Thursday, September 10, 2015

Locusts and Wild Honey signing off; New site now operational

This blog is going dark, having served its purpose. My new blog is Flashes of Lightning, Peals of Thunder. It is now operational, so please be sure to bookmark it.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

[REPOST] Of breakaways, remnants, and Jezebels . . . and getting the terminology right

[ADMINISTRATOR'S NOTE: I am seeing too many media reports referring to the Diocese of South Carolina​ as a "breakaway" group. This is an egregious error on the part of journalists who are either ignorant of the facts or willfully negligent in reporting them. This article, written shortly after last year's Diocesan Convention, is reposted at this time in the hope that it will be a useful resource in refuting the false narrative generated by the national church and perpetuated by an uninformed and incurious media. --JAG]

Peter Leithart expounds on the significance of Jezebel to the history of Israel and why John's invocation of her name in reference to the "prophetess" in Thyatira was precisely on the mark.
Jezebel’s appearance in 1-2 Kings is part of a continuing story of Israel’s relationship with Tyre and Sidon. During the days of David and Solomon, Hiram king of Tyre was an ally of Israel. This is the ideal relationship between Jew and Gentiles, Israel and the nations.

Jezebel represents an inversion of that. As I argue in my 1-2 Kings, Ahab is an anti-Solomon, a Solomon without a period of faithfulness. He is the son of a David-like king Omri, builds a temple in Samaria, and takes a foreign wife, as Solomon married the daughter of Pharaoh.

It’s all backward. Ahab’s temple is a temple to Baal, and his wife is an idolater, even a sorceress (as Jehu says) and a leader of a band of Baal prophets. Ahab and Jezebel have an agenda to reunite the two kingdoms, but instead of placing Yahweh and His house at the center, they want to make Baal worship the center. This inverts the proper relation between Jew and Gentile. Instead of the Gentiles assisting in Israel’s project, Israel is enlisted to pursue a Baalist agenda.

Under Ahab and Jezebel, Israel is in bed with the Gentiles, but they aren’t united properly. They are united in a bed of prostitution, at an altar of spiritual adultery.

This is what the Jezebel of Thyatira is doing too. She is a prophetess, as the first Jezebel was the high priestess of a band of prophets. She leads the saints astray, as Jezebel did. She leads them into Baalamite sin, eating meat sacrificed to idols and committing acts of fornication, porneia. There is a false community here, a false family, with Jezebel and her children united in idolatry and immorality. Jezebel assembles an anti-church, as the first Jezebel joined with Ahab in forming an anti-Israel.
The perpetually apostate northern kingdom, moreso than the erstwhile faithful southern kingdom (Judah, where David's house continued on the throne until the Babylonian exile) periodically took an interest in Israel's reunification but, as with Ahab and Jezebel, such an interest was always of human (even pagan), not divine, origin. Judah outlasted Israel by several generations not because all of its kings were righteous (some were, some weren't) but because of God's promise to David. A reunited Israel under rule of one of the northern tribes would simply not do as part of God's plan for the redemption of the world. The faithful remnant, out of which the true Israel would eventually be reconstituted under Jesus and the Apostles, would emerge out of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin, then expand well beyond the boundaries of even David's old empire, grafting in the Gentiles from the ends of the earth.

It is an irony of tragic proportions that some of the most loathsomely divisive figures in the history of both Israel and the church have so often cloaked themselves in the mantle of "unity" and "reconciliation" while abandoning the very faith which unites Jew and Gentile and reconciles the world to God. As it would not do for David's throne to be usurped by the apostate house of Ahab, so it will not do for the Church of Jesus Christ, Great David's greater Son, to be consolidated under the present apostasy of Katharine Jefferts Schori and her minions.

Terminology matters. It is a most egregious error to refer to the Diocese of South Carolina, having liberated itself from Schori's apostasy, as a "breakaway diocese." It is equally erroneous to refer to the handful of low country parishes which have remained with the national denomination as a "remnant group."  Anyone with a rudimentary knowledge of how God has worked throughout history can see how upside down and backward the picture painted by such references is.

