Romans 14 – A great template

For the last two Sundays I have been preaching through Romans 14 and it has been a challenging experience for me and the church. It has been a big help in thinking through the whole issue of why we so often end up with disputes in the heart of church life. Conflict is part of life and part of church life. Sometimes a church exhibits healthy conflict, which provides opportunity and builds relationships. Sometimes, a church exhibits unhealthy conflict – it escalates, breaking relationships, bringing shame and hurt with devastating consequences for clergy and congregations.

An easily accepted attitude.

IN Romans and in fact in a lot of the book Paul has been setting out the fact that the Jews are not a lost nation but are part of Gods plan and will not be abandoned and in chapter 14 he uses a real life issue to illustrate a greater truth. In the opening verses of chapter 14 there are the Jews who he describes as weaker because they felt bound to the practises of the old Jewish way. And  the gentile Christians as the strong because they felt no need to be bound by the old ways.

The issue Paul is going to address is that the church may be divided in practise and habit of behaviour but it is united in Christ. Here is my first point, that the propagation of the gospel of Christ is bound up for better or for worse with the degree of unity we display to the world.

In our deanery we have churches of every tradition and at one end of the candle we have a high church man and at the other an ultra liberal. My question is and must be what of the 1st order issues do we share a belief in and if we differ in a view of the Cross, resurrection or some other issue then should I just cut myself off form them. But if they believe as I do in the cross as God atoning sacrifice that paid for my sin and freed me from the wrath of God but do thing I don’t do and would dream of doing in terms of high church ritual is it right for me to judge them as lost and heretical.

But let’s bring it closer to home and look deeply into the evangelical world. When my last bishop came into his diocese there was an air of celebration among evangelicals because of his heritage. But there was a very judgemental undercurrent as well, because the “sound” Conservative were on the sidelines saying in their heads and hearts we need to watch our brother to see him prove his credentials before we affirm him. In verse 2 and 3  the gentiles where looking down on the Jewish Christiansand judging a perceived weakness of faith.  The greatest point in the verses is at the end of verse 3 where it says that who are we to condemn;

“for God has welcomed him.”

Then in verse 4 Paul says who are you to judge another mans servant. That Bishop loves the Lord and want to see the kingdom grow in his diocese and is the servant of Christ  So what causes us to judge we tend to judge in two ways. We fall to easily into the trap of Judgement without knowledge.

We tend to judge in two ways. When we make situational attributions, we believe their behaviour is due to something in another persosns situation: For example, our member of the congregation might have been short with us, because s/he is tired or overworked.

Then there is personality attributions which are more about the person’s character. When we make these attributions, we believe the behaviour is due to the person’s personality. Assuming that same Mrs X who was short with us is impatient or unkind is making a personality attribution. Paul is saying both are wrong. It has been said “It is easy to praise or to blame others for their actions, but unless we know their motivation we really know nothing at all.“ and most of the time we imply things that are not rightly implied.

This is the heart of the issue of conflict in the church. Now I am not calling for an atmosphere of tolerance which the secular world understands as an important concept that helps people to live together peacefully. To be tolerant in secular terms means that you accept other people’s opinions and preferences, even when they live in a way that you don’t agree with. Tolerance also means that you don’t put your opinions above those of others, even when you are sure that you are right. Tolerant people show strength in that they can deal with different opinions and perspectives. No, I am calling for us as far as 2nd order issues are concerned to see them for what they are and Judgement of other Christians is absolutely incompatible with Christian faith.

We slip too quickly into the mode of being judge, jury, prosecutor and jailer when we forget we are a pardoned criminal and that has devastating effects. Let’s look at one in practise. Where there is judgement the often an absence of prayer. You can’t pray for someone you judge because you’re actually not for them. Sure, you can pray about them, but again, your prayer won’t be grounded in humility. It might be grounded in anger, or in arrogance, or superiority, but it won’t be grounded in love

Correction that turns into a stumbling block.

