Friday, November 14, 2014

Andrew Wilson's brilliant parody has the heretics squealing. . .

. . . like the pigs they are. Folks, it just doesn't get any better than this:
For as long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to worship idols. It’s not that my parents raised me that way, because they didn’t; I was brought up in a loving, secure, Christian home. But from childhood until today, my heart has been drawn to idolatry. In fact, if I’m honest, one of the defining features of my identity has been my desire to put something else – popularity, money, influence, sex, success – in place of God.

That’s just who I am.

For many years, I was taught that idolatry was sinful. As a good Christian, I fought the desire to commit idolatry, and repented when I got it wrong. But the desire to worship idols never went away.

I wanted it to, but it didn’t.

So it has been such a blessing to discover that worshipping one God, and him alone, isn’t for everyone. There are thousands of Christians out there who have found faithful, loving ways of expressing worship both to God and to idols, without compromising either their faith or their view of Scripture. In recent years, I have finally summoned the courage to admit that I am one of them. Let me give you a few reasons why I believe that idolatry and Christianity are compatible.

I start with my own story, and the stories of many others like me. I am an evangelical, and I have a very high view of the Bible – I am currently studying for a PhD in biblical studies at King’s College London, which will be my third theology degree – as well as knowing both the ancient languages and the state of scholarly research. Yet, after much prayerful study, I have discovered the liberating truth that it is possible to be an idolatrous Christian. That, at least, is evidence that you can be an evangelical and an idolater.

Not only that, but a number of evangelical writers have been challenging the monolatrous narrative in a series of scholarly books. A number of these provide a powerful case for listening to the diversity of the ancient witnesses in their original contexts, and call for a Christlike approach of humility, openness and inclusion towards our idolatrous brothers and sisters.

Some, on hearing this, will of course want to rush straight to the “clobber passages” in Paul’s letters (which we will consider in a moment), in a bid to secure the fundamentalist ramparts and shut down future dialogue. But as we consider the scriptural material, two things stand out. Firstly, the vast majority of references to idols and idolatry in the Bible come in the Old Testament – the same Old Testament that tells us we can’t eat shellfish or gather sticks on Saturdays. When advocates of monolatry eat bacon sandwiches and drive cars at the weekend, they indicate that we should move beyond Old Testament commandments in the new covenant, and rightly so.

Secondly, and even more significantly, we need to read the whole Bible with reference to the approach of Jesus. To be a Christian is to be a Jesus-person: one whose life is based on his priorities, not on the priorities of subsequent theologians. And when we look at Jesus, we notice that he welcomed everyone who came to him, including those people that the (one-God worshipping) religious leaders rejected – and that Jesus said absolutely nothing about idols in any of the four Gospels. Conservative theologians, many of whom are friends of mine, often miss this point in the cut-and-thrust of debate, but for those who love Jesus, it should be at the very heart of the discussion.

Jesus had no problem with idolatry.

He included everyone, however many gods they worshipped.

If we want to be like him, then we should adopt the same inclusive approach.

We should also remember that, as we have discovered more about the human brain, we have found out all sorts of things about idolatry that the biblical writers simply did not know. The prophets and apostles knew nothing of cortexes and neurons, and had no idea that some people are pre-wired to commit idolatry, so they never talked about it. But as we have learned more about genetics, neural pathways, hormones and so on, we have come to realise that some tendencies - alcoholism, for example - scientifically result from the way we are made, and therefore cannot be the basis for moral disapproval or condemnation. To disregard the findings of science on this point is like continuing to insist that the world is flat.

With all of these preliminary ideas in place, we can finally turn to Paul, who has sadly been used as a judgmental battering ram by monolaters for centuries. When we do, what immediately strikes us is that in the ultimate “clobber passage”, namely Romans 1, the problem isn’t really idol-worship at all! The problem, as Paul puts it, is not that people worship idols, but that they “exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images” (1:23). Paul isn’t talking about people who are idolatrous by nature. He is talking about people who were naturally worshippers of Israel’s God, and exchanged it for the worship of idols. What else could the word “exchange” here possibly mean?

Not only that, but none of his references apply to idolatry as we know it today: putting something above God in our affections. Paul, as a Hellenistic Roman citizen, simply would not have had a category for that kind of thing. In his world, idolatry meant physically bowing down to tribal or household deities – statues and images made of bronze or wood or stone – and as such, the worship of power or money or sex or popularity had nothing to do with his prohibitions. (Some see an exception in the way he talks about coveting as idolatry in Ephesians 5:5 and Colossians 3:5, but these obviously reflect his desire, as a first century Jew, to honour the Ten Commandments.)

