The ‘Be Positive’ message: are we substituting God’s grace with our own?

be-positive

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

How should Christians live “in a culture which often either ignores faith or aggressively opposes it? What are Christians to do in… an environment, where traditional attitudes to morality are suddenly becoming extreme and unacceptable?” These questions were asked at a recent symposium hosted by an organisation called Threads UK, part of the Evangelical Alliance. According to the report in Christian Today, the main speaker, David Kinnaman, gave some examples of a ‘new morality’ based around a cult of the Self that has taken hold in our culture. He went on to give some suggestions as to how to live effectively as Christians. Firstly, he said, don’t offer any public critique of the new morality, or try to change culture in any way that appears like the Church telling others what to do. Secondly, be a “faithful presence” (ie just be where you are as a Christian, without necessarily saying anything about your faith), and a ‘positive’ influence, offering hope instead of despair. According to the report, in the discussion which followed, this mission strategy was largely supported by those present.

A similar strategy appears to be supported by Archbishop Justin Welby, as shown by his recent sermon to the global Mothers Union at their 140th anniversary celebration. He acknowledged the reality of rapid cultural shifts in relation to the family, mentioning changing attitudes to same sex relationships, cohabitation and divorce. But he did not attempt to explain the reasons for these trends, critique them, or promote a biblical model for family life: a father and a mother who are committed in love to each other and who pass on their values to their children. Instead, according to the Archbishop, the Mothers’ Union should accept the reality of different types of household arrangements, and offer help and hope to them.

We’ve all heard the arguments which advocate a ‘positive’ approach to living and witnessing in contemporary Western culture: “Christians should not just be known for what they are against…create, don’t complain…don’t curse the darkness but light a candle”. The ‘be positive’ approach is partly reacting against a grumpy, ultra-conservative legalism and opposition to change, and a despairing withdrawal into a ghetto, neither of which are helpful. It focuses on some key Gospel emphases: prayer, evangelism, and compassionate community service, and is born out of a genuine desire to improve the poor image of the church which is an obstacle to mission. It is not advocating a liberal capitulation to culture, like some Anglican Bishops and theologians who say that the ideas behind the moral and sexual revolution are actually from God and should be embraced (for example, Paul Bayes, Alan Wilson, Barry Morgan, Adrian Thatcher).

But as a biblically orthodox Anglican response to living in contemporary Western culture, is this adequate? Here are some reasons why just being ‘positive’ is defective:

  1. It often appears to be more embarrassed by Christian righteousness than grieved by cultural ungodliness. If being ‘positive’ means saying nothing about (for example) sexual immorality, but criticizing Christians who bravely oppose it, then we are not following the Psalmist who said: “Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed” (Psalm 119:136).
  2. Jesus did not command his disciples to just be a ‘faithful presence’ but to “go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey”. Part of the church’s reflection on its place in the community and nation involves working out how to teach obedience to the ways of Christ. Should it just be to the church members? Jesus’ words and the history of Christian mission suggests that it is more than this, and certainly the Church of England and Anglicanism around the world has always believed that its intentional teaching and discipling role extends to community and nation building, not just pastoring the gathered congregation.
  1. We know that many of the cultural leaders in the moral revolution have a horror of the Church being a kind of ‘moral policeman, and secularists as a whole want to remove the influence of religion from public life altogether. Does this mean that Christians should oblige by steering clear of anything that looks like an effort to critique society’s values and try to change them for the better? Should we restrict ourselves in terms of our ‘public face’ to inoffensive social action and evangelism? The danger with this is twofold: the church fails to take a stand against evil, corruption and injustice outside its walls, and it becomes afraid to teach clearly about controversial issues to its own members.
  1. It’s sometimes assumed that what puts people off the church is the ‘thou shalt not’ message about sex outside of marriage. All the church has to do, then, is to apologise for its treatment of gay, divorced, cohabiting people, give no moral guidance on these issues and try and steer the conversation towards God’s love, options for our spirituality, and our good works. But this is quite simply a non-Gospel. Both Jesus (eg Matthew 15:19) and Paul (eg Romans 1:21-27) use sexual immorality as perhaps the most obvious visible sign (among many others) of a heart in rebellion against God, the answer to which is repentance, faith and forgiveness. A church which downplays the seriousness of sexual and other sin is covering up the fatal problem of heart-sickness, rebellion and judgement, and so covers up God’s solution of grace in Christ, substituting it with our own.
  1. The simplistic ‘be positive’ message relies too much on the biblical model of Jesus in first century Palestine, and does not pay enough attention to other historical eras. Jesus appeared not to criticize the secular Roman authorities, but was constantly warning against the Pharisees with their strict moral teaching undergirded with hypocrisy and lack of love and grace. It’s very easy to apply this model today and see the evangelical cultural critics as modern day Pharisees. But while the Gospels continue to speak timelessly of the ministry of Christ to our human condition, the context of Christians in the West today is more similar to other biblical periods. For example, Judah in the late monarchy required the ministry of prophets, warning the leaders of God’s people of compromise and apostasy bringing God’s judgement. Or the time of the early church, when Paul led the apostles in working out how to take the Gospel to a pagan Gentile audience, and faced conflict from religious and civil authorities on the way. Or perhaps the exile in Babylon and the diaspora into the Roman empire – the need to form distinctive, counter-cultural communities, preserving the vision and values of God’s rule, and influencing society from below.

