Historic Church of England diocese runs out of cash

ruth-gledhill Ruth Gledhill Christian Today Contributing Editor 08 July 2016

 

Wiki
Rochester Cathedral

A historic diocese in the Church of England has frozen clergy stipends, abandoned rectory repairs and is planning to rent out unused vicarages to private tenants in a bid not to run out of money.

The diocese, founded by St Augustine in 604 and one of 10 dioceses that date from the seventh century or before, has for “some years” been “spending more than it has received in income,” according to the Bishop of Rochester, James Langstaff.

In a letter to clergy, church wardens and parochial church councils, he says that he and the chairman of the diocesan board of finance are explaining “the financial difficulties which we face as a diocese”.

Langstaff says Rochester has been drawing on reserves built up over many years. The accounts for last year show a deficit between spending and income of £604,000.

Langstaff says: “This means that our present position is worse than expected because, while this has also been funded from reserves, those general reserves are now almost exhausted.”

He warns that it is “essential” the diocese moves back to a situation where spending is no more than income.

The agreed deficit budget of £557,000 for this year will also be exceeded without “significant” action, he warns, saying: “The remaining reserves are not sufficient to fund this deficit.”

An extract from first page of the Rochester letter

An extract from the second page of the Rochester letter

As a result, all “discretionary” spending will now stop. No more vicarages or rectories will be repaired unless necessary on health or safety grounds, or to keep wind and water out. Training will be cut, all vacancies are being frozen and clergy stipends are being frozen. When parishes are vacant, the vicarages are to be let out to try and make extra cash.

“The longer term solutions lie in, we prayerfully hope, an increase in income from parishes together with a reduction in the overall number of clergy.”

The average cost of a priest is £60,000 per year. At the same time, parishes have been giving £230,000 less than is needed this year. If each churchgoing Anglican in Rochester gave an extra 25p a week, the diocese would receive an extra £331,500.

The Rochester diocese serves a population of 1.3 million and has 239 churches in 216 parishes. Resourcing this ministry requires skill, expertise, safeguarding provision, legal and other services.

“These are challenging times ahead for the diocese as a whole, and all of us, both lay and ordained, have a shared responsibility to respond to the challenges that are now before us if we are to continue to grow God’s Kingdom in this place,” says Langstaff.

Rev Peter Ould, a banking consultant who is a priest in the Canterbury diocese, told Christian Today: “If we take the letter at face value it seems to indicate that the diocese has consistently run a large deficit for a number of years with no serious attempt made until now to remedy that situation. To wait until the coffers are actually empty before you put in even the limited kind of cash flow management measures that the diocese say they have now implemented, strikes me as irresponsible. It’s certainly the kind of behaviour that might, in the commercial world, lead someone who was responsible to consider very carefully their position.”

Christian Today has reached out to the Church of England for a comment.

Pastoral Care and the Mission of the Triune God (V)

The Pastoral Care of God the Holy SpiritThe Lion and His Table

Rollin Grams

Introduction

This is the fifth and final post on the pastoral care of sinners in light of the Church of England’s present crisis over the proposal to accept the practice of same-sex relationships through a so-called ‘pastoral accommodation.’  Earlier posts have countered that what is needed is ‘pastoral care,’ and that this care must be understood as pastoral care for sinners.  They have, further, suggested that the Church is ably instructed in such care by the mission of the Triune God toward a sinful world.

In this post, we begin with some words about the pastoral care of God the Holy Spirit.  Then we turn to examine the close parallels that the early Church (particularly in the General and Pastoral Epistles) faced to what the Church faces today: false teachers seeking an accommodation of Christian faith to the sexual culture of the Greek and Roman world of the first century.  Finally, we conclude with a comment on present proposals about pastoral accommodation that, instead of healing the Church, actually substantiate the need for a truly Christian, Anglican mission in England in light of the present-day heresy.

The Pastoral Roles of the Spirit

The Holy Spirit’s pastoral role, according to the Scriptures, is evident in a great variety of ways.  Indeed, the Spirit functions as God’s abiding presence in the life of the believer and Christian community.  The Spirit is the giver of life at the time of creation (Genesis 1.2 and 2.7) just as the Spirit gives spiritual life to God’s redeemed people (Ezekiel 37.10-14; John 6.63; 20.22).[1]  The Spirit is the source of divine revelation in prophecy and Scripture (1 Peter 1.11-12; 2 Peter 1.21; 2 Timothy 3.16).  The Spirit is the ‘Paraklētos’—translated as Advocate (NRSV), Counselor (NIV), and ‘Helper’ (ESV) (John 14.6; 15.26)—for the disciples.  The Spirit intercedes for the saints (Romans 8.27).  He is the ‘Spirit of truth’ (John 14.17; 15.26; 16.13).  He is the power by which Jesus lived His earthly ministry (Matthew 12.18; Luke 4.18) and the Church lives out its missionary purpose (Acts 1.8).  In such ways, and more, the Holy Spirit of God is said to be the divine presence that reveals God (cf. Ezekiel 39.29) and empowers God’s people to live for Him (cf. Ezekiel 36.27).

A counsellor may offer wisdom.  A pastor may give divine guidance.  But the Holy Spirit does both and empowers a person to live according to God’s commandments—to live the spiritual life.  As John says,

Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us (1 John 3.24).

Indeed, the Spirit restores the sinner and returns him from the brink of death to a renewed ‘Spiritual’ life (Psalm 51.11).  This is the imagery for Israel’s being restored from death in the transgression of the Law and captivity due to their sins in Ezekiel’s vision of the valley of dry bones being resurrected by God’s Spirit (ch. 37).  It is also what Paul says of the Christian life that is not lived in the power of the flesh and by means of the (powerless) Law—which can only lead to sin—but that is lived in the power of the Spirit (Romans 7.5-8.17).

The Christian life is a life turned over to the indwelling Spirit of God.  One is not so ‘possessed’ by the Spirit, as it were, that one loses control and can no longer sin.  Rather, believers discover the power of God at work within (Ephesians 3.20), experience the freedom of the Spirit of life (Romans 8.2), willingly yield to the Spirit (unlike Israel—Acts 7.51), and walk in step with the Spirit, setting their minds on the things of the Spirit (Romans 8.4-6).  Indeed, the Spirit is the life-giving power of God living within believers that overcomes the sinful flesh and makes it possible to live righteously before God (Romans 8.9-11).  The Christian life is a Spirit-filled life.  Paul can say of the work of Christ and the Spirit that ‘you were washed, you were set apart for holy use, you were made righteous in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God’ (1 Corinthians 6.11, my translation).  Thus, the believers ‘Spiritual’ worship is to present their bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God (Romans 12.1).  Believers are to ‘sow to the Spirit,’ not the flesh, and so reap eternal life from the Spirit (Galatians 6.8).  Or, as Paul elsewhere says, the body of believers is a temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6.19).  The promises of the Spirit restoring sinful Israel from captivity in their sins (Isaiah 59.21; Ezekiel 36.26-27) are thus fulfilled in the lives of believers through the work of Jesus Christ, who gives us the Spirit (Matthew 3.11; Luke 3.16; Acts 1.5; 11.16; 19.4-6).  The Church is a holy people on whom God has poured out His Spirit (Joel 2.28-29; Acts 2.17-18, 33; Titus 3.6).

The General Epistles (especially Jude) and the Crisis of Accommodation to Culture

How blasphemous, then, those who claim to know the Spirit and yet live profligate lives indulgent of the sinful flesh!  In our day, the message of the General Epistles (Hebrews through Revelation) is increasingly becoming relevant precisely because these New Testament books focus on the two challenges facing the Church in the West today: persecution of a minority Church from outside and false teaching from inside.  Increasingly, the false teaching that the early Church faced came from teachers distorting the Christian faith by letting the non-Jewish and non-Christian culture and its practices seep—even pour—into the Church.  This expressed itself especially in the Graeco-Roman sexual ethic.

By way of example, consider the little letter of Jude.  It might just as well have been written to the Church of England today, which is also allowing the neo-pagan culture of a post-Christian world into the Church and celebrating it as some sort of experience of divine grace.  Hear, then, the words of Jude to his compromised Church.

First, Jude is distracted from writing about Christian salvation because of the error he must address, an error that has entered into the Church.  He finds that he has to contend for the Christian faith even within he Church, a faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints before a Church intent on revising that faith.  This Church has allowed intruders to steal in among them, who preach a perversion of the Christian faith.  They teach that God’s graciousness gives them the freedom they desire to live according to their own sexual perversions instead of according to their Sovereign Lord, Jesus Christ.  Jude then warns these false Christians directly, saying that God is ready and willing to destroy the likes of them, for he did so in the past to the Israelites who did not believe, to angels who did not keep their proper positions, and to Sodom and Gomorrah, cities that chose to depart from natural desires and instead pursue ‘other flesh’ from what God intended in creation—unnatural, homosexual unions.[2]  Such people are grumbling and malcontent persons who divide the Church and indulge their own lusts.  They are loud-mouthed boasters who do favours for others in order to gain an advantage for themselves.  They are, in fact, the people that the apostles themselves had earlier warned the Church about: scoffers who would arise in the last times and indulge their own ungodly lusts.  Note that Jude says that they are devoid of the Spirit and cause divisions in the Church.