To use Leithart's words, the national denomination under Schori is following the way of Jezebel, forming a false community and a false family united in idolatry and immorality. In other words, the national denomination is an anti-church, a "breakaway" from the faith once for all entrusted to the saints.

Meanwhile, as was so richly illustrated at its recent convention, the Diocese of South Carolina is gathering into one so many of the disparate elements of the far flung Anglican Diaspora while also being grafted in to the larger family of faithful Anglican provinces of the Global South. The "remnant" is always that small but faithful group that perseveres through trial, is finally vindicated, and goes forth rejoicing in the new work God has begun through it.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Christmas message from Archbishop Foley Beach

Christmas is the birthday of peace -- St. Leo the Great

Although the state of infancy, which the majesty of the Son of God did not disdain to assume, developed with the passage of time into the maturity of manhood, and although after the triumph of the passion and the resurrection all his lowly acts undertaken on our behalf belong to the past, nevertheless today’s feast of Christmas renews for us the sacred beginning of Jesus’s life, his birth from the Virgin Mary. In the very act in which we are reverencing the birth of our Savior, we are also celebrating our own new birth. For the birth of Christ is the origin of the Christian people; and the birthday of the head is also the birthday of the body.

Though each and every individual occupies a definite place in this body to which he has been called, and though all the progeny of the church is differentiated and marked with the passage of time, nevertheless as the whole community of the faithful, once begotten in the baptismal font, was crucified with Christ in the passion, raised up with him in the resurrection and at the ascension placed at the right hand of the Father, so too it is born with him in this Nativity, which we are celebrating today.

For every believer regenerated in Christ, no matter in what part of the whole world he may be, breaks with that ancient way of life that derives from original sin, and by rebirth is transformed into a new man. Henceforth he is reckoned to be of the stock, not of his earthly father, but of Christ, who became Son of Man precisely that men could become sons of God; for unless in humility he had come down to us, none of us by our own merits could ever go up to him.

Therefore the greatness of the gift which he has bestowed o us demands an appreciation proportioned to its excellence; for blessed Paul the Apostle truly teaches: We have received not the spirit of this world, but the Spirit which is from God, that we might understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. The only way that he can be worthily honored by us is by the presentation to him of that which he has already given to us.

But what can we find in the treasure of the Lord’s bounty more in keeping with the glory of this feast than that peace which was first announced by the angelic choir on the day of his birth? For that peace, from which the sons of God spring, sustains love and mothers unity; it refreshes the blessed and shelters eternity; its characteristic function and special blessing is to join to God those whom it separates from this world.

Therefore, may those who were born, not of blood nor of the will fo the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God, offer to the Father their harmony as sons united in peace; and may all those whom he has adopted as his members meet in the firstborn of the new creation who came not to do him own will but the will of the one who sent him; for the grace of the Father has adopted as heirs neither the contentious nor the dissident, but those who are one in thought and love. The hearts and minds of those who have been reformed according to one and the same image should be in harmony with one another.

The birthday of the Lord is the birthday of peace, as Paul the Apostle says: For he is our peace, who has made us both one; for whether we be Jew or Gentile, through him we have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Just in time for Christmas, an "historical Jesus" article as fresh as Albert Schweitzer's dirty socks

You knew the liberal media would not be able to resist poking a finger in the eye of the Christian community just prior to the celebration of the birth of Christ. However, if this Washington Post article by some character named Raphael Lataster is the best they can do this year, it's a pretty good indication that these Christ hating reprobates are running out of steam . . . and rapidly!
Did a man called Jesus of Nazareth walk the earth? Discussions over whether the figure known as the “Historical Jesus” actually existed primarily reflect disagreements among atheists. Believers, who uphold the implausible and more easily-dismissed “Christ of Faith” (the divine Jesus who walked on water), ought not to get involved.