The church must beware of being driven by fear of journalists and loud social media voices. They love to portray a simple narrative of nasty, bigoted conservative Christians vs. nice, loving, liberal ones. It would be good if we were known for believing what the Bible teaches, acting on it, and being ready to explain our hope, even if it’s not always popular.

AMiE Unveils Church Planting Plan for Britain

https://player.vimeo.com/video/181045975

AMiE Pioneering from Anglican Mission in England on Vimeo.

What is our desire?

When Jesus looked at the crowds he was filled with compassion. He was deeply moved as he saw vast numbers of lost people. This love for sinners led Jesus to take action. According to Mark 6:34, “…he began teaching them many things.”

AMiE is a mission society that was established by GAFCON to multiply and strengthen healthy Anglican churches in England. Stirred with compassion, we want to assist in the evangelisation of England by starting many new churches. Our gospel ambition is to pioneer 25 AMiE churches by 2025 and 250 by 2050.

How are we planning to do this?

Researching
We will establish a map of promising and needy places to plant new gospel churches. We will do this through conversations at a national, regional and local level. We will build on the information that has already been gathered by other networks.

Recruiting
We will proactively seek out individuals to pioneer AMiE churches and to serve as Assistant Ministers. Those who lead AMiE churches will be men of appropriate character, gifting, training and experience. They will be approved by our selection process. We will also encourage Christians to relocate in order to join a church planting team.

Why plant with AMiE?

Coaching
We aim to provide excellent Biblical church planting training to those in need of it. This will include initial advice, ongoing development and access to resources.

Cash
Our desire is to seed fund the first batch of AMiE church plants.

Connection
AMiE ministers will be supported by AMiE bishops. Since AMiE is connected to GAFCON, all AMiE churches will benefit from partnership with biblical Anglicans around the world.

 


MAKING IT HAPPEN

THERE ARE TWO WAYS TO INVEST IN THIS GOSPEL WORK

1 Pioneer
Could you plant an AMiE church? Could you be an Assistant Minister? Could you lead the student work or the children’s ministry or the women’s ministry? Could you be an Apprentice? Or could you even relocate and join a core team in a new place?

2 Partner
Would you pray that God would make this gospel ambition a reality? Could your local Anglican church link with an AMiE church? An incredible partnership could flourish, involving prayer, ministry being funded and mutual training in evangelism and discipleship. Could you give financially? Imagine what we could achieve together. If 100 churches or individuals each pledged only £500 a year for 4 years, then £200,000 would be available to seed fund many new churches. AMiE would also love to support other church planting initiatives. We would be delighted to share wisdom and give advice to local church leaders about how they can pioneer new churches in their region. Please contact us for more information about what we can offer.


There is much to do. And of course we cannot do everything. But we have a great God whose arm is not too short to save and we have a great mandate to spread the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to every postcode in this country. So filled with compassion, let’s pour ourselves out for Jesus and plant as many churches as we can. For more information about how to pioneer or partner with AMiE please email Lee McMunn.

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Provinces: 

The Parable of the Train Traveller

 Bible and Mission

His disciples asked him, ‘Teacher, tell us: What is good pastoral care?’
He replied, ‘A certain man wanted to take a train from Cardiff to St. David.  Three priests
were standing on the platform with him. The man, who was terrified of train travel, asked‘Is this train safe?’  

The first priest, who believed that all train travel was safe, assured the man that it mattered not which train he took or where he travelled.  ‘You shall be safe,’ he stated firmly, ‘and know of a certainty that the Church has blessed this train.’  Then he gave the man an encouraging smile.  

The second priest, who had planned to go to Oxford, said, ‘I shall change my ticket, travel with you, sit beside you to encourage you along the way, and have shared conversations.’  With that, he climbed onto the train with the man, helping him with his baggage.  

The third priest, who moments earlier had checked the train news on his Smartphone, yelled, ‘Get off the train!  The bridge is out and you shall surely perish, all of you!’  

Then, turning to Peter, the teacher asked, ‘Which of the priests gave good pastoral care?’  ‘I suppose,’ answered Peter, ‘the second one, who stayed off his cell phone and gave the man his full attention and good company.’

Peter Jensen on “The Power of the Laity”

Peter Jensen

It’s odd.  Sometimes you would think that the Church is the business of the clergy only, and the laity count for little or nothing.

Of course, earlier generations even used language (‘going into the Church’ when they meant entering the ministry) which betrayed such a way of thinking. As well, the services of decades ago were entirely conducted by the clergy with little or no lay participation, at least in my part of the world.

But, for many decades now there has been a recognition that ‘God’s Frozen People’ (to use the title of a popular book from the 1960s) needed to be unfrozen and the opportunities for public ministry have grown enormously. The biblical teaching that the church is the Body of Christ has become central to our way of thinking and the gifts of God’s people recognised, at least in theory.