Jude also gives a word to the faithful believers caught in this terrible situation in the Church.  They are to do several things, including:

  • Find strength in the orthodox faith: ‘Build yourselves up on your most holy faith’;
  •  Seek help from God’s empowering Spirit: ‘Pray in the Holy Spirit’;
  • Persevere in God’s love, knowing that they will receive mercy from the Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life;
  • Show mercy to those wavering in the faith as though snatching them from the fire but hating even the undergarment soiled by the flesh.

In this most pertinent letter for our own day, we specifically hear Jude distinguish the two parties in this divided Church: one is devoid of the Spirit and lives a filthy life of sexual debauchery, while the other prays in the Holy Spirit.  Jude has more to say about the false Christians: they are blemishes at their love feasts, fearless, fruitless, creating chaos, and destined to deepest darkness.  He minces no words.

A Pastoral Accommodation?

This brings us, then, to the proposal for the Church of England that a ‘pastoral accommodation’ be sought in the current crisis.  The current crisis dividing the Church, as in Jude’s time, is a revisionist interpretation of the orthodox faith that ‘perverts the grace of our God into licentiousness,’ a culturally determined sexual ethic that rejects Biblical sexuality.  Permitting homosexual relationships within the Church, blessing these false unions, and even going so far as to propose that same-sex couples marry with the Church’s blessing have been ways to twist the faith once for all delivered to the saints about God’s grace and mercy into a sanctioning of sins of the flesh advocated by our culture.

What is the so-called pastoral accommodation for the current crisis?  According to the proposal in ‘Grace and Disagreement: Shared Conversations on Scripture, Mission and Human Sexuality,’ a

pastoral accommodation is a way of recognising that not every situation resolves itself into a clear delineation between virtue and vice – people often find themselves caught up in circumstances which fall short of God’s intentions and have to make choices which minimise harm or which rescue as much as possible that is good. In such circumstances, the church’s pastoral obligations come into play, offering support, prayer and love. A pastoral accommodation is a way of making that pastoral offering without endorsing the circumstances through which the situation arose or giving moral approval to every element in a messy state of affairs.[3]

Applied to matters of moral indifference and religious devotion, such as food laws, celebration of special days, particular practices such as circumcision, a pastoral accommodation makes sense.  We see this in Paul’s letter to the Romans:

Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.  2 Some believe in eating anything, while the weak eat only vegetables.  3 Those who eat must not despise those who abstain, and those who abstain must not pass judgment on those who eat; for God has welcomed them.  4 Who are you to pass judgment on servants of another? It is before their own lord that they stand or fall. And they will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make them stand.  5 Some judge one day to be better than another, while others judge all days to be alike. Let all be fully convinced in their own minds.  6 Those who observe the day, observe it in honor of the Lord. Also those who eat, eat in honor of the Lord, since they give thanks to God; while those who abstain, abstain in honor of the Lord and give thanks to God.  7 We do not live to ourselves, and we do not die to ourselves.  8 If we live, we live to the Lord, and if we die, we die to the Lord; so then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s (Romans 14.1-8).

In no instance, however, do New Testament writers apply such a pastoral accommodation to matters of sexual ethics.  On the contrary, laxity towards sexual ethics is always opposed.  Indeed, God’s transforming grace can be seen precisely in an area such as this.  To continue in sexual sin is to be in danger of eternal damnation (cf. 1 Corinthians 6.9-11; Ephesians 5.5; Matthew 5.29).  Specifically, same-sex relations are condemned as sinful and leading to eternal separation from God in the Old and New Testaments and throughout Church history everywhere, always, and by all.[4]

The document continues:

Yet the concept of pastoral accommodation was intended by the Pilling group[5] to reflect the enduring nature of the church’s teaching whilst recognising that some Christians, in conscience, do not believe that this teaching reflects adequately the love of God in the context of same sex relationships. In other words, pastoral accommodation was intended to maintain the tension between the authority of the church and the demands of conscience.[6]

Rather than seeking a pastoral accommodation with those unwilling to listen to the authoritative teaching of Scripture and the clear affirmation of the Church through the centuries, the Church needs to recognise that there are persons about whom it must be said:

overwhelmed by their sins and swayed by all kinds of desires,  7 [they] are always being instructed and can never arrive at a knowledge of the truth.  8 As Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so these people, of corrupt mind and counterfeit faith, also oppose the truth (2 Timothy 3.6-8).

Citing such passages from the Pastoral or General Epistles is really not an application of Biblical texts to a new situation in our day: the present situation is of essential similarity to that faced then, with pagan culture in both contexts pressing in on the orthodox faith.  The whole purpose of a pastoral accommodation is to side-step moral judgements where there is ambiguity.  The problem the Church faces, however, is not one of ambiguity but of obedience to Scripture.  Consciences may, and often are, rejected and distorted and not a reliable basis for moral judgement (1 Timothy 1.19; 4.2; Titus 1.15; Hebrews 10.22).  Nor is the solution remotely pastoral if the consequence of continuing in such sin is eternal damnation.  Would it be pastoral to support someone’s decision to get onto a plane with a terrorist because one did not want to appear judgemental and wanted to support a person whatever his or her decision?  Would it not rather be pastoral to warn the person of impending doom should the wrong decision be made?

Any Church refusing to affirm its faith in the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church cannot go about representing itself as the Church.  It is, rather, divisive, unholy, factional, and dismissive of apostolic teaching.  It is a false Church.  The so-called ‘pastoral accommodation’ is an attempt to try to hold these two, diametrically opposed Churches together to no good end.

Conclusion

In these five posts on the subject of a ‘pastoral accommodation’ of same sex relationships in the Church of England—and elsewhere in the Anglican Communion—we have sought to identify the lie in the political arrangement being proposed, which only undermines the Christian faith and offers nothing in the least pastoral.  It amounts only to an accommodation of heresy.

Yet we have also been somewhat able to explore a truly pastoral care of persons struggling with besetting sins.  Such care can only begin by acknowledging that the care needed from the Church is for sinners.  It is a care that the Church learns from the Triune God’s own mission among us to, as Paul says in Colossians, reconcile to himself all things through Jesus Christ (1.20).  Thanks be to God, it is a care that includes not only God’s direction and grace but also His empowering presence in the Holy Spirit to transform us into a cleansed, holy, and righteous people.

[1] In both Hebrew and Greek, unlike English, the same word is used for ‘spirit,’ ‘breath,’ and ‘wind’—the NRSV translates Gen. 1.2 with ‘wind’ instead of ‘Spirit,’ as in the ESV and NIV.  In Gen. 2.7, all three translations rightly translate that God ‘breathed’ into the man, but note that the same verb for ‘breathed’ in the Greek (emphysēsen) is used in John 20.22 (enephysēsen), where Jesus ‘breathes’ on His disciples for them to receive the Holy Spirit.

[2] While some interpreters suggest that ‘other flesh’ means non-humans, i.e., the two angels of the story of Genesis 19, this seems to us impossible.  The focus here is on sexual irregularity, not wrongfully desiring angels.  Moreover, 2 Peter 2 uses Jude in such a way as to focus on sexuality, not angels.  Finally, angels do not have ‘flesh.’  Readers will find various interpretations of the phrase ‘other flesh’ in translations, but we take the reference to mean, as the story of Genesis 19 suggests, homosexual practice.

[3] ‘Grace and Disagreement: Shared Conversations on Scripture, Mission and Human Sexuality’ (p. 19) [online: https://churchofengland.org/media/2165235/grace1.pdf%5D

[4] Through numerous primary source quotations and analysis, S. Donald Fortson and I have demonstrated this in Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Church Tradition (Nashville: B&H Academic, 2016).

[5] See this 224 page report of the ‘House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality,’’ produced in 2013, online:https://www.churchofengland.org/media/1891063/pilling_report_gs_1929_web.pdf.  Professor Oliver O’Donovan proposed a pastoral accommodation to the group, which is really a political accommodation.  Thankfully, Bishop Birkenhead offered a dissenting opinion, starting on p. 119, but his solitary dissention from the working group’s rejection of orthodoxy is sadly telling on the state and direction of the Church of England.  Indeed, as this commitment to falsehood continues, the need for a new and truly Christian Anglican mission in England becomes increasingly urgent.

[6] ‘Grace and Disagreement,’ p. 20.

Pastoral Care and the Mission of the Triune God (IV)

The Pastoral Care of God the SonThe Lion and His Table

Rollin Grams

[This is the fourth of five posts.]

