This was nice. And unexpected. Ed runs a great camp. I think Ruth Gledhill got that. She makes a few extra comments and includes some lovely shots here. I could be wrong, but I think Gavin McGrath might have a few words with his daughter when she gets back to South West London! But to be honest, I think he’ll just be pleased it was nothing worse than mocking her ‘old man’.
Archive for July, 2009
John Frame has written a very helpful article on this issue here. He puts it so much better than me. This is my attempt to summarise his salient points.
Homosexuals claim that they cannot help the experience of same sex attraction (SSA). They argue that this experience is natural. It’s not a lifestyle choice but an innate condition. It could be genetically predetermined in which case the ‘condition’ would be inescapable. Asking someone to stop being homosexual would therefore be equivalent to asking an Asian person to stop being Asian or a left-handed person to stop being left-handed. We should not condemn people therefore for being what they are.
The Christian ‘spin’ on this is that ‘God made me this way’. And so it’s especially reprehensible, some argue, for Christians to criticise a condition that God Himself created. When you put it like that, it sounds plausible, doesn’t it?
Simon LeVay, a gay neuroscientist, has found that there’s a correlation between a particular genetic combination of the brain and homosexual activity. In other words, there’s a genetic predisposition towards homosexuality, or as some have said there’s a ‘gay gene’. But this has yet to receive widespread scientific acceptance. A rather obvious point is that even if there is such a condition it’s not possible to say whether this is the cause or the effect of homosexual thought and behaviour.
But if we were to accept that there’s an innate physical basis for homosexuality, as there might be for alcoholism or general criminal behaviour, what ethical conclusions should we draw?
1. We cannot say that the discovery of an innate condition is sufficient reason to describe the activity it leads to as normal. Many diseases are genetically determined but we wouldn’t dream of calling them normal. On the contrary, we’d throw the full weight of medical scientific resources behind the enterprise to discover all we could about the genetic makeup of this disease in order to cure it. Without wishing to be unnecessarily provocative, we might say that the homosexual condition is the sexual equivalent of MS in the medical world.
2. Not everyone who has a genetic predisposition ‘actualises’ their condition. It’s quite unlikely that should a ‘gay gene’ exist it would determine someone’s activity. The data suggests that it’s possible for someone to overcome their temptation to a particular behaviour. It’s probably more accurate to say that genes do not determine patterns of behaviour but influence them. It’s not the same direct correlation as with the colour of eyes. As Frame puts it, ‘genes may impel, but they don’t compel’.
3. There are much stronger influences on our patterns of behaviour than our genetic inheritance. The smoker’s craving for a cigarette would be one example. If we’re prepared to excuse homosexuality on the basis of a strong influence then we ought to be consistent and excuse all kinds of behaviour patterns. But we don’t, because we recognise that influence alone is not a sufficient reason to rule something as ethically appropriate.
4. The existence of strong influences does not force us to do anything contrary to our desires. They do not compromise moral freedom. I remain free to do what I want even if what I want is influenced by other things. On that basis I can be held responsible for my actions. Understandably the presence of a strong influence will create a moral weak spot where I’m especially vulnerable to temptation. But our weak spots arise from heredity, environment, experiences and past decisions.
5. The genetic case for homosexuality does not remove the element of choice. If I’m predisposed to alcoholism I still make a decision to have a drink. Likewise with same sex attraction. Those who succumb to the temptation to homosexual activity do so willingly. No one is forcing them to do anything they don’t want to do. And nothing inside them is forcing them to do something they don’t want to do. They are simply doing what they desire to do. The issue is whether that desire is ‘natural’ because it’s in accord with God’s intentions.
6. The Bible presupposes that it’s possible for someone facing same sex attraction, through the work of the Spirit, to desire holiness above ungodliness. Christian ministries exist to help those struggling with same sex attraction to live a life of holiness. Whilst resisting perfectionist claims of total victory over homosexual temptation, nevertheless the Bible does hold out the hope of transformation. The Apostle Paul described a group of people who’d experienced partial transformation so much so that he could describe their homosexual lifestyle as something of the past (1 Corinthians 6:0-9-11).