Of course this is consistent with Anglicanism since the Reformation. The Bible then became a gift to the whole church, and people were encouraged to listen to it in their own language, to own it, to read it aloud to their families. When it comes to the Scriptures, we are meant to, ‘hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them’ as the Collect for the Second Sunday in Advent says.  Inherent in the idea of getting people to hear and read the Bible is a view that we are all accountable for what we read and how we respond to the Lordship of Christ.

Access to the Bible empowers the laity. It enables them to test all things for themselves. It enables them to live the Christian life both inside and outside the Church.

It is significant that when the Apostle Paul speaks directly to the Church in Corinth about the way in which various patterns of behaviour were inconsistent with the gospel, he does not address the ministers of the church, but the church itself, every member of it. 1 Corinthians is not a note from the bishop to ‘his’ clergy, an ad clerum.  Paul regards the discipline and the obedience of the church to be the responsibility of all.

Now don’t get me wrong. I am a Bishop myself and I believe in due order and responsibility. But I also recognise that all the members of the Church, have an ultimate responsibility under God for the spiritual and theological well-being of their Church. Essentially, they are not to support false teaching or false teachers and they are to know the truth and to test what they see and hear by it (see 2 Peter 2, for example).

This obligation has become increasingly important. One of the things that is constantly being said is that although many clergy are clear on the authority of the Bible and its teaching on sexual ethics, they will not be able to carry their congregations with them.  If this is true, it is a summons to committed Christians to support the clergy by insisting on the full, clear teaching of the Bible and accepting the consequences of taking a stand for that truth.

The spiritual maturity of the laity involves an understanding of their role and responsibilities. Indeed, in a Church led by Bishops the lay voice is even more important. Clergy are often beholden to Bishops for their livelihood and prospects, and may feel inhibited about taking action or speaking out. Laity have a special responsibility to speak and act with clarity, conviction and truth to Bishops. A Bishop is sometimes more inclined to listen to lay opinion than he is to the words of the clergy.

There is a danger that the present controversies about human sexuality will be portrayed as an arcane discussion between clergy perhaps even a political discussion. As such, the laity can ignore these matters and give themselves energetically to the ministry of the local church as they do at the moment.

This would be a tragic mistake. Wrong decisions on this matter will be the end of the Church as a witness to the truth that is in Jesus Christ and will turn it into an ever-declining religious club. Both clergy and laity must take responsibility to speak and live the truth and in particular to support those clergy who by speaking the truth of God’s word will come under pressure to be silent.

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The Modern Gospel is Selling Us Short — And Sending People To Hell

By BILL MUEHLENBERG
https://billmuehlenberg.com/
Sept. 10, 2016

Plenty of concerned Christian leaders, — men such as Leonard Ravenhill, Ray Comfort and Paul Washer — have long noted how the gospel presentation so many evangelicals offer today is a far cry from that which is found in the Bible. Our offers of the gospel tend to differ markedly from that of Jesus and the early disciples.

Today we speak about accepting Christ or asking him into our heart or having a personal relationship with Jesus. These phrases and concepts have some truth to them, but they are often far too lean and vacuous to do much good — they certainly do not summarise the biblical call for faith, repentance and a life surrendered to Christ.

We have watered down the gospel message, in other words, and therefore the way we present it to sinners is watered down as well. So we are selling people short, and worse yet, we may be misleading many into thinking they are part of Christ’s Kingdom when in fact they are not.

Too often a once-off altar call is seen as the be all and end all of Christian salvation. But an emotional reaction decades ago is not what biblical conversion is all about. A changed life is. Too often folks will sing a dozen choruses of “Just As I Am” and leave a gospel meeting just as they were.

As mentioned, many concerned Christians have challenged the modern gospel understanding and gospel presentation. For example, I have spoken elsewhere about the important 1970 book by Walter Chantry, Today’s Gospel: Authentic or Synthetic? See here: billmuehlenberg.com/2014/09/14/carnal-christians/

Today I want to run with a few more Christian leaders who have spoken to this. One of them died over 50 years ago and one of them wrote a piece on this topic just today. The former is the great A. W. Tozer. He of course constantly spoke about the God-centred biblical gospel as opposed to the man-centred modern gospel.

Let me share just one of his writings on this. In the 1964 book That Incredible Christian, we have a collection of his writings, and in it we have chapter 3: “What It Means to Accept Christ”. He reminds us that there is nothing more important than making sure we got this issue right. Here is a part of this vital chapter:

Being spiritually lazy we naturally tend to gravitate toward the easiest way of settling our religious questions for ourselves and others; hence the formula “Accept Christ” has become a panacea of universal application, and I believe it has been fatal to many. Though undoubtedly an occasional serious-minded penitent may find in it all the instruction he needs to bring him into living contact with Christ, I fear that too many seekers use it as a short cut to the Promised Land, only to find that it has led them instead to “a land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness.”

The trouble is that the whole “Accept Christ” attitude is likely to be wrong. It shows Christ applying to us rather than us to Him. It makes Him stand hat-in-hand awaiting our verdict on Him, instead of our kneeling with troubled hearts awaiting His verdict on us. It may even permit us to accept Christ by an impulse of mind or emotions, painlessly, at no loss to our ego and no inconvenience to our usual way of life.

