Sunday, 25 January 2015

CURATE'S FAREWELL TO THE YOUTH GROUP

Cranmer's Curate says farewell to the youth group. It has been an honour to serve you these past six years, particularly those members committed to loving and serving the Body of Christ meeting in local churches.

After all, the fellowship of believers in the Lord Jesus Christ meeting regularly and locally is the most significant gathering of people anywhere in the world. As the Apostle Paul put it in Ephesians 3, the church is the people through whom 'the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places' (v10 - RSV). It is therefore an astonishing privilege to belong to it and to serve it, a privilege purchased by the precious blood of Christ.

Your curate likes to think he is not riding off into the sunset on his hobby horse. God willing, he will have time for occasional confessing Anglican writing in other media. The blog remains up but cc is not posting any more,

He leaves the youth group with the Book of Common Prayer Collect concerning the conversion of Paul, which the Church of England commemorates today. It surely serves as an urgent prayer for Britain's churches:
O God, who through the preaching of the blessed Apostle Saint Paul, hast caused the light of the Gospel to shine throughout the world: Grant, we beseech thee, that we, having his wonderful conversion in remembrance, may shew forth our thankfulness unto thee for the same, by following the holy doctrine which he taught; through Jesus Christ our Lord. 
This piece about the Apostle Paul appeared on The Conservative Woman.

Tuesday, 20 January 2015

REFRESHING SPIRITUAL CLARITY FROM BOB DYLAN'S PRECIOUS ANGEL

Precious Angel, probably the best song on Bob Dylan's 1979 album Slow Train Coming, is so refreshing for its spiritual clarity in these days of watered-down Christianity. Your curate first listened to it shortly after he became a Christian in 1983 and has recently revisited it after stumbling across an old CD:
Now there's spiritual warfare and flesh and blood breaking down. You either got faith or unbelief and there ain't no neutral ground.
Mr Dylan also appeared to anticipate the multi-faith genuflections of the Western church:
Sister, lemme tell you about a vision that I saw. You were drawing water for your husband, you were suffering under the law. You were telling them about Buddha, you were telling them about Mohammed in one breath. You never mentioned one time the Man who came and died a criminal's death.
Such spiritual clarity from cc's early days as a Christian seems to tie in with his current daily Bible reading journey through Revelation. The Lord Jesus commends the church at Ephesus for their patient endurance and their hatred of false teaching but rebukes them for abandoning the love they had at first (Revelation 3v2-4).

A scriptural warning that must be taken seriously by a middle-aged evangelical Christian, who's been slugging it out in the trenches of a rapidly de-Christianising culture and a liberalising denomination.

Surely part of what is involved in keeping the fire of one's first love burning is constantly to remember where one would be without the Lord Jesus. Precious Angel certainly gets that across with a powerful allusion from Revelation 9v6:
My so-called friends have fallen under a spell. They look me squarely in the eye and say, 'All is well.' Can they imagine the darkness that will fall from on high when men will beg God to kill them and they won't be able to die?

Enhanced by the wonderful guitar playing of Mark Knopfler, Precious Angel has been a welcome guest in the car CD player,

Saturday, 17 January 2015

A USEFUL GUIDE FOR BUSY PASTORS ABOUT ISLAMISM

For busy pastors who want to get better educated about Islamist extremism, Martin Amis's 2008 book, The Second Plane, September 11: 2001-2007 (Jonathan Cape, 208 pages), is most helpful.

It is a collection of 14 pieces, two short stories and 12 essays and reviews. Mr Amis, who describes himself as an agnostic, is a gifted teacher. He provides useful facts about the rise of Islamist extremism in the 20th century in the course of his stimulating and lively discourses.

Terror and Boredom: The Dependent Mind, originally published in The Observer in 2006, is particularly useful for frontline clergy who want to be able to answer people's questions about Islamism and the mentality underlying it. It cannot of course substitute for a pastor's own thinking and theological reflection but it is a useful mental pump-primer. Here is a flavour:
Suicide mass-murder is more than terrorism: it is horrorism. It is maximum malevolence. For the suicide mass-murderer asks his prospective victims to contemplate their fellow human being with a completely new order of execration. It is not like looking down the barrel of a gun (p71).

And:
Pathological mass movements are sustained by 'dreams of omnipotence and sadism', in Robert Jay Lifton's phrase. That is usually enough. Islamism adds a third inducement to its warriors: a heavenly immortality that begins even before the moment of extinction (p80-81).
The fruits of Mr Amis's deep thinking about the totalitarian mind, which took brilliant expression in his 2002 masterpiece about Stalin's regime, Koba the Dread, are evident in this book.

The Second Plane would be a better book if Mr Amis were a Christian. He would have more searching questions to put to the death-loving, humanity-hating mindset of the Islamist, none better than the Lord Jesus Christ's question to the Pharisees when they objected to him healing a man on the Sabbath:
I ask you, which is lawful to do on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it? (Luke 6v9 - NIV).
The true nature of the prophets appeared on The Conservative Woman.

