Monday, 11 December 2017

When the man comes around

Johnny Cash lyrics to one of his famous songs: When the man (Jesus) comes around.

"And I heard, as it were, the noise of thunder
One of the four beasts saying,
'Come and see.' and I saw, and behold a white horse"

There's a man goin' 'round takin' names
And he decides who to free and who to blame
Everybody won't be treated all the same
There'll be a golden ladder reachin' down
When the man comes around
The hairs on your arm will stand up
At the terror in each sip and in each sup
Will you partake of that last offered cup
Or disappear into the potter's ground?
When the man comes around.

Hear the trumpets hear the pipers
One hundred million angels singin'
Multitudes are marchin' to the big kettledrum
Voices callin', voices cryin'
Some are born and some are dyin'
It's alpha and omega's kingdom come
And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree
The virgins are all trimming their wicks
The whirlwind is in the thorn tree
It's hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

Till armageddon no shalam, no shalom
Then the father hen will call his chickens home
The wise man will bow down before the throne
And at his feet they'll cast their golden crowns
When the man comes around.

Whoever is unjust let him be unjust still
Whoever is righteous let him be righteous still
Whoever is filthy let him be filthy still
Listen to the words long written down
When the man comes around.

Hear the trumpets hear the pipers
One hundred million angels singin'
Multitudes are marchin' to the big kettledrum
Voices callin', voices cryin'
Some are born and some are dyin'
It's alpha and omega's kingdom come
And the whirlwind is in the thorn tree
The virgins are all trimming their wicks
The whirlwind is in the thorn trees
It's hard for thee to kick against the prick
In measured hundredweight and penny pound
When the man comes around.

"And I heard a voice in the midst of the four beasts
And I looked, and behold a pale horse
And his name that sat on him was death, and hell followed with him"
Songwriters: Johnny Cash
The Man Comes Around lyrics © BMG Rights Management US, LLC

Back to the present - listen to the words

I know it is not Christmas yet, but....

One of my all-time favourite carols:

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Caesar and God

15 Then the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words. 16 They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know that you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by others because you pay no attention to who they are. 17 Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay the imperial tax[a] to Caesar or not?”

18 But Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, “You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? 19 Show me the coin used for paying the tax.” They brought him a denarius, 20 and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?”

21 “Caesar’s,” they replied.

Then he said to them, “So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

22 When they heard this, they were amazed. So they left him and went away.
Matthew 22:15-22


‘Caesar’ here represents every other call on our obedience, love and devotion other than God. Therefore it is not just about government or political authority but anything that can take us away from God or conflicts with our call to love God with all our hearts, minds, souls and strength.

That to that extent ‘Caesar’ represents other conflicting demands on our lives that take us away from worshipping, honouring and obeying God.

And so ‘Caesar’ can be family, friends, entertainment, hobbies, anything that demands that God is relegated to second place in your life. This comes into the sharpest relief in two ways. Our daily and our weekly obligations as Christians.

Daily, it is the time spent with God. How many people say they don’t have time to spend in prayer? They lead such busy lives that they can’t event spare ten or twenty minutes for prayer. The question then needs to be asked, what is the ‘Caesar’ in their lives that takes such authority over them that they have to obey its demands and ignore that of the Lord? What things have such sway over their daily timetables that they feel they must give way to that over time with God?

Weekly, it is Sunday worship. Keeping the Sabbath Day holy, at the very least, means worship for an hour or so in the morning. And yet for some, that demand is set aside for the greater authority - the 'Caesar' - in their lives which comes in the form of other things, events or people.

Now that is not to say that sometimes urgent things do crop up over which we have little or no control. And our Christian forebears made the very Biblical exceptions for what they termed 'works of mercy' or need. But how often are these legitimate excuses for not rendering service to God?

And so to them, and us, Jesus says plainly and challengingly, “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s (but) to God’ what is God’s.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Thursday, 26 October 2017

Coming to terms with mystery

It’s as old as history, wanting to know everything about everything. But there is a limit. For example, we cannot know everything about God, although that did not prevent Adam and Eve trying when they ‘ate’ of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:6). This attempt to be 'like God' (see Genesis 3:5) naturally failed, but it is a salutary lesson to us that there are limits to what we can, or indeed should, know about God.

This is not to say we cannot know anything about Him. We know something of the extent of His love because we have seen it in Jesus, and Paul talks about his desire and prayer that the Christians in Ephesus grow in their knowledge of that love (see Ephesians 3:18). Will we ever get to fully grasp it? No, but it is so rewarding trying, and besides, that is how we grow, and will continue to grow throughout eternity. 

We can know something too of His wisdom, His power, His beauty and His grace, all of which can be seen in His Creation and His Word. But there will be large gaps in our knowledge because at the end of the day we are creatures and He is Creator, he alone is God, and we are not. What remains, therefore, is wonder, awe and mystery.

The Eastern Orthodox Church can teach us much about this. Look at the following quotes by one of its best spokespeople, Bishop Kallistos Ware:

“We see that it is not the task of Christianity to provide easy answers to every question but to make us progressively aware of a mystery. God is not so much the object of our knowledge as the cause of our wonder.” 

In trying to explain how we can get close to God but not too close, we can, for example, cite the experience of Moses on the Mountain in Exodus 33:20.

Earlier on in verse 11, we are told that "The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks to his friend". But when later Moses asks God if he can see His glory - which I think is another way of seeing God. But God replies:

“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” (verses 19-20)
In other words, God is saying "this far and no further". He is setting limits on just how much Moses is able to 'see' or know about Him. As a result, the Orthodox like to make a distinction between God's essence and His energies:

“Such, then, is our God: unknowable in his essence, yet known in his energies; beyond and above all that we can think or express, yet closer to us than our own heart.”  (See Wikipedia)

His essence is His being, nature and substance, and that is what is being referred to when Exodus talks about God’s face. Your face is you, your substance/body. But we cannot look on this any more than we can look into the sun.

God’s energies, on the other hand, are what enable us to experience something of the Divine, at first through sensory perception and then later intuitively. Through prayer, revelation, personal experience and feelings.

And so the Bible can talk about knowing God and yet not knowing Him at the same time. Knowing God through revelation, and yet holding that in tension with the idea that He is also a mystery, so totally‘other’ that our puny and weak minds will never fully comprehend Him. And if we did, we too would be God.

But the wonderful gift of God is that we can know Him, and the most important thing about Him. His love. Kallistos Ware says:

“To know a person is far more than to know facts about that person. To know a person is, essentially, to love him or her; there can be no true awareness of other persons without mutual love.”

What is truly wonderful, miraculous and a great gift to us, is that through and because of Jesus, we can know the love of God, and God Himself, because as 1 John 4:8 "God is love". To know His love is enough to keep us eternally content and eternally satisfied.

As for mystery? Well, it keeps us wondering and worshipping, and that, surely, is how it is meant to be. 

Tuesday, 24 October 2017

The Key ot Revival

The Importance of Praise

The following article really inspired me to take another look at worship, especially praise. It is from the website www.desiringgod.org:

My understanding of the nature of worship was radically transformed by a fundamental truth I found in C.S. Lewis, who died 50 years ago this month. What Lewis helped me grasp is best explained by looking briefly at his own struggle with worship as he explained it in the essay titled, “A Word About Praising,” in his short book, Reflections on the Psalms, pages 90–98 in my worn, 1958 edition. In a word, Lewis enabled me to recognize that not only was it permissible to enjoy God in worship, it was absolutely essential if I was truly to honour him. He said it in this one profound statement: “I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses, but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation.” But there is a lot that leads up to this statement.

