Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Today America, tomorrow the Church in Wales?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Holiness and idolatry

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

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

He continues:

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 12 July 2018

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

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

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Good enough for God?

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

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

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

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

Friday, 6 July 2018

Phillips Brooks: Preaching About Christ vs. Preaching Christ

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

Thursday, 5 July 2018

'Long' sermons

What constitutes a long sermon today - at least in Anglican circles - is 20-30 minutes, at least in my church. If I stray over the 25 minute mark it is now almost inevitable that someone will point it out to me. What to make of this? Several possibilities:

1. I am a poor preacher. This tends to be the first thought that assails me whenever someone makes a comment. Such is my complete lack of self-belief and self-confidence, that the devil knows where to strike and the thoughts that come take away any sense I may have had of having laboured successfully in the vineyard of my study. As I grow older I have become more and more careful in my preparation and typically a sermon can take about 8-10 hours to prepare including several re-writes. So I can come to terms with being considered a  poor preacher  - I have no delusions otherwise and in fact rejoice, for God's power is made perfect in weakness (2 Corinthians 12:19) - as long as I am not accused of being an unprepared preacher because that is not true.
2. The attention span of your average parishioner is a lot shorter than it used to be years ago. I can believe this of the younger generation brought up on social media and soundbites, but the average age of an Anglican congregation is in the high sixties and seventies which means that they should be more used to concentrated listening. Having said that do we pander to the culture? I was brought up in the evangelical wing of the church which taught that "sermonettes make Christianettes" meaning that the truth of the Gospel is so important that it cannot be taught in small bites without losing something crucial in the telling. It seems straightforward to us to learn what God says about loving Him with all we are. That takes a fraction of time to tell. But what does it mean? And how can I do it? What does that look like and what does God expect us to do and the Scripture teach? That, as any serious student of the Bible and the Christian faith will tell you, takes far longer to explain and think through.
3. The congregation is not spiritually hungry. Jesus says that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied. When you are truly hungry the size of a meal will not dissuade you but encourage you to eat your fill. If you are not hungry however, no matter how enticing the meal you will not want to eat beyond one or two mouthfuls.
4. Spiritual warfare. In the parable of the sower the seed bounces off the hard ground which Jesus uses to illustrate the fact that the Devil does all he can to snatch the truth away from the mind before it has a chance to penetrate and bring forth a harvest. Similarly are there minds among the congregation who are closed to the gospel, hardened by years of resistance to Biblical truth and preaching?
5. Priorities. Sometimes the same people who baulk at giving thirty minutes to listening to a sermon will think nothing of sitting up to an hour at a classical concert or watching over an hour long film or listening to a lecture or political speech. Interesting and as important as they may be, besides the spiritual food offered in a sermon they are less so. But it depends on what your personal priorities are.

Whatever the reason the preacher must make a decision. Does he cave in to demands for bite-size sermons and give in to the demanding voices of a vocal minority or remain true to the Gospel imperative to preach, teach and make disciples? If the latter, then surely that will take time, care and attention and cannot be diminished into small portions.

I have been recently reading the life of John Newton, slave-trader, sinner and blasphemer turned Vicar in the Church of England. In a chapter on his parish ministry is a passage about his preaching. In it he is critical of long sermons and writes:

"Overlong sermons break in upon family concerns and often call off the thoughts from the sermon to the pudding at home which is in danger of being overboiled."

He also wrote:

"Perhaps it is better to feed our people like chickens, a little and often, than to cram them like turkeys till they cannot hold one gobbet more."

Here we find great encouragement for those who complain about overlong sermons. Surely Newton is right and long sermons are not appropriate.  Except we read that he was in fact being critical of two-hour and three-hour sermons! In which case even the most laborious of today's preachers would probably agree. Also as the writer Jonathan Aitken comments, 60 minutes was an average length sermon in those days.What of today?

You could argue that each age is responsive to it's own social context and makes adjustments accordingly. What was the norm of an hour a century or so ago is much too long now. But at this rate attention spans will eventually make 3 minutes appear too long. Does that mean we should follow the trend and reduce the length of sermons in consequence? Surely not. And doesn't Paul counsel against allowing the world mould us to its own standards (Romans 12:1ff)?

