Sunday, 17 August 2014

SKIMPING ON CONFESSION ABETS CONSUMERISM

TS Eliot may have been right that 'human kind cannot bear very much reality'. But it is surely crucial that in church of all places we are encouraged to face it.

That is why it was disappointing during your curate's recent holiday to find, at two services of Evensong according to the Book of Common Prayer, confession expresso at one church and confession niente at another.

The church at which the Confession was rushed was an Anglican evangelical parish church and the one that omitted it altogether was a Cathedral.

The consumerist narcissism of our age will surely go unchecked if local churches do not use every biblical means at their disposal to get us to face up to the objective truth about ourselves in God's sight - that we are great sinners in need of a great Saviour - as the exhortation prior to the BCP Confession so clearly states:
Dearly beloved brethren, the Scripture moveth us in sundry places to acknowledge and confess our manifold sins and wickedness; and that we should not dissemble nor cloke them before the face of Almighty God our heavenly Father; but confess them with an humble, lowly, penitent, and obedient heart; to the end that we may receive forgiveness of the same, by his infinite goodness and mercy. And although we ought at all times humbly to acknowledge our sins before God; yet ought we most chiefly so to do when we assemble and meet together... 

To encourage us to reflect on our lives and to face up to the truth about ourselves, the Confession should be said slowly. To omit it altogether is spiritually disastrous.

Encouragingly, both sermons at the churches were of high quality. The one at the Cathedral on John 6 paid careful regard to the theology of John's Gospel and called for real Christian faith and commitment. That at the Anglican evangelical church on the parable of the sower in Mark 4 was outstanding.

It included teaching on the verses immediately after Jesus' explanation of the parable - v21-25 - which are very important in understanding its call to be positive and fruitful in embracing the message of Jesus' Lordship. These verses are often omitted in sermons on the parable. It was so helpful to hear them clearly explained and applied.

If Stonewall gets to the heart of government, why not Christian Concern? appeared on VirtueOnline.

Prosecuting George Galloway for hate speech would be a threat to freedom in the UK appeared on ConservativeHome.

Biased BBC boosts media-savvy Vicky Beeching appeared on VirtueOnline.

Friday, 18 July 2014

QUEEN UNVEILS SCHOOL PLAQUE MINUS THE CHRISTIAN CREDIT

Cranmer's Curate's Latin is a bit scratchy. But yesterday, on receiving in the post a copy of his old school's magazine, he could just about decipher the inscription on a plaque for a new sports centre unveiled by Her Majesty the Queen.

Beside a dangling pink curtain,  Dat Deus incrementum is visible on the photograph of the official opening - 'God gives the increase'.

The youth group will know that in their original context these words have nothing to do with sport or sports centres. The motto derives from the Apostle Paul's teaching to a local church about the true spiritual dynamic of their growth in the Lord Jesus Christ:
Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers by whom ye believed, even as the Lord gave to every man? I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase (1 Corinthians 3v5-7 - King James Version).
Unfortunately, Paul is not credited on the inscription. With Christianity now a more distant dot on the English cultural horizon than when cc was at the school in the 1970s, the Deus in the inscription could be any god. Surely it would have been right educationally, but more importantly spiritually and morally, to have cited St Paul on the plaque so as to make it clear that it is the Christian God that is being referred to.

Cranmer's Curate is blogging off for the summer, back God willing in September. He leaves the youth group, most of whom are dedicated servants of local churches beloved by God, with the Collect for the Fourth Sunday after Trinity:
O God, the protector of all that trust in thee, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us thy mercy; that, thou being our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we finally lose not the things eternal: Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ's sake our Lord. Amen.

Monday, 14 July 2014

THE LOVE OF GOD CALLS FOR HIS CHURCH TO BE ORDERED HIS WAY

This sermon was preached at the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge on Sunday July 13th:

‘Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things' (1 Corinthians 13v4-7 - RSV)

Famous words of the Apostle Paul from his 1st letter to the Corinthians, probably the most famous words he ever wrote and some of the best-known words in the Bible. This was the passage the then Prime Minister read at Princess Diana’s funeral.

This very same Apostle Paul wrote those words in 1 Timothy chpt 2:  ‘A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent’ (1 Timothy 2v11-12 - NIV).

You can hardly imagine those words being read out on a State occasion but it’s the same man writing both things and in fact Paul’s 1st letter to the Corinthians contains some similar statements about women being silent in church.

Now the command to silence in Paul’s letters is not about women never making any verbal contribution in church  – Paul actually permits women contributing verbally in church in 1 Corinthians. The command to silence is about respecting rightful authority. In relation to those who have rightful authority over me, I am silent in the sense that the argument is over and I do what I have to do. Policeman or women says road is closed. Follow the diversion. I do not argue or I should not argue with the person in rightful authority.

