The “Watch” Word for the New Year

The Watch Word for the New Year

The sales were in full swing. Town was bustling. I left the family to finish their shopping and went for a coffee in Starbucks.

Just me, my coffee and my phone. I love my Samsung Galaxy S4. Contacts, social media, music, diary and email on the go. So much a part of our modern world, but, today my phone battery was flat.

Coffee in hand, I sat to watch the world go by. I know all this. In fact, I have written about it! (“Stress. The Path to Peace”, IVP, 2014). Nevertheless, it was sobering to observe: 80% of the people around me were glued to their phone. Everyone, it seemed: families gathered around the tables, groups of 4 friends, men and women sitting on their own. The virtual world, apparently, so much more real than the, er, real world around them. Human contact had given way to peering into a small screen.

And, who am I to talk? I would have been doing the same thing if my phone had any life left in it!

But, it looked different without the phone before my eyes. I felt restless; not sure what to do with myself.

And, all the while this bible text pinging through my clogged up memory bank:  “Simon…Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour?” These words are originally directed at Simon Peter and the other sleeping disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane. On the night before he died, as Jesus wrestled with the inevitability of a cruel and sin-bearing cross, he went to pray. His soul was overwhelmed to the point of death. “Stay here, and keep watch” he instructed his followers.

Of course we know the story. Three times Jesus returns and finds them sleeping. But Jesus is ready: he has “watched and prayed” and now he is ready to drink the cup of wrath down to the dregs. Simon (we believe), on the other hand, is totally ill-prepared for this battle, instead lashing out with his sword (see Mark 14:32-51).

As the world sees in the New Year with fireworks and fresh resolutions, the Christian Church holds a “watchnight service”

I particularly like John Wesley’s idea of Covenant Services encapsulated in this modern version of the prayer:

“I am no longer my own, but yours. Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing:

I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.

And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, you are mine and I am yours. So be it. And the covenant now made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.”

So, although not being a big fan of New Year’s resolutions, this year I am covenanting to “yield afresh”, to put all things at God’s disposal.  I will take the time to “watch”. Time to clear my cache memory and time to defrag: that is, to yield, to pray, to refocus on Him and value the human relationships which are all around me.

Would you care to join me?

Why not check out new resources also available at http://www.simonvibert.com

resources prepared for The Pilling Report, theological tools for those involved the listening process?

Evidence from Reform to Episcopal Working Group on Sexuality

“The House of Bishops announced …….. that it intended to draw together material from the listening process undertaken within the Church of England over recent years in the light of the 1998 Lambeth Conference resolution on human sexuality. It also committed itself to offering proposals on how the continuing discussion within the Church of England about these matters might best be shaped in the light of the listening process. The task of the new group is to help the House discharge its commitment to produce a consultation document in 2013. The membership of another group, advising the House on its review of the 2005 civil partnership statement, was announced on 1 December.”

This document looks at four main areas

Listening to the Bible;

Listening to the Church;

Listening to the cultural mood; and concludes by asking the question

What does it mean to listen?

1. LISTENING TO THE BIBLE

Summary of biblical arguments

Genesis 1-2

o These foundational verses affirm marriage as a creation ordinance (endorsed by Jesus and

Paul): i.e., that marriage is a “good” for those of all faith and none.

o Marriage is affirmed as “one man and one woman for life”, particularly Gen 2:24 implies it

is:

Public (it is a public social event as well as private sexual joining)

Permanent (hence some speak of its indissolubility)

Procreative (it is the context for raising children)

o Marriage is described as a parable of Christ’s relationship with Church (Eph 5), not an

afterthought or mere convenience.

Sodom, Levitical texts

o Much is made of the fact that the sin of Sodom is more than sexual sin (including breaches

of hospitality and property etc.). There is merit in these interpretations, but later biblical

texts assume that homosexual activity is sinful citing the sin of Sodom in this context (2 Pet

2;6; Jude 7)

o The use of the Levitical codes for making moral pronouncements today is often questioned.

This is popularly summarised as “why if I think it is OK to eat all food and wear mixed fabric

shirts do I still argue that ‘a man lying with another man’ is unclean/sinful.?” The framing of

the question this way fails to deal with the different kinds of uncleanness which Leviticus

deals with (one being cultural/social; the other moral).