Numerous secular scholars have presented their own versions of the so-called “Historical Jesus” – and most of them are, as biblical scholar J.D. Crossan puts it, “an academic embarrassment.” From Crossan’s view of Jesus as the wise sage, to Robert Eisenman’s Jesus the revolutionary, and Bart Ehrman’s apocalyptic prophet, about the only thing New Testament scholars seem to agree on is Jesus’ historical existence. But can even that be questioned?

The first problem we encounter when trying to discover more about the Historical Jesus is the lack of early sources. The earliest sources only reference the clearly fictional Christ of Faith. These early sources, compiled decades after the alleged events, all stem from Christian authors eager to promote Christianity – which gives us reason to question them. The authors of the Gospels fail to name themselves, describe their qualifications, or show any criticism with their foundational sources – which they also fail to identify. Filled with mythical and non-historical information, and heavily edited over time, the Gospels certainly should not convince critics to trust even the more mundane claims made therein.
Okay. You get the drift. That phony "Jesus of history/Christ of faith" dichotomy predates Albert Schweitzer, and that's going back a long way. Lataster is eager to knock down such low hanging fruit as Crossan, Eisenman, and Ehrman (somewhere John Shelby Spong is quietly lamenting not making the list), but seems blissfully unaware of the voluminous works of N.T. Wright, Ben Witherington, John Meier, and numerous other contemporary "New Testament scholars" who could easily swat away his skepticism and recommend a few competent counselors to help him deal with his obvious anger issues.

This pathetic essay, apparently an excerpt from a larger (and doubtless even more laughable) work, is useful only in that it illustrates the depths of depravity to which a Christ-denying malcontent can sink.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Christmas message from Canon Andrew White

Happy Christmas

It is the most beautiful time of the year. A time of light, food of parties and fun and presents. We must not forget how much it means to children. The other day I was in Toronto. There were children all around me. There was snow on the ground and a log fire burning. It was all-reminiscent of every you could imagine about Christmas. Despite being in Church one of the parents told herd child “If you are not good, Christmas will not happen”. So the little boy no more than 6 said, “what if we are not good wont Jesus be born”. With me the preacher sitting there the parents did not dare answer.

The fact is that Christmas has one reason only that Jesus was indeed born. Throughout history from the Jewish tradition there was the profound belief that one-day the Messiah the anointed one of God would be born. He would be the one who would lead people to their heavenly father God. He would be the one who would change peoples understanding of God forever. He would be the one known as the King of Kings.

Yet he was not born of the right stock, he was born of an unmarried mother who was no more than a refugee. She gave birth to her son in a grotty stable, in a grotty little town just outside of Jerusalem called Bethlehem. Not a very grand start for the person who would change history. From the day he was born history was divided into before him BC or after him AD. Those who follow that refugee child now call themselves Christians.

Christmas is also a time when you assess what has happened over the past year. For me this year has been so hard because I am not the vicar in a leafy Parish in the Hampshire/Surrey boarders where my family live. My parish is Baghdad in Iraq. The nation where the Christians have been dismissed from their hometowns in there hundreds of thousands. They have fled in their masses to the very North of Iraq fleeing the onslaught of the terrorist group known as ISIS. There for weeks my staff team have fed and clothed, provided mattresses and cradles for the thousands and thousands of internally displaced people.

Here in their refugee camp, the Christians with no Christmas like us in the West have placed a refugee tent for Jesus and there in the camp is a tent for another person who was also a poor refugee who had nothing.

This Christmas as we celebrate what we have, let us not forget that we too are celebrating the birth of a refugee who had nothing but gives us everything. As we delight in what we can give to people this Christmas let us not forget what this Christmas is really all about the time when this refugee child comes to all of us as the one who leads us to God and offers us the most wonderful gift possible this Christmas. Christmas is all about relationship with our ultimate creator.

