Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Right and wrong

"But I’m here to say to you this morning that some things are right and some things are wrong. Eternally so, absolutely so. It’s wrong to hate. It always has been wrong and it always will be wrong. It’s wrong in America, it’s wrong Germany, it’s wrong in Russia, it’s wrong in China. It was wrong in 2000 B.C., and it’s wrong in 1954 A.D. It always has been wrong, (That’s right!) and it always will be wrong. (That’s right!) It’s wrong to throw our lives away in riotous living. No matter if everybody in Detroit is doing it, it’s wrong. It always will be wrong, and it always has been wrong. It’s wrong in every age and it’s wrong in every nation. Some things are right and some things are wrong, no matter if everybody is doing the contrary. Some things in this universe are absolute. The God of the universe has made it so. And so long as we adopt this relative attitude toward right and wrong, we’re revolting against the very laws of God himself."
Dr Martin Luther King Jr

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Religious broadcasting

The General Synod of the Church of England is preparing to debate the ‘lack of sympathy’ and sensationalist and unduly critical nature of religious programming on British television amid growing discontent about a decline in output.

Bishops, clergy and lay members of the Synod will vote on whether to demand that the State Broadcaster explains why its coverage of Christianity on television has declined so steeply in recent years.

In a Private Member’s Motion, Nigel Holmes, a member of the Synod from the Carlisle diocese and a former BBC producer, explains that output of the BBC’s religious programmes has dropped by a third in a decade.

In his background paper, circulated among more than 480 members of the Synod, Mr Holmes says those who work in religious broadcasting believe that a ‘lack of sympathy for, and ignorance of, religion leads to poor decisions in the corridors of power’. He also cites evidence for his arguments.

The reported statistics show that output has fallen from 177 hours of religious programming on BBC television in 1987-88 to 155 hours in 2007-08, while the number of general programmes has doubled.

Mr Holmes has also pointed out that the BBC’s main religious show last Christmas was presented by Fern Britton, the former daytime TV presenter.

‘Was this yet another indication that the teaching and devotional aspect of religious broadcasting must now bow to the celebrity culture?’ he asked.

He adds that the BBC 3 tackles the subject ‘from the angle of the freak show’ and Channel 4 takes an ‘unduly critical’ and ‘sensationalist’ attitude towards Christianity while ITV shows ‘next to nothing’ about faith.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Don't forget the poor

This excerpt from a homily by St. John Chrysostom on the Gospel of Matthew (Hom. 50, 3-4, PG 58, 508-509) warns against adorning the Church building at the expense of caring for the suffering members of Christ's body, the Church in the truest sense.

"Do you want to honour Christ’s body? Then do not scorn him in his nakedness, nor honor him here in the church with silken garments while neglecting him outside where he is cold and naked. For he who said: This is my body, and made it so by his words, also said: "You saw me hungry and did not feed me, and inasmuch as you did not do it for one of these, the least of my brothers, you did not do it for me." (Mat 25:34ff) What we do here in the church requires a pure heart, not special garments; what we do outside requires great dedication.

Let us learn, therefore, to be men of wisdom and to honour Christ as he desires. For a person being honoured finds greatest pleasure in the honour he desires, not in the honour we think best. Peter thought he was honouring Christ when he refused to let him wash his feet; but what Peter wanted was not truly an honour, quite the opposite! Give him the honour prescribed in his law by giving your riches to the poor. For God does not want golden vessels but golden hearts.

Now, in saying this I am not forbidding you to make such gifts; I am only demanding that along with such gifts and before them you give alms. He accepts the former, but he is much more pleased with the latter. In the former, only the giver profits; in the latter, the recipient does too. A gift to the church may be taken as a form of ostentation, but an alms is pure kindness. Of what use is it to weigh down Christ’s table with golden cups, when he himself is dying of hunger? First, fill him when he is hungry; then use the means you have left to adorn his table. Will you have a golden cup made but not give a cup of water? What is the use of providing the table with cloths woven of gold thread, and not providing Christ himself with the clothes he needs? What profit is there in that? Tell me: If you were to see him lacking the necessary food but were to leave him in that state and merely surround his table with gold would he be grateful to you or rather would he not be angry? What if you were to see him clad in worn-out rags and stiff from the cold, and were to forget about clothing him and instead were to set up golden columns for him, saying that you were doing it in his honour? Would he not think he was being mocked and greatly insulted?