God’s Deep God-Centeredness
As a young man, Lewis was more than a little agitated by the persistent demand, especially in the Psalms, that we all “praise God.” What made it even worse is that God himself called for praise of God himself. This was almost more than Lewis could stomach. What kind of “God” is he who incessantly demands that his people tell him how great he is? Lewis was threatened with a picture of God in which he appeared as little better than a vain woman demanding compliments. Thanking God for his gifts was one thing, but this “perpetual eulogy” was more than Lewis could stomach.

I suspect this strikes us as problematic, as it did Lewis because we want to think that God is preeminently concerned with us, not himself. We want a God who is man-centred, not God-centered. Worse still, we can’t fathom how God could possibly love us the way we think he should if he is so unapologetically obsessed with the praise and glory of his own name. How can God love me if all his infinite energy is expended in the love of himself?

Part of Lewis’s problem, as he himself confesses, was that he did not see that “it is in the process of being worshipped that God communicates his presence to men.” Even in the old-covenant sacrificial system, it wasn’t so much that the Israelites gave bulls and goats to God “but that by their so doing God gave himself to men.” God is, after all, the creator and owner of the cattle on a thousand hills. If he were to become hungry, so he says in Psalm 50:12, he would hardly need to tell us!

Enjoyment Overflows to Praise
Lewis is addressing, somewhat indirectly, the question: Why do you worship a God who needs nothing? Indeed, how do you do so? If God is altogether self-sufficient and cannot be served by human hands as if he needed anything (Acts 17:24–25; Romans 11:33–36), least of all glory, why does he command our worship and praise of him? This is where Lewis turned the light on in my brain and stirred the affections of my heart:

"But the most obvious fact about praise — whether of God or anything — strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise unless . . . shyness or the fear of boring others is deliberately brought in to check it. The world rings with praise — lovers praising their mistresses [Romeo praising Juliet and vice versa], readers their favourite poet, walkers praising the countryside, players praising their favourite game — praise of weather, wines, dishes, actors, motors, horses, colleges, countries, historical personages, children, flowers, mountains, rare stamps, rare beetles, even sometimes politicians or scholars. . . . Except where intolerably adverse circumstances interfere, praise almost seems to be inner health made audible. . . . I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what indeed we can’t help doing, about everything else we value."

What Lewis is touching on here is how the love of God for sinners like you and me is ultimately made manifest. God desires our greatest good. But what greater good is there in the universe than God himself? If therefore, God is truly to love us, he must give us himself.

Praise Completes Our Joy
But merely giving us of himself is only the first step in the expression of his affection for sinners. He must work to elicit from our hearts rapturous praise and superlative delight because, as Lewis said, “all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise.” That’s the way God made us. We can’t help but praise and rejoice in what we most enjoy. The enjoyment itself is stunted and hindered if it is never expressed in joyful celebration.

Here’s how Lewis explained it:
"I think we delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation. It is not out of compliment that lovers keep on telling one another how beautiful they are; the delight is incomplete till it is expressed. It is frustrating to have discovered a new author and not to be able to tell anyone how good he is; to come suddenly, at the turn of the road, upon some mountain valley of unexpected grandeur and then to have to keep silent because the people with you care for it no more than for a tin can in the ditch; to hear a good joke and find no one to share it with."
So, Lewis is telling us that God’s pursuit of our praise of him is not weak self-seeking but the epitome of self-giving love! If our satisfaction in God is incomplete until expressed in praise of him for satisfying us with himself (note well, with himself, not his gifts), then God’s effort to elicit my worship (what Lewis before thought was inexcusable selfishness) is both the most loving thing he could possibly do for me and the most glorifying thing he could possibly do for himself.

For in our gladness in him is his glory in us.
The Consummation of Joy by Sam Storms on desiringgod.org

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Holy Communion every week?

The following is an article from one of the blogs I read called Anglican Pastor. It is called: "Why Every Church Should Have Weekly Sunday Communion Like the Anglicans Do" and he makes a good argument for something I have come to firmly believe in. Like him, it wasn't a Roman Catholic or High Church argument that won me over but the testimony of the Holy Scriptures, evangelical Anglicans (the Puritans) and the Early Church that convinced me. But that's enough about me. read what Greg has to say:

Why Every Church Should Have Weekly Sunday Communion Like the Anglicans Do.
There was a long period where many Anglican churches didn’t have communion every Sunday. They would have morning prayer for a few weeks, and then a Holy Communion once a month or so. But a movement called Parish Communion successfully restored the tradition around the world. Today, most (but not all) Anglican churches celebrate Holy Communion every week on Sunday. And so should you.

Rote Ritual?
I’ve heard a few arguments against weekly communion, but the “rote ritual” argument is the primary one from evangelical churches.

For me, this is really a non-argument. All churches do a lot of things every Sunday, such as singing, praying, and preaching. Any of these things can become rote or seem mundane. Yet we find ways to stay connected. The same goes with Holy Communion.

Examine Your Hearts
A historic argument against weekly communion is the “people are too bad” argument. This was the reason why most lay people did not receive communion during the Middle Ages. The lowly, sinful, tainted lay people were not so holy as the clergy, it was said. So they had to prepare for Eucharist every year during Lent, and then receive only on Easter Day. That way they wouldn’t risk the damnation that would come from receiving with an impure heart.

Ironically this argument was coming from the Pope and the Roman Catholics, not the Protestant reformers. The Reformers were actually arguing for more frequent communion. Their internal debate was whether it should be weekly or monthly.

Today many evangelicals make a similar argument against weekly communion. If people received every week, they might receive in the unworthy manner that St. Paul warns us about. So we should not have communion too often so that people will be careful to examine their hearts.

This way of thinking is a fundamental misunderstanding of the Holy Table of Jesus Christ. It is a table of grace. This is not to say that we should approach it lightly or frivolously. No. But it is to say that the Holy Communion is the place where baptized believers come to taste and see that the Lord is good. Communion is for sinners, saved by grace.

When we were children, we were helped to wash our hands before each meal. We weren’t sent away because our hands were dirty. So our heavenly Father will wash us and feed us.

Evangelism
Another argument against weekly communion is evangelistic. It is said that non-believers or seekers won’t understand or have time to sit through a full Eucharist. They might be confused by it.

The early church used to dismiss seekers before the communion. They would allow outsiders to hear the word read and preached, and some of the prayers. But they dismissed everyone except baptized believers before the communion. Keep in mind that these seekers and catechumens were being offered small group classes that explained Christian beliefs and told them what the Eucharist was about. This was no secret society.

In a way, we still do this today. We “fence the table,” which means we announce that the table is for baptized - or in some churches confirmed - believers. We then are able to offer a blessing to all who will not be receiving. Adults take classes before baptism and children who are baptized later take confirmation classes.

In practical terms, I’ve found the communion to be something that interests people. Eating and drinking are fundamental parts of human life. Observing people who are eating and drinking at God’s Table is beautiful to most people. Explaining what we are doing and why is a chance to share the gospel. Paul even said that we are proclaiming the Gospel every time we take the bread and cup (I Corinthians 11:26).

While the Holy Communion service might not be quite as simple as a prayer, praise, and preaching service, it doesn’t have to add hours of time. It may only add a few minutes overall. But in terms of our witness, it adds an invitation to receive Christ himself.

The Biblical Record
There are quite a few biblical reasons to hold weekly communion, where it is possible to do so.

First, Jesus rose again on Sunday, the first day of the week. Every Sunday is a mini-Easter. At the inn at Emmaus, the Risen Christ reveals himself to the disciples in the breaking of the bread. Of course, this was after he had shown them how the Christ was prophesied in the Scriptures. This same risen Christ reveals himself to us every Sunday in the breaking of bread.

When we receive the spiritual nourishment of the Eucharist, we are refreshed for the upcoming week. We gather on Sunday to see the good things God has done and is doing, and we are sent out into the world to love and serve him. The communion is our holy food and drink, a way of resting in God’s presence. Time stands still and we are fed.