This is about women accepting the rightful authority under God of those men who have been ordained to teach God’s word to the church of the Lord Jesus Christ. It’s not about what happens in the secular world. It’s about what happens within the Body of Christ. Women, Paul is saying, are not to take on that role but this does not mean that women are disbarred from praying in church, reading the Bible or talking about their Christian faith and so on.

One of the things I want to try to deal with this morning is the so-called cultural argument in relation to Paul’s teaching in this area. It runs like this. Paul’s teaching about women not having authority over men reflects 1st century male chauvinist attitudes. We’ve moved on from that – in the 21st century men and women are performing many of the same roles. We’ve even had a woman Prime Minister. We can safely say that Paul’s teaching reflects the culture then – it’s not for now, so we don’t have to run with it in the modern church. The so-called cultural argument.

There are several problems with it. First of all, Paul wrote those wonderful words about love in the 1st century AD and those words were certainly aimed at a specific situation, namely the appalling break-down of relationships in the Christian church at Corinth. Paul teaches them about love because they were doing just the opposite.

Are we going to say that just because Paul’s teaching dealt with specific situations in the 1st century AD it’s not relevant for today? Love is patient and kind, it is not boastful or resentful. Is that just for the 1st century? So why do some people want to say that Paul’s apostolic teaching about the complementary differences in role between men and women in the family and in the church is just for the 1st century?

Christians believe or should believe that God’s Word the Bible is for all generations of Christians in all kinds of cultural contexts. Of course, the Bible needs to be responsibly interpreted and applied but if you get an apostolic instruction about love in the congregation or about church leadership in the congregation, what grounds have we for saying that's just for Corinth or Ephesus in the 1st century and not for Oughtibridge in the 21st century? No grounds whatsoever.

Furthermore Paul’s teaching about men and women in the congregation is very much rooted not in the culture but in the foundational spiritual realities of Creation and the Fall, the fact that God created men and women in his image and the fact that men and women rebelled against him. Creation and the Fall are facts of universal significance for all cultures 1st century and 21st century.

Kicking Paul’s teaching off into the long grass of the cultural argument creates a lot of problems for us as Christians.

Far better actually to recognise that it does apply to all churches in all generations and that church leadership needs to reflect Paul’s Apostolic teaching about the God-given differences between men and women.

Before I come on to talk about the ordination of women and about women bishops, I’d like first to deal with the way in which authority ought to be perceived in God’s church. Those who exercise authority in the church are servants of Christ and his people. In chapter 4 of 1 Timothy Paul says to Timothy, his younger friend and fellow worker in gospel:‘if you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good miinster - servant - of Christ Jesus’ (v6) . Those whom God appoints as leaders in his church are not to go on an ego-trip or to seek status for themselves but are to use their God-given authority to serve God’s people. It’s not about status-seeking, it’s about service but unfortunately both men & women are capable of going on an ego-trip when it comes to positions of power, whether in the church or in the world.

If I may apply this to the issue of the ordination of women: those of us who are opposed to women taking on roles as vicars or bishops are not or should not be opposed on the grounds of status or  position, so-called preferment. We are opposed on the grounds that it goes against God’s good ordering of his church, the fact that God has created men and women equal but different with God-given differences of role in the family and in the church. Men are to exercise servant leadership in the family and in the church – that’s why so-called traditionalists like myself are opposed to the muddling up of those God-given roles in the General Synod’s decision over women vicars in 1992 and then this year over bishops.

We consider that this ordination of women legislation is actually being driven by the culture rather than by the Word of God. We think that it’s a bit of a co-incidence that there’s been all this pressure for change in this area since the 1960s and we don’t buy the argument that you’ve got to go with the flow of modern feminism in order to get people to go to church. We point out that since 1992 when the legislation was passed, the number of people regularly attending Church of England churches has fallen significantly. The spiralling decline of our denomination is not being reversed by the ordination of women.

Now, in relation to the appointment of women bishops, the Church of England’s General Synod is almost certainly going to approve the legislation this week in York. It narrowly failed in November 2012. There was a huge political and media storm over that. The Prime Minister virtually instructed the Church to ‘get up with the programme’.  It would be likely that if the Synod turned it down again this time the House of Bishops in collaboration with secular politicians would find a way of by-passing the Synod and getting the legislation approved by Parliament anyway.

Where does that leave people like me? What is our place in the Church of England? We remain full members of the Church of England because our 39 Articles of Religion, the official biblical doctrine of the Church of England makes it clear that decisions of church councils such as Synods should be subject to the Word of God and when they are not those councils are in error. Article 21 – about the Authority of General Councils – is very clear on that. Because such councils are an assembly of human beings in which not all are governed by the Spirit and the Word of God, ‘they may err and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God’. It is not essential to being an Anglican to believe that the General Synod has made the right decision over women’s ordination.