Apply this also to Christ when he comes along the roads as a pilgrim, looking for shelter. You do not take him in as your guest, but you decorate floor and walls and the capitals of the pillars. You provide silver chains for the lamps, but you cannot bear even to look at him as he lies chained in prison. Once again, I am not forbidding you to supply these adornments; I am urging you to provide these other things as well, and indeed to provide them first. No one has ever been accused for not providing ornaments, but for those who neglect their neighbour a hell awaits with an inextinguishable fire and torment in the company of the demons. Do not, therefore, adorn the church and ignore your afflicted brother, for he is the most precious temple of all."

Christian love

"It is the Christians, O Emperor, who have sought and found the truth, for they acknowledge God. They do not keep for themselves the goods entrusted to them. They do not covet what belongs to others. They show love to their neighbours. They do not do to another what they would not wish to have done to themselves. They speak gently to those who oppress them, and in this way they make them their friends. It has become their passion to do good to their enemies. They live in the awareness of their smallness. Every one of them who has anything gives ungrudgingly to the one who has nothing. If they see a travelling stranger, they bring him under their roof. They rejoice over him as over a real brother, for they do not call one another brothers after the flesh, but they know they are brothers in the Spirit and in God. If they hear that one of them is imprisoned or oppressed for the sake of Christ, they take care of all his needs. If possible they set him free. If anyone among them is poor or comes into want while they themselves have nothing to spare, they fast two or three days for him. In this way they can supply any poor man with the food he needs. This, O Emperor, is the rule of life of the Christians, and this is their manner of life."
Aristides 137 AD

Pro-life means pro-life

The news from America reports the trial of the man accused of fatally shooting US late-term abortionist George Tiller which began on Friday – the 37th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s controversial decision to legalise abortion in the country. Lawyers were expected to begin making their cases to the jury of eight men and six women that will be deciding the fate of 51-year-old Scott Roeder. He has not denied shooting Tiller on May 31, 2009, as the abortion doctor was attending service at Reformation Lutheran Church in Wichita.

The defence will be trying to build a case for a conviction on a lesser charge of voluntary manslaughter. Roeder's lawyers want to argue that Roeder believed Tiller's killing was necessary to save unborn children.

As one of the few late-term abortion practitioners in the country, Tiller was regarded as among the most notorious figures in the pro-abortion movement and, at the time of his death, was under investigation by the Kansas State Board of Healing Arts for 11 petition allegations against him.

In a 30-minute phone interview last November, Roeder told The Associated Press that "defending innocent life" was what prompted him to shoot Tiller. "It is pretty simple," he said.

As a pro-lifer myself who considers any but the most necessary of abortions as nothing short of murder I have some sympathy for the strength of feeling exhibited by Scott Roeder but I cannot identify with what I see as a contradiction between his convictions and his actions. Why declare that life is precious and needs to be protected on the one hand and feel driven to take a life on the other? Life - any life -is precious whether it is the life of a child or an adult. Sure you can argue, as he is trying to, that he is attempting to protect an innocent life but the cold blooded and pre-meditated murder of a man on the way to church can never, in my mind, be justified. Murder is murder. Besides he is in effect saving no one as it is the system and the Law that needs changing. "Taking out" one individual involved in what could be called a crime against humanity is not going to achieve anything apart from satisfying one man's sense of justice.

Continuing decline or hidden growth?

In a recent online article on Christian Today we are told that while some parts of the Church of England are seeing growth in the numbers of people attending, other areas are witnessing disappointing decline, according to figures out yesterday. The number of people attending a church service each week fell by one per cent from 978,000 in 2007 to 960,000 in 2008. Since 2002, the Church of England has seen an overall decline of two per cent in attendance.