Introduction

As we continue to explore a Trinitarian pastoral theology for the pastoral care of sinners, we now turn in this fourth study to how our theology of God the Son can guide us.  With so much of Christian teaching about the person and work of Jesus Christ, this phase of the study could be considerably expanded beyond what will be offered here.  The entire study in these five posts is meant to initiate further such reflections on a Trinitarian pastoral theology.  The occasion for these studies is the Church of England’s present consideration of a ‘pastoral accommodation’ for persons in same-sex relationships.  The concluding, fifth study in our series will focus on this proposal more directly after considering pastoral care with reference to the person and work of God the Holy Spirit.  Our argument is that pastoral care, not accommodation, is what the Church needs to offer sinners.  Indeed, accommodation of sin is not pastoral in the least.  It is destructive.  Moreover, as we will see in this study, Jesus’ ministry could be defined as a ministry to oppose a system of accommodation of sin by giving his disciples a new moral vision of the Kingdom of God and by performing the ultimate pastoral care of sinners, His sacrificial death on the cross.  This then leads us to consider Jesus’ partnership and high priestly work on our behalf and then his example as the chief shepherd—images that explain the pastoral role of God the Son.

The Moral Vision of the Kingdom of God

What was the major point of division between Jesus and the scribes and Pharisees?  After all, both believed the Scriptures (the Old Testament) were the Word of God.  Both believed that God called for a high standard of righteousness and that this was revealed in His Law.  Yet Jesus minced no words when it came to the scribes and Pharisees.  The division was precisely over pastoral care for sinners.  The Pharisees, whose very name likely has to do with the word ‘separate,’ held to an interpretation of the Law that involved the righteous separating from sinners.  Jesus, on the other hand, called for a pastoral care of sinners.  He was accused of being a friend of sinners (Matthew 11.19; Luke 7.34).  Yet there is an irony to Jesus’ criticism of the scribes and Pharisees: they were, Jesus claimed, actually offering a pastoral accommodation for sin by the very ethic that involved separation from sin.

How could a separation from sin lead to a pastoral accommodation of sin?  The problem lay in having to make exceptions to a legal system with high standards.  The same system that provided detailed definitions of sin also provided loopholes to the laws in order to accommodate sin.  Three examples suffice to make the point.  First, Jesus criticised the Pharisees’ accommodation of divorce for any cause (Matthew 19.1-9).  Second, he criticised the Pharisees’ law of ‘Corban,’ which allowed people to designate something to God in order to avoid using it to support their parents’ when there was need (Matthew 15.1-6; note Mark 7.11).  Third, he criticised the scribes and Pharisees for scrupulously following the letter of the law so as to avoid the spirit of the law (Matthew 23.15-33).  For example, Jesus says,

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others’ (Matthew 23.23).

The problem with the ‘letter of the Law’ is not the letter but the limitation of the Law to the letter.  Jesus says,

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others’ (Matthew 23.23).

Jesus does not overthrow the Law with a value or virtue ethic; he rather affirms the Law and its further implications by highlighting the fact that the laws are concrete expressions of God’s Kingdom values and virtues.

Indeed, the solution to the inadequate ethic of pastoral accommodation of the scribes and Pharisees did not lie in lowering the standards of righteousness.  In fact, Jesus heightened the standards of righteousness!  He said to his disciples,

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.  18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.  19 Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.  20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5.17-20).

One way in which Jesus corrected the ethic of pastoral accommodation was to return to a creation ethic.  Whereas the Pharisees’ legal ethic was designed for living in a sinful world, the moral vision of the Kingdom of God was designed for life in God’s world.  Jesus made the point when rejecting the Pharisees’ acceptance of divorce and remarriage:

Some Pharisees came to him, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause?”  4 He answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’  5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’?  6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 19.3-6).

Christ Our Saviour

So, what is the solution that Jesus offered?  The answer comes in the last third of each of the four Gospels: Jesus’ suffering, death, and resurrection.  If God’s standards of righteousness are not negotiable so that sin may be accommodated, then the only solution for sinful humanity is a salvation from God.  Such a solution is already articulated in the Old Testament.  Isaiah, for example, says

He saw that there was no one, and was appalled that there was no one to intervene; so his own arm brought him victory, and his righteousness upheld him…. And he will come to Zion as Redeemer, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression, says the LORD (Isaiah 59.16, 20).

Quite possibly with reference to this passage,[1] Paul says

But now, apart from law, the righteousness of God has been disclosed, and is attested by the law and the prophets,  22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction,  23 since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God;  24 they are now justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  25 whom God put forward as a sacrifice of atonement by his blood, effective through faith. He did this to show his righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over the sins previously committed;  26 it was to prove at the present time that he himself is righteous and that he justifies the one who has faith in Jesus.

Christ Our Partner and High Priest

Not only is Christ our Saviour and Redeemer in the sense of his doing something for us.  The New Testament also speaks of our participation in Christ.  Paul develops this notion through the repeated phrase ‘in Christ’ (and variations).  A passage in Colossians is indicative of this view: we participate in Christ’s death, resurrection, ascension, and coming again (Col. 2.20-3.17).  This involves, e.g., our dying to the sinful ways in which we once lived just as Christ died for our sins.  Paul says,

Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is

idolatry).  6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient (Colossians 3.5-6).

It also means living the resurrection life, which in Colossians Paul refers to as the ‘new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator’ (Colossians 3.10).

The author of Hebrews articulates the relationship between Christian ethics and the work of Christ in a similar but different way.  He offers a very pastoral theology for a church undergoing persecution and flagging of zeal—even abandonment—of the faith.  One way this theology is developed is by describing Christ as our ‘partner’ and ‘high priest.’  Several passages make this point:

Hebrews 3:12-14 Take care, brothers and sisters, that none of you may have an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.  13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” so that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.  14 For we have become partners of Christ, if only we hold our first confidence firm to the end.

Hebrews 2:17-18 Therefore he had to become like his brothers and sisters in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.  18 Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.

Hebrews 4:15-16 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.  16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

Hebrews 5:7-9 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission.  8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered;  9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him,

The message of Hebrews is that Christ knows our weaknesses and temptations, and He is the high priest who has dealt with our sin and continues to minister on our behalf.  Christ’s incarnational empathy with humanity and His high priestly work give hope to anyone—all of us—struggling with and needing forgiveness of sin.  Every minister offering comfort and hope to a person struggling with sin, like the author of Hebrews, needs to do so by pointing the person to Christ our partner in temptation and our high priest dealing with our sins and offering us salvation in His perfect sacrifice.

Christ the Good Shepherd

In his first epistle, Peter refers to elders as shepherds of God’s flock, with Christ as the chief shepherd (1 Peter 5.1-4).  Jesus is an example to ministers in their duties of pastoral care.  Peter’s main point is that Christians follow in the suffering of Christ.  The source of suffering—not only for the ministers but for all believers—was in Christians deciding to give up the sinful life of their culture.  They determined to give up their former life and to live the rest of their lives not by self-gratifying desires but by the will of God (1 Peter 4.2).  Peter expands on what he means:

You have already spent enough time in doing what the Gentiles like to do, living in licentiousness, passions, drunkenness, revels, carousing, and lawless idolatry.  4 They are surprised that you no longer join them in the same excesses of dissipation, and so they blaspheme.  5 But they will have to give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4.3-5).

Positively, Peter calls on believers to be serious and discipline themselves (4.7), maintain constant love (4.8), be hospitable (4.9), serve one another with the gift God has given (4.10), speak to one another only with the words of God (4.11), and rejoice in the honour of sharing in Christ’s sufferings (4.13-16).  The role of an elder in the community is to tend the flock of God that is trying to live in this way as shepherds serving the chief shepherd, Jesus (5.4).

Frankly, false shepherds abound.  They are warned against throughout the New Testament writings.  They likely did not see themselves as false teachers, but, in one way or another, led their followers to continue to live according to their own sinful desires instead of by the will of God.  They coddled sinners and applauded their sins (Romans 1.32).  Jude says that they ‘pervert the grace of our God into licentiousness’ (v. 4).  Some in our day, following a hermeneutic of ‘reading against the text,’ even locate the power of Christian faith not in its teaching but in its subversiveness.  They then use this subversive hermeneutic to read against the Scripture, and they do so in order to exhort the very perverse activities that Scripture condemns.[2]  One has to wonder if—or when—this same hermeneutic will also be applied to bestiality and not just homosexuality.  ‘Because of these teachers the way of truth will be maligned’ (2 Peter 2.2).  They ‘indulge their flesh in depraved lust’ (2 Peter 2.10—‘depraved lust’ likely includes a reference to homosexuality, given the reference to Sodom and this text’s dependence on Jude 7).  And they ‘speak bombastic nonsense, and with licentious desires of the flesh they entice people who have just escaped from those who live in error’ (2 Peter 2.18).  Indeed, their liberation teachings are nothing more than the advocacy of slavery—a slavery to corruption: ‘They promise them freedom, but they themselves are slaves of corruption; for people are slaves to whatever masters them’ (2 Peter 2.19).  Peter concludes his description of these false teachers in his day with words of equal relevance to today:

For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than, after knowing it, to turn back from the holy commandment that was passed on to them.  22 It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “The dog turns back to its own vomit,” and, “The sow is washed only to wallow in the mud” (2 Peter.2.21-22).

