Sardis = Church of England

“And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead.Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’

we have all read about fresh expressions and all the other types of church being trumpeted in the U.K today. Bishop’s write endless articles for the diocesan magazine talking about growth but we are seeing real substantial longterm growth of any significance. This left me asking a question why? Then I started to prepare to preach on this passage.

A key issue in the church in Sardis was that the city had twice been captured by an enemy because they where asleep at the watch tower believing the place impregnable. As the established church are we not the same living in a lie that no one can challenge us and that we will hold on to our place in the world and national order. But we see a creepy enemy.  The church times wrote recently:

“It is abundantly clear that a strong State Church runs the risk of being both excluding and exclusive – as, indeed, does a strong state. A weak State Church has the capacity to be more accommodating.”

But accommodating of what? The church appears to have a great reputation with its equivalent of the food bank, and the outreach to the homeless and the poor, the cafe and drop in centres. They ran the equivalent of great all age worship and holiday clubs but they where at their heart dead. They are churches that as 2 Tim 3:5 puts it are having the form of godliness but the are denying its power. There was a deadness of spirit. An example of this was the Bishop of Loughborough’s sermon at the Chrism Eucharist on Maunday Thursday. There we were gathered in the Cathedral waiting to hear the gospel and we didn’t really hear reference to be bible, save in passing. You could zone in and out and miss nothing important or inspiring. I felt like we where on the edge of death.

We are in danger of kidding ourselves that the church has life in it, the church of England needs to see that if it fails to repent and turn (v3) then Christ will come and judge the church. He will come to the church in its self satisfied security and remove as one commentator says the mercies and joys we have.

There is an encouragement to all churches in this passage. I led a very small group of churches for 13 years where a good Sunday would meand we might have 35 in church. Jesus says here to the church in Sardis there are a few faithful people and only a few but the will be rewarded with white robes. So preach brothers, preach remember what 2 Tim 4 says:

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.

Remember as it says in verse 5 your names in the book of life and will stay there. Our church is at a turning point, will it compromise with the secular culture and the enemy will come and capture it or will it wake up and smell the mustard. to wake up it must actively repent and I believe remove bishops from post. It must require of its Vicars and Rectors full acceptance of te 39 Articles of Religion. It must stand firm against inovations intorduced to placate the secular demands of Parliament.

The Gardian reported that the authors of Theology Matters: Comparing the Traits of Growing and Declining Mainline Protestant Church Attendees and Clergy found that on all measures, the growing churches “held more firmly to the traditional beliefs of Christianity and were more diligent in things like prayer and Bible reading,” Haskell said;

  • Only 50% of clergy from declining churches agreed it was “very important to encourage non-Christians to become Christians”, compared to 100% of clergy from growing churches.
  • 71% of clergy from growing churches read the Bible daily compared with 19% from declining churches.
  • 46% of people attending growing churches read the Bible once a week compared with 26% from declining churches.
  • 93% of clergy and 83% of worshippers from growing churches agreed with the statement “Jesus rose from the dead with a real flesh-and-blood body leaving behind an empty tomb”. This compared with 67% of worshippers and 56% of clergy from declining churches.
  • 100% of clergy and 90% of worshippers agreed that “God performs miracles in answer to prayers”, compared with 80% of worshippers and 44% of clergy from declining churches.

The study also found that about two-thirds of congregations at growing churches were under the age of 60, whereas two-thirds of congregations at declining churches were over 60.

We are in grave Danger of being the church in Sardis

Broken Communion

As I prepare to attend the Chrism Eucharist I am a troubled man. The Dean in my cathedral is living in a civil partnership. In the past the clergy in my parish have been in impaired communion with the Dean and the cathedral. so what am I to do that will affrim my my Bishops ministry and take the right stand in realtion to the leader of the mission at the catherdral. The Church of England isn’t clear on the matter, but i will take as its postion the two psotions taken in 1987 and at the Lambeth Conference on the matter of sexuality.

In 1987 the Higton motion was passed at General Synod and it reads:

“This Synod affirms that the biblical and traditional teaching on chastity and fidelity in personal relationships is a response to, and an expression of, God’s love for each one of us, and in particular affirm:

1) that sexual intercourse is an act of total commitment which belongs properly within a permanent married relationship

2) that fornication and adultery are sins against this ideal, and are to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion

3) that homosexual genital acts also fall short of this ideal, and are likewise to be met by a call to repentance and the exercise of compassion

4) that all Christians are called to be exemplary in all spheres of morality, including sexual morality, and that holiness of life is particularly required of Christian leaders.”

and Lambeth 1.10 (d) says:

 

“while rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture, calls on all our people to minister pastorally and sensitively to all irrespective of sexual orientation and to condemn irrational fear of homosexuals, violence within marriage and any trivialisation and commercialisation of sex;”

So, my simple question is can I attend a service in a cathedral where the Dean takes a different view on what scripture says and can I receive communion there? Pete Broadbent suggested to me that the Chrism Eucharist is the bishops service and the cathedral just hosts it and others have remind me of article 26 which reads:

“Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and, Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ’s, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry, both in hearing the Word of God, and in the receiving of the Sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.”