In the second half of the chapter Paul warns about the impact of our over eagerness to make sure every one is on the right path to salvation as I define the right path to be. The key verse is verse 15 which says in effect if your words and actions are so self centred that you will do them at the cost of the spiritual health of another brother or sister in Christ you no longer live in love. The following case study is a simple illustration that our actions can have terrible effects.

The parish is Little Muddleton in the Marsh where there are 150 souls and a small 12th century church which for 100 years has been very traditional in its practise of its faith. There are robes worn and stoles and communion is the common service and the BCP is often used and also the word is preached every Sunday. In to that parish comes a some what brash conservative evangelical with a distaste of all things which seem to be in the slightest tractarian. He decides that this poor misguided congregation need to see that there are some serious theological issues with what they are doing, and to some degree he is right.

So as incumbent he decides to lead from the front and stops robing and suggests that communion be once a month and takes the candles and frontals of the “altar”and starts calling it a table at which he stands at the north end when celebrating. He has a genuine love and desire that the people should grow in Christ but their ears become blocked to his faithful preaching because he has become a stumbling block to them. The issue of verse 16 then comes into play in that what is good becomes spoken of as evil.

The call is always to be a church that corrects error and that holds people to account but does it in a way that as verses 17- 19 puts it:

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.”

but verse 21 is a key to how we do it in that we are to correct and hold people accountable in a way that makes for peace and mutual unbuilding. But if the issue is do I wear a staple and stop some one hearing the gospel because off their upset and grief, if the issue is i will not go and have fellowship because I don’t like the songs or the lack of emphasis of the work of the Spirit in the sermon then I am in danger of causing others to stumble.

I learnt a simple song as a child  about the concept of joy and it went like this;

J-O-Y, J-O-Y

This must surely mean

Jesus first

Yourself last

And others in between

Yes lets stand for truth and biblical teaching but wherever we affecting evangelism because of the divisions we exhibit to the world and where are we damaging  the church of Christ. Lets live out the truth of chapter 15:5-7:

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.”

Where can you start be a peacemaker and some one that builds up in your church, deanery or diocese.

 

 

Crisis in Conservative Evangelicalism

Why is the Conservative Evangelical wing of the church led by a group that have roots in the movement started by Bash Nash? To establish what has led to this leadership coming to prominence we need to look back into history and the formation of the Iwerne movement. WE will then understand its strengths and significant weaknesses.

We need to go back to the foundational work done by Bash Nash who encouraged by the then Bishop of London, Arthur Winnington-Ingram, and supported by grants made available to him, Nash went to Trinity College, Cambridge and then Ridley Hall.[4]:8 He was made deacon in 1927 and served two curacies: one at St John’s, Ealing and another at Emmanuel, WimbledonHis first application to work with Scripture Union was rejected in 1929 so he spent a period as a chaplain at Wrekin College. In 1932, aged 33, after his second application, he was accepted and began to work for Scripture Union.

Nash made it his business to preach the Christian Gospel at the top thirty British public schools, and began a camp ministry which by 1940 was based at Clayesmore School in the village of Iwerne Minster. Attendance was by invitation only. He used military terminology: Nash was known as commandant, his deputy, adjutant and the leaders were officers.His prayer was “Lord, we claim the leading public schools for your kingdom.”Unobtrusive, yet highly strategic, the enterprise involved simple Bible teaching accompanied by personal friendship and pastoral care.

Whilst at Rugby School John Stott was involved with Nash, and many others including Michael Green and even Nicky Gumbel are products of his work. John King said:

Many ‘Bash campers’ went from school to Cambridge and became pillars of the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union, so that it was possible, when the movement was at its zenith for a boy to go from public school to Cambridge, to ordination, to a curacy and to a parish of his own without encountering the kind of life lived outside those particular circles…”Some have noted that Nash created an “oddly male, oddly elitist, and oddly simplistic world.” In 1969, it could be said that much of the leadership of the British Evangelical church had been “Bash campers”.

King goes on to say:

“in order to understand the Evangelical mind, therefore, it was necessary to understand the Bash camp mind.”

