The Gay Marriage Debate: Leave your belief at the door


1It is often said that Christians should not push/impose/force their beliefs on the rest of society.

I find this not a little bit interesting.

What is meant by such a statement?  It is quite simple: You have beliefs that impact your life, which I don’t care for.  So please refrain from doing whatever you’re doing in the event that your beliefs end up impacting my life in a way that I don’t care for.

The premise is simple – this is my life not yours.

An issue has again raised its very ugly head due to events that are taking place over in the US.  For more on this check out the front page of the NY Times here.

I’ve been reading blogs, Fb posts, and articles around the traps that are hellbent on wiping the other side out.  These kinds of ethical issues draw out the worst of both sides, which is a real shame.

It is immature.

Whether it is the legalisation of prostitution, the privatisation of the state-owned railway or the implementation of industrial reform there is a political process that is to be followed in order to create legal norms in our societies.  One aspect of this is public debate in which exists numerous parties (not two!) that fight it out for their own piece of the ideological pie.

Shhhhh!But no matter how many parties are fighting for the pie, how dare anyone or any party try to remove opposing voices from the debate.

The call for Christians to leave their beliefs at the door is not only naive (how can they?), but also contrary to the very pillars that our modern societies are based on.

Furthermore it is simplistic.  There are many people who are not religious that hold ‘traditional’ views on this matter.  So what request is to be made of them so that their view/s might not impact in a similar way to the christians’?

What we see in these debates (on both sides) is a kind of insecurity, the kind of insecurity that one can see in autocratic states where any given ideology cannot fly by political persuasion alone.

Voices are silenced.

Perspectives are outlawed.

Make no mistake, debate is to be had, due process is to be followed, and outcomes are to be respected, but on no terms are Christians (or any other party) to be quiet because their beliefs impact their voice, whether we agree with them or not.

Missions Musings 17: Reaching the churched


Good-News-Art-F1-600x300Many of us who live and work in foreign contexts are working with the churched.

When I say churched I am speaking about those people who have been enculturated within a society where the institutional church looms large.

In such contexts the Church’s function is often to dispense salvation.  The church is the one-stop-shop that’s attended twice per year to get what is needed for eternity.  More often than not the churched know of God in a vague abstract sense.  They know about Jesus and his death in as much detail as you or I know about Joan of Arc and her death.  Yep, we’ve seen the movie:)

How does one reach these people?  That is, how does one communicate the life-giving truth of the gospel to those who have not heard it yet?  Here are a few things that have become a part of the way that I do it:

1.  Know their theology

If we do not know what they believe how can we with good conscience rip them away from the church through which they think they are being saved?  We need to be very diligent in understanding what they believe and why so that we can be sure that our actions and message is not in fact dividing the body of Christ.

What should we get to know?  Understand the role of their church in salvation.  Get know what they mean by salvation.  Clearly understand  the place of the sacraments and the role they play in salvation.  Work out what authority they attribute to the Bible and also to tradition.  These points in particular are crucial.

2.  Understand their theological language

This is distinct though closely related to the first point.  Just because you hear the same words being used does not mean that you are talking about the same thing.   So for example, when an Eastern Orthodox believer states that they are saved by faith, we protestants should on face value heartily agree.  Yet if someone was to probe a little deeper the disparity between what the EO christian believes and what a protestant believes becomes apparent.  Ask questions to understand what they mean when they use theological terms.

3.  Use common points of agreement for discussion and study.

It’s a no-brainer, but rarely done.  What normally happens is that we jump to the differences, like icons, candles, papal authority, etc.  Engaging with commonality was Paul’s method at the Areopagus that day in Acts 17.  This is a good starting point because there is often commonality to be found in the person and work of Jesus.  Well, great!  Why don’t we start with Jesus.

Avoid the contentious issues and begin with Jesus.  In Colossians this is how Paul worked.  The church is struggling because fine-sounding arguments have permeate the church which has displaced the gospel.  What does he do?  He doesn’t tackle the apparent error head on until he has prepared the foundation.  Paul firstly explains who Jesus is and then he goes on to explain the gospel.  Only then does he get stuck into the issue at hand.