And so, on balance, the argument that same sex activity should be declared holy because of the apparent existence of a genetic predisposition is utterly unpersuasive. We cannot find in this line of reasoning just cause to sanctify sin. The gospel still declares that repentance not acceptance remains the way to forgiveness and transformation.
I’m happy to report that the school reports from our eldest two were terrific. I can remain in pastoral ministry for at least another year. The kids know that if they’re unruly and a general pain in the backside, then Daddy will get the sack!
We’ve got into the habit of talking to the kids after a parents’ interview or a school report. Each of those occasions is an opportunity to encourage them, to remind them that even though we don’t see them for lots of the day we nevertheless take a great interest in what they’re doing and also to reinforce what we expect of them in their schooling.
One phrase that’s started to become a mantra has been ‘it’s not how well you do that bothers us, but rather how hard you try’. On previous occasions they’ve just accepted that Daddy is right on this one. ‘It must be true’ they presumably thought, ‘Daddy said so’. I should have known that wouldn’t last for long. And so last night Rufus asked why trying hard matters more. Good question. I was temporarily stumped, not only by my inability to express it clearly but also why I thought that. And then I realised. Doing well in any subject is all about ability. But trying hard in any subject is all about character. We can’t take any credit for our ability. God gives us our abilities. But character is something that we can work on. One of our children doesn’t like art. It’s because that individual is not very good at it, apparently. And so the effort comment in that area iskey. One of the things that we need to work on is the effort put into art. Not so religious education! Excellent effort and top marks for knowledge, understanding and approach. Godo job Christ Church Kids’ teachers . Thank you!
It reminded me that though I’d love the kids to leave the school with ability in every single subject, I’d gladly exchange that for character. Teaching them that Rosslyn and I look mainly at the effort and not the attainment column is one sure way that we can reinforce that.
Unbeknownst to me I got a mention on the Anglican Mainstream website last week. That explains why the number of hits on the blog were abnormally high. Nothing like the whiff of controversy to stoke up a bit of interest! And I thought it was the quality of my writing.
The post was an attempt to write the Dummies Guide to the Anglican Shambles so that the uninitiated might be able to get a handle on the situation and appreciate what’s going on behind the rhetoric. Judge for yourselves whether I managed it by looking here.
Just got a tip off from Rev Gatiss at St Helen’s. Apparently it’s Calvin’s birthday tomorrow. Quite whether he’ll be celebrating it in heaven is a discussion for another day with people with more theological acumen than me. Why Lee has that date marked in his diary is an issue to be explored at a later date. Perhaps it’s the Collins Diaries they get at St Helen’s! However, to mark this event his excellent internet journal, The Theologian, has a series of talks and articles on Calvin’s abiding influence on the Christian church.
He’s included three MP3 talks; one from Martin Foord on Calvin and the Gospel, one from Peter Adam on Calvin and his preaching and I don’t know how he did it, but Lee’s managed to get a recording of Calvin’s sermon on Ephesians 5. I’m guessing it’s Lee with a dodgy French accent.
He’s included three articles; one from Matt Mason on Calvin’s treatment of the Lord’s Supper, one from Augustus Toplady on Calvin and the English Reformation and one by Mark Garcia on Calvin’s understanding of faith union with Christ.
For more stuff on John Calvin this might help.
What on earth is going on in contemporary Anglicanism? Most of us are completely disinterested. Some of us are just perplexed. And we’re all fed up with the unseemly politics that makes its way onto the pages of our national newspapers. The labels applied to the sides are especially unhelpful. And it all gets a little confusing. This is an attempt to simplify what you read in the press. It’s obviously written from someone on the evangelical side of the argument who has been ‘on the edge’ of institutional Anglicanism for some time!
Essentially there are two sides in the current disagreement.
