500 years on – does the reformation still matter?

Peter Jensen

When all is said and done, the fundamental question for every human being is, ‘How can a sinner like me stand before God on the Day of Judgement?’

Does this still matter? There is only one answer.

This year we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. The Christian faith and the Church appeared early in Britain. But over the years, the teaching of the Church obscured the good news of the Gospel of Jesus.  By embracing the doctrine of the Protestant Reformers, the Church of England returned to its biblical foundations. It was not a new Church, but the Church reformed.

Our English Bible, our Prayer Book and the Articles of Religion were the product of those who were prepared to lay down their very lives for the truths which had gripped them. As far as they were concerned, the gospel itself was at stake. And that was more important than institutional unity.

We should regret the way in which lives on both sides were taken for the sake of the truth. But this in no way lessens our appreciation of and thankfulness for, those who were martyred for the biblical gospel. Their faithfulness made the gospel available to us.

What did martyrs like Archbishop Thomas Cranmer emphasise? Well, first of all, the sinfulness of sin and the mortal danger of the human soul. How can a sinner stand before the Judgement Seat of God?

They gave a clear and biblical answer.

Down Proud Heart, Down Vile Clay

The first thing they stressed was the sinfulness of the human race.

They stressed that sin is universal. There is only once Person who has lived without sin.

They stressed that sin is deadly. We will be judged by God for our sins and we deserve his condemnation.

They stressed that sin is a transgression of the revealed will of God, especially in his commandments. Sin is an offence against God himself.

They stressed that we are inwardly corrupt. Even the evil desires of the heart are sinful in themselves.

They stressed that we are enslaved by sin. We cannot even begin to turn to God in our own strength.

They stressed that we are helpless to help ourselves. Even our good works are tarnished by sin.

The Church of England produced a set of official sermons, called ‘Homilies’. They were to be read to congregations as setting forth the beliefs of the Church based on Scripture.

In particular, the first five of these are worth our study today, because they set out the nature of the biblical gospel. The first homily is on the place of Scripture. The second homily sets out very clearly, ‘the Misery of all mankind’. Given the teaching outlined above, it is not surprising that the homily says to us:
‘Let us look down upon our feet, and then down peacock’s feathers, down proud heart, down vile clay, frail and brittle vessels.’

Sin constitutes the essence of the human problem and leaves us with no capacity to help ourselves. No amount of human preening and optimism can save us.

In the centuries which have passed, two things are clear.  The biblical analysis as given to us by the reformers remains true. None of us ever have to teach our children to do the wrong thing – they do that without help from us. The wickedness and evil of the human heart is on display every day; when we fail to see it in others it is because we are accustomed to it; when we fail to see it on ourselves it is because we are hiding from the truth. When we fail to see it in history and in the headlines it is because we have deprived ourselves of the capacity to make sound moral judgements based on the law of God.

Secondly, the human race has an inveterately good opinion of itself. In particular, there have been cultural movement in the last centuries which have rejected the biblical account of our slavery to sin and our deserving of judgement and have inserted instead an optimistic account of human capacity and progress.

Unfortunately even some of the heirs to the Reformers in the Protestant Churches have embraced this unbiblical optimism. There has even been the suggestion that Christians can achieve perfection in this life. Often, too it has been taught that we must choose God and contribute something to our own salvation by good works.

Even more astonishing, we see in such movements as the prosperity gospel the worship of faith itself as though human faith is a power which will move God, instead of seeing it as taking all its strength from Jesus and exalting him alone.

This is all a long way from the Reformation re-statement of the gospel of God’s grace. If you want to see the Anglican teaching, you can study – and pray – the General Confession in the services of the Prayer Book of 1662.  You can also study Articles 9 and 10 of the 39 Articles and the Homily of the Misery of Man.

These sources will give you a very different account of what it is to be human from the optimism of so many in the Church and the world. And they will lay the proper foundation for understanding what God has done for us in Christ.

If you don’t understand the extent, power and horror of human evil, you cannot understand the Gospel of the grace of God.

Here I straddle: I can do no other

melvin-tinker

Author:

Melvin Tinker

The report from the House of Bishops on Marriage and Same-sex Relationships is not without its admirers and detractors in equal measure. I want to come at the report and the responses to it, especially from evangelicals who have given it more than a generous welcome, from a slightly different angle.

This year marks the 500th anniversary of the magisterial Reformation. The iconic picture of Martin Luther nailing his 95 theses to the door of Wittenberg Castle may seem light years away from the blog blitz that has resulted from the House of Bishops tentatively presenting their proposals to a mildly interested press conference. I want to argue that at least one of Augustinian monk’s arguments is penetratingly relevant to the current Anglican scene on the whole matter of same-sex relations and the constellation of issues surrounding it.

A Luther moment

It is there in theses 21, “A theology of glory calls evil good and good evil. A theology of the cross calls the thing what it actually is.”

For Luther the theologians of glory extrapolate from what they see in nature to the supernatural being of God. This underlies much of the present thinking of the gay identity problem in the Church. The fundamental stance is that this is the way God has made me, (with the odd Bible verse thrown in to back it up as in the Bishop’s report ‘The Psalmist rejoices that human beings are “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Ps. 139.13).’), which in turn is confirmed by a secular society’s view that personal identity is not simply connected with sexual identity, but that the latter is the dominant, defining feature. This results in a belief in a god who is very much like us who, invariably, affirms us. This is nothing less than an attempt to domesticate God. [See Kevin J Vanhoozer, Biblical Authority After Babel: Retrieving the Solas in the Spirit of Mere Christianity (Brazos Press, Grand Rapids, 2016) 40]

The resulting god is, in fact, no god at all. As Feuerbach argued (with which Luther would have agreed) such religion is nothing but an idolatrous, human construction. It is “a dream, in which our conceptions and emotions appear to us as separate existences, beings out of ourselves.” [Ludwig Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, trans, George Eliot (Buffalo: Prometheus, 1989), 204.]

This religion of glory is little more than what was described by Sigmund Freud: the future of an illusion, a preference for one’s own thoughts about God.

The Bishop’s report is a contemporary instance of such a theology of glory. What is singularly lacking is any doctrine of the fallen condition of human beings and the willingness to call a thing for ‘what it is’, in this case, that homosexual genital relations are sinful.  Whilst there is no explicit statement whereby ‘evil is called good and good evil’, the implication is that when it is said that the church needs to ‘welcome and support lesbian and gay people’ it includes those who are actively engaged in homoerotic sexual activity. When this is considered with the permission that clergy may ‘pray with same sex couples’, say, following a civil partnership, then no other conclusion can be drawn but that God is being asked to bless that relationship. In which case the line has been crossed and evil is being called good.