4.  Don’t treat them like a non-Christian

This is an interesting point that taps into our need to be sensitive.  The churched consider themsleves to be Christians, and they often assume to know everything (don’t we all!) that they need to know.  Therefore to come at them with all the answers and the ‘truth’ is a fast track to causing offense and shutting down any opportunities for good discussion.  Be careful with how they perceive your take on their Christianity.

5.  Use the Bible

Once again it sounds like a no-brainer, but so often the Bible is often sidelined in favour of topical and spaghetti style discussions.  Get the Bible out and establish what the Bible has to say about the common points of interest.  Avoid saying things like, ‘God said…’  and ‘The Bible says…’ and ‘Jesus said….  Unhelpful!  Demonstrate the authority of the Bible in your own faith by using it properly in discussion, taking into account the context of the passage and its place in the Bible’s big picture.  Use the Bible to deal with the issues, but also model its importance and how to use it.

5.  Be open to learning from them

In my study of Eastern Orthodoxy over the past 4 years I have come to appreciate some of their theology.  Let’s give credit where it is due.  Let’s show humility by genuinely wanting to understand what they believe.  It is poor form indeed to merely want to reach them without giving them the opportunity to convince you of their ideas and beliefs.  If we ourselves are seeking the truth then there is no need to be scared of genuinely weighing up what they will present.

6.  Don’t discount the idea that the churched might be in our own (protestant) churches

Don’t assume the gospel, teach it.

Jesus’ Patchwork Kindness


blingJesus didn’t really mean it.

Is it true that Jesus didn’t really mean what he said in Mark 10:17 when he told the rich young ruler to sell everything he had and give it to the poor?

How do we play this text away to justify that Jesus didn’t really mean it?

Most often we use the ol’ Jesus was really talking about the man’s heart.  However, it should concern us not a little that Jesus did not say, ‘Have an attitude of the heart that demonstrates that you would sell all your possessions and give them to the poor and come and follow me.’  This is not in the text.

question_markBut let’s ponder this line of reasoning for a minute.  If we truly had the attitude that we would sell it all, what would the circumstance be where we would put that commitment into action?  Hmmm…

I’m pretty sure that whatever circumstance we might insert here actually exists, which presents a bit of problem.  By our own reasoned standard, who of us has the proposed attitude of the heart that is willing to actually sell all we have and give it to the poor when the occasion arrives?

As I prepare for a seminar on the topic ‘Is is possible to have faith?’ (for a Bulgarian primarily secular audience) I’ve been reading a bit of Dietrich Bonheoffer.  It is impossible to not be challenged by the guy, especially when you get hold of chapter 2 in The Cost of Discipleship where he breaks down our rationalising and relativising of the said text.

He takes the last clause of the text (come and follow me) as serious as the selling everything clause.  Jesus is demanding a life of commitment, not merely commitment.

I think the way that we render this text has implications on the way that we help the poor.  We’re not obligated to sell all we have to help the poor and so we live this out.  We don’t sell what we have to help the poor.

imagesInstead our lives become patchwork gifts.

We find a cause here or there to contribute to out of our excess and in so doing we fail to engage with Jesus’ point – die to self and follow me.

We give cups of water when we a) manage to find a spare cup b) have some spare water lying around c) have some spare time to hand it over and c) find a spark of motivation to do it.

This means that our lives are not characterised by a) sacrificing our own wants for others’ needs and b) giving to the poor and needy, let alone c) following Christ.

Maybe Jesus means what he says.

If you want get a hold of this personally, head on over to www.thecriticalgap.org and get on board.  Or like The Critical Gap facebook group here

Damned Suicide


suicide-pictureRecently in Bulgaria a man died.

His death is interesting because it was a political statement.  His death has achieved what the man set out to do when he set himself on fire.  He wanted to draw attention primarily to the plight of the Bulgarian masses that are suffering under corrupt and incompetent governance.

This act of self-immolation was an anti-government protest.

Interestingly, the government and the Orthodox church (though I cannot confirm this) have paid tribute to this man.  The state has even sanctioned a national day of mourning for the man.

He is a hero!