Romans 1:18-32

o The question of “what is against nature” is addressed below (Rom 1:26)

o Rom 1:27 specifically condemns male-to-male sexual activity (Rom 1:27)

1 Cor 6

o The Church in Corinth was made up of those who were previously “… the sexually immoral

… idolaters … adulterers … male prostitutes … homosexual offenders” (1 Cor 6:9) alongside

the greedy, drunkard and swindler, etc. (“Such were some of you ….”) whose lives had been

transformed (“washed, sanctified, justified”, v11).

o Christians recognise the need to show love; not to condemn; to build true Christian

community, and to affirm the power of the Gospel both to condemn sin and to transform

repentant lives through the Gospel and the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.

Detailed notes on Romans 1 (please see Conduct which Honours God? by Simon Vibert, Orthos 14, FWS for full argument)

1) The revelation of Righteousness and the revelation of Wrath

1:17 – The revelation of righteousness (first to Jew then to Gentile)

1:18 – the revelation of wrath (orge) against godlessness (asebia = dishonouring God) and wickedness

(adkikia = attacking God’s just order)

2) What causes God’s wrath to be manifested?

a) The knowledge of God is denied (v18)

a. It is “plain”

“clearly (kathoratai) seen”; to render human beings excuseless (v20)

b. It is “suppressed”

katechein … “to hold down”

c. it results in “vanity”

… “vain” (mataioomai) = emptiness, breath, vapour… vain.

… 2 main strands – “emptiness/vanity in life” – Ecclesiastes

– “worship of idols/vanities” – Jer 10:14f.

“claimed to be wise… but were actually fools”

“Exchanged the glory due to God the creator for worship of creatures”

Morna Hooker shows the link with Genesis 1:20-27

a) The human problem began with false worship.

b) God’s wrath is primarily directed against false worship and the perverted behaviour is a

consequence of human beings rejecting him

3) How does God react to human rebellion?

“God gave them over”.

A downwards spiral of behaviour follows God’s judgement in Romans 1 (the various stages introduced by

‘therefore’, ‘because of this’, ‘furthermore’….)

a) V24f “Therefore” God gave them over so that heterosexual relationships are degraded

“sexual impurity” and “degrading of bodies” perhaps implies fornication and adultery?

b) V26f. “Because of this” God gave them over to homosexual practice

“exchanged natural” for “unnatural”. Exactly what does this mean?

Is “against nature” – against human nature? Michael Vasey represents a revisionist interpretation:

Nature to Paul is not simply what biology dictates; it is a construct of biology and culture. This is not to argue that there is no mandate written into creation but it makes it harder to identify what this

mandate is.

Vasey took issue with Aquinas’ famous list of sins against nature which were: bestiality, homosexual sex, non-procreative heterosexual sex, masturbation.

c) So, the question of what is “against nature” is critically important to establish

i. The departure from the created order

Cf 1 Cor 11

ii. The distinction between “inversion” and “perversion” is anachronistic

Paul is not arguing at the level of genetics or at the level of feelings

He is rather speaking about behaviour.

iii. Society, cultural and ethical disintegration vv28ff.

abandoning knowledge of God

depraved mind … not knowing right from wrong

filled with every kind of wickedness

inventing ways of doing evil

no understanding, no love, no truth

but, they know God’s righteous decrees but continue to practice evil and approve of others in the same path.

Romans 1:18ff – this speaks of the downward spiral resulting from God’s condemnation on humanity

Futility of our minds

The degrading of our bodies

Romans 12:1ff – this speaks of the hope offered in the Gospel and the renewal offered

Renewing of our minds

The dedication of our bodies

Conclusion to “listening to the Bible”

a) Listening to the Bible is primary as Canon A5 states: “The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal”.

b) The biblical condemnation of homosexual practice is clear throughout the Bible.

c) The power of the Gospel includes within it an expectation that lives will be changed and that new

Christians will be adopted in the Church where love, care, joy and fellowship may be experienced.

2. LISTENING TO THE CHURCH

Key Reports

a) Lambeth (1998) 1.10 on Human Sexuality – met with unequivocally positive reception by

conservative evangelicals.