The ambiguity of this document contrasts markedly with the General Synod Motion of 1987: “This Synod affirms that the biblical and traditional teaching on chastity and fidelity in personal relationships is a response to, and an expression of God’s love for each one of us, and in particular affirms:

  1. That sexual intercourse is an act of total commitment which belongs properly within a permanent married relationship;
  2. That fornication and adultery are sins against this ideal, and are to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion;
  3. That homosexual genital acts also fall short of this ideal, and are likewise to be met by a call to repentance and compassion;
  4. That all Christians are called to be exemplary in all spheres of morality, including sexual morality, and that holiness of life is particularly required for Christian leaders.”

How things have change in less than 30 years!

But of course ambiguity is the hallmark of a theology of glory which feels it can construct its own religion, often at the behest of a surrounding pagan culture. One may go even further in seeing this document as a working out of Joseph Goebbels dictum, ‘We do not talk to say something but to obtain an effect.’ The intended effect here is to give the impression that it is business as usual (affirming biblical marriage), but moving things forward very subtly in a revisionist direction (the acceptance of homosexual genital relations).

It is at this point that another insight of Luther is pertinent.

In his The Babylonian Captivity of the Christian Church Luther argued that the gospel had become captive to the institutional church. However many times the term ‘gospel’ may be used in this report, it seems little more than a ‘hooray’ word, a token which lacks any clear definition but which is assumed will gain everyone’s allegiance. Of course, its cohesive effect in the toxic belief mix which is the Church of England is dependent upon it being ill defined. The result is that the gospel which is of ‘first importance’ (1 Corinthians 15:1-8, which constitutes the gospel’s material principle) is obscured and so held captive by the institution of the Church of England and, indeed, by no less a figure than the Archbishop of Canterbury himself. In his lecture on evangelism given at Lambeth Palace in 2016 Justin Welby said, ‘There is obviously a huge amount that has been written about the content of the Good News, the Gospel, and there’s a good amount more that will be. We will never plumb the depths of the wonder of the Gospel; there will always be more to be said. I am not going to enter that debate, apart from saying that the Gospel is the Good News of Jesus Christ. It’s the announcement of a person in history, and what God has done in this one life for everyone who has ever lived and ever will live.’ One would be hard pressed to find a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon who would disagree with such a definition, but it is hardly the Gospel of the New Testament. Here too, the theology of glory weaves its work.

The theology of the cross (theologia crucis), by way of contrast to the ‘double speak’ of the theologians of glory, ‘calls a thing what it actually is.’ Theology of glory has an anthropology which lacks any notion of the fall. Rather, our problem is perceived as social or maybe metaphysical but not moral. And so working from what we can ‘see’ regarding our perceived self- worth as ‘God made me’, any questioning of the moral validity of our state is considered to be not only an attack on the individual, but God too for how can one claim he got it wrong in making his creature so fearfully and wonderfully gay?

But the theology of the cross presents us with a less flattering view of ourselves. In the Book which marked Luther’s breakthrough, Paul’s letter to the Romans, the apostle demonstrates that it is humankind’s natural bent to be theologians of glory, making god in their own image and so dethroning him for an idol. Three times in chapter 1 Paul speaks of us engaging in an exchange. In v 23 we exchange that which is immortal- God, for that which is perishable and non-God as the main object of our affections, human beings or even animals. In v25 we exchange the truth about reality that God is the centre of all things, for the lie, that we are the centre. And then in v26ff we exchange natural sexual relations for non-natural which deface our God given image of male and female bonded together as one flesh.  The gay debate is really an expression of this threefold exchange which God’s special revelation presents us with.  It is calling a thing what it is which is missing in this report.

An Elijah moment

But calling a thing what it is will often be met with downright hostility because it does not flatter our ego and cuts across our ‘glory’ religion. This most notably occurred a few years ago at the 2003 National Evangelical Anglican Congress at Blackpool when the Old Testament scholar, Dr Gordon Wenham, pointed out that many modern attitudes, including those towards homosexual relations were in fact examples of ancient paganism, “(Paganism) is raising its head again. Other examples are religious pluralism, abolition of Sunday as universal rest day, abortion, cremation, easy divorce … we should not be intimidated by the charge of being old fashioned: it is the so-called liberals who are really taking us back to the dark ages.” He was right. The Baal cult (a theology of glory if ever there was) was a fertility cult- very popular in the nations surrounding Israel. Not surprisingly the ‘church’ of the day succumbed to this cultural enticement and accommodated itself accordingly. But there came the crucial time when the people had to decide who was really Lord: Baal or Yahweh (1 Kings 18:17ff)? Like Luther many years later, Elijah was very much in the minority. The sight of all the prophets of the ‘establishment’ (all eight hundred and fifty of them) in their fine regalia lined up against one ragged individual must have convinced the on looking crowd that it was a no contest even before it started. But (again like Luther many years later) Elijah was captive to the Word of God and stood against the corrupt and corrupting paganism of his day, as Luther did against the effective paganised religion of his time. That is when the fire came down and people saw the thing for what it was.

Is this not a time for a Luther and Elijah moment in the Church of England today?

It is bewildering; to say the least, that evangelicals have welcomed this document so positively. That it affirms traditional marriage is no surprise. What did people expect? But what is given with one hand is taken away with the other as the way is clearly being paved for the acceptance, without any call to repentance (which is part of the Gospel call of the cross –‘Christ died for sinners’) of those engaged in homosexual genital relations which the Bible expressly forbids. To think that the door can be shut on the latter in some General Synod debate amounts to nothing short of self-delusion. Compare the 1987 ‘Higton motion’ with what has been produced in Synod in recent years and the trajectory is clearly there for all who want to see. But there is the rub. There are some who don’t want to see.

Those in REFORM and ReNew and indeed GAFCON, have been seeking change within the Church of England to bring it in belief and practice more in line with Scripture as its supreme authority. There are three options open to those in the denomination as things stand.

  1.  Slow death. This is what is occurring in the Church of England at large and by all the social indicators.  This characterises those (including some evangelicals) who want ‘peace with pay (or a prelacy) and so will not rock the boat. These will be favoured by the establishment over any perceived trouble makers (like Luther!).
  2.  Quick Exit. Leave the denomination. If things continue along the trajectory as laid down by the Bishop’s report there will be more evangelicals taking this option (as well as less evangelicals coming into the denomination at a leadership level).
  3.  Deep Change. This is a term developed by the writer Robert E Quinn to describe how long term and significant change is effected in an organisation with a resulting revitalisation. There are three features which characterise ‘deep changers’: [Robert E Quinn, Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within ((Jossey-Bass Business & Management Series), 1996)]
  4. They must be willing to break the rules which hinder growth.
  5. They must risk their jobs- willing to court the opprobrium of the establishment.
  6. They must be willing to “walk naked into the land of uncertainty” or build bridges while still crossing them. This means going ahead, not recklessly, but moving forward without knowing beforehand what the outcome might be.