This event has led to a number of interesting discussions around the traps, some of which have demonstrated a lack of clarity on the issues by confusing the denunciation of such political maneuvers with the topic of suicide and its consequences. As communicators of biblical truth, pastors need to be careful with their influence.

Hell-maze-mapRegarding the topic of suicide, a number of pastors here in Bulgaria have told me that suicide is a sin that condemns one to hell.  I find this interesting for a number of reasons, not least because the Bible is obviously the source for their perspective.

However, when we look at the Bible regarding suicide we find that the Bible is conspicuously quiet on the subject.  Where then does this thinking come from?

It seems to me to be a response to dealing with murder, more specifically, self-murder.  But this does not explain how one can conclude that suicide is a sin that warrants eternal damnation.

Who committed suicide in the Bible.  There are a few, but let’s mention only 4:

1.  The most famous is probably Judas, who, after betraying Jesus for some silver coins went and hung himself.  Matthew 27:5 states:  ‘So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself.’

2.  We might mention Sampson.  In judges 16:30 ‘Samson said, “Let me die with the Philistines!” Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it.’

999-2543. Then there was Saul and his armour-bearer.  1 Samuel 31:3-5 is pretty clear:  ‘Saul said to his armor-bearer, “Draw your sword and run me through, or these uncircumcised fellows will come and run me through and abuse me.”   But his armor-bearer was terrified and would not do it; so Saul took his own sword and fell on it. When the armor-bearer saw that Saul was dead, he too fell on his sword and died with him.’

4.  Have you heard of Abimelech.  In Judges 9:54 we read: ‘Immediately he called to the young man who carried his armor and said to him, “Draw your sword and kill me, so people will not say about me, ‘A woman killed him.’” So the young man thrust him through, and he died.’

So there certainly is suicide in the Bible, but the question is this: how does the Bible view suicide?

quWell, we don’t know to be frank.  However, in each of these instances the suicide reflects the disgrace and defeat that they find themselves in, except Sampson’s, which might be construed as martyrdom rather than suicide (there is room for debate here!).

We can say that suicide is deemed as a sin and unfavourable because life is not for humanity to take (even if it is our own).  One pastor was keen to point out the clear commandment not to kill in Exodus 20:13.

With this pastor we must agree that suicide is sin.  But this is hardly ever the point of contention.

The question on everyone’s lips is, ‘Will they go to heaven?’

And to this question we respond as the Bible does.  Quietly!

There are no grounds to claim that suicide leads to eternal separation from God, unless ones believes that one is saved not by God’s mercy and grace but by virtue of one’s deeds.

The reasoning goes something like this.  If I commit suicide then my last act was rebellion against God; a total abandonment of God as saviour and healer; and a demonstration of my poverty of faith.  Suicide shows that I have no faith.

loveFor the protestant evangelical Christian this thinking is incongruous with our tradition (and the Bible of course).  One is saved not by virtue of one’s own deeds, whether good or bad, but by virtue of God’s love demonstrated in Christ’s deed – his obedient death.

To say that one is condemned on the basis of one’s final deed relegates salvation to a work of the flesh.  God help us all if this were the case.

No, we contend that we are saved by grace through faith, which is a gift from God, so that we have nothing to boast about.  Suicide as a sin does not fall beyond the scope of God’s love and mercy.

His death is enough.  This is the good news that gives us all hope.

Don’t fool yourself


lutherThe dissertation that I’ve just started writing is on stuff about Martin Luther.

So I’ve begun reading through Luther’s works.  Where did I start?  Where else but where it all began, his Ninety-Five Theses.

Now, just in case you are not au fait with this piece of writing, it is legend!

Firstly, Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses was not written in ’95 in whatever century you might like to choose.  It has come to been known as such because it contains 95 points or theses (plural of thesis) 🙂

lutherThe second thing to know is that Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses is not a great protestant declaration, but rather an anti-16th-century-Catholic-abuse declaration. The full title of the writing is called, The Disputation on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.  In short, Luther was railing against the Catholic practice of selling indulgences so that God would do away with one’s temporal punishment for sins already forgiven.

Let’s say this era wasn’t the high point of the Catholic Church.