While the figures are naturally concerning to the Church of England, statistics don't tell the full story and as usual there is more to what is happening in respect of attendance at services than meet the eye. For example the figures do not include Fresh Expressions of church – new styles of church in cafes, skateparks and other venues - or services in hospitals or educational institutes. These alternative forms of Church meet often in midweek and unlike regular or traditional forms of church do not record attendance or communicant figures.

Also figures are about quantity and not quality and therefore the health of the Church can never be assessed based on figures alone. For example the number of under 16s regularly attending church increased by three per cent last year, returning to two per cent below their 2002 level.

The Church of England’s Head of Research and Statistics, Lynda Barley, said the figures gave an “important but inevitably partial snapshot of today’s Church”.

“They paint a mixed picture for 2008. Alongside some encouraging signs, such as the number of under 16s in church increasing and growth in church attendance in 14 out of 44 dioceses, are some disappointments, with further small declines in traditional attendance measures,” she said.

Dawkins deluded

I came across this superb article by novelist Howard Jacobson in the January 23-29th edition of the Radio Times. It is meant to introduce a new series on the Bible starting soon on Channel 4. It is worth reading in its entirety and so I won't spoil any one's reading of the entire piece or risk a Law suite from the BBC for publishing something without their permission.

What I like about what Howard Jacobson writes is that it says the things which you already knew at some deep level but did not have the skill or wherewithal to articulate. This is Jacobson's - and others like him - gift. He puts his finger on the button and says what needs saying about the whole New Atheist rant. Here is a taster:

"Some of my best friends are atheists. And I always supposed I was, or would end up, an atheist myself. I have never been close to possessing anything that could be called religious belief. I don't worship, I don't pray and I don't take part in religious festivals. And yet somehow the religious beliefs or instincts of other people - not just people I know, but writers, philosophers, artists - fascinate me. Not because I recognise something of myself in them, but because I don't. It's from those who are most different to you that you have the most to learn.

This is why I have no time for the new aggressive form of popular atheism. It lacks imagination and, worse still, it lacks curiosity. It doesn't think it has anything to learn from anybody who is not an atheist sine, in its view, religion is for fools or children - something mankind needed at the dawn of time but needs no longer because now we have science and Richard Dawkins.

Dawkins is an angry man. I sympathise with some of that anger. When you see "believers" piloting planeloads of innocent passengers into crowded office buildings in the name of God, you are right to question the validity of belief. But you don't need God's encouragement to be a fanatic. Islamic terrorism might find a spurious justification for itself in the Koran, but it learns its lessons from the godless ideologies of the likes of Stalin, Hitler, and Pol Pot, not the Bible. It's conviction tat kills - the determination to make a single, simplistic view of the world prevail - not theology. Which is why the last thing we want from those whose function it is to doubt and question is the same old certainty under another name."

Friday, 22 January 2010

A Prayer Rule by St. Theophan the recluse

The saints knew better than anyone how difficult it was to live the Christian life, especially when it came to praying. Unless we can create some kind of routine - like eating or cleaning our teeth - then the busyness of life flows in and prayer is usually the first thing that suffers. Here is one person's approach. He is St. Theophan the recluse a beloved 19th century Russian saint:


A prayer rule for one who is on the path of a God-pleasing life.

You ask about a prayer rule. Yes, it is good to have a prayer rule on account of our weakness so that on the one hand we do not give in to laziness, and on the other hand we restrain our enthusiasm to its proper measure. The greatest practitioners of prayer kept a prayer rule. They would always begin with established prayers, and if during the course of these a prayer started on its own, they would put aside the others and pray that prayer. If this is what the great practitioners of prayer did, all the more reason for us to do so. Without established prayers, we would not know how to pray at all. Without them, we would be left entirely without prayer.

However, one does not have to do many prayers. It is better to perform a small number of prayers properly than to hurry through a large number of prayers, because it is difficult to maintain the heat of prayerful zeal when they are performed to excess.

