Ask God to Forgive You, Not Excuse You FIVE LESSONS FROM C.S. LEWIS

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God exists everywhere and everywhen. He is eternal and omnipresent. And not only is he present everywhere, he is everywhere pursuing us. He is the hunter, the king, the husband, approaching us at an infinite speed. Central to C.S. Lewis’s vision of the Christian life is the basic fact that we are always in God’s presence and pursuit.

This basic fact about reality yields a basic choice. We can either embrace and welcome this reality, surrendering ourselves to this eternal, omnipresent, and pursuing God, or we can vainly try to hide from him, to resist his advances, to reject his offer. Thus, though it is true that we are always in God’s presence, it’s equally true that we are perpetually called to come into God’s presence, to unveil ourselves to him.

“All of us are worse than we think.”

A chief component of this unveiling is the confession of our sins. If we are to come into God’s presence, we must come honestly. We must come as we are. And what we are is a bundle of sins, fears, needs, wants, and anxieties, so our honesty and unveiling must include the confession of sins.

Lewis is aware that the confession of sin is difficult and fraught with danger. Thus, in a number of places, he offers counsel on the perils and pitfalls of confessing our sins.

1. Beware of vague guilt.

One of the main hindrances to unveiling before God is a vague cloud of guilt that often hangs over us. And vague guilt is particularly troublesome. For you can’t repent of vague sins; you can only repent of real ones. And all real sins are specific sins.

This means that if you find yourself in the fog of vague guilt, begin by asking God to show you the details. Press through the smoke to see if there is really a fire in there somewhere.

If you do, and you find yourself unable to discover any real concrete sin underneath the vague sense of guilt, don’t feel compelled to go rummaging around until you do. Instead, treat the guilt like a vague buzzing noise in your ears — something to be endured as you continue to seek to unveil in God’s presence (Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, 34).

2. Confess your sins quickly and specifically.

Other times, our reluctance to unveil is driven by the fact that we are guilty and we know exactly why. We know what the guilt is about, and we’re trying to avoid the conviction. In such moments, we often also feel that God is standing there, watching us hem and haw and dance and make excuses and saying to us, You know you’re only wasting time. In such cases, the best solution is the simple one. If there’s a specific sin in your life, confess it to God, clearly, honestly, and forthrightly, without using euphemisms (Lewis, “Miserable Offenders,” in God in the Dock, 124).

This means using the biblical words for sins. “I’ve lied,” not “I’ve not been quite honest.” “I’ve stolen,” not “I’ve used something without asking.” “I’ve lusted in my heart. I’ve committed sexual immorality. I’ve envied another person or coveted his gifts. I’m full of bitterness and hatred toward that person in particular. I’m puffed up and arrogant. I’m full of anxiety and fear. I’m not trusting God with the future.” In the same way that you can’t really confess vague sins, you can’t vaguely confess real sins.

3. Ask God to forgive you, not to excuse you.

Often when we ask God to forgive us, we are really asking him to excuse us. But according to Lewis, forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites (Lewis, “On Forgiveness,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, 178–181). Forgiveness says, “You have done an evil thing; nevertheless, I will not hold it against you.” Excusing says, “I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.” Therefore, to excuse someone is to let that person off the hook because he didn’t really belong on the hook in the first place. We refuse to blame someone for something that wasn’t his fault to begin with.

“Ask God to forgive you, not to excuse you.”

When it comes to God, Lewis notes, “What we call ‘asking God’s forgiveness’ very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses.” We want him to remember the extenuating circumstances that led us to do what we did. We go away “imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves with our own excuses.”

When seeking God’s forgiveness, we must set aside the excuses and the blame-shifting. If there were extenuating circumstances, God is more aware of them than we are. What is required of us is to find what’s left over after every circumstance has been stripped away, the little ball of sin that is hardened like a cancer. That is what we are to bring to God. That is what he must (and will) forgive.

4. Don’t camp at the cesspool.

Some Christians have thought that one of the chief marks of Christian growth is a permanent and permanently horrified perception of one’s own internal corruption (Letters to Malcolm, 98). The true Christian’s nostril is to be continually attentive to the inner stink. We feel that faithfulness demands pitching our tent by the dark caves and slimy bogs of our hearts.

Lewis thinks this is a bad idea. But it’s not a bad idea because we’re not thatcorrupt. We are that corrupt. All of us are worse than we think. Our hearts really are slimy. When you look in there, it’s true that there is depth upon depth of self-love and sin. But Lewis commended an imaginative glimpse of our sinfulness, not a permanent stare. The glimpse is enough to teach us sense, to humble us so that we don’t regard ourselves more highly than we ought. But the longer we stare, the more we run the risk of falling into despair. Or worse, we might even begin to develop a tolerance for the cesspool, even a perverse kind of pride in our hovel by the bog.

Thus, we must cultivate the practice of imaginative honesty about our sin. We must look at it clearly and acknowledge it. We must not try to hide it or make excuses for it. But, equally, we must not wallow in it either. We need to know sin is in our hearts, and we need to feel the ugliness of it. But then we must also remember that Jesus covers all of it.

5. Surrender self-examination to God.

In our attempts to lay ourselves open to God’s view, we must remember that self-examination is really God-examination. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24). This doesn’t make us passive. We’re active, but our activity is mainly in opening ourselves up to divine inspection. Self-examination is only safe when God’s hands are on the reins.

“You can’t repent of vague sins; you can only repent of real ones. And all real sins are specific sins.”

This is what this might look like. We surrender ourselves to God; we give Christ the keys to every room in our heart. No dark closet held back. No basement corner off-limits. The whole house belongs to him (and he is free to demolish, if he deems it best). We lay ourselves open before him and ask “for just so much self-knowledge at the moment as [we] can bear and use at the moment” (Letters to Malcolm, 34). ⁠There may be deeper sins, down in the black caves, that we don’t yet see. But perhaps we don’t see them because God knows we’re not ready to face them yet. We must learn to crawl before we can walk. God wants us to complete boot camp before sending us off to war.

Then, having surrendered and having asked for our little daily dose of self-knowledge, we believe (and, for some, this is one of the greatest acts of faith that they ever do) that he is fully capable of drawing our sin and our sinfulness into the light, into our conscious attention where it can be confessed and killed.

In the meantime, if we are daily surrendering ourselves to God in this way, we ought to forget about ourselves and do our work.

Are You Avoiding Good?

Finally, as we confront our own reluctance to unveil in God’s presence, it’s worth remembering what God is really after. C.S. Lewis tells a story about his wife, Joy,

Long ago, before we were married, she was haunted all one morning as she went about her work with the obscure sense of God (so to speak) “at her elbow,” demanding her attention. And of course, not being a perfected saint, she had the feeling that it would be a question, as it usually is, of some unrepented sin or tedious duty. At last she gave in — I know how one puts it off — and faced Him. But the message was, “I want to give you something,” and instantly she entered into joy. (A Grief Observed, 46–47)

How much effort we put in to avoiding all that would do us good. This is the great paradox we carry with us into God’s presence. God is here and now, and he demands all of us. But God is here and now, and he wants to give us everything. God is for us, not against us. He may not be safe, but he is most definitely good.

“How much effort we put in to avoiding all that would do us good.”

And he won’t settle for half measures, because he loves us and wants to give us himself. And he can’t give us himself as long as we’re full of ourselves. But if we give up ourselves, if we die to ourselves, then he will give us himself, and, in giving us himself, he will give us back ourselves.

In fact, when we unveil in God’s presence, we find that we become our true selves — stable, strong, full of life and joy, and conformed to the image of Christ, from one degree of glory to another.