Thus, the direction of false teaching is to accommodate oneself to the world rather than find salvation in Christ.  Jesus died for sinners.  Pastoral care continuously points people to the cross: Jesus died for all our sins once for all (1 Peter 3.18).  False shepherds undermine the cross because they undermine the presence of sin.  Instead, they affirm the sins of the people.  What the early Church encountered in false teachers was an accommodation of the Christian message to Greek and Roman culture.  The false teachers in our day accommodate Christian teaching and ethics to the sinful ways of our culture.  As certain preachers accommodated Scripture to a slave culture in the 19th century southern America, so also in our day preachers are accommodating Scripture to the sexual debauchery of Western culture.  But Christ came to die for our sins.  Jesus the Pastor died for our sins.  The Shepherd gave his life for the sheep (John 10.11, 15).  This fact sticks in the throat of all who whitewash what the Church has called sin: if Jesus died for our sins, and if what Scripture has said is sin is not any longer considered to be sin, then why did Jesus die?

Conclusion

The language of ‘pastoral accommodation’ has helped give us language to understand Jesus’ criticism of the scribes and Pharisees, whose accommodations to a status quo of sin formed the backdrop for Jesus’ own Kingdom of God ethic.  Jesus refused to relax the commandments of God but, in fact, extended their interpretation to call for the sinlessness expected at the pre-Fall time of creation.  Indeed, this point was made precisely in regard to the sexual ethics around divorce and remarriage: Jesus argues that, except in the case of immorality, this amounts to nothing more than adultery (Matthew 19.1-9).  The relevance for this exchange is directly applicable to other sexual ethics condemned in the Scriptures, including homosexuality.

With the ethical bar raised rather than lowered, the only hope for sinful humanity is the work of Christ himself to bring God’s salvation, His forgiving and transforming grace.  Pastorally, this means that sinners are not welcomed because their sin really is not sin or really is not sinful enough.  It means that sinners are welcomed because they have a Saviour, who not only forgives their sins but is at work in their lives to transform them from one degree of glory to another into the image of the Lord (2 Corinthians 3.18).  The incarnated Jesus knows our temptations and, as our high priest, has offered the perfect sacrifice for our sins.  He also continues to function as our priest.  The way to inclusion is not to deny sin but to confess our sinfulness and turn to Christ.

Finally, Christ as our Shepherd sets the example for elders serving the Church as shepherds and that over against the false shepherds that have always plagued the Church and assuredly do so today.  The false shepherds bend the Christian faith to the culture and away from Christ’s death as it inconveniently points out our sin.  Pastoral care of sinners helps them turn to the cross, for the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin (1 John 1.7).

[1][1] Paul has earlier quoted from several verses in Isaiah and may still be developing his interpretation of Isaiah 59.  Romans 3.15-17 quotes Isaiah 59.7-8.  His reference to the ‘righteousness of God’ and ‘redemption’ may continue the connection with Isaiah 59.20-21.

[2] This can be said, e.g., of Alan Wilson, Anglican Bishop of Buckingham, UK.  He avers, ‘It’s the queering – the subversion – that actually is the power in the religion, not literalism about what was in the book.’  See the video of his speech and Jeffrey Walton’s ‘UK Bishop Alan Wilson on Jesus’ ‘Queering Project;’ available online at: https://juicyecumenism.com/2016/06/27/uk-bishop-speaks-jesus-queering-project/ (accessed 28 June, 2016).

Posted by Rollin Grams at 17:40

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Labels: Afflictions of the ‘Body’, Christian Mission in the West, The Church

Pastoral Care and the Mission of the Triune God (Part III)

The Church: 18c.

  •    The Pastoral Care of God the FatherThe Lion and His Table

Rollin Grams

[This is the third post in a series of five.]

Introduction:

The suggestion is being made in this series of five posts that pastoral care can be guided by a pastoral theology based on Trinitarian theology, Biblically explained.  I am here interested in what we might call the pastoral care of God the Father.  The immediate purpose of this abbreviated and only suggestive study is to lay out some Biblically authoritative guidance for pastoral care.

The occasion for doing so is the Church of England’s present interest in a ‘pastoral accommodation’ for homosexuals.  The first post suggested that this suggestion is actually disingenuous, although the need for guidance in pastoral care is important and worth exploring further.  This is nothing new, of course: the Church has been at this throughout its existence for all sorts of conditions of sinful humanity.  These posts are a very modest attempt to offer some thoughts at the present time that are Biblically based.  The second post noted that this discussion is part of a larger concern: the pastoral care of sinners (as opposed to other sorts of pastoral care—such as of the bereaved).  This leads us to a Biblical study of God’s pastoral care of sinners, beginning with the care of God the Father.

A Caveat

As we turn to the subject of the pastoral care of God the Father, we need to be cautioned that distinguishing the work of the persons of the Trinity too sharply can lead to theological error.  Indeed, we come to a theology of Jesus’ divinity precisely by realizing that what we can say about Jesus is what we say about God.  For example, in John 5 Jesus links the Father’s work with his own, and Colossians 1.15-20 speaks of Jesus as the image of God and states that all the fullness of deity dwells in him because of his authority over all things, his divine work in creating the world, his divine oversight over the creation, his being head of the Church, and his doing the divine work of reconciling all things to God.  Also, the early Church regularly read ‘Lord’ in the Old Testament in reference to Jesus, thus affirming that Jesus is included in the identity of the One God.

Thus, we cannot simply identify an activity or virtue or characteristic uniquely with each Person of the Trinity.  God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are One, and their unity is found in their partaking of divine identity even if there is also a distinction of Persons in the Trinity.  There are, however, distinguishable roles in the relationships and story of the Persons of the Trinity in Scripture.  And there is unity of purpose and work as well.

God the Creator: Order Out of Chaos

Thus we might say, without denying the role of Jesus and the Spirit, that God the Father’s work in the world involves creating order out of chaos (Genesis 1), establishing and maintaining covenant relationships with his people (a view especially maintained throughout the Old Testament), pointing out sin, bringing divine justice in a sinful world, and providing a means of forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation.  This divine work is, in broad outline, also the basis for pastoral care in the Church.

Creation is described in Genesis 1 as the separation of things: light from darkness, heavens from the earth, water from land.  In the same way, God brings order to chaos.  Distinctions have their purpose for the whole of creation, and this point comes to a focus in God’s creating male and female so that they can then come together as a unity with their distinctive contributions that make unity possible and that serve the purpose of being fruitful and multiplying on the earth.  That is, two of exactly the same kind cannot produce a unity.  Two of completely different kinds also cannot produce this unity.  There is no fruitfulness without these ordered distinctions in creation being maintained: male and female of the same flesh.

God’s Law, in a similar way, is a revelation that ‘separates’ sinful acts from right acts. Thus the work of creation and the giving of the Law are parallel divine activities.  The relationship between God’s work as Creator and His giving the Law to Israel is something that Psalm 19 celebrates together.  Indeed, the Anglican Communion is facing total confusion in some quarters today precisely where it rejects both God’s distinctions in creation and His commandments in Scripture.  God’s good intentions in creation included the distinction of male and female (Genesis 1.27).  His Law insists that this distinction be kept: ‘You [males] shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination’ (Leviticus 18.22).  The doors of the Church have been opened to the diluvian chaos in Western culture.  It has created division and flight, and it has necessitated the establishment of new denominations (e.g., ACNA) and/or alternative organizations (e.g., AMiE, Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, GAFCON) to cope with the crisis.  A ‘pastoral accommodation’ does not respond to the chaos but enshrines it.  But pastoral care is needed.

Pastoral care for sinners involves helping them to reorder the chaos in their own lives as they return to God’s purposes in creation and to His commandments.  Paul’s presentation of the work of God for sinful humanity begins by noting the depravity of minds turned away from God’s purposes (Romans 1.24-28) and concludes by affirming that the mind transformed by God, no longer conformed to the futile thinking of a sinful world, is restored to knowing God’s good, acceptable, and perfect will (Romans 12.2). The chapters in between explain how it is that God works his plan of salvation to bring sinful humanity out of the chaos of the depraved and deluded mind to the ordered and obedient mind of one who does the will of God.  Pastoral care explains and extends that saving work of God to the one who would leave the chaos of the sinful life and find peace with God.


God the Revealer of Righteousness and Judge of Unrighteousness

Pastoral care, too, is a sorting out of persons’ confused and sinful lives.  We all need this.  Paul tells Timothy to devote himself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation [obviously, an exhortation in the Word], and teaching [again, of the Bible] in order to save both himself and his hearers (1 Timothy 3.13, 16).  The pastor is not offering his or her opinions but stands in the role of shedding God’s light on a sinfully confused situation through the ministry of Scripture.

The logical link between divine righteousness and divine judgement has become difficult in contemporary times. No reading of the Old Testament or New Testament could possibly lead to this confusion, but it is a conundrum in many churches today.  The problem arises when ‘righteousness’ is understood as God’s efforts to establish covenantal relationships through his steadfast love and faithfulness without also seeing that divine righteousness reigns down judgement on the unrighteous (cf. Exodus 34.6-7—a passage that echoes throughout Scripture).  ‘Righteousness’ often means—and can be translated—‘justice.’  Indeed, Paul progresses from saying that the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith to saying that ‘the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness’ (Romans 1.17-18).  We cannot speak of God’s righteousness as covenant faithfulness without also speaking of it as God’s wrath against ‘ungodliness,’ which Paul continues in Romans 1 to explain in reference to idolatry (Romans 1.19-23), then in terms of the unrighteousness of lesbianism and male homosexuality (Romans 1.24-28), and then in terms of all sin and affirmation of those who sin (Romans 1.29-32).