The point of this post however is thesis number 92:

92.  Away, then, with all those prophets who say to the people of Christ, ‘Peace, peace,’ and there is no peace!

I am reminded of Colossians 1 where we read about Paul speaking about how the gospel was bearing fruit in the lives of the Colossian believers since the day they first heard it from the great man Epaphras (1:6-7).  The Colossians were not promised fruit but deprived of the seed that produced it, not at all!  The gospel was given and fruit was produced.

appleTo demonstrate that they have not been deprived of the fruit producing agent Paul continues to tell them the gospel.  Having just stated the gospel, Paul states emphatically in 1:23, ‘This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which I, Paul, have become a servant’.

Luther is calling the Catholic money machine out on this one and saying that they promised the world, but delivered an atlas.  They promise so much through the indulgences and the like, but in fact did nothing more than empty their pockets.

They promised peace, but they received nothing.

Would we dare do the same?  Offer something that the cross does not give?  Or perhaps worse, offer what the cross gives, but neglect to communicate the cross?

How dare Christians offer peace through the cross (95th thesis) and instead provide shackles, hostility and burden.  How dare we offer salvation but teach law and condemnation in the name of eliciting personal change.

carrotHow dare teachers of the good news dangle the carrot of gospel blessing in people’s faces and never hand over the very substance of that good news.

Luther says, ‘Away with them!’

It might not be the 16th century and we might not be Catholic, but we can abuse, subjugate, and withhold blessing from the church just as well by withholding the gospel and thus its fruit from the church if it is not explicitly communicated.

Let’s not pretend or assume to teach the gospel, let’s teach it.  If you not teaching the content of the gospel then you are not teaching the gospel:

I Corinthians 15:1-8

Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep.

This is the gospel that bears fruit.

Book Review – Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology


anglcanSydney Anglicanism: An Apology.  By Michael P. Jensen.  Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2012. $9.99 for Kindle version and $21.00 for paperback here.

Sydney Anglicans are fundamentalist, sexist, theological and political bullies, and not faithful to historical Anglicanism.  These are some of the claims that Jensen seeks to debunk in his book Sydney Anglicanism: An Apology – though not before presenting a raft of issues that need addressing, as well as possible ways that Sydney Anglicans can move forward as they look to the future.

The book is divided into two parts: The Bible and The Church.  This division enables Jensen to not only address the concepts that are distinctively associated with Sydney Anglicanism, but also to engage with a number of opponents and arguments that have been pitted against Sydney Anglicanism.  Jensen also takes opportunities (especially in part two) to delve into Sydney’s unique culture and history to shed some light on why Sydney Anglicans are a unique breed.  This uniqueness, however, is carefully couched within an argument that seeks to maintain that Sydney Anglicanism is an extension not only of historical Anglicanism but also of the contemporary universal Anglican Communion.

Jensen begins part one by clarifying the term fundamentalism.  He subsequently defends the view that, according to the historical conception of fundamentalism, the labelling of Sydney Anglicanism as fundamentalist is at best misguided and at worst disingenuous.  The impression that Jensen gives is that the label fundamentalist is used of Sydney Anglicanism in the pejorative sense, in an attempt to impugn by mere association.  This is clearly an issue that Jensen seeks to lay to rest, which he achieves with the limited treatment that he gives.

The reader is then given a guided tour around the biblical distinctives of Sydney Anglicanism.  Of particular note is Graeme Goldsworthy’s pioneering of Biblical Theology.  This view holds that the Bible is a unity that centres on the cross of Christ, the event that orientates not only the New Testament but also the Old Testament.  As such the Bible is not a bunch of proof texts but a meta-narrative that informs not only how one reads the Bible but also how one teaches the Bible.