I would consider the morning and evening prayers as set out in the prayer books to be entirely sufficient for you. Just try each time to carry them out with full attention and corresponding feelings. To be more successful at this, spend a little of your free time at reading over all the prayers separately. Think them over and feel them, so that when you recite them at your prayer rule, you will know the holy thoughts and feelings that are contained in them. Prayer does not mean that we just recite prayers, but that we assimilate their content within ourselves, and pronounce them as if they came from our minds and hearts.

After you have considered and felt the prayers, work at memorizing them. Then you will not have to fumble about for your prayer book and light when it is time to pray; neither will you be distracted by anything you see while you are performing your prayers, but can more easily maintain thoughtful petition toward God. You will see for yourself what a great help this is. The fact that you will have your prayer book with you at all times and in all places is of great significance. Being thus prepared, when you stand at prayer be careful to keep your mind from drifting and your feeling from coldness and indifference, exerting yourself in every way to keep your attention and to spark warmth of feeling. After you have recited each prayer, make prostrations, as many as you like, accompanied by a prayer for any necessity that you feel, or by the usual short prayer. This will lengthen your prayer time a little, but its power will be increased. You should pray a little longer on your own especially at the end of your prayers, asking forgiveness for unintentional straying of the mind, and placing yourself in God's hands for the entire day.

You must also maintain prayerful attention toward God throughout the day. For this, as we have already mentioned more than once, there is remembrance of God; and for remembrance of God, there are short prayers.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Turning the heart to God

"The beginning of a grace-given Christian life is established in baptism, but few people preserve this grace for long. Most Christians lose it. In their actual lives, we see that many people are more or less corrupted; they have principles which are not sound, but which were permitted to develop and take root. Others may have good principles, but while still young these people - whether according to their own inclination or because they were seduced by others - forget about these principles and gradually get used to what is harmful. Such people no longer have the true Christian life within themselves; they must begin it anew."

Those words were written in the 19th century by a man called Saint Theophan the Recluse, a Russian Christian in his book "Turning the heart to God". And how true they are! When we were - if we were - baptised (or christened) as babies, God gave us something of His wonderful grace to bring us into the Christian faith. We were made members of Christ's body, the Church, just as under the Old Covenant boys were made a part of Israel through circumcision. But in all too many cases most of us fell away. Whether through our parents or/and godparents' lack of understanding about what was expected of them they failed to bring us up in the faith. So we fell away. We lost the grace that was given to us. We became corrupted by the world, conforming to its pattern of living, and lived as we wanted rather than how God wanted us to live. In St. Theophan's words we "gradually (got) used to what is harmful." But there is a way back. As the prodigal son discovered in Luke 15:11-32, we can and must "begin it anew". That is 'repentance'. And as John called the wayward children of Israel back to God (Luke 3:1-18) and Jesus after him (Matthew 4:17), God is continually calling us, His wayward children to turn to Him and begin again, and again and again.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Keep it simple

'Let your prayer be completely simple. For both the publican and the prodigal son were reconciled to God by a single phrase.'

'Do not be over-sophisticated in the words you use when praying, because the simple and unadorned lisping of children has often won the heart of their heavenly Father.'

'Do not attempt to talk much when you pray, lest your mind be distracted in searching for words. One word of the publican propitiated God, and one cry of faith saved the thief. Loquacity in prayer often distracts the mind and leads to phantasy, whereas brevity (Gr. monologia) makes for concentration.'
St. John of the Ladder (John Climacus) - 6th/7th cent


Boredom in Church

A lot has been said about boredom in Church and various ministers have taken this criticism to heart and tried their best to make their services more interesting. At their worst this has led to services that border on entertainment, with humour, chatty repartie and songs taken from popular culture. At their best this has led to modern language and warm welcomes to newcomers and visitors. But is it something we should be concerned about. Isn't boredom "in the eye of the beholder" so to speak? Here are some sayings from the Church Fathers on the matter:

"They say that church is boring. It is boring because they do not understand the services! You need to study! It is boring because they do not care for it. So they do not see it as their own, but as something foreign to them. They could at least bring flowers or greenery to decorate it, they could take part in caring for the church; then it would not be boring."
Venerable Antony (Potapov)
of Optina