In other words, when Paul talks about idolatry, he is not talking about the worship of idols as we know it today. As a Christ-follower, he would be just as horrified as Jesus if he saw the way his words have been twisted to exclude modern idolaters like me, and like many friends of mine. For centuries, the church has silenced the voice of idolaters (just like it has silenced the voice of slaves, and women), and it is about time we recognised that neither Jesus, nor Paul, had any problem with idolatry.

Obviously this is a contribution to an ongoing conversation, rather than the last word on the subject. But I hope you will all search the scriptures, search your hearts, and consider the evidence afresh - and avoid judging those who disagree in the meantime! Maybe, just maybe, we can make space in the church for those who, like me, have spent a lifetime wrestling with the challenge of idolatry.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Still relevant: Peter Berger on American apostasy

It has been over a quarter of a century since Peter L. Berger delivered his 1987 Erasmus Lecture entitled, "Different Gospels: The Social Sources of American Apostasy." While the social, religious, and political landscape were somewhat different at the time, his observations on the not so rosy state of the American church, particularly its mainline Protestant franchises, remain astoundingly relevant today. Consider his caution against blurring the lines between the temporal and eternal realms, particularly good advice on this election day.
If we are liberated by faith, we act in the full knowledge of the precariousness and tragic unpredictability of all human projects. Most important, we act in this world not to be saved, not to attain some perfect purity or justice (which goals are not attainable), but to be of specific and necessarily limited service to others. Paul addresses himself to the Galatians on this issue when he insists that the freedom of the Christian is to be used as an opportunity for service, in love of one's neighbor (Gal. 5:13-14). Let me put this in terms as worldly as I can find: we get no moral brownie points for good intentions or noble goals. The moral measure of actions is their probable consequences for others. This is especially so in the case of political actions, because this is a category of actions with particularly unpredictable and potentially disastrous consequences. Precisely because of this, we are most likely to be effective politically (effective, that is, in being of service to our neighbors) if we ground ourselves in a realm beyond politics, thus becoming free to deal with political reality soberly and pragmatically. We cannot do this if we look on politics as the realm of redemption.
Elsewhere, he relates a personal story to illustrate how churches which immerse themselves in political agendas lose sight of the things that matter most.
Some time ago a friend of mine went through a very difficult period when it was suspected that he might be suffering from cancer. It turned out later that this was not the case, but during this anxiety-ridden period neither he nor his family was given any attention by the clergy or the active members of his congregation. This is a congregation famous for its social and political activism. No one was interested in what, compared with the allegedly great historic challenges or our age, was the trivial matter of one man's fear of pain and death. The people of this congregation had more important things to do--attacking the "root causes" of hunger by lobbying in Washington, organizing to "show solidarity" with Nicaragua, going on record ("making a moral stand") against apartheid. My friend says that during this time he felt like an invisible man in that congregation. Needless to say, this is a congregation that religiously employs "inclusive language." (Again, I can hear some mutterings: Can one not lobby in Washington and also minister to the sick? Perhaps. In this case, the first activity precluded the second. And one may reflect that it is easier to love people in distant lands than people next door.)

Monday, November 3, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: SCOTUS denies ECUSA petition


Wonderful news, via Anglican Curmudgeon:
Today the Supreme Court of the United States issued its order denying (without opinion) review ("certiorari") of the decisions rendered last September by the Supreme Court of Texas in the Fort Worth and San Angelo cases (previously discussed here and here).

The order was expected, because neither decision by the Texas Supreme Court was final. The U. S. Supreme Court almost never agrees to review lower court decisions until they are final. In these two cases, the Fort Worth matter was sent back to Judge Chupp's court for a trial, and the Church of the Good Shepherd case was likewise sent back to the trial court in San Angelo for further proceedings.

The action by SCOTUS now frees both of those cases to move ahead.

In Fort Worth, Bishop Iker's attorneys have filed a motion for summary judgment which is scheduled for a hearing in December. Given the decision by the Texas Supreme Court, the only question remaining for the trial court to decide is whether or not ECUSA managed to create a valid trust in the Diocese's property which the Diocese did not revoke when it decided to withdraw in 2008. In Texas all trusts are deemed to be fully revocable at any time, unless the language creating the trust states otherwise.