Second,  the earliest churches gathered on Sundays, and they “broke bread” when they did (Acts 20:7; I Corinthians 16:2).  They believed that communion was a participation in Christ himself (I Corinthians 10:16) and so their worship included communion in order for people to be with Christ in that unique way.

Third, Jesus himself instituted the Lord’s Supper. He said to do this often (I Corinthians 11:25). I think we have it on the highest authority that the holy meal is to be a regular occurrence.

Church History
The Holy Communion has been held weekly on Sundays by most churches in most place from the earliest recorded history of the Church. It has followed the service of the Word, and the two services (Word and Sacrament), have been an integrated whole.

Personal Experience
Weekly communion is the centre of my spiritual life. I have experienced Christ there, been fed by him, and have gone away full. I have tasted and seen that the Lord is good.

Does it become mundane?  Yes. Mundane is good. Mundane means that Jesus has entered into the regular, normal, everyday human part of my life. But it is also profound. Jesus has made himself present to me in the breaking of the bread. I feel that I could not leave behind weekly Eucharist. I feel like I would starve to death!

As a priest and pastor, I have observed and talked with a lot of people about their experience of weekly communion. Some have shared with me that they received communion as a child, but no one ever explained it to them. It was seen as a religious ritual with no meaning. But with the proper reverence and with Gospel-centered teaching about the Eucharist, their love of communion comes alive.

Often a church member will be visiting family or on vacation and will attend a non-eucharistic church on a Sunday or two. And often they will tell me how strange it seemed to pray, sing, hear a sermon, and then… go home. Someone once told me it is like sitting down to dinner, saying grace, talking for a few minutes, and then standing up and walking away without ever eating.

Weekly Sunday communion is our holy meal. Taste and see that the Lord is good!
Greg Goebel on Anglican Pastor

Thursday, 5 October 2017

A snealk peak at the New City Catechism

The New City Catechism

The (Welcome) Return of Catechism

When I was about 11 my parents sent me to a Convent School in Clydach for about a year. It was run by a Roman Catholic order of nuns who taught, kept discipline and generally ran the school. Although I was from a Protestant (Anglican) background, I was one of a number of similar children who were allowed to attend on the basis that we attend Mass with everyone else, and join in the classes on religious instruction.

With regards to the latter, this meant learning the Catechism off by heart. All I can remember from those lessons is the very first question that the Catechism addresses: "Who made you?" Answer: "God made me." The impression left was one of boredom and what the whole point of it was, alongside the vague memory of some kind of punishment if I got it wrong (although nothing heavy-handed).

Since then I have had a rather negative image of any religious education associated with the word 'catechism' and, what I saw then, as pointless rote learning, with its emphasis on remembering over and against understanding.

But it seems that my criticism is both premature, inaccurate and unfair for the following reasons:
First, to do with the word 'Catechism'. It is from the Greek and means, simply "to learn orally". Although it tends to be associated with one part of the church - chiefly the Roman Catholic Church - it is an idea that was prevalent in the first four-five centuries as the Church sought to educate and teach those who were unable to read. Questions and answers were learnt off by heart and then discussed so that the meaning of what was taught by the method would be well and truly understood.

Unfortunately, as sometimes happens, this degenerated in some parts of the Church into just learning answers in order to say you have "done the course". Understanding took second place to getting the answers correct.

Second, is to do with who used the catechism. If you look up the word in the dictionary some definitions associate it only with the Roman Catholic Church. This is inaccurate as we have noted that from the start the one united church practised it, in one way or another, until the Great Schism in the 11th century when the church split into two - Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Church. But both continued with the use of a catechism, only with their own particular doctrinal emphasis.

This continued until the Reformation in the 16th century when the Protestant Churches were formed following the teaching of Luther, Calvin and others. But what is interesting is that the idea of a catechism for teaching the faith continued with Luther, for example, producing his 'Small Catechism' which can be found here. This contains within it teaching about The Ten Commandments, The Apostles' Creed, The Lord's Prayer, baptism, confession, Holy Communion, Daily Prayer, a Table of Duties, and Christian Questions with their answers, which was a means of preparing a person to receive Holy Communion.

In 1560 the other great reformer John Calvin also produced a catechism called the Geneva Catechism which you can look at here.

And so you can see that the idea is not limited to just one part of the Church but has been used over the centuries by most of the major denominations who wanted to ensure that its adherents were properly taught about the Christian Faith.

Third, although the catechism became associated with the preparation of candidates for baptism and/or confirmation, it has more important and wider importance than that. In fact, you could say that it's association with baptism/confirmation is partly responsible for its abuse and eventual neglect because those wanting to be part of the church and/or being able to receive Holy Communion sometimes fell into the way of learning the answers to the questions just in order to achieve their aims. In other words, the catechism became a means to an end and not an end in itself - which was to believe and learn the Christian faith.

But, as someone once said, "the answer to abuse, is not misuse but right use". Just because it was abused it doesn't mean it was wrong (the same can be said of liturgy in Anglican and other churches). Before throwing it away, try using it properly and see why, in the first place, it was so widely used.

And so what we see today is the recovery and rehabilitation of the catechism. So, for example, the Church of England and other Anglican churches have produced their own catechism. And in more recent times the Gospel Coalition in America - fronted by Tim Keller - have produced 'The New City Catechism' which you can access here, and which can be downloaded as an app on your phone or tablet.

The Anglican Church in North America with the help of such people as Dr J.I.Packer (of Knowing God fame) has also recently produced their own called "To be a Christian" and which can be downloaded here.

The point I am making in all this is that perhaps it is the time we took another look at the idea of a catechism as something to help the people in our churches learn about what it is they believe and why? It can be both a means of being able to share and defend the faith.

In the next few posts I have included videos introducing some of the new (Protestant) catechisms mentioned earlier.


Friday, 15 September 2017

Anglicans again

I read this morning the following alarming statistics:

"Only six per cent of British adults read or listen to the Bible, while 55 per cent of Christians in this country never do so, according to a new poll commissioned for the Archbishops' Council Evangelism Task Force.

The survey of 8150 British adults, which also shows dwindling numbers praying and attending church, was conducted by ComRes in March and reported by the Church Times.

Asked about how often they read or listened to the Bible, 55 per cent of those who described themselves as Christians answered 'never' while 14 per cent said at least once a month.

Twenty-nine per cent said that they never prayed, while 40 per cent said that they did at least once a month, and 18 per cent answered that they did so daily.

Regarding church attendance, one-third of Christians said 'never' with 19 per cent saying at least once a month and 14 per cent at least once a week.

Anglicans were the most likely to tick 'never' to all three measurements of practising the faith..."

You can read the rest of the article by following this link.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The harm evangelism can cause?

I am currently reading The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer which, for the last 100 years has been acknowledged as a spiritual classic. In the opening chapter, he bewails what he terms 'cheap grace' and the harm it has done the church. This is what he writes:

"Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.


Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack's wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost is infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. what would grace be if it were not cheap?

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian 'conception' of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. The Church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace, therefore, amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner..... Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciples leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'ye were bought at a price', and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God..."
The Cost of Discipleship pages 35-36


You get the drift. The point Bonhoeffer is making is that we must be careful we don't cheapen grace by giving the impression that the Christian life is easy and we can become one without putting ourselves out in any way. Or that we can be a Christian without confronting our sin, and accepting the need for repentance and the ensuing battle that we will be involved in if we are to stay true to Christ.