Of course option 3 is the way of Luther and marks the theology of the cross- weak, costly, foolish in the eyes of the world and the Babylonian Church, but in the economy of God the genuine manifestation of grace. In practice this will take many forms. It will involve those within the establishment breaking canon law for the sake of the gospel and people’s eternal salvation as the local context requires it. It will mean more church planting outside the compromised denomination through bodies such as AMiE or the Free Church of England or with the support of other provinces. In short, it will mean ‘messy church’.

We must remember that Luther and the other magisterial Reformers did not reform the Roman Catholic Church. It came to the point where many of them questioned whether it was a church at all.  What has been happening in the Church of England, very steadily since the Archbishopric of Robert Runcie, has been the institutionalisation of error and immorality. This was not the case at the time of J C Ryle who some evangelicals are fond of pointing to as a role model of ‘stay in it to win it’. Do we honestly think that Ryle would have accepted the present situation for a single second? Of course not! So why is it that his pretended heirs think they can?

The Bishop’s report is a sugar coated pill which in the long term is poison. The theology of glory which is embedded on every page signals its unacceptability. Evangelicals who wish to maintain their integrity have no option but to embrace the theology of the cross and all that that entails- suffering and rejection.

Parable of the Rescuer at Sea

life-raft

On a sunny, summer day, the disciples and their master sat talking on a grassy knoll in the Welsh town of Hay-on-Wye.  One disciple told the others about some trustees of a diocese who would not release finances for ministry.  A young man had been encouraged to explore ministry in the diocese and had arrived to begin his training and work, but the wealthy diocese would not put up any funds for his accommodations, let alone a stipend or even funds for education.  ‘The trustees appear to have understood their role to be to guard the diocese’s investments, not to deplete its funds through expenses incurred for actual ministry,’ concluded the disciple.

‘I will tell you a story that I heard as a schoolboy,’ said the master to his disciples.  ‘There was a dairy farmer by the name of Wolraad Woltemade living in the Dutch Cape Colony of South Africa.  In the early hours of the 1st of June, 1773, one of the Cape’s violent storms put the Jonge Thomas, anchored off Table Bay, at great risk.  The captain fired his cannon to alert those on shore of his ship’s distress.  Woltemade heard the cannon, saddled his sturdy horse, and hurriedly headed to the bay.  Meanwhile, the ship broke from its anchor and wrecked on the rocks, breaking in two.  Soldiers stood along the shore, helplessly witnessing the catastrophe.  They feared for their lives were they to attempt a rescue.  Woltemade, however, pressed by them and coaxed his faithful steed into the turbulent waters.  His horse swam out to the wreck, and Woltemade called for two seamen to jump into the water and grab the horse’s tail.  Two hesitant sailors abandoned the sinking hull, dove into the sea, grabbed Vonk by the tail, and were pulled through the waters to the safety of the shore.  Woltemade and Vonk repeated this rescue again and again, until fourteen survivors were rescued by them.  Woltemade and his horse entered the stormy waters an eighth time.  When they reached the Jonge Thomas, the remaining shipmen feared that Woltemade would not be able to return again.  The battered hull of the Jonge Thomas was breaking apart.  Too many of those still stranded at sea, however, jumped ship for the only rescue offered by the colony.  Holding on to Woltemade and Vonk, everyone disappeared beneath the waters.’

The disciples sat in silence, with thoughts of a far off colony at the tip of Africa, the Jonge Thomas wrecked on the rocks, and dying men holding on to Woltemade and his horse in the raging sea.  ‘It is just so in the Anglican Communion,’ said the master.  ‘The Episcopal Church in the USA, closing a church every week, has spent millions in litigation to wrestle church properties from faithful members, crippling the Church’s mission and opting for a false gospel.  In the UK, the Church sits with wealthy properties but dwindling memberships, like soldiers standing on the shore while people are dying in the storm.  The institutional Church has turned itself into a trust and has forgotten its mission.  Ministerial training has faltered, and those willing to serve are under-resourced.  Imagine if the Church were once again to become a mission.  Imagine if it rediscovered the salvation it is supposed to offer.  Imagine if it released its resources to save the lost.  Imagine if it cared enough to risk itself in ministry. Imagine if it left the comfort of its parishes and dioceses and entered the stormy waters to seek and to save the lost and dying. Indeed, imagine the outcome if the Cape colony had developed a Coast Guard and equipped it with all it needed to rescue people from the storms and tend to their injuries.  Imagine the Church about its mission.’

Posted by Rollin Grams at 12:04:00 Links to this post

The Bible and the Reformation – Chris Wright

Diocese of Egypt
January 30, 2017

Visiting Egypt for the 500th anniversary of the European Reformation, Chris Wright aptly taught on Biblical preaching. And in his public lecture to nearly 300 people on January 26, he focused on the centrality of the Bible for all reformation.

“Ecclesia semper reformanda,” Wright said. “The church must be continually under reformation, renewed by the Bible.”

Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis of Egypt invited Wright to All Saint’s Cathedral in Cairo to train Anglican clergy how to minister the Word of God in their churches. In a series of four presentations he emphasized godly preaching must be both Biblically faithful and culturally relevant.

Wright is the international ministries director of the Langham Partnership, dedicated to educating pastors toward theological maturity. The ministry began under John Stott, rector of All Souls Church at Langham Place. Wright has a PhD in Old Testament ethics from Cambridge University, and encouraged the clergy not to neglect this great treasure.

“The Old Testament was the Bible of Jesus,” he said. “And if we neglect it we deprive our congregations of a great deal of depth about who Jesus is.”

Wright is the author of more than 15 books, and his Knowing Jesus through the Old Testament is one of ten that have been translated into Arabic.

And in his translated public lecture, he expounded on how Ezra and Nehemiah set a reformation pattern later followed by Luther, Calvin, and other Protestant pioneers.

Expounding on Nehemiah 8-10, Wright outlined four essential movements. The first focuses on the ears, as the Word of God is read and listened to. As Ezra and Nehemiah brought together the whole people, so did Luther make the Bible accessible for the masses. And not just the masses, but political and spiritual leaders also come under its authority.

The second movement focuses on the mind, as the Word of God is translated and taught. As Ezra and Nehemiah helped now-Aramaic speaking Jews understand the original Hebrew, so also Luther translated the New Testament from Greek into the German vernacular. Both also ensured that those they instructed were equipped to teach others.