Resolution 1:10 stated:

This Conference:

1. commends to the Church the subsection report on human sexuality;

2. in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage;

3. recognises that there are among us persons who experience themselves as having a homosexual orientation. Many of these are members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God’s transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of relationships. We commit ourselves to listen to the experience of homosexual persons and we wish to assure them that they are loved by God and that all baptised, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation, are full members of the Body of Christ;

4. 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;

5. cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions nor ordaining those involved in same gender unions;

6. requests the Primates and the ACC to establish a means of monitoring the work done on the subject of human sexuality in the Communion and to share statements and resources among us;

7. notes the significance of the Kuala Lumpur Statement on Human Sexuality and the concerns expressed in resolutions IV.26, V.1, V.10, V.23 and V.35 on the authority of Scripture in matters of marriage and sexuality and asks the Primates and the ACC to include them in their monitoring process.

2) House of Bishops statement 1991 Issues in Human Sexuality often thought to be a flawed document in the way in which it suggested double standards for lay and clergy:

a) The definition of love

4.0 The Phenomenon of Homosexual Love (Section 4) seems to define love in terms of feelings which are unable to be controlled; whereas the church has traditionally sought to define love according to God’s own standards and revelation;

b) The appearance of double standards for clergy and laity. Moreover, Bishops are discouraged from asking clergy ordinands directly about their practice.

5.9 The rejection by some homophiles of ‘coupledom’ “is simply a pretentious disguise for the evil of promiscuity”.

5.10 On paedophilia, “It is mistaken and unjust to assume, for example, that children in school or in a church choir are particularly at risk from gay or lesbian members of staff.” Paedophilia “is a sin not only against chastity but also against charity and justice”.

5.11 “We believe that the great majority of such clergy are not in sexually active partnerships.”

5.12 affirmation of those “who believe that the right way of life for them is that of an exclusive and permanent but also sexually active partnership”?

5.14-17 Therefore “at this time” clergy in homosexual relationships would be thought to be unacceptable to the church and would provide poor models “given the present understanding of such partnerships in the Church as a whole.” They “would be seen as placing that way of life in all respects on a par with

heterosexual marriage as a reflection of God’s purposes in creation. The Church cannot accept such a parity and remain faithful to the insights which God has given it through Scripture, tradition and reasoned reflection on experience.”

5.18-19 However Bishops should not actively enquire about the status of same-sex relationships and thosewho “come out” but pledge abstinence, should be accepted and allowed to practice their ministry.

5.21 “We therefore call upon all clergy to live lives that respect the Church’s teaching”.

3) House of Bishops statement Some Issues in Human Sexuality Church House Publishing, 2003 – a morethorough document with clearer conclusions

The report is thorough in terms of the range of current issues which it discusses

a) It looks at the background and nature of the common debate about some aspects of human sexuality, recognising the diversity that exists in society, in the Church of England and the Church as a whole.

b) It examines the theology of human sexuality including examination of the issues of homosexuality, bisexuality and trans sexuality. This includes looking at writing from feminist, gay and lesbian theologians.

c) It considers the place of homosexuals, bisexuals and transsexuals in the life of the church and the pastoral implications in the light of the current diversity of views inside and outside the Church. (p.318)

The report is theologically robust.

The three main biblical chapters are two, three and four which examine the hermeneutical principles involved in reading the ancient text and applying it to the modern world; the theology of sexuality from a biblical point of view, including a restatement of what is entailed in being Christ’s disciple; finally, in chapter four, an examination of the key traditional biblical texts relating to homosexuality. The authors interact with modern and ancient writings on the subject and include some of the most recent seminal works, such as True Union in the Body (D. Gomez, A. Goddard and P. Walker, Future of Anglicanism, Oxford, 2002), The Way Forward (Ed. T. Bradshaw, SCM Press, London, 2003) and The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics (R. Gagnon, Abingdon Press, Nashville, 2001).

The report is pastorally sensitive.

The following quote exemplifies the style in which the report is written:

… It always needs to be remembered that issues to do with human sexuality are issues that involve real people with real feelings that can be hurt. In Scripture as a whole, and particularly in the ministry of Christ, we see that God addresses and ministers to people as individuals, and those engaged in pastoral care need to take this as their model. (p.315f.).

It is also recognised throughout, that to be truly pastorally caring involves ‘helping people to walk in obedience to the will of God…’ (p.316). This means that Church needs, not only to understand the issues, but to give a pastorally sensitive and clear lead.