I make this point because I have a number of concerns about the Church today:
First, I am concerned that we don't try to sell a sort of dumbed down Christian faith in order to win 'customers'. In the fear that our pews are not as full as would like them to be the temptation is to do whatever we can to try and fill them. This can - and does - so easily lead to compromise. We only have to see the way some churches are going with regards to same-sex marriage.
Second, evangelism is one of the first things to suffer. Attempts to force someone 'making a decision for Christ' with very little preparation or weighing up of the cost can have a devastating long term effect on the individual involved as he/she can be misled into thinking that everything is okay and they will go to heaven when they die because they have made a decision or prayed a special prayer.
Third, cheap grace has played into the hands of the enemy as it produces nominal Christians by the bucket load leading to the Church as Club rather than the salt and light to a dying and darkening world it is meant to be.

I could go on but you get where I am coming from. We are in the state we are today because the Church has been giving away grace cheaply by the bucketload and now it has all caught up with us. We are reaping what we have sown and now are 'enjoying the benefit' of our past indulgences.

All is not lost however and God, in His wisdom, is disciplining the Church in order to restore it to the condition He needs it to be in for what is coming ahead. In the words of Hebrews 12:4-11:

"4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."

One final comment. Several months ago I produced a new baptism policy for the parish. Those inquiring about having their children baptized are now required to attend church first as well as classes about the Christian Faith. Unless they do so I will not give away the grace of God cheaply and go through a meaningless ceremony that means nothing and gives the impression that little Johnny is a Christian when his parents and godparents haven't a clue about the most basic beliefs about Jesus Christ. Since then I have had three enquiries but no responses. On the surface of it, it looks like a failure - which is where the pressure comes from - but at least I can now sleep at night knowing that I have not belittled what Jesus has done for them and me.

The Real Story

A recent report has noted that the number of Anglicans in Britain has collapsed by 50 per cent in under two decades, according to figures released today.

The latest British Social Attitudes survey's data on religion show that the number of people in Britain who describe themselves as having no religion at all is also at its highest ever level.

More than half, 53 per cent, of the British public now describe themselves as having 'no religion'.

This is up from 48 per cent in 2015.

On the face of it, this is really bad news and no doubt will cause much despair in the hearts of lifelong Anglicans who have prayed and hoped for a turn around in the fortunes of what used to be the Church of the land. And maybe there is a kind of poorly disguised glee behind the reporting as Christianity seems to have very few friends among the secular press nowadays.

But looking at things from a different angle I am not in despair. As well as the oft quoted teaching of Jesus that reminds us in Matthew 16 that even the gates of hell/hades will not prevail against the church, I believe that what we are experiencing is a huge reality check. People are being honest in a way that they haven't felt able to for a long time. It used to be the 'norm' that people would not only attend church - at least a few times a year - and have their families baptised, married and buried by the church. But whether there was any real integrity behind those decisions is doubtful in the majority of cases.

So what we are finding now is that people are saying that they won't attend church because they don't believe, which is fine.

Also, we are seeing the final outplaying of a disillusionment with God which started with the Great War and gained momentum after the Second as millions of lives were wiped out. Again this is a more complex picture than it appears as many, alternatively, found comfort and support from the Church which helped them through such a difficult time. However, people have questioned the goodness of God in allowing such suffering to happen and the Church has been ill-equipped to answer the question, in some cases merely telling those who have asked it that they should have more faith or something similar.

I was listening to Tim Stanley a reporter from The Telegraph being interviewed by Premier Christian Radio as part of their 'The Profile Interview Series' available as a podcast. He is a practising and committed Roman Catholic from an evangelical background. Asked about the present condition both of the Church and Christianity in Britain and he takes the view that in some senses nothing much has really changed with regards to Christian belief. In previous centuries statistics have not told the true story about the state of belief because it has been measured in terms of attendance or baptisms and weddings (and possibly funerals). But given that Christianity was the prevailing religion of the culture of society the pressures for people to conform meant that they attended church or had their children baptized as a matter of course and NOT because they had any real conviction that this really meant something. And so Stanley - who is a historian by background - sees today's situation as much more realistic and that what we are in fact seeing is not an end of the Christian faith - far from it - but an end to nominalism, and about time too. If you are a Christian today, generally it is because you are serious about your faith, although it must be said that there are still strong strands of nominalism in the Church today.

So I am optimistic about the future and although I would love to see larger congregations - especially in my own church - perhaps our weekly attendance is much more the 'norm' than we think. In fact, I read the other day that the average size of a New Testament Church was 25!

In addition, with the Church losing its privileged position in society, maybe it will return to the place where it will become less powerful and more like the Church of Jesus Christ. I for one want the Church of England to become disestablished and for the Church no longer to officially marry people but, like on the continent, have all marriages carried out by a registrar with couples going along to church after for a religious ceremony.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Political Correctness again

Evangelist J John on why Lidl's removal of the cross is a 'grotesque and blundering cultural insult'

There is a widespread trend in Christian circles to talk about a conspiracy against our faith. Endlessly recirculated emails bring warnings that a mysterious 'they' want to burn Bibles, ban baptisms and – a more questionable threat to the faith – banish bishops.

Personally, I tend to be very wary of such rumours. One reason is that I'd rather promote the certain truth of the gospel than spread dubious accounts of threats against it. And yet every so often I come across some act of such crass hostility that I find myself wondering in bewilderment if the conspiracy theorists do actually have a point.

The most recent occurrence of this has been in connection with the seemingly trivial news that the German food chain Lidl has created a brand of Greek food called Eridanous. The products are promoted with a delightful photograph of sun-drenched, blue-domed roofs overlooking an equally blue Mediterranean Sea. Yet the domes are not just those of any old roofs; they are in fact those of a church, specifically that of the Church of the Anastasis in Santorini. You would not know from this picture because the crosses that adorn these buildings have been edited out, apparently 'to avoid offence'.

Now as someone who is both Greek and a Christian this amazes and annoys me.

First, I find it insensitive. As many people will know, the Greeks have for over a thousand years taken pride in being the heroic defenders of Christian Europe's south-eastern border. You may disagree with that role and that pride but, trust me, it is a fundamental part of the Greek psyche.

In this culturally embattled corner of the Mediterranean, the issue of whether a building is capped by a cross or crescent is no light matter. Here men and women still regularly overlook five hundred years of history to refer to Istanbul as Constantinople. Here, in living memory, the unfortunate tension between cross and crescent has erupted in bitter bloodshed in Cyprus and the horrid Balkan war of 1991–99. To remove the cross from the image of these buildings is a grotesque and blundering cultural insult.

And as an aside, I can't help wondering if the marketing geniuses at Lidl have noticed that the cross plays a major part in quite a number of European flags, not least the Union Jack. Are these to be removed as well? One of the problems of rampant political correctness is that in the effort to stop one offence it almost inevitably ends up creating others. There is nothing quite so inclined to create offence as political correctness trying to erase it.

Second, I find it troubling. This removal of crosses echoes the recent debates in the United States about whether to keep or topple statues of Confederate war heroes. Extreme political correctness demands that all that is offensive about the past be erased. This, of course, is impossible; history is a deep-grained reality that is not easily eliminated. It is also perilous; history teaches lessons and to ignore our past is to choose to walk blindfold into the future. We may find much about the past and the present offensive; the wisest reaction is to acknowledge what was done and to move on.

Third, I find that it is revealing. It is an intriguing fact that the symbol of the cross continues to arouse so much antagonism. Given the New Testament view that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the very heart of God's programme of reconciliation for humanity and the world, it is perhaps not surprising that attacks on the faith fall here most fiercely. A Christian faith without the cross is stripped of its power. Objections to the cross go back to the very first days of the Christian faith; writing to the Galatians just twenty years after the crucifixion, St Paul comments on the 'offence of the cross' (Galatians 5:11). Want to understand Christianity? Understand the cross.