ECUSA earlier claimed that its Dennis Canon imposed a trust upon each parish property whose title was held by Bishop Iker's corporate Diocese of Fort Worth, as well as on the Diocese's own property. But the Texas Supreme Court ruled that any Dennis Canon trust was not expressly irrevocable, and so the withdrawal of the Diocese and its associated parishes from the Episcopal Church (USA) effectively revoked any such trust.

Given that ruling, therefore, the outcome of Bishop Iker's summary judgment motion should be a foregone conclusion: there are simply no disputed facts requiring a trial. ECUSA did not ever try to impose an irrevocable trust in so many words, and its arguments that irrevocability was implied in its Dennis Canon, or alternatively in its long-standing relationships with its dioceses, will not meet the requirements of Texas' trust statute.

Once the Texas District Court grants summary judgment, the rump Diocese and ECUSA will of course be able to appeal, and could try again to raise the same grounds they urged before SCOTUS -- only now with a final judgment behind them. But the odds of succeeding with any such appeal will be long indeed, given that the U.S. Supreme Court has now rejected petitions for review in four recent cases (Connecticut, Georgia, Virginia, and Texas).

The same result should obtain in the Good Shepherd case from San Angelo, involving the Diocese of Northwest Texas. That parish effectively revoked any trust established by ECUSA's Dennis Canon when it decided to withdraw from the Diocese, and there is no evidence of any other irrevocable trust ever imposed on its property.

In front of SCOTUS, ECUSA and the Diocese of Northwest Texas tried to argue that the Texas Supreme Court's decisions, which adopted the "neutral principles" approach endorsed in the 1979 decision of Jones v. Wolf, caught them by surprise. However, it has been 35 years since Jones v. Wolf was decided, and the overwhelming majority of State courts now follow that case in deciding religious property disputes.

ECUSA's petition also mounted a frontal attack on the (5-4) Jones decision and its endorsement of the "neutral principles" approach. The national Church contended that the sanctioning of that approach, by which the courts do not simply defer to its authority, but actually dig down and examine deeds, chains of title, and governing documents and rules, interfered with its "free exercise" of its religion under the First Amendment. (As though, one notes, the holding of property and wealth could ever be a religion -- nevertheless, if there were ever any American church to profess such a religion, it would certainly be ECUSA.)

Neither argument -- the attack on Jones, or the one from surprise -- carries much weight, and neither persuaded the justices of SCOTUS (even though ECUSA had seen fit to hire a former U.S. Solicitor General, Neal Katyal, to write its petition to the Court). Intermediate Texas courts -- if not the Texas Supreme Court itself -- had been applying "neutral principles" for quite some time. Moreover, ECUSA itself admittedly tried to implement the Jones v. Wolf scheme by hurriedly enacting its Dennis Canon within just a month or so of the decision. So its claim to have been taken by surprise rang rather hollow. And in passing its Dennis Canon, it neglected to include the language which Texas law requires about irrevocability (as well as ignoring certain other points in the Jones majority opinion -- see this post for details).

While we await the decision of the Illinois Supreme Court as to whether it will agree to review the Diocese of Quincy decision, it could happen, therefore, that Texas will become the first State after South Carolina to make the Dennis Canon absolutely a dead letter there. The trial judge in South Carolina is also due to render a decision in a few weeks -- which will not turn upon the Dennis Canon as much as it will involve issues of religious corporation law.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Revelation: The power of prayer


I have had several requests to post the sermon on Revelation 8, which I preached last Wednesday during our mid-week service. So here it is, by popular demand. Be forewarned: I do have a little bout with a cough about midway through.

Midweek sermon, Wednesday, 22 October 2014


Saturday, October 25, 2014

October Pastoral Letter from GAFCON Chairman

My dear brothers and sisters,

Greetings in the precious name of our Risen Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ!

It is my great joy to be writing to you twelve months after GAFCON 2 here in Nairobi! Please join with me in giving thanks to God for the great blessing of that wonderful time of fellowship, teaching and renewal. Despite many challenges, we brought together 1358 delegates, including 331 bishops, from 39 countries – and we paid all the bills! We eagerly look forward to GAFCON 3, but in the meantime there is much work for us to do.

The recent news that Lambeth 2018 has been postponed, perhaps indefinitely, is the latest sign that the old institutions of the Communion no longer command confidence. We must remember that the fundamental reason for this is doctrinal. We are divided because the Faith is threatened by unbiblical teaching.