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Monsters in Mitres: The Church of England’s bishops have been corrupted by their absolute power

Author:

Jules Gomes

You can impeach the President of the United States of America and hold the world’s most powerful man to account. You cannot bring to book an Anglican bishop. He is accountable to nobody. He is lord of his diocese and sovereign of all he surveys. For all the ceaseless chatter about equality from the archbishops and bishops, the ecclesiastical hierarchy is the only institution that remains as feudal and fixed as in the Middle Ages.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is now stripping naked our episcopal emperors of mitre and muscle as it exposes the glaring abuse of unbridled power exercised with heightened impunity by bishops in the Church of England. The IICSA hearings began on Monday and are being streamed live on the internet. Each hour lays bare revelations of corruption and nepotism. Each witness tells horrific tales of the abuse of power and the power of abuse.

The Archbishop of Canterbury gets the first resounding slap on his wrist in chairman Alexis Jay’s opening remarks. Justin Welby has been a naughty boy. He’s told journalists he would be giving evidence. ‘It is most disappointing that confidential matters were shared by the archbishop in breach of the undertaking,’ says Professor Jay in disapproval of Welby’s cavalier attitude. Further, by casting doubt on Bishop George Bell’s character, despite the findings of Lord Carlile’s review, Welby also demonstrated he was not accountable to a high-profile independent review.

Meanwhile, in a parallel theatre of the absurd, John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, is shamed with a raft of bishops, Peter Burrows (Doncaster), Steven Croft (Oxford), Martyn Snow (Leicester), Glyn Webster (Beverley) and Roy Williamson (Bradford, now retired) by Fr Matt Ineson for covering up his rape by a former Bradford vicar. ‘By lies, by cover-up, the Church of England has gone out of its way to protect them [the bishops],’ he said. Like him, another victim, ‘Gilo’, is calling for an end to what Gilo calls ‘the Society for the Protection of Bishops’.

The hearing quotes a statement from the victims of abuse explicitly indicting the bishops: ‘Many of us have suffered not only the abuse itself but also years of manipulation, blanking and lies by bishops and leaders in the Church of England.’

The most damning statement against bishops is on page 132 of the transcript of the hearing’s opening session: ‘diocesan bishops are not formally accountable to anyone’. Welby is quoted as saying, ‘I have no legal power to direct that bishops take specific action or to dismiss a bishop.’ If diocesan bishops are not accountable to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the frightening conclusion that must be drawn is ‘Who, then, are Welby and Sentamu accountable to?’

The hearing cites a statement from the campaign group Mandate Now: ‘The diocesan bishop is king in his diocese. The power and status of the bishops is hardwired into the culture of the Church of England.’ It quotes a victim abused by a former bishop: ‘The bishop told me he had the power to give me everything I wanted in life and the power to take it all away’. It goes on to note ‘the broader issue of the unaccountable power of bishops in church structures which were conceived in medieval times’.

Most people know Lord Acton’s celebrated aphorism, ‘Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. What most people don’t know is that Acton was referring to bishops. Historian and thinker John Dalberg-Acton was writing to Mandell Creighton, Bishop of London, in 1887.

In the context of the IICSA hearings, Acton’s entire argument to Creighton on the corruption of episcopal power is worth its weight in gold: ‘I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.’

So what makes bishops the most egomaniacal of leaders? Bishops are paid far more than vicars; archbishops receive around £65,000 a year compared with a vicar’s stipend of £24,000 per annum. Inequality? Ha! Twenty-six bishops are given legislative power through seats in the House of Lords and have opportunities to curry favour with politicians.

Bishops still demand to be addressed as ‘Bishop’. The bishop’s mitre and crozier are episcopal totem poles. Bishops are supplied with a generous discretionary fund and with a secretary and chaplain. Most of all, bishops ‘are running multi-million-pound institutions with significant numbers of office holders and employees, as well as a vast number of volunteers’, as the hearing concedes.

Bishops are also the ultimate decision-makers in a diocese. This leads to a culture of ‘inbuilt deference to the bishop’, as social worker Shirley Hosgood reveals to the hearing. Bishops are responsible for clergy appointments. Since the ancient freehold that protected a vicar for life was made redundant, the cleric is at the bishop’s mercy.

Above all, bishops now have the most draconian weapon against clergy – the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), introduced in 2003. An unhealthy proximity to ecclesiastical judges makes it possible for bishops to manipulate the CDM process. So far, to the best of my knowledge, not a single bishop has been found guilty under the CDM, even though a number of CDMs have been brought against bishops.

Lord Acton argues that those seated on thrones of power should not escape justice. ‘You would spare these criminals, for some mysterious reason,’ he tells Bishop Creighton. ‘I would hang them, higher than Haman, for reasons of quite obvious justice; still more, still higher, for the sake of historical science.’

So far, the IICSA is exposing the corruption of absolute power in the Church of England. Lamentably, we can’t hang corrupt bishops. Neither can we strangle the last bishop with the entrails of the last politician. We can do far more and pray Mary’s Magnificat that God will ‘pull down the mighty from their thrones and exalt those of humble estate’.

‘An attack on Lord Carey is an attack on us all’, say Church of England figures

by Olivia Rudgard, Telegraph:

A criminal case against Lord Carey would be an attack on us all, conservative Church of England figures have said.

In a letter to the Daily Telegraph, 10 signatories including the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, former bishop of Rochester, suggested that the former Archbishop of Canterbury was being targeted for his involvement in the Bishop Peter Ball case because of “what he represents of biblically faithful Christianity”.

The letter, also signed by Simon Rufus Isaacs, Marquess of Reading, who is a friend of Prince Charles, former bishop of Woolwich Colin Buchanan, and campaigner Andrea Williams of Christian Concern, says that similar high-profile cases have not resulted in prosecutions for misconduct in public office.

On Monday this newspaper reported that police and prosecutors were considering a criminal investigation following the publication of the Gibb report last year, which found that Lord Carey, 82, was among senior figures who had “colluded” with convicted sex offender Ball.

The letter says that investigations into child sexual abuse, Operation Yewtree and Operation Hydrant, “have investigated hundreds of cases of suspected misconduct in public office and have yet to bring a case to trial.”

It adds: “No one has been charged with any offence in relation to the misdemeanours of Jimmy Savile.

“The cases against Lord Bramall, Leon Brittan, Edward Heath and Cliff Richard were all dropped.

“Why is Lord Carey being targeted at this time? Certain public leaders appear to be being attacked by insinuation without due process.

Read here

Read also: George Carey criminal investigation would be attack on ‘biblically faithful Christianity’ by Harry Farley, Christian Today

Watch:

Is Foreign Missions Part of Your Church’s DNA?

Church DNA

By Rollin Grams January 16, 2018

Christian mission requires not only a mandate, such as the Great Commission of Matthew 28.18-20, but also a Church, communities of interconnected believers who embrace the missionary mandate and seek to accomplish it.  One of the largest challenges to Christian mission in our era is the non-denominational church, disconnected to other churches and therefore unable to accomplish the mission, inevitably duplicating the efforts of others, and incapable of taking a long view of missions.  The result is mission projects, short-term mission trips, a confusion as to what actually constitutes Christian mission rather than good works, unclear goals, mission ‘agencies’ instead of mission ‘societies’ that go beyond linking individuals with foreign ministry opportunities by actually having a clear vision of the mission that needs to be accomplished, and, worse, actual damage in ministry.  I can think of one independent church that manages to avoid such problems—only one—and it is because the church exists primarily for the sake of international missions.  Otherwise, I would lay the confusion about Christian missions largely at the feet of the independent church movement in the West.