Pastoral care, too, involves pointing out from the Scriptures what divine righteousness entails.  The pastor, knowledgeable in the Scriptures, is able to help a person to understand God’s revelation: ‘He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?’ (Micah 6.8).  Similarly, Paul says to Timothy in his role as pastor that ‘All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,  17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work’ (2 Timothy 3.16-17).

Moses plays this pastoral role in Israel.  He says,

Now this is the commandment– the statutes and the ordinances– that the LORD your God charged me to teach you to observe in the land that you are about to cross into and occupy,  2 so that you and your children and your children’s children may fear the LORD your God all the days of your life, and keep all his decrees and his commandments that I am commanding you, so that your days may be long’ (Deuteronomy 6.1-2).

Pastoral care, different from counselling, is not about wisdom shared from the social sciences but wisdom shared from the Word of God—even if there is much to learn from the social sciences about how to counsel and to overcome psychological and social obstacles in the way of walking in the ways of the Lord.

Judgement is a divine function extended to the church gathered in the name of Jesus (cf. Matthew 18.18-20; John 20.23; 1 Corinthians 5.3-5; 1 Corinthians 6.1-11).  The church steps into this role for several reasons.  First, it protects other believers from the influence of a sinner’s presence: sin must be dealt with as a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough (1 Corinthians 5.6-7).  Judgement, however, is also for the sinner’s good: how else will the sinner realize that he or she needs to repent if allowed to continue in sin (1 Corinthians 5.5)?  Judgement opens up the possibility for forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation.  Where there is no judgement, none of this is possible.  In the current situation facing Anglican churches, this is particularly important.  An urgent matter of pastoral care for persons in any homosexual ‘relationship’ is for the church to insist that the relationship stops.  It is one thing to work with persons struggling with sin; it is quite another to tolerate relationships that entail continuing in sin—which is the exact situation in 1 Corinthians 5.  If that is what some mean by ‘pastoral accommodation,’ they have left Scripture far behind.

It is also important to emphasise that the path of righteousness extends beyond judgement—we see this in 2 Corinthians 2.5-11, where Paul urges the church to extend forgiveness and consolation to someone who has been disciplined.  This leads us to the next point.

The Love of God

One of the key passages in the Old Testament that helps us to understand God as a God of love is Exodus 34:6-7.  God reveals Himself to Moses in this way:

The LORD passed before him, and proclaimed, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,  7 keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34.6-7).

This passage echoes throughout Scripture as a major revelation of God’s identity.  Two things need to be said about the passage.  First, it occurs in a significant place in the narrative—after the Israelites broke God’s Law while Moses received the Ten Commandments for the first time and before God gives the Commandments a second time.  God’s self-revelation as one who is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, faithful, and forgiving comes in the context of Israel’s own ‘revelation’ of her sinfulness.  It comes as God’s decision not to wipe out sinful Israel is revealed to Moses.  It is followed by God’s graciously giving Israel His Law a second time.  All too often, people think that love is just a matter of forgiveness or even less—just acceptance or ‘toleration of differences,’ or even affirmation.  But God’s forgiveness means not punishing the sinner so that he or she might be given a second or third or seventy-seventh chance (cf. Matthew 18.21-35) to live according to God’s Law once again.

The second thing to say about this passage is that it links God’s character of love with His character of not clearing the guilty.  Love is not expressed by lowering God’s standards of righteousness but by making a path for sinners to continue with another chance.  This point is an essential message of the Old Testament: God gives Israel a second chance—again and again.  He does not write them off.  After one of the most devastating criticism’s of Israel’s sinfulness, Isaiah says that God comes with both justice—a fearful thing for sinners—and redemption from transgression by God’s Redeemer—a salvation from sin (Isaiah 59).  The Church, too, lives in this story of divine mercy and redemption.

This leads us to the New Testament, where the same character of God is found in Jesus.  A key passage to make this point is John 3.16, which explains how God has shown his love for the world.  In John’s Gospel, the ‘world’ is most often a negative term, standing for sinful humanity turned away from God.  So, God’s love is shown to a people that is turned away from Him—sinners.  God’s revelation of His love to people rejecting him comes before they turn to Him.  As John says in his first epistle,

In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.  11 Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another (1 John 4.10-11).

Both John 3.16 and 1 John 4.10-11 speak of how God loved sinners first, while they were still sinners (cf. Romans 5.8): by sending his Son, Jesus Christ, to become a sacrifice for sins that helps sinners return to Him.  1 John 4.11 extends the point for Christians: and this is how we ought to love one another.  The church is not to lower God’s standards of justice through forgiveness but to use forgiveness to help sinners return to God.  It is not to accept or affirm the sin—in which case it could not forgive at all: you cannot forgive something that is not wrong in the first place.  Forgiveness and mercy accept the standard.  Christians are to uphold God’s standards of righteousness, and one way they do this is by practicing God’s forgiveness toward sinners.

Pastoral care of sinners involves the church extending to sinners a second chance, showing them God’s mercy and forgiveness.  But it also involves declaring God’s standards of righteousness without compromise.  Anything else demeans Christ’s death on the cross to atone for our sins (1 John 2.1-6).

The Mission of God: to Reveal His Glory

God’s ‘mission’ is, as Chris Wright has written (The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative), to reveal himself—his ‘depth,’ his glory—in the world.  His glory is not found in a permissiveness toward sin but in an upholding of his holiness, righteousness, and truth.  Justification by faith, peace with God, and access into God’s grace lead to a sharing in God’s glory (Romans 5.1-2).  To be crucified with Christ to the body of sin, buried with him in his death to sin, and resurrected with him to walk in a newness of life is the climax of God’s own mission of self-revelation (He reveals His glory in accomplishing all this!) (Romans 6.4-10).  It equally lays out a pastoral care of sinners for ministers and the church, guiding them to confess sin, die to sin, and live the new life in Christ.  Paul follows his description of God’s pastoral care of sinners with his own pastoral words:

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.  12 Therefore, do not let sin exercise dominion in your mortal bodies, to make you obey their passions.  13 No longer present your members to sin as instruments of wickedness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and present your members to God as instruments of righteousness.  14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace (Romans 6.11-14).

Thus, the mission of God is the self-revelation of His glory in His (pastorally) redemptive work extended to sinners.  That work of grace brings forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation to the sinner.  Pastoral care involves guiding the sinner into and through God’s redemption.  With St. Augustine’s language in mind, it has to do with helping the restless soul find its rest in God.  Or, with Paul’s language in mind, it involves helping the sinner come to peace with God through justification by faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 5.1).

A Disordered Understanding of Pastoral Care

In light of the present crisis brought on by revisionist theologians and ministers in mainline denominations—and now some confused ministers in supposedly ‘Evangelical’ churches,[1] a contrast needs to be made.  The alternative perspective strangling the Church’s pastoral mission involves:

(1) denying that certain behaviours are sin at all;

(2) returning to a world of ‘chaos’ regarding the distinction between male and female in creation;

(3) denying God’s commandments that distinguish sin from righteousness (and denying Biblical authority in matters of faith and practice);

(4) affirming sinful behaviours as acceptable, even (blasphemously) as desirable;

(5) denying a need for God’s grace, His redemption, and Jesus Christ’s death on the cross for our sins; and, therefore,

(6) seeing pastoral care as a matter of helping people affirm their own inclinations by celebrating inclusiveness and diversity so that unity, love, and community can be achieved;
(7) ignoring the clear teaching of the Church through the centuries.

As a result, under the guise of affirming diversity, humanity—applauded by false teachers in the Church (Romans 1.32)—returns to primeval chaos that cannot distinguish male from female.  As a result, under the guise of inclusiveness and diversity, the Fall and sin are denied.  As a result, under the guise of unity, ‘separation unto God’—holiness—is turned into a ‘no fault’ embrace of sinners’ sins by God.  As a result, under the guise of love, the narrative of redemption through Christ’s blood shed on the cross becomes irrelevant, if not embarrassing (‘would a loving God send His Son to the cross?,’ such people ask).  As a result, under the guise of community, Christ-centred fellowship is considered exclusionary.  As a result, peace with God is seen as embracing every diversity rather than as justification of the sinner by faith in God.

Conclusion

Thus, the Church is well-instructed in its pastoral care of sinners by God the Father’s mission in and to a sinful world.  We all know this care—those of us who live under the cross of Jesus Christ—just as Israel knew this care.  The crisis facing the Church of England and many Anglicans in the West is a pastoral accommodation of sin rather than a pastoral care of sinners.