In contrast, GAFCON 2 demonstrated that we were emerging as a new and effective ‘instrument of unity’ for the Anglican Communion. Nearly twelve months later, that reality was underlined at the investiture of Archbishop Foley Beach as the second Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America by the Primates gathered in Atlanta, representing GAFCON and the Anglican Global South, receiving him as a Primate of the Anglican Communion.

Speaking shortly after that historic service I said ‘It is a sign of great hope for the Gospel in the world. It is not a small thing that has happened’. There was no need for us to be reminded of the reasons why GAFCON had called the Anglican Church in North America into being five years ago because the investiture demonstrated that the realignment of the Anglican Communion is now established and unstoppable.

Anglicans around the globe are now affirming this fact. Last month the Provincial Synod of the Anglican Church of Kenya unanimously approved a resolution to be in formal partnership with the GAFCON movement. Then just before the investiture, the Synod of the Diocese of North West Australia passed a resolution recognizing ‘the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) as a member church of the Anglican Communion, in full communion with Diocese of North West Australia’. Shortly afterwards, the Synod of the Diocese of Sydney passed a resolution which recognized ‘that GAFCON is an emerging instrument of communion when others have failed to provide the well needed leadership’ and stated ‘recognizing Synod’s desire to be in full communion with the ACNA.….Synod congratulates the Most Reverend Foley Beach on his consecration as Archbishop to the ACNA.’

The task before us now therefore is that of rebuilding, developing institutions and networks which help rather than hinder the proclamation of the gospel and reflect the new thing God in his mercy is doing in the Anglican Communion. Recognizing this need, the Primates Council earlier this year authorized the establishment of a strengthened Secretariat, tasked with organizing the means by which the movement can grow in effectiveness as a worldwide fellowship.

I am therefore very pleased to be able to tell you that an important step forward has been taken by the appointment of Mr Philip Robinson as GAFCON Operations Manager with effect from 1st October following a career at senior level in major City of London financial institutions. He will be based in the UK and his initial focus will be the mobilization and growth of our global fellowship, including the launch of a contact programme to widen understanding of GAFCON’s leading role in the renewal and reform of the Anglican Communion.

Finally, let us be faithful in continuing to pray for those who are facing great hardships. The Ebola disease has already killed over 3,000 people, mainly in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, and poses a global threat. Pray for the bereaved, the sick and those who care for them and those working to find effective drugs and a vaccine. We must also pray steadfastly for Christian communities and other minorities suffering so terribly at the hands of militant Islamic movements, especially in Mosul and northern Iraq. It is estimated that so far this year the Islamic State has forced some 500,000 from their homes and taken the lives of over 12,000 civilians. Yet we are seeing a remarkably strong witness to Jesus Christ from Christians who have been through such loss and pain. As we thank God for their faithfulness, let us stand with them in prayer, in practical support, and by letting our voices be heard so that their plight is not forgotten.

Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, Primate of Kenya and Chairman of the GAFCON Primates Council

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ebola and Israel? A new low, even for John Hagee

It's hardly surprising that fear-monger John Hagee would weave the Ebola crisis into his apocalyptic narrative, but the manner in which he has done so is shameless even by his low standards.
Ebola may be part of God's judgment for President Barack Obama's alleged attempts to "divide Jerusalem," said John Hagee, a San Antonio-based pastor and founder of Christians United For Israel.

Citing the Book of Joel, the televangelist took to Tuesday's broadcast of the "Hagee Hotline" to tell listeners that "our president is dead set on dividing Jerusalem. God is watching and he will bring America into judgment," according to the left-leaning Right Wing Watch.

"There are grounds to say that judgment has already begun, because he, the president, has been fighting to divide Jerusalem for years now," Hagee said in a YouTube video posted by Right Wing Watch.

"We are now experiencing the crisis of Ebola," he said.

Hagee, who heads Cornerstone Church, added that threats from Islamic radicals and ongoing unrest in Ferguson, Missouri are all part of God's judgment on the United States in response to Obama's policies.
David Fischler at Stand Firm observes:
To say that people like Hagee bring disrepute upon the Christian faith when they make pronouncements like this is being generous. People who claim to know exactly what God’s specific actions are in response to specific human events are at least borderline blasphemous, and definitely Gnostic, by claiming that they know the mind of God in a way that the rest of us can’t. For them, the Scripture is just window-dressing for their politics, and God is simply their political consultant as they pursue their agendas. It’s as bad when done by conservatives as it is when its done by liberals, if not worse, since conservatives should know better.
Of course, calling Hagee a "conservative" is also being generous.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Ben Witherington talks eschatology

Two "Seven Minute Seminary" videos featuring Ben Witherington III, debunking the popular but unbiblical "rapture" theology of dispensationalism.




Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Dying Episcopal Church continues to claim South Carolina


The Episcopal Church (TEC), Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA), or whatever its name happens to be this week is a dying mainline denomination. That, of course, is not news. Lately, however, its steady decline has become a freefall, as Jeffrey Walton observes.

Statistical manipulation to hide the true depths of its decline has become something of an art form for TEC, but its latest bit of ecclesiastical gerrymandering is also a tacit admission of a very inconvenient reality.

The new numbers do not factor in the departure of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, of which the church continues to report over 28,000 members and over 12,000 attendees, despite the majority of South Carolina congregations severing their relationship with the Episcopal Church at the end of 2012. If South Carolina departures were factored in, the membership loss would be closer to 50,000 persons.

In the wake of South Carolina's departure, the TEC brass hastily cobbled together a rump entity known as "The Episcopal Church in South Carolina" consisting of the handful of low country parishes which chose to remain affiliated with the national denomination and a hodge podge of "worshiping communities" made up of disgruntled members of parishes which stayed with the Diocese. The tenuous nature of this enterprise is evident in the continued inclusion of membership numbers from the actual Diocese of South Carolina. If the numbers for the rump diocese were in any way comparable, they would be included instead. But, as the numbers from the faux Diocese of Forth Worth illustrate, "rebuilding" efforts are failing nationwide.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Justin Welby, eat your heart out! [UPDATED]

Photo Credit: Kevin Kallsen
George Conger, reporting for Anglican Ink from tonight's investiture service for Archbishop Foley Beach:
[Atlanta, GA] Pope Francis has communicated his personal greetings and blessings for the ministry of the Most Rev. Foley Beach, Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America [ACNA].

Speaking to the congregation of over 1500 gathered at the Church of the Apostles in Atlanta on 9 Oct 2014 for the installation of Archbishop Beach as leader of the ACNA, the Anglican Bishop of Argentina, the Rt. Rev. Gregory Venables stated that he had received a telephone call last week from "Fr Jorge", the former Cardinal Archbishop of Buenos Aires Jorge Bergoloio -- now Pope Francis. Bishop Venables noted that he had long had a warm personal relationship with Pope Francis from his days as leader of the Argentine Catholic Church, and added Anglicans should rejoice in the current occupant of the chair of St Peter as he was a "Bible-believing, born again Christian."

Pope Francis had telephoned Bishop Venables and asked him to convey his "personal greetings and congratulations as he leads his church in the very important job of revival ..." to Archbishop Beach.

Before the service, the Most Rev. Wilton Gregory, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Atlanta presented Archbishop Beach with a crozier as a mark of his esteem for the new Anglican archbishop.

The personal accolades of Pope Francis were greeted warmly by the congregation, and harkened to the words of support read out at the 2003 Plano Conference for conservative American Anglicans from the then Cardinal Josef Ratzinger, later Pope Benedict XVI.
It should be noted that Archbishop Beach also acknowledged personal greetings from the Archbishop of Canterbury but such a courtesy hardly covers for the damage done by Justin Welby's statements from last week.

UPDATE: More from George Conger on last night's service and a significant statement made by the Primates participating in the investiture.
The Anglican Church in North America is Anglican and its primate is an archbishop of the Anglican Communion, declared seven archbishops last night.

At the close of the prayer of investitute of the Most Rev. Foley Beach at the Church of the Apostles on 9 Oct 2014, the primates of Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda, Rwanda, Myanmar, Jerusalem and the Middle East and South America, and bishops representing the primates of the Congo, Sudan and South East Asia laid hands on Archbishop Beach. Giving him their primatial blessing, they also acknowledged him by word and through laying on of hands to be a fellow primate of the Anglican Communion.

The archbishops' act comes one week after the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby told the Church of Ireland Gazette the ACNA was an ecumenical partner of the Anglican Communion and was not Anglican.

In their formal statements of greeting delivered to the 1500 people attending the service at the Anglican megachurch led by Dr. Michael Youseff in suburban Atlanta, the primates offered greetings and congratulations to the new archbishop and expressed the fellowship of their churches with the ACNA, but declined to press home their statement that Archbishop Foley was a primate of the Anglican Communion.

After the service, those primates approached by Anglican Ink declined to be drawn on this issue. A leader of the ACNA familiar with the deliberations of the primates said the manner in which their endorsement of Archbishop Beach was given had been formulated to express their views on his status, while avoiding a direct confrontation with Archbishop Welby at this time.