For this ineffectual manner of dealing with a vital matter we might imagine some parallels; as if, for instance, Israel in Egypt had “accepted” the blood of the Passover but continued to live in bondage, or the prodigal son had “accepted” his father’s forgiveness and stayed on among the swine in the far country. Is it not plain that if accepting Christ is to mean anything there must be moral action that accords with it?

Allowing the expression “Accept Christ” to stand as an honest effort to say in short what could not be so well said any other way, let us see what we mean or should mean when we use it.

To accept Christ is to form an attachment to the Person of our Lord Jesus altogether unique in human experience. The attachment is intellectual, volitional and emotional. The believer is intellectually convinced that Jesus is both Lord and Christ; he has set his will to follow Him at any cost and soon his heart is enjoying the exquisite sweetness of His fellowship.
This attachment is all-inclusive in that it joyfully accepts Christ for all that He is. There is no craven division of offices whereby we may acknowledge His Saviourhood today and withhold decision on His Lordship till tomorrow. The true believer owns Christ as his All in All without reservation. He also includes all of himself, leaving no part of his being unaffected by the revolutionary transaction.

Further, his attachment to Christ is all-exclusive. The Lord becomes to him not one of several rival interests, but the one exclusive attraction forever. He orbits around Christ as the earth around the sun, held in thrall by the magnetism of His love, drawing all his life and light and warmth from Him. In this happy state he is given other interests, it is true, but these are all determined by his relation to his Lord.

That we accept Christ in this all-inclusive, all-exclusive way is a divine imperative. Here faith makes its leap into God through the Person and work of Christ, but it never divides the work from the Person. It never tries to believe on the blood apart from Christ Himself, or the cross or the “finished work.” It believes on the Lord Jesus Christ, the whole Christ without modification or reservation, and thus it receives and enjoys all that He did in His work of redemption, all that He is now doing in heaven for His own and all that He does in and through them.

To accept Christ is to know the meaning of the words “as he is, so are we in this world” (1 John 4:17). We accept His friends as our friends, His enemies as our enemies, His ways as our ways, His rejection as our rejection, His cross as our cross, His life as our life and His future as our future.

If this is what we mean when we advise the seeker to accept Christ we had better explain it to him. He may get into deep spiritual trouble unless we do.

The brand new article on this comes from Matt Walsh. He speaks about how we can carelessly throw around the phrase, ‘having a personal relationship with Jesus’. For some it can become an excuse for carnality and disobedience, and cover a multitude of sins.

He notes how many offer the biblically false idea that a relationship with Christ precludes having to worry about rules, regulations, obedience, and keeping Christ’s commands. But both always go together. He writes:

No, the Bible never mentions our “personal relationship” explicitly, neither did the Apostles use the catchphrase when they were out converting the masses, but a similar idea was expressed many times in Scripture. In James, for instance: “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” Or in Jude: “Keep yourselves in the love of God.” Or by Jesus Himself: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

Indeed, the entire New Testament is the story of Jesus coming to Earth as a person and sacrificing Himself so that we could have salvation. The Bible tells us of a personal God so desperate to bring us into eternal life that He sent His son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. It’s clear that God wants an intimate connection with us, and that can only begin when we realize our need for Him and develop a deep desire to know and serve Him.
And therein lies the “personal relationship,” if you want to put it that way. Or you could put it as St. Augustine did: “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.” Maybe we came up with “personal relationship with Jesus” because we’re not as poetic or eloquent as the early Christians. It seems we often look for blander and broader language to convey the same ancient ideas. But however we phrase it, we do in fact need a personal relationship — an intimate connection, a deep bond, a true union — with Jesus. My friend was right about that much, at least.

The problem arises when we think we can have the relationship on our own terms; when we forget who is the master and who is the servant; when we get confused about who is the Father and who is the child; when we emphasize “my” and not “Jesus,” as if we’re the ones calling the shots. Notice that whenever the Bible talks about you and me, it uses terms like children, sheep, disciples, servants. The Lord is the Father, the Shepherd, the Master, the Savior. The relationship — our “personal relationship” — is defined for us, quite helpfully. Our roles are made clear. And we have to fulfill our role or the relationship cannot bear fruit.

He continues:

The fact is, all relationships require loyalty, devotion, honesty, humility, and active participation from both parties. A relationship with an authority figure, like a parent, requires obedience and a humble willingness to follow the rules. Our relationship with God is not an exception to this. It is the absolute prime example. Our relationship with the Divine does not give us a license to do whatever we want. It calls us to do what He wants.

Walsh concludes:

And, ultimately, if we really don’t want Jesus — even if we say we do — we won’t get Him. If we don’t want a deep and meaningful relationship with Him, we won’t have it. We can’t have it. Jesus can’t force us to love Him. If we do love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15), or at least try. The moment we give up trying — the moment we throw away His commandments and try to have a “relationship” without them — is the moment we give up on the relationship completely.

For a long time now evangelicalism has drifted away from the biblical gospel. That can only mean that a lot of people who think they are Christians are not — they have drifted away from God. Only a biblical gospel can save people, not a watered down, man-pleasing gospel.

There is nothing more important that we must get right than how we are made right with God. If we get that wrong, we get everything wrong.

