Thursday, 13 December 2012

Orthodox perspective on the Ordination of Women

In recent decades, some Protestant denominations have undergone heavy fighting over the question of whether women should be ordained. A woman holding a worship service or preaching was once so rare that the 18th century English author, Samuel Johnson, could say: “a woman’s preaching is like a dog’s walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.”

This controversy hasn't gained a high profile in the Orthodox Church, probably due to our way of approaching such issues: if the early church was in agreement on a matter, if that consensus continued unbroken over the centuries, then that seems to be the Holy Spirit’s leading. Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13). It’s not always easy to discern a clear consensus, but there’s no problem here. For 20 centuries, the Orthodox Church has not ordained women priests.

That doesn't mean there weren't women preachers, though. I've preached at worship services in Orthodox churches, myself.

If that sounds like an inconsistency, it’s because we understand the purpose of ordination differently than many Protestants do. For us, it has to do primarily with setting someone aside to be a minister of the sacraments. Non-sacramental ministry, such as preaching, is open to non-ordained people, as long as they are continuing in the faith and worship of the Orthodox Church, and in obedience to a spiritual father or confessor.

And when answering questions about the Church’s practice, instead of searching the records for resolutions that were passed at conventions, we look at what the Church has actually done. So if the question is, Can a woman be a missionary evangelist, and preach the gospel in foreign lands? We can say yes, because we see the example of St. Nina of Georgia. She was just a young girl, 14 years old, when she was abducted and carried as a slave into the nation of Georgia. But there she had an opportunity to speak to the Queen about saving faith, and then the king, and eventually the whole nation was baptized. So, yes, a woman can preach, and prepare people for baptism (St. Nina brought in a priest to accompany her to actually perform the baptisms), and pave the way for churches to be founded.

Many questions about women’s ministries can be answered that way, by looking at what Orthodox women have actually done. Can a woman be a theologian and liturgist? Yes, there’s St. Cassiane. Can she be an apologist and debater, presenting the Christian faith against opponents? Yes, St. Catherine, St. Perpetua, and others were brilliant debaters.

Here’s a toughie: can a woman exercise authority over both men and women, and rule an entire nation? Can a woman call a council that establishes church doctrine? Yes, we honor the valiant accomplishments of Empress St. Theodora. And there are many women who are called “Equal to the Apostles,” including St. Mary Magdalene, St. Helen, and St. Junia.

In the Orthodox church, women have exercised a vast range of ministries. A glance through history shows that an Orthodox woman can be a healer, a missionary, a preacher, a teacher, an evangelist, a spiritual mother, a church-planter, a miracle-worker, an iconographer, a hymnographer, a pastoral counselor, a debater, a writer of prayers and theology, a martyr, or a fool-for-Christ—and she doesn't need to get a clerical collar first.

I don’t mind, then, if Protestant denominations want to ordain women. Many times, this just means allowing Protestant women to do things that Orthodox women have always done. In our church, holy women do virtually everything men do, except stand at the altar. That leaves them rest of the world, which is where most of God’s work gets done.

Extract from:  Women's Ordination By Frederica Matthewes-Green (see here for full article) 

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Marriage of gay and lesbian couples in Church


As someone who genuinely considered leaving the Church if he was forced to celebrate the marriage of gay or lesbian couples in church I was a little relieved to hear that the Government is granting my denomination exemption from the legislation. However I am still very, very disturbed to hear that the Government is still committed to going ahead with redefining marriage which I believe to be a catastrophic mistake. We are treading on dangerous ground and i believe we will live to regret it.

I include here the the Bishop of Leicester's response in the Lord's to the news that the Government will be pressing ahead with this:

"Those of us on these benches entirely share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, that we are all equal in the eyes of God. That is why many of us supported civil partnerships as we believed that the rights and obligations that flow to those who wish to formally mark and celebrate their commitment to each other should not be denied to people simply because of their sexuality.

"However, my Lords, civil partnerships, while conferring virtually the same legal benefits, are not the same as marriage. Marriage is not the property of the Government nor is it the property of the Church; and while the forms and legalities around marriage have evolved over time, as the noble lady minister has pointed out, one fundamental feature has remained the same throughout: that marriage is a union of one man and one woman, a social institution that pre-dates both Church and State and has been the glue that has bound countless successive societies together.

"Does the Minister recognise that our concern here is not primarily for religious conscience or the protection of the Church of England's position, but rather a more fundamental concern for stable communities? Can the Minister assure us that teachers for example in Church schools will not be disciplined for upholding traditional religious teachings? Can the Minister assure this House in spite of the accelerated pace of this process, proper time, even over a Christmas holiday, will be given for adequate consultation with the Church of England's Canon lawyers on the legislative drafting. Can the Minister assure us that the great majority of members of the Church of England and other faiths will not be labelled as prejudicial to gay people for taking a traditional stand, and perhaps most troubling my Lords is the fact that the Government and Opposition have together in their proceeding with this Measure led to division, not only within the country where polls consistently show half the population against this change, but also between the political class and the vast majority of practicing religious people. What plans does the Government have for working towards a degree of consensus on this matter?"

Church of England comments on 2011 Census

The Church of England today welcomed the publication of the latest Census figures which confirmed that Christianity remains the largest religion in England in 2011, with 31.5 million people (59.4 per cent of the population) self-identifying as Christians.

"These results confirm that we remain a faithful nation," said the Rev Arun Arora, Director of Communications for the Archbishop's Council. "England remains a country where the majority of the nation actively identifies the role that faith plays in their life. Clearly we welcome the fact that Christianity remains the most populous faith in England - with six in ten people identifying themselves as Christian. When all faiths are taken together, people of faith account for two-thirds of the nation - two in every three people identify themselves as having a faith.

"Obviously the fall in those choosing to identify themselves as Christians is a challenge. We need to look closely at the fuller figures published next year and to reflect on what these tell us. One of the reasons may well be fewer people identifying as "Cultural Christians" i.e. those who have no active involvement with churches and who may previously have identified as Christian for cultural or historical reasons. They indicate a changing pattern of religious life in which traditional or inherited identities are less taken for granted than they used to be."

"The work of the Church of England is not limited to those who declare Christian affiliation. As a Church we continue to serve people of all faiths and none, in parishes, schools, community projects and through the 23.2 million hours voluntary work that churchgoers contribute outside their local church to the local community," said Arun Arora.

"In a speech earlier this year, Her Majesty the Queen spoke of the Church of England's 'duty to protect the free practice of all faiths in this country'. The figures released today show that the Church's duty concerns the overwhelming majority of people in England.

"The death of Christian England has been greatly exaggerated. Despite a decade of nay saying and campaigning by atheist commentators and groups, six out of ten people in England self-identify as Christians, a figure which rises to more than two-thirds when including people identifying with faith as a whole.

"During the past decade alone the C of E has baptized an average of 2,500 people a week - with a 40% increase in adult baptisms - conducted more than 100 weddings a week, celebrated the ordination of more than 5,000 new priests and maintained more than 16,000 parish church buildings. While 253 churches closed over the past decade, 1,000 new congregations were started through the Fresh Expressions initiative.

"Today's figures pose questions - not least for most of the London based national media - about whether their perceptions and reporting of faith accurately reflect the reality of a faithful nation, especially when considering the figures in the North East and North West of the country.

"Doubtless, campaigning atheist organisations will attempt to minimize the significance of the majority figures for faith and Christianity. In fact, these figures draw attention to the free ride that had been given to these bodies whose total membership would barely fill half of Old Trafford. For instance there are an estimated 28,000 members of British Humanist Association - the same membership as Union of Catholic Mothers, whilst the National Secular Society has an estimated 5,000 - the same as the British Sausage Appreciation Society."

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Who is the real father Christmas?

Not a blog so much as a recommended website about St. Nicholas who is apparently one of the world's most popular saints. What is remarkable about this man is the physical resemblance between him and the modern phenomenon of Father Christmas or Santa Claus, an American invention. Looking at some of the icons of Saint Nicholas he is depicted wearing a red chasuble and a white beard. Sound familiar? What's more he is well known for his anonymous generosity, giving away some of his wealth to help a starving family! There was even one occasion where he was seen in two places at one time! It's the twilight zone!!

Anyhow we need to backdate Santa and relocate him into the fourth century when the original was a Bishop of Myra, one of the early attendees at Nicea in 325 AD. He was truly a remarkable man known for his generosity, gentleness and love of people. He was declared a saint by popular opinion and many miracles were associated with him in his life and after.

