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Saturday, 24 November 2012

Archbishop Rowan Atkinson?

The tragic state of the Church of England
This week has revealed the sorry state of the Anglican church like rarely before. After the vote went against ordaining women bishops, the Archbishop, Rowan Williams, said this, quoted from the BBC website:

"Whatever the motivations for voting yesterday, whatever the theological principle on which people acted and spoke, the fact remains that a great deal of this discussion is not intelligible to our wider society - worse than that, it seems that we are wilfully blind to some of the trends and priorities in that wider society."

He revealed in this short statement a fundamental flaw of the Anglican church - it prefers public opinion to Christ's word. In other words, for him the embarassing thing was that the Anglican church was running against the "trends and priorities" of the world.

If we were to ask why so much of the Anglican church is weak, we need look no further than the Archbishop's words......

Why should Christian discussion be intelligible to the world?
Why should Christian theology be intelligible to the world, whose thinking has become futile (Romans 1:21) and is in fact foolishness (1 Cor 1:20). And since the wisdom of God is foolishness to the world, why should they understand what we are on about? What is more, on the very subject of women bishops, how can the world understand the basic principle that lies behind God's order between the sexes, that there can be order without hierarchy (see later)?

Why should we follow the trends and priorities of the world?
I don't know if this is an 'established church' society-pleasing blind-spot, but the Archbishop has got things exactly upside down. The church is never to follow the world. We are called not to love the world or the things that are in the world (1 John 2:15-17), or the thinking of the world (Psalm 1:1). Rather we are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2). In fact if the world is demanding something, it's a pretty good bet we are called in the opposite direction, for they are still in the dominion of darkness from which we have been delivered (Colossians 1:13). We are to expect hatred from the world, not applause or rewards, because it hated Jesus first (John 15:19).

It is truly disturbing to find the Archbishop lamenting the unpopularity of the church in the eyes of the world. He should instead be applauding the church for her stand.

Theology by Weathervane?
If we were to follow the Archbishop's logic, the church would meekly follow the world like Mary's little lamb. What shall we do next? Let us ask the present (and passing, for their opinions will change tomorrow) world what to do and believe?

There are lots of atheists out there, so let's abandon our belief in God!

There are some of anti-miracle scientists out there, let's abandon our belief in the Resurrection.

There are lots of pedophiles out there, and who is to say that one day the world will not recognise their practices as it has come to recognise the practice of  homosexuals? (If you think this is far-fetched, it's you that has the problem, not me: just pick up a history book, or check out the web article below. Present history alone proves the case: fifty years ago it would be unthinkable that a Prime Minister would be at the forefront of advocating the gay agenda. That is how fast social mores can change).

So should the church, following the world yet again, then acknowledge their practices and welcome unrepentant pedophiles into membership?

Doing theology by weather vane or the Mary's little lamb principle, you see, is a treacherous business. 

Women Bishops?
But what about the issue behind the vote? Should women become bishops? How do we determine such an issue? If we reject the Archbishop's method - ask the world what it thinks - what should we do instead? We should go to the Word of Christ, surely. And there we find a clear pointer, which the world will and can never understand.

Equal but different
Men and women are equal in God's eyes, both made in the image of God, but their differences go beyond physiology. According to Genesis 1 & 2 there is an order between men and women. God created man first, he gave his word to the man, he created the woman for the man, he created her out of the man. He gave responsibility to the man, for when Eve usurped that responsibility by replying to the serpent, God blames Adam for listening to his wife.

Adam and Eve are equal but there is an order between them. 

The world can never understand this, because it has no model to grasp the principle: that there can be order without a hint of hierarch. But we in the church have a wonderful example: the trinity.

In the Godhead, Father, Son and Spirit are co-equal, they are each God, yet, there is an order between them. The Father sends the Son, but the Son never sends the Father. The Father and the Son send the Spirit, but the Spirit never sends the Father or the Son. The Son constantly obeys the Father, but the Father, does not obey the Son.

Order but no hierarchy
Because of the abuse of power and position in the world, it cannot understand that there can be order without a hint of hierarchy. But there is perfect order without a hint of hierarchy in the Godhead. And this model is found between men and women in Scripture.

The husband is the head of the wife, says Paul, Ephesians 5:22-24. That does not mean he can go around bossing his wife hither and thither; no, he is called to love his wife and care for her.