This eems to imply that as the service will be led by the bishop and the communion is not effected by the sin of any minister and by sin I accept Wayne Grudhem’s  definition of it as a “refusal to conform to the moral law of God in act, attitude or nature.”

We have to consider the nature of the cathedral within the diocese next, and the accepted norm is that they are a focus for the diocese in mission and they are the seat of the bishop. The leader of that mission is the dean and a dean (decanus) seems to have derived the designation from the Benedictine “deans” who had ten monks under their charge. The dean came into existence to supply the place of the provost in the internal management of the church and chapter. In England every secular cathedral church was headed by a dean who was originally elected by the chapter and confirmed in office by the bishop. The dean is president of the chapter and within the cathedral has charge of the celebration of the services, taking specified portions of them by statute on the principal festivals. Deans sit in the principal stall in the choir, which is usually the first on the right hand on entering the choir at the west.

The Dean isn’t the cathedral and I can be in communion with the cathedral and I think with the bishop and attend his services in his cathedral without acknowledging good relations with another  person who in my opinion is acting in a way that is sinful with Grudhems definition. So how do I view the people who fall within this definition? Genesis tells me they are made in the image of God and thus in their created humanity good. the bible also tells me to love my neighbour as I love myself so I am to love them even if that means telling them that what they think is valid as a life choice is wrong biblically. Christ has compassion on sinners and so must I.

The issue is can I work with a person to take forward the gospel and clearly if the gospel that a person puts forward is fundamentally different to my understanding of what the bible teaches then I cannot. I am not being asked to do that and so as I have an orthodox bishop I believe that the attendance at the Chrism isn’t a comment of support for the stance taken by any member of the chapter. I must be biblical and the bible teaches in Matthew 18:

15 “If your brother or sister[b] sins,[c] go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’[d] 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

I must first make my issue plain with the individual and then with my bishop if there is no change in the persons view, what does verse 17 mean in reality? It means that to me and me alone the person I am at odds with are as an outsider to the church I stand in impaired communion with a person not a church. The church may decide, when I make clear what I think, not to act in any way that impairs communion but I must stand by the teaching of the bible.

So, in summary I cannot be in impaired communion with my bishop as he is standing for biblical teaching and I cannot be out of communion with a building so I can go to the cathedral for a service led by the bishop. Out of love I must let the person i believe to be in sin know of my issue and my view and call them to repentance. If they refuse to repent and the church refuses to act in any way to discipline them,  we, meaning the Dean and I must be in impaired communion. A friend of a friend said “Jesus is not an easy travelling companion” because he calls us to call for radical transformation in people through teaching the Gospel. I will go and act with compassion and in love what ever that calls me to do and say.

No Platform

Why are students no platforming people? what are they scared of? The reality is that we have created a fragile group of people that are anable to hear anything that doesnt affirm their fragile understanding of who they are. This is profoudly damaging to people and society and it makes mission for the church very hard. The simple turth is that we cannot share jesus because he challenges the nature of who we are.

In Mark 10 we read:

17 As He was setting out on a journey, a man ran up to Him and knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 18 And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.19 You know the commandments, ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’”20 And he said to Him, “Teacher, I have kept all these things from my youth up.”21 Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” 22 But at these words [a]he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.

23 And Jesus, looking around, *said to His disciples, “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God!” 24 The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus *answered again and *said to them, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! 25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” 26 They were even more astonished and said to Him, “[b]Then who can be saved?” 27 Looking at them, Jesus *said, “With people it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”

the core issue here is that this is a good young Jew and Jesus in today’s way of thinking should affirm him in his Jewish understand of what is needed to be saved. How dare Christ spot the flaw in the persons character and open it up to be seen and acknowledged. Yet we are forced to see that with out this that man is lost and has no hope of salvation.

Pshycology today helpfully suggests:

Overcontrolling parents love their children and want to protect them from what they see as an increasingly dangerous world. So they frantically package them for success, protecting their children from failure while pressuring them to excel, doing their homework, making their decisions, and micromanaging their lives. Yet these parents may be depriving their children of essential brain development, sabotaging their ability to think for themselves and develop the very cognitive skills they need to succeed in life.

We have a generation of emotionally fragile people that cant face the reaility of the nature of sin and what we need to do to be saved. So how do we respond? at a practical level as parents we must:

  • Honest praise and honest criticism
  • Encouraging children to solve problems and deal with challenges
  • Giving them increasing responsibility.