The third movement focuses on the heart, as the Word of God produces weeping and rejoicing. Ezra and Nehemiah led the people into an understanding first of their sinfulness before God, but also in realization he is their gracious redeemer. Similarly did Luther guide Germans in knowledge of judgment and grace, and provided also a wealth of hymns and liturgy for communal response in praise.

The fourth movement focuses on the hands, as the Word of God prompts finding and doing. Ezra, Nehemiah, and Luther were purposeful students of the scripture, engaging it far beyond the duty of ritual. And as Luther would rediscover that though salvation is through faith alone, he and the Old Testament reformers insisted it is a faith that never stays alone. True faith produces the fruit of transformation as God’s commands are put into practice.

These movements are an essential part of Biblical preaching, as Wright made clear in his seminar lectures as well. In addition to the Anglican Alexandria School of Theology, Bishop Mouneer Anis invited also the Orthodox, Catholic, and Evangelical seminaries to participate. Though expecting around 60 people, 135 attended, including the Archbishop of Sudan and three additional Sudanese bishops.

To all he gave the same message, as relevant in Europe 500 years ago as it is today.

“As heirs of the Reformation,” said Wright, “we must search the scriptures together and respond with all sincerity and joy.”

END

Does God Call Me to Belong to a Local Church where the Word of God is not being Taught?

“Does God call me to belong to a local church where the Word of God is not being taught?” That was one of the questions I have often been asked. I hope to have an occasional series looking at these kind of questions.

To some the answer  to this particular question is so obvious that they think even the question is daft.   But life is not as simple as all that.  Imagine that you live in a small village or town where there is a local church.   It’s not heretical in the sense that its official creed is orthodox and the minister or pastor does not really preach against it.  You want to be a witness.  You want to be able to invite your search-2neighbours, your friends and your family who live in the area to the church.  You want to participate in community life, help with the parent and toddlers, be part of the churches social witness.   If you go to an out-of-town church then all that seems to be negated.  Surely it is better to hang in and try to be salt and light within the church?  As a friend once argued, the local church is a great boat to fish in.

I have enormous sympathy with that point of view and furthermore I don’t want to be a kind of sectarian or denominational Christian who is only going to go to a church where every t is crossed and every i dotted to my taste.  I once preached in a church in the US, where I met a couple who told me that had travelled over 1500 miles to come to it because it was ‘the only church in the US where the gospel was faithfully preached’!  They were wrong.     I am not here talking about denominations, liturgical styles or secondary issues.    Even though I am not a Baptist if there was a local Baptist church where the Word of God was faithfully preached then I would not particularly care if it was Baptist.   However what about the situation where that is not the case?

Let me give some concrete examples.   One woman queried whether she should continue to go to a local church which didn’t preach the gospel, or one further away which did. She was asked, ‘could you take your friends and family to the local church and be confident they would hear the Good News?”. Her answer was ‘absolutely not’. To which the response was then ‘thats a no-brainer’. If you can’t invite your friends and family to the church because you are not sure if they will hear the gospel, then what are you doing in that church?

Another friend in Edinburgh told me that he was going to go to his nearest church, a large Church of Scotland, ‘to be a witness’.  With a membership of 1,000 and an attendance of 200 it was traditionally ‘liberal’.  So he went and was given permission to have an evening service/bible study to which about 20 people came.  After three years he left Edinburgh and moved into a small town in the middle of Scotland.  I asked him which church he was going to and he responded the local small Baptist church.  I was a bit cheeky and asked him why he did not go to the much larger C of S where he could be a witness.  His response said it all – he was exhausted after three years of doing that and needed his own soul to be fed.

I have great admiration for those who stick it out in roles as Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, elders and members in congregations where they struggle with the lack of teaching and the general spiritual climate….however I think the two stories above and many others perhaps illustrate why there is time for a rethink.

Let me put it this way – what is the great need in Scotland?  What is the number one priority for the Church?  Surely it is that there is a famine of hearing the Word of the Lord. People don’t know the Bible.  They don’t know the Word of Life.  They don’t know the Word that brings them Christ.  They don’t primarily need playgroups, art festivals and foodbanks.  Please note I am not decrying these things – they should spring from the preaching and believing of the Word, but they should not replace it.    Here is the search-1crucial thing – just going to church is not a witness in the eyes of the general public.  The Church is to be the witness.   The Church is not the Good News.  The Church is to believe and proclaim the Good News.   Likewise the church is not a boat to fish in but rather a boat to fish from.  If the boat is sinking then why would we bring people on board?

Furthermore it’s not just that we need to bring the good news as a church, we also need to be fed ourselves.  One of the reasons our witness is so weak is that we ourselves have become so spiritually anemic.   If are not fed we will starve.  And how does the Lord feed us.  Yes – we can get internet sermons, podcasts, books and we can read the Word of God for ourselves.     But we normally need more.   And I don’t believe that ‘more’ is provided by a couple of special conferences in the year.  We dont’ get filled up at that event no matter how special it is.  We need the regular manna of the Word of God being proclaimed on the Lords Day as we gather together with his people and collectively listen, confess, pray and respond.    To me one of the greatest tricks of the devil has been to convince the Lords people that we don’t need the Lord’s Day and the preaching, praise and prayers of the Church.  A consumerist individualistic mindset coupled with a shallow theology and to be frank, a lack of passion and love for Christ, means that, whilst we are happy to seek for and claim extraordinary miracles, we despise and neglect the ordinary means of grace.

When I was a child I remembering travelling 45 minutes each way (twice!) to go to church. What I loved was getting fish and chips on the way home, but one thing that taught me was that my parents really thought that church was important.  Not just church in general but the kind of church we went to.  Of course that can be because of tradition, or a narrow-minded legalism , or just because we can’t get on with anyone in any of the local churches – and I am not defending or advocating that.

This is not about denigrating other churches or some kind of inter-church competition – God forbid! Its far more serious than that. It’s not about denominations or styles. It’s about the Gospel. Its about Jesus Christ. Its about hearing the Word of God.  If the local Church of Scotland preached the Word of God and were free to do so without the interference of Presbytery or Assembly I would go to them as well.  And if the local Free Church was though on paper orthodox, but in reality asleep/dead, I would not go to that. We need  to be very careful before we claim that a situation is dead, or indeed that we don’t ignore the reality if it is!

Let me put it another way.  We can travel many miles to get to our favourite football team, to hear our favourite band, or eat at our favourite restaurant.  Why then do we insist that the only church we can go to is the one within five minutes of our house?     Yes I would go to the local restaurant if it served good food – but if it served poison or rubbish I wouldn’t support it out of some misplaced loyalty, I would go where I could get decent food.  Do I love my stomach more than my soul?    If a restaurant announced that it search-3believed in serving the best food and then when I went in found that the advert was not met by the reality, I wouldn’t go there either.   Far too often I find that churches use the term ‘evangelical’ and yet they feed their people a minimalist diet which does not spiritually connect or satisfy.  It’s not the label, its what’s inside that counts.