Of course, we have to add a word about denominations in our day.  The mainline denominations have gone or are going in a heretical direction.  They are declining in number in the West, where the heresies flourish.  And they have lost any sense of mission because they have equally lost any sense of the Gospel and of the need for conversion.  Indeed, their heresies, whether Christological, soteriological, or moral, are directly connected to a vision of Christianity that has nothing to do with conversion: the Church’s goal is to accommodate itself to the culture, to be a positive influence of justice and mercy in the culture, but not to convert persons—a far too judgemental idea!  The elephant in the room of the mainline denominations is Scripture, which can be made to support such a view of Christian faith only when tied down with the heaviest of chains and manipulated with cruel intent.

So, if non-denominational churches are not the answer, and if the old, mainline denominations are not the answer, our main hope for engaging in Christian missions lies with the newer denominations.  Some came into existence by splitting off from the mainline denominations over a hundred years ago, and others are newly formed.  They have often splintered as minor points of new teaching created irreparable rifts between overly self-important leaders.  They have sometimes been formed because members were left church-less when they were evicted from their congregations, particularly in the early days of the Pentecostal movement (early 20th century).  More recently, they have been formed because they have had no choice but to take their reform movement out of the mainline denomination.  The largest Protestant Church in the world, the Anglican Communion, is currently forming various, alternative groupings—effectively ‘denominations,’ though internationally connected within Anglicanism—as a result of doctrinal heresies and false teaching about sexuality.

The question, or challenge, though, is, ‘Will these new denominations be successful in the work of the Church?’  Those that formed over unimportant rifts inevitably remain self-absorbed, closed, and fairly irrelevant.  Those that formed in the early days of Pentecostalism typically had a strong missionary focus, and this is one of the positive reasons that Pentecostalism’s growth is worldwide (sadly, there are some negative reasons for growth as well—most especially, the Prosperity Gospel in some, not all, of the Pentecostal groups).  Missionary outreach—global, costly, enthusiastic, Gospel-focussed, church-supported, Spirit-empowered missions—in Pentecostal denominations is one of the major stories of the Church in the 20th century.  The newer denominations being formed out of reform movements in heretical mainline denominations, however, have largely been pressed into defining themselves in terms of orthodoxy and Scriptural authority.  The challenge they face is much greater than simply being orthodox: they face the challenge of whether the missionary task will be woven into their fabric, become part of their DNA.

Churches need a missionary vision.  Those that focus on being friendly and on having enjoyable community will both enjoy and struggle with their inward relationships.  The main focus will be on getting along with one another—unity, love, compassion, and so forth.  These are powerful forces that form community, but they beg the question why these cannot be found in other groups around the city—the orchestra, the YMCA, the football club, or the village pub.  Those that focus on being orthodox will often offend people who cannot subscribe to their beliefs—major or minor—or they will create divisions among themselves over minor points of theology (often guess-work about the end times!).  Yet the church is a community, and the church is a confessional community under authorities that determine doctrine and practice.  Nevertheless, something more is needed for a healthy church, and that is a clear vision of purpose and an activity that demands time and effort—mission.

People committed to a mission find community in the common mission, even when they would not be likely to associate with one another for other reasons.  Homogeneous groupings might be somewhat diversified through a focus on more integration of community or cultural practices, but they will be far better diversified by a focus on a common and essential mission.  The educated and uneducated, the various ethnic groups, the young and old, male and female, can all pitch in to engage the pressing mission that the community has as its purpose, identity, and activity.  People committed to a mission have to have a clear conviction of truth, of Biblical authority, and Christian doctrine, but they can lay aside less significant debates to focus on accomplishing the mission.

It is no wonder that the Holy Spirit is associated in Scripture with Christian unity, truth, and mission.  Church unity without truth is false unity.  Truth without mission is truth not worth proclaiming to those who do not know it.  An overly meticulous concern for truth in inconsequential areas of theology leads to disunity, which fails to accomplish the mission of the Church.  And unity as too narrow a goal for the Church will fail to recognise that there are those ‘outside’ who have not been reached through the Church’s mission.  Indeed, missions—the Great Commission of the Church—is the genetic wiring in the body of Christ that produces organic unity and theological health.  Is it part of your church’s DNA?

Are All Evangelicals Orthodox?: The Church, Ordination, and Prayer for the Sick

By Rollin Grams December, 2017

Evangelicalism is not a particular denominational confession or tradition in the Church.  It is a movement—an orthodox, Christian movement in Protestantism that relates to the Reformation and is an extension of German pietism and the great revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries.  (By ‘orthodox’ I simply mean what the Church has typically taught everywhere, always, and by all through the centuries that is grounded in Scripture.  I am not referring to the Orthodox Church in particular.)  It is best described historically, especially if the alternative is a political description.  This historical definition allows a definition in terms of what united different orthodox movements operating within and outside wayward, Protestant denominations over the post-Reformation centuries.  However, has Evangelicalism remained untainted by the Enlightenment’s Deism, secularism, and rationalism—its anti-supernaturalism and denial of miracles?  I think not, and I will seek to illustrate this with reference to teaching in the Church on prayer for healing of the sick.

The Biblical Basis for Praying for Healing

The Biblical basis for praying for healing is canonical, theological, and textual.  Canonically, stories of the miraculous hand of God and of healing are to be found in both the Old and New Testaments.  Theologically, the ministry of Jesus inaugurates the Kingdom of God—the reign of God—and this is connected to the work of the Holy Spirit in Jesus’ ministry and in the ministry of the disciples in the Gospels, as well as the work of the Holy Spirit in the Church.  We have come to speak of the ‘overlap of the ages’: the first and second coming of Jesus place us within an overlap of ‘this age’ with the ‘age to come.’  While this age clearly continues with sin, suffering, and death, the age to come has been inaugurated with Jesus’ redemption of sinners from their sin, his resurrection from the dead, his exaltation over all authorities, and the Father’s sending of the Holy Spirit to the Church.  Textually, we may point to the ministry of healing given by Jesus to the disciples:

Mark 6:13 And they [the twelve disciples] cast out many demons and anointed with oil many who were sick and healed them.

The elders in the churches are to continue this ministry given the disciples:

James 5:14-16 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.  15 And the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven.  16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

This ministry is more widely disseminated in the local churches: it is not limited to clergy.  There are those given the gift of the Spirit to works miracles (1 Corinthians 12.10).

The Early Church’s Understanding of a Ministry of Healing by the Clergy and in the Church

As we look at ancient liturgies for ordination and worship, we find the continuing belief in miraculous healing.  Following are several examples and quotations from primary sources to illustrate these points.

Hippolytus (early 3rd c.) discusses various ways, not only by means of the laying on of hands, someone might be recognized as a presbyter: by having been imprisoned or put in bonds because of confessing Christ, by being a widow for a long time, by being given the book to be a reader without ordination, by showing purpose by remaining a virgin, and by showing appointment by already having the gift of healing (The Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus I.10-15).