The above is taken from a number of sources and although it suggests that the effects of Nash were noticeable in 1969 I would argue they are still evident today. The reason is simple in that the churches captured by Nash’s students where seen as the places to serve as a student and as a curate and they created a network of places where people got on because they had the right C.V.

The list of people in leadership because of his work is impressive including the clergymen John Stott, David Sheppard, Michael Green John Pollock, Dick Lucas, Bishop Maurice Wood, Bishop Timothy Dudley-SmithMark Ruston, John Collins, Hugh Palmer, Mark Ashton, Paul Perkins, John Coles, William Taylor, Henry Chadwick, Richard Bewes and David Macinnes,  David Watson was invited by David Sheppard and attended thirty-five camps in five years.  Among Nash’s other spiritual progeny were several principals of theological colleges, and over 200 clergy.

The root problem is a sense of being chosen to lead because of your school and university and we cannot underestimate the fact that the average HMC school breads a sense of self-confidence in its pupils. There is a pride in tradition and the great men in who’s footsteps the boys follow although I am state school educated my children attend HMC schools and so I speak with some knowledge.

The issue apart form the issue of “the old school tie” approach to advancement is that this network stifles mission. As an ex lawyer I know only to well how these networks operate and how they can be a place where a culture of who you know beats what you know. This can lead to people on the outside being ignored and in the worst cases not helped and abandoned and left to feel unloved and even unwanted.

An example was my last parish. The story is simple I was priest in charge of three rural parishes which had no longterm history of evangelical bible ministry. Next door was a larger single parish with an incumbent who had been at involved at Eaton and Oxford and was very much in with the crowd having served his title at the home church of Nash, Fletcher and this was Emmanuel, Wimbledon. I begged for help to revitalise the church that joined the other parish though joint ventures as I knew when I left my churches could be lost to the gospel. My entreaties where met with a polite refusal. I left after 13 years ministry and because of finance and other issue a liberal woman was appointed to follow me and the parishes are no longer places where the bible is taught and evangelical ministry has been extinguished. I have to ask myself had I been a young clergyman from the Bash Nash network would my plea have fallen on deaf years the same way.

We have many able men like Tony Ford who bring a fresh air to this wing of the church and show that bible ministry is as valid and powerful led by none  HMC school and university men in the back streets of Bolton and Barrow in Furness and we need to be seen to be for everyone.

We need to change our persona from being led by the elite who see their role as to convert the upper and middle classes to showing that the bible and it’s effective preaching is for all.  I believe that Nash had a marvellous vision which was foundational in saving the preaching of the gospel faithfully in the UK. Also he was responsible for converting some of the most influential people in Evangelicalism in the 20th and 21st centuries, but the down side to it all is that it has created a closed loop or network that will in a 21st century Britain not serve the gospel well.

A couple of years ago I did a survey which led to an article in Crosways which showed  that the ordinands we are producing want a single church and have no interest in UPA and rural ministry. I believe this is a linked issue in that we have a leadership that lacks real vision for the whole of the UK.

 

The danger of Secular totalitarianism

The recent actions of Cambridge University towards Jordan Petersen are indicative of a very sad place we in the west have arrived at. In an excellent article in Churchman where Dr Peter Jensen make a critical comment;

“The tolerant society we were promised by secularist has not emerged – far from it. It is just a new set of commandments, inspired by autonomy and an optimistic individualistic anthropology, has arrived with a vengeance.”

We live in an age where we use the lazy language of phobia to eliminate any view that challenges our views and we do it on the basis of the deeply narssasitic society we live in. I am the centre of the universe and therefore my view of how the universe should operate is in a way holy and must be revered even if that means I need to silence another  view point. We have at last reached a point where the terrors of Orwell’s book 1984 are a realistic possibility in the book Mr. Charrington is revealed to be an agent of the Thought Police. Winston and Julia are captured in the shop and imprisoned in the Ministry of Love. O’Brien reveals that he is actually loyal to the Party, and was simply part of a special sting operation to catch “thoughtcriminals”. Over many months, Winston is tortured and forced to “cure” himself of his “insanity” by changing his own perception to fit the Party line, even if it requires believing that “2 + 2 = 5“. We are at a stage where pressure groups like Stonewall and many student unions that no platform are saying that  reality is confined to their understanding or world view and you must either agree or be made irrelevant.