END

Reflections on the Consecration of the Eighth Bishop of Pittsburgh

Author:

David Wilson

The Spirit of the Lord is upon me . . . (from the OT lesson)

As so it was, as the Rev James L. Hobby Jr. became the Rt. Rev. James L. Hobby, Jr. eighth Bishop of Pittsburgh on Saturday September 10, 2016.   Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, the Most Rev. Foley Beach, conferred the episcopal mantle upon him with co-consecrators the Most Rev. Robert Duncan Archbishop Emeritus and seventh Bishop of Pittsburgh as well as the Rt. Rev. John Guernsey Bishop of the Mid-Atlantic Diocese and the Rt. Rev. Neil Lebhar, Bishop of the Gulf Atlantic Diocese and Jim Hobby’s former diocesan bishop.

It was a great day in the life of the Diocese of Pittsburgh, in the life of the ACNA and in the life of global Anglican Christianity as well over 600 congregants joined 3 Archbishops (Beach, Duncan and Tito Zavala Abp of South America), and 23 other bishops – mostly from the ACNA but also including a bishop from the Anglican Church of Canada (which was somewhat brave given the level of hostility the Primate of the ACoC, Fred Hiltz has heaped upon the ACNA within the structures of the Anglican Communion).  The bishop who ordained Jim a deacon and a priest, the Rt. Rev. Alden Hathaway was also present in the congregation.  Jim joins four other grads of Trinity School for Ministry as bishops in the United States – all of whom are in the ACNA or Diocese of South Carolina. Three of the four were present in the service, Mark Lawrence, Ken Ross and Mark Zimmerman.

The bishops were joined in the procession by 18 deacons and 70 priests of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh, at least 9 bishop’s wives, numerous members of the Hobby family (many acting as presenters), the Dean and faculty members of Trinity School for Ministry, leaders of the Anglican Global Mission Partners, and lay leaders and youth of the Diocese of Pittsburgh. Lastly 8 ecumenical partners — judicatory heads, bishops and archbishops who are members of Christian Associates of Western Pennsylvania joined the procession as well.

The long procession formed in nearby Church of the Ascension and we marched on a warm, sunny day one city block to the Cathedral of St. Paul.  As we strolled we greeted the Pittsburgh police who held up the traffic on our behalf as we crossed the intersections.  At one point as we passed a PAT bus, the door opened and the female bus drive called out, “Glory to God, Alleluia, Praise the Lord”

After we entered the edifice, finished the stirring processional hymn and were all seated, Bishop David Zubik of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh offered a warm welcome his Cathedral.  Later Bishop Trevor Walters of the Anglican Network in Canada (ACNA) delivered a stalwart sermon likening Jim Hobby’s call to that of 3rd century Cappadocian father, bishop and martyr Cyprian.

A light moment came when Jim Hobby was bopped on the head with a Bible by Foley Beach as he presented it to him and urged him to preach the Word of God.  A serious moment occurred when Jim was charged to “banish and drive away from the Church all strange and erroneous Doctrine contrary to God’s Word; and both privately and publicly to call upon others and encourage them to do the same?”   Had this charge been taken seriously in the postwar Episcopal Church by its bishops and other leaders and had it been retained in the 1979 BCP then perhaps the Church would never had needed to separate.  A moot point now.

A very moving, Spirit-filled, moment was the laying-on-of hands on Shari Hobby by the bishop’s wives and the seven or eight minutes of concentrated prayer on her behalf.

Then there was the awesome worship – majestic Anglican hymns being led by a magnificent pipe organ, mixed with old gospel tub-thumpers and the very best of contemporary Christian music led by marvelous praise band.  As the worship enveloped the Cathedral, the whole of the event was summed up in the words of songwriter Chris Tomlin, “How great is our God! Sing with me.  How great is our God!  And all will see – how great, how great is our God!”   Finally, the Dean and Rector of St Paul’s Father Chris Stubna said to a member of our Altar Guild as they were loading up, “Boy, you Anglicans love to sing!”    A great day it truly was.

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GAFCON UK website launched

fca-logo.jpg

Sep 10, 2016

GAFCON UK exists as a broad-based fellowship for all faithful Anglicans in Britain who agree with the Jerusalem Declaration, who are committed to living for Christ, standing humbly and compassionately for historic biblical truth in church, community and nation, and who share a vision for a global Anglican future.

Christians in the West are rightly concerned about the lack of freedom and of basic necessities in many parts of the world. But do we realize that followers of Jesus overseas are praying for us as well? In particular, many Anglicans across the world look with compassion on our spiritual poverty.

They see Europe, America and other Western cultures as abandoning their Christian heritage, and UK churches, including Anglicans, under pressure to compromise clear Christian teaching in the face of secular humanist philosophy. In some cases, the gospel appears to have been watered down or even denied. Even some faithful clergy do not feel free to give clear teaching on key topics such as sexual ethics or the uniqueness of Christ. Meanwhile, Christians are often afraid to share their faith in the workplace.

 

GAFCON unites confessing Anglicans worldwide.

Existing church-planting and renewal movements are responding to our new cultural context, but these networks will be much stronger if they are linked to a global movement. GAFCON is such a movement: born out of the courageous stand for truth by a number of Archbishops in the mid 2000’s, GAFCON is now growing as a visible reminder of unity in Christ despite different cultures, different churchmanships and worship styles. It is a partnership for evangelism, discipleship and societal transformation throughout the Anglican Communion and beyond.