I will never forget the day in Baghdad when we had some visitors. They had come to see what it was really like for Christians in Iraq. They were so surprised by how happy the thousands of people were in our congregation. “How can you be so happy when you are surrounded, suicide bombs, mortar’s rockets and such violence”. One of our young people answered the statement. “You see when you have lost everything, Jesus is all you have got left”.

All you have got left is the love of that refugee child. That to us in the Middle East is all that matters this Christmas. The terrorism has got so bad in Iraq that I have had to leave. So I have moved to the other place where I work Bethlehem. That little town where Jesus first came. Two thousand years after he first came he is still everything to the people, He is still everything to our Christians in Iraq and he can still be everything to us. You see when Christmas is over, when you have had all your presents and food, Jesus is all we have got left.

So Christmas is a time when we should never loose the meaning of this Christ Child who came to us so that by simply trusting in him we will have a life filled with hope and purpose and love. He is still with us 2000 years after he first came. This Christmas let us not forget that he so loves us that we must love him and in response our life will be changed forever.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The "Religion of Peace" strikes again, Part MMXXVIXXIVIXIII

Canon Andrew White describes the horrors of living under the threat of ISIS in Iraq.

Four Christian children were beheaded by ISIS militants in Iraq for refusing to denounce Jesus and convert to Islam, according to the leader of the Anglican church in Baghdad. 
Canon Andrew White, known as the “Vicar of Baghdad,” fled Iraq in October for Israel and recounted how brutal the country has become for Christians. 
“ISIS turned up and said to the children, ‘You say the words that you will follow Mohammed,’ ” White said in video posted on the Christian Broadcasting Network website. 
“The children, all under 15, four of them, they said, ‘No, we love Yeshua [Jesus], we have always loved Yeshua.’ 
“They chopped all their heads off. 
“How do you respond to that? You just cry.”

Annual re-post: The Grinch returns

Yes, it's that time of year again!

How the Grinch Stole Back Christmas

‘Tis a tale often told, and every Who knows,
How the Grinch first descended from Mount Crumpet snows
And stole away Christmas (its trappings, at least)
Then had his heart changed, and came back for roast beast.
Not everyone knows what has happened since then;
How the Grinch came to think he must steal it again –

For Grinches are grinchy, and grinch-genes will tell –
And in some ways, he wasn’t adjusting too well.
Though his heart grew three sizes, his brain had not shrunk
And he tired of buying up masses of junk
And dealing with hassles and hustles barbaric
For “holidays” swiftly becoming generic.

The customs traditional, which the Grinch loved
Were watered-down, fluffed-up, or “new and improved”.
Why, at one Christmas feast, by one misguided Who,
The roast beast itself was a glob of tofu!
And the songs which reformed him with simple Who joys
Were increasingly drowned out by “noise, noise, noise, noise.”

And deep in his heart, underneath his green fur,
The Grinch knew that things weren’t right as they were.
His ponderer once more was sore as could be
In the checkout line near the HDTV’s,
When the half-hearted clerk with a faraway gaze
Blandly muttered to him, “Happy Holidays”.

Well, the Grinch’s lips curled in a most Grinchy smile
(More grinchy, perhaps, than he’d been in a while!)
He remembered his heritage, cunning and sly,
He thought, “I was made this way – p’raps this is why!”
Then he fixed his eyes on the unfortunate knave,
And regarded him mildly, and told him, “How brave!”

“Brave?”, asked the clerk, “Why, what did I say?”
“My good man, you have wished me a fine Holy Day!
“I thank, good sir, and return it sincerely;
“For you wished for me, sir, not a merry day merely,
“But a day blessed with favor from our Lord divine –
“I return it; may your Holy Day, too, be fine!”

“No! I just said ‘holiday’,” stammered the clerk,
“For that is the policy here where I work…”
“Delightful!,” the Grinch interjected with glee.
“Such corporate boldness – it overwhelms me!
“A spiritual awakening – that’s what it means!
“Now, sir, sell me some cards with nativity scenes.”