And right throughout the New Testament, without a single exception, men are called to both lead the church and to be its teachers. Jesus, who was Mr Counter-cultural, could have chosen 6 men and 6 women, but he didn't. Paul could have chosen two sisters to lead his churches, but he chose Timothy and Titus. Without a single exception, all the leaders of the NT church are men. Women play an amazing and wonderful role, but they don't lead the church or preach to men.

Why? Because the creation order is expressed, not only in husband-wife relationships, but in church relationships too (it would be very strange if in the home life, a woman had to acknowledge the headship of her husband, but could then go and express headship over other men in the church).

Declining attendance
Perhaps the reason attendance of the Church of England is in decline is that she is so much like the world.

Why go to church when you can hear the same "doctrine" on the box, in the Sunday newspapers, or on the internet - and in the comfort of your own home, without going out to a cold breezy religious building?

Thankfully there are some Anglican churches and Anglican pastors who are faithful to Christ. We ought to pray for them. And pray that the next Archbishop might be more concerned about the honour of Christ than about pleasing the world.

The true underlying tragedy
The tragedy, for me, is that the Archbishop said not one word about Christ or his Word in his closing statements. His only concern was to be right in the eyes of men. If he had argued the cause of women bishops from Scripture, I wouldn't have written this blog - I would have disagreed with him - and done so in love.  But all he was worried about was what the world thinks.

I don't know whether we should laugh or cry.

If we thought that the cause of Christ in the UK was tied to the Anglican church we might weep.

But since that is not the case, perhaps we should laugh: I didn't get the Archbishop's name wrong in the title.

 A disturbing article about academics advocating "intergenerational intimacy" (read pedophilia). (It's not the only one)

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Spared from injury or death in Kenya - why?

A "missions" trip
Four of us from our home church have just returned from a 'missions' trip to Kenya. Inverted commas, because if anything it is reverse missionary work for the westerner. We must never think of ourselves as some great white "bwanas" out there to help the poor "natives".  That is not just imperial contempt, it is spiritual self-deception. African Christianity probably has more to teach us than we will ever teach it. Why? Because suffering for the sake of Christ, rather than knowledge, riches or organizational abilities is the badge of true Christianity - and African Christians know what suffering for Christ's sake is all about.

With that common misunderstanding off my chest, there are perhaps some things westerners can contribute to the Africans, as well as the more numerous things they can contribute to us. Perhaps we can encourage local pastors-leaders to train other pastors so that the "mile wide and inch deep" African church may mature itself by the grace of Christ.

The art of ART
This is where African Rural Trainers comes in. Established by Jeremy and Jan Peckham, it seeks to equip three full-time men to train other pastors. 150 pastors are due to complete their training next year and 500 more may sign up for the second round next year. 

Two elders from Manor Park church went with Jeremy and Jan to do a lot of learning, a little teaching, and to be an extra pair of eyes and ears for Jeremy and Jan.

We went for ten days, and on day four we were spared from serious injury or even death....

The accident
the car after rolling
The brief account is this: on the B3 from Narok to Bomet we were hit from behind by a truck which caused us to spin 180 degrees and hit the car in front. The car in front then came off the road but managed to come to an uneventful stop. After being hit, our Toyota Voxy (a big eight-seater MPV) rolled over and over, landing driver side beside the road in a wide rain ditch. One of our number was thrown out of the car as it span but was not crushed by the car as it came to rest right beside her.

Another came out of his seatbelt. (For the physicists among you, he was seated at the pivot of the spin where the g-forces are smallest and so his seatbelt did not lock.) On the last roll the top half of his body, but not his waist and legs, was thrown out of the window and he saw the car roof falling to his chest - but it came to rest just inches away from him and he was able to clamber free.

Miraculously no serious harm was sustained to the six of us apart from minor cuts, bruises and aches. We were shaken and sobered, but we are still in the land of the living.

the car after being turned right
Looking at the written off car (below, right) a few days later we wondered how anyone could have emerged without serious injury or even death.

The saddest part
Tragically, after hitting us, the truck went on to smash into a car coming in the opposite direction. All three occupants were called from time into eternity in the twinkling of an eye.