"We Christians of today do not feel the power of the redemption wrought by our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is as a result that we are so bad, unfeeling, that we look so perfunctorily at sin, and do not understand the Church Services, especially the Divine Liturgy, and find it boring."
Hieromartyr St Arseny (Zhadanovsky), Bishop of Serpukhov (1874-1937)


In these two quotations we find two reasons for boredom in Church services:
1. A lack of investment in the experience ' "you need to study" etc. Watching television or a film is a passive experience where you sit back and let someone else do something that will hold your attention. You do not have to invest in it just 'experience' it. Church services however are different. They are not there to entertain you while you sit back and watch. In the parable of the pearl of great price (Matthew 13:45-46) Jesus tells us that the man finding the pearl sells all he has in order to buy it. Without giving his all he would never have possessed it. The same could be said of worship. You will only get anything out of it unless you are willing to invest yourself in some way.

2. Sin. How can we expect anyone who has been so totally immersed in the world to come along to a sacred service and suddenly become immersed in the holy. Sin is a barrier that keeps us from God and so why are we surprised when someone comes to a church service and very little seems to impact them, at least immediately? In 2 Corinthians St. Paul writes: "The god of this age - the devil -has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel .." (2 Corinthians 4:4). Entertainment or trying to make services more interesting is NOT the way to open those eyes. Only God can do that and He needs time and willingness and cooperation on our part.

The blood of the martyrs

The 2nd-century Church Father Tertullian once wrote that "the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church, " implying that the martyrs' willing sacrifice of their lives led to the conversion of others. This can be verified by the modern example of Vladimir Lossky (June 8 1903 – February 7, 1958) who was an influential Eastern Orthodox theologian in exile from Russia. As a young student Vladimir Lossky attended the trial of one of the very first martyrs of the Russian Revolution, Metropolitan Benjamin of St Petersburg, now canonized. The young man was profoundly touched by the sight of the crowd of believers prostrating themselves as their bishop was led to his death by firing squad by the soviets. Catherine Aslanoff wrote: "this image of the church, the bishop and his people, united by the blood of the martyr, deeply moved the future theologian".

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

Authentic Christian experience

St. Simeon was very concerned with authentic Christian living. For him the only way to be authentically Christian was to in some way experience the reality of God. This is underlined by the following words from an article on the website www.monarchos.net (click to take you to the article):

"I was nine years old when, full of enthusiasm and excitement, I approached my Church School teacher and exclaimed, ‘I have seen Jesus!’ Receiving an understandably surprised look from the man, I repeated again, ‘I have seen Jesus!’ ‘What do you mean?’ he asked. At this point I removed a copy of ‘The Bible with Illustrations for Children’ from my bag, opened it to a page at the beginning of the New Testament, and showed him the painting which was clearly captioned, ‘Jesus Christ of Nazareth.’ My teacher smiled. Then, crouching down to my level, said, ‘I see… but you have only seen a picture of Jesus. But you haven’t really seen Him.’

St Simeon the New Theologian would have agreed with my Church School teacher in stating that my vision of a painting of Christ was quite different from actually seeing Christ Himself. Yet where he and my teacher would have departed would have been on the possibility of such a vision; for while my teacher seemed to believe such things to be confined only to the dreams of children, Symeon fervently believed that God Himself was visible to the human person—not only in the representative form of a painting or even a holy icon, but by a direct, immanent, and personal encounter with the divinity Himself.

Here is a poem or prayer by St. Simeon that underlines his experience of God:

“Love came down, as is its way,
in the appearance of a luminous cloud.
I saw it fasten on me and settle upon my head.
And it made me cry out, for I was so afraid;
and so it flew away and left me alone.
Then how ardently I searched after it;
and suddenly, completely,
I was conscious of it present in my heart,
like a heavenly body.
I saw it like the disk of the sun…
It closed me off from the visible
and joined me to invisible things.
It gave me the grace to see the Uncreated.”

Wow. How desperately we need the Church to come to that place of really "knowing Christ and the power of His resurrection" (Philippians 3:10) again. Coming to know Jesus as a living presence with us.