For further information here is the website: http://www.stnicholascenter.org/pages/home/ It makes interesting reading and a good way of further reclaiming Christmas and grounding it in Christian teaching.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Prayers and the heart


"Better your heart be without words than your words without heart." wrote John Bunyan the author of "A Pilgrim's Progress". They are wise words and a reminder for those who prefer using a more formal way of praying that the words that have been used and re-used over the centuries are only effective if they are re-prayed from the heart. They have to be owned by their new owners if they are to have meaning and power. They are not magic formulae which merely have to be repeated or recited to produce the desired effect. So care must be taken when using these ancient prayers that every word, thought and idea is one you wish to fully identify with as you speak and pray them again.
I believe that the same can be said of the Scriptures. In my previous blog I referred to the occasion when I was called to the bedside of a comatose elderly lady in the last stages of dementia. Dementia patients, particularly in the latter stages of that distressing disease, lose their short term memory and understanding relying on pictures, images and memories from the distant past to sustain then. Which was why, when I was called to her bedside, I felt so helpless, not knowing what to say. On top of that I did not know the lady and had never met her before. So I leant heavily on some time-honoured prayers and well known scriptures to help me communicate God's love to her at her moment of extreme need, words I hoped would touch some distant memory from the past which she had once heard or spoken and which had then evoked faith and assurance.

And these proved wonderful friends in need both for me, and I hope, for her. That is not to say that other words were not needed that would gently elucidate what was being said. But the core of what was needed was prayer from the heart and words which I believe acted as powerful reminders of God's promises of life, love and peace. The rest I leave  - with great relief - to the Spirit of God who searches the mind of God and the heart of man. 

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

God, darkness and dementia

I was called out recently to pray for a lady in her late nineties who was close to death. She had been suffering with dementia and was in the latter stages of that dreadful condition. As I prepared to attend I faced the same dilemma I always do in these circumstances, what do I say? What should I read? Would it make any difference because her mind was to all intents and purposes unable to understand much anyway - or at least so I am led to believe.

It is moments like these that we are called to trust God. He knows the circumstances of our lives and calls people like me to minister in them. So all we can do in such a position is our best, prayerfully trusting in his grace and guidance. So I set to to prepare some appropriate readings that spoke of God's love and faithfulness, and some familiar prayers and set off. When I arrived I was shown the lady's room and sensitively left on my own the person who accompanied me shutting the door quietly as they left. The scene was a familiar one, simple furnishings with one or two personal mementos by the side of the bed and a large single bed with a small shrunken woman lying on it, breathing quietly, mouth open and eyes shut. The room was still, though more like a church than a morgue, and I spoke quietly to the lady saying who I was and why I had come.

Medical staff will always tell you that the hearing is the last of the senses to go and so I felt fairly confident that even if the lady could not fully understand me, she could at least hear me. So I said some prayers and read the passages that spoke of Jesus preparing a place in the Father's house of many mansions from John 14. And then after a few more silent prayers I said goodbye and left feeling rather pathetic and useless.

Of course the ministry is so busy that you didn't have time to reflect much on what went on in that room and so I forgot the lady for a few days until the phone rang and the undertaker asked me to take her funeral. She had died the afternoon or evening of the day I had visited and as i was the local incumbent could  I take it? I agreed.

And then came the time of reflection. What could I say? What words of comfort could I speak to a family who had receded into anonymity because of the forgetfulness of dementia? How could God speak meaningfully into this situation? What could I offer - or better God offer through me?

They say that you never really forget anything. You just lose the ability, over time, to draw it up out of the well which is your memory. As I thought about the funeral two verses from Psalm 139 came to me:
"If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night”, 12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you."

The words  are twice inspired. First, they inspired the writer who heard them spoken through his head and heart from God. And second, they inspired me as I wondered what to say and reflected on my experience with a comatose elderly dementia patient on the brink of death. As a result I was able to write about her and included the following in my homily or tribute at her funeral:

"Dementia has been described as a darkening of the mind as parts of it shut down and die. But you and I are more than our brains. There is something beyond that thinking computer located in our heads called the spirit or the soul. So even as the darkness of dementia covered N's mind and the light about her became as night, so, the psalmist says: "even the darkness is not dark to God and the descending night is as bright as day to him.”

So although all was closed to N. that day as I visited her and she continued to slip away from this life, I believe that God was with her and as the darkness fell to us, so the dawn of new life rose for her."

As the psalm reminds us there is nowhere we can hide from God who knows our thoughts before we think them and who discerns our thoughts from afar. Wherever we are, if we are his, the Lord's hand shall lead us, and his right hand hold us (verse 10). And as he held the hand of that lady when I committed her to him, so I believe the same of my father who died from the same disease and who I was able to pray for before he went through the darkness into the light.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

Women bishops and quieter considerations


Recently, as we all know, the Church of England General Synod voted against the introduction of women Bishops with the laity defeating the motion by a small margin. This elicited a strong reaction not only from those within the Church who supported the motion and felt that their cause was set back for a further few years, but also the Press and the Government who have accused the Church of being "behind the times", "out of touch" or "discriminatory" or "misogynistic". Threats of new legislation forcing compliance - despite the fact that it was fairly debated and fairly voted on - and disestablishment - removing the Church's privileges in being able to send bishops to the House of Lords - have been made to force the Church's hand. As a result the aftermath has generated more light than heat and quashed any further attempt at a more reasoned debate on the issue. But the opposition view is not an unreasonable or unbiblical and before all further discussion is overshadowed by a tsunami of anger and fiery unreasonableness I thought I would pitch the following argument into the centre in the hope that someone would still consider it objectively and pause for thought to try and understand why adequate provision must be made for those who disagree and still want to stay in the church of their youth or conviction. It is by a man I much admire - although I do not share all of his reformed convictions- and who speaks in a measured, gracious and biblical way. Oh that we could say this of everyone involved - on both sides.


Let’s Stop Making Women Presbyters

Is there not a better way of benefiting from women’s ministry than by ordaining them?

Oxford has been called the home of lost causes, and here am I, an Oxford man, pleading for an end to something that is now standard practice in Methodist, Baptist, Lutheran, Congregational, Pentecostal, and Presbyterian denominations, along with the Anglican churches of the U.S.A., Canada, New Zealand, and Ireland. Is this a lost cause? Perhaps. Yet does not wisdom urge us to stop this practice and point us to a better way of benefiting from women’s ministry than by ordaining them to the presbyterate? Here are my reasons for thinking that the answer is yes.

Let me say, before moving into my argument, that I am as emphatically for women’s ministry as I am against turning women into substitute men by making presbyters of them. To confine women to domestic and menial roles when God has gifted them for ministry and leadership would be Spirit-quenching, beyond doubt. Gifts are given to be used, and when God-given gifts lie fallow, whether in men or in women, the church suffers. However, by envisaging a presbyterate of manly men, the New Testament indicates that the truest womanly ministry will be distinct from this, in ways that I will specify in a moment. But two other questions must be faced first.

Question one: Why has so much of the church in our time come to think that introducing women into the presbyterate is good, right, wise, and pleasing to God? Official Roman Catholicism (though not all Catholic theologians, nor laymen) and Orthodoxy as it seems from top to bottom, and Bible-based evangelical communities of all denominational stripes within Protestantism, agree in opposing this trend, but it cannot be denied that the general current of Protestant opinion has flowed the other way, so that many nowadays are wired to dismiss counter-arguments as foot-dragging foolishness. The trend is modem; whence came it? From a conjunction, it seems, of five factors.

First, the feminist ideology that demands equal rights everywhere, on the grounds that anything a man can do a woman can do as well if not better, naturally requires women presbyters, and women bishops, too, such as can already be found among Methodists and Anglicans in North America.

Second, the social change since World War I whereby gradually women have been moving into what were previously men’s jobs, and doing them well, has made opening the presbyterate to women appear as plain common sense.

Third, it has become clear that the present—day relevance of the New Testament passages that debar women from doing what presbyteral ministry involves (speaking in church,1 teaching and giving directions to men2) is problematical. If in these passages Paul is establishing a universal church order, meant for all congregations in all places at all times, then all is clear — but is he? Or is he simply legislating for his own day? And if the latter, are we wrong to allow that in a changed cultural situation, in which women were educated as men are and could come to church with well-studied Bibles in their hands, Paul might have said something different?

