has no compunction in delivering His message of judgement and impending destruction (verse 6).

It is a sobering message to us who put so much emphasis, time and energy into making our buildings so well-ordered, beautiful and well-equipped. But if what is going on inside them - or in some cases NOT going on inside them - is contrary to the will of God then, lovely and iconic as they are, God ceases to be interested in them and they can, will, and do as a result, fall into disuse and destruction. 

Think of all the church and chapel closures that have come about in the past 20 years. Some have come about for more obvious reasons like shortage of ministers, population decline or because they were simply built in the wrong places. But that does not account for the majority of them and we have to look more closely about how they were being used, what was being taught within them and whether they had compromised their faith in some way. Like the Temple Jesus was talking about, had they rejected Jesus? Had they become closed to the Spirit? Were they dishonouring God? 

Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Today America, tomorrow the Church in Wales?

You may or may not be aware that there is a schism in the Episcopal Church of America - what we would call the Anglican Church. It is affecting most if not all Dioceses, one example of which is the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina. At the moment this is causing uncertainty about the future of the denomination and this is playing out with regard to churches and properties owned by the Diocese. Apparently more than half a billion dollars' worth of properties are at stake.

According to one website - Virtue Online (http://www.virtueonline.org) - public positions have hardened over time and reconciliation is not an option; the theological differences are too wide and too deep.

Two voices representing the polar views of what the Church believes, stands for, and what it should be proclaiming have come to the fore and Virtue Online has presented their views on its website which I reproduce below:

CHURCH SCHISM - By the Rev. Bob Donehue
Church building are symbols of our trust in God. They are more than must bricks and mortar. They are prayers written in stone that give voice to our deepest desire to offer our best to God. When we come together in church buildings as the people of God, we bring with us all of our joys, pains, doubts, fears, hopes, and longings. And we offer all of these things to God in the hope that our lives will be transformed by him.

Is it any wonder that there is such a strong feeling of attachment to our houses of worship?

It is understandable, then, that for Anglicans in South Carolina, our church buildings have become focal points for all of our anxiety. Sadly, the argument over what it means to the church had devolved into an exercise of mudslinging.
To our brothers and sisters who have been told they must choose between their buildings and true religions, I offer the following:

You may have come to believe that the Episcopal Church has abandoned the Christian faith. But this is simply not true. We believe in one God: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Jesus is still Lord, and we hope by his cross and passion to be brought to the glory of his resurrections.

Reread you Book of Common Prayer. You will find that the negative rhetoric does not stand up to scrutiny. Our common prayer is all the evidence needed.
I hope that you will consider the reality that the church buildings you call home are still very much your home.

So if you are an Anglican comfortable worshipping according to the Book of Common Prayer, then the message is clear: Remain in the building you call home.
That is what the Episcopal Church wants you to do.THE REV. ROB DONEHUE (Snowhill Drive, Conway, South Carolina) 

CHURCH SCHISM REDUX - By the Very Rev. Dr. Peter Moore
The Rev. Donehue of Conway has presented one side of the current church dispute between The Episcopal Church (TEC) and Anglicans. It was good to see his affirmations of some essentials found in the Book of Common Prayer, such as the Trinity and the Lordship of Jesus.

Unfortunately, it's not the Book of Common Prayer that's the problem. It's the denials in practice. As one who has been an ordained an Episcopalian for over 50 years, and helped found and lead one of its seminaries, I've seen the message change. Take a few denials:

TEC has denied that the Scriptures should be the supreme authority in all matters of faith and conduct and voted several times to reject that historic proposition. It has denied -- by neither objecting to nor correcting its bishops, particularly its chief representative, the Presiding Bishop -- that Christ is our only Savior. It has denied that marriage should be a life-long commitment between a man and a woman and will soon make same-sex marriages a required norm. It has denied that the first response to those with unwanted same-sex attractions should be pastoral -- assisting in the healing of disturbed or broken relationships. It has denied that a diocesan bishop should be the true governor of their diocese, and that without their expressed desire no other bishop should be welcomed therein. It has denied that "God made them male and female" and that a person's gender is determined by their biology. Instead it has enshrined in canon law a person's right to choose or change their own gender. It has denied the right of churches or dioceses to leave their parent body when serious doctrinal divisions emerge, as they have here.
These are not matters of indifference. They are cause for separation, and I, for one, am proud of the willingness of Anglicans who love their historic church buildings to leave them if necessary for the sake of a Gospel that speaks to the real issues that people struggle with in their everyday life.
THE VERY REV. DR. PETER MOORE, Dean and President Emeritus, Trinity School for Ministry, High Battery Circle, Mt. Pleasant, SC.

As we can see the lines are clearly marked. You are either for Orthodox Christianity as represented by the position taken by the Very Rev Dr Peter Moore or against it as seen in those represented by Rev Bob Donehue. The former tacitly accuses the latter of being schismatic, but in actual fact it is the Episcopal Church. If, as I believe it will, comes to the Church in Wales then what we see being painfully played out in the States will eventually played out here in Wales. We have been warned.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Holiness and idolatry

In his excellent book "The Holiness of God" respected theologian R.C.Sproul, talking about the holiness of God writes:

"We have seen that the term holy calls attention to the transcendence of god, the sense in which he is above and beyond the world. We have also seen that god can reach down and consecrate special things in this world and make them holy. His touch on the common makes the common suddenly uncommon . Again we say that nothing in this world is holy in itself. Only God can make something holy. Only God can consecrate".

He continues:

"When we call things holy, when they are not holy, we commit the sin of idolatry. We give to common things the resepct, awe, worship, and adoration that belong only to God. To worship the creature instead of the Creator is the essence of idolatry."