In responses then I made a quick survey of sermon lengths in the churches that are growing. When we do this we will find some thought-provoking results.

St. Ebbe's, Cambridge a thriving evangelical Anglican Church in Cambridge has average sermon lengths of over 30 minutes.

St. Helen's, Bishopsgate in London another thriving evangelical Anglican church also averages 30-40 minute sermons.

In Holy Trinity, Brompton, London, home of the Alpha Course, we see that sermons are about 30 minutes long.

The same for All Souls, Langham Place, London home of the Christianity Explored Course.

Moving across to America we find sermons are slightly longer, about 40 minutes (Passion Church, Atlanta - a typical Mega Church and Tim Keller, Redeemer Church); 50 minutes( Mars Hill with Mark Driscoll) or varying between 30-50 minutes (Francis Chan from We Are Church a church-planting network) to name a few.

If we were to shift across to other denominations in Wales we will find average sermons lengths as 40 plus (Steve Levy, Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Swansea and Cornerstone, Swansea) or 30 plus (Elim Pentecostal Church, Swansea and St. Michael's, Aberystwyth an Evangelical Anglican Church)

The question arises "Is the length of a sermon a contributing factor to a church's growth?" Not necessarily as it all depends on the content of the sermon as well as other contributing factors. But it is worth noting that where there is good content and good length - meaning 30 or more minutes - there tends to be a growing church. I have yet to see a growing church where sermons are just 7 minutes long and which are spiritually healthy.

Conclusion? Although long sermons - by which I mean 30-40 minutes - are not in and of themselves the key to a growing church, yet they do at the very least underline the importance that the preacher and the congregation give to the Word of God. Both take very seriously the word of Jesus that "man does not live by bread alone but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God" (Matthew 4:1-11). If it is that important then - which I sincerely believe it is - why should I give any less of it to my congregation who need it, or to God, who has called me to preach?

Let me leave you with some words from one of my great Anglican heroes of the faith, Thomas Cranmer:

"Wherefore, in few words to comprehend the largeness and utility of the scripture, how it containeth fruitful instruction and erudition for every man; if any things be necessary to be learned, of the holy scripture we may learn it. If falsehood shall be reproved, thereof we may gather wherewithal. If any thing be to be corrected and amended, if there need any exhortation or consolation, of the scripture we may well learn. 

In the scriptures be the fat pastures of the soul; therein is no venomous meat, no unwholesome thing; they be the very dainty and pure feeding. He that is ignorant, shall find there what he should learn. He that is a perverse sinner, shall there find his damnation to make him to tremble for fear. He that laboureth to serve God, shall find there his glory, and the promises of eternal life, exhorting him more diligently to labour. ...

Here may all manner of persons, men, women young, old, learned, unlearned, rich, poor, priests, laymen, lords, ladies, officers, tenants, and mean men, virgins, wives, widows, lawyers, merchants, artificers, husbandmen, and all manner of persons, of what estate or condition soever they be, may in this book learn all things what they ought to believe, what they ought to do, and what they should not do, as well concerning Almighty God, as also concerning themselves and all other. 

Briefly, to the reading of the scripture none can be enemy, but that either be so sick that they love not to hear of any medicine, or else that be so ignorant that they know not scripture to be the most healthful medicine." 

Tuesday, 3 July 2018

Why I walked away

It almost seems inevitable that the Church I joined over 30 years ago is about to walk away from the biblical principles that over three hundred years ago laid the foundation of the Anglican Church. I say almost inevitable because the fight is not up quite yet. But with all six bishops hellbent - I choose my words carefully here - in taking us down the road of same-sex blessings, it will be hard to resist the combined efforts of all six bishops who, at least in the Church in Wales, wield a lot of power.

In Ezekiel 33 the Lord has some strong words to say about those he has raised up as watchmen over his people. If they fail in their responsibility they will be under severe judgement by Him and held to account for the dangers in which they have placed the people of God.