The report is definitive.

The report is careful and cautious in style. It makes the effort, it seems to us, to allow each ‘voice’ to be heard and listened to sensitively. For the authors this means, listening to each other, listening to the tradition of the Church and continuing to listen in the future (p.312f.). Having done this listening, the report concludes that the historical, traditional stance on homosexuality (namely that same sex sexual activity is contrary to Scripture and tradition) has been endorsed, and, whilst diversity of views exist, it

should not be inferred from that that all diversity carries the same weight or requires equal acceptance

(p.310). The author’s helpfully point out

… ethics, including sexual ethics, also matter if the Church is to live up to its calling. The will of God for his people is that they should be holy as he is holy, and this means walking in obedience to his commandments, ‘walking the way of the Lord’ as the Old Testament puts it. This means that it is vital that God’s people should know what he requires of his people, obey it, and teach others to do likewise. To this end there needs to be agreement concerning Christian ethics. Furthermore… in the case of disagreement about sexual ethics the disagreement is about matters that go to the heart of people’s relationship with God, and which cannot therefore be treated as subjects on which we can

simply learn to live with diversity. (p.310f.)

Concerns

The weakest chapter is chapter 8. The authors explore the contentious part of the 1991 document which has been perceived, by some, to advocate a double standard for clergy and laity. The reasoning given for higher standards for clergy is to avoid the appearance of scandal (p.268). This does not seem to include the disciplining of clergy and laity who persist in unrepentant homosexual practice. Nor does it indicate an expectation that clergy who teach contrary to the Bible will be rebuked. It is considered that, all-too-often, the first word the homosexual hears is one of moral rebuke (p.265). This should certainly never be the first word they hear. However, the report seems reluctant to see Church discipline as an essential part of the

health and welfare of the Church. It is concerning that the report hints at the possibility of future legitimisation, even if the conclusions are pretty conservative. The church still does not deem it appropriate to write a document discussing paedophilia or bestiality.

Conclusion to “listening to the Church”

The authors of Some Issues conclude that the traditional understanding of monogamous, faithful, heterosexual marriage, once re-examined, is found to be sound. We must hear this message and not assume that we are free to ignore it, nor assume that we can await further developments which will undo these clear conclusions.

Whilst the Pastoral Epistles expect exemplary behaviour of the Churches leaders this does not assume a lesser standard for lay people. The coherent biblical condemnation of homosexuality applies to lay and ordained.

We also note that, in line with 1 Tim 3, it is what clergy teach that is so important and the real ground for discipline. Seeking to attain promises about clergy behaviour is difficult and causes worrying about prying into private homes. However, the Church has a responsibility to call its clergy to account if they fail to teach the mind of God as revealed in the Bible and as affirmed in the official documents of the Church of England.

3. LISTENING TO THE CULTURAL MOOD

This section seeks to acknowledge some of the recent developments in the discussion since the

listening process has started and to put these discussions in the context of the Church’s teaching on marriage.

Civil partnership & “Gay marriage”

The definition of marriage recognised by English law is has been strongly influenced by

o The Church’s Book of Common Prayer:

DEARLY beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.

Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.

Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.

o and by Canon B30, (which was approved by Parliament and received the Royal Assent on 5 May 1969 and thus became part of the Statute Law of England), of Holy Matrimony, which states that: ‘The Church of England affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is in its nature a union permanent and lifelong, for better or worse, till death do us part, of one man with one woman, to the exclusion of all others on either side, for the procreation and nurture of children, for the hallowing and right direction of the natural instincts and affections, and for the mutual society, help, and comfort which the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity.”

Equal rights for Gays are assumed to be analogous to the civil rights movement of the 1960s

o “Trying to draw the parallel between the proposed same-sex marriage and inter-racial marriage ignores the fact that there is more than one paradigm of equality. For me, racial equality rests on the doctrine that there is only one race – the human race – and any difference of treatment on ethnic grounds is therefore unjustifiable. But in the long history of feminism, for example, we find another view based on the complementarity of men and women. In short, should there be equality between the sexes because a woman can do anything a man can do, or because a good society needs the different perspectives of women and men equally?” (see ++ Sentamu article)

Cure, reparation etc

There is a range of views surrounding whether homosexual orientation can be changed.