Sunday, 11 January 2015

PLAYING SECOND FIDDLE IN A WORLD OF GLORY BOYS

The Revd Jonathan Fletcher's review of John Stott's Right Hand - The Untold Story of Frances Whitehead by Julia Cameron raises important issues about ministry.

In his Evangelicals Now piece, Superb Second Fiddle, Mr Fletcher writes:
In today's world - even in Christian circles - all seem to 'big themselves up'. So a secretary becomes a 'Personal Assistant' (or PA), even curates have to be 'Minister for Families', or 'for Youth'. Rarely are they told these days that their task is not to carve out a ministry for themselves, but to enable and enhance the senior pastor in his ministry (EN, January 2015, p25).
Well, we curates now have been and should thank God for the godly admonition not to be glory boys. Yes, the Christian orchestra does need more 'second violinists'.

Miss Whitehead herself was clearly a most effective minister as John Stott's secretary. The late Dr Stott himself was an exemplary servant of the Lord Jesus Christ and of His precious people. The following reflections about right hand ministries are not in any way directed at her or him.
  • The right hand minister to a senior pastor has to beware of the potential ego trip involved in being close to the leader.  The right hand person can come to enjoy exercising power in controlling access to the maestro and making others aware that they have been included in confidences and possess secrets.
  • The right hand minister should be aware that the leader has a sinful nature himself and should be careful not to enable an ego trip for him or in worst case scenarios the abuse of those he is supposed to be serving.  The right hand has a responsibility always to be mindful that the pastoral leader is a servant of Christ and His people. The right hand must not turn into a bullying fist.
  • The right hand minister needs support and wider accountability in their own ministry for Christ, particularly if it is high pressure and intensive. A second violinist role is a ministry in its own right and deserves prayerful back-up from the Christian community.
A right hand ministry can be very satisfying and fulfilling. Right hand ministers should remember to pray for pastors in smaller churches who often lack the supportive ministry they are able to exercise for their pastors. A significant and lonely challenge for small church pastors is often the responsibility to resist ego-trippers in their own congregations for the sake of the gospel.

 The Apostle Paul's admonition in Romans 12 is pertinent to every servant of Christ in His body:
For by the grace of God given to me I bid every one among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith which God has assigned him, For as in one body we have many members, and all the members do not have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another (v3-5 - RSV).

Thursday, 8 January 2015

WHY I AM NOT NEGOTIATING ON CHRISTIAN SEXUAL MORALITY

To those who say the Reform voice should be heard in the House of Bishops' facilitated conversations on human sexuality in order to maintain the unity of the Spirit among disagreeing Anglicans, your curate would respectfully respond as follows:  
Biblical sexual morality is a first order issue on which all of us who profess Christian faith are called to holiness. Negotiating on this would surely be contrary to the Apostle Paul’s teaching in Ephesians 5 when he commanded that within the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ ‘fornication and impurity of any kind, or greed, must not even be mentioned among you, as is proper among saints’ (v3 – NRSV).  He went on to say in v5:
Be sure of this, that no fornicator or impure person, or one who is greedy (that is, an idolater), has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.
As is clearly recognised in our Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer in its Solemnization of Holy Matrimony, fornication is defined biblically as any form of sexual intercourse outside of heterosexual marriage.
In the light of Paul’s instructions in Ephesians 5, it is clear that, when he exhorted the Church in Ephesians 4 ‘to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace’, he expected such unity to be firmly grounded in Apostolic truth and its ethical entailments. The choice by professing Christians to reject Apostolic truth in important spiritual and ethical matters addressed by the New Testament is thus by its very nature antithetical to the unity of the Spirit and disruptive of it.
To apply this to the facilitated conversations, in which the voices of those who have departed from the truth of the New Testament on human sexuality are being treated as legitimately Christian, surely it would not be maintaining the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace to participate. For the same reason, it would not be right to participate in any ecclesiastical negotiation in which equivocations about the biblical doctrine of the Trinity were accepted as Christian.
By God’s grace, there are other ways in which the orthodox Anglican voice can be heard - through preaching, synodical debate at which a vote to uphold the received teaching of the Church is offered and in the media. These ways do not involve negotiating but rather contending for biblical truth.

Friday, 2 January 2015

EXODUS BLOCKBUSTER ONLY USEFUL AS SPOT-THE-ERROR TEACHING TOOL

The errors in the acclaimed film Exodus: Gods and Kings could be instructive in local church teenage groups and for adults who might benefit from a popular cultural spur to test their biblical knowledge.

The first howler, which is certainly intentional, comes in the opening caption when the film locates the action in the secular Before Common Era (1300 BCE).  This may succeed in wafting an air of postmodern uncertainty around traditional religious belief from the start but, in a film that owes its existence to the Exodus narrative, it dishonours its primary source.