There’s a coalition of evangelicals, charismatics and anglo-catholics known as ‘traditionalists’. It’s not a great label. It doesn’t really do justice to who we are. You’d be hard pressed to describe most evangelicals and charismatics as traditional! What the people that use this label mean is that we’re morally traditional. We hold to the old fashioned things like gender distinction, gender roles, sexual abstinence outside of marriage and so on. Still, I think its better than being called ‘hardline’, which is what Ruth Gledhill called us in the Times on Monday. This ‘traditionalist’ coalition is made up of groups like Reform, Forward in Faith, Anglican Mainstream Church Society and New Wine. We disagree on some things, which is why we don’t join each other’s networks. I’m not in agreement with Anglo-Catholics on lots of things. I’m in agreement with charismatics on nearly everything. But I’d probably be described as a conservative evangelical. Again, ‘conservative’ is not a label I’m that keen on. I’m not massively conservative. I guess I’d be described as doctrinally conservative. But I like to think that I’m missionally innovative. I digress. The point is that within the ‘traditionalist’ camp there’s a fair degree of diversity. But each group would argue that they are what they are because of scriptural interpretation; we justify our position scripturally. So what they believe is governed by trying to understand and apply the Bible. William Taylor explains the ‘traditionalist’ coalition using the example of a convoy of ships. For an ex-Army man this, no doubt, is a journey into the unknown. But he gets it right. Evangelicals, charismatics and anglo-catholics have decided that though we’re on different ships, nevertheless we’re a convoy heading in the same direction. We’re heading towards biblical orthodoxy and away from biblical heterodoxy! Simply put, we’re trying to steer towards biblical obedience and away from biblical revisionism.
On the other side of the argument are the liberals. What they believe is governed by trying to understand the culture. This group is known as the ‘revisionists’, at least by me. I’m certain that they’re not a monolithic group. But I’ve not invested a lot of time in working out which groups they belong to. But Inclusive Church would be one.
The key leaders amongst the traditionalists are world wide leaders like Peter Jensen, the Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Akinola, the Primate of Nigeria and Greg Venables the Archbishop of the Southern Cone. These are the ‘good guys’. There are so many of them it’d take an age to name them. Their names can be found in close proximity to the Jerusalem Statement, which was the product from last year’s Global Anglican Futures Conference, known as GAFCON. In the UK we look to people like Paul Perkin, Vicar of St Mark’s Battersea Rise, Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe’s Oxford, Wallace Benn, Bishop of Lewes and now Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester. These are the guys at the forefront of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, known as FCA.
The ‘traditionalists’ have the gospel. And so our churches are growing because wonderfully, by God’s grace, people are being converted. And we preach the truth and so people are generous and sacrificial with the money that God has entrusted to them. And so we’re able to appoint staff quicker than ‘the system’ allows. We’re not going to wait around for Diocesan approval when there’s so much urgent gospel work to be done. And so we’ll just go ahead and appoint staff and seek ordination. In some cases, parishes are withholding their quota. Good on them. Why would you give money to a corrupt central administration that’ll use it to fund ministries which we oppose? Contention needs to have teeth. Of course, if we’re taking money from the establishment we ought to pay our dues. But we shouldn’t fund heresy. That’s disgraceful.
But the liberals have the positions of power. The vast majority of the college of Bishops, the Archdeacons, Rural Deans and so on will either be liberal or will be happy to work with those of a liberal theological persuasion. The ‘traditionalists’ are massively under-represented. That’s not true across world wide Anglicanism. The vast majority of world wide anglicans are orthodox. That’s why the shift in power has begun to move away from Canterbury to the Southern Hemisphere. Faithful Anglicans across the globe are dismayed at what’s originating from the birthplace of Thomas Cranmer. Though ‘revisionists’ have the power in the Church of England, it doesn’t actually belong to them. It belongs to the ‘traditionalists’. The ‘revisionists’ are like a cuckoo that has moved into another bird’s nest, kicked out the incumbents and made itself at home. The ‘traditionalists’ are simply doing nothing more than reclaiming what’s rightfully theirs.