More on the Holy Spirit

Whilst researching the last blog entry I came across another ancient hymn to the Holy Spirit called the "Veni Creator Spiritus" and it dates back to the 9th century:

Come, Creator Spirit,
visit the minds of those who are yours;
fill with heavely grace
the hearts that you have made.

You who are named the Paraclete,
gift of God most high,
living fountain, fire, love
and anointing for the soul.

You are sevenfold in your gifts,
you are the finger of God’s right hand,
you, the Father’s solemn promise
putting words upon our lips.

Kindle a light in our senses,
pour love into our hearts,
infirmities of this body of ours
overcoming with strength secure.

The enemy drive from us away,
peace then give without delay;
with you as guide to lead the way
we avoid all cause of harm.

Grant we may know the Father through you,
and come to know the Son as well,
and may we always cling in faith
to you, the Spirit of them both.

Amen.

A few years back I bought an excellent book of meditations by the preacher to the Papal Household Fr Raniero Cantalamessa recommended, of all people, by Nicky Gumbel Vicar of Holy Trinity, Brompton. It's a wonderful and inspiring read.

Invocation to the Holy Spirit

We have much to learn from the Eastern Orthodox Church which is steadily making its presence more and more felt here in the West. For example their devotion to the Holy Spirit and the emphasis on His work and presence is so marked that they have never needed to experience a Charismatic renewal being charismatic from the very beginning! Here is a beautiful example of the kind of prayers you can find with a little digging. It's by a wonderful saint called St. Simeon the New Theologian. In Wikipedia it describes St. Simeon as someone who "often spoke from direct personal experience and on occasion attacked certain scholars whom he viewed as pretending to have a knowledge they didn't have". For Simeon the Holy Spirit was crucial in making Christ live in us. Note the following from one of his Hymns:

"Do not say that it is impossible to receive the Spirit of God. Do not say that it is possible to be made whole without Him. Do not say that one can possess Him without knowing it. Do not say that God does not manifest Himself to man. Do not say that men cannot perceive the divine light, or that it is impossible in this age! Never is it found to be impossible, my friends. On the contrary, it is entirely possible when one desires it" (Hymn 27, 125-132).

Here's part of his Invocation to the Holy Spirit:

Come, true light.
Come, life eternal.
Come, hidden mystery.
Come, treasure without name.

Come, reality beyond all words.
Come, person beyond all understanding.
Come, rejoicing without end.
Come, light that knows no evening.

Come, unfailing expectation of the saved.
Come, raising of the fallen.
Come, resurrection of the dead.
Come, all-powerful, for unceasingly you create, refashion and change all things by your will alone.

Come, for your name fills our hearts with longing, and is ever on our lips.
Come, for you are yourself the desire that is within me.
Come, my breath and my life.
Come, the consolation of my humble soul.

Come, my joy, my glory, my endless delight.



Wednesday, 13 January 2010

In memoriam Michael Harper

I recently heard of the death of one of my early 'mentors' Fr Michael Harper. Along with John Stott, David Watson and Michael Green - all Anglican clergymen - Michael Harper deeply influenced and inspired me and it is in part due to them that I am where I am today. Here is a short outline of his life, the first of many I suspect. It is adapted from The International Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements article written and edited by Peter Hocken

MICHAEL CLAUDE HARPER (1931-2010) was a pioneer figure in the charismatic renewal in Britain, a leader in worldwide renewal, and a prolific author. Converted as an undergraduate at Cambridge, Harper was ordained a priest of the Church of England in 1956. From 1958 to 1964 he served at All Souls, Langham Place, one of London's major evangelical churches, under John Stott. In the fall of 1962 he had an enlightening and empowering experience of the Holy Spirit, receiving the gift of tongues in August 1963. Harper sponsored talks by Francis McGuire, Larry Christenson, and David du Plessis 1963, and organized residential conferences at Stoke Poges in February and June 1964. He published Christenson's booklet on tongues and his own booklet on prophecy. By the summer of 1964 he resigned from All Souls church and became the first full-time General Secretary of the Fountain Trust. The trust was established to help further Harper's goals and ideals for spiritual renewal, focusing on new life in the Holy Spirit for Christians in all churches, and renewal of the body of Christ.