In the Ethiopic Epitome of Hippolytus, the prayer for the ordinand includes, ‘—that he, being filled with powers of healing and words of teaching in meekness’.[1]  The Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s liturgy includes a number of prayers for the healing of the sick, such as in the Preparatory Service III: ‘For the sick and the diseased we implore that God should heal them and speedily send upon them mercy and compassion.’[2]

The ancient Christian Armenian Church also mentions the spiritual and miraculous work of priests.  The Armenian prayer for the ordination of a priest includes, ‘Grant him, Lord, the apostolic grace to remove and drive away from mankind all evil infirmities and impure spirits by the imposition of his hands and by invoking your most powerful name to help and to heal the infirm.’[3]

The ancient, albeit unorthodox, Nestorian Church’s rite of ordination for bishops includes the following injunction and prayer that agree with more orthodox versions of Christianity:

Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, cast out devils; freely ye have received, freely give’ and ‘Clothe him, O LORD, with power from on high, that he may bind and loose both in heaven and on earth; that by the laying on of his hands, the sick may be healed, and miracles be wrought by him in Thy holy name, and to the glory of Thy great Godhead….[4]

In the Liturgy of the Holy Apostles Adai and Mari of the Assyrian Church of the East, the priest prays: ‘For those who are grievously sick, and tried by evil spirits, let us pray….’[5]

The Great Litany of St. John Chrysostom (4th c.) prescribes prayers for the sick:

For travelers by land, by sea, by air, and by space; for the sick and the suffering, and for captives; and for their salvation, let us pray to the Lord.’[6]

In the Litany before the Lord’s Supper, Chrysostom directs the priest to pray:

…heal the sick, O You who are the Physician of our souls and bodies.[7]
The Coptic Church (Egyptian) similarly has this prayer by the bishop at the ordination of a priest:

‘Yes Lord hear us, grant him a spirit of wisdom to be filled by healing deeds and doctrinal words to teach Your people meekly and adore You purely.’[8]

Modern Evangelicalism

Evangelicalism is going through a difficult time.  If it has historically been defined particularly as a renewal movement within mainline denominations, such as Anglicanism, Lutheranism, Presbyterianism, Congregationalism, and Methodism. The turn of these denominations in the West in our day to unorthodox teaching has meant a crisis of identity for Evangelicals.  This statement will have to remain a contention in the present essay, perhaps to be taken up at a later date.  To be sure, this is not the only challenge to the meaning of ‘Evangelical’ in our day, but it does seem to be a significant reason for confusion over the meaning and purpose of Evangelicalism in the 21st century.  (I say this with the hope that a clearer meaning and purpose will emerge soon as I strongly believe in the importance of an orthodox movement across the differences of various theological traditions.)

In the increasing absence of Evangelicalism defining itself over against the mainline denominations, Evangelicals are being defined by the new denominations that declare themselves ‘Evangelical’ and by the non-denominational, independent churches that continue to proliferate and identify themselves as ‘Evangelical’—what we might call the Western Independent Churches.  The question coming into focus is whether this newer ‘Evangelicalism’ is to be considered orthodox.  The old, mainline denominations claimed to be orthodox, even if there were serious problems within them in the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries.  Since the mid-20th century, they have increasingly rejected orthodox teaching and practice.  The assumption seems to be that those who claim the title ‘Evangelical’ in our day are the heirs to orthodoxy, since the mainline denominations clearly are not.  This may be largely true, but it is a claim to be proven as much in the West as in, for example, the African Independent Churches, some of which are orthodox and some decidedly not.

The question, then, is whether any church claiming to be Evangelical must be orthodox as well, or whether there are some Evangelical churches and denominations that are not actually orthodox in some area of theology or practice.  This essay is not about how some so-called ‘Evangelicals’ in the West have claimed that they can also be proponents of same-sex marriage—a decidedly unorthodox and unbiblical contention.  Yet that example does seem to add a significant exhibit to the case for questioning whether all Evangelicals are orthodox in Christian faith.

This essay rather has in focus the ancient Christian belief in the miraculous and in the practice of prayer for the sick associated with the clergy and others in the church.  On the positive side, the newly established Anglican Church of North America’s ordination of a bishop includes this charge: ‘Be to the flock of Christ a shepherd, not a wolf; feed them, do not devour them; hold up the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, bring back the lapsed, seek the lost.’[9]  We have here the continuation of the ancient church’s belief in miracles and its understanding of ordination to a ministry that includes healing ministry.

Somewhat surprisingly, however, the Westminster Catechism of the mid-17th century asks no question about healing, although in its many Scripture references for other questions it does provide Biblical passages that mention healing.  The somewhat new, ‘Evangelical’ Reformed denomination, the Presbyterian Church of America’s ‘Pastoral Letter Concerning the Experience of the Holy Spirit in the Church Today’ addresses speaking in tongues, working miracles, and healing.  It claims that these gifts have been given ‘undue prominence’ in our day, and the general tone of the pastoral letter is to downplay these gifts.  Its comments on speaking in tongues are only about wrong views to hold and nothing about what might be said positively about this gift.  It allows that miracles and healing ‘cannot be limited,’ but the letter’s concern is to speak against an ‘obsession’ with these gifts.[10]  One gets the impression that these gifts are more problematic than anything else to an otherwise fairly rational expression of Christian faith.

Also of interest is that the Roman Catholic Church lacks a reference to healing the sick for ordinands—only comfort for the sick by deacons.[11]  It is, as an ancient Church, a Church that, of course, does believe in the miraculous and in healing.  The liberal Evangelical Lutheran Church (‘Evangelical’ in the denomination’s name has nothing to do with ‘Evangelicalism’) lacks specific prayer for healing in its liturgy.  Rather, it calls for prayer for ‘the poor, the persecuted, the sick, the lonely, the forgotten, and all who suffer….’[12]  Perhaps this is not prayer for deliverance to a God who hears and answers prayer in miraculous ways but more of a statement of concern for those who suffer by a caring community.  We regularly see older denominations retain some of the teaching and practices of the earlier Church while not believing it and redefining it in some way.

The Evangelical Presbyterian Church (this time, ‘Evangelical’ is linked to ‘Evangelicalism’) lacks any reference to ministry to the sick by those being ordained, let alone a reference to a ministry of healing.[13]  Some of the EPC’s churches are charismatic, however, and the denomination will pray for healing of the sick.  Yet the ancient linking of ordination to a ministry of healing the sick is lacking.

There is, however, a rationalistic, Enlightenment understanding of the Christian faith in certain groups and denominations that claim to be Evangelical.  ‘Cessationism’ is the term given to those who believe that the miraculous (speaking in tongues, prophecy, and miracles in particular) has ceased.  A stark example of this is the doctrinal statement of John MacArthur’s The Master’s Seminary in Los Angeles, California.  It includes the following statement about speaking in tongues and miracles:

We teach, in this respect, that God the Holy Spirit is sovereign in the bestowing of all His gifts for the perfecting of the saints today and that speaking in tongues and the working of sign miracles in the beginning days of the church were for the purpose of pointing to and authenticating the apostles as revealers of divine truth, and were never intended to be characteristic of the lives of believers (1 Corinthians 12:4-1113:8-102 Corinthians 12:12Ephesians 4:7-12Hebrews 2:1-4).[14]

How the Scripture passages cited here could possibly relate to this rationalist contention is beyond me, and how such a statement ends up in a doctrinal statement is disturbing at several levels.  Are we now confessing what we do not believe?  Are we confessing things with no Biblical warrant?  And, as this article is concerned to explore, are we confessing things that do not relate to the historic, orthodox Church?  In other words, is ‘Evangelical’ necessarily orthodox?