We are living in the age of the greatest of lies an age that cries that we are free to think and do as we like. But that exclude preaching at a tube station and expressing a view on how you see a person that has changed gender. 

This is an attack on the very nature of truth. the nature of truth has been long argued and there are many theories and the include the following:

  • Correspondence theory centres heavily around the assumption that truth is a matter of accurately copying what is known as “objective reality” and then representing it in thoughts, words and other symbols.
  • Coherence theories in general, truth requires a proper fit of elements within a whole system. Very often, though, coherence is taken to imply something more than simple logical consistency; often there is a demand that the propositions in a coherent system lend mutual inferential support to each other. So, for example, the completeness and comprehensiveness of the underlying set of concepts is a critical factor in judging the validity and usefulness of a coherent system.
  • Constructivism views all of our knowledge as “constructed,” because it does not reflect any external “transcendent” realities (as a pure correspondence theory might hold). Rather, perceptions of truth are viewed as contingent on convention, human perception, and social experience. It is believed by constructivists that representations of physical and biological reality, including race, sexuality, and gender, are socially constructed.
  • Consensus theory holds that truth is whatever is agreed upon, or in some versions, might come to be agreed upon, by some specified group. Such a group might include all human beings, or a subset thereof consisting of more than one person.

In an academic survey the majority of thinker view Correspondence theory as most attractive which argues has as a bedrock the belief in objective reality which is defined as;

“Objectivity is a philosophical concept of being true independently from individual subjectivity caused by perception, emotions, or imagination. A proposition is considered to have objective truth when its truth conditions are met without bias caused by a sentientsubject. we 

There seems to be a difference of view of what is true between the academics at people in general because society has now decided that subjectivity is the key to defining truth. This places the christian in a very tough place because the fact a person is a man by virtue of my DNA which is an objective fact cannot be challenged and my view silenced because your subjective view  is that because of an operation a person is  now a biological woman is a denial of an objective fact how can you therefore make me deny that fact and restrict my right to debate its validity?

The great basis for truth that stands apart from our subjectivity is biblical truth handed down from God and true not withstanding my view. Whilst the world lives by consensus theory and defines truth that way there will be oppression and heart ache, because as 1984 shows us as does China, the USSR, Nazi Germany and many other forms of forced consensus this is a rad that leads to persecution.

 

Dying well in the face of a world in denial

It is perhaps the most profound thing we ever face either the prospect of our own or the death of a loved one and as a journal noted:

People who are grieving will often report crying spells, some trouble sleeping, and lack of productivity at work. At first, you may find it hard to accept that the loss has actually occurred.

Once the initial shock has worn off, denial of the loss is often replaced by feelings of anger. The anger may be directed toward doctors and nurses, God, other loved ones, yourself, or even the person who has died. You may experience feelings of guilt, with sentiments such as “I should have… “, “I could have… “, or “I wish I had…. ”

Grief is a powerful emotion. It is painful and exhausting. Therefore, it sometimes seems easier to avoid confronting these feelings. However, this approach is not a viable long-term solution. Buried grief can manifest itself later as physical or emotional illness.

 

Today we mark a moment in our villages history when so many houses were racked with the grief at the loss of a loved one. And in that passage we meet that grief head on but it doesn’t stop there.

One lady wrote:

Death can make you question the good. It can make you wonder if there is someone somewhere keeping score. It can make you wonder why you were chosen, why your loved one was chosen. Why me? Why now? Why do bad things happen to good people? You’ll likely never get an answer, but you may always wonder. The thought always lingers there in the back of your mind. It can grow quieter with time, but on the days when you miss your loved one more than anything, it roars like a lion and you will want to roar right back. You may not have even thought you were capable of being a lion, but death has a way of changing you.