It is necessary to offer one more caveat.   I am not talking here about people who church hop according to personal taste or who are so spiritually immature that they are looking for the perfect church (Spurgeon’s rejoinder to one woman who was living the Met to look for the perfect church, still stands “when you find it, madam, don’t join it you will only spoil it!).  I’m not talking about those who want to go to the latest ‘in’ church or the one that is aimed for their particular demographic/age/style.  That is the curse of the modern church – we have created an apartheid church culture where churches aim for particular demographic/social/ethnic groups rather than seeking to be the Church of Christ proclaiming the Word of Christ to all.   I am just simply answering the question whether we should stay in a church where the Word of God is not proclaimed.   To me it is clear that we should not.

I don’t say this because I want people to come to St Peters from other churches or from all around Dundee and beyond.  It gives me great sorrow that people have to come to us on an occasional Sunday because their local church does not feed them the Word of God. I have no desire to see St Peters being built up at the expense of other biblical churches. We want to see the whole Church of Christ grow. But where the Word of God is not being proclaimed can it really be said that there is a church of Christ?  My aim is to plant biblical churches all over the place…in every community.

Maybe its time for believers to just leave the liberal, traditional, legalistic or eccentric churches and get on with being the Church of Jesus Christ, the pillar and foundation of the truth, wherever we are.  If a local Church does not proclaim the Gospel in all its fullness then not only will it die, it deserves to die.  Let the dead bury their dead.  Let us get on with proclaiming the Word of Life to all without fear nor favour.Lets forget the traditional models that we are clinging on to, or the modernist unbiblical concepts of church.  Lets not give in and become ‘churchless Christians’ (an oxymoron if ever there was one!).    Lets avoid spiritual prostitution, even if we call it ‘witness’.  Lets be bold, follow Christ and be his beautiful bride!

Isaiah 8:20 Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.

Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

THE CHRISTMAS MIRACLE

THE CHRISTMAS MIRACLE

By Ted Schroder,
www.tedschroder.com

The birth narrative in Matthew’s Gospel (Matt.1:18-25) is a combination of facts adding up to a momentous truth. Jesus was born in unusual circumstances. His mother was a virgin. She was planning to be married to Joseph, and was found to be pregnant — not an unusual circumstance these days but a scandal in that society. Joseph, naturally enough, wondered who was the father. He must have been upset to say the least. He planned to divorce her, but did not want to embarrass her further. She must have tried to tell him what she knew: that an angel had told her that she would conceive a child through the action of the Holy Spirit. But he did not buy that story. What man would? Then he had a dream. In it an angel appeared to him and told him not to be afraid, and that what Mary had said was true: what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. Matthew saw this unique pregnancy as the fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah. Joseph took Mary home to be his wife. These are the facts as they are presented.

The uniqueness of Mary’s pregnancy contributes to the uniqueness of the baby born. He is presented as both truly God and truly Man. Such a thing is naturally impossible and cannot be proven. Therefore it requires faith in God who can do impossible things, like creating the world out of nothing. Siegfried Sassoon has a poem entitled, The Unproven.

Looking at Life, some unbelieved-in angels
Asked one another when
Science would overhear them and encourage
Their ministries to men.

Listening outside Eternity for Knowledge
And divination of Death
Stood Science. Hushed was Heaven; and all those angels,
Still hopeful, held their breath.

Some people find the miraculous element of the birth narratives: angels, and virgins, stars and wise men, too much to believe. I have never had a problem with the miraculous. I find life on Earth to be a miracle. I find conception, gestation and birth to be a miracle. As far as I am concerned God can do anything he chooses to do. Who am I to limit him? Tom Wright writes,

“There are indeed many more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in post-enlightenment metaphysics. The ‘closed continuum’ of cause and effect is a modernist myth. The God who does not ‘intervene’ from the outside but is always present and active within the world, sometimes shocking, may well have been thus active on this occasion. We very well could get on one’s high metaphysical horse and insist that God cannot behave like this, though we do not know that ahead of time. Along with a high moral horse insisting that God ought not to do things like this, because we send the wrong message about sexuality, because divine parentage gave Jesus an unfair start over the rest of us. Such positions produce a cartoon picture: the mouse draws itself up to its full height, puts its paws on its hips and gives the elephant a good dressing down.” (“God’s Way of Acting,” The Christian Century, December 16, 1998, p.1215)

God did something unique in the birth of Jesus. Max Lucado put it this way:

“in reality, that particular moment was like none other. For through that segment of time a spectacular thing occurred. God became a man. While the creatures of earth walked unaware, Divinity arrived. Heaven opened herself and placed her most precious one in a human womb.
The omnipotent, in one instant, made himself breakable. He who had been spirit became piercable. He was larger than the universe became an embryo. And he who sustains the world with a word chose to be dependent upon the nourishment of a young girl.
God as a fetus. Holiness sleeping in a womb. The creator of life being created.
God was given eyebrows, elbows, two kidneys, and a spleen. He stretched himself against the walls and floated in the amniotic fluid of his mother.”
God had come near. (“God Came Near,” p.25)

If all that is presented in the birth narratives of the Gospels really happened, what are the implications for us?

It would cause us to bow in worship — in wonder and humility at God in action, coming to be with us, to save us from our sins. If God is with us in the human life of Jesus, then we must listen and learn from him. It would puncture our conceptions of a world that is empty of God, of angels, or miracles, and confined only to the mundane, the rational and the abstract. Life is expanded, it is holy, it is filled with wonder, with love, with joy that God is at work to save us.

A Prayer.

Loving Father, now at the climax of this time of waiting I offer you all my longing and hoping in it. May the wonder of it all be renewed in me. Let the mystery and holiness of your great gift to us, which we celebrate afresh, come upon me as strangely and gloriously as to the shepherds in the fields near Bethlehem.
Father let me glimpse the joy of the angels at the goodness of God; let me know myself freed by this infant Savior from all that I am ashamed of and would leave behind: the guilt of a life selfishly lived, the burden of spoilt relationships, and the misery of failed effort.
Lord God, I bring all these to the poor stable, and ask that in this place my past may no more be seen, but my present and future be lit by that shining and generous love which shone around the angels as they sang of glory, and which shines for all of us where Christ is born.
Bless those for whom amidst other’s joy this is a hard and bitter time of suffering or remembering, those for whom your gift seems to offer so little comfort. Deepen true care in my heart for them; and for those for whom this time has no holiness or glimpse of the wonder of your love. Thank you that your gift is to us all, and that you patiently await our acceptance. Bring us all, dear Father, at the last to know it and receive it. Amen. Ruth Etchells, Just As I Am, p.136

END

Experienced nurse fired from job after offering to pray for patients waiting for surgery

Sister Sarah Kuteh is now suing Darent Valley hospital in Dartford, Kent for unfair dismissal
Sister Sarah Kuteh is now suing Darent Valley hospital in Dartford, Kent for unfair dismissal Credit: David McHugh/Brighton Pictures

A nurse with 15 years’ experience who offered to pray for patients waiting for surgery has been sacked from her job for gross misconduct.

