Why do we tolerate this in the church of God?

Dean John Shepherd: “The Author of Hebrews is Grasping at Straws”

Since publishing a few days ago on the invitation by the Diocese of Melbourne to have Dean John Shepherd of Perth speak at their annual ministry conference a good number of corresponants have asked me whether Shepherd still holds to the views we originally reported back in 2008.

True, Shepherd has been a little quieter of late (some have suggested to me that his Archbishop has told him to tone it down a bit) but he’s still exactly where he was more than 5 years ago. To be fair, you wouldn’t expect anyone who holds their views with integrity to change radically.

In the latest magazine of the Province of West Australia the Dean writes his regular column, this month focussing on repentance (it’s Lent, after all).

Here’s a choice quote:

Anciently it was believed that sin could be removed by the sacrifice of animals. Sinners could enter into communion with God though the offering of sacrifices prescribed in the Law, particularly the sacrifice on the annual Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16). This is the backgroun from which the author of the Letter to the Hebrews interprets Jesus’ death: ‘If sprinkling the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer consecrated those who have been defiled and restores their ritual purity, how much greater is the power of the blood of Christ; through the eternal spirit he offered himslef without blemish to God. His blood will cleanse our conscience from the deadness of our former ways to serve the living God’ (9:13-14)

Like bishop Sarah Macneil, Shepherd describes the Biblical doctrine accurately. He just doesn’t like it:

Trouble is, it’s difficult to see precisely how the sprinkling of defiled people with blood and ashes could effect ritual purification, and even more difficult to see how this practice could ever have been thought of as a prototype of Christ’s death. Most of all, it’s an unnecessarily complicated way of trying to explain how God, who promised to destroy sinners, finally found a way for them to become reconciled to him. The author of Hebrews is grasping at straws.

No further comment needed. Actually, that’s not true:

Hear also what Saint John saith.

If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and he is the propitiation for our sins. 1 St. John 2.1

ALMIGHTY God, our heavenly Father, who of thy tender mercy didst give thine only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world; …

Let’s be abundantly clear. We have a senior clergyman who is directly repudiating the official Anglican position on the most important doctrine there is – the atonement.

Why is he being invited to speak at a Ministry Conference? Why does he hold a senior Anglican position? Why does he take a nice stipend every month?

Who thought it would be a good idea to invite him? Who appointed him and licensed him? Who signs his paycheque every month?

Why do we tolerate this in the church of God?

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