Today we will see that as Christians we live in the face of death with the hope of heaven.

So let’s set the scene in John 11 and to verse 1 Lazarus is ill and in verse 3 the sisters sent word to Jesus. And in verse 5 we see that Christ loved the family but in Verse 6 he stayed longer that expected. By verse 11 onwards the reality is that Lazarus is dead.

Now how far did Jesus have to go to get to Lazarus was it like a train journey from Kings Cross to Edinburgh? Well we know that the greek says that Bethany was 15 Stadia from where Jesus was in Jerusalem and one stadia was 202 yards and 9 inches so time that by fifteen and you get 1.75 miles about the same as from Sileby to Cossington.

Now we come to verses 17-37 and Jesus arriving at the home of Martha and Mary. They have been morning for three days and no that all hope is past for Lazarus. This is because we are past the first three days and this is significant because according to a Jewish belief, the soul stays near the body for three days after a person’s death: “For three days the soul hovers over the grave, contemplating a return to the body, but once it sees that the facial colour has faded, it goes away, never to return” (Gen. Rab. 50:10).  That is, after 3 days from death the body is so decomposed that the face is not recognisable anymore

So Martha sets of to meet him and Mary stays at home and the cry from Martha echo’s down the centuries as R Kent Hughes reminds us in his commentary:

Where were you, Lord? You came too late. Where were you when my loved one died? Where were you when my marriage dissolved? Where were you when my parents divorced? Where were you when my father became an alcoholic? Where were you when I was cheated out of my promotion? Where were you when my child went astray?”

We could add when Walter Lovett  or William Meadows or Alfred Middleton was shot by a sniper on Christmas day 1917.

When we face death that isn’t a wrong reaction as we see Jesus doesn’t start shouting or even politely telling Martha that she is in the wrong or faithless for asking the question. In facing death at whatever level we can be honest with God. So as Christian we are not called on to be stoical in the face of death and God understands whey we say this isn’t right and it hurts and I wish this wasn’t happening and why have you allowed this in my life God.

We see in David’s relationship with God it happens time and time again and one incident is after he sinned with Bathsheba:

And the Lord afflicted the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and he became sick. David therefore sought God on behalf of the child. And David fasted and went in and lay all night on the ground. And the elders of his house stood beside him, to raise him from the ground, but he would not, nor did he eat food with them. On the seventh day the child died.

 One writer put it this way:

If we avoid or cannot move through some sort of grief/mourning process we may:

  • Stay stuck in anger, pain and resentment.
  • Get stuck in numbness, the first stage in the grief process, we may lose access to important parts of our inner, feeling world.
  • Have trouble engaging in new relationships because we are constantly emotionally and psychologically “reliving”; we’re preoccupied with a person or situation no longer present, we have not, in other words processed the loss and moved through it.
  • Project unfelt, unresolved grief onto other relationships or situations, placing unfelt and unacknowledged feelings of hurt, pain and/resentment where they do not belong.
  • Lose personal history along with the un-mourned person or situation; a part of us dies, too.
  • Carry deep fears of subsequent abandonment, betrayal or disillusionment.

Although mourning carries the scent of darkness and pain, it is also a time- honoured path towards the light.

Now in verse 23 and 24 we see a confusion happening where Martha a good Jew says yes he will rise at the last day and that in response to Jesus promise that he will rise. But we know that Jesus is saying that he is Lord and will have the final say over death in the next bit of the story. And then we have the words read at every Anglican Funeral and they are breath-taking:

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” She said to him, “Yes, Lord; I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who is coming into the world.”

What Jesus is saying here is that I am God and that if you come to Jesus and whoever believes that he is the saviour sent into the world to save sinner when the die they will live Now can this just mean we will rise again at the end I think Jesus is saying in effect when you believe in me you are in effect rescued and resurrected from the power of death. As Paul wrote:

1 Corinthians 15:55-57 King James Version (KJV)

55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.