Since 2008 the GAFCON primates have affirmed their fellowship with the ACNA. Last night saw primates of the Global South Coalition -- conservative church leaders outside the Gafcon movement and seen as closer to Canterbury -- join their African colleagues in validating publically the ACNA's Anglican credentials.

The signficance of the statement, said one highly placed source who asked not to be identified as he was not authorized to speak for his peers, was that the 10 churches had made their positions quite clear to Archbishop Welby. If, as he told the BBC last Sunday, he would be guided by the mind of the primates in deciding issues of Anglican ecclesiology (such as the time of the primates meeting and structure and timing of the Lambeth Conferences), then he must now know that archbishops representing the majority of Anglicans worshipping today were in solidarity with the ACNA -- and citing Daniel 6:15 said there was no turning back. (“Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no injunction or ordinance that the king establishes can be changed.”)

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Sydney Anglicans: Who or what defines the Anglican Communion?

The Rev. Dr. Mark Thompson of Moore Theological College and St. Andrews Cathedral, Sydney begs to differ with the presumptuous opinion of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
In an interview with the editor of the Church Of Ireland Gazette (Canon Ian Ellis), the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, has given his opinion on what defines a church as part of the Anglican Communion, and therefore, by implication, what is critical for Anglican identity.

In the interview he remarked that on his tour around the provinces of the Anglican Communion he has discovered that virtually everywhere the definition of being part of the Anglican Communion has been ‘being in communion with Canterbury’. He was, apparently, surprised to hear this, but it is equally clear he was glad to hear it. This is obvious when, a little further into the interview he insists that the Anglican Church of North of America (ACNA), is not a part of the Anglican Communion but a separate church. ACNA could be, and perhaps already is, an ecumenical partner with the Anglican Communion but it cannot be considered a member of the Anglican Communion because (and this last bit is the implication of what he said rather than his own words) it is not in communion with Canterbury, it has not been recognised by the Archbishop of Canterbury himself.

This is a gigantic slap in the face to the Primates who represent the vast bulk of practicing Anglicans around the world and who, meeting in London in April 2009, recognised the Anglican Church in North America ‘as genuinely Anglican’ and called on all Anglican Provinces to ‘affirm full communion with the ACNA’. The churches which make up this new province are very largely refugees from the Episcopal Church (TEC) and its liberal and extraordinarily litigious Presiding Bishop (Ms Katherine Jefferts Schori). Many have suffered the loss of their property and the vilification and deposition of their leaders but were prepared to endure this rather than surrender to the revisionist theology and practice of TEC.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s insistence on communion with his office as a—if not the—defining characteristic of Anglicanism ought to come as no surprise. It is an institutional and process-driven answer to the question of Anglican identity from one who has shown himself to be more comfortable thinking in those categories than in theological ones. It makes the matter a simple one, one which can avoid divisive questions about whether a particular group has remained faithful to the confessional formularies (the 39 Articles and the books of Homilies, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal) or obedient to the Scriptures in matters of theology and Christian discipleship. Of course, it is not hard to see why avoiding those questions is desirable, especially to someone committed to maintaining some semblance of unity in a global institution which has been tearing itself apart for the past thirty years or more. Archbishop Welby has an impressive record in dispute resolution and he knows that institutional inclusiveness is a more achievable goal than theological agreement and a common commitment to biblical patterns of discipleship.

We must deny categorically and in the strongest possible terms that communion with the see of Canterbury is the determining factor when it comes to Anglican identity. It is not and never can be. A church, diocese or national body does not have to be in communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury in order to be a legitimate member of the Anglican Communion, especially if a majority of other Anglicans around the world recognise it as part of our fellowship. Anglican identity is fundamentally a matter of certain theological commitments, anchored ultimately in the authority of Scripture as God’s word written (Article 20), together with an agreement to operate with a common pattern of church government (the threefold order of bishops, priests and deacons). The Anglican Church has always been confessional in nature, as witnessed by the history of subscription to the Articles, which began in the time of Cranmer and continues around the world today. Ordination for Sydney Anglicans, for instance, still includes wholehearted assent to the 39 Articles of Religion.

This does not mean that every genuinely Anglican province must express itself in both form and content in an identical way to every other province. There is room for cultural diversity and appropriate modification of the way we do things in order to communicate the gospel more effectively in our own particular context. The 39 Articles themselves envisage this: ‘It is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, or utterly alike; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times, and men’s manners, so that nothing be ordained against God’s word’ (Article 34). But it does mean that any genuine unity we have is a unity of confession and the practice of discipleship first and foremost, not an institutional unity. It cannot and must not be confused with appropriate respect given to an ancient office in the Church of England.