[1] See Ruth Gledhill, ‘Leading Evangelical Bishops Call for Church to Change on Gays,’ (16 June, 2016); online at: http://anglicanmainstream.org/leading-evangelical-bishops-call-for-church-to-change-on-gays/ (accessed 27 June 2016).  Actually, two bishops are calling to let the sin of homosexuality be given a pass: Bishop Paul Bayes of Liverpool and Bishop Colin Fletcher of Dorchester.  Is it a fulfillment of a bishop’s ordination to proclaim, ‘We need to change the Church,” as Bishop Bayes has done?  Joined by others (David Ison, David Runcorn, Cindy Kent, and James Jones), this revisionist proposal is articulated in a work ironically titled, ‘Journeys in Grace and Truth: Revisiting Scripture and Sexuality,’ ed. Jayne Ozanne (Via Media Publications, 2016).  One must ask, ‘Is it possible to be Evangelical but not orthodox?’, meaning faithful to the Scriptures and in line with historic Christianity.  George McDermott’s reply is well stated.  See ‘Pro-gay Evangelicals?’ (25 June, 2016); available at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/northamptonseminar/2016/06/25/pro-gay-evangelicals/ (accessed 26 June, 2016).
[to be continued]

Pastoral Care and the Mission of the Triune God (Part II)

The Lion and His Table

Rollin Grams

The Church: 18b.

Toward a Theology of Pastoral Care Based on God’s Mission

In light of the Church of England’s present ‘conversations’ about homosexual practice and ‘marriage’ and the interest in focusing on pastoral care, the suggestion is here made that pastoral care can be discussed in relation to the Triune God’s own mission, a mission that is itself pastoral care for sinners.  Pastoral care for sinners can only begin once a sinner acknowledges his or her sin.  In this second of five posts on the subject of pastoral care for persons who have homosexual inclinations, orientations, or are in homosexual relationships, the beginning point for this discussion is to recognize that it has to do with pastoral care of sinners.  The mission of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit involves divine ‘pastoral’ care for a sinful humanity.

Pastoral Care for Sinners

The beginning of care, as in medicine, is accurate diagnosis. There are other sorts of pastoral care, such as care for persons who are suffering, in bereavement or human need, needing guidance, or the like.  The conversation about pastoral care for homosexuals, however, is a conversation about the care a pastor gives to sinners.  Scripture and the Church throughout its history have consistently held that homosexuality is a sin.  Several things might be said here about such care, although this is certainly a limited consideration of the matter meant to help get further discussion going.

  •  
  1. A Pastoral, Not (Simply) Psychological Concern

Pastoral care is decidedly different from what many understand as pastoral counseling, although the two notions overlap and provide any number of confusions for either the pastor or the counselor.  Key to the differences—and confusions—is a theology of ‘sin’ and spiritual life that guides the pastor.  To the extent that pastoral counseling begins with psychology as its field, notions of sin, spiritual warfare, divine judgement, forgiveness, and transformation are awkward in the counseling situation.  The history of pastoral care, however, includes such things as repentance, acts of contrition, spiritual disciplines or helps, communal practices, and the likes that offer a very different sort of care from psychology and social work.  Pastoral care also involves teaching the ways of the Lord from Scripture and with an understanding of the Church’s teaching.  Sadly, so much misinformation has been presented in the past few decades on the matter of homosexuality that pastoral care requires a significant amount of re-education in the church on this (and other sexual matters).

  •  
  1. Sinful Acts

The Old Testament tends to focus ethics on actions.  Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount develops this action ethic to include the heart—inclinations, passions, and orientations.  Yet his pastoral counsel is to avoid the vicious cycle of sin by taking other transformative actions.[1]  This is significant: pastoral care can begin with behavioural change.  As painful as it may be to stop certain habits or break certain relationships, this can be done.  Repeated actions develop habits; stopping certain actions can reshape habits of the heart.  Rather than affirming sinful inclinations, Jesus called for concrete actions as first steps toward a heart set free.

  •  
  1. A Sin of Eternal Consequences

Any dialogue about issues facing the Church today that does not understand the Biblical world view about sin, punishment, and redemption is doomed to fail—and that is, frankly, where the present problem lies in the Anglican Communion.  One cannot reduce the Church to social care and political activism with liturgy.  How can one talk about pastoral care for persons with homosexual inclinations and practices if one party denies that this is sinful and the other party believes, as Paul puts it, that persons doing such things will not ‘inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Corinthians 6.10)?  Jesus warned that lust of the flesh puts one in danger of hell (Matthew 5.30).  This is not a matter of moral indifference.  If one group wants to celebrate the liberality of inclusion and diversity for people engaged in sins of eternal consequence, applauding the sinful practices of others (cf. Rom. 1.32), and the other group believes that such practices are sinful and are leading people to eternal separation from God, nobody should waste their time in any further dialogue: an agreement regarding appropriate pastoral care will never emerge.  It would be like some imaginary tribe devoted to sun worship that found skin cancer beautiful trying to discuss appropriate medical care with a group of oncologists.

Pastoral care is care for sinners (and, of course, other matters not at issue here).  It is so because this is, indeed, God’s pastoral care for us.  As Paul puts it, ‘The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost’ (1 Timothy 1.15).  Therein lies a succinct statement of God’s mission in the world and the theological basis for all pastoral care.

Note the important final statement: the ‘pastor’—Paul—acknowledges his own sinfulness.  He is not counseling others from the standpoint of a sinless person talking at sinners but as a fellow-sinner, deeply aware of his own sin before God.  Counselors would use the word ‘empathy’ for this, although they are taught not to think of this in terms of ‘sin’ but in terms of ‘compassion.’  Therein lies an error of the first degree.  Pastoral care is offered by a fellow sinner who knows the path of grace holding the light for other sinners who would find it too: one slave showing other slaves the way to freedom.

  •  
  1. A Besetting Sin, A Passion of the Flesh

Thus, as we turn to the holy and authoritative Scriptures for pastoral guidance, we also begin with the clear teaching in Scripture that we are discussing pastoral care of persons who are beset with a passion not easily shaken.  As Proverbs says, ‘passion makes the bones rot’ (Proverbs 14.30).  Indeed, sexual sin is always more than a simple ‘act’ or even a ‘practice’—it is a besetting sin of passions, inclinations, and orientations.  Someone with a sexual interest in children is dealing with more than an occasional fancy.  A person struggling with lust and pornography is truly struggling: one cannot only say, ‘Do not do that anymore,’ and leave it there.  One might give up coveting a neighbour’s goods, but giving up coveting his wife seems to increase a passionate desire to a fixation—a besetting sin.  Jesus’ hyperbolic language for taking extreme measures to deal with lust acknowledges this. He says,

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.  29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell (Matthew 5.30).

  •  
  1. A Sin of Internal Disorder

God has made us in such a way that a man can say of his wife, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken” (Genesis 2.23).  God’s design in creation was that man and woman would marry (Genesis 2.24) and be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1.27-28).  Yet this natural desire can be turned in sinful directions, such as sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman, adultery, certain divorces and remarriages, and pornography.  Probably the sin of bestiality is not about desiring the animal but just desiring sexual stimulation, but it is an example of internal disorder.  Homosexuality, transsexuality, and bisexuality are also examples of internal disorder, where the object of desire is not the object God intended in his creation.  Christians often speak of sexual morality with reference to procreation: it is not that every act of sex must be intended for procreation but that the place for sex with another is where the mandate for being fruitful and multiplying can be fulfilled: that is, between a man and a woman in marital commitment.

The disorder of idolatry is worship directed not towards the Creator but toward the creature (Romans 1.18-23).  Paul then compares the internal disorder of homosexuality to idolatry in that it, too, is an orientation toward the wrong object (Romans 1.24-28).  There is a difference, however.  Idolatry involves devotion directed away from the Creator, whereas homosexuality involves desire directed away from the one God created for that desire—a person of the opposite sex.  Paul highlights the role of disordered desire: ‘lusts of the heart’ (v. 24), ‘degrading passions’ (v. 26), and men ‘consumed with passions for one another’ (v. 27).  Both the misdirection of desire and the role of passion stand at the heart of the internal disorder of homosexuality.

Pastoral care for someone internally disordered has posed a significant challenge in many cases.  One may be despondent over the disorder, and one may find it difficult to reorient one’s desires.  Often underlying issues—early sexual abuse, a distant or abusive parent, bullying, culture—compound the matter itself.  This is where various therapeutic approaches may prove helpful—a subject for pastoral counseling.  A good community and healthy relationships are also important.  Pastoral care, however, holds out the hope of change because God’s grace is not only forgiving grace but also transforming grace.  Paul can say to persons who had been caught in various sins, including ‘soft men’ and persons involved in homosexual acts, ‘and this is what some of you used to be’ (1 Corinthians 6.11).  The washing, sanctifying, and making righteous work of the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of God are the reason for the past tense, ‘used to be.’  Far too little focus is given to the transforming power of God in Western Christianity, where the secular force of the culture reduces theology to ideas and beliefs without appreciating spiritual forces, divine power, and therefore also the life transforming work of God.