The situation is further complicated by a group of evangelicals who claim to agree with the traditionalists on biblical ethics, the importance of mission and on many aspects of the gospel but disagree with their methods. This is a split amongst evangelicals. It’s sometimes ugly and always regrettable. Often the family fights are the worst. This one gets pretty bad and it’s played out in the blogospehere. Broadly speaking, on one side there are the conservative evangelicals and on the other there are the liberal evangelicals. The liberal evangelicals can’t stomach the ways in which conservatives seek reform within the denomination. They think we bully people that don’t agree with us by calling their evangelical credentials into question and insensitive proactivity in our church planting. They really don’t like it when evangelicals disregard Episcopal authority. Ruth Gledhill calls them moderate evangelicals. I’m loving these labels! They’re reasonable, restrained and sensible. They don’t cause issues. And so many of them get ‘promoted’. Why would you ‘promote’ a ‘conviction’ evangelical whose conviction has teeth when you can appoint a ‘concession’ evangelical who can accommodate his convictions without causing a problem. And so, Graham Kings, one of the main voices at Fulcrum has recently been recently appointed as the Bishop of Sherborne. He may well agree with the ‘traditionalists’ on many things, especially on sexual morality. But for him the conservative disregard for church order is unforgiveable. For the liberal evangelicals the important thing is to maintain unity. I think I’m being fair in saying that, in effect, they place church order above gospel convictions. They’d dispute that because they want to be regarded as evangelicals. I just think that’s the obvious conclusion to draw from their actions.
Everyone thinks the big issue between the two sides is homosexuality. But it’s not. That’s just the presenting issue. It’s over the place of the Bible. ‘Traditionalists’ believe that you should do something because the Bible says it, even if the culture doesn’t approve of it. ‘Revisionists’ say that we should do what the culture says because that’s the prevailing view, even if the Bible says that we shouldn’t. Homsoexuality just happens to the issue over which the culture and the Bible currently disagree. In the past it was women’s ordination. In the future they’ll be other things. But as long as both these sides seek to reach a conclusion on these matters from different perspectives there’s no hope of agreement. We’re talking about two different religious systems that are implacably opposed. I can’t see this ending well.
Of course, being a liberal evangelical is an inherently unstable position! I don’t mean to be rude. Not this time anyway! But at some point these guys, and I count a few as friends, have got to realise that their liberalism compromises their evangelicalism and their evangelicalism tarnishes their liberalism. They’ll have to decide. They can’t have it both ways. They can’t play both sides. And when they end up siding with the ‘revisionists’ and attacking the ‘traditionalists’ you’ve got to wonder whose side they’re really on.
Richard Coekin, the Senior Pastor of the Co-Mission Initiative, gave a thought provoking talk a few weeks’ ago. He was encouraging the Apprenticeship Trainers to teach our Apprentices to think more about delegation. To do that, we looked at Acts 6:1-7.
I’ve heard him before on this passage. And I’ve seen him change his mind. He used to say that Bible teachers ought not to be deflected from their responsibility of praying and preparing talks. He still says that. And rightly so. But he’s added to what he says. He’s noticed that Apostles didn’t just ignore the provision of social care. They handed over the responsibility to someone else. They delegated ministry. There were lessons for us to lear, Richard argued.
In his treatment of Acts 6:1-7, he made these three observations.
1. Their problem was distraction (1)
The Apostles became aware of a serious and pressing injustice. It looked like favouritism; the Greek widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. But rather than simply being aware of the issue they became involved in administrating the issue. It was clearly distressing. It was clear that something had to be done. Of that the Apostles were sure. But they were also equally sure that it had to be done by someone else.