Two of the three who died were pastors - for all we know, rural pastors.

the car at the police depot
Sober thanksgiving and reflection - why were we spared?
A few days later we returned to the sight of the crash to pray - and reflect.  God spares us for a reason, and one of those reasons is to renew our vows to walk upright in his sight:

I am under vows to you, O God;
    I will present my thank offerings to you
 For you have delivered me from death
    and my feet from stumbling,
that I may walk before God

in the light of life. Psalm 56:12-13
praying at the scene days later

But why were six believers spared while three were lost? Perhaps God has further purposes and plans for our lives. For sure, it has nothing to do with the merit of the six or the sinfulness of the three. Rather it has everything to do with God's mercy on the one hand and his inscrutable purposes on the other. 

We were enabled by God's grace to continue with the trip and found ourselves just perhaps, a little bit more fit to speak to God's suffering people in Kenya.

We pray for the families of the three who lost their lives, and for the two congregations who gathered at the police compound a few days later to mourn and wail the loss of their dear pastors.

Thursday, 1 November 2012

Doing Theology, Age Ten

Every Christian a 'theologian'
The word "theology" is not in the Bible, but the idea is. Theology comes from two Greek words, 'theos' for God, and 'logos' for reason. In the same way that biology is the study of the biosphere, theology is the study of God and his ways. For a believer this means the study of God's ways in his Word and world through the Scriptures.

A different way of learning - and different conclusions
Placing theology alongside biology or physiology or whatever other 'ology' is however, dangerous. There is a world of difference between studying the world around us and 'studying' God, and if we don't grasp the difference we'll soon go astray. For one thing, theology is worship. It is unthinkable that we should study God and his ways as some kind of intellectual exercise! Only a reverent attitude of humble worship will suit the Majesty of the Subject. A second difference with theology is this: studying God? What an insult to God, as if he were a subject and we were the object! As if we were 'up here', the analysing mind, and he was 'down there', the subject to be explored.  As if the object/subject relationship in all other branches of learning could be applied to God and us! If anyone is the Object it is God, if anyone a subject it is us. A third reason for a great divide between theology and every other 'ology' is that learning without obedience is impossible. In any other discipline, how you behave probably doesn't affect the learning process, but in theology, obedience and learning go together, "I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts" Psalm 119:100. A final difference is this: no 'student' of theology rises to any appreciable height. So high and mighty are God's ways, so past finding out, that we always remain in kindergarten, forever in kindergarten.

After saying all of that, every believer ought to desire to know God and his ways better, to love him with their whole beings, body, soul and mind. And this happens through God's Word.

My ten year old theologian!
Last week my wife and I went to one of those parent-teacher evenings for our ten year old son Caleb. As we sat waiting to see the teacher (why are they always delayed by 20 minutes?) we read through his writing books.

One little sentence caught my eye, and lifted my soul.

The class had been asked to write a piece on animal-testing for medical purposes. And this is a paraphrase-from-memory of what Caleb wrote:

Although I love animals to bits and don’t like any experiments on them, God made man in his image higher than the animals, so provided steps are taken to make the pain as little as possible, I think it is better if animals die to help humans to live.”

Apparently he had some heated debates with other animal lovers that day! Now what pleased me was the way he was applying his theology to life. If God made us in  his image but not the animals, it follows that we are far more valuable than they, and provided we cause minimal suffering to them, it is OK to use them to alleviate the suffering of God's higher creation. He might not have his biblical ethics on animal testing all sorted out perfectly but this was a good start.

The alternative world-view flows from naturalism and evolution. If we, like the animals have evolved, then there is no reason to place us above the animals and 'immoral' to experiment on them. Caleb hadn't bought into these modern myths, and for that I thank God.

The blunt fact of the matter is that the Biblical viewpoint alone is true: human beings stand head, shoulders and cliff-face above every other creature. There is no gradual incline from amoeba to monkey to man. There is a sharp discontinuity between all living creatures and us. This is very easy to show, especially when an instance of so-called likeness between animals and ourselves ('look the monkey is using a tool') is examined in elementary detail. (Example: 'tool' is an anthropomorphism used by ape-loving communities; the stupid ape is using a stick for one tiny little purpose, it is unable to use it in any other way: it is not a tool, it's a stick. "Using a tool' is an insult to the word and idea tool.)

Don't misunderstand me, the monkey stands infinitely above rocks and sand: it's not the lowliness of monkeys, but the nobility of man we are talking about here.

The point: a renewed mind
But here is my point. Every Christian should be doing theology: applying God's Word to the issues that surround us in the world. If our thinking is not renewed in this way, by God's Word, it will, by default be conformed to the pattern of this world, and we will be thinking and acting like the world which passes away.