The final aspect of part one has to do with revelation and how this impacts praxis.  There are two primary discussions, the first of which engages with Peter Carnley’s mystical perspective, something not dissimilar to the Eastern Orthodox view of the unknowability of God.  Jensen portrays this view as seeking to distinguish itself from Sydney Anglicanism, which Jensen identifies is encapsulated in Broughton Knox’ clumsily titled article, ‘Propositional Revelation, the Only Revelation.’  The second discussion in this chapter engages with this article.  Jensen defends Knox by describing the title as hyperbole, however, Jensen does call for greater perspicuity of the issue for which he draws upon Peter Jensen’s The Revelation of God.  Essentially God’s self revelation is verbal, and it centres on the gospel of Jesus Christ, which is not to be understood as a static statement, but a living reality.  In other words, the words Jesus Christ is propositional and personal (a means of encounter).  Jensen defends the historicity of this claim.

In the last chapter of part one, Jensen demonstrates why preaching, and in particular expositional preaching, is the natural corollary of God’s self revelation. If God reveals himself in the gospel, then the reading, explication and application of this revelation must be central to the gathering of believers.  Jensen refers to John Stott’s influential visit to Moore College in 1958 and his book I Believe in Preaching, as formative to Moore’s current views.  In particular, that expositional preaching does not describe a particular style, as is commonly understood, but rather describes a particular content, that is, whatever the text is saying.

In part two Jensen looks at the doctrine of church, in particular the influence of Robinson and Knox.  Jensen is refreshingly critical of Robinson’s narrow view that church is local and verbal (an activity) on the basis of the word ekklesia.  Three arguments are worthy of mention.  Firstly, Jensen highlights the NT usage of ‘the Church of God’, a clear reference to an earthly church.  Secondly, Jensen shows that the Broughton-Know view was overly linguistically analytical and not sufficiently theologically informed.  Thirdly, Jensen highlights the dearth of attention given to the Holy Spirit in the Broughton-Knox ecclesiology.

In chapter seven Jensen gets to the real beef when he addresses the question, ‘Are Sydney Anglicans Actually Anglicans?’  In short his answer is yes.  Jensen cites the Sydney Anglican conviction and fidelity to the reformers and their associated texts, and that Sydney Anglican evangelicalism is a true reflection of the Anglican Church’s reformation past.

Jensen then deals with the topical issue of ordaining women in a helpful manner.  He highlights that the Sydney Anglican’s use of the term ‘subordination’ was a mistake and unhelpful.  To compare the subordination of women to men in role with Jesus’ subordination to the Father in role could be (and was) construed as Arianism.  Jensen engages this issues by clarifying the relationship using different terminology.  This is a welcomed correction.  Furthermore, Jensen offers a number of constructive discussions that could help clarify and promote better Sydney Anglican synthesis on issues regarding gender. The most helpful of these would be to engage in dialogue to better understand how Sydney Anglicans are using the words authority and obedience.

In the final chapters, Jensen identifies that Sydney Anglican’s have on many fronts dug their heels in and held their ground, however, he also shows that they have work faithfully within the Anglican political machine, giving ground where they could.

This book is the first stop to understanding Sydney Anglicanism.  Jensen does not try to convert, but rather reveal with fresh eyes and with an appropriately critical spirit what is Sydney Anglicanism.  This book would also be a great help to those people  throughout Australia and the world who wish to understand organisations that have been influenced by Sydney Anglicanism and Moore College, and even to understand the Biblical foundations of individuals who may have studied at Moore College.

Atheist Church


The Sunday AssemblyWhat would church be like without God?

Now we know.  Check it out here.

In Islington there is a church service for atheists.  In a stroke of pure irony, they hold their meeting in an unused church.

The service is taken by a comedian called Sanderson Jones.  They sing songs, take up money for the running of the service, and they even have a time of silence.  To round it all out, there appears to be a segment where Sanderson teaches about the atheists’ position.

One wonders why?

evangelOne attendee said that she was coming to sing and to listen to something positive.  The clip shows them singing one of Queen’s hits.  ‘After all the church does not own Sunday mornings’, one lady said.

True.

Sanderson stated that he’s not taking the mickey out of church, but rather, ‘trying to build upon it.’

Interesting.

Of most interest to me were the intentions of the movement, yes movement.  The goals of the atheist church are chillingly familiar to those of any suburban Christian church or Islamic mosque.  ‘If the idea spreads’, they wish to create another Sunday service and then they want to expand into other cities.

We find ourselves in interesting times when organised religion is simultaneously rejected and embraced.