Reparation

o Mario Bergner has written movingly about his change from practicing homosexuality to marriage. He was one of the 200 homosexuals interviews in the Splitzer trial (which Splitzer recently distanced himself from seehttp://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/may/19/psychiatrist-admits-gay-cure-studyflawed)

o Mike Davidson of CORE issues believes that change is possible for men and women struggling with same-sex attraction http://learning.core-issues.org/

Godly Struggle

Martin Hallett is more cautious (see Orthos 14 below) and also the CMF article in which he concludes: “As we work at receiving God’s love and forgiveness and accepting our value, some of the developmental components of our sexuality may be changed, but this will not necessarily happen. However we should know love, purpose, direction and meaning in our lives through our Lord Jesus Christ and his people. This is growth and healing for all of us and our sexuality. I wish I could say that it is easy and that I have fully experienced this ideal. Maybe not, but I continue to persevere towards that goal with the help of Jesus.”

Thomas Schmidt in Straight and Narrow? quotes instances of changes in homosexual desires which suggest a rate of change similar to alcohol or drug dependency rates.

Conclusion to “listening to the cultural mood”

In recent years the discussion has moved from “Civil Partnerships” to “Gay Marriage”. The Church needs to respond to the consistent lobbying from interest groups who will not rest until they see full equality and identity of Lesbians and Gays in every area of society.

Christians will want to respond by saying that the definition of marriage is not a mere social construct. Moreover – though this is complex and open to debate – sexual orientation and attraction is not necessarily fixed and may be changed through therapy and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Whatever the conclusion of the reparation/cure discussion, the Church has traditionally taught that God calls upon all human beings to recognise a good creator who has made us in his image, and is able to assist all to live godly lives despite our fallen disposition.

4. CONCLUSION: WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO LISTEN?

Listening is important, as helpfully exemplified in recent House of Bishops documents. However the authors of Some Issues conclude that the Church of England’s traditional understanding of monogamous, faithful, heterosexual marriage, once re-examined, is found to be sound.

As Canon A5 clearly states, listening to the voice of Scripture is primary. We must hear this message and not assume that we are free to ignore it, nor assume that we can await further developments which will undo these clear conclusions.

Listening should be a continuous loving activity for all Christians all the time. However a formal listening process which seeks to undermine the declarations of Church teaching is flawed. There seems to be an assumption that if we listen to contrary voices for long enough the faithful reading of the Bible and the eloquent witness to that teaching through the Church’s teaching will be undone. We believe that this process should now cease in favour of a reaffirmation of the biblical and church teaching on these matters.

Simon Vibert, May 2012

Bibliography

Books

Mario Bergner Setting Love in Order (Baker Books, 1995)

Tim Bradshaw (Ed) The Way Forward (SCM 1996, 2003)

Robert Gagnon Article Homosexuality in New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics

Robert Gagnon The Bible and Homosexual Practice (Abingdon Press, 2001)

Edith Humphrey The New Testament Speaks on Same Sex Relationships (NEAC 4 address published by FWS)

Jim Packer A No to same-sex blessings (published by FWS)

Michael Vasey Strangers and Friends (Hodder & Stoughton, 1995)

Simon Vibert Conduct Which Honours God (Orthos 14, FWS)

Articles

Martin Hallett Homosexuality: a Christian response (pp14-20)

http://www.cmf.org.uk/publications/content.asp?context=article&id=2063

(Christian Medical Fellowship Spring 2008)

Archbishop John Sentamu http://www.archbishopofyork.org/articles.php/2481/a-response-on-marriageand-civil-patnerships

The Independent “The ex-gay files: The bizarre world of gay-to-straight conversion” February 1, 2010

The Telegraph http://pjsaunders.blogspot.co.uk/2012/05/max-pembertons-telegraph-article-on-gay.html

Training Church of England Clergy for 21st Century Ministry

Ordination Training and the Church of England – 

The purpose of this article is to brief readers on recent changes in Church of England Ordination training and to help them pray for what lies ahead.