At this point, there is division among those who agree that what Paul says, Christ says, just as there is among those who do not believe any such thing; and no amount of general debate on the male headship principle of 1 Cor. 11:3 and Eph. 5:23 (which is itself differently understood by different expositors), or on anything else said about the two genders in Scripture, does anything to diminish the divergence. Understandably, those who think that if Paul were alive in the modern West he might possibly, or would certainly, remove his restrictions have not stood against, but gone with, the pressure for women clergy.

Fourth, God has blessed the ministry of ordained women. Does that not prove the rightness of their presbyteral role? Not necessarily. God has blessed his people before through intrinsically inappropriate arrangements and may be doing so again. His mercy in practice does not settle matters of principle any more than majority votes do. The conclusion that God’s use of women presbyters shows that he wants them does not follow.

Fifth, the Anglican and Presbyterian restriction of leadership at the Lord’s Table (and, in Presbyterianism, of power to baptize) to presbyters has spread the sense that presbyter status is an enviable privilege, without which Christian professionals do not have a fully satisfying ministry. This feeling, however unjustified (and it seems to me unjustifiable), is widespread, and makes it seem churlish to deny to all the church’s professional women the job-satisfaction that those whom Anglicans call priests are thought to get from their sacramental ministrations. Do not misunderstand me. I speak as an Anglican presbyter myself.

If the above analysis is right, the present-day pressure to make women presbyters owes more to secular, pragmatic, and social factors than to any regard for biblical authority. The active groups who push out the wails of biblical authority to make room for the practice fail to read out of Scripture any principle that directly requires such action. Future generations are likely to see their agitation as yet another attempt to baptize secular culture into Christ, as the liberal church has ever sought to do, and will, I guess, rate it as one more sign of the undiscerning worldliness of late twentieth-century Western Christianity.

On, then, to question two: What considerations cast doubt on the wisdom of making women presbyters?

I see four such considerations:

(i) The authority of Scripture.

Philip Melanchthon, Luther’s right-hand man, identified the authority of Scripture as the formal (i.e., formative) principle of the Reformation. He was right, and biblical authority remains the formative principle of evangelical theology. The Reformers elucidated the principle by explaining that Scripture is sufficient as a God-given guide to faith and life under Christ not needing additions from any worldly or ecclesiastical source, and is also clear, not needing an external interpreter but interpreting itself from within on everything that matters. With this, too, modern evangelicals agree.

Nor are they the only ones who nowadays urge that Scripture must ever stand in a critical, corrective, constitutive, and creative relation to the church’s faith. When modern Roman Catholics and Orthodox claim, as they mostly do, that their tradition is verifiable from Scripture, they are acknowledging that the written Word of God yields its own meaning and message, and the church may not sit loose to it. There has in our time been significant movement here, and as a result, the appeal to Scripture by the opponents of women’s ordination sounds the same from whichever side of the Reformation divide it is made.

What in Scripture weights the scales against the practice of making women presbyters? It is just the fact that though the New Testament celebrates in all sorts of ways Jesus’ affirmation of particular women as disciples and friends, and though ministering women keep appearing in the narrative of Acts and the letters of Paul, nothing is said of women being chosen as presbyters. Educated guesses as to what Jesus might do or Paul might say, were they alive now, are only guesses; all we are sure of is that as Jesus appointed no female apostles, so Paul used his apostolic authority to keep women from leading the church in worship, and actually justified this from the story of the Creation and the Fall, which he treated as disclosing universal truth about the two sexes.3

This being so, it is surely as likely that, were Paul with us today, he would negate women’s presbyteral leadership as that he would sanction it. Second-guessing an apostle is, of course, a risky business: but who can be blamed for thinking that negation would, in fact, be more likely, and that therefore the only safe, unitive, reverent, and God-honouring way is to give Paul the benefit of the doubt and retain his restriction on women exercising authority on Christ’s behalf over men in the church?4

(ii) The knowledge of Christ.

The essence of Christianity, according to the New Testament, is knowing and trusting Jesus Christ the Lord, the incarnate Son of God, as prophet, priest, and king; as lamb, shepherd, and lifegiver; and as head, husband, and cornerstone of the church that is his body, bride, and building. Knowing Christ in all these respects has a relational and affectional, as well as an intellectual, dimension: it is cognition and communion, obedience, love, and adoration all combined; it is peace and joy, salvation and eternal life, heaven on earth. On all of this the New Testament writers are at one.

A further aspect of the New Testament knowledge of Christ is that he, as thus described, is the true minister in all Christian ministry; the words and acts of his ministering servants are the medium of his personal ministry to us now, whereby he makes real and vivid to us his grace to us and his purpose for us. And this is the foundation for the second argument.

That argument is in essence as follows: Since the Son of God was incarnate as a male, it will always be easier, other things being equal, to realize and remember that Christ is ministering in person if his human agent and representative is also male. This is not to deny that Christ ministers through women, unordained and ordained (and to men, too!): My point is about the ideal form of the church. Stated structures of ministry should be designed to create and sustain with fullest force faith knowledge that Christ is the true minister. Presbyteral leadership by women, therefore, is not the best option.

That one male is best represented by another male is a matter of common sense; that Jesus’ maleness is basic to his role as our incarnate Saviour is a matter of biblical revelation.

Jesus Christ was not, and is not, merely a symbol of something else, or a source of teaching, that can stand on its own without reference to the teacher. The New Testament presents him as the second man, the last Adam, our prophet, priest, and king (not prophetess, priestess, and queen), and he is all this precisely in his maleness. To minimize the maleness shows a degree of failure to grasp the space-time reality and redemptive significance of the Incarnation: to argue that gender is irrelevant to ministry shows that one is forgetting the representative role of presbyteral leadership. Surely it is clear, then, that, spiritually speaking, a male presbyterate is desirable, even if one does not think it mandatory.

(iii) The significance of gender.

God made humanity in two genders. Both males and females bear his image and in personal dignity are equal in every way, but God has set them in a non-reversible relation to each other. This finds expression, according to the most straightforward reading of Scripture in the story of Eve being made from Adam’s rib, to be a help to him,5 and in Paul’s assertion of male headship, not simply in marriage,6 but in the human race as such.7 The creation pattern, as biblically set forth, is: man to lead, woman to support; man to initiate, woman to enable; man to take responsibility for the well-being of woman, woman to take responsibility for helping man. Scripture implies, and experience surely confirms, that where these relational dynamics are disregarded, the nature of both men and women is put under strain, the full self-discovery and fulfilment that God meant men and women to find in cooperation is missed, and some of the honour due to our wise Creator perishes.

The argument here is this: presbyters are set apart for a role of authoritative pastoral leadership. But this role is for manly men rather than womanly women, according to the creation pattern that redemption restores. Paternal pastoral oversight, which is of the essence of the presbyteral role, is not a task for which women are naturally fitted by their Maker.

(iv) The example of Mary.

The relevance to this discussion of what we know of Jesus’ mother will be differently assessed by different people, some perhaps making too much of her and some too little. But any who recognize in Mary a supreme model of devotion and developing discipleship must also see in her final proof of the non-necessity of ordination for a woman who wishes to serve the Father and the Son, and of the significance that can attach to unordained roles and informal ministries.
What has been said highlights the reason why women seek the presbyterate (they have gifts for ministry and a sense of pastoral vocation, and no lesser role offers them the scope they desire); but it also highlights the reason why ordaining them to that office is inappropriate (Scripture presents presbyteral leadership as a man’s job). In practice, ordaining women presbyters has regularly proved divisive without being particularly fruitful — a state of affairs that may be expected to continue. What wisdom is there in pushing ahead with this policy? None that I can see. Even if, unlike some of its critics, one does not find oneself able to maintain that Scripture actually forbids it, one can hardly claim that there is much sense in it. The structuring of women’s professional ministry in the churches needs to be rethought.

Should there be such ministry at all? Emphatically, yes. That women are gifted for and called to service in the church is plain, and gifted persons are gifts that the churches must properly value and fully use. In fact, of course, it already happens: women pastoral assistants, ministers of music, youth directors, education ministers abound, making these roles their career. It has sometimes been suggested that they should be given presbyteral status by ordination just because their ministry is their life’s work, but this loses sight of the New Testament analysis of presbyteral ministry as pastoral oversight (shepherdlike rule) through the didactic discipline of directive and corrective teaching that embraces the whole congregation — which is work for a man rather than a woman. The matter needs rethinking at the level of principle rather than pragmatics, and I close with a suggestion as to how.