Ultimately, though, we Christians need to keep something like this in proportion. It's a worrying and silly trend but the Church has seen worse and outlived it. From the first Good Friday onwards there have been repeated efforts to bury the truth of the cross and the One who died on it. Yet the name of the church in the image is the Anastasis – the Greek word for the resurrection. It's a reminder that no one can keep the truth hidden. The Roman Empire couldn't and I don't think Lidl will.

Canon J John is director of the Philo Trust. Find him on Twitter @CanonJJohn

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

The Church's Year

Hope for the Church?

The Gospel - Scot McKnight

Speaking out

I was impressed by a recent ITV interview with Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg who told ITV's Good Morning Britain that abortion was "morally indefensible".

"Life is sacrosanct and begins at the point of conception," he said.

He was also asked for his views on same-sex marriage, which he opposes. He replied:
"I am a Catholic and I take the teachings of the Catholic Church seriously," he said.
"Marriage is a sacrament and the decision of what is a sacrament lies with the Church, not with Parliament."

The Church's teachings on faith and morals were "authoritative", he said, but he added it was not for him to judge others. However, he said he was completely opposed to abortion.

"With same-sex marriage, that is something that people are doing for themselves," he said.
"With abortion, it is something that is done to the unborn child. That is different."

Mr Rees-Mogg said women's abortion rights under UK law were "not going to change".
He also said his party was more tolerant of religious views than the Liberal Democrats, whose former leader Tim Farron quit after facing repeated questions about his views on gay sex.

"It's all very well to say we live in a multicultural country... until you're a Christian until you hold the traditional views of the Catholic Church, and that seems to me fundamentally wrong," Mr Rees-Mogg said.
"People are entitled to hold these views."

He added that the "democratic majority" were equally entitled to laws that did not follow the Catholic Church's teaching.

I may not share Rees-Mogg's Roman Catholicism, or indeed his politics, but I admire him for speaking out of his personal convictions, which is something that is becoming increasingly hard to do ESPECIALLY if you are a Christian. You can be a Hindu, a Muslim or any other faith and everyone is quick to let you speak. But as a Christian, we are becoming increasingly silenced. So well done Rees-Mogg. I am with you 100%.

Friday, 28 July 2017

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 found little comfort in his religion. To Peter Böhler, a Moravian friend, he confessed his growing misery and decision to give up the ministry. Böhler counseled otherwise. "Preach faith till you have it," he advised. "And then because you have it, you will preach faith." A wise Catholic once made a similar statement: "Act as if you have faith and it will be granted to you."

John acted on the advice. He led a prisoner to Christ by preaching faith in Christ alone for forgiveness of sins. The prisoner was immediately converted. John was astonished. He had been struggling for years. Here was a man transformed instantly. John made a study of the New Testament and found to his astonishment that the longest recorded delay in salvation was three days--while the apostle Paul waited for his eyes to open.

The Moravians assured him their personal experiences had also been instantaneous. John found himself crying out, "Lord, help my unbelief!" However, he felt dull within and little motivated even to pray for his own salvation. On this day, May 24th, 1738 he opened his Bible at about five in the morning and came across these words, "There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that ye should partakers of the divine nature." He read similar words in other places.
That evening he reluctantly attended a meeting in Aldersgate. Someone read from Luther's Preface to the Epistle to Romans. About 8:45 p.m. "while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death."

It took him some time to learn how to live the life of faith, for he was not always possessed of joy and thought he had fallen from salvation. It took time for him to see that it is not Christ and good works, but Christ alone who saves, resulting in good works.

As time went on, John Wesley was mightily used of the Lord to reform England. His Methodists became a national force. John rode thousands of miles (as many as 20,000 a year) preaching as only a man filled with the Holy Spirit can preach, telling the gospel to all who would listen. He acted "as though he were out of breath in pursuit of souls." Wherever he preached, lives changed and manners and morals altered for the better. It is often conjectured that his preaching helped spare England the kind of revolution that occurred in France.

Wednesday, 26 July 2017

A crossroads for the Church of England

83 UK evangelical leaders from a variety of backgrounds, churches, and organizations have signed a letter to the College of Bishops, regarding The Church of England’s current discussions on the issue of human sexuality. They urge the Church of England "not to depart from the apostolic inheritance with which they have been entrusted" while affirming one-man, one-woman marriage as "the only context in which physical expression is to be given to our sexuality".

The letter follows two previous letters to bishops from members of the Church of England’s General Synod, which urged the Church to uphold biblical teaching on this issue.
The first letter, signed in July by 32 members of Synod, including Christian Concern’s Chief Executive Andrea Williams, expressed a "lack of confidence" in the July Synod’s ‘shared conversations’ process.

The other, signed in August by 72 Synod members, urged the Church "not to consider any proposals that fly in the face of the historic understanding of the church as expressed in ‘Issues in Human Sexuality’ (1991) and Lambeth Resolution 1.10."

The Letter to the College of Bishops
The Church of England is at a crossroads in her calling to bring hope and transformation to our nation. The presenting issue is that of human sexuality, in particular, whether or not the Church is able to affirm sexual relationships beyond opposite sex marriage. But the tectonic issues beneath, and driving, this specific question include what it means to be faithful to our apostolic inheritance, the Church’s relationship with wider culture, and the nature of the biblical call to holiness in the 21st Century.
As culture and attitudes continue to change, the Church faces a range of new social realities. These include the rise in cohabitation and the wide scale acceptance of divorce with its negative impact on children, the explosion of diverse types of family relationships, the emergence of gender fluidity and bisexuality, and the recognition of same-sex unions. These far-reaching social changes raise questions and – in some quarters – undermine confidence in our inherited teaching.
The Church has not always navigated these social realities well. We recognize the damage caused by judgmental attitudes. We have sometimes failed to recognize acts of great kindness and humanity. We have elevated some sins above others. We have ignored the plank in our own eye. There is much work ahead, not least in ensuring that our communities offer sacrificial hospitality and service to all, regardless of background, family structure or sexuality.
At the same time, we remain convinced of the essential goodness of the Christian moral vision. The Bible is clear that God has given the marriage of one man with one woman as the only context in which physical expression is to be given to our sexuality. We believe that we flourish, whether single or married, as our lives are brought into harmony with God’s intended design.
Any change in the Church’s teaching or practice - such as the introduction of provisions that celebrate or bless sexual relationships outside of a marriage between one man and one woman – would represent a significant departure from our Apostolic inheritance and the authority of the Bible in matters of faith and doctrine. It would also, inevitably, be a further step on a trajectory towards the full acceptance of same-sex sexual partnerships as equivalent to male-female marriage.
There are substantive issues at stake here about the Christian understanding of what it means to be human. We do not believe that God has left us alone in the confusion and uncertainty of constructing our own identity. The gift of male and female sexual differentiation, and its unique and fundamental mutuality is part of God’s good creation and a mirror to His own nature and the boundaries it brings are for our flourishing and preservation.
We do not believe therefore that it is within our gift to consider human sexual relationships and what constitutes and enables our flourishing as sexual beings to be of 'secondary importance'. What is at stake goes far beyond the immediate pastoral challenges of human bisexual and same-sex sexual behaviour: it is a choice between alternative and radically different visions of what it means to be human, to honour God in our bodies, and to order our lives in line with God’s holy will.
At this crucial juncture, as our bishops pray and discern together regarding how the Church of England should walk forward at this time, we urge them not to depart from the apostolic inheritance with which they have been entrusted.
Any further changes to practice or doctrine in these important areas will set the Church on a path of fundamental disunity. It would cause a break not only with the majority of the Anglican Communion but with the consistent mind of the worldwide Church down many centuries. It will trigger a process of division and fragmentation among faithful Anglicans in England. Responses would vary, but the consequences for the life and mission of the Church will be far-reaching, both nationally and globally.
We ask our bishops to commit to a renewed vision of a welcoming Church in which all hear the good news of the Gospel, all are invited to repent and receive the grace of God, and all are called as followers of Jesus to live out the Christian moral vision– in lives of self-sacrifice and mutual care – for the common good.