I would suggest that ‘Evangelical’ is necessarily orthodox in theology and practice.  If so, Enlightenment Evangelicals who deny miracles, understand ‘faith’ as merely a set of dogmatic propositions, and who do not pray for the sick cannot actually be considered ‘Evangelical.’  We may do well to state as well that the Prosperity Gospel is equally outside orthodox, Evangelical faith.  Yet there are no grounds on which to exclude the latter while denying the miracle-working power of God in doctrine and prayer for the sick.  On the contrary, we should rejoice in the testimonies of persons among us who have experienced the miracle-working power of God in their lives in salvation, healing, miracles, and the transformation of sinful desires to desiring God and His righteousness.  As we face the task of defining ‘Evangelical’ for the 21st century rather than jettisoning the term for all the challenges the term poses in our day, we need to retain the connection between ‘Evangelical’ and ‘orthodox Christianity.’  If we Evangelicals are not Biblical and orthodox in faith and practice, we are nothing at all.[15]

[1] Cf. http://www.agape-biblia.org/literatura/Burton_Scott_Easton_-_The_Apostolic_Tradition_of_Hippolytus_(1934).pdf; accessed 15 December, 2017.

[2] Cf. http://www.ethiopianorthodox.org/english/church/englishethiopianliturgy.pdf; accessed 15 December, 2017.

[3] Cf. https://www.stnersess.edu/resources—the-armenian-sacrament-of-ordination-to-the-holy-priesthood.html; accessed 15 December, 2017.

[4] Cf. George Percy Badger, The Nestorians and their Rituals: With the Narrative of a Mission to Mesopotamia and Coordistan in 1842-1844 and a Late Visit to Those Countries in 1850; also Researches into the Present Condition of the Syrian Jacobites, Papal Syrians, and Chaldeans, and an Inquiry into the Religious Tenets of the Yezeedees, Vol. II (London: Joseph Masters, 1852), pp. 344, 345; online at https://books.google.com/books?id=8FUZV3_VSqMC&printsec=frontcover&dq=George+Percy+Badger,+The+Nestorians+and+their+Rituals&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwik8aaAsI3YAhUNYt8KHZQZAYkQ6AEINTAC#v=onepage&q=Badger&f=false; accessed 15 December, 2017.

[5] Cf. The Liturgy of the Holy Apostles Adai and Mari Together with Two Additional Liturgies to be Said on Certain Feasts and Other Days: and the Order of Baptism (Typis Missionis Archiepiscopi Cantuariensis, 1890); https://books.google.com/books?id=K1Q1AQAAMAAJ&pg=PP183&lpg=PP183&dq=takhsa&source=bl&ots=LY44QHzpV8&sig=x5BCOHup5f1Wfeup5jW32EP-sUA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiUy4DYj43YAhUkkeAKHS20CpwQ6AEIVzAJ#v=onepage&q=sick&f=false; accessed 15 December, 2017.

[6] As quoted in Fr. Joseph Irvin, The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom: Orthodox Service BooksNumber 1 (Lulu Press, 2017), n.p.; online https://books.google.com/books?id=PY4tDwAAQBAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_ge_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q&f=false; accessed 15 December, 2017.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Cf. http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/thecopticchurch/sacraments/7_priesthood.html; accessed 15 December, 2017.

[9] Cf. the ‘Ordinal’ at http://anglicanchurch.net/?/main/texts_for_common_prayer.

[10]

[11] Cf. http://courseweb.stthomas.edu/jmjoncas/LiturgicalStudiesInternetLinks/ChristianWorship/Texts/Centuries/Texts_1900_2000CE/RCWorshipTexts1900_2000CE/Rite_of_Ordination_of_a_Deacon.htm.  The service of ordination for priests does not mention healing or ministry to the sick: see http://www.sanctamissa.org/en/resources/books-1962/rituale-romanum/40-the-sacrament-of-holy-orders-rite-of-priestly-ordination.html.

[12] Cf. download.elca.org/…/Evangelical_Lutheran_Worship_Ordination.rtf.

[13] Cf. https://www.epc.org/file/main-menu/resources/download-epc-forms/service-form-ordination-and-installation-of-a-minister.pdf.

[14] See p. 77; online at https://www.tms.edu/about-the-seminary/doctrinal-statement/; accessed 15 December, 2017.

[15] Some Evangelicals try to define ‘orthodox’ narrowly, such as by what is affirmed in the Nicene Creed.  The Creeds contribute to an understanding of ‘orthodoxy,’ but they are decidedly not limited to what the term means.  The Creeds define in whom we believe, as my colleague, Dr. Donald Fairbairn, argues, and are not definitive by themselves for either orthodox beliefs or practices.

ANGLICAN MISSION IN ENGLAND COMES OF AGE

 

By Julian Mann
Special to VIRTUEONLINE
www.virtueonline.org
The Anglican Mission in England, launched by the Archbishops of the Global Anglican Future Conference in 2011 to support biblically orthodox Anglican ministry outside the Church of England, is now coming of age.

With the upcoming ordination of nine men on Thursday (December 7th) in East London by Andy Lines, consecrated in June by the Anglican Church in North America as missionary bishop to Europe, AMIE can no longer be accused of being an angry adolescent jumping up and down on the side-lines.

What was striking was the statemanslike nature of the statement by AMIE’s mission director Lee McNunn announcing the ordinations. This belied the juvenile headline by the allegedly evangelical but actually liberal-leaning website, Christian Today: ‘Rival Anglican church ordains new clergy in challenge to Justin Welby’ (current Archbishop of Canterbury).

Mr McNunn did not minimise the corrosive false teaching in the Church of England but made clear that AMiE is wanting to position itself positively for biblical truth rather than acting as a protest movement fired by what it does not believe in:

‘We know that many faithful Anglicans remain within the structures of the Church of England. However, some are finding their entry to ordination blocked by liberal clergy who do not believe orthodox Anglican teachings, like Jesus being the only way to be saved. Moreover, an increasing number of those exploring ordination now have no interest in joining what they see as a fundamentally compromised denomination. They are distressed by the number of senior clergy who are keen to bless what the Bible calls sin. Many are now talking to AMiE about a different way of being an Anglican in England.’

He added: ‘They are discovering the joy of belonging to a network where church leaders actually believe the historic Reformed faith in the 39 Articles, and where clergy are fully convinced that people need to be saved from the judgement to come. They are also experiencing the delight of being led by bishops, who all believe that faith in Jesus is necessary for salvation; who uphold the supreme authority of the Bible in all matters of belief and behaviour; and who are personally involved in the lives of the clergy.’

Inevitably with our fallen human nature being what it is, there will be some immature elements in AMiE who set out to compete with biblically faithful Anglican churches and ministers in the Church of England and seek gratuitously to provoke the CofE hierarchy. But the Lord willing these elements will lose influence as AMiE continues to grow up.

The growing maturity of the movement was also expressed by Andy Lines who said of the men being ordained to serve the Lord Jesus Christ in existing AMiE churches and in new congregations: ‘There has been a lot of work by a number of people involved in bringing these men to the point of being ordained. It is good to be part of the process of recognising their giftedness and godly character but they will need our prayers in the days and months ahead because like us they are weak and the work is hard, but our God is gracious and powerful.’

By God’s grace, the consecration of this former British Army tank commander is proving to be a great blessing to orthodox Anglicanism. But for AMiE to be an effective force for the gospel in the future it needs to continue to give the lie to that Christian Today headline with the humility and realism exemplified by him and Lee McNunn.

Julian Mann is vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire, UK – www.oughtibridgechurch.org.uk

Modern pharisees — the moral preening of the archbishops

Author:

Jules Gomes

Two men go to the temple to pray, one the Archbishop of Canterbury and the other a Trump-voting American fundamentalist. Archbishop Justin, standing before ITV’s Robert Peston, prays: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, Tories, pro-lifers, patriots, climate change deniers, wealth creators, welfare state haters, women’s ordination objectors, Islamophobes, homophobes, transphobes, Jacob Rees-Mogg or even like this fundamentalist Christian Trump-voter. I support Fair Trade and food banks. I challenge Wonga and high street banks.I pray for the UN climate summit in Paris. I issue press releases on child refugees and terrorist attacks. I denounce Brexiteers and praise Remainers.’