Three questions, it seems, need to be asked.

First: What is the distinctive quality of womanly ministry, as distinct from the ministry proper to men? Answer: It is maternal rather than paternal in flavour and style, and this quality should permeate all the activities that make it up. The natural, proper, and desirable role difference between mother and father in the human family, as found in virtually all cultures, should be reflected in the cooperative ministry of men and women in the church. The roles are complementary, and the true enrichment comes when they are being fulfilled side by side.

Second: In what situation is it most fitting that a professional woman worker should minister? Answer: In partnership with a male leader, rather than as a sole pastor. In such a partnership, the psychological dynamics of the ‘helpmeet’ relationship of Gen. 2:18 will be maintained, in the sense that the woman will feel herself, and be felt, to be helping a man fulfil a calling that embraces them both. If she is on her own, this cannot be, and one element of womanly satisfaction will be lacking to her.

Third: Does such ministry call for presbyteral ordination? Answer:  No, nor is it particularly appropriate. The biblical ideal would seem to be that in the woman’s ministry, maternal attitudes of care for the weak and attention to the needs of individuals will be central. Pastoral visitation in homes and hospitals and the spiritual nurture of children, young people, and families seem to be the natural activities in which these attitudes would find expression.

Is it proper for a woman who ministers in this way to preach? Since authority resides in the Word of God rather than in preachers and teachers of either sex, it is my opinion that a woman’s preaching and teaching gifts may be used to the full in situations where a male minister is in charge and the woman’s ministry of the Word has the effect of supplementing and supporting his own preaching and teaching. (We in the West are no longer in the Bible-less situation to which 1 Tim. 2:12 was directed.)

None of this, however, requires ordination as a presbyter. A title indicative of rank — deaconess, or pastoral assistant, for instance — would be helpful; surely, though, that is all that is needed.

The fomenting by rival pressure groups of secular-minded, status—oriented squabbles about the rights and wrongs of ordaining women presbyters seems endless: the feminist and fundamentalist lobbies see to that. The observed effect of presbyteral ordination of women is regularly to preoccupy them with fulfilling a man’s role and so to divert them from the sort of ministry in which they would be at their best. Effective partnership between men and women in the pastorate seems rarely to be sought or found. It is hardly a happy scene.

How long, 0 Lord? Shall we ever get beyond this state of things? I hope so; we need to. Phasing out the female presbyterate would, in my judgement, be part of our cure. Is my cause already lost? Am I crying for the moon? I wait to see, as Oxford men habitually do.

* * * * *

Appendix — What is a Presbyter?

In this article, the author, himself an Episcopal clergyperson, chooses to use the word presbyter because other terms are loaded with the bitter history of controversy between denominations. The English presbyter stands for the Greek presbuteros, the standard New Testament word that designates a senior person (an elder) who shows wisdom and exercises authority. Elders were appointed in the first churches,8 with shepherding the flock as their task:9 that is, instruction and direction.’10 The authoritative leaders of Hebrews 13:17 were evidently presbyters. In the history of the church, presbyter came to refer to the person or persons (usually professional clergy) officially charged with the oversight of a local congregation.

Presbyter, of course, reminds us of Presbyterians, who build their polity around elders — ruling elder and teaching elders. Episcopalians (like Orthodox, Catholics, Lutherans and Methodists) organize their polity around the office of the episcopos (the overseer or bishop); but they, too, have presbyters. While Episcopalians (Anglicans) are likely to use the word priest in conversation, they recognized from their sixteenth-century new start that priest is a contraction of presbyter — a fact reflected in their official ordination service.

In other traditions, elders may be either professional clergy or lay people, but they are, in any case, persons of experience whose spiritual authority has been recognized by the church.
______________

1 Cor. 14:34f.
2 1 Tim. 2:11—14.
3 1 Tim. 2:12—14.
4 1 Tim. 2:11.
5 Gen. 2:2—23.
6 Eph. 5:23.
7 1 Cor. 11:3, 11f.
8 Acts 14:23; 15:2; 20:17; 21:18.
9 Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 5:2—4.
10 1 Tim. 5:17.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Sure on this shining night

Sure on this shining night
Of star made shadows round,
Kindness must watch for me
This side the ground.
The late year lies down the north.
All is healed, all is health.
High summer holds the earth.
Hearts all whole.
Sure on this shining night
I weep for wonder wand'ring far alone
Of shadows on the stars.
By James Agee, © 1933, All rights reserved

For a beautiful setting of this poem see here.

Faith in Mark


I came across the following article on faith on a Jesuit website which I thought was excellent and gave me a new perspective on it. The website can be found here.

"An obvious question to ask in this Year of Faith is, ‘How is the word ‘faith’ used in the New Testament?’ The Greek word for ‘faith’ is pistis and it occurs in 24 of the 27 books that make up the New Testament. In this short article, we confine ourselves to the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke; surprisingly the word is never used in the gospel of John. With two exceptions, we will ignore occurrences of the related verb, ‘I believe’ (pisteuo) which by contrast is found 98 times in John’s gospel.

The Gospel of Mark: Believe in the Gospel

We begin with our first exception, because the first words spoken by Jesus in Mark include the word ‘believe’. He writes, ‘Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God and saying, “The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe (pisteuo) in the gospel”’ (Mark 1:14-15). Who, we ask, responded to this appeal by displaying the faith (pistis) that Jesus demanded? Those who know Mark’s gospel, call it the ‘gospel of paradox’. The paradox here is that it is not the disciples who Jesus called by the lake (1:16-20) or on the mountain (3:13-19) who give an example of faith, but people who appear only once in Mark’s gospel and are not heard of again. Their response can speak to us in this Year of Faith.

The word ‘faith’ (pistis) occurs five times in Mark. It is applied first to the four men who brought a paralysed man to Jesus by lowering him through the roof of the house where he was. Because of their faith, Jesus forgave the sins of this man (2:5). This first use of the word reminds us that faith shows itself in action. Paul made this point when he wrote to the Galatians of, ‘faith working itself out in love’ (Galatians 5:6). And we may note that where Jesus found faith, there he announced that sins were forgiven.

The second use of this word is addressed to the disciples of Jesus. In a boat on the lake of Galilee, they ran into a storm and panicked because they thought they were about to sink. Jesus calmed the storm and said to his disciples, ‘Have you still no faith?’ (4:40). Although previously they had witnessed the power of Jesus in healing and controversy, and heard his authority in teaching, in crisis they despaired. Here, as elsewhere in Mark’s gospel, the behaviour of the disciples of Jesus offers us a warning rather than an example. Solid faith, such as the disciples were yet to acquire, enables the believer to cope with the storms we meet with in our human experience.

The third occurrence of this word ‘faith’ in Mark is addressed by Jesus to a woman whom he has just cured. Her sickness had already lasted for twelve years. Her cure came in two stages. First she sought a cure by touching Jesus, but this led only to ‘fear and trembling’. It was only after falling down before Jesus and telling him ‘the whole truth’, that she found her cure complete and Jesus said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has saved you’(5:34). From her we learn how faith can grow; it implies a personal and confident relationship with the Lord.

The word ‘faith’ occurs a fourth time in Mark in his account of the cure of Bartimaeus. He was a blind beggar who heard that Jesus was passing by. Three times he pleaded with Jesus for mercy and for the restoration of his sight. His prayer was granted and Jesus said to him, as to the woman previously, ‘Go, your faith has saved you’ (10:52). Paradoxically, Bartimaeus ignored this instruction to go; instead he followed Jesus on the way that led to Jerusalem, the city where Jesus was to die. His faith had expressed itself in repeated and persevering prayer, despite discouragement from those standing by. His example teaches us to persevere in prayer to the person of Jesus. Faith encourages the habit of regular and persistent prayer. Greek Christian tradition in particular has valued this prayer of Bartimaeus, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me’ (10:47); monks of old repeated it, as they trudged off to their work in the fields.

Finally, Jesus spoke this word ‘faith’ to his disciples when they discovered that the fig tree that he had cursed the previous day had withered. He told them to ‘have faith in God’ (11:22), and then gave them a lesson on the power of prayer. Here is Jesus’s longest instruction of prayer in this gospel since there is no ‘Lord’s prayer’ in Mark. It consists of three sayings, two of which appeal more to prophetic exaggeration than to day-to-day reality. We do not really expect our prayer to move mountains or our every prayer to be answered, but prayer is to be from the heart, is to be confident and trusting, and is to include mutual forgiveness. As in the Bartimaeus story, we recognise the link between prayer and faith.