 

GAFCON and local Anglican churches

Through affiliation to GAFCON UK, Christians in the British Isles will be connected with this global movement for renewal and mission with its spiritual vitality and evangelistic zeal, doctrinal clarity, wisdom and faithfulness under pressure.

 

From the newly launched GAFCON UK website – read here

[Editor’s note: we hope to have more on this next week].

Who are the real mass murderers in Syria?

Author:

Michael Nazir-Ali

Our visit to Syria has been attacked in the Press for giving a ‘war criminal’, that is President Assad, a photo opportunity and a tool for propaganda. In fact, it was a pastoral visit to the people of Syria, especially Christians, who have suffered so much at the hands of jihadist extremists.

Their ancient churches have been destroyed, they have been killed in their own homes and driven out of their ancient communities. Anna (not her real name), who still speaks the Aramaic of Jesus as her native language ,told us of how the rebels (some belonging to the so- called ‘moderate opposition’) dragged out her brother and cousin and shot them dead before her eyes for refusing to convert to Islam. They then shot and wounded her, leaving her for dead.

This is why the leadership of all the churches in Syria.including Syrian Orthodox, Eastern Catholic, Armenian and Evangelical is unanimous in its opposition to the extremists and in its advocacy of peaceful change in the land.

We also met with mainstream Muslim leaders,including the Grand Mufti of Syria and almost the entire Muslim leadership,Sunni and Shi’a, in the Western part of Aleppo. We were privileged to meet with members of the small Yazidi community as well. There are good prospects for interfaith dialogue on the future of Syria and the role which the different faiths can play in such a future.Such moderate Islamic opinion should be encouraged to bring their view to the the West, instead of being vilified as stooges of the regime.

As we travelled from the South to the North and the West, we were able to meet with community leaders, such as mayors, doctors, social workers and others already engaged in UN, NGO and government supported reconstruction of devastated towns and villages. The restoration of the Monastery of St Thecla in Maalula is an impressive example of such work. It was good also to have some vigorous dialogue with leaders of the non-violent opposition. Some of these have an even more secular vision of Syria than the governing Ba’ath Party. They too have suffered both at the hands of the regime and from Islamist extremism. They, and many others, told us that, whilst their was no love lost between them and Assad, they were emphatically opposed to the violent revolution which extreme Islamism had brought to their country.

We benefited from our meetings with some British journalists, still engaging with Syria as a whole. Their insights were invaluable. One of them told us that whatever may have been the case during the ‘Arab Spring’, there is now virtually no moderate armed opposition in Syria as many of these groups fight alongside the extremists and are a conduit for arms and funds to them. This coheres with the experience of Christians and also of the regime.

Our meeting with the President was only confirmed when we were in Syria. Britain maintains relations with and encourages visits to countries like the Sudan, Iran and Zimbabwe. Why is Assad being demonised to this extent? In the Middle East the choice is not between angels and monsters but between one kind of monster and another. With all my experience, I cannot say that he is the worst of all. The reasons for such demonisation, in the Middle East and beyond, must be reported and analysed, though that is not my task today.

Our meeting was courteous but frank on both sides. We repeatedly questioned him on indigenously made ‘barrel bombs’ and their indiscriminate use, torture in prisons, attacks on hospitals and other matters. We asked him about plans for a peaceful end to the conflict, greater democracy and a Bill of Rights. We urged on him, the Armed Forces and the armed Opposition the protection of unarmed civilians. We were given responses that were more or less detailed and promised further information. Many of the things he mentioned were later confirmed by others. For example, the Association of Doctors told us that there are over 3000 doctors working in Aleppo, 250 paediatricians, 6 active public hospitals and many more private ones. The whole of government-controlled Aleppo, in spite of constant rebel shelling, is working normally and is quite unlike pictures of Aleppo shown on our TV screens. Lattakia, similarly, has successfully absorbed large numbers of internal refugees or internally displaced people,as have other cities.

One of the problems with allegations of government abuse is that they often come from unverifiable sources, within rebel held territory or from exiles outside the country. They should be treated with caution. One of the British journalists we talked to described the Syrian Army as a ‘clean’ and professional one. In the course of a brutal war, I am sure there are abuses on all sides and the government cannot be excused from having committed atrocities. However, the vast majority of Syrian people, especially religious and ethnic minorities,do not want Assad replaced by an Islamist regime.

The example of Iran is relevant here. The Mullahs there came to power with the help of moderate and secular groups. Once they had done that, they got rid of their erstwhile allies and created a theocratic state. The right approach surely is for the regime, the internal and exiled opposition plus any moderate armed opposition which still exists to form a transitional administration which arranges for parliamentary, presidential and local elections under agreed international supervision. It is inconceivable that the regime will agree to such an arrangement without Assad’s participation in some form. If there is to be ‘regime change’, the mantra of some in the West, surely this is the way to bring it about rather than by violent overthrow of an open and tolerant social order which exists today?