57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

 Let’s just understand this correctly we will pass through as one commentator puts it the incident of physical death, but we cannot die eternally. And Jesus says do you believe that and Martha confused but aware of who Jesus is says yes.

Mark Ashton wrote in his book “on my way to heaven;”

In the spring of 2007, while on sabbatical in New Zealand, I first had pains roughly in the area of the gallbladder, which led eventually to going into Addenbrooke’s Hospital in December 2008 to have the gallbladder removed. But when he went in to do so, the surgeon found cancer which had invaded the liver, originating in the gallbladder. It was past surgical solution and radiotherapy, and there was apparently no effective chemotherapy regime to cure gallbladder cancer. The oncologist estimated I might have six to nine months to live. My prayer when my mother died had been answered. I said to the surgeon when he broke the news, that what he had just told me was, for a Christian believer, not bad news but good; it was not the end of the story, but the beginning. (And I saw an imaginary speech bubble appear above his head, saying, “This man is in total denial!”)

Imagine that we might fear the process but the actual act of dying is a joy and when we loose a loved one whose in Christ what a joy that they have gone ahead of us to glory.

We ignore death and believe we can cheat it and put it off. In nearly every age group a recent survey showed the overwhelming reason people ignore death is that it is perceived as being a long way off. Even in the 75+ age group a quarter thing that and over half of my age people. We don’t need to ignore it or deny it we can celebrate it. A Christina funeral is all about triumphant glory. When my father died I was able to preach and Know that those glorious hymn words were true.

I fear no foe, with Thee at hand to bless
Ills have no weight, and tears no bitterness
Where is death’s sting?
Where, grave, thy victory?
I triumph still, if Thou abide with me

 Hold Thou Thy cross before my closing eyes
Shine through the gloom and point me to the skies
Heaven’s morning breaks, and earth’s vain shadows flee
In life, in death, o Lord, abide with me
Abide with me, abide with me

Then in verse 28 Martha goes off to fetch Mary and the party head for the house where all the professional mourners where and she gets up and everyone thinks she is heading towards death and the grave but she is heading towards life and hope in the form of Jesus. And in her pain and grief she just collapse before him and then we have verse 33 where Jesus is touched by Mary’s pain but there is an issue in our translation. The word here is EMBRIMAOMAI  which was a word used to describe the snorting of a horse but when applied to a human Don Carson reminds us it is a way of speaking about anger and indignation and frustration. So why use that word here?

Jesus is frustrated that these people who know the fact that God has promised resurrection and acting as though there is no hope and Jesus is grieved to tear at this. But also jesus enters into the pain of the moment and is able to identify with the pain of loss. What a comfort that my Lord can feel my pain. Jesus will raise Lazarus so he weeps that there is death in creation and that Satan still seems to have a hold but that reality will soon end.

Today we remember death but it is not a great fear to the one who believes.

Now turn with me to Job 19 verse 25. Here is a man faced with terrible things ill health and the possibility of death he is ragged and broken in verse 23 he sees himself as the scroll brief and tempory and his words pass with him but he want what is about to say to stand the test of time so it must be carved in a rock.

Even in his death because he has stayed faithful no matter what the world things the great words of faith burst out of him and are used again so powerfully by Handel.

“I know that my redeemer lives”

My job as I die as Mark Ashton did is to find a way to magnify God in my dying.

Why is death a gain and win for the Christian?

Our spirits will be made perfect(Hebrews 12:22–23).

We will be relieved of the pain of this world(Luke 16:24–25).

We will be given profound rest in our souls(Revelation 6:9–11).

We will experience a deep at-homeness(2 Corinthians 5:8).

We will be with Christ

Be a bringer of hope and life in a dark death fearing world one lady wrote:

Sorry to write such a downer post but I’m terrified of dying!  there is nothing wrong with my health etc but I just can’t stop thinking about it. It’s usually in the night-time or when lying in bed and Things just come into my head like what will actually happen? And I will never see anyone again or be alive again it be the end of me! And who will look after kids I ll never see them or oh again or mum and dad etc I’m also scared of getting old and not being able to anything it just freaks me out to be honest  I remember being like this when I was little(I think since my granddad died) and counting down years till my mum was old and getting upset(weird I know) I’m only 22 but already am thinking that I’m nearly 30 then 40 then 50 and so on. 