Let me end by putting those two statements of Paul side by side - 1 Corinthians: ‘Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.’

And then his words in 1 Timothy 2: ‘A woman should learn in quietness & full submission. I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.’   

Actually those two statements are perfectly compatible because the way to love God’s church is to order it in the way that God ordains. It’s the opposite of love to go against God’s will for the ordering of his church because God is love. God’s commands are for our good and therefore it’s good for the church if we go with God’s will for the way in which we are to be led. It’s good for us to do things God’s way; it’s actually bad for us to do things our way.

If we love the church, we’ll want to go with God’s word rather than with culture in this controversial and difficult area of the leadership of God’s church. The church of  the living God, that’s you and me, is called to be as Paul says in chapter 3 of 1 Timothy ‘the pillar and foundation of the truth’ (v15). May we be given grace to be that as we follow the Word and not the world.

Time for Chris Grayling to act for freedom of conscience appeared on Anglican Mainstream.

No church for old ladies appeared on VirtueOnline.

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

ANGLO-CATHOLICS IN DANGER OF DOING A BRAZIL

Sometimes it can be right to alienate one's own supporters if an important issue of Christ's truth is at stake, but Forward in Faith appears to be increasingly alienating its supporters for the wrong reason.

Cranmer's Curate had noticed some rather disturbing equivocations on the received biblical teaching of the Church on human sexuality in the FiF magazine New Directions in recent months, but a very incisive piece by a blogger with the priceless name of Balaam's Ass, posted by Anglican Mainstream - Gay Pride, Sex Discrimination and Anglo-Catholic Incoherence - has crystallised the issue.

Since losing some of its best and brightest leaders to the Ordinariate, the FiF high command has started openly flirting with the LGBT agenda, and this is causing consternation among Anglo-Catholic Christians in local churches.

The implications of this spiritual and moral drift in the FiF leadership are serious for conservative evangelical co-belligerency with Anglo-Catholics against the revisionist agenda in the Church of England. There has certainly been evidence of late that the Anglo-Catholics are proving unreliable allies.

At one diocesan synod motion on women bishops earlier this year, the Anglo-Catholics refused to vote, thus detaching themselves from their erstwhile conservative evangelical allies. The majority for would have been considerably smaller if the Anglo's had not chosen to do an ecclesiastical equivalent of last night's footballing performance by Brazil.

The Balaam's Ass piece concludes with this powerful analysis of the futility of Anglo-Catholic attempts to cosy up to the politically-correct neo-liberals now firmly in charge of the Church of England:
In the approach to the fateful meeting of the Church of England’s General Synod, beginning 11 July, all the signs indicate that, unlike the more numerous evangelical opponents to women bishops, ‘catholics’ will now only be offering a token resistance. Their hope appears to be a lasting, honoured place in the bosom of the liberal Establishment. But toleration will not be extended to them for long – not because of their glaring theological incoherence – today’s Church of England does not have a serious concern for theology – but because no amount of ‘gay pride’ will be able to absolve them of the unforgivable sin of ‘sex discrimination’. With no allies at home or abroad and with nowhere else to go, the forward march already begun can lead to only one destination: complete absorption.
This piece on Anglican Mainstream by Dr Martin Davie - Why disagreement is not good - is important at this juncture for the Church of England.

Thursday, 3 July 2014

TIME TO BRING PHILLIP JENSEN IN FROM THE COLD

Since the Dean of St Andrew's Sydney, the Very Revd Phillip Jensen, caused a media storm at the Reform national conference in 2004 when he accused the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, of 'theological prostitution', invitations to speak in the UK have somewhat dwindled.

But now is very arguably the time for Reformed Anglicans in England to bring him back in from the cold. There are three main reasons for this:

1). Whilst our constituency should never boast about its leaders - that is to be unspiritual and immature as the Apostle Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians - Mr Jensen is a very gifted Bible teacher, as demonstrated in his article in the summer edition of the Australian evangelical magazine,  The Briefing.

Using as a launchpad a politician's complaint that no preacher has ever explained to him why Jesus' sacrificial death was necessary, Mr Jensen issued a beautifully clear and biblically faithful exposition of how both the justice and the mercy of God were necessarily demonstrated in the Cross of Christ.

As can be the nature of those on the high ability end, sometimes his arguments can be over-involved and complicated and there was evidence of that in the Reform debacle. But this Christian brother has a great teaching gift, which we need in these very difficult and confusing times for Anglican evangelicals in the Church of England.

2). He is due to be retiring next year as Dean of Sydney as he reaches 70, according to this 2009  article in The Sydney Morning Herald.  He should in theory therefore have more time to prepare and be God willing more judicious in his addresses to UK evangelicals, whilst packing a punch and encouraging us to think and act imaginatively.