His organizational, teaching, and writing work now multiplied, with a first trip to the United States in 1965 and to Australia and New Zealand in 1967. Editing the Fountain Trust's magazine, Renewal, from its inception in January 1966, Harper became director in 1972, but in 1975 he
resigned as director and editor to concentrate on his teaching ministry, based in Hounslow, West London, until 1981, when he moved to Haywards Heath, Sussex. Harper was a canon of Chichester Cathedral from 1984 to 1995, when he resigned Anglican orders to join the
Antiochian Greek Orthodox Church.

From the late 1970s to the mid 1990s, Harper's ministry was primarily international with a twofold focus: serving renewal within the Anglican Communion at promoting its ecumenical relations. The Anglican focus developed from his role as convener of a charismatic conference for
Anglicans immediately before the Lambeth Conference in July 1978, which led in 1981 to the formation of "Sharing of Ministries Abroad (SOMA), of which he was appointed full-time international director in1984. Harper's ecumenical service in the charismatic renewal found its
principal expression in the "European Charismatic Consultation" (ECC) formed in 1988 and the International Charismatic Consultation on World Evangelization (ICCOWE), which developed from a consultation held in Singapore in 1987. Harper served as ICCOWE's chairman for the
worldwide ecumenical conference for charismatic leaders held in Brighton, England (1991) and the ICCOWE-ECC European conferences in Prague (1997, 1999).

Throughout his ministry Harper has been supported by his wife, Jeanne, herself musically gifted and for many years active in the Lydia Fellowship for women. Harper's gifts are illustrated in his steady literary output. His practical spiritual teaching is seen in Power For the Body of Christ
(1964), Walk in the Spirit (1968), and Spiritual Warfare (1970). His narrative skills shine in As At the Beginning (1965), an account of Pentecostal origins and the first blossoming of charismatic
renewal; None Can Guess (1971), his own personal story; and A New Way of Living (1973), on the Church of the Redeemer in Houston, Texas. His ability to clarify contemporary issues in the light of the Gospel is seen in Let My People Grow (1977), Three Sisters (also under the title This Is the Day, 1979), and The Love Affair (1982).

Increasingly troubled by a doctrinal permissiveness in the Anglican Church, which was brought to a head by the ordination of women in the church of England, Michael and Jeanne Harper joined the Orthodox Church in March 1995. Harper was soon ordained as a priest and made
dean of a new Antiochian Orthodox Deanery for Great Britain. His position on women's ordination is set out in Equal and Different (1994); the story of his pilgrimage to Orthodoxy is told in The True Light (1997), and in A Faith Fulfilled, Why Are Christians Across Great Britain Embracing Orthodoxy? (1999).

Tuesday, 12 January 2010

Religious freedom

I don't think we as Christians can argue with the rights of anyone to be treated fairly and equally regardless of their colour, race, creed ot sexual orientation. However 'rights' work both ways and the rights of Christians to live out their faith without fear of discrimination or persecution are in danger of being undermined in the new Equality Bill that is passing through the House of Lords at the moment. The following article talks about what we, as Christians, can do to make our feelings felt on the matter. My thanks to "Christianity Today".

"A new petition has been launched to press Prime Minister Gordon Brown on the right of religious believers to live out their faith.

The petition was posted on the No 10 Downing Street website by Blandford Forum resident David Skinner. He fears the Equality Bill currently passing through the House of Lords could impinge on the rights of religious people to act according to conscience and belief, in the workplace and places of worship in particular.

If passed as it stands, the Equality Bill will narrow the exemptions allowed for organised religion by the 2003 regulations on employment equality and sexual orientation.

The Bill limits exemptions to the employment of people in posts concerning formal worship activities or the teaching of doctrine but states that other positions like those of church youth workers would not fall under the exemptions.

If the Bill is passed, churches and other faith bodies may find themselves forced to employ someone as a youth worker or worship leader with a different interpretation of sexuality.