  •  
  1. A Sin That Does Not Define the Whole Person

We tend to think of evil as monstrous, as though an evil person must be evil in every respect.  We are disturbed to find that Josef Mengele, the doctor at Auschwitz who performed horrific experiments on inmates, particularly twin children, also enjoyed classical music and befriended children.  No sin defines the whole person, not even Mengele.  This is good news for us all, and counselling may need to dwell on the good in order to put things in some perspective.  A besetting sin is not a complete identity.  People need to know that their sin does not define them, and nor should we define a person wholly by their one sin.

Christianity goes further, though.  Scripture insists that our personal identity is not only not in our sin, it is also not in ourselves: it is, rather, in Christ Jesus.  For our sake, God ‘made him [Jesus Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God’ (2 Corinthians 5.21).  Paul says, ‘it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2.20).  Also, ‘May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world’ (Galatians 6.14). God’s grace alters our identity.  This is why Paul can say, ‘if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come’ (2 Corinthians 5.17).

The Pastoral Care of Sinners

A theology of pastoral care is not the same as pastoral care for sinners.  Theology dictates a certain, linear and systematic logic.  One might begin with a clear diagnosis of the problem.  This may be true of pastoral theology, but care may require a different starting point.  One might, for example, begin care with empathy, careful listening, clarifying thoughts, repeating or rephrasing statements, and affirming a person’s struggles: quickly moving the discussion to a person’s sin may be off-putting, even detrimental, if a person is already depressed and defeated from struggles with sin.  It may fail to uncover other issues that contribute to the problem.  There is a place for wisdom in counseling in pastoral care that moves beyond pastoral theology per se.  The exercise of pastoral care, then, needs to be flexible when dealing with one person versus another.  That said, here are topics to consider.

Empathy: hearing and affirming the struggle one has with sin.
Romans 3:23 ‘… all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’

Repentance:

  •  
  1. Awareness: being aware that this is a sin.

Psalm 51:3 ‘For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.’

  •  
  1. Contrition: a godly remorse for sin in the presence of His holiness.

Psalm 51:4 ‘Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.’

  •  
  1. Confession: confessing sin clearly and accurately to God and, if appropriate, to others.

1 Chronicles 21:8 ‘David said to God, “I have sinned greatly in that I have done this thing. But now, I pray you, take away the guilt of your servant; for I have done very foolishly.”’

  •  
  1. Prayer for Mercy: a sincere prayer to God for forgiveness and help.

Psalm 51:1-2 ‘Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.  2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin….

Psalm 51:7-12 ‘Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.  8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.  9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.  10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.  11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.  12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.’

  •  
  1. Penitence: extending repentance to some action to show and experience repentance, such as spending time in prayerful reflection, Scripture reading, asking someone else for forgiveness. 

1 Chronicles 21:16 ‘Then David and the elders, clothed in sackcloth, fell on their faces.’

  •  
  1.  Change: takingaction necessary to turn away from the sin, such as changing one’s behaviours and relationships and making restitution.  

Matthew 5:29-30 ‘If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.  30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better for you to lose one of your members than for your whole body to go into hell. ‘  

Luke 19:8 ‘Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.”’

Galatians 6:7-8 ‘Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.  8 If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.’

Receiving Forgiveness and Giving Thanks: leaving the confessed sin in God’s grace and not continuing to dwell on it in light of His forgiveness, but turning to praise God for his loving kindness, faithfulness, and tender mercies. 

Psalm 51:15 ‘O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.’’

Seeking Help from God

Romans 8:5-17 ‘For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.  6 To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.  7 For this reason the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law– indeed it cannot,  8 and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  9 But you are not in the flesh; you are in the Spirit, since the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him.  10 But if Christ is in you, though the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness.  11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.  12 So then, brothers and sisters, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh–  13 for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.  14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God.  15 For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, “Abba! Father!”  16 it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God,  17 and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ– if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.’

1 Thessalonians 4:7-8 ‘For God did not call us to impurity but in holiness.  8 Therefore whoever rejects this rejects not human authority but God, who also gives his Holy Spirit to you.’

Seeking Help from Others

The spiritual life involves separation from sin in the world, not a separation from the world (John 17.15).  Discipleship involves companionship along the way, and we each need the presence of others to help us to walk in paths of righteousness.  The opposite is true, too.  The psalmist says,

Psalm 1:1-2 ‘Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers….’

On the contrary, disciples of Christ should seek spiritual help from others who do not struggle with their besetting sin:

Galatians 6:1-2 ‘My friends, if anyone is detected in a transgression, you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness. Take care that you yourselves are not tempted.  2 Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.’

Seeking Help from Spiritual Disciplines

Sin is incubated in the hearts of human beings (Genesis 6.5 seems to apply to all humanity, not just the wicked generation in Noah’s day).  James says, But one is tempted by one’s own desire, being lured and enticed by it;  15 then, when that desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, and that sin, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death’ (James 1.14-15).  We might expand this.  Before desire comes curiosity: ‘I wonder what this is?  I’ll just have a look.’  Enticement leads to rationalization: ‘This is alright in my situation.’  There is also a shutting out of the voice of God and turning from His Spirit, giving in to one’s own passions.

All this can be met with spiritual disciplines, such as a life of prayer, fasting, regular reading of Scripture, meditation on God’s Word, fellowship with the saints, godly conversations, separation from all situations of temptation (online, movies, beaches, solitary travel—whatever one’s weaknesses), and engagement in good works.  The pastoral counselor should ask, ‘What spiritual disciplines do you pursue to help you with temptation?’

Paul offers several spiritual disciplines in his letter to the Ephesians, where he also emphasizes that there is a spiritual battle, not just human sinfulness, that believers must engage:

Ephesians 6:10-18 ‘Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.  11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.  12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.  14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.  15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.  16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.  18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.’

[to be continued….]

The Church: 18a. Pastoral Care and the Mission of the Triune God (Part I)

Bible and Mission

…. exploring the interface between Scripture and the Church’s mission ….The Lion and His Table

Rollin Grams

Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell.

[This is the first of five posts.]

Introduction

Discussion over homosexuality in the Anglican Communion—and I suspect in other mainline denominations as well—has taken a slight turn recently.  It is as sensible a turn as it is disingenuous.  The change in discussion is from debating whether homosexuality is sinful in one form and circumstance or another to how to care for persons who have homosexual inclinations.  This is a very sensible discussion to have, since ministers and congregations need to know how to address this matter not only as a moral issue but also as a matter of pastoral care.  The only people who still need to ‘dialogue’ and ‘explore’ whether homosexuality is or is not sinful are those who have not kept up with their reading: Scripture speaks clearly to the issue in both Testaments, and the Church has had a consistent witness to the clear teaching of Scripture up until the modern debacle in theology due to following culture (thanks to the likes of Paul Tillich and John Macquarrie, by no means theologians of the Church) rather than the Word of God.[1]  Yet a discussion of pastoral care for sinners is, indeed, well worth having.  The proposal here is that guidance for pastoral care of sinners can be found in the Triune God’s mission.

The Nine ‘D’s’ of Disingenuity in the Dialogue

The Church of England has been holding ‘Shared Conversations’ on issues of sexuality and marriage that are part of a larger process (of what?).  The final such meeting takes place in July.  Then the House of Bishops is to determine sometime in the autumn whether they will make a motion on the issue for the General Synod in the spring.  The focus of late has been a ‘Pastoral Accommodation,’ which has in view the pastoral care of persons in same sex relationships without going so far as to affirm same sex marriage.  Somehow persons involved in all this seem to think that the question of whether homosexuality is a sin can be set aside while pastoral matters are addressed.

While pastoral care is the focus in these five posts, the matter as it is being addressed in the current discussion is equally disingenuous.  This disingenuity needs to be unmasked at the outset.  Alas, it is a masterful gambit, a grand strategy for affirming a particular viewpoint despite Scripture and the Church’s clear tradition.  It involves, first, a move of distraction: focusing on pastoral care for certain persons without acknowledging their need to change.  This would be like embracing persons in incestuous relationships in the church merely because they need love without addressing their sinful behaviour.  By distracting the conversation to that of pastoral care, the hope is that relationships and compassion will somehow make the behaviour itself acceptable in the community.

Distraction is but one set of moves in the game of disengenuity.  Others are to:

  • delay (with the hope that the pressure of a certain trajectory of culture will win the day),
  •  deny (the clear teaching of Scripture)
  • demean (the teaching of the Church through the centuries altogether),
  • dialogue (as though personal interaction with sinners—knowing their ‘stories’—removes the matter of sin under discussion),
  • distort (by arguing that calling something sin is not a theological but psychological disorder—nothing more than a phobia),
  • dilute (by watering down theological ethics, such as the virtue of ‘unity,’ to a mere matter of fellowship and affirmation of diversity rather than finding peace with God),
  • dishonour (by contravening the clear declarations of the Primates), and
  • deal (by bribing others with funds and positions of power in order to gain a foothold in orthodox sectors of the Communion).

Having noted that pastoral ‘accommodations’ and care are being used to distract the Anglican Communion from the major issue—to acknowledge that Scripture and the Church have always taught that homosexual practice is sinful—we nevertheless turn to a theology of pastoral care.