As Christians we can live well and die well we have a message of hope to bring to a world haunted by its own mortality

We bring to the world a powerful God that in Christ conquered death and a listening God and a God that sympathises with us but it is only in Christ there is hope. Again, I quote from Mark’s booklet

There is no question about the savagery of death…. there is no more devastating human barrier in all of human experience than between the living and the dead. The soft soap and wishful thinking peddled by false prophets in the face of death that the loved one in just in the next room, that he looking down on us all the time, that she will be invisibly looking down on us at every family party are iniquitous……..

 It is my relationship with Him (Christ) that can take me through death and which is the only hope of eternal life. He alone is the destroyer of death

And lets end life on earth here as Mark ended life on Earth crying “soon home.”

The Great Bake off.

We have read the Ashers judgement and the press coverage and what conclusions are we to draw from it? Can I refuse the services my business offers on grounds of LGBGT+ people being who they are and is this the moment that the LGBGT+ community become victims?

It strikes me that the key issue is the service I offer and it is very important we see this in perspective. If I am a printer of baker or even a florist my task is to create something that transmits a message to other people and that is generally one that affirms the view of the customer. Therefore I can separate the person from the message. However if I am a clergyman being asked to marry a gay person my actions affirm or deny that person’s identity. Again If I am a tailor I couldn’t refuse to make a gay man a suit because he was gay but it seems from the judgement that I can refuse to make a coat that has support gay marriage across the back.

How is this a threat to gay rights? It is just a confirmation that you can’t make me say things I don’t want to say and affirm views I oppose. Mr Lee expressed his concern at the decision, saying: “I’m concerned not just for the implications for myself and other gay people, but for every single one of us.” But why? Are we to be subjected to a legal system that tells us what to say and think like Nazi Germany or North Korea and the controller of that of course it only ever going to be the group in the ascendance. I will as a christian tell any gay person that they are made in the image of God and are there by precious  and to be valued, but you can no more require me to affirm your life choices than could a convicted criminal. The person is special and to be loved and valued but we are more than our sexual life choices.

This judgement restores sanity and protects people in that they can now operate within their own value system, gay, Christian, muslim and Jew. I agree with Lady Hale who said: “The bakers could not refuse to supply their goods to Mr Lee because he was a gay man or supported gay marriage, but that is quite different from obliging them to supply a cake iced with a message with which they profoundly disagreed.”

We must be very careful this is not a case that Christians can cart blanche refuse to deliver services to the LGBGT+ community and anyone that thinks it is will come unstuck, this is a victory against those that think they can make me say what they want me to say. So as a logical extension of the judgement; can I stop a school making my child write an essay on the positive nature of gay marriage, and can I stop my church and diocese from requiring me to have a clergy person in post that supports gay marriage or is least sympathetic to it who may give the impression by what they say and write that this is my view as well? The lid is now of a box that will cause a greater need to rely on case-law and more confusion. Over to the courts and Lady Hale for more help and guidance.

The fate of sin and liberal society

I would like to start with a great quote from the previous liberal party leader Tim Farron;

“Liberalism has eaten itself because it has eaten the very world-view that gave birth to it, that made it possible, that makes it possible.”

I was preaching on Revelation 17 last week and was struck by how the beast with ten horns turns on the prostitute in verse 16 and eats her and bares her flesh and burns her with fire. Evil has in its heart very divisive power to turn the heart of the lover against the loved.

We as Christians see it in the every day in the LGBT+ lobby arguing amongst themselves over the rights of the trans people. Women now upset that having let the Trans lobby have recognition and power and having to have these people in the women’s public toilet in the local county council offices. At a deeper level we see the trouble with intolerant tolerant liberals a group that hold to another reality Tim Farron puts so clearly:

“People talk about shared values today – I’ve done it myself. But when they do, what they mean is: “These are my values – and I am going to act as though they are also yours, and will demonstrate contempt for you if you depart from them.”