But perhaps the most memorable paradoxical saying about faith in Mark’s gospel is spoken by another of its minor characters. The word used here is not faith (pistis) but its opposite (apistia). The father of the epileptic boy, whom the disciples of Jesus were unable to cure, cried out to Jesus and said, ‘I believe. Help my unbelief’ (9:24). This prayer is included in one of the recommended prayers for this Year of Faith:

Lord,
Let me see your face,
Know your heart
and experience your love in my life.
Strengthen in me
the precious gift of faith.
I believe Lord;
Help my unbelief.
Amen.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Jesus will never let you down

The following lyrics have come to mean a lot to me at the moment
and remind me of something a Roman Catholic sister once taught me many, many years ago at some sort of conference or retreat. She said "Trust in Jesus, he will never let you down."

A brother will let go your hand
A sister she may seldom understand
A mother can’t always dry your tears
And father, at times he can’t be there
And even your best friend seems can’t be found
But there’s Jesus, He’ll never let you down.

When your house just don’t seem like a home
You got family, they’re all around you
But you still feel alone
The telephone rings but there’s no good news
And everything seems wrong no matter what you do
And even the happiest people are wearing a frown
You can still call Jesus and He’ll never let you down.
Steven Roberts (See here for full lyrics) 

Prayer and commitment

I recently officiated at the funeral of an 88 year old who, in later years, made it his ambition to win the lottery. He kept meticulous details of the winning numbers that came up week after week, tried to work out the recurrence of certain combinations and even bought a book or two on the subject of mathematics, statistics and number patterns. In fairness he did experience moderate success, once winning £1000 and a few £10 prizes, but I suspect that this was down to luck rather than some scientific or mathematical formula.

There is something in us that likes to look for methods, formulae and guarantees in life. Perhaps that same inner desire is what is behind consulting palm-readers or fortune tellers. Perhaps it is the old Adam wanting the sort of knowledge that gives power or control, a desire to be like God? Either way it's a futile search doomed to failure. But it doesn't stop us.

Take the Christian life and ministry. As a Vicar I would love to find a way of guaranteeing church growth or a sure-fire sermon that will win people for Christ. In fact - for the right reasons you understand - I have over the years assiduously read dozens of books and articles which tell the stories of how this church grew from 10 to a 1000 people, or this revival that saw hundreds turn to Christ over a short span of time. I have delved into the personal lives of revivalists and famous evangelists, and I have dug deep into the scriptures for any information I can glean about what may be missing in what I am doing (or not doing) or what shortfalls there are in my prayer-life that need correcting. I have confessed every sin I can, digging deep into my past life to weed out any possible overlooked niggling misdemeanour. I have attended renewal conferences, listened to countless tapes by this or that speaker and sought the counsel of leaders I admire and respect. All to no avail. There is no magic formula or sure-fire method (or course) that can be discovered that will achieve success in  ministry because that is not how it works. God is a person not a project, and the ministry is about service not success. The wind "blows where it wills" Jesus once said, and there is no way of telling it (Him) what to do or where to blow (See John 3).

So what do I do? I can throw my toys out of the pram and do something else? I can look for something that will produce visible and measurable results? I can engage in important building projects or find an absorbing hobby? Or I can just "serve God as He deserves, give (to Him) and not count the cost, fight and not to heed the wounds, toil and not to seek for rest, labour and not to ask for any reward" (St. Ignatius of Loyola).  The human thing is to do one of the former. The Christian thing is to do the latter.



Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Don't take the fence down


The great Christian writer and apologist G.K. Chesterton once wrote: "Don't ever take a fence down until you know the reason it was put up." This could apply to so many situations at the present time but no more so than the Government's proposals to radically change the nature of marriage which biblically, traditionally and historically has been between a man and a woman. (One almost feels one has to say ONE man and ONE woman because if this goes ahead it may lead to numerous other definitions - two woman and one man, three men and one woman or a man and his dog!)

The following is a video about traditional marriage, appealing to the government to leave it well alone:


Wednesday, 31 October 2012

Standing firm - together


The following is based on something Nicky Gumbel wrote about in his Bible reading notes:

As a young man Philip was kidnapped and held as a hostage in Greece.  There he remained for several years.  During this time he received a military education.  Then he returned to his homeland, which had conceded many defeats and had lost much land.  Within five years he had become king.

Philip II of Macedon desperately needed his army to stand firm.  He is remembered for two major innovations.  First is the sarissa, a very long spear.  Second is the re-development of a rectangular military formation used by ancient armies (known as a phalanx).  A core of highly-trained infantrymen armed with Philip’s longer spears stood shoulder to shoulder in files normally eight men deep.

As long as they stood firm and did not break rank they were virtually invincible and struck fear into the hearts of their enemies.  Using this tactic, Philip united the city-states of Greece and took the city of Philippi (which is named after him) in 356 BC.

Sometimes, it seems that the Christian life is like facing a powerful enemy.  It feels like an intense struggle in which another team is attempting to push us back and break down our ranks.  If we don’t stand firm, we fall on our backs and slide in the mud in the wrong direction..... It is not a matter of us standing firm on our own.  We are part of a community.  Paul uses this image of the phalanx with which Philip II of Macedonia once conquered the city of Philippi (Philippians 1:27).  Shoulder to shoulder, the church can stand firm.  This is one of many occasions that Paul exhorts the church to ‘stand firm’ (2 Thessalonians 2:15).

Unity within the church is a hot topic in the Bible and certainly close to the heart of Jesus who in John Chapter 17 makes it the subject of one of his last prayers. But that unity must be based on sound teaching and a shared understanding of the Gospel message and what god has called us to do with it. Unfortunately however there are too many different views on what the church is for that unity is very difficult.

For example if I asked my congregation what the church is for I think that the answers would differ almost person to person. That's not criticism but an observation. The challenge for me therefore - as it is for every Christian leader - is to try and unify everybody behind some clear objective so that people on a tug-of-war team - to switch analogies - we are all pulling in the same direction.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Matthew Henry


Matthew Henry (18 October 1662 – 22 June 1714) was an English commentator on the Bible and a Presbyterian minister. He is best known for his wonderful six-volume Exposition of the Old and New Testaments (1708–1710) or Complete Commentary. This provides an exhaustive verse by verse study of the Bible covering the whole of the Old Testament, and the Gospels and Acts in the New Testament. After the author's death, the work was finished (Romans through Revelation) by thirteen other nonconformist ministers, partly based upon notes taken by Henry's hearers, and edited by George Burder and John Hughes in 1811. Although written many years ago it is still a fount of knowledge for the modern preacher/expositor. There are several websites devoted to him and his work including:
http://www.matthewhenry.org/   and http://www.christnotes.org/commentary.php?com=mhc

Below are just a small sample of some of his quotes:

“Eve was not taken out of Adam's head to top him, neither out of his feet to be trampled on by him, but out of his side to be equal with him, under his arm to be protected by him, and near his heart to be loved by him.”

“It is good for us to keep some account of our prayers, that we may not unsay them in our practice.”

“There is one death bed repentance recorded in the Bible (the thief on the cross), so that no one despair, but there is ONLY one, so that no one will presume.”



Monday, 22 October 2012

Never be ashamed of your colours

There is a true story told by Lee Dixon the BBC television pundit who is a Manchester City supporter, that he was once promised a ticket to go and see them play away to Liverpool. He went along with his Manchester City scarf only to discover that there had been a mix up re the tickets and he had to sit in amongst the Liverpool supporters. Realising the situation could be a problem he hid his scarf under his coat and took his seat. As the match progressed Manchester City scored and forgetting where he was lee Dixon jumped up to cheer and his coat flew open revealing his Manchester City scarf. As he was about to sit down he saw a very large Liverpool docker march down towards him. He grabbed Lee Dixon by the lapels, unravelled the Manchester City scarf and said this to him: “Never be ashamed of your colours son. Never be ashamed of your colours.”

I love that story because it reminds me never to be ashamed of my faith and to wear it proudly wherever I go. In fact Jesus once said that we should let everyone see it so that they would "give glory" to his Father in heaven (See Matthew 5:14-16).