Letter Signatories
Those signing below do so in a purely personal capacity. They are evangelical leaders from a variety of backgrounds, churches, and organizations and indicative of the breadth and depth of support for this letter. Some could be labeled as LGBTI but are living in conformity with the historic teachings of the church.
Revd Canon Dr. Peter Ackroyd, Vicar, St Marys Wootton, Chair St Albans Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Sam Allberry, Trustee and co-founder of Living Out, an apologist with the Zacharias Trust, editor for The Gospel Coalition.
Revd Steve Allen, Chair of CPAS Patronage Trustees.
Mrs. Lorna Ashworth, a member of the Archbishops' Council.
Revd Dr Andrew Atherstone, Wycliffe Hall and, General Synod.
Revd Simon Austen, Rector, St. Leonard’s Exeter.
Revd David Banting, Vicar, St Peter’s Harold Wood, Trustee of Reform, and General Synod.
Revd Mark Burkill, Chair of Reform and Chair Latimer Trust.
Revd Nathan Buttery, Associate Vicar, St Andrew the Great, Cambridge.
Revd Tim Chapman, Minister, Christ Church South Cambs, Sawston.
Revd Charlie Cleverly, Rector, St Aldates, Oxford.
Revd John Coles, Missional Community Leader, London.
Canon Andrew Cornes, Sussex Gospel Partnership and General Synod.
Revd Alyson Davie, Chair of the House of Clergy for Rochester Diocese.
Revd C J Davis, Rector, St Nicholas, Tooting.
Revd Joe Dent, Rector, Minster Church of St Andrew, Plymouth.
Revd Dr Sean Doherty, St Mellitus College, member of the Living Out team and General Synod.
Revd Will Donaldson, Director of Pastoral Care at St Aldates, Oxford and Area Dean of Oxford.
Revd James Dudley-Smith, Rector and Rural Dean of Yeovil, Member of General Synod.
Revd John Dunnett, Chair of Evangelical Group General Synod (EGGS).
Revd Jonny Elvin, Vicar, Trinity Church, Exeter and Chair of Exeter Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Anthony Everett Chair of Canterbury Diocese Evangelical Network, Vicar, Christ Church and St Andrew's Herne Bay.
Revd Lee Gatiss, Director, Church Society.
Dr Philip Giddings, former Chair, General Synod House of Laity and member of Archbishops' Council.
Revd Dr Andrew Goddard, Fulcrum leadership team. Revd Lis Goddard, Vicar St James the Less, Pimlico and Chair of Awesome.
Revd Chris Green, Vicar, St James, Muswell Hill.
Revd Tim Grew, Acting Lead Pastor, Trinity Cheltenham.
Revd Paul Harcourt, Vicar, All Saints Woodford Wells.
Prof Glynn Harrison, formerly General Synod and Crown Nominations Commission.
Revd Canon Clive Hawkins, Rector, St Mary’s Basingstoke, formerly General Synod.
Revd Dr David Hilborn, Principal, St John's School of Mission, Nottingham
Mr Stephen Hofmeyr, QC, Secretary Church England Evangelical Council.
Revd David Holloway, Vicar, Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne, Chair of Anglican International Development.
Mr Carl Hughes, General Synod and EGGS Committee.
Revd Dr Emma Ineson, Trinity College, Bristol and General Synod
Revd Steve James, Rector, Holy Trinity, Platt, Manchester.
Revd Henry Kendal, Vicar, St Barnabas, Woodside Park.
Revd Paul Langham, Vicar, Christ Church Clifton, Bristol and General Synod.
Mrs Susie Leafe, Director, Reform.
Mr James Lee, House of Laity, General Synod and EGGS Committee.
Revd Canon Andy Lines, Mission Director of Crosslinks, General Secretary of AMiE, Chairman of GAFCON UK Task Force.
Revd Chris Lowe, Mission Initiative Leader, St John's Orchard Park, Cambridge.
Revd Angus MacLeay, Rector, St Nicholas, Sevenoaks, Reform Trustee, General Synod. Revd Preb Charles Marnham, Vicar, St Michael’s, Chester Square, London.
Revd Rachel Marszalek, General Secretary of Fulcrum.
Revd John McGinley, Vicar, Holy Trinity, Leicester.
Revd Jane Morris, Vicar St Gabriel's, Cricklewood.
Revd Barry Morrison, Chair of Peterborough DEF. Revd Justin Mote, Chair of AMiE exec, and Chair of North West Gospel Partnership.
Revd Rob Munro, Chair Fellowship of Word and Spirit, Chair of House of Clergy for Chester Diocese.
Revd Dr Mike Ovey, Principal, Oak Hill College, London
Revd James Paice, Vicar, St Luke’s Wimbledon Park and Trustee of GAFCON and Trustee of Southwark Good Stewards Trust.
Revd Alasdair Paine, Vicar, St Andrew the Great Church, Cambridge.
Revd Hugh Palmer, Rector All Souls Langham Place, Chair of Church of England Evangelical Council.
Revd Canon Ian Parkinson, Leadership Specialist, CPAS.
Miss Jane Patterson, General Synod and Crown Nominations Commission.
Revd Dr Ian Paul, member of Archbishops' Council.
Revd Paul Perkin, Vicar, St Mark’s Battersea Rise. Revd Canon Andrew Perry, Vicar, St Mary's Longfleet, Poole.
Revd David Phillips, Vicar, St James, Chorley, Chair of Blackburn Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Simon Ponsonby, Pastor of Theology, St Aldates, Oxford.
Revd Matthew Porter, Vicar, St Michael le Belfrey, York.
Revd Frank Price, Vicar, St Matthew’s Cambridge and Chair of Ely Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Esther Prior, Chair, Guildford Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Jonathan Pryke, Jesmond Parish Church.
Revd Martin Reakes-Williams, Leipzig English Church.
Revd Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe's, Oxford.
Revd David Rowe, Priest in Charge, Christ Church, Winchester. Revd Canon Roger Salisbury, Secretary of the Peache Trustees.
Revd John Samways, Trustee Church Patronage Trust.
Revd Dr. Peter Sanlon, Vicar, St. Mark's, Tunbridge Wells.
Mr Ed Shaw, Trustee of Living Out, Pastor, Emmanuel City Centre, Bristol & General Synod.
Revd Charlie Skrine, Associate Rector, St Helen’s Bishopsgate, London and EGGS Committee.
Revd Tim Stilwell, Vicar, St Dionis, Parsons Green, London.
Canon Dr Chris Sugden, Convenor Anglican Mainstream, and former member General Synod.
Revd Andrew Symes, Executive Secretary, Anglican Mainstream. Revd Canon Martyn Taylor, Rector, Rector, St George’s, Stamford and General Synod.
Revd William Taylor, Rector, St Helens, Bishopsgate and Chairman of ReNew.
Canon Professor Anthony C. Thiselton, FBA, former member of Crown Nominations Commission and Doctrine Commission.
Revd Rico Tice, All Souls Church & Christianity Explored Ministries.
Revd Melvin Tinker, Vicar, St John, Newland, Hull.
Revd Andrew Towner, Vicar Houghton & Kingmoor, Carlisle and Trustee, Diocesan Board of Finance.
Revd Gary Tubbs, Chair of Carlisle Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Jon Tuckwell, Associate Minister, Christ Church, Cambridge.
The Revd Dr Simon Vibert, Vice Principal Wycliffe Hall & Director of the School of Preaching.
Mr Jacob Vince, General Synod
Revd Robin Weekes, Vicar, Emmanuel Church Wimbledon.
Revd Paul Williams, Vicar, Christ Church Fullwood and honorary Canon Sheffield Cathedral.