The Trump-voter, standing far off, will not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beats his breast, saying: ‘I am a garbage collector from America’s Rust Belt struggling to raise a family. I voted for Trump. God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

Jesus’s much-loved parable of the Pharisee and the Publican is a classic text on the dynamics of virtue signalling. The Pharisee, like the Archbishop, is seeking moral approbation. On ITV, Welby said he ‘really genuinely’ does not comprehend why fundamentalist churchgoers voted for Trump. There are a number of features to this liturgy of sanctimonious virtue signalling.

First, it is public, performed in the Temple or on TV. Second, it is effortless. It involves no risk. Third, it is elitist. The Pharisee is not like the Publican. The Archbishop is not like the American. Fourth, it is exclusive. The Pharisee and the Archbishop exclude sinful publicans, Republicans, and creepy fundamentalists crawling out of Clinton’s ‘basket of deplorables.’ Fifth, it is self-centred. The camera must focus on I, me and myself – a trait Martin Luther termed homo incurvatus in se: man curved in on himself.

James Bartholomew, author of The Welfare of Nations, coined the term ‘virtue signalling’ in 2015. ‘One of the crucial aspects of virtue signalling is that it does not require actually doing anything virtuous,’ he notes. ‘It takes no effort or sacrifice at all.’ While researching his previous book, The Welfare State We’re In, Bartholomew realised that the Victorians and Edwardians gave more to charity than today’s citizens. Even the working classes gave around 10 per cent of their income, compared with less than 1 per cent for today’s overall population. Today, people think they are virtuous because they vote Labour and express hatred of Right-wingers. ‘That is not virtue.’ writes Bartholomew. ‘That is lazy, self-righteous and silly.’

John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, proved Bartholomew’s point last week, when he returned to the safe spaces of the BBC studios to be interviewed by Andrew Marr, and donned his dog collar after the fall of Robert Mugabe. Sentamu cut up his collar on the Andrew Marr Show in 2007 in protest against Mugabe.

Sentamu did not visit Zimbabwe and demonstrate outside Mugabe’s palace. He would have been thrown into prison. That would have been a virtuous act of protest requiring real courage. Your publicity stunt really had Mugabe quaking in his boots, did it not, Archbishop? You could have made a Mugabe voodoo doll and stuck pins into it! Sentamu’s act was a feel-good virtue-signalling feat. He felt good and enjoyed the publicity. Andrew Marr felt good because the BBC had done its bit to virtue signal its opposition to Mugabe. We all felt good because we had vicariously demonstrated our hatred for Mugabe.

Jesus warns against virtue signalling when he asks his disciples to ‘beware of practising your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them’. He ridicules religious leaders who make ‘their phylacteries broad and their fringes long’ (and slice their dog collars in television studios).

Social psychologists Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke prefer to categorise such behaviour as ‘moral grandstanding’ – public moral discourse aiming to convince others that you are ‘morally respectable’. Others must judge you as ‘worthy of respect or admiration’ because of ‘some particular moral quality – for example, an impressive commitment to justice, a highly tuned moral sensibility, or unparalleled powers of empathy. To grandstand is to turn one’s contribution to public discourse into a vanity project,’ they argue. Sentamu’s vanity project lasted ten years and was made visible by the empty space around his neck.

There are life and death issues in the North of England over which Sentamu presides. Clergy survivors of sexual abuse have been pleading with him for justice. Fr Matthew Ineson, one of the victims, tweeted this a couple of days ago: ‘Today is the 98th day since risk assessment request on Bishops Sentamu, Croft, Snow & Burrows (for failure to act on disclosures of child abuse & leave a priest child sex abuser 5 years to potentially abuse again) sent to @JustinWelby STILL no reply. Why? Child abuse unimportant?’ Teenage white underclass girls in northern towns have been raped by mostly Pakistani Muslim men on an industrial scale. The C of E is haemorrhaging members over the failure of its hierarchy to uphold orthodox teaching in the face of a militant sexually permissive zeitgeist.

Welby or Sentamu haven’t let out the tiniest squeak of protest or opposition.

Ironically, the rise of virtue signalling parallels a growing interest in Aristotelian virtue ethics. Philosophers such as Alasdair MacIntyre in his book After Virtue and Bishop N T Wright in his book Virtue Reborn have both stressed the importance of virtue as building character.

But virtue signalling is the opposite of virtue. Real virtue is done without drawing attention, is in harmony with reason and natural law, and is directed toward helping others or toward God. Virtue signalling turns virtue ethics on its head because it must be readily visible, it is silly and unreasonable and it does not help anybody, says Kevin Clark.

The most devastating consequence of virtue signalling is that it becomes a substitute for character building and replaces Aristotle’s four principal virtues of courage, justice, prudence and temperance with publicity stunts, sound bites, Facebook ‘likes’ and Twitter shares.

Oh, by the way, Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, took a virtue-signalling HIV testlast week. ‘It’s just a pinprick. A simple, pain-free test. And the staff I dealt with were lovely, putting me completely at ease,’ Bayes said. Poor Jesus, I thought! He had to endure a crown of thorns on his head, nails through his hands, and a spear thrust into his side.

First printed in The Conservative Woman

Australia Oh Australia!

yes austaliaBy Rollin Grams November 15, 2017

In one of C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia, ‘The Silver Chair,’ the emerald witch of the underworld advocates an anti-natural lie.  She claims that there is no real world above the ‘Underland’ that she has created. She throws a magical potent onto the fire that causes the children who had tumbled into her realm to come under her spell. She launches into ‘shared dialogue’ with them to convince them of their erroneous belief in a real world above ground. No doubt, because she was managing to break down their resistance to her ‘revisionist teaching’, she would have considered this ‘good conversation’.  (The awkward phrases in quotes are typical in the Church of England for the liberal agenda to persuade the Church to abandon its historic faith for Western culture’s anti-natural thinking about sex and marriage.)

The children’s companion, Puddleglum, is a voice of reason in the story and is less susceptible to false arguments than the children.  He stomps bare-footed onto the magical fire to put it out. The children emerge from the witch’s spell and come to their senses. Smarting from his burns, Puddleglum says to the witch, ‘Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one.’  He and the children then get on with their mission.

As expected, yesterday’s referendum in Australia led to an affirmation of same-sex ‘marriage’.  This step on the road to an ultimate denial of biological, binary genders is becoming definitive for Western nations.  The illogic of the view follows that of the emerald witch.  That some 61% of the voters fell for this lie for around 3% of the population who identify as homosexual is an indication that the culture is failing in many more ways than just this issue.  It has lost the basis from which to present moral arguments of any sort because it has rejected God’s created world.  Like Eve and Adam, it has bitten into the fruit that will allow them to determine good and bad for themselves, to play God.

The saddest part of the story, however, is that the mainline churches have, by and large, failed Australia’s children.  They have ceased to speak rational sense and, instead, fallen under the magical spell of this ‘Underworld’ that denies created realities.  True, the Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church remains faithful to God’s revealed truths in creation and Scripture.  However, in Australia’s version of the story, Puddleglum falls under the spell of the anti-naturalism of culture, which also aborts its children by the millions under the imaginary notion that the vulnerable are less than human.