In 2009 the Primates who represent by far the majority of Anglicans worldwide accepted ACNA as genuinely Anglican. They did not all necessarily agree with everything ACNA was doing and there has been increasing occasion for comment in the years since. However, along with that other long-excluded but genuinely Anglican province, the Church of England in South Africa (or REACH South Africa, as it is now known), its acceptance is based most of all on a common confession and a common determination to live faithfully according to the Scriptures as disciples of Christ taking his message of life and hope to a lost world.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Baghdad: Baptisms continue despite terrorist threat


By ACNS staff

Christians in Baghdad are still being baptised despite the threat of execution by the radical Islamist group Islamic State* (IS) which is currently fighting to get to the Iraqi capital.

The Anglican priest who has served the beleaguered city for more than a decade, Canon Andrew White, today told ACNS he thought the threat posed by IS was actually one reason the believers wanted to be undergo baptism.

“People really wanted to demonstrate their faith and that’s good,” he said. Publicly identifying oneself as a Christian is a particularly courageous move in a country where IS has been intentionally targeting religious minorities.

In towns they have captured IS fighters daub the Arabic letter ‘N’ (for Nazarene) on the homes of Christians. The occupants are offered the choice of leaving, paying a massive tax, converting to Islam or being murdered.

The mother and four young children who were baptised today had been brought up Christian, but from a mixed Christian/Muslim background. Canon White did not want to say more about them for fear of reprisals from IS supporters; that afternoon he had travelled to centre of Baghdad, where Saddam Hussein’s statue had once stood: “I was quite horrified to see that flying from that plinth was an ISIS flag.”

Despite this, the man nicknamed the Vicar of Baghdad rejoiced in the chance to carry on his priestly ministry in Iraq: “It was lovely baptising them and the children were so excited. One little boy came up to me and said, ‘I feel like a new person now’ and I told him, ‘You are’.

“In the midst of such a desperate situation it was wonderful to have something which was so nice.”

Canon White explained that his church, St George’s, once had a congregation of around 1,000. “On Sunday we only had 160. That’s because so many of our people have gone up north.**”

Despite the dwindling numbers and the possibility that IS could arrive in Baghdad at any time, Canon White is determined to continue his ministry for Christians in the capital and in Erbil where he and staff are delivering much needed-relief supplies.

“Thousands upon thousands of people remain Internally Displaced People (IDP’s) on the Kurdish boarders in the North,” he said. “Limited food, living in simple plastic tents and having none of the much-needed provisions. We are trying to provide as much of what is needed as possible.

“One of the things we’re looking at is establishing a separate Christian village comprising separate trailers with four bedrooms [for refugees] which would be better than these awful plastic tents.”

At $11,000 each, the trailers are not cheap. Much of his financial support comes from Anglican churches in England, US and Canada, but he said that, thanks to social media, he also has supporters in Anglican churches as far away as Australia and New Zealand. IS are, he said, not the only ones to make good use of the Internet.

IS are currently estimated to be 20 miles away from centre of Baghdad. However, for Canon White things are business as usual. “I certainly plan to stay, though I do have other meetings coming up. I’m in Israel next week and I have to go to California, so I will continue to do things I have to do, but I’ll be back as soon as I can.”

Seven Minute Seminary: No rapture in the Bible

Very important teaching in light of the upcoming Left Behind movie.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

2018 Lambeth Conference cancelled


George Conger, via Anglican Ink:
The 2018 Lambeth Conference has been cancelled. The precarious state of the Anglican Communion has led the Archbishop of Canterbury to postpone indefinitely the every ten year meeting of the bishops of the Anglican Communion.

A spokesman for Archbishop Justin Welby told Anglican Ink that as the archbishop had not yet met with each of the primates of the communion, he would not be commenting on the news. Since his installation last year, the Archbishop of Canterbury has travelled extensively and plans on visiting the 37 other provinces of the Anglican Communion within the first 18 months of his term of office.

News of the cancellation was made public by the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori on 23 Sept 2014. In response to a question from the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt. Rev. Prince Singh, who asked if money was being set aside to fund the Episcopal Church’s participation in the 2018 meeting, the Presiding Bishop told the Fall Meeting of the House of Bishops gathered in Taipei, Taiwan, that she had been told by Archbishop Welby the meeting had been cancelled.