Sister Sarah Kuteh was accused of holding “unwanted discussions” which allegedly upset patients and ignoring conduct guidelines on discussing personal beliefs.

She is now suing Darent Valley hospital in Dartford, Kent for unfair dismissal, reports the Daily Mail.

The mother-of-three claims her job involved asking people preparing for surgery about their religion and that she believed patients were comfortable talking about their beliefs with her.

The dismissal comes after the Equality and Human Rights Commission criticised politically correct organisations that restrict freedom of expression
The dismissal comes after the Equality and Human Rights Commission criticised politically correct organisations that restrict freedom of expression Credit:  David McHugh/Brighton Pictures

She said she was suspended and then escorted from the hospital in what she describes was a “disproportionate and punitive” reaction.

“I was walked out of that hospital after all I had done over all my years as a nurse and I was told I couldn’t even speak to any of my colleagues.

“All I had done was to nurse from the very bottom of my heart. How could it ever be harmful to tell someone about Jesus?”

The dismissal comes after the Equality and Human Rights Commission criticised politically correct organisations that restrict freedom of expression.

And a few weeks ago Theresa May told MPs that Christians should feel able to talk about their faith in the workplace.

A committed Christian, Mrs Kuteh moved to Dartford in 2007 and became a sister in 2012. In November 2015, she took on a new role, assessing patients’ health before they went for surgery.

Theresa May recently told MPs that Christians should feel able to talk about their faith in the workplace
Theresa May recently told MPs that Christians should feel able to talk about their faith in the workplace Credit: Jonathan Brady

On average, Mrs Kuteh would assess for operation around 50 patients a week, speaking to over 1000 patients in six months.

As part of her job she was asked to help patients complete a questionnaire which included a question about religion.

Mrs Kuteh admitted she spoke to a few patients about religion without their permission when she first began the new role. But after a warning in April this year she said she was more careful.

She said the question of religion did sometimes arise if a patient did not select the box on the form marked ‘Religion’. But said it was often the patient who spoke about faith first and that she did not impose her beliefs on anyone.

Mrs Kuteh was sacked in August after an investigation followed three further complaints in June.

This is the latest in the growing list of cases where an expression of Christian beliefs at workplace punishes disproportionately those who live and speak out their faith in public lifeAndrea Williams

The nurse was told one patient complained she had given her a Bible she did not want and had said she would pray for her. And another accused the nurse of “preaching” at her.

The trust told the Daily Mail: “We have a duty to our patients that when they are at their most vulnerable they are not exposed to unsolicited beliefs and/ or views, religious or otherwise. We feel we have acted appropriately in this case.”

Mrs Kuteh is arguing the disciplinary process was flawed as she was not initially shown the complaints.

She said she was only presented with very brief handwritten notes from colleagues who had recorded the patients’ comments, a few lines each, which suggest several patients casually voiced some discontent.

Andrea Williams, Chief Executive of the Christian Legal Centre, who is supporting Mrs Kuteh, said: “Sarah is an experienced, hard-working senior nurse facing a grossly disproportionate punishment for no more than expressing her Christian faith in the workplace. But for the question on the pre-op assessment form, these conversations would not have taken place.

“This is the latest in the growing list of cases where an expression of Christian beliefs at workplace punishes disproportionately those who live and speak out their faith in public life.

“Just one week ago, the Prime Minister in Parliament confirmed that Christians should feel free to talk about their faith in the workplace. Sarah’s case demonstrated that the reality can be quite different.”

Advent pastoral letter from GAFCON chairman Nicholas Okoh

Nicholas Okoh

To the Faithful of the GAFCON movement and friends from Archbishop Nicholas Okoh, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the GAFCON Primates Council.

My dear people of God,

As the season of Advent begins, I am calling on all of us who belong to the GAFCON movement to make this a time when we focus our prayer and our giving on the great work God has called us to do.

At the heart of our mission is the task of restoring the Bible to its rightful place at the centre of the Anglican Communion and if we really believe its message, then everything we do will be shaped by the promise of Christ’s glorious, personal and universal return as Saviour, Judge and Lord. In an uncertain world, this is certain. The election of an outsider as the next President in the United States and the upheaval of the UK’s vote to leave the European Union earlier this year remind us of the uncertainty of human rule and the urgency of proclaiming God’s rule and kingdom.

So we must be ready and prepared, understanding the times, just as the Apostle Paul urges the Christians in Rome when he writes: ‘the hour has come for you to wake out of sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed’ (Romans 13:11).

At this critical point in the life of the Communion, we need your full support. Will it return to the ancient paths or sleepwalk into fatal compromise? By the grace of God, GAFCON is a movement of spiritual awakening in a Communion standing at the crossroads.

I am greatly encouraged by what has already been achieved. GAFCON pioneers new structures where old ones have failed, we are recognised as the leading voice for orthodoxy in the Communion, we are equipping key leaders, in the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration we have given the Communion a contemporary standard of historic Anglican confession and every five years the Anglican Communion has a taste of what it can become as faithful Anglicans gather in growing numbers from around the world in worship and fellowship around God’s Word.

But what especially encourages me about GAFCON is the recovery of gospel courage and enterprise. Much of the Anglican Communion owes its existence to missionary pioneers who were ready to lay down their lives because they were confident in the promises of God, however difficult their circumstances. Now, the same courage is needed to guard that legacy and re-evangelise the increasingly secular West. Let me share just two examples.

Firstly, I thank God that Archbishop Greg Venables will be re-joining the GAFCON Primates Council now that he has been elected to serve again as the Primate of the Anglican Province of South America in succession to our greatly esteemed colleague Presiding Bishop Tito Zavala.  His ministry demonstrates that courage which is so central to the GAFCON story. In his previous term as Primate, despite much opposition, Archbishop Venables bravely supported orthodox Anglicans in North America and stood with the Diocese of Recife in Brazil after it had to withdraw from the Anglican Episcopal Church of Brazil.

We are now seeing similar courage in England as GAFCON UK, led by Canon Andy Lines, endures hostility simply for speaking the truth about the increasing breakdown of church discipline in the Church of England.  There are now clergy and bishops who openly take pride in their rejection of biblical preaching and have even launched a website to encourage the violation of the 1998 Lambeth Conference Resolution I.10 on human sexuality.