Friday, 19 October 2012

Explaining God

The following was written by an 8-year-old named Danny Dutton, who lives in Chula Vista , CA . He wrote it for his third grade homework assignment, to 'explain God.' I wonder if any of us could have done as well?

EXPLANATION OF GOD:
'One of God's main jobs is making people. He makes them to replace the ones that die, so there will be enough people to take care of things on earth. He doesn't make grownups, just babies. I think because they are smaller and easier to make. That way he doesn't have to take up his valuable time teaching them to talk and walk. He can just leave that to mothers and fathers.'

'God's second most important job is listening to prayers An awful lot of this goes on, since some people, like preachers and things, pray at times beside bedtime. God doesn't have time to listen to the radio or TV because of this. Because he hears everything, there must be a terrible lot of noise in his ears, unless he has thought of a way to turn it off.'

'God sees everything and hears everything and is everywhere which keeps Him pretty busy. So you shouldn't go wasting his time by going over your mom and dad's head asking for something they said you couldn't have.'

'Atheists are people who don't believe in God. I don't think there are any in Chula Vista . At least there aren't any who come to our church.'

'Jesus is God's Son. He used to do all the hard work, like walking on water and performing miracles and trying to teach the people who didn't want to learn about God. They finally got tired of him preaching to them and they crucified him. But he was good and kind, like his father, and he told his father that they didn't know what they were doing and to forgive them and God said O..K.'

'His dad (God) appreciated everything that he had done and all his hard work on earth so he told him he didn't have to go out on the road anymore. He could stay in heaven. So he did. And now he helps his dad out by listening to prayers and seeing things which are important for God to take care of and which ones he can take care of himself without having to bother God. Like a secretary, only more important.'

'You can pray anytime you want and they are sure to help you because they got it worked out so one of them is on duty all the time.'

'You should always go to church on Sunday because it makes God happy, and if there's anybody you want to make happy, it's God!

Don't skip church to do something you think will be more fun like going to the beach. This is wrong. And besides the sun doesn't come out at the beach until noon anyway.'

'If you don't believe in God, besides being an atheist, you will be very lonely, because your parents can't go everywhere with you, like to camp, but God can. It is good to know He's around you when you're scared, in the dark or when you can't swim and you get thrown into real deep water by big kids.'

'But...you shouldn't just always think of what God can do for you. I figure God put me here and he can take me back anytime he pleases.

And...that's why I believe in God.'

Thursday, 18 October 2012

God's Chisel

Brilliant video about being made into God's image and likeness: See http://skitguys.com/videos/item/ for more

Saturday, 13 October 2012

I know we don't need proof but....

I am always a bit sceptical about claims of proof that there is a heaven (or indeed a hell!) and I hope I am a mature enough Christian to know that we should not need them to believe in what God has told us about in the Bible. But I can't help reading things like the following because they are interesting and confirm, in a way, what I already believe:

A prominent scientist who had previously dismissed the possibility of the afterlife says he has reconsidered his belief after experiencing an out of body experience which has convinced him that heaven exists.

While in a coma the neurosurgeon - Dr Eben Alexander, a Harvard-educated neurosurgeon - says he was met by a beautiful woman in a 'place of clouds, big fluffy pink-white ones'  He wrote this after recovering from a seven day coma in 2008 after contracting meningitis.

During his illness Dr Alexander says that the part of his brain which controls human thought and emotion "shut down" and that he then experienced "something so profound that it gave me a scientific reason to believe in consciousness after death." Writing for American magazine Newsweek Dr Alexander says he was met by a beautiful blue-eyed woman in a "place of clouds, big fluffy pink-white ones" and "shimmering beings".

He continues: "Birds? Angels? These words registered later, when I was writing down my recollections. But neither of these words do justice to the beings themselves, which were quite simply different from anything I have known on this planet. They were more advanced. Higher forms." The doctor adds that a "huge and booming like a glorious chant, came down from above, and I wondered if the winged beings were producing it. the sound was palpable and almost material, like a rain that you can feel on your skin but doesn't get you wet."

Dr Alexander says he had heard stories from patients who spoke of outer body experiences but had disregarded them as "wishful thinking" but has reconsidered his opinion following his own experience.

He added: "I know full well how extraordinary, how frankly unbelievable, all this sounds. Had someone even a doctor told me a story like this in the old days, I would have been quite certain that they were under the spell of some delusion.

"But what happened to me was, far from being delusional, as real or more real than any event in my life. That includes my wedding day and the birth of my two sons." He added: "I've spent decades as a neurosurgeon at some of the most prestigous medical institutions in our country. I know that many of my peers hold as I myself did to the theory that the brain, and in particular the cortex, generates consciousness and that we live in a universe devoid of any kind of emotion, much less the unconditional love that I now know God and the universe have toward us.
"But that belief, that theory, now lies broken at our feet. What happened to me destroyed it."
 The above is from an article in The Telegraph (October 13th) and based on an interview from Newsweek where Dr Alexander was promoting his new book Proof of Heaven

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

The old, the young and the status quo

In my appraisal of the recent Church in Wales review (see 27th September) I offered a few comments on the possibility of success based on my experience of 25 years of ministry across three dioceses in the Church in Wales which has seen me serve in a variety of places - working class, semi-rural, South Wales valley, middle class and lastly suburban. In the course of my blog I offered this opinion:

"I have concerns with regards to the following:  (1) The will of the vast majority of the Church population to undertake any change - let alone the ones suggested - without considerable resistance. I have discovered, with many, that if you have a predominantly older and more traditional congregation who, generally speaking, are set in their ways and pay/contribute to the vast majority of the Parish Share, any change is fiercely resisted causing whoever is overseeing them so much hassle - and fear - that the easiest option is to go along with the status quo."

This comment is based on my experience - and it is my experience - that generally speaking, with few exceptions, the vast majority of the older members of the congregations I have served have tended to be conservative, traditional and resistant to change and modernization. Coincidentally - and to their credit - the very same people have, due to their generosity and hard work, have kept most of the churches in the Province open until now. Through the various bazaars, coffee mornings, raffles, special events and concerts they have raised enormous amounts of money over the years. This much to their credit. But - and it is a sizeable 'but' - at the same time the church has declined and lost touch with each successive generation with the result that now 'young' means under sixty and children are an endangered species, at least within the confines of a church building. This is because the same people who have been labouring so hard to keep the churches open have, albeit it unwittingly, been the very same people who have been slowly closing them.  Why? Because the mindset of those raising of the money has been one of conservation not innovation, maintenance not mission, preservation not propagation.

So entrenched has been the attitude of those who have been keeping things going that any proposed change that does not conform to their idea of church - usually from 20-30 years ago - is resisted or opposed, and because they hold the power in terms of their money-raising gifts, clergy would rather "go along with the status quo" and pay the Parish Share than dig their heels in and do battle and lose their support.

It has to be said that this is not necessarily an age-specific thing as I have encountered many wonderful examples of open-minded and 'young at heart' older people. At the same time it is also possible to find close-minded and 'old at heart' young people. So this is not a rant aimed at any age group but a sharing of what I have experienced over 25 years of ministry striving to make the churches I have served open their eyes to what is happening around them and the growing gulf between fantasy and reality, the church as it is and the church as it needs to be.

With regards therefore to the Review then I don't think the dynamics of church life as outlined above have been taken into consideration when it comes to talk of such wide-ranging and radical changes. Hence my scepticism that such changes will truly bite and bring about the transformation anticipated.

Friday, 28 September 2012

The power of prayer?


"A bar called Drummond's (in Mt Vernon, Texas) began construction on an expansion of their building, hoping to "grow" their business.

In response, the local Southern Baptist Church started a campaign to block the bar from expanding - petitions, prayers, etc. About a week before the bar's grand re-opening, a bolt of lightning struck the bar and burned it to the ground!

Afterward, the church folks were rather smug - bragging about "the power of prayer". The angry bar owner eventually sued the church on grounds that the church ... "was ultimately responsible for the demise of his building, through direct actions or indirect means."

Of course, the church vehemently denied all responsibility or any connection to the building's demise.

The judge read carefully through the plaintiff's complaint and the defendant's reply. He then opened the hearing by saying:

"I don't know how I'm going to decide this, but it appears from the paperwork that what we have here is a bar owner who now believes in the power of prayer, and an entire church congregation that does not."

Thursday, 27 September 2012

Church in Wales Review

I don't know whether it is appropriate to include the following on my blog for several reasons:
1. Those reading may not know what I am referring to although I did touch on it in an earlier blog, and,
2. It is my reply to the diocese of Swansea and Brecon in response to their request for feedback, and as such, is intended more specifically for them.