With this in mind I include the following article written in 2003 by a man of God, Rev Dr J.I.Packer who made a stand with others when the Church in Canada voted for same sex marriage and walked away from God. Here he gives a clear exposition of the biblical texts which speak so unambiguously on the subject:

Why I Walked. Sometimes loving a denomination requires you to fight. by J. I. Packer

In June 2002, the synod of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster authorized its bishop to produce a service for blessing same-sex unions, to be used in any parish of the diocese that requests it. A number of synod members walked out to protest the decision. They declared themselves out of communion with the bishop and the synod, and they appealed to the Archbishop of Canterbury and other Anglican primates and bishops for help.

J. I. Packer, an executive editor of Christianity Today, was one of those who walked out. Many people have asked him why. Though one part of his answer applies specifically to Anglicans, his larger argument should give guidance to any Christians troubled by developments in their church or denomination.

Why did I walk out with the others? Because this decision, taken in its context, falsifies the gospel of Christ, abandons the authority of Scripture, jeopardizes the salvation of fellow human beings, and betrays the church in its God-appointed role as the bastion and bulwark of divine truth.

My primary authority is a Bible writer named Paul. For many decades now, I have asked myself at every turn of my theological road: Would Paul be with me in this? What would he say if he were in my shoes? I have never dared to offer a view on anything that I did not have good reason to think he would endorse.

In 1 Corinthians we find the following, addressed it seems to exponents of some kind of antinomian spirituality:

Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (6:9-11, ESV).

To make sure we grasp what Paul is saying here, I pose some questions.

First: What is Paul talking about in this vice list? Answer: Lifestyles, regular behaviour patterns, habits of mind and action. He has in view not single lapses followed by repentance, forgiveness, and greater watchfulness (with God’s help) against recurrence, but ways of life in which some of his readers were set, believing that for Christians there was no harm in them.

Second: What is Paul saying about these habits? Answer: They are ways of sin that, if not repented of and forsaken, will keep people out of God’s kingdom of salvation. Clearly, self-indulgence and self-service, free from self-discipline and self-denial, is the attitude they express, and a lack of moral discernment lies at their heart.

Third: What is Paul saying about homosexuality? Answer: Those who claim to be Christ’s should avoid the practice of same-sex physical connection for orgasm, on the model of heterosexual intercourse. Paul’s phrase, “men who practice homosexuality,” covers two Greek words for the parties involved in these acts. The first, arsenokoitai, means literally “male-bedders,” which seems clear enough. The second, malakoi, is used in many connections to mean “unmanly,” “womanish,” and “effeminate,” and here refers to males matching the woman’s part in physical sex.

“In this context, in which Paul has used two terms for sexual misbehaviour, there is really no room for doubt regarding what he has in mind. He must have known, as Christians today know, that some men are sexually drawn to men rather than women, but he is not speaking of inclinations, only of behaviour, what has more recently been called acting out. His point is that Christians need to resist these urges, since acting them out cannot please God and will reveal lethal impenitence. Romans 1:26 shows that Paul would have spoken similarly about lesbian acting out if he had had reason to mention it here.

Fourth: What is Paul saying about the gospel? Answer: Those who, as lost sinners, cast themselves in genuine faith on Christ and so receive the Holy Spirit, as all Christians do (see Gal. 3:2), find transformation through the transaction. They gain cleansing of conscience (the washing of forgiveness), acceptance with God (justification), and strength to resist and not act out the particular temptations they experience (sanctification). As a preacher friend declared to his congregation, “I want you to know that I am a non-practicing adulterer.” Thus he testified to receiving strength from God.

“With some of the Corinthian Christians, Paul was celebrating the moral empowering of the Holy Spirit in heterosexual terms; with others of the Corinthians, today’s homosexuals are called to prove, live out, and celebrate the moral empowering of the Holy Spirit in homosexual terms. Another friend, well known to me for 30 years, has lived with homosexual desires all his adult life, but remains a faithful husband and father, sexually chaste, through the power of the Holy Spirit, according to the gospel. He is a model in every way. We are all sexually tempted, one way or another, yet we may all tread the path of chastity through the Spirit’s enablement, and thereby please God.

“Missing Paul’s point

“As one who assumes the full seriousness and sincerity of all who take part in today’s debates among Christians regarding homosexuality, both in New Westminster and elsewhere, I now must ask: how can anyone miss the force of what Paul says here? There are, I think, two ways in which this happens.