Our group is very willing to meet with any of the leaders of the exiled opposition or with any one else working for an end to this horrendous conflict and for peaceful constitutional change in the country. We pray that all of Syria’s leadership will have wisdom, love of humanity and the fear of God in their thinking and in their work.

This article was first published by The Telegraph and is reprinted with the author’s permission.

What should we expect from our bishops?

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BY: Phil Ashey
September, 2016
Somewhere tucked away my basement in an old Ashey family album there is a picture of the bishop visiting in our home.  It must have been around 1960, when my father was rector in a new posting, and I was just a toddler. In this old black and white photo the bishop is on all fours with me on the carpet, smiling and inspecting one of my toys. In many ways, that picture represents what we would love to expect from bishops: kindness, gentleness and the ability to step down from their office and relate to us on our level.  Bishops should demonstrate the love of Christ in a gentle and caring way.

But is that all we should expect, all we should want in a Bishop?

You see, the Bishop in that picture was James A. Pike, Episcopal Bishop of California. He was the bishop whose theology involved the rejection of central Christian beliefs. In his public preaching, teaching, speaking and writing the central Christian beliefs he rejected included the virgin birth, the Trinity and the doctrine of Hell. At that time my father was among the pioneers of the Charismatic renewal in the Episcopal Church. He told me how Bishop Pike wrote a pastoral letter to the clergy of the Diocese of California warning them not to associate with any one “speaking in tongues” because glossolalia was associated with the devil. As we later discovered, Bishop Pike was even then beginning to associate with “mediums” to contact and reconcile with the spirit of his son, who had committed suicide.  Later, in September 1967, Pike participated in a televised séance with his dead son through the medium Arthur Ford, who was ordained as a Disciples of Christ minister. Pike detailed these experiences in his book “The Other Side.” Tragically, Bishop Pike died wandering in the Judean desert—some say, still searching to contact the spirit of his dead son.

Gentle, kind and caring Bishops can be seriously mistaken. They can be false teachers. They can be so spiritually misguided that they lead themselves and others away from Christ rather than to him.

During our recent American Anglican Council Bishops’ Leadership Summit, Bishop Ray Sutton of the Diocese of Mid-America quoted from St Athanasius at the Council of Nicaea c. 325 AD: “The road to hell is paved with the skulls of bishops.” He then went on to pose the question, “Why is it that bishops began to corrupt so early in the life of the Church?” Bishop Sutton observed:

“When you become a bishop, a bullseye from Hell appears on your forehead… Satan is very clever; he knows that if he can take you [bishops] down, he can take down a lot of sheep with you…” 

You can watch the whole excerpt here along with other teachings and testimonies from our Bishops Leadership Summit.

As Bishop Sutton points out, we should expect our Bishops to be spiritually mature and aware of the pressures they face to compromise—and of the very real attacks “from the other side” to take them down.  We should expect our Bishops not only to be faithful to Apostolic teaching, but also faithful in drawing upon Apostolic power and practice—the power of the Holy Spirit, prayer, and “weapons of righteousness on the right hand and on the left” to tear down strongholds from the other side.

But I also believe there is a more subtle temptation that bishops face. It is the phenomenon of groupthink. Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon that occurs within a group of people in which the desire for harmony and conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.  Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints and by isolating themselves from outside influences. The groupthink phenomenon among bishops leads to a lack of conciliarism; an insistence upon their own autonomy over against the Biblical, catholic, universal teaching of the Church, and, specifically, against the majority of Churches in the Anglican Communion.

When a group of bishops insist upon their “autonomy,” selectively chooses theological points of view, marginalizes qualified and respected Biblical points of view (as I wrote about several weeks ago), and suppresses viewpoints that are not politically or socially “correct” you are seeing the hallmarks of the “groupthink.” We see it among Bishops in The Episcopal Church that promote false teaching on human sexuality, marriage and leadership in the Church. We have seen it all before here in North America. It looks like these same dynamics may be at work among many of the Bishops of the Church of England who are prepared to vote in favor of blessing same-sex civil partnership, in disregard of the rest of the Communion and its teaching (Lambeth Resolution 1.10 1998).

So what should we expect of our Bishops beyond kindness, gentleness and “generous pastoral accommodation”?  Here are some of the standards we should expect Bishops to live up to in their lives and their ministries:

    • From the Bible: “An overseer (bishop) must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” (Titus 1:9)  Within the Anglican Church in North America this and other Biblical citations (I Peter 5:2-3, I Tim. 3:1-7 and 5:17) have led us to state in our Canons that a Bishop is, above all, a faithful teacher of the people of God entrusted to his care, “called to propagate, to teach and to uphold and defend the faith and order of the Church…” (Can. III.8.1)
    • From Thomas Cranmer, the BCP 1549, “Consecration of a Bishop”: during the examination, the candidate is asked “Will you call upon God by prayer for the true understanding of [the Holy Scriptures], so as ye may be able by them to teach and exhort with wholesome doctrine, and to withstand and convince the gainsayers?” and “Be you ready with all faithful diligence to banish and drive away all strange and erroneous doctrine contrary to God’s word, and both privately and openly encourage others [sic] to do the same?”
    • From the Book of Common Prayer 1662 and its Ordinal, recognized as a standard for doctrine among most Churches of the Anglican Communion—Almost the same language from Cranmer’s BCP 1549: “Will you faithfully exercise yourself in the Holy Scriptures, and call upon God by prayer for the true understanding of the same, so that you may be able by them to teach and exhort with wholesome Doctrine…to banish and drive away from the Church all strange and erroneous doctrine contrary to God’s word…” Note:  This language is the basis for the Examination of Bishops in the proposed Ordinal of the ACNA
  • From the Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion (2008) (a kind of “common law” among the Churches of the Anglican Communion)—In Diocesan episcopal (meaning “bishops”) ministry “the bishop must teach, uphold and safeguard the faith and doctrine of the Church” (Principle 34.7) and generally, in the presentation of Doctrine, bishops have the special responsibility “to teach the faith, to state publicly the doctrine of the Church, and expound their application to the people and the issues of their age.” (Principle 48.3).