However what I am trying to say is relevant to the Church in Wales at the moment and, who knows, may find resonance with others out there who are feeling a mixture of fear, excitement and deja vu in considering yet another review in a line of reviews over the years. Is this just another repositioning of deck chairs on the Titanic or something more? Time will tell. Until then here - for what its' worth - are my thoughts:

Re Provincial Review.

First ten out of ten for having one as it underlines the seriousness with which the Bench of Bishops is taking the alarming fall in congregational numbers.

With regards to the review's recommendations taken as a whole - without commenting over much on the individual suggestions - I have concerns with regards to the following:

1. The will of the vast majority of the Church population to undertake any change - let alone the ones suggested - without considerable resistance. I have discovered, with many, that if you have a predominantly older and more traditional congregation who, generally speaking, are set in their ways and pay/contribute to the vast majority of the Parish Share, any change is fiercely resisted causing whoever is overseeing them so much hassle - and fear - that the easiest option is to go along with the status quo.

2. A large section of the clergy are nearing retirement and after years of conformity will have very little appetite for change but would rather tread water until retirement. This is understandable and in some ways natural given their years of long service and the pattern of ministry they have practised over the years and which, once, worked."You can't teach an old dog new tricks."

3. Taking the above into consideration I am surprised that the board does not take on board the working models from the Church of England with regards to church plants or beginning new churches? This is based on Jesus' observation that you can't put new wine into old wine skins. Creating new wine skins - new churches - to experiment with new ideas or models of church, using less liturgy, new ways of worshipping and Christians who are open to change and spiritually energised, motivated and engaged. To change the metaphor - it's about re-seeding the church.

4. My concern was always that the average age of the panel was around the 70 mark and so their insight into younger minds and attitudes would have been necessarily limited. It is uncomfortable hearing what young people think about the church - I know I have two at home who will very quickly give me an opinion - but it is necessary if we are to reach out to them in ways that they can relate to and identify with.

5. I suspect that there is something of a hidden agenda in the review that is geared towards justifying the existence of St. Michael's College and the amount invested by the Church in Wales. I disagree with the idea that academic qualification will make better clergy as, quite patently, it has not. The emphasis, for me, should be on calling and gifting and not on how many letters I have after my name. Placing St, Michael's at the heart of our training for the Church in Wales will, I believe, hasten rather than halt our decline.

6. I am all for de-constructing the parish system and with it the notion that one person should do it all (Forder's 'The Parish Priest' should have been drowned at birth and George Herbert assassinated) but wonder about not just the size but composition of the areas that will replace them? For example with regards to churchman-ship. I personally would not be comfortable in a church that practised Benediction or used stoops of holy water at the door etc...

These are just a few thoughts - I could write a book - BUT - and it is a big BUT - I am very grateful that the conversation has started. My hope and prayer is that it will continue AND that there will be action at the end of it. One thing I would add. I would like permission for the more adventurous among us to experiment with different forms of worship and different ways of doing things without the constraints of the petty and pathetic legalities of whether what we are doing is consistent with the orders of services produced by the Church in Wales. That is the equivalent of asking us to box while at the same time tying our hands behind our backs!

I could have added much more about clergy dress, church buildings and the huge burdens they are on our shoulders especially with regards to faculties, CADW, and listed buildings. I could have mentioned the almost utter waste of time pushing for more vocations when there are few or no young people to answer the call in our churches. I could talk about the poor preparation given by theological colleges about how to take funerals and how to prepare people for marriage or baptism. Or how to preach at the aforementioned or use powerpoint and visual aids. But I will save all that for another time. Suffice to say that the Church in Wales AS IT STANDS is poorly equipped to reach out to students and young people and its structures and mindset are not mission minded - or 21 century relevant. But God has not finished with us yet and so despite the negatives I am still hopeful and optimistic.

Nick Pollard and Damaris

This morning spent a very fruitful hour and a half in a meeting of UCCF Wales in the company of Nick Pollard of Damaris international. He is a superb communicator and since the meeting I have returned to his website, ordered a few of his books and am eager to explore a course he has put together called "Culture Watch". His website is: http://www.damaris.org/cm/home/damaris

Below is a video which includes him speaking about Jesus.

Monday, 10 September 2012

R.I.P Jack

Our dog Jack - a collie -passed away today at about 2.15 in the afternoon. He had been getting increasingly more unwell and unable to walk to the extent that in the end when he tried ended up trying to use his front two legs to drag the rest of his limp back end around after him. It was desperately upsetting to see him suffering in this way and we had to put our selfish concerns about keeping him, aside, and take the decision to put him to sleep.

Words cannot express how much we miss him, and to come home to a house with no Jack to greet us is hard to take. He has been our dog, and the family pet, for about 13 years now since we collected him from a private house in Clydach after responding to an advert. He was such a good looking, intelligent dog who would push his plate around if he wanted something to eat and who quickly learnt some doggy 'tricks' at the hand of Hannah, one of our daughters.

We will miss his wagging tail and his bounding around when he was excited. We will even miss the occasional mess on the carpet and the hair that built up in the place he would sleep. He was there when we went to bed and there when we got up. He loved his treats and the biggest treat of all was left over Sunday dinner which he would wolf down in no time.

I think he knew things were bad towards the end as he would look at us and then back at his useless back legs as if to say "its not going to get better is it?" and his usual sad-dog look seemed sadder than ever. In the end when we took the decision to take him to the vet, he went with us without any fuss sitting quietly in the back of the car on his sleeping mat - unusual for him - as we drove down the short distance to the vet. He sat at our feet in the waiting room glancing up occasionally and then allowed himself to be carried into the surgery while the vet spoke about how bad he was. As she left to get her needle and the anaesthetic that would stop his heart, he responded to my wife's words as she desperately tried to stem the tears by talking to him with words like "alright Jack?" and  "good boy Jack" as he looked up and tried to stand up a little on his shaky front legs.

Then as I stroked him with tears stinging my eyes, the vet administered a sedative and after a short yelp as the needle went in, gradually over the next few minutes he got sleepier and more relaxed. Next the receptionist came in to hold him a little more upright as the vet shaved his front leg, found a vein and administered the anaesthetic using first one syringe and then half of a second one. His breathing changed, his body became more limp as his eyes lost focus and and as the second needle emptied he slipped away from us, the vet checking his pulse and his vital signs before leaving us alone with him for a few last minutes.

It was dignified, gentle, with strokes and reassuring words but it left in so many pieces that I think that it will take a very long time to put them all together again. Reflecting on the outpouring of grief later I think several things seemed to compound it for us and cause the floods of almost uncontrollable tears:

First Jack has been with us the longest out of all our animals and so his absence will be more significant than any of our other dogs. His daily presence was a constant in our lives and looking at the place where he slept and the few remaining hairs moulted onto the carpet it is hard to think he won't be there.
Second, as Jack died all our old griefs came in a flood tide of tears as the deaths of both our parents compounded our sense of loss amplifying it's intensity.
Third, it was Jack's inability to communicate with us other than through his characteristically sad eyes and his upward glances that left us unable to know what he was thinking or experiencing. Was he suffering psychologically? How was he interpreting what was happening? What were his thoughts? Did he feel betrayed?
Fourth, there is something very child-like and trusting about animals - dogs especially - and its that sense that you have somehow betrayed their deeply held trust, or let him down, that bites hard at the conscience and tugs at the heart.

We have loved having Jack as our pet. He has much enriched our lives in all kinds of ways and he will never be forgotten by any of us. Do dogs go to heaven? The answer has to be a question. Why did God create them then? Were they just meant to be dispensable and disposable adjuncts to merely decorate our existence? I find that difficult to square with a loving Creator who looked down on his creation and declared it all to be good (see Genesis 1). I am looking forward - God willing -to some interesting surprises come the new creation. Who knows we may well see Jack again.

Holy Instincts?


How does the Holy Spirit speak to us? How does he guide us? Those are the two questions I have asked for the whole of my Christian life - the past 31 years - and more so during my ministry of 25 years. Okay there are the usual answers about the Scriptures, reason and tradition - good stock Anglican answers - but what about particular circumstances like what changes need to be made with regards church services or architectural renovation or sermon topics?