According to a report of the exchange printed by the Episcopal News Service, the Presiding Bishop said Archbishop Welby had “been very clear that he is not going to call a Lambeth until he is reasonably certain that the vast majority of bishops would attend. It needs to be preceded by a primates meeting at which a vast majority of primates are present.”

She further stated that “as he continues his visits around the communion to those primates it’s unlikely that he will call such a meeting at all until at least a year from now or probably 18 months from now. Therefore I think we are looking at 2019, more likely 2020, before a Lambeth Conference.”

And, if and when it is held, the format of the gathering will likely be different from that of the controversial 2008 gathering. The next Lambeth will “have a rather different format” and the spouses’ conference will be eliminated “simply because of scale issues and regional contextual issues. Bishops’ spouses fill very different roles in different parts of the communion and the feedback from the last one was that it did not serve the spouses particularly well,” the Presiding Bishop said.

First held in 1867 in London at Lambeth Palace, the Lambeth Conferences have gathered the bishops of the Anglican Communion every ten years to discuss the common issues facing the wider church. The conferences have been postponed only twice. The 1918 gathering was postponed to 1920 due to the First World War, and the 1940 conference was postponed to 1948 because of the Second World War.

The decision to postpone the 2018 gathering due to internal dissention is unprecedented. From the first gathering in 1868 which dealt in part with the contentious issue of episcopal autonomy and Biblical interpretation and the heterodox bishop of Natal the Rt. Rev. John W. Colenso (as he was considered by most of his peers) the Lambeth Conferences have consistently discussed controversial issues. Though the resolutions and debates have no juridical value as each province is governed by its own canon law, the pronouncements have always held great moral authority. The 1930 Conference’s endorsement of contraception, for example, provided the foundation for the Episcopal Church to change its formal view of the morality of birth control in 1948. While in 1998 the Conference restated the church’s formal view that homosexual activity was immoral.

In organizing the 2008 Conference, Dr. Rowan Williams – who had endorsed a minority statement on homosexuality at the conference – changed the parameters and purpose of the meeting. A format of indaba, a South African word that the conference organizers interpreted as meaning a form of guided conversation, was adopted. The new format did not permit formal or conclusive statements and was designed to prevent action through what critics saw was conversation without end.

The gathering was also hampered by the largest boycott in the conference’s history. The bishops of the province of York boycotted the 1868 gathering in protest to what they saw as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s presumption at calling a gathering of all the bishops, and J.C. Ryle and a handful of other evangelical bishops boycotted the 1888 gathering out of concerns the conference was institutionalizing what they believed to be an un-biblical prelacy. The question of women bishops attending Lambeth 1998 led a handful of traditionalists to boycott the conference. Two English missionary bishops in Madagascar declined to attend the gathering due to the presence of women bishops,

However the Archbishop of Canterbury’s decision to invite the American, Canadian and Central American bishops who consecrated the Bishop of New Hampshire, the Rt. Rev. V. Gene Robinson to Lambeth led to 206 diocesan and 8 suffragan bishops to reject Archbishop Rown Williams’ invitation.

In 2008 the Anglican Communion consisted of 729 dioceses, missionary districts, and ecclesial entities divided into 38 provinces and six extra-provincial jurisdictions. Approximately 260 dioceses and jurisdictions within the Communion were not represented by their diocesan bishops at Lambeth. In addition to those boycotting the meeting in protest, the Archbishop of Polynesia, remained at home to lead the coronation services of the King of Tonga, while the Bishop of Salisbury was felled by a stroke. Pending legal proceedings prevented the Bishop of Pennsylvania from attending while bishops from the Andaman and Nicobar Islands of North India have never attended the Lambeth Conference.

Zimbabwe’s uncertain political situation prevented the Bishop of Manicaland from coming while a handful of bishops were also blocked from attending Lambeth due to local circumstances.

Of those identified as absent: 214 bishops from 10 provinces made an affirmative decision not to accept Dr. Williams’ invitation due to reasons of conscience: Australia 7; Southern Cone 1; Episcopal Church 1; Church of England 3; Uganda 30; Nigeria 137; Kenya 25; Rwanda 8; South East Asia 1; and Jerusalem and the Middle East 1. From Africa’s 324 dioceses, 200 diocesan bishops (61 percent) were identified as having refused Dr. Williams’ invitation.

Archbishop Welby’s flying visits across the Communion have sought to ameliorate this situation.