There were no such cards, for he’d sold his last few
But he did have a Santa. The Grinch said, “He’ll do,
“That old Bishop Nicholas, merry and stout.
“He once punched the heretic Arius out!”
And the clerk looked about – and no bosses he saw -
“Merry Christmas!,” he whispered, and shook a grinch paw.

The Grinch strode from the store and out into the street,
“Merry Christmas!”, he said to each Who whom he’d meet,
And he said to himself, “Why, this really is nice!
“A good deed which has gained all the thrill of a vice!
“This holiday season need not make me blue;
“For with each ‘Merry Christmas’, I break a taboo!”

Some heartily answer, returning his greeting;
And others more shyly, ere swiftly retreating –
Some say “Happy Hannukah” back with a grin,
Which the old Grinch returns, and calls that a win/win.
Some never quite notice; too stressed and engrossed.
But some look offended – and these he likes most.

“Now, don’t kid a kidder,” he tells such a one –
“I stole Christmas once, and I know how it’s done.
“But I stole it with style; I stole it with flare.
“You aren’t that clever, or else wouldn’t dare;
“To my exploits, your Christmas theft can’t hold a candle –
“You’re not even a thief – just a wannabe vandal.”

For a Grinch is a Grinch, at the end of the day
(And as he observed, Someone made him that way)
As wise as a serpent (and almost as green)
And not really worried if folks think he’s mean.
He stole Christmas once, but he made his amends –
Now he’ll steal Christmas back, for his more timid friends.

So when you’ve the chance (if, that is, you’ve the guts)
Please join me and the Grinch, driving PC-folks nuts.
Reclaiming the Holy Days, joyous and rightful,
From the purely commercial or pettily spiteful.
Co-conspire in this bold holiday counter-crime –
Committed one “Merry Christmas” at a time.

— Joe Long

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving Day Special: The Mayflower Compact

In the name of God, Amen. We, who have signed our names at the bottom, are the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord: King James, by the Grace of God, Great Britain, France, Ireland, King, Defender of the faith, etc.

We voyage for the Glory of God, the advancement of the Christian faith, and the honor of our King and country. We will start the first colony in the Northern parts of Virginia. We, whether we like it or not, agree and combine into a civil government, for the better organization and perseverance of the colony. We agree to have fair laws, ordinances, acts, constitutions, and people in office, for the better of the colony. For this, we promise to submit and obey.

To prove we have seen and agreed to this document, we have signed our names at the bottom, at Cape Cod, November 11, under the rule of King James.

People who signed the Mayflower Compact:

John Carver, Digery Priest, William Brewster, Edmund Margesson, John Alden, George Soule, James Chilton, Francis Cooke, Moses Fletcher, John Ridgate, Christopher Martin, William Mullins, Thomas English, John Howland, Stephen Hopkins, Edward Winslow, Gilbert Winslow, Miles Standish, Richard Bitteridge, Francis Eaton, John Tilly, John Billington, Thomas Tinker, Samuel Fuller, Richard Clark, John Allerton, Richard Warren, Edward Liester, William Bradford, Thomas Williams, Isaac Allerton, Peter Brown, John Turner, Edward Tilly, John Craxton, Thomas Rogers, John Goodman, Edward Fuller, Richard Gardiner, William White, & Edward Doten.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

GAFCON Chairman's Advent Letter

To the Faithful of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and friends
from Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, Primate of Kenya and Chairman of the GAFCON Primates’ Council

Advent 2014

‘We look not to the things that are seen, but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.’ (2 Corinthians 4:18)

My dear brothers and sisters,

Greetings in the precious name of our Lord Jesus Christ, ‘the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end’.

During this Advent Season we shall be preparing for the joyful celebration of the first coming of our Lord Jesus, but let us also rejoice that we have the promise of his second coming in glorious majesty as Lord, Saviour and Judge, and be willing to stake our lives on what we do not yet see, the fulfilment of the promises of God.