And so we will slowly and deliberately destroy the society that Judeo-christian values created by the enforcing of the mantra that to be as good as we can be there must be nothing that we reject in terms of life style and sexuality. The mantra also includes the fact that the one thing that isn’t to be accepted is a biblically Christians view of the world. The world is drunk on the ideas the great prostitute in Revelation 17 has given birth to. They are loving the fact that there are ni absolutes in terms of family structure and sexual norms and even the nature of what it is to be a person is now fully fluid in many aspects of thinking.

But what is the logical outcome of this? Well it could be anarchism which can be defined as:

The theory of life and conduct under which society is conceived without government – harmony in such a society being obtained, not by the submission to law, or by obedience to any authority, but by free agreements concluded between the various groups, territorial and professional, freely constituted for the sake of production and consumption, as also for the satisfaction of the infinite variety of needs and aspirations of a civilised being.”

This is a theory that fails to acknowledge the one elephant in the room and that is that whenever man if able to remove God and live independent of an influence from Christendom things seem to go from bad to worse. The examples from history are many and terrible;

  • Nazi Germany
  • Communist Russia
  • Pol Pots Cambodia
  • North Korea

and there are many more examples of attempts at something better than Christian living ending in the terror of the women in 1945 in Berlin being raped and gangs of Nazi thugs hanging children.

Back to my original thesis that sin is self-destructive, look around you do you see a happy society that has strong family structures and healthy life patterns? I don’t and we all know why.

 

Past Pain

I would like you to image an old soldier walking into town leaning on a stick. There is a child with him and he is happy and jolly with the child. Then they go into the park and the old man stands still as the, pass the war memorial and he looks at the names. in an instant he is back in that fox hole in 1944 in Holland the shells are raining down and the dead men litter the field. The pain is overwhelming and a tear is seen in his eye. In that moment he is broken again and the wound in his leg hurts like it did 70 years earlier.

There are many clergy like that man, they have lived through the battle ground that is church life. They have tried to bring about change or they just were not like their predecessor, they preached in a different way and or they just were ministering somewhere where the gospel was hated. What do we do with them? We move them on and put them into action again, but I can see that 13 years in a painful ministry is a God-given privilege in that as one man put it:

There are some things we would love to forget but scars will be there forever, serving as a constant reminder. As painful as they may these inwardly and outwardly actually do serve a very important purpose.

They remind us of the impacts of sin and the are a powerful reminder that as a church we are to be as it says in Ephesians 4 enabled to walk:

in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

They also remind me I walk the way of the cross and as Christ suffered so will I and that i am not immune from the effects of ministry. I have pretended that they have all healed and the past is the past but it never is it affects and is affected by the present. we need as a writer put it to remember:

God doesn’t give us scars to remind us that we have been hurt. God gives us scars to remind us that we have been healed having been faithful, we’ve been delivered; and we’ve been set free! Although Paul endured attacks upon his ministry, he reminded those involved (the Galatians church) his scars showed that belonged to Jesus. Thank God for scars!

My pain is something I need to find a way to cherish and use to the glory of God because in the darkest moments he held me and brought me out of the pit. However handle you minister, pastor, clergy with care they have been in the front line and they will have faced live fire from the Devil and will bear the scars and as much as you wouldn’t press on the wound of that veteran, why would you be careless with your minster, pastor or clergy. A U.S University research project concluded;

Social support from the congregation was a protective factor in terms of the
relationship between burnout and turnover intentions.
Remember what it says in Ephesians 4 that:
“he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to
equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until
we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to
mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”

 

He gave us each other as an act of love and remeber they have been in the front line and they will hurt and they will cry and they may need space to hurt and I know that it will take me 2 or even 4 years to recover but i know i have a church that will walk with me in that recovery.