First some assumptions: I take it that we believe that well-trained clergy are essential.  Clergy need to be schooled in traditional disciplines such as biblical studies (so they have confidence to proclaim the Gospel), biblical languages (in order to study the text in detail), Church History, Ethics and Doctrine (to learn the lessons of the past and refute error). Alongside these subjects are the practical areas of Preaching, Leadership, Church Growth and Apologetics, all of which are best learned from practitioners and by having the opportunity to hone skills and grow in godliness during the training experience. Academic Learning; Practical Training; Personal and Spiritual Formation can only be truly attained when sustained attention is given to the training experience of an ordinand.

Jellyfish

J.C. Ryle, one of the founders of Wycliffe Hall (opened in 1877), wrote the following in an essay entitled The Importance of Dogma:

The consequences of this widespread dislike of dogma are very serious in the present day. .. It produces what I must venture to call, if I may coin a phrase, a jellyfish Christianity…: that is, Christianity without bone, or muscle, or power.

A jellyfish, as everyone knows who has been much by the seaside, is a pretty and graceful object when it floats in the sea, contracting and expanding like a little delicate transparent umbrella. Yet the same jellyfish, when cast on the shore, is a mere helpless lump, without capacity for movement, self-defence, or self-preservation.

[Such is] the religion of this day of which the leading principle is – No dogma, no distinctive tenets, no positive doctrine. We have hundreds of jellyfish clergymen who seem not to have a single bone in their body of divinity. They have no definite opinions; they belong to no school or party; they are so afraid of extreme views that they have no views at all.

We have thousands of jellyfish sermons preached every year, sermons without an edge or a point or a corner, smooth as billiard balls, awakening no sinner, and edifying no saint. We have legions of jellyfish young men annually turned out from our universities, armed with a few scraps of second hand philosophy, who think it a mark of cleverness and intellect to have no decided opinions about anything in religion, and to be utterly unable to make up their minds as to what is Christian truth….

Never was it more important for laymen to hold systematic views of truth, and for ordained ministers to enunciate dogma very clearly and distinctly in their teaching. (Principles for Churchmen)

We might add, whilst the Jellyfish may look elegant, several species of jellyfish are capable of emitting a deadly sting, even without a backbone!

Tadpoles

 Ryle’s exhortation of the need for theological, doctrinal, equipped and godly religion remains as important today as they were 150 years ago. Wycliffe Hall alumnus, J.I. Packer put it well in A Passion for Holiness, using a rather different aquatic metaphor: we don’t want Tadpoles (those with stuffed heads and no body); nor do we want activists who are only focused on doing good and changing the world whilst neglecting the head (thinking) and the body (devotion and emotion).

Paul said “be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:21) and we also read in 2 Peter 3:18 “… grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” Head, Heart and Hands all need to be engaged in ministry, so giving attention to all three must be part of theological education today. “We need to engage the mind in order to truly know God; we need to engage the heart to truly love God” (John Piper, Think, IVP, p36).

Theological college should avoid producing jellyfish clergy and tadpole clergy. Rather, we want godly, learned, and articulate practitioners of the true Gospel of our Lord.

With this end in mind, how does the Church of England seek to train men and women for Ordination today?

What has been happening?

Following a report written by +Stephen Croft (Bishop of Sheffield) entitled Formation for Ministry and a framework for Higher Education Validation Phase 2 Report, approved by the House of Bishops, December 2011, the Church of England put out to tender the theological training of somewhere in the region of 1,000 Students per year (including Ordinands, Readers and others) across courses and colleges via a Common Award. The bid was won by Durham University and in April 2013 a Common Award was approved with the first cohort of students beginning in September 2014.

There were two key factors which motivated this change.

Cost is one clear constraint on theological education. Unlike many other denominations Ordinand training in the Church of England is funded from the “central pot”, although technically, of course, it comes out of the money given in the Parish Share of each Parish and put into a central fund known as “Vote One”. This pot of money has been put under considerable pressure in the last 5 years following Government changes to the allocation of HEFCE money since 2010. First, in 2012 most Ordinands found themselves designated as “ELQ students” (those who had already received funding for an Equivalent or Lower Qualification) and thus were not eligible for government assistance towards their training costs. Alongside this, the fee hike whereby almost every university now charges £9,000 per annum for Tuition fees has meant that something had to change with respects to the rising cost of Ordinand training. The deal made with Durham University does involve some considerable cost saving benefits, whilst still allowing students to be part of a rigorous Theology faculty.