The only question that remains is, ‘How long will it take for this culture to decide that realists are dangerous, unfit to parent, unworthy to teach children, a troubling presence in the workplace, and need to be removed?’  Anti-naturalism will prove to be the totalitarianism of the 21st century.yes austalia

THE COMPROMISING CHURCH (Part 1)

By Roger Salter
Special to Virtueonline
The era of the Reformation was not a period of innovation or human invention in theology but an uncovering and consolidation of sound Christian thought derived from apostolic doctrine and held with varying degrees of accuracy, emphasis and consistency within the western Church for over fourteen centuries. Nothing novel was introduced by our mainline Reformers. With the Word of God open before them they rediscovered and reasserted key truths obscured by the accretion of many errors and superstitions that had permeated the life of the people of God, and with Scripture as their divinely donated standard they drew upon whatever orthodoxy they could find in their faithful and holy predecessors. The Spirit of God was surely operative in his Church before the Reformation for all of the impurities that obtained within it.

The Reformation was not a break with the historic Church of Christ (catholic as in universal) but rather a cleansing and healing process within the ailing body of believers who were denied the clarity of the gospel and ready access to the teaching of the Bible as the ultimate authority for faith and comfort in the salvation wrought through Jesus Christ. The intent of the Reformation was benign, magnanimous, and pastoral. The character of the Reformation was Augustinian, the classic theology of grace defined by the Bishop of Hippo and endorsed by several important church councils.

The cause of truth will always excite conflict. Our world, our race, natural religion in all its forms, is at implacable enmity with God. The word of God is militant toward evil and arouses an angry backlash. The meddling and mischief of the archenemy of the Lord, whose malice and violence, physical, mental, and spiritual is great, unrelenting, and furious, rendered the 16th and 17th centuries a time of turmoil and tempest. The emergence of the pure truth of God cannot be blamed for the disruption and damage that ensued as a result of the fresh disclosure of divine revelation. The church underestimates the wrath of Satan, the intensity of the struggle between two kingdoms, and the antipathy of human kind against the authority of the Lord.

The guilt and atrocities of that period of religious unrest are not to be attributed to the heirs of the Reformation, as has been anachronistically insinuated in a recent primatial* exhortation to Anglicans, and Christians in general, “to repent” of the Spirit-driven revolution in the 16th century Church of God (*namely Justin Welby, a man remarkably and notoriously unsuited to his office. Thought had been given to the withdrawal of this comment but each succeeding day seems to prove its correctness). Indeed, a strong signal is being given from many quarters that on the whole the Reformation was not, to use a phrase from Sellar and Yeatman – 1066 And All That, ” – “a good thing”.

There are indeed sufficient indications in Anglicanism that a drift from the Reformation is far advanced and proceeding with haste. Even within Anglican Evangelicalism there is an increasing leaning towards a softening of Augustinian conviction, an air of nervous caution preventing robust explication of truth, fostered partly by a sense of unwise courtesy (a debt to dissenters) and a tweaking of Reformed principles under the influence of Karl Barth, whose rewriting of key Christian concepts is gaining ground on conservative turf. Barth has his merits, but they are primarily those that echo and reflect already established Reformed dogma before he commenced his distinctive cogitation on matters theological. His approaches, considered innovative and insightful, seem to blur the meaning of Scripture in a subtle, seemingly plausible ways and insinuate departures from clear Biblical teaching (e.g. his notions on apologetics, Christology, predestination and apokatastasis – possible universal restoration to God) that allow “nervous nellies” to avoid crucial but unpopular issues. Barth imparts license to some theologians and Christian leaders obsessed with reputation to appear admirably intellectual and sophisticated. They are enabled to avoid the “crudity” of plain speaking (where is the “holy bombast” of Luther?).

It is a matter of wonderment as to how the bold Saxon author of “The Bondage of the Will” would regard the celebration of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in an atmosphere of reduced courage and the obvious erosion of Reformational conviction and ardor.

In our time Anglicanism has very little to commend it and much of it has abandoned its Confessional moorings. Anglicanism is a rudderless ship, without competent pilot and accurate compass, adrift and tempest-tossed amidst a flotilla of equally frail ideological vessels, humanistic and faith-based, lost and dangerously listing upon the perilous sea of errant religion and godless secularism.

A remembrance of the Reformers ought to concentrate on the rudiments of the faith which they keenly embraced and by which they were guided. It is not up to us, nor fair to their testimony, to dilute their message and deplete the legacy they bequeathed to us at enormous cost to themselves. Our boldness of affirmation should be the equal of theirs, at equal risk of adverse opinion and harsh condemnation. Our loyalty to the Reformers is to be regarded as a holy trust and we are called to maintain the potency of their convictions manfully.

If the heritage created for us by the Reformers is found by any to be uncongenial, unacceptable, unpopular, the doctrine of our founders deemed to be too strong, we ought frankly to admit it, quit any pretense of allegiance to authentic Anglicanism, and celebrate its replacement elsewhere on the “Christian spectrum” (broad enough) rather than falsely honor Anglican fathers in the faith whom we effectively repudiate by modern moderation, diluted doctrinal confession, and abandonment of traditional foundations.

The determined critics of Cranmer, and the content and shape of our communion for which he and his colleagues are responsible, ought, for integrity’s sake, to realign under another banner that clearly advertises their essential principles and theological persuasion. Genuine Christians may differ according to conscience and conviction and they need to align with communities of faith that best match and advocate their preferred religious sentiments rather than struggle to adjust or undermine the norms of a fellowship which they find uncongenial. Cranmer’s admirers readily concede that no human leader is infallible and to be followed uncritically. They readily acknowledge that ongoing development is necessary and inevitable, however, not away from, but in line with the principles of Holy Scripture enshrined in our Reformational gains, together with any elements of catholic orthodoxy accurately discerned in historic creeds, declarations of sound doctrine, expressions of worthy devotion, and good example).

Much is at stake as we embark upon an appreciation and assessment of the Reformation. Was it a good thing? Was it a bad thing? Does anything about it deserve permanency? Does it proffer any benefit to the generation in which we live? If so, how do we maximize the good it may achieve, should the Lord be pleased?

The rudiments of the Reformation are solidly Scriptural. The passage of time has not diminished their correctness or relevance. That which should be updated, surely, is our loyalty to and love for both the event and enlightenment of the Reformation that strengthened the ceaseless witness of the church to the grace and justice of God perennially at work in the welfare of the world and the destinies of men.

Our English Reformers concurred with the eminent biblical thinkers of the European Continent. The general outline of Christian belief demarcated by Luther, Zwingli, Bucer, Vermigli, Calvin, Bullinger, was warmly accepted and adhered to in England and permeated the preaching and piety of the national Church for over seventy years without intermission or serious dissent after the demise of Mary Tudor and Reginald Pole (controversy, of course, did arise at university level at the instigation of Peter Baro, William Barrett and their like).

Now forgotten or soft-pedaled are the fundamental teachings of our Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion that offend our contemporary and softened sensibilities and embarrass our standing among disapproving fellows. The Articles from which we are liable to shy away or understate are as follows: Article 10, Of Free-will, Article 11, Of the Justification of Man, Article 17, Of Predestination and Election. We are afraid to be controversial or in contradiction of popular sentiment.

We are afraid to declare that by nature fallen man cannot turn himself toward God. He possesses no such disposition, no scintilla of desire, and that without the sovereign intervention of God man is at the point of absolute enmity with God, hopelessly ruined and lost. We demur at telling man that no quality or effort of his, actual or potential, can place him in favor with God or improve his relationship with the Holy One. We recoil from stating the clear fact that before we choose God he chooses us (It is interesting that Arminianism rarely refers spontaneously to the topic of election except when in controversy with Reformational thought. Apart from that, there is no necessity to allude to electing love, as in the Arminian view man elects himself, a development that God merely foresees and endorses – a real divine election does not instinctively enter the Arminian consciousness or vocabulary. Arminianism is blighted by the inherent philosophy of the natural human ego – e.g. “My will is ultimately supreme”. Hence the notion of divine election becomes redundant). Furthermore, Calvinists are usually held to be in the wrong for broaching the subject and are often afraid of censure and rebuke. Thoroughly examined, Arminianism is a negation of the gospel, and yet many of the Reformed apologize for their Biblical stand.