But more disturbing is the response of the Church of England at its highest level. The Secretary of the Archbishops’ Council has written an open letter to Canon Lines in which he describes the Lambeth resolution as merely ‘an important document in the history of the Anglican Communion’. But this is no ordinary resolution. It has been the standard appealed to again and again in Communion affairs and most recently in the Communiqué from the Sixth Global South Conference in Cairo which describes it as representing the ‘clear teaching of Scripture’.

God has greatly blessed GAFCON, but there is much yet to do. My vision is for ordinary Anglicans in every continent to be fully alert and committed to this movement of the Holy Spirit to restore our Communion. So please visit the GAFCON website where you will find much to give thanks for and much to pray for. And please help boost our finances.  You can donate online, either a one-off gift or regular donation, here.

My brothers and sisters, may we long for our Lord’s appearing and let us pray and let us give as those who will one day stand before him in the full splendour of his majesty and power.

The Most Revd Nicholas D. Okoh

Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the GAFCON Primates Council

Leaving Home: The future of the Christian faith in England

Author:

The thought of leaving Canterbury, spiritually or emotionally, breaks my heart. I grew up there. I spent five years in the school built around its cloisters. I sang from its tower on Ascension days. I sat for hours at the entrance to the cloisters where Thomas a Becket was struck down for refusing the demands of the secular over the sacred. I took the Eucharist there in the bowels of its undercroft before dawn in the mists of winter. I was confirmed there when the saintly prophetic Michael Ramsey was Archbishop.

But Canterbury has sold its birthright. She planted the orthodox Gospel around the world so that scores of millions worship our adored Risen Christ, but has slid from under the obligations of the Apostolic faith she received, to a heterodox secularized shadow of that faith.

I often wonder how I could explain our present difficulties to St Augustine who came here to evangelise in 597. I think I would say that “just as you, blessed brother in Christ, are still struggling with the Arians, who are powerful in Eastern Europe at the moment, we are struggling with the new Arians. Just as you will overcome them by the 8th Century, we will too, by the power of the Spirit.

But our Arians have assaulted the apostolic faith not by a full on assault on the Holy Trinity, but by a sideways undermining of it. Jesus has become less than the 2nd person of the Trinity because he has been reduced by claiming he suffered from cultural ignorance; he is thought to be  captive to a 1st century culture with its misogyny and restricted sexual ethics. Our heretics have decided that Jesus did not come to reveal the Father, because they have adopted a new secular and essentially Marxist idea, that gender is an oppressive cultural construct. And they join that idea to a second piece of Marxism, that ‘equality’ is the most important social value to strive after. The masculinity of the Father, and that of the Son, are for them unwelcome cultural constraints. The revelation of a hierarchy of glory inverted by love became an anathema to them, because they worship equality.

So they overthrew 2,000 years of apostolic teaching, and ordained women into the place of the Bishop and priest, the representatives of the risen Christ at the Eucharist, saying that gender was of no consequence in the narrative of salvation.

They relentlessly attacked St Paul for teaching us the mystery of the interdependence of man and women in a hierarchy of love and service.

As it happens this coincided with a secular assault on fatherhood. But being spiritually not very aware, they took some pride in joining forces with the secular gender wars, where feminists moved from defending women from abuse to attacking the role of men. Astonishingly, instead of modelling their Christian femininity on Mary, and honouring the gift of joining in the privilege of  co-creating  in Motherhood, they repudiated their own motherhood.  They joined forces with the feminists and supported the holocaust of abortion – mothers killing their own babies. 57 million in America. 7 million here.  Many of the of the new so called Christian women priests describe themselves as feminists, assaulting the masculine and defending the right of women to murder their children.

This is of course was a turning away from the natural order of creation, – in just the way that St Paul described in his letter to the Romans. And you will guess what came next. With the increase of idolatry- the worshipping of the human will and appteties, human relations began to be twisted out of shape. It won’t surprise you that one form or narcissism led to another. The egalitarians attacked the creation ordinance of marriage where men and women come together in mutual dependence under God to create children, and celebrated instead the sterile coupling of men with men and women with women. And where faithful Christians stood up in the public market place to give witness to your Word, the new women priests and their supporters, for whom this sexual narcissism was part of their allegiance to egalitarianism, celebrated the jailing and fining of the faithful as the just punishment for what they called ‘bigotry’.

Your successor as Archbishop stood in the House of Lords to praise the couplings of the homosexuals. It didn’t matter to him that they were biologically sterile and pursued romantic and sexual values that Holy Scripture warned against. He claimed rather that were emotionally fruitful. He even chose to ignore the secular evidence that these relationships consisted of greater domestic violence between women partners, greater promiscuity between male partners and greater social instability for both.

And so the place where you brought the Gospel, and the Church that inherited the Gospel has betrayed not only you, not only those who held office after you, but the Christ in whose name you came. They give him nominal acknowledgement , of course- how could they not,  but they deny His invitation to sexual purity and distort His representation of the Father, and prefer the teaching of social Marxism to obedience to the Gospels.

And I think St Augustine might then say, “but are there no orthodox bishops left you could turn to?”

And the answer would be “Yes, many. All round the world there are faithful Archbishops and bishops faithful to what Canterbury planted in their cultures and hearts. They are called the Global Anglican Fellowship.”

“So then” he would reply, “your question is not where, but when – you re-align your allegiance to my successors?”

And that is the question.

We have yet to hear if and when the Gafcon Primates are  to offer alternative episcopal oversight to orthodox Anglicans.

Our cultural circumstances are very close to those in America. We know that where TEC pursued relativism and secularism, it found only spiritual and institutional corruption.

We know that under Archbishop Foley Beach the ACNA has continued to plant Churches, convert the lost and longing to the faith, and  reconcile the catholic, evangelical  and charismatic charisms. It has kept the historic and apostolic teaching about gender and sexuality. It has resisted the spirit of the age. It flourishes.

We know too that the General Synod of the Church of England has worked assiduously hard to contain and diminish the influence and convictions of those who have kept the orthodox faith.

The spiritual health of the Church of England is a matter of discernment. But since its character as an established Church acts as a kind of chaplaincy to a determinedly secular society, how long  can it survive in that role and retain its fidelity to the Gospels? Instinctively, those who place public prestige before obedience to the faith of the saints and the martyrs, will of course adapt their ethics to make them congenial to the culture on whose pleasure they wait. And so they have:– feminism has reconfigured the Church and secularism has redefined marriage – and the leaders of the C of E welcome both.