As churches we need to ask different sets of questions and be very aware of the imapct of the investigation of Christianity. We need to ask the questions about why people feel threatened and what the drivers are for that. We need to show that we understand these “kidults” and teach them at the level and in the way we teach children. This means teaching simply the bible and letting the bible challenge and convict and then we have to be able to handle the anger and hurt with compassion. But we need to see that no platforming is a defense that is vitail to a generation that is emotinoally weak and has been badly parented, in fact they have been over parented. Teach the bible to them and let God do the rest.

We in the church will be no platformed so we must be like Wesley and preach in the other places because if we don’t this fragile generation of snowflakes are bound for a self defined and selfprojected hell.

Transgender and created order

What is transgenderism? One definition is that trangendreism is “denoting or relating to a person whose sense of personal identity and gender does not correspond with their birth sex.” This has some far reaching biblical implications and they start in Genesis wher God created a universe and said it was good in Genesis we read:

Then the Lord God formed a man[c] from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

and we read:

But for Adam[f] no suitable helper was found. 21 So the Lord God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs[g]and then closed up the place with flesh. 22 Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib[h] he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.

23 The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones
    and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
    for she was taken out of man.”

24 That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.

Now, if we suggest that a man can be trapped in a women’s body and a woman in a man’s we might suggest that God’s ordering at the moment of a human being created can be a mistake so when we read in psalm 139:

For you created my inmost being;
    you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
    your works are wonderful,
    I know that full well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you
    when I was made in the secret place,
    when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

We have to presume that God gets it wrong; but God never gets it wrong that is our speciality. We read in Revelation 15 that:

“and sang the song of God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb: “Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the nations.”

But if we accept the trangender arguement then God can’t be a perfect and loving God,  because it is only a horrible and capricious God traps people in the wrong bodies? Genesis suggests that God made a perfect creation as he intended it to be and that we corrupted it. the bible again and again suggest that God is wise, perfect and loving so why would that God act in such an unloving way? The issue isn’t God’s possible mistake but our choice that organic being and a right to be true to what we think can be held in a sought of tension the simple truth is when being true to myself denies the reality of God and his rule in the world is is a clever way of saying I want to sin.

This quote from the Gospel Coilition sums it up:

“We do not have an inalienable right to do whatever we want with our physical selves. We belong to God and should glorify him with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:19-20).”

We are called to love and compassion for all humanity and especially for the confused but we must hold before is the image of the Church at Pergamum in Revelation 2 where we read:

 Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.16 Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.”

We have to remember when we oppose the truth as it have been given us by God and in saying God makes mistakes and hurts people with gender confussion we face Jesus as our opposition and it is agianst us he will make war.

Loss of first love

We have been preaching form the book of Revelation this term and as I prepared last Sunday I as struck by these verses;

Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.

There is an beliefe in the good old C of E that it was founded 500 years ago and that was basesd on a Chritsian witnes that streched back another 500 plus years and that each parish church will continue to stand as a witness it each community. This verse tells us that the mission of God is not a gauruntee that our personal church will stand for ever and a day if we loose that first love for Jesus. As Matthew Henry put it “they have not forsaken the object of their love but have lost the fervent desire with which their love started.” The church in the 21st century in the UK has begun to move from being a lover of Christ to finding the teachings of Christ uncomfortable and they are leaving the truth behind. Matthew Henery goes on in his commentary:

“They must recall how much peace, strength, purity, and pleasure they have lost because they have forsaken their first love. They must remember how much more comfortably they used to be able to lie down and sleep at night, how much more cheerfully they could wake up in the morning, how much better they were able to bear afflictions, and how much more they were able to enjoy the favors of providence. They must remember how much easier it was for them to think about death and how much more they used to desire and hope for heaven.”

What I see in the church today is fear at what is happening around it and a desire to stop that by compromise as the Nicolations had compromised with their society. Leon Morris makes the resulting judgement clear in his commantary when he says:

“If they do not heed, dire consequences are sure and swift. I will come is in fact in the present tense ‘I am coming’. John sees it before his eyes. If the church does not heed the injunction Christ will remove its lampstand, which appears to signify the total destruction of the church. A church can continue only for so long on a loveless course. Without love it ceases to be a church.”

Please not this is not a call for the church to be a loving all encompassing, all welcoming and non judgemental home for people, but a people in love with Jesus. We are in danger in the west of having our lampstand removed. We evangelicans must take care that we never get caught like the church in Ephesus and can be accused that we as they had “yielded to the temptation, ever present to Christians, to put all their emphasis on sound teaching. In the process they lost love, without which all else is nothing.” The letter to the church in Ephesus we are told is for thoses who will hear and although written to a spefic people it speaks to us.

WE have to repent as a national church that we have either lost the love and repalced it with doctrine or lost it and replaced it with social work, or even ritual.