3). With his gifts and experience, he could be of real assistance in helping to raise the profile of the new Anglican Mission in England.  Because the Church of England is now being led into serious potential disorder and immorality, this body is poised to become crucially important for the provision of loving biblical ministry for Anglican evangelical churches, particularly small ones, both currently within the Church of England and without.

So, a concrete suggestion from a jobsworth curate in the north of England: for 2015 Mr Jensen is invited to take part in a national AMiE speaking tour with opportunity for local church members and pastors to seek practical advice about the evangelical future of their churches.

This is not an Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra come-back tour - to think of it like that would be worldly and personality cultish - but unleashing Phillip Jensen at this juncture could be of real service to the cause of the true biblical Lord Jesus Christ in these terrible times for the Church of England.

Monday, 30 June 2014

WHY CHRISTIANS SHOULD BE BUCKING THE OVERWEIGHT TREND

Is Cranmer's Curate the only one who finds it difficult to listen to a preacher who is overweight? However brilliant the sermon may be, and cc has heard some really good ones from fat preachers, he cannot help thinking: ‘Who ate all the pies?'

Essential medication can cause us to put on weight and metabolisms of course differ. But most of the time we get fat because we have chosen to eat too much generally and specifically too many sweet things. And when we make that decision to eat too much and get fat, we involve other people in the problem - our families, friends, work colleagues and - as being overweight takes its toll on our bodies -  the NHS.

Worst of all, it is a bad witness to our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

On a personal moral level, the solution is simple though difficult to implement. When asked how he had managed to lose so much weight, a vicar friend of cc's replied: ‘Eat less.’ 

Getting overweight can be a problem for us clergy because we work at home and the fridge can unfortunately lure in between meals.

It is right to expect that we Christians in whom God has placed his Holy Spirit will be bucking the overweight trend. The Apostle Paul describes the Holy Spirit in 2 Timothy as the Spirit of  'power and love and self-control' (1v7). In Galatians, he includes self-control amongst the fruit of the Spirit (5v23). 

And though Paul issues his injunction is 1 Corinthians 6v20 - 'you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body' (RSV) -  in the context of avoiding sexual immorality, it is clearly not glorifying God in our bodies to get overweight.

Surely a vital evidence that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ is powerfully at work in those he is going to raise up on the Last Day is that we are thinner than the present Western world. 

That means 'who ate all the pies?' should not be springing to mind when a man called to set the church of God an example gets up to preach the Word that saves us.

Monday, 23 June 2014

CHRISTIAN TAKE ON TURMOIL AT INDEX ON CENSORSHIP

The true God is the most effective opponent of dictators there is. That is the main reason why it matters that there is turmoil at freedom of speech group Index on Censorship over the appointment of Hacked Off campaigner Steve Coogan as one of its patrons.

It would appear from Richard Pendlebury’s investigation in Friday’s Daily Mail into the circumstances of Mr Coogan’s appointment, leading to the resignation of Private Eye editor Ian Hislop as a patron, that Index has been under funding pressure because of its opposition to the Leveson Report.

Leveson is worrying from a Christian perspective because it is part of a cultural climate that works to suppress the freedom to say things that can offend people. No one can read the Bible attentively without realising that it contains many things that are offensive to the politically correct mind-set.

Index is a not a Christian charity but that is not the point here. The Bible was driven underground under the Soviet regime against whose suppression of freedom of expression Index campaigned so effectively. By exposing the regime’s abuses and giving Soviet dissidents a platform to speak their minds, Index contributed to taking the Marxist-Leninist gag off God. It is noteworthy that Christians were at the forefront of the liberalisation of Eastern Europe from Communist dictatorship.

Contemplating Leveson and the cultural climate it represents, it is important to remember that Jesus Christ got into trouble with the authorities not for leading a political or military rebellion but because of the spiritual things he said. For example, Matthew’s Gospel relates how the religious and social leaders of 1st century Judea took offence at Jesus’ parables about the Kingdom of God: ‘And when the chief priests and the Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them. But when they sought to lay hands on him, they feared the multitude, because they took him for a prophet’ (Matthew 21v45-46 – Authorised Version).

Eventually the religious leaders managed to circumvent public opinion and arrange for Jesus to be crucified, even getting the easily-swayed crowd on their side. And at his trial it was things he was alleged to have said that featured.

As the great 17th century hymn My Song is Love Unknown puts it: ‘Sometimes they strew His way, and His sweet praises sing…Then: “Crucify!” is all their breath, and for His death they thirst and cry.’

Dictatorships always try to silence God, allowing him to speak only when he can be heard as agreeing with them. That applies to ‘Christian’ dictators too. God willing, He will not allow Himself to be gagged in 21st century Britain. But the move by Index on Censorship to associate itself with a celebrity campaigner for State regulation of the press does not bode well for Christian freedom of expression in the UK.