In a recent BBC radio programme, a leading voice for Anglican feminism, complained about the repressive patriarchal structures of the Church. They inhibited her being both a mother and a parish priest. She called upon the Church to redefine its expectations of parish clergy, so they could be mothers as well. The possibility that a priest ought to be the father in God to a parish full time, over years of service, was foreign to her feminist priorities. So the Church was supposed to adapt its pastoral practice to her demands to be both a woman ‘priest’ and a mother.

What might the leaders of the Global Anglican Fellowship do?

They might establish the parallel jurisdiction of the Anglican Church in England (or/and Europe). ACE.

They would provide bishops who held the orthodox faith of the Church to those Anglicans who had refused to bow the knee to the new Baal of egalitarianism. These bishops would care for their clergy and confirm their people – not into the Church of England, but into the orthodox Anglicanism of the majority of worldwide Anglicans.

In America, where the legal issues of who held the rights to the property of the Churches, 7 million dollars has been spend by TEC grabbing back churches where they could – ejecting their faithful congregations, and in some cases, selling them on as mosques.

In England, where the legal issues are very different, the orthodox clergy and people who give their allegiance to ACE will remain quietly in their livings, continue to pay their voluntary quotas to cover their stipends, but to withdraw anything more than that in protest against the imposition of the new heterodoxy.

The financial health of the Church of England, unlike its spiritual health is a matter of fact, not discernment. It is a matter of accounts and demographics. The average age of congregations is now 65. Many dioceses are close to cash flow failure. The Diocese of Truro, its bishop laments, has less than 5 years viability ahead of it. A diocese in the middle of England recently took out a bank loan to pay its stipends for the current month. The Diocese of Southwark is kept afloat only by evangelicals who astonishingly have not yet lost faith with a hierarchy that continually appoints gay clergy in partnerships to prominent positions of responsibility.

In the General Synod of July 2008 the progressive majority implacably refused the pleadings of the evangelical and catholic laity (mainly women as it happened) to be allowed to remain in the C of E with guaranteed orthodox episcopal oversight. The Catholics were given a fragile deal that depends on ‘trust’ and there is one bishop, just one assistant bishop appointed as a sop to the considerable numbers of Christians whose view of gender mirrors that of the Apostle Paul amongst the evangelicals; and when finally one is announced, his hands will be tied by the concept of collegial responsibility to his heterodox colleagues.

Very well then, let the Anglican Primates given the orthodox Anglican faithful the orthodox bishops the General Synod refused to give. Let the clergy remain in their parishes for the next 5-7 years at least. And when the biblically and apostolically faithful congregations and clergy give their money to support their new bishops, and promote orthodox Anglicanism instead, it will not to come as much of a surprise.

As the structures of the C of E collapse under the pressure of aging and bankruptcy, those who have kept the faith can offer to ease the crumbling diocesan finances by taking 100 year leases on their parish Churches.

Why now? When I came back to Christ in the mid 1970’s and discovered to my surprise that the Holy Spirit was calling me to be a priest, I was enthused and inspired by the slow quiet beginnings of a charismatic renewal that appeared to be able to bring together both the evangelical and the catholic streams of the Church to re-evangelise the nation and to refresh and renew the Body of Christ.

In the last 40 years, what has happened instead, is that the Church of England turned its back on the Spirit and the Scriptures and gave herself to the new secularism. It has preferred egalitarianism to evangelism;  it has chosen the struggle for gender parity to the struggle for the Gospel purity.

I had hoped that we might continue the struggle to renew and revive her, but the moment she reconfigured the apostolic structure of the episcopate to appease the demands for a Church that reflects social Marxism in preference to the patterns of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic church, the game was up. The next domino to fall will be the acceptance and then the promotion of gay marriage.

It is time for that revivified Anglicanism the Holy Spirit sought to give birth to 40 years ago, as he constantly brings an obedient  Church to new birth. But the birth can only take place in conformity to the Scripture and faithful tradition; and it needs orthodox bishops.

Gafcon Primates – over to you.

Christianity provides a safe context for free institutions to flourish

 

Christianity and Freedom: Volume 1  Historical Perpectives edited by Timothy Samuel Shah and Allen D Hertzke, Cambridge University Press 2016  413 pp   £66

As the American Presidential election nears with forebodings christianity-and-freedom-bookcoverof threats to religious
freedom, this timely collection of fifteen essays examines the contributions of pre-Reformation Christianity to the development of freedom,  (particularly religious freedom for all since religious belief cannot be coerced), and how various protestant traditions and communities contributed to it after the Reformation.

Starting with a hard-hitting essay by Kyle Harper on “Christianity and the Roots of Human Dignity in late Antiquity”.  Mythologies purveyed by an older generation of liberal scholars paid more attention to nineteenth-century biblical skepticism and existential philosophy than the actual wrestling of the fathers with scripture in Greco-Roman society.

To answer the question “How did humans come to be seem as universally free and incomparably worthy figures?” (p.127) needs more than the usual “drive-by history” that begins with the Enlightenment . “It needs to take seriously its deep taproots in an ancient religious view of humanity”, where “Christian sexual morality collided with the systematic exploitation of men and women who lacked access to social honour by virtue of their status.”(p. 137)

Without Christianity, these essays ask, would the Enlightenment have produced the American and French Revolutions? No, it produced Nietzche. “Impartial historians will have to acknowledge that free institutions hardly ever developed in places that were not influenced by Jewish and Christian ideas.” (p 402).

Then read Robert Woodberry’s groundbreaking work on “Protestant Missions and the Centrality of Conversion Attempts for the Spread of Education, Printing, Colonial Reform and Political Democracy” who asserts that Protestants stimulated mass printing for the masses since they believed everyone had a right to read the Word of God. When other religious interests were thus threatened, they released control of texts by printing for mass distribution.  The quest for religious liberty unleashing the right to convert helped lay the foundations much that Western academics ( and others) value – freedom of speech and of association, mass education, wide availability of printed texts, NGOs, colonial reform movements including the abolition of slavery and better health.

Timothy Samuel Shah’s helpful introduction summarises the essential points from each contributor, particularly valuable given that one or two are shrouded in scholarly hat-tips and caveats and are like wading through treacle.

David Philpott challenges the secular liberal narrative which claims that liberal democracy could only emerge when politics was cast free from religion.  Rather Christian liberals between 1800 – 2000 can be shown to have directly contributed to the widening of the franchise, the freeing of slaves, the toppling of dictatorships and the legal guarantee of religious freedom.

The collection should find its way into every seminary library as a major set text on human rights and freedom to inform engagement in current debates with its nuggets of insights: “Without religion, human rights become infinitely expandable, become too captive to Western libertarian ideals and the state is given an exaggerated role to play as the guarantor of human rights” John Witte Jr (quoted on p 176).  Remind you of anybody?