Comment
I know quite

Wednesday, 19 July 2017

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 three years of hard work. The ceremony in Bristol Cathedral lasted just short of an hour during which everyone was thanked for their hard work - students, lecturers, and family - with rapturous applause and hoots and greetings as each person appeared on the stage to shake the hand of one of the senior staff in congratulations for their achievement. And in a nice little touch at the end the vice-chancellor(?) encouraged the body of students who had received their awards to, in turn, applaud the parents and relatives for their help and support over the years.

But in all the thank-you's that resounded throughout that impressive building - started in the 12th Century and dedicated to the glory of God - one Name was noticeable its absence in the list of who to thank.  God Himself. True the students had studied and sat the exams.True the parents had provided the financial and emotional help that supported their flagging and struggling children. True the authorities had provided the grants - which will one day have to be paid back in full - and true the university had been great in its teaching etc. But all of this - and I mean ALL of this - would not have come to pass if God had not made the world and is, at this very moment, sustaining His creation so that life is made possible.

And who made people, food, material things, people capable of learning and growing, thinking and developing? Who gave the free will to enable us to choose what subject to take and what careers to engage in? Who - through His church - gave universities and colleges and education for all in the first place? Who created many of the subjects and encouraged their research and development over the centuries, making all this possible? Who helped create the environment in which we live, the love we enjoy and the law and order that gives us the freedom in which to flourish? And what about health, hospitals, family structures, values, morality etc.. The list is endless what God has done for us. And so for God to be excluded and overlooked, sidelined and rejected IN HIS OWN HOUSE seems to me to be the height of ingratitude.

It was not always so. In years past this kind of event would have taken place within the context of a service of thanksgiving or at least with a nod in God's direction via prayers and maybe a sermon and a few hymns. But not anymore. God is surplus to requirements, incidental and excluded. the world doesn't need Him and His presence creates too many problems in this religiously diversified world we live in. How far we have fallen. How short our memories. How ungracious and thankless we are. And how stupid and short-sighted.

I am so grateful God is not petty and small-minded, but loving, gracious and kind, otherwise He would have pulled the rug from under this nation years ago and where would we be then.

But, as someone once reminded me, when you point a finger at someone in accusation, you usually find that there are three pointing back at you. And so rather than carp and complain, I must ensure that I am more grateful, more often. Like Paul I must practice what I preach lest "after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified"  (1 Corinthians 9:27).

Tuesday, 4 July 2017

Keep It Simple Stupid

I don't know if it about getting older, but I am getting more and more fed up with some of the unnecessary complexities of church life and more and more concerned to simplify things.

That is something we are trying to do in our church of St. James in Swansea where I am currently Vicar. Okay, some of the things have just stopped of their own accord e.g. processions led by someone carrying the cross etc. While prayers for the dead (me), no longer passing round the collection plate (the PCC and me ) and lately the use of wardens wands or staves to help usher people towards the front for Holy Communion (the PCC and me) have also disappeared. But there is still too much complexity for me, especially surrounding the Lord's Supper - or is it Mass, Holy Eucharist, Holy Communion etc?

The following article excerpted from Christian Today takes aim at the main service of the Church and - at least for me - hits the mark on so many things. Take a look:

"Sometimes when as a church leader I contemplate everything connected with this thing we call 'church' I ask myself: 'Did Jesus ever really intend all this to be as complex as we often seem to make it?' I am 99.9 per cent sure the answer to that question is 'no'!

Communion is a case in point......Take the Lord's Supper...

...'While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it, he broke it, gave it to them, and said, "Take; this is my body." Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. He said to them, "This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.' (Mark 10v22-25).

Let's just pause for a moment and consider what Jesus did not say. He did not say, for example: 'And by the way, when you do this in remembrance of me, please ensure that you use the following items of linen and silverware: a burse, a chalice veil, a pall, a paten, a purificator, chalice and corporal – and let me just pause to sketch out a diagram here to make sure you get it right. Please also ensure you have at least two lighted candles nearby.'

Nor did he say: 'By the way, chaps, I am sure it goes without saying – you need a special table which should be called an altar on which to place all this stuff. And – nearly forgot this one – keep up with your note-taking Peter – make sure that as the months of the year go by, you change the colour of the vestments and also the hangings regularly: violet, white, green, red, gold, black, rose and so on. Got it?'

Jesus did not say: 'My friends, please be clear that when sharing bread and wine in the future, this ceremony should be presided over by someone who has received three years of theological training, ideally in a city far away from where they live. They should then have a kind of apprenticeship for a year before being licensed at a service in a cathedral to say something similar – albeit much, much longer – to the words I have just now shared with you.'

He did not then go on to say: 'Please notice what I am wearing as I share this meal with you – namely an alb, cincture, chasuble, dalmatic, cassock, surplice and stole, plus clerical collar of course! – and make sure you are dressed likewise.'

.............where do you find them in the teaching of Jesus? Where indeed do you see them in the rest of the New Testament?

I am not – let us be absolutely clear – seeking to make light in any way of Holy Communion itself. Indeed, one thing the New Testament makes clear is that anyone 'who eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord' (1 Corinthians 11). We are to 'examine ourselves' before we eat, as that chapter goes on (11v28) 'for all who eat and drink without discerning the body eat and drink judgement against themselves'. No, this is mighty serious stuff and we dare not take it lightly.

Moreover, we do not want to disregard 2,000 years of church history, and the wisdom of those who have gone before us..... But.....let us pause and ask: is it just possible that our Communion services.....
have become so cluttered – by rules and traditions Jesus never instituted, and by routines that have grown over-familiar and stale – that we have lost sight of the cross? "

A good question. Just as it is possible to put so many clothes on a man that you are no longer able to see who he really is, so it is possible - and we do it - to overlay something as simple as a communal meal where Jesus asks us to break bread and drink wine together in His name, with so many extraneous things that we forget it's simple message. Remember Jesus who died and rose again for you.

And so as much as it goes against the grain for some, or changes something we are familiar with BACK into something more simple and meaningful in and of itself, I think we should take another look at Holy Communion (or Mass, the Lord's Supper etc) and see if we can't get back to what it really is. Let's remove some of the layers and see what we can find?

Monday, 19 June 2017

Church for beginners?

In her book "The Word on the Wind" Alison Morgan makes reference to a young woman Sharon who was a respondent to a survey about faith. She tried going to church to find out about Christianity but came out more mystified than she went in. She said:

"I think they ought to do like a church for beginners really, because if you're not used to going, because they always have communion here. [She goes on to explain how she was encouraged to go forward for communion]. It was a really awkward situation, do you know what I mean? And he was giving us the sip of the wine, and the um, and he beckoned us to bring the children up as well, and they give you, whatever it is they give you to eat. Is it rice paper?"

Alison quotes the Church of England's report Mission-Shaped Church:

"The reality is that for most people across England the Church as it is is peripheral, obscure, confusing or irrelevant."

Another respondent Matthew who was also seeking said of people who go to church:

"I think they get a lot out [of it]; this is probably envy in me, but why don't they invent one that I can go to?"
The Word on the Wind page 104-105

Is it time to consider changing our weekly service pattern (again) to one where we either have a 'seeker' service once a month (not communion) or a non-communion service every other week? If the above survey is anything to go by there are people seeking God but are put off by a church that is for the 'found' not the ones who are lost.

Friday, 16 June 2017

And I thought we lived in a free country?