Sproul then goes on to illustrate this with the picture of a man fashioning something out of wood or stone in his workshop then bowing down to it in worship and adoration. "Yet people" he writes, "would ascribe holy power and worship to these objects."

It struck me reading this, calling holy what is not holy and therefore turning it into an idol, as something the church is attempting to do with regards to Gay Marriage. First, the marrying of a man and woman is described as Holy Matrimony. It is 'holy' because God has clearly ordained it in the Scriptures. Anything other than such a marriage is not holy. And second, if we recreate marriage in our own terms, we are in essence creating an idol every bit as man-made as that made of wood or stone in the aforementioned workshop. How can we commit such a transgression and think that we can get away with it? How can God bless an institution that makes what is unholy 'holy' and what is man-made into an object for reverence?

I was very struck by the actions and words of Rico Tice recent who quit the Archbishop of Canterbury and York's task group on evangelism because others on the committee follow a "different religion" to him. The article about him on Premier Christian reported:

The author of the Christianity Explored course and minister at All Souls Langham Place in London has been speaking from the GAFCON conference in Jerusalem where around 2,000 conservative Anglicans have gathered.

In an interview published on the GAFCON website he said he had "profound disappointment" over the way some within the Church have pushed for complete inclusion for those in same sex relationships.

Tice has served on the evangelism advisory team to Justin Welby and John Sentamu for a number of years.

Addressing why he stepped down, he said: "While I was on the Archbishop Task Group's for Evangelism - and I've been to see him in person on this - Bishop Paul Bayes of Liverpool was affirming same sex relationships, which is putting people on the road to destruction. I don't know how you could submit to his leadership? I had to leave that committee.

"It's a different religion. Bishop Paul Bayes and I have a different religion and it's around whether scripture is authoritative in terms of human sexuality."

I hugely admire the step Rico has taken which, he says, he wept over. He did not take the step lightly but he was spot on in saying that the Angligan Church in moving in this direction is slowly becoming "a different religion". I agree. "You shall have no other gods before me" (Exodus 20:3) forcefully reminds us that any form of idolatry that denies that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is the One True God is not the religion of the Bible, the saints and Christian Tradition and must be rejected. Any attempts at making 'holy' what is not holy is heresy and to be rejected.

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Jordan Peterson - The Fear Of God Is The Beginning Of Wisdom

The following youtube presentation is a fascinating look at part of the Old Testament by Professor Jordan Peterson who, although not a Christian, nevertheless offers some valuable insights which are well worth listening to: https://youtu.be/b_gG8_z9wVo

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Good enough for God?

Have you ever felt that God could not possibly accept you because you were not good enough? Or that you had sinned or fallen away so badly that you were afraid to return to him? Or, after self-examination of your interior life, that you were such a sinner that you could not go directly to Christ? That is the situation Howell Harris (1714-1773) once found himself in even after several years of preaching Christ to growing numbers. Here is how he resolved it:

"Although I had been delivered from trust in works a long time before, by reading The Sincere Convert (by Thomas Shepherd), I was wounded by close re-examination of myself, especially as he went on to show that we must trust in our faith. Good works, though they are good in their place, yet to rely on them is idolatry. True salvation is in Christ's Blood only.

Though I had the seed sown in my soul four years before, and had daily feelings of God's love in my heart, yet the awakenings that I felt this time made so deep an impression on my heart that I could hardly bear them. Yea, I can say that my spirit was greatly distressed with deep anguish of soul for some days together, until I was refreshed by the text in Revelation chapter 22:17, "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." It sustained me, and I felt I was willing to let God do what He pleased with me.

But still I was troubled with some reasoning about going directly to Christ in every condition. Then a woman came to me, to relate how all the night she had been in distress and perplexity, reasoning with the enemy, whether she was a child of God or not, and that she could have no rest or satisfaction till it came to her mind to go to Christ just as she was. She had thereupon found peace and victory.
Upon hearing this, and some preaching afterwards - that people should come to Christ as they are, without reasoning in themselves - I was made to cease from reasoning, and to go with all my troubles and fears and lay them before the Friend of sinners, who loved me freely, and not for any good in me. Now, that legal principle of fitting myself for Christ, and of being afraid to go to Him when I was not in a good frame, was rooted out of my heart. Then I learned to look and go directly to Christ at all times, and in all circumstances".
Howell Harris: In his own words pages 33-35

Friday, 6 July 2018

Phillips Brooks: Preaching About Christ vs. Preaching Christ

"[There] is an immense amount of preaching which must be called preaching about Christ as distinct from preaching Christ. There are many preachers who seem to do nothing else, always discussing Christianity as a problem instead of announcing Christianity as a message, and proclaiming Christ as a Saviour. I do not undervalue their discussions. But I think we ought always to feel that such discussions are not the type or ideal of preaching. They may be necessities of the time, but they are not the work which the great Apostolic preachers did, or which the true preacher will always most desire. Definers and defenders of the faith are always needed, but it is bad for a church, when its ministers count it their true work to define and defend the faith rather than to preach the Gospel. Beware of the tendency to preach about Christianity, and try to preach Christ. To discuss the relations of Christianity and Science, Christianity and Society, Christianity and Politics, is good. To set Christ forth to men so that they shall know Him, and in gratitude and love become His, that is far better."
Phillips Brooks (1835-1893) from Lectures on Preaching (1877)

The Cross

In addition to my usual reading - the Bible and Christian literature - I find myself more and more drawn to Christian history and esepcial...