Because the Exodus story has been mediated to most of the world through the Christian Bible, which includes both Testaments, BC has got to be the rightful owner even if the film's makers are not practising Christians. BCE is like a skull and crossbones on an ambulance.

This error would be a good lead in to discussing the role of the Exodus story in foreshadowing God's everlasting deliverance of his people from sin and death and hell through the death and resurrection of the divine Saviour snubbed in the film, the Lord Jesus Christ.

The film's portrayal of the God of the Israelites would also be a useful discussion point. Even though he calls himself 'I am', he is manifestly not Yahweh, the true Lord of all creation who spoke to Moses from the burning bush. Robbie Collin, reviewing the film enthusiastically for The Telegraph, describes him as
a child rolling dice. The prophet Moses, who’s played by Christian Bale, first meets Him on the flanks of Mount Sinai, which looks less like the serene outcrop in DeMille’s The Ten Commandments than King Lear’s blasted heath.

A storm has blown up, and suddenly a landslide tears Moses’ feet out from under him, while a shower of rocks comes crashing down on his head, knocking him out cold. What follows is either a delusion or a vision – not that the film sees a need to differentiate between the two.

He’s submerged up to his ears in black mud, while a bush close by is engulfed in blue-white flame. Beside it is a child, crop-haired and spindly, with a smile that’s impossible to read. He’s hunkered down beside a rock, stacking a handful of dice made of knucklebones in the shape of a stepped pyramid, and commands Moses to return to Egypt and set his people free.

It is incongruous that this postmodern caricature of the God of the Hebrews should issue Moses with the absolute spiritual and moral rule of the Ten Commandments. The film portrays this, sort of, but in it the child asks for Moses's agreement.

At least, the film presents the ten plagues of the Exodus narrative. But it is so unfaithful to the Bible that its only real spiritual use is as a spot-the-error teaching tool.

A version of this piece appeared on The Conservative Woman.

Monday, 15 December 2014

WHY NO REFORM MINISTER SHOULD ACCEPT THE 'HEADSHIP' SEE OF MAIDSTONE

Cranmer's Curate has been moved to interrupt his blogging break by the news that the next Bishop of Maidstone is to be a conservative evangelical with a national role:

Whilst the decision by the Church of England’s Dioceses Commission to fill the vacant suffragan See of Maidstone with a conservative evangelical ’flying’ bishop is well-intended and generous, here are three reasons why no minister who holds to the biblical view of male headship should accept the post:

1). Maidstone is expected to be a delegate for conservative evangelicals in the Church of England. The official press release announcing the move may have described him as an ‘advocate’ for those who hold ‘a conservative position on headship’ but the expectation is that he would represent in the College of Bishops those conservative evangelical churches that have appealed for his oversight, most of which would be affiliated to Reform or Church Society or both.

Biblically, minister as delegate is surely problematic. Ministers are called to be pastoral and prophetic according to the Apostle Paul’s Pastoral Epistles, whose teaching is so faithfully reflected in the Book of Common Prayer’s Ordinal. In this New Testament light, Christ’s ministers owe those in their pastoral care their loving, biblically-grounded, godly judgement, not their democratic obedience. The representative expectation on Maidstone would therefore appear to be theologically flawed from the start.

2). Maidstone’s roving national role from a base in the south of England would make it almost impossible for him to form meaningful pastoral relationships with the churches and ministers he is responsible for around the country.  That would be to some extent mitigated if a headship bishop were appointed for the north of England but Maidstone would still have to cover a lot of geographical ground. This would make it difficult for him to be rooted in a local church and inevitably over time he would begin to find his personal support and friendship among his fellow bishops.
  
Those bishops who befriended him and became his peers would hold to a variety of theological views, some of which contradicted the Church of England’s 39 Articles of Religion. Thus the headship bishop would become part of an institutional plausibility structure that prizes theological diversity over confessional commitment to the biblical and Reformed doctrine of the Church of England.

3). Maidstone might allow conservative evangelical churches to avoid a challenge that very arguably it would be good for them to have to meet once women diocesan bishops are appointed. Without a conservative evangelical ‘flying’ bishop to oversee them individually, local churches could well sense a more pressing need to form mission partnerships with other headship churches in their region.

These partnerships could provide a solid regional foundation for a confessing Anglican Province in England. Such a development, which could be facilitated by the Anglican Mission in England, would no doubt be messy and difficult for churches faced with losing their buildings and ministers losing their homes. But it could have the effect of mobilising local Anglican churches for the Lord Jesus Christ’s ministry and mission in ways that would never have happened whilst they were safe and comfortable.

This also appeared on VirtueOnline in the US. 

This piece about the Book of Common Prayer Collect for the Fourth Sunday of Advent appeared on The Conservative Woman.

This piece about the Archbishop of Canterbury's interview on the BBC's Desert Island Discs appeared on VirtueOnline.