Mr Skinner added: “I invite people to sign the petition and encourage others so to do. We must join together to commit ourselves to reaffirm the value and necessity of religious and civil liberty and the rights of conscience across the UK today.

"We believe that religion and civil liberty must include the right to live and speak according to one's conscience privately and in the public sphere, both individually and collectively, without harassment or the fear of civil or criminal penalty.”

If you want to act click on the following which which lead you to the petition: www.petitions.number10.gov.uk/harryhammond

The freedom to believe

Is it arrogant to insist Christianity is right?

Timothy Keller in his book "The Reason for God" answers the following question which is often thrown at Christians: "Is it arrogant to insist your religion is right and to convert others to it?"
Here is part of his answer:

"The noted religion scholar John Hick has written that once you become aware that there are many other equally intelligent and good people in the world who hold different beliefs from you and that you will not be able to convince them otherwise, then it is arrogant of you to continue to try and convert them or to hold your view to be the superior truth (The Myth of God Incarnate)

(But here) there is an inherent contradiction. Most people in the world don't hold to John Hick's view that all religions are equally valid, and many of them are equally as good and intelligent as he is, and unlikely to change their views. That would make the statement "all religious claims to ahve a better view of things are arrogant and wrong" to be, on its own terms, arrogant and wrong.

Many say that it is ethnocentric to claim that our religion is superior to others. Yet isn't that very statement ethnocentric? Most non-Western cultures have no problem saying that their culture and religion is best. The idea that it is wrong to do so is deeply rooted in Western traditions of self-criticism and individualism. To charge others with the "sin" of ethnocentrism is really a way od saying, "Our culture's approach to other cultures is superior to yours." We are then doing the very thing we forbid others to do."

Friday, 8 January 2010

Zacharais and Keller

The previous three blogs include talks by my two favourite Christian apologists Ravi Zacharais and Timothy Keller. What I like about them is the way they graciously and coherently defend and expound the Christian message in a way that does not belittle or try and 'get one over' on their opponents. Worth a listen

Why the Bible?

Belief in an age of skepticism

Friday, 1 January 2010

Happy New Year

Another year has come and gone and given that it has seen the death of my father in June and my mother-in-law on Christmas Day I can't lie and say I am sad to see it go. But neither can I say with any certainty that I am looking forward to the New Year. In fact I am honestly a little wary. For if I say that surely it's bound to be better than last year I catch myself pulling back from making such a positive statement. Why? Is it because by making a statement I am in some way 'jinxing' 2010 or 'tempting fate'? But that sounds so superstitious and I am decidedly not superstitious. When I break a mirror for example it does not bother me in the slightest. And if you warn me not to walk under a ladder or put up an umbrella indoors I will immediately do exactly those things that others find so dangerous. So why the hesitancy about making too overly optimistic statements about next year?

It could be that I am wary of being overconfident about a future I have no control over. 2010 is after all an "unknown country" to borrow a phrase from Walt Whitman. Only God knows what it will bring and so I will not presume to speak with any authority about that of which I know nothing. All I can do is humbly hope that it will be better than last year. The only confidence I can possible have about the New Year is that God will be with me. It maybe that I have reached an age where I remember being confident about 2009 and we all know how misplaced that optimism was.

But if it is presumption to be optimistic, it is also un-Christian to be pessimistic. We need to have hope. Dostoevsky once wrote that to "to live without hope is to cease to live." It is an important part of our human makeup to always live in hope of a better future. Its in our DNA, placed there by God. A faint echo of His promises that He will one day make a new heaven and earth (Revelation 21 etc) and usher in finally the fulness of His kingdom. That may indeed be next year, but if it isn't it is certainly coming.

So here is to the New Year. My hope and prayer is that it will be better in the sense that our family will have a rest from grief and we will all be able to see a little more of the "life in all its fuilness" promised by Jesus. And if anyone is reading this blog, may I wish you and yours all the riches of God's grace.

Thanks, but no thanks!

We had a wonderful day yesterday starting with the awards ceremony where Ruth, our youngest child, received her degree - a 2:1- after thre...