2. Their priority was word and prayer (2)
This mercy ministry was a right ministry for the church to be involved in. How could they not provide for the Greek widows? Love demanded that they get involved and look after them. But it was a wrong ministry for the Apostles. The fact that they had a ministry of word and prayer meant that they should prioritise that. Richard drew the distinction between ‘creation’ ministry and ‘gospel’ ministry. It’s not a great distinction but I can see what he’s trying to do. It’s helpful to draw a distinction, as long as we don’t separate them. He’s saying that our work in subduing the creation through our normal day jobs isn’t the same as the work we do in proclaiming the gospel. He argued that we all have both ministries. They’re both aspects of our sacrificial worship. We need to do as much of both as we can manage. But where they compete for our attention, we’ll need to make a choice to do one and not the other. When that happens, we need to maximise our gospel ministry, not because its effects are eternal, but because it saves people from hell for heaven in the next world and helps people live well in this one.
3. Their proposal was delegation (3)
The Apostles didn’t neglect the injustice. They just didn’t deal with it themselves. They delegated the issue to some of the finest men in their congregation. I can sometimes be good at prioritising things. But I seem to prioritise by neglecting. I’ve decided that I need to get better at recruiting, envisioning and authorising others in the congregation to take up the good things that need to be done. Then I can get on preparing teaching material. Of course, most of the individuals we’d choose have full time jobs and so we’ll need to be sensitive to people’s capacity and opportunity.
As a result of that decision two things happened in Jerusalem.
In the first place they heard great sermons as the word was preached. And secondly, they saw great love as the hungry were fed. Their decision led to a win-win!
Went to ‘Be Faithful’ yesterday, the launch conference of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans [FCA] in the UK. It was terrific to catch up with so many friends, many of whom had travelled from all over the country to be there. I just jumped on the 159.
Ruth Gledhill was there. She arrived late, left for a press briefing before lunch and never returned. Still, great that she came! She wrote about it here. With the execption of Peter Jensen’s address, she missed the best bit.
The afternoon session was hugely encouraging and stimulating. It needed to be. The combination of a full stomach courtesy of Starbucks, a warm room courtesy of the lack of air conditioning and a wandering train of thought courtesy of Vinay Samuel I was barely hanging onto consciousness. However, the media boys at St Helen’s did a great job with some audio visual stimulation on the issues of mission, ministry, stewardship, fellowship and oversight. Even William Taylor settled into the role of chat show host cum compere. Christine Perkin had it taped from the start!
If it hadn’t been for input from Vaughan Roberts, Richard Coekin and Peter Jensen I’d have been hugely disappointed with the day. As it was I came away reminded that our place in the Anglican Church is still worth fighting for. But the real work is done on the ground in our churches and on our knees before the Lord.
The full text of Archbishop Peter Jensen’s address can be found here. It’s pure gold. He’s one of the reasons I still feel it’s alright to be Anglican.
Been pondering recently how well Rosslyn and I allow missional priorities to shape our family life.
We’re not by character an introverted family, given to habitual introspection. Life moves too fast for that. At least, it seems to for us. We just kind of go with the flow until something comes off the rails or someone points out that we’ve not got it quite right! But every now and again we recognise that we need some healthy self examination because things could get out of hand.
One of the things that we never want to lose from our family life is that we’re a missional family. In other words we want to share Jesus’ passion and priority for those he described as ‘lost’. That’s never easy as a busy family. Perversely we find it hard as a ministry family with other things, quite rightly, expected of us; namely the teaching and training responsibilities and the sickness and sin issues that can consume so much of our capacity.
By no means is this meant to be an exhuastive list. But these are some of the things that we do in our family to make sure that our missional priorities are incorporated into family life and, we pray, understood and perhaps shared by our children.
1.Share our family activities with others
We always have Sunday lunch. We often go to the park. We sometimes indulge in a big boys breakfast at ‘the Scottish’ restaurant; McDonalds. Occasionally we’re to be found in Pizza Express. So why not do it with others? As the kids get older we may well consider the option of going on holiday with another family. If they’re non-believers that presents a wonderful opportunity to spend some relaxed, quality time interacting and perhaps talking about the big issues of life with our friends. Obviously if all our family time is consumed with ministry to other families, the kids will rightly feel ‘seen off’. That would be counteractive. We don’t want them to resent our evangelistic attempts. But we want the kids to understand that these are missionary opportunities upon which our friends may welcome the chance to chat.