This question came to the fore recently in my parish where I had to decide whether to continue a service that met in the church hall and had been running for several years or whether to move it, change it or stop it altogether. (For reasons of space there were other considerations which would take up too much space). Apart from praying for guidance how else should I proceed?

I remembered a piece of advice given me a long time ago by an older and more experienced clergyman whose wisdom and advice I have always cherished. He said that sometimes you just know something is right and you should run with it even though, when questioned, you can't give any rational or even biblical reasons why. In other words the Holy Spirit can work within us in some kind of inner stirring or prompting that some would call 'instinct'. The difference however is that any inner promptings for Christians can at least be weighed up against the teachings of scriptures, the common sense of reason and the historical guidance of the Holy Spirit through tradition so that any decision does not set us in contradiction to God's expressed will as evidenced in these tripartite counterbalances.

And that is how it transpired. The decision to respond came first and the rationale then became evident as the change was introduced. Not that that guarantees that the decision, in the long term, is the right one, only that it is not biblically, reasonably or 'traditionally' wholly wrong.

But I guess that that is in some ways the nature of faith as seen in the lives of the biblical saints. What prompted Abram to up sticks and leave for the promised land? We are told in the narrative that God spoke to him words of promise and he responded. But how were these words formed? Where they prompts or sounds? Was it some kind of Holy Spirit instinct that formed into words and directions or was it an inward nudge that directed and pointed Abram in the Godward direction? Either way he responded and as he went things began to reveal themselves to him in a way that affirmed he was right to leave home and strike out for Canaan.

I suspect that this 'holy instinct' is more common than expressed words and is fuelled at least by a sincere desire on the behalf of the recipient to want to find out and fulfil God's will in his/her life. That is why, I believe, that a life immersed in the Scriptures - like a tree planted by streams of water (Psalm 1) or a branch connected to a vine (John 15) - is more likely to get it 'right' than wrong and grasp more precisely what the Lord is trying to say.

There are several caveats however to this idea. It MAY be wrong and to live with that possibility is only right no matter how many cast-iron assurances we may crave. For it is the possibility that we may get it wrong that keeps us humble and dependent. It counteracts pride and helps keep the doors of communication with the Lord open so that we keep going back to Him and say "Is this right Lord? Help me keep to the right path? Show me what to do. I need you."

In addition we must place ourselves under authority in the form of a leader/clergyman as that too is only biblical (see the New Testament letters where authority is undermined and leads to disastrous consequences). Jesus knew the need for this and so appointed 12 Apostles who upheld core teaching as a means of ensuring the Church kept to the right path. There is no place in the Body of Christ for cavalier Christian lone-rangers who claim authority without being under authority. And its no good saying that God alone is their authority as the only one who can truly claim that is Jesus himself. All the rest of us have to sit at someone's feet as part of the Body of Christ.

So for all those out there who are struggling with guidance, read your Bible daily, don't look for 100% guarantees, stick with the Church and answer to authority AND then listen to your instincts. Beware pride as it always precedes a rather nasty fall. 

Wednesday, 22 August 2012

John Stott Prayer - full version


I know I have posted the following prayer of John Stott before - well part of it - but here is the full version for anyone interested

Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day
in your presence and please you more and more.
Lord Jesus, I pray that this day
I may take up my cross and follow you.
Holy Spirit, I pray that this day
you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life:
Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness,
Faithfulness, Gentleness, and Self-Control.

Holy, blessed and glorious trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me.
Almighty God, Creator and sustainer of the universe, I worship you.
Lord Jesus Christ, Savior and Lord of the World, I worship you.
Holy Spirit, Sanctifier of the people of God, I worship you.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit,
As it was in the beginning, is now, and shall be forever, Amen.

Alternatively here is another version, slightly different:

Good morning, heavenly Father; good morning, Lord Jesus; good morning, Holy Spirit.

Heavenly Father, I worship you as the Creator and Sustainer of the universe. Lord Jesus, I worship you, Savior and Lord of the world. Holy Spirit, I worship you, Sanctifier of the people of God. Glory to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.

Heavenly Father, I pray that I may live this day in your presence and please you more and more. Lord Jesus, I pray that this day I may take up my cross and follow you. Holy Spirit, I pray that this day you will fill me with yourself and cause your fruit to ripen in my life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three persons in one God, have mercy upon me. Amen.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Fasting


The following is from an excellent blog by Jim Spiegel about fasting which is a much neglected spiritual discipline. It has always struck me that nobody bats an eyelid at Jesus' teaching on prayer and giving (Matthew 6) but few take much notice of fasting. And yet Jesus gave equal prominence to all three, assuming that each was something that his disciples would practice. "When you pray...fast...give."

Spiegel reminds us that "in recent years have seen a significant increase of interest among evangelicals in spiritual formation.  Authors such as Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and John Ortberg have led the way in reminding us that personal sanctification is not properly a passive affair.  Spiritual growth demands intentional practice, active exercise of the spiritual disciplines, such as prayer, worship, study, confession, sacrifice, confession, and frugality.  Each of these disciplines is useful for uniting the believer with God and building moral strength.  When used with the proper devotional attitude—aimed at growing in obedience in response to divine grace rather than to earn God’s favor—the spiritual disciplines are extremely powerful.  However, one of the most powerful disciplines remains tragically underappreciated by Christians today:  fasting.

Historically, fasting has been practiced by the great Christian leaders and theologians, including Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, John Knox, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and Charles Finney.  Biblical figures including Moses, David, Elijah, Esther, Daniel, Paul, Jesus and his disciples fasted as well."

Yet how many Christians do fast today, especially in our Western culture where overindulgence is a normal way of life! Now more than ever we need to develop self-control.

In his blog Spiegel asks some important questions about fasting:

1. What exactly does fasting involve?

Fasting is the intentional abstinence from food, and possibly drink, for the sake of spiritual growth.  It can be extended to other contexts (e.g., technology, recreation, etc.) and can be applied to particular foods (e.g., meat, coffee, sweets, etc.).

2. Why is fasting important?

Regular fasting:  a) builds moral strength (through the practice of self-control), b) trains us to maintain our focus on God through suffering, c) makes a statement of our moral-spiritual earnestness (especially in combination with prayer), and d) reminds us that our bodily comforts are not what is most important.  All of these benefits serve to make the believer more Christ-like in character, which of course leads to many other blessings.

3. What is a good occasion for fasting?

Some common occasions for fasting include:

a) Seeking God’s forgiveness – Lev. 23:27 (Day of Atonement); 1 Sam. 7:2-6 (Israel’s repentance of idol worship); Jonah 3 (the repentance of Ninevah); Acts 9:1-9 (Paul’s repentance)

b) Seeking God’s counsel or blessing – Acts 13:2-3 (the commissioning of Paul and Barnabas); Acts 14:21-23 (Paul and Barnabas’ commissioning of elders at the churches of Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch)

c) Seeking God’s strength – Matt. 4:1-2 (Jesus fasted when “he was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil”); Matt. 17:20 & Mark 9:29 (in some manuscripts Jesus says “this kind can come out only by prayer and fasting”).

But it is wise for Christians to fast even aside from these occasions.  Fasting is powerful for building self-control, and we all need to improve in that area.

4. What about the problem of abuses?

Abuse is no argument.  The distortion of a good thing does not justify our throwing it out.  Sex, prayer, worship, and even religion itself are constantly abused, but we don’t properly reject those things.  However, two concerns deserve special attention:

a) Eating disorders:  Those who have had this problem may be advised to avoid fasting for a time, to do so only with strict accountability, or to practice only selective fasting (e.g. refraining from sweets, meats, or other particular foods).

b) Legalism:  We don’t allow legalistic abuses of the other spiritual disciplines to discourage us from practicing them, nor should we when it comes to fasting.  But we should be on our guard against the legalistic mindset and pride which might ensue, especially if we are unique among our friends in fasting.

5. What approach should I take in learning to fast?

Start with short fasts, one or two meals.  Do this dozens of times before going on to longer fasts.  You might want to begin by fasting once monthly and perhaps increase in frequency to 2-4 times per month.  Many people prefer to pray more often while fasting in order to maintain focus and request spiritual strength.  If you get discouraged as you learn to fast, this is normal.  As with all spiritual disciplines, observable benefits typically emerge only as a cumulative effect of repeated practice."

The Spiegel's blog - he writes it with his wife Amy - can be found here 

John Wesley and the call to faith

John Wesley was almost in despair. He did not have the faith to continue to preach. When death stared him in the face, he was fearful and ...