[to be continued….]

Challenges and Opportunities from Orlando

Challenges and Opportunities from Orlando

By Ladson F. Mills III
Special to VIRTUEONLINE
www.virtueonline.Org
Eradicating sin in the world is a noble desire. But as Christians we know that if sin were eradicable Jesus sacrifice would not have been necessary.

In times of fear and turmoil there is an overwhelming need to respond by doing something- anything. In modern America this culminates in passing another law or a new regulation in hopes of eradicating the offending behavior. It is reassuring to not be seen as passive in the face of unimaginable horror. There are those who may criticize this as naïve or out of touch, but it is natural and understandable. It is also wrong.

Our culture has been deceived into believing legislation and regulation are the paths to utopia. I am chagrined to admit there was a time when I acted as though I believed it as well. I once wanted to expand the discipline canons of the Episcopal Church to include the entire membership and not just clergy. I believed that it would help in moderating some of the less savory aspects of parish politics. I was wrong having forgotten that the strength of Christianity is the attraction that comes from transformation not eradication. Or as Galatians 2:21 reminds us, …for if righteousness could be gained through law, Christ died for nothing.

Actor George Takei, who gained fame as Mr. Zulu of Star Trek fame is openly gay. Following the Orlando massacre he asserted his differences with the NRA (National Rifle Association) by announcing they did not want to mess with the LGBT community. Sorry, Mr. Zulu, the world in which we live is not a television script. There is no beam me up Scotty or Phasers on stun Captain when the going gets tough. This is a world where evil people are serious and committed in their determination to kill us; celebrity status not notwithstanding.

There is a lesson to be taken from New York Mayor Bill DeBlassio. He discovered that wearing shirts saying Real men don’t kidnap women, following Boko Haram’s 2014 kidnapping of 276 Nigerian girls may have allowed him to feel empowered, but it mattered not at all. People who embrace hate and evil as their defining values are impervious to public scolding.

Joanna Palini the Danish University student who recently returned from a year of fighting ISIL discovered this to be true. One of her most painful experiences occurred when an 11-year old child died in her arms after having been used as a sex slave and repeatedly raped. Her young body could not tolerate the trauma of birthing the twins she was carrying as the result of her continued abuse.

The Christian Church is the only organization in existence who can confront this evil because we are the only ones who truly understand the nature of sin. Sin has been with us since the Fall of Humanity and can never be eradicated. Christians, however can bear witness that human beings are regularly transformed not through embracing the values of a culture, as well meaning as it may be, but through power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We have now reached the stage where governments are no longer capable of protecting its citizens. We are in that lamentable place where the nation is being led by ideologues rather than problem solvers. Three members of Congress walked out of the moment of silence in honor the Orlando tragedy in order to make a political statement. They made their statement although perhaps not in the way intended.

It was neither the time nor the place and their decision reveals a disturbing truth of today’s politicians. They are unmasked as more interested in re-election than in seeking solutions. The disconnect between the leaders and those whom they lead is palatable and growing.

This vacuum can only be filled by Christianity. The church must resist the temptation to act as just another self-deluded organization existing for its own self-interest and pretending to eradicate designer sin as a means to make itself seem relevant in today’s culture.

The response from the Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop Michael Curry set the right tone. He correctly understood the Orlando Massacre is one of those times when less is more. He properly prayed for all in a manner that was brief, sincere, and appropriate. Unlike some bishops he resisted the temptation to moralize, damn through faint praise, or mask personal agendas under the guise of high toned rhetoric.

Christianity recognizes sin and understands that it cannot be magically wished away. There is no walk back when things go wrong or a magic pill to makes things perfect. We are called to bear witness to the transformation that only comes through the Grace of Jesus Christ.

Or as the old adage says, you may be able to fool the fans, but you can’t fool the players.

Ladson F. Mills III is a retired priest with over thirty years pastoral experience. He is retired and lives with his wife in South Carolina. He currently serves as Scholar in Residence at the Church of Our Saviour, Johns Island. He is a regular contributor to Virtueonline.

UK: CofE Bishops are not powerless against the present spiritual disorder

UK: CofE Bishops are not powerless against the present spiritual disorder

By Julian Mann
http://www.conservativewoman.co.uk/

With scandals over Zen Buddhist meditations promoted by promoted by the Canon Chancellor of York Minster, the Church of Nigeria severing links with Liverpool Diocese over the appointment of an uber-liberal American bishop , and an Oxford cleric appearing to bless the same-sex ‘marriage’ of Desmond Tutu’s daughter in South Africa this has been a lousy summer so far for the Church of England.

But dare one respectfully suggest that Bishops disturbed by these developments should not despair? They are not powerless in the face of such gross spiritual disorder.

Certainly, the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) is difficult to deploy against errant clerics on doctrinal issues. The CDM’s main focus tends to be on ‘conduct unbecoming’. However, Bishops can stand up for the Lord Jesus by arguing against doctrinal violations and they have the historic biblical teachings of the Church of England as their armoury.

In fact, Bishops should speak out because the Book of Common Prayer’s Ordinal – the historic Reformed Anglican liturgy for the consecration of Bishops – says they should. The Archbishop asks the Bishop elect: ‘Be you ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word; and both privately and openly to call upon and encourage others to the same.’

The Bishop replies: ‘I am ready, the Lord being my helper.’

The Lord in his goodness has already provided plenty of spiritual help. A Bishop who wants to speak out against Zen Buddhist meditations sponsored by Anglican clergy has the Church of England’s 39 Articles of Religion on his side. The religious presuppositions underlying non-Christian spirituality run clearly contrary to Article 18 – Of obtaining eternal Salvation only by the Name of Christ. This Article of Anglican faith states clearly the teaching of Holy Scripture that man-made religion cannot deliver salvation.

When it comes to speaking out against clergy blessing same-sex unions, orthodox Bishops have Canon B30 on their side – Of Holy Matrimony. This rule clearly states our Lord’s biblical teaching that one man-one woman, faithful marriage for life is the God-given context for the ‘hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections’.

So, our Bishops have plenty of spiritual weaponry in the armoury. The question is, are they minded to use it?

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

Lesbian Episcopal Priest Condemned for Saying LGBT Movement Is Central to Christianity

By Stoyan Zaimov
Christian Post
http://www.christianpost.com/n
lesbian Episcopal priest who believes queerness is central to the Christian tradition and has published a book that claims “queer and trans experience has vast potential to help the church be the church,” is being condemned by a theologian for turning “the sin of Satan into a virtue.”

“We queers exist, and many of us have lives and sensibilities that don’t fit neatly into heteronormative constructs. And honestly, that’s a good thing. Our perceptions of our relationships and ethical obligations are at times of a different hue from the perceptions informed by heteronormative Christian ethics. Far from an ethical deficit, that difference is often shot through with valuable insight,” argues Rev. Elizabeth M. Edman’s in an excerpt fom her book, Queer Virtue: What LGBTQ People Know About Life and Love and How It Can Revitalize Christianity that was published in part as an essay by the website Salon on Saturday.

Thomas D. Williams, Ph.D. a Christian theologian and speaker who serves as a permanent research fellow at the Center for Ethics and Culture at Notre Dame University, wrote in a response piece for Breitbart News that Edman misrepresents and omits important pieces of Scripture when making her arguments.

“It does seem oddly consistent, however, that an attempt to turn homosexual relations into a good and Godly act would be paired with an effort to rehabilitate pride and turn the sin of Satan into a virtue,” Williams wrote.

The theologian describes Edman’s proposals as “onerous,” adding that it “involves stripping the Bible of its ‘heteronormativity’ and remaking Christianity in the image of a society that glorifies gender fluidity and pansexualism.”

The Episcopal Church has faced heavy push back for its acceptance of gay marriage and ordaining clergy who are in same-sex relationships, decisison which have led to the Anglican Communion deciding to suspend the Church.

“The traditional doctrine of the Church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union. The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching,” a major meeting of Anglican primates decided in January.

“Recent developments in The Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage. Possible developments in other Provinces could further exacerbate this situation.”

A number of Mainline Protestant churches have been debating LGBT issues in recent years, with a regional body within the United Methodist Church deciding last week to reject the commissioning of a married lesbian as a deacon.

The Baltimore-Washington Annual Conference’s Board of Ordained Ministry explained, however, that it “did not consider sexual practice for any candidate” and did not in the case of Tara “T.C.” Morrow.

“Bishop Marcus Matthews called for United Methodists to be in a time of prayer following the clergy meeting. He called for prayers for Morrow, her family, for leaders of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, and for the unity of the Church as it continues to seek God’s will,” a statement read.

END

GAFCON offers alternative oversight to Scottish Anglicans

From Anglican Ink: We are saddened and appalled that the Scottish Episcopal Church will next week debate amending its Canon C31, so as to adopt a wholly unbiblical approach to human sexual relationships. To so amend the canon would sever the church from the teaching of Christ and His Apostles, and also the considered and expressed conviction of the vast majority of the bishops of the Anglican Communion at Lambeth 1998, which was reinforced by the Anglican Primates Gathering only months ago. We…

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