2. Get the kids onside with the vision
Someone said to me the other week that they didn’t want their kids to grow up being too different from the rest of the Christians kids that they meet. This was said in connection with our proposal to consider a 4pm all age church meeting rather than meeting in the morning. I understood his point. I understand why he said it. I just don’t agree. And I’ve got a lot of time for what he says. But the more I think about it; the more I disagree! Rather than simply wanting my kids’ experience of church to conform with the norm I’d like them to grow up with clear missional priorities. I don’t want them to be different just for the sake of being different. That’s not helpful. It’s just wierd. If you go down that line you end up in home schooling! But having clear missional priorities has to be more imoprtant than being the same as everyone else, surely? For the record, I don’t think the person spoke with would deny this.
Almost every time we come away from the Factory, or from Revive, one or more of the kids says that they want to go there every week. I sympathise. I sometimes share that view! It’s not that they think that our church is rubbish; just that it’s small. When you’re a seven year old boy who loves hanging around with the bigger boys from the other churches in our network it’s perfectly understandable that you’d prefer that to a bunch of four year old girls who dress in pink and play with dollies! Rather than get depressed or pander to this kind of view we’ve used it as an opportunity to teach why we do what we do. We want them to be onside with the vision. We want the kids to understand that the gospel is worth making sacrifices for. We explain that the reason that we’re part of a small church is that we’ve started the church from scratch so that the people in Balham can hear the great news about Jesus. If we weren’t there the other churches would have to do it. And they can’t because there are just too many people to try and reach. We reassure them that God knows what we’re doing for Him. He’ll look after us and He’ll look out for us. I’d far rather they grow up in a church with a clear missional rationale that underpins everything that they do.
3. Get the kids excited by our events
We have an evangelistic programme for every group at church. We plan it that way. The Christ Church Kids’ programme is built around things like the occasional parties and the annual holiday club. And so when we’ve got something like the ‘Pumpkin Party’ coming up we talk about who they’d like to invite from their class or from their club. Then they have an opportunity to talk to their peers about it and try, get them excited and try to persuade them to come along. Obviously, we’re often the ones that have to speak to the parents. But the kids have done the hard yards. If they don’t want to do this we don’t push it. The desire to invite their friends needs to come from a desire to please Jesus and love their friends, not fulfil their parents’ expectations. I’m sure we get it wrong sometimes, but we try not to!
4. Get the kids to pray about their friends
We have ‘Bible story’ each evening. I’ll read the Bible passage and we’ll pray in response. We’ll usually have a few questions and a discussion. And then after each child can pray a ‘please’ prayer or a ‘thank you’ prayer. ‘Please’ prayers present an opportunity to pray for someone that they’d particularly like to become a follower of Jesus. Often after those occasional discussions that we have about a particular friend in their class who’s chatted to them about God, Jesus, or the Bible we’ll also pray. We also let them see who we’re praying for. They need to know that Mummy and Daddy are concerned for their friends and so talk to God about them.
5. Give the kids a missional world view
We need to help the kids realise that there are essentially two types of people in the world; those that follow Jesus as Lord and those that don’t. We’ve also begun to talk about what it means eternally if people don’t follow Jesus. Obviously we need to be careful about how we communicate that and explain it to them. We’re especially aware that the kids talk to their friends in the playground and that they’re unlikely to do so with the sensitivity and care with which we try to address these issues! We’ve tended to use the language of ‘confusion’ to explain why our friends aren’t Christians. We say that they’re confused about who Jesus is and that it’s our responsibility, privilege and joy to explain things more clearly. I think that helps preserve our differences, explain that the difference of opinion does matter but to do so without being disrespectful of their views.
I’m sure there are other things that we could do, should do and would do if we’d thought of them. Perhaps those of a more introverted bent or missional inclination can pass on a few tips.