The bondage of the will, the spiritual bankruptcy of man, the necessity of divine election to salvation are virtually ruled out in our time by our modern Anglican theologians and preachers, evasive of the doctrines of Luther, Calvin and Cranmer. A church in denial of the incapacitating corruption of human nature with regard to desiring God, the impossibility of winning the commendation of God by any means other than the imputed righteousness of Christ, or lacking honest subscription to absolute predestination is an enfeebled church disqualified from asserting the full gospel in any compelling way.

Article 10 alerts us to our plight, Article 11 relieves us of our anxiety and fear, Article 17 comforts us with the knowledge of Christ’s eternal love that found us in our utter wretchedness and unworthiness, and having taken hold of us will never forsake us. “Calvinism”, the usual term now for describing the Biblical message that salvation is entirely of the Lord – the Father’s choice, the Son’s redemptive accomplishment, the Spirit’s effectual activity within the individual soul – “Calvinism” is the legitimate foundational creed of Anglicanism; it stems from Augustinianism and clear adherence to the principle of sovereign grace. It has become customary to refer to all predestinarians in every age as Calvinistic, a convenient appellation, even though the Genevan Reformer is not the author of this conception of the plan of salvation.

As familiarity with church history recognizes, a noble succession of our eminent forbears upheld electing love with the clarity and consistency of Jean Calvin (e.g. Prosper, Fulgentius, Gregory of Rimini, Ratramnus, Gottschalk, Bradwardine, Wycliffe and Anselm). It is to the testimony of pre-Reformational and Reformational Augustinians that we shall turn to establish the legitimate Anglican testimony to the human plight and divine mercy. The Reformation was the ultimate breakthrough of Scriptural doctrine that had been surging forth within the Church for centuries. The “bridge” needs to be appreciated by Protestant Christians and crossed by old-style Catholics, Anglo and Roman.

To be continued…

The Rev. Roger Salter is an ordained Church of England minister where he had parishes in the dioceses of Bristol and Portsmouth before coming to Birmingham, Alabama to serve as Rector of St. Matthew’s Anglican Church

‘We Have Stopped Supporting Your Ministry’ by Rollin Grams (10/17)

Coins

1 December, AD 51

Dear Paul, Silas, and Timothy,

Greetings from Antioch. We trust you are well and that your ministry in Corinth is also continuing well. Our mission committee met last week to discuss your work, and we have decided to discontinue the annual support that we have been sending for your ministry. You are probably wondering what led us to this decision, and so here are ten of our primary concerns.

First, of the three of you, only Paul was originally sent out from this church. Silas is from Jerusalem, and Timothy is from Lystra. Our policy is to support missionaries who come from Antioch. Also, our policy is to support our missionaries at 5% of their total support needs, and we expect them to find the rest of their support from other churches. We, however, will not support missionaries who do not come from our own church.

Second, our church likes to focus on certain countries. We have a flag for every country where one of our missionaries has gone, and when they report back to us, we like to have them tell us about that country, share some recipes from that country, speak some of the language for us, and wear the traditional clothes from that country. We chose to support you for ministry in Macedonia, and we were greatly impressed by your vision, Paul, to minister there. However, word has reached us that you only spent a few weeks in Macedonia, starting churches in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Beroea. Now, however, we hear that you have moved on to Corinth in Achaia. Since we tie mission work to specific countries, we do not feel that we can continue to support you in your present work outside Macedonia.

Third, we had sent you out to do the work of church planting. Our church has decided only to fund church planters in missionary work. We appreciate that you also started a church in Corinth, but we understand that you are moving into ministry that involves theological education. For our part, we want to see churches planted and are not financially behind educating pastors for those churches.

Fourth, you did not fill out your financial application form for our church on time last year. We know that the Holy Spirit originally told us to send Paul and Barnabas out for the ministry that God had called them to do. At first, that led us to the idea that we are to support missionaries themselves and not to support them based on the places they went or the projects that they have submitted. However, and we are sure you will understand this, when missionaries are gone a long time, we begin to lose that personal connection that we once had with them. Over time, it is far easier to treat them like projects and require them to fill out forms so that we can support the project of ministry that they are doing. These project forms are very important to us.

Fifth, we have over the years taken on new projects for support that some of our newer members want to support—members who do not remember you or who never met you. We now support a pregnancy support ministry here in Antioch, a feeding and clean water programme in the region of Tyre and Sidon, an elementary schools project in rural areas of Syria, and so forth. We simply cannot support every worthy cause, and these are causes that our church members get enthused about. Our congregation likes to support projects more than missionaries. We also, as you will notice from these places of ministry, think that we should focus more on ministry closer to home than to the ends of the earth, as it were. In addition, and to be perfectly honest, hearing that you are only involved in preaching the Gospel and teaching theology and not in some tangible ministry that makes a difference in people’s lives is a concern for us. Ever since we combined benevolence funding along with our missionary support, we have been increasingly interested in funding those projects.

Sixth, we have also had word that you are working on the side by making tents in order to make ends meet. We did not send you out so that you could spend your time working a job; we expected you to be involved in ministry full-time if we support you. We know that working in the market-place is a good way to meet people and do relational evangelism, but it sounds to us as though you are getting two salaries.

Seventh, you have fallen behind on your monthly newsletters to us. We expect to hear from you more regularly, and challenges in ministry are not excuses for failing to communicate with your financial supporters. We want short letters with a story of interest that we can pin up on the back wall of the church next to the map of places where we have sent missionaries. You not only do not write often enough, but when you write you send theological treatises that nobody wants to read.

Eighth, we understand that you are a little too open to work with some groups that are not very sound. Some of those Corinthians have the wrong theology and are immoral. Why would you ever engage in ministry to them? Shouldn’t we minister to people who are theologically sound and morally upright?

Ninth, our budget for supporting mission work has shrunk in recent years. We’ve moved from the cave where we used to meet to a nice new facility in the centre of Antioch near the Orontes River. This has taken a lot of our funds that we once set aside for missions, and the upkeep of our new building is also going to keep us from supporting as many missionaries as we used to support.

Tenth, our short-term mission programme has taken off wonderfully. We send our youth on two week mission trips to build huts in Cappadocia, and they come back very excited. Along with the new projects we support, this short-term mission work has eaten into funding for long-term missionaries such as yourselves.

So, for quite a number of reasons, we simply can no longer support your ministry. We will continue to pray for your work and hope to hear from you from time to time, and we wish the Lord’s blessing on your ministry. We are happy to have been able to send you some financial assistance over the past eight years, but we think that this has been long enough by now for you to stand on your own two feet—we are sure that you will agree that there has to be a limit to philanthropy.

Sincerely,

The Mission Committee of Antioch Church
Rollin GramsRollin Grams is a missionary, theological educator, and scholar working with Evangelical institutions. In addition to a professorial role at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Charlotte, NC), he is also a Co-Dean for the PhD programme of the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life in Stellenbosch, South Africa. With United World Mission’s East Mountain ministry, he is engaged with theological education, discipleship, internships, and local church and church renewal ministries in South Africa. He maintains a blog on Bible, missions, ethics, and contemporary church issues: https://bibleandmission.blogspot.co.uk where this article was first published.