It was this confidence that kept the Apostle Paul from despair despite all the setbacks and suffering of his apostolic ministry and with deep insight he cuts right through earth bound ways of thinking when he writes ‘For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal’ (2 Corinthians 4:18).

This is a truly radical perspective. It brings our lives into line with what is ultimately real and gives us a hope that is not defeated by immediate challenges and loss. This is true whatever the crisis that confronts us and we must continue to pray for those whose lives have been devastated by the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, but the difference biblical hope makes is seen most clearly when persecution and violence are unleashed.

As I write these letters, I find that very often I need to emphasise the need to pray for and stand with our bothers and sisters who are experiencing heart-rending suffering as radical Islamic influence grows in Africa, the Middle East and Asia. Here in Kenya, al-Shabab gunmen have just murdered twenty-eight non-Muslim passengers from a bus they ambushed in northern Kenya. In some parts of the world Christian communities now live with the constant threat of violent death. One of the most shocking attacks in recent weeks was the burning alive of a young Pakistani Christian man Sajjeed Mashah and his pregnant wife Shama Bibi in a brick kiln near Lahore. How do Christian communities manage to carry on in such circumstances unless they look to ‘the things that are unseen’? As we pray for those who suffer, let us resolve to be of the same mind and to be faithful to Christ wherever he has placed us.

The threat of atrocity is now truly global. Following the jihadist killing of a young soldier on duty at Canada’s national war memorial in Ottawa, I was moved by the gentle yet bold response of Bishop Charlie Masters, recently appointed Moderator of the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC). He spoke of shock and grief, but also how the founding fathers had named the country and he said “they called it the Dominion of Canada, based on Psalm 72:8 ‘he shall have dominion from sea to sea…’ and that was speaking about the Lord Jesus, that he has dominion in this country”. For Bishop Charlie, part of the response to this murder was national repentance to bring the country back to its founders’ vision. The dominion of the Lord Jesus Christ is a reality unrecognized by many, but one day all creation will bow the knee and the greatest service we can do for our nations is to win them for Jesus Christ by the proclamation of the glorious gospel of the Prince of Peace.

The Anglican Network in Canada is part of the Anglican Church in North America which was formed following our first Global Anglican Future Conference in 2008. Such steps of radical faith demonstrate our trust in the Advent hope of the ultimate triumph of the gospel. For the New Testament writers, the expectation of Christ’s return was an encouragement not to waver from sound doctrine or godly living, but on crucial issues such as sexual morality and the uniqueness of Jesus as Saviour and Son of God we are in a Communion where there is no longer a common mind.

Some say this does not matter. For instance, the ‘Bishops in Dialogue’ group after their Coventry meeting earlier this year claimed that we must maintain visible unity despite everything because ‘now we see through a glass, darkly’ (1 Corinthians 13:12). In other words, things will only become clear in heaven. This is a bad mistake. It is true that there is much about our future state that we do not yet understand, but God has given us the inspired Scriptures as a lamp to our feet and a light to our path (Ps.119:105). Our future hope cannot be turned into an excuse for compromise or silence when Scripture is clear. For Anglicans the collegial mind of the Communion on sexuality and Scripture remains the orthodox position as strongly reaffirmed by the 1998 Lambeth Conference which continues to call us to obedience and pastoral responsibility. Dialogue is no substitute for doctrine.

Despite these challenges, I am confident that our efforts are not in vain. The crucial contribution of GAFCON to the future is that in an increasingly confused Communion it has a clear confessional basis in the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration which keeps the gospel at its heart. And where the gospel is, there will be life.

So may the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ establish your hearts in all that is good, make you strong and courageous in his service and bring us all with great joy to that day when the Church Militant here on earth shall become the great Church Victorious.

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

"As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!"

The Thanksgiving comedy classic!

Anglican TV: Archbishop Duncan discusses visit to Vatican Colloquium

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


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.