The Remedy is simple look back greive over where we have fallen form and repent, in a marriage we save it by remembering and rekindling what it was like in the first days and months of the relationship. The advice in a marriage in trouble is:

  • Remember and Re-experience —Remember those early days of dating, when your partner could do no wrong? You probably had butterflies of excitement at the mere thought of getting together. Perhaps you left your first few dates with the thrilling anticipation of seeing them again.
  • Listen Attentively —When you went on the first few dates with your partner, you probably did not have your face buried in an iPad or a cell phone. (Perhaps they weren’t even invented yet!) It is more likely that you paid close attention to him or her and acted in a manner that showed how much you truly cared about what they had to say. You probably wanted to know everything about them and listened carefully to what they shared about themselves.
  • Inquire Deeply —In the courting stage of relationships, people usually want to know more about each other. Granted, all the stories are new and hot off the press when you first meet, but even if you have been with someone for years, you can still remain genuinely open to wanting to hear more about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
  • Mind Your Manners —Take an honest look at the way you speak to your spouse or partner, particularly when you are frustrated, angry, tired, or depressed. Unfortunately, for many people, if they spoke to their friends the way they speak to their partners, they wouldn’t have too many friends left
  • Stoke the Fire —In our busy, task-oriented world, we too often put our relationship on the back burner and forget to keep the spark of love alive. Getting caught up in our daily rituals and routines, we may miss the opportunity to shake things up romantically with the one we love.

If you don’t give time and effort to the relationship it will die. We need to call on the church nationally to repent and return to its lover.

Reflections of my last parish

I have now been in post 10 months in Sileby and it is time to look back not in anger at the last 13 years of rural ministry. There were high points and low points, there were moments of joy, grief and pain. But what has God done in me in that time is the greatest question?

As I look back I see that the benefice in my last living was one with a poor history of caring for its pastors/ vicars it had a deep sense of entitlement and believed there would always be a priest in the villages. They failed to see that the granting of a priest by the diocese is a honour and that with it comes a duty of care to the person that will give everything for their benefit. There were people that showed love and care for us but I will always remember at the time my wife had a detached reitna the village through one person complaining about my not having said good morning as we left for the eye hospital in Oxford and recieving no offers of help thereafter. I will also remember the hurtful emails and the fact that if we advertised certain church events with posters and flyers they would often be found torn up in the vicarage garden.

God made me utterly dependent on him for my survival in the darkest moments, I had to cling to the cross. When people acted in selfish ways and attacked me and as one person told me they would in effect bring an end to my ministry where did I turn again and again? To Prayer.

Did I try to do to much when I was there? Yes i think I did, and I pushed hard for the gospel to be preached and I expected everyone to join me on the journey of evagelising the villages. But on reflection there wasnt enough effort on my part in the one to one sessions with people. Was there the time to do that? perhaps not. I think when you are being pressured you don’t always look at anything but the thing creating the pressure and you take your eyes of the ball. Yes I made mistakes, I will be the first to admit that, but so did the parishes.

Please if you are a clergyman do your research before you accept a job, I didn’t, and paid the price. If I had I would have found out about the long history of witchcraft, the fact that from 1900 to 2017 I would be only the second clergyman to serve longer than 10 years. That my predesessor had left under a cloud and that the person before him had committed suicide.

Am I mad with the people and the villages? No not really I love many of the people and miss them and the joy of working with them. I did feel very hurt at the end but that related to specific events. God has set me free to praise him for my time in the benefice.

God did a number of things;

  • He taught me to be dependant on Him.
  • He taught me the truth and importance of holding to a ministry shaped by  2 Timothy 4 – In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge:Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry – I learn’t that I could not deny the truth and what the bible says and to let the word create offence not me.
  • That churches are filled with a glorious mixture of people including believers and religious people unwilling to bend to Gods will for them and you are to preach to them bible truths and leave the rest to God.
  • That not every church will grow when the bible is taught.
  • That without him ministry is impossible.

Now on to someting new.

Raging

I have read Peter Ould and many others about Jacob Rees- Mogg and I have seen the cartoon in the times. The question is why are we so shocked. The world is like a child standing in the corner with its hands over its eyes saying to God you can’t see me. The truth is there and contained in the bible and they know that God can see them but the are wrapped in a liberal self denial. Now when a person points out the logic of biblical truth it power is given sway, there will be an angry response.

This week i attended my preachers group and we discussed Romans 1:18-32. The simple truth is that we live in a world that has been given over to the judgement of God’s wrath. The fact that God is there and that he has been witness to by the world means that there is no excuse for the behaviour of the world.

The simple truth is we are in a rebellious world that rejects the things of God with a violence that is quite breathtaking. We seek to preserve the world God made and yet we refuse to acknowldge the maker and his rule of life.we reject him and worship the things he made. The times cartoon is a sign of the wrath of God being revealed.