One way, the easier one to deal with, is the way of special exegesis: I mean interpretations that, however possible, are artificial and not natural, but that allow one to say, “What Paul is condemning is not my sort of same-sex union.” Whether a line of interpretation is artificial, so constituting misinterpretation, is, I grant, a matter of personal judgment. I do not, however, know how any reasonable person could read Robert A. J. Gagnon’s 500-page book, The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (Abingdon, 2001), and not conclude that any exegesis evading the clear meaning of Paul is evasive indeed. Nor from now on can I regard anyone as qualified to debate homosexuality who has not come to terms with Gagnon’s encyclopaedic examination of all the relevant passages and all the exegetical hypotheses concerning them. I have not always agreed with James Barr, but when on the dust jacket he describes Gagnon’s treatise as “indispensable even for those who disagree with the author,” I think he is absolutely right.

The second way, which is harder to engage, is to let experience judge the Bible. Some moderns, backed by propaganda from campaigners for homosexual equality, and with hearts possessed by the pseudo-Freudian myth that you can hardly be a healthy human without active sexual expression, feel entitled to say: “Our experience is˜in other words, we feel˜that gay unions are good, so the Bible’s prohibitions of gay behaviour must be wrong.” The natural response is that the Bible is meant to judge our experience rather than the other way around, and that feelings of sexual arousal and attraction, generating a sense of huge significance and need for release in action as they do, cannot be trusted as either a path to wise living or a guide to biblical interpretation. Rhyming the point to make what in my youth was called a grook: the sweet bright fire / of sexual desire / is a dreadful liar. But more must be said than that.

Two views of the Bible

At issue here is a Grand Canyon-wide difference about the nature of the Bible and the way it conveys God’s message to modern readers. Two positions challenge each other.

One is the historic Christian belief that through the prophets, the incarnate Son, the apostles, and the writers of canonical Scripture as a body, God has used human language to tell us definitively and transculturally about his ways, his works, his will, and his worship. Furthermore, this revealed truth is grasped by letting the Bible interpret itself to us from within, in the knowledge that the way into God’s mind is through that of the writers. Through them, the Holy Spirit who inspired them teaches the church. Finally, one mark of sound biblical insights is that they do not run counter to anything else in the canon.

This is the position of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, and of evangelicals and other conservative Protestants. There are differences on the place of the church in the interpretive process, but all agree that the process itself is essentially as described. I call this the objectivist position.

The second view applies to Christianity the Enlightenment’s trust in human reason, along with the fashionable evolutionary assumption that the present is wiser than the past. It concludes that the world has the wisdom, and the church must play intellectual catch-up in each generation in order to survive. From this standpoint, everything in the Bible becomes relative to the church’s evolving insights, which themselves are relative to society’s continuing development (nothing stands still), and the Holy Spirit’s teaching ministry is to help the faithful see where Bible doctrine shows the cultural limitations of the ancient world and needs adjustment in light of latter-day experience (encounters, interactions, perplexities, states of mind and emotion, and so on). Same-sex unions are one example. This view is scarcely 50 years old, though its antecedents go back much further. I call it the subjectivist position.

In the New Westminster debate, subjectivists say that what is at issue is not the authority of Scripture, but its interpretation. I do not question the sincerity of those who say this, but I have my doubts about their clear-headedness. The subjectivist way of affirming the authority of Scripture, as the source of the teaching that now needs to be adjusted, is precisely a denying of Scripture’s authority from the objectivist point of view, and clarity requires us to say so. The relative authority of ancient religious expertise, now to be revamped in our post-Christian, multi-faith, evolving Western world, is one view. The absolute authority of God’s unchanging utterances, set before us to be learned, believed, and obeyed as the mainstream church has always done, never mind what the world thinks, is the other.

What are represented as different “interpretations” are in fact reflections of what is definitive: in the one view, the doctrinal and moral teaching of Scripture is always final for Christian people; in the other view, it never is. What is definitive for the exponents of that view is not what the Bible says, as such, but what their own minds come up with as they seek to make Bible teaching match the wisdom of the world.