I wonder what people mean when they use the word 'tolerant'? I thought it meant being able to live with people who hold differing opinions to yourself in the freedom of what is meant to be a democratic country? I thought it meant - in the words of Voltaire - being able to say:

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it".
And I thought the Liberal Democrats represented that view. But clearly, they don't. Here is a short article from Christian Today which underlines what an intolerant society we now live in:

David Alton, a crossbench peer and former Liberal Democrat MP, is warning his party has become 'narrow and intolerant' after Tim Farron resigned claiming it was 'impossible' to be a 'faithful Christian' and political leader.

In a damning indictment Lord Alton, an outspoken Catholic and former chief whip of the now-defunct Liberal Party, said the Lib Dems have become a 'sect'.

He wrote on Facebook: 'In turning themselves into a secular version of the Exclusive Brethren they become a sect rather than a broad-based political party. And they should reflect that millions of British people share his Christian beliefs.'

He added: 'It is ironic that a Party, which I joined as a teenager, because of its belief in conscience, human rights and free speech, has morphed into something so narrow and intolerant that, in resigning, its leader says "we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society" and has been forced to choose between his Faith and his Party.'

David Alton was formerly an MP for 18 years before becoming a cross-bench independent peer in the House of Lords

Tim Farron resigned on Wednesday night saying he felt 'torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader'.

He told party activists: 'To be a political leader - especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 - and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible's teaching, has felt impossible for me.

'I'm a liberal to my fingertips, and that liberalism means that I am passionate about defending the rights and liberties of people who believe different things to me.'

He said he had been the 'subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in', adding: 'We are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.'

His statement drew praise and concern from a number of church leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury and raised questions over whether a socially conservative Christian will ever lead a political party again.

Lord Alton finished his rebuke by saying: 'This same narrow intolerance characteristic of the commentariat and the political elites has also fed into the creation of the less tolerant and unreasonable world in which we live.

'Tim Farron should never have been forced to make this choice but has made the right call and should be admired for doing so.'

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The other side in the gay marriage debate

 "The pain for those who are both gay and celibate, when a church changes its doctrine on marriage".
As the media and public opinion throw their weight behind the gay marriage debate and the voice of Christians who oppose this are being drowned out, and in some cases frankly denied, the following article by David Bennett is worthly (calmly) reading:

David Bennett 13 June 2017 | 2:25 PM (see Christian Today website:
https://www.christiantoday.com/

The Scottish Episcopalian Church was brave to apologise to LGBT people for the prejudices and horrors of the past weeks and yet no one has asked the question of why saying sorry for the past has anything to do with playing God's role in the present by redefining marriage.

Instead, the Scottish Episcopal Church, among many others, has trampled on celibate LGB people with the decision to depart from God's own teaching in scripture. Next year, when I move to Scotland to study, I may not be able to attend a Scottish Episcopalian Church. The question of whether I can continue to attend in line with the Anglican church I attend in the south of England hangs over my head.

A certain comment from the recent synod flagged this for me. 'Gay people can now be married in God's eyes.' Such a view highlighted the danger we first witnessed in humanity's parents. This danger is making God in our own image by eating from a kind of knowledge and role that God has. We are redefining things that God has already defined for the Church. We hear that voice whisper 'Did God REALLY say [that he made them male and female for marriage]?'

When quoting directly from the creation narrative in Genesis, Jesus does so by rendering what appears in the Hebrew as God's voice, straight from the Creator's own 'mouth'. In Matthew 19:4, 'Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning made them male and female and said, for this reason a man shall leave his father.' When one decides who and what God's image is in contradiction to what he has said, one puts themselves in the place of God. When the Church exalts herself above God, she breaks covenant with God.

As a former agnostic gay rights activist involved in campaigns for gay marriage, I thought the Christian God was the justification of homophobes and a moral monster. He was a weapon in the hands of conservatives who deprived LGBTQI people of their rights. A God of such objectionable character, who wrathfully rejected homosexual people and yet 'made them that way' was beyond the pale of existence. It wasn't until I experienced God's love in a pub in 2009 that my life was turned entirely upside down. I discovered that what I thought at that time, in fact couldn't be further from the truth. God's incredible love for all people, beyond any label, is the reality that must be stressed above all, shown most principally in the giving of Himself on a cross to save us from our own self-made destruction.

The journey from agnosticism to Christian faith was what pushed me, among other obvious reasons, for gay marriage rights. I wanted to marry my partner in the holiness of Christian marriage. However, as I mined the depths of scripture, and came to know Jesus Christ more profoundly, deep doubts about the revisionist theology I had adopted to quickly started to emerge.

Why would this God of love make us male and female to the exclusion of other realities? What was the effect of our fall from relationship with God in these bodies and our sexuality? From these discussion, I discovered I wasn't created this way but like all human beings, I was born as a beautiful but broken creation.

As I discovered who God was in worship, I came to realise that marriage was not for just the sake of procreation or to exclude homosexual people from marriage as I often heard from conservative Christians. Rather, marriage between one man and one woman was designed as one way that our Earthly lives can reflect our deepest unity with God in Christ. The creation of physical sexes was to allow us to enjoy an allegory of this greater hope, not to exclude LGBT people. To enshrine gay marriage in the Church as the Scottish Episcopal Church has done is to erase the unique humanity of the sexes, and to 'exchange the image of the Creator' expressed in the designation of male and female sexes for another image. This is a false reformation, an anathema, equivalent to those who taught the Law had to be added to salvation.

And yet part of the issue lies in the Reformation, and that it did not go far enough. When Martin Luther reformed the church, he threw celibacy out as the pendulum swung one way against the corruptions of Catholicism at the time. He made celibacy into a 'lofty asceticism', and marriage, the godly ideal of the average Christian. This has done damage ever since, especially to those like myself who want to follow Christ with our homosexuality. Celibacy is now seen as some cruel deprivation of a human right, and absolute necessity for human flourish. Scripture teaches the exact opposite.

What I see in this recent decision by the Scottish Episcopalian Church is not just a decision on a societal issue, but a complete misunderstanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is built on the good news that your worth or value is not dependent on marrying; our worth and value and acceptance are based in Christ and in our identity as children of God.

As a gay celibate man, who has given my whole self to God, and He, His Son, I am not interested in self-justifying theology – I am interested in the truth of the unchanging, holy God, our Father in Heaven. By standing against His image in creation in such a decision also disenfranchises one group of LGBTQI people, gay Christian celibate people like myself. We are already a minority within a minority, with the loud voices of the romantic sectarianism, which will continue to insist that we need romantic love to be whole. We are often treated with contempt, spat at and treated with contempt by many in secular society. Now we will have to enter churches in the future where our deep sacrifice for Christ is dismissed as a joke.

My heart mourns for the church of Jesus Christ who is forgetting the everlasting wisdom repeated by God since humanity fell: 'Flee Idols, and worship me alone.' Anything less is not worth the deathly dividend. If the whole church was living in the costly sacrifice of normal Christian discipleship, homosexuality and celibacy would not be an issue in the slightest.

The decision to legalise gay marriage reflects our cultures inability to see nuance, and shows that the damaging effects of polarisation and the ignorance of the culture war. This ignorance has become so deeply ingrained we have opted to change God to accommodate our hurt, brokenness and fallen desires.

I am deeply grieved for LGB people like myself, who have denied ourselves, picked up our cross and followed Jesus. We will have to find our place in the wilderness as activists and churches continue to ignore, neglect, culturally marginalise, malign and close their doors to us. Our voice is left unheard. For many of us our choice to be celibate is not some easy gift, but a costly sacrifice that speaks louder than these words ever can. I wish my family walked the narrow path of righteousness with me. Nothing has really changed since Jesus' own life – his true followers, like him, will be thrown out of the places of worship as he predicts in John 16. Perhaps we are better off there.

David Bennett has recently completed postgraduate studies in theology at the University of Oxford and is currently completing his first book, A War of Loves: A Gay Rights Activist Encounters Jesus Christ, with Zondervan to be released mid-next year.

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