The principle responsibility of the Bishop is to proclaim and teach what the Bible teaches. The flip side of that is the responsibility to guard the faith and order of the Church by “banishing strange and erroneous teaching contrary to God’s word written.” It is nothing less than the teaching Jesus gave in John 10 on the Good Shepherd who drives away the wolves, and in John 21, His charge to Peter the Apostle to “feed the sheep” with wholesome food.  Whether the bishop is kind, gentle, caring and “pastorally generous” in doing so is not the issue. Faithfulness is the issue.

It was ACNA Archbishop Robert Duncan (ret.) who said “There may be prophets in the Church, but they will not be bishops.” Indeed. But we must also ask ourselves as bishops, clergy and laity in the Church how we can protect Bishops from temptations to compromise and spiritual attacks “from the other side.” What prayers, structures and support can we put in place so that they will not surrender to “groupthink” and preservation of the institution of the Church as an end in itself?

Some of you will remember the words of former Episcopal Presiding Bishop John Allin who is reported as saying before he died, “I fear I have loved the Church more than I have loved the Lord of my Church.” Are we faithful to Jesus—Bishops, Clergy and Laity alike and together?  Two different groups of bishops will be meeting in the next few months. In October, Primates and Bishops of the Global South will be meeting. In the coming months, the House of Bishops of the Church of England will be meeting to consider the results of the “Shared discussions” and the recommendations to bless same-sex partnerships.

Please pray that they may be faithful to Jesus, and not ordain or bless anything contrary to God’s word written.

SOURCE: American Anglican Council

Today’s Revisionists, Tomorrow’s Roadkill

 

By Kevin DeYoung
THE GOSPEL COALITION
https://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org/
Os Guinness nails it:

For a generation now the air has been thick with talk of “changing the world,” but who is changing whom? There is no question that the world would like to change the church. In area after area only the church stands between the world and its success over issues such as sexuality. Unquestionably the world would like to change the church, but does the church still want to change the world, or is its only concern to change the church in light of the world? Something is rotten in the state of Evangelicalism, and all too often it is impossible to tell who is changing whom.

Writing in his new book, Impossible People: Christian Courage and the Struggle for the Soul of Civilization (IVP 2016), Guinness warns that whatever cost there may be in standing against the onslaught of the sexual revolution, the price the faithful pay is never as costly as the price of rejecting the authority of Christ and abandoning the gospel. Trading fidelity for (supposed) relevance is a devil’s bargain.

Today’s Evangelical revisionists should take sober note. Time and again I tremble when I hear or read their flimsy arguments. They may be lionized by the wider advocates of the sexual revolution for fifteen minutes, because they are siding with that wider culture in undermining the clear teaching of Jesus and the Bible that stands in their way. For their is no question that Jesus, the Scriptures and Christian tradition all stand resolutely in their way.

But in truth, the sexual revolution has no real interest in such Evangelicals, and they will be left as roadkill as the revolution blitzkrieg gathers speed.

But that is nothing compared with the real tragedy of the revisionists. It is no light think for anyone to set themselves above and against the authority of Jesus and the Scriptures. The apostle Peter betrayed Jesus and was restored, but Judas stands as the warning for all who betray Jesus for their personal, sexual or political interests and condemn themselves for their disloyalty.

Guinness isn’t finished yet. He compares today’s revisionists to Lot who tried to work his way up into the inner ring of Sodom, only to find that he was utterly naive and deluded to trust his adopted city to stand by him when the chips were down. No, in the end, they had no patience for Lot’s moral standards, no matter how nice a chap he had tried to be. They condemned him for acting like a judge and vowed to treat him worse than the rest (Gen. 19:9).

Guinness concludes:

Poor Lot had become a joke even to his in-laws. In spite of all his efforts and contrary to all that he had imagined, he had still not arrived, and he was never accepted as he imagined. He was always the alien–as Abraham never forgot that he was and was respected for being. We of course should always be resident aliens as faithful Christians who are in the world but not of it–regardless of the world’s pressure on us to change with the times and line up with them on the so-called right side of history. (Impossible People, 73-75)

Fifteen minutes of fleeting fame, or much maligned faithfulness. The cost of the former is actually much greater than the latter. Those who try to straddle the middle of the road should not be surprised when they get hit by oncoming traffic.

Kevin DeYoung is senior pastor of University Reformed Church (PCA) in East Lansing, Michigan, near Michigan State University