Each view of biblical authority sees the other as false and disastrous, and is sure that the long-term welfare of Christianity requires that the other view be given up and left behind as quickly as possible. The continuing conflict between them, which breaks surface in the disagreement about same-sex unions, is a fight to the death, in which both sides are sure that they have the church’s best interests at heart. It is most misleading, indeed crass, to call this disagreement simply a difference about interpretation, of the kind for which Anglican comprehensiveness has always sought to make room.

Spiritual dangers

In addition, major spiritual issues are involved. To bless same-sex unions liturgically is to ask God to bless them and to enrich those who join in them, as is done in marriage ceremonies. This assumes that the relationship, of which the physical bond is an integral part, is intrinsically good and thus, if I may coin a word, blessable, as procreative sexual intercourse within heterosexual marriage is. About this assumption there are three things to say.

First, it entails deviation from the biblical gospel and the historic Christian creed. It distorts the doctrines of creation and sin, claiming that homosexual orientation is good since gay people are made that way, and rejecting the idea that homosexual inclinations are a spiritual disorder, one more sign and fruit of original sin in some people’s moral system. It distorts the doctrines of regeneration and sanctification, calling same-sex union a Christian relationship and so affirming what the Bible would call salvation in sin rather than from it.

Second, it threatens destruction to my neighbour. The official proposal said that ministers who, like me, are unwilling to give this blessing should refer gay couples to a minister willing to give it. Would that be pastoral care? Should I not try to help gay people change their behaviour, rather than to anchor them in it? Should I not try to help them to the practice of chastity, just as I try to help restless singles and divorcees to the practice of chastity? Do I not want to see them all in the kingdom of God?

Third, it involves the delusion of looking to God ‘actually asking him’ to sanctify sin by blessing what he condemns. This is irresponsible, irreverent, indeed blasphemous, and utterly unacceptable as church policy.

How could I do it? Changing a historical tradition

Finally, a major change in Anglicanism is involved: Writing into a diocesan constitution something that Scripture, canonically interpreted, clearly and unambiguously rejects as sin. This has never been done before, and ought not to be done now.

All the written standards of post-Reformation Anglicanism have been intentionally biblical and catholic. They have been biblical in terms of the historic view of the nature and authority of Scripture. They have been catholic in terms of the historic consensus of the mainstream church.

Many individual eccentricities and variations may have been tolerated in practice. The relatively recent controversial permissions to remarry the divorced and make women presbyters arguably had biblical warrant, though minorities disputed this. In biblical and catholic terms, however, the New Westminster decision writes legitimation of sin into the diocese’s constitutional standards.

It categorizes the tolerated abstainers as the awkward squad of eccentrics rather than the mainstream Anglicans that they were before. It is thus a decision that can only be justified in terms of biblical relativism, the novel notion of biblical authority that to my mind is a cuckoo in the Anglican nest and a heresy in its own right. It is a watershed decision for world Anglicanism, for it changes the nature of Anglicanism itself. It has to be reversed.

Luther’s response at Worms when he was asked to recant all his writings echoes in my memory, as it has done for more than 50 years.

Unless you prove to me by Scripture and plain reason that I am wrong, I cannot and will not recant. My conscience is captive to the Word of God. To go against conscience is neither right nor safe [it endangers the soul]. Here I stand. There is nothing else I can do. God help me. Amen.

Conscience is that power of the mind over which we have no power, which binds us to believe what we see to be true and do what we see to be right. Captivity of conscience to the Word of God, that is, to the absolutes of God’s authoritative teaching in the Bible, is integral to authentic Christianity.

More words from Luther come to mind.

If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point that the world and the devil are at the moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages is where the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is merely flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.

Was the protest in order? Was “no” the right way to vote? Did faithfulness to Christ, and faithful confession of Christ, require it? It seems so. And if so, then our task is to stand fast, watch, pray, and fight for better things: for the true authority of the Bible, for the “true truth” of the gospel, and for the salvation of gay people for whom we care.

Taken from Christianity Today, January 21, 2003.

The Church in Wales and formal provision of same sex couples

I have deliberately held back from responding to the recent Church in Wales resolution at its last Governing Body to make what it terms &quo...