Commonality is the other driving force behind Common Awards. What is the type of ministry for which we are training men and women today? What is the training which is best suited for this purpose? In seeking to answer these questions Ministry Division has come up with common learning outcomes matched to new Initial Ministerial Education Outcomes (so called, IME 1-3) which would extend across all who are training for ministry via a Common Award.

Some have expressed an anxiety that this means that the distinctiveness of evangelical institutions will be lost and that academic standards will be lowered.

I am less convinced that either of these things necessarily needs to follow. In the first place, Common Awards offers a much greater opportunity to integrate academic learning, ministerial training and spiritual formation. In my own area, preaching, students should view lectures in Homiletics, preaching classes, placements in local churches, writing essays and plenty of hours of reading, as all working together towards being assessed in preaching. The practical and formational aspects are core to the training, not added on to an otherwise totally academic experience.

With respects to the ironing out of theological distinctiveness, students will still choose to come to Wycliffe Hall for similar reasons: evangelical conviction, calibre of Wycliffe Hall tutors, Oxford location and relationship with Oxford churches. Common Awards allows for considerable flexibility as each Theological Educational Institution delivers them within the Trust Deed requirements of their College. Ordinands at Wycliffe Hall benefit from the status as a Permanent Private Hall of the University and will study alongside Ordinands who are pursuing Oxford University Courses (as exceptional routes, i.e. those who are on an approved pathway for a higher award in a University Theology Faculty).

Common Awards is not without its challenges but there is no need for academic standards to be dumbed down, but there are opportunities to produce clergy who are growing “in grace and knowledge” – neither tadpoles nor jellyfish.

What is on the horizon?

We consider that Residential Training is the pathway which is likely to be best for most Ordinands (certainly those under the age of 32). Three years full time training for a lifetime’s ministry does not seem overly excessive! I anticipate that there will be challenges to retain well-funded residential training, but I remain committed to it.

As General Synod votes on the allocation for Vote One funding, an articulate case needs to be made for Residential Training. Plus, within the original Croft document there is provision for so-called “exceptional routes”, namely those who will benefit from a University Education taught across the historic faculties of theology. It is from these higher degrees that we are likely to produce theological educators and senior church leaders for the future.

I also believe that there is benefit in developing a flexible approach to Ordinand Training. Students come to their training environment with a variety of church ministry experience, time spent in a career and a first degree usually in another discipline. Keeping these factors in mind when selecting the best training pathway for a given ordinand is important. Wycliffe Hall has recently embarked on training students on a Mixed Mode Pathway. This means that they will spend half their time in the Hall (studying alongside other fulltime ordinands) and half their time in a Church-based context. For self-motivated learners who are keen to continue serving their sending church, this pathway offers many advantages.

Theological Education is a changing and complex scenario. So,

What can you do?

  • Be aware that Parishes may need to play a greater role in providing funding. This may be in the form of topping up students fees so they can spend three rather than two years in training. It may be providing the context for Mixed Mode training, with local churches benefiting from the ministry of an Ordinand whilst covering their living costs.
  • Choose wisely. Even amidst the changes and challenges, students should look to the evangelical identity of their training colleges and make their choice on the basis of their teaching faculty, theological conviction, access to evangelical churches and the Gospel-focussed shape to the Institution.
  • Pray for those of us involved in training the Church leaders of the future, and pray that God will raise up a new generation of Ordinands who have a vision for winning England for the Lord, and who are released and equipped for this role.

Uganda today and the East African Revival

Why we need Ugandan Christians (and why they might need us)

As part of the Wycliffe Hall Mission Week I took a small group of Students to Uganda to work with our sister college Bishop Barham Christian University, Kabale. This is located in the South West corner of Uganda, in the District of Kigezi, just an hour from the border with Rwanda. Kabale is about 7,000 feet above sea level and set in lush rolling hills. The air is a little “thin” and temperatures are less oppressive than in the capital Kampala where we began our journey, although the town centre is bustling, noisy and mucky, with red mud over all the roads and in the air. With a population of 50,000 people, Kabale acts as a district hub for an estimated 2 Million people scattered around the nearby villages.

The location itself is significant. Church Missionary Society missionaries brought Christianity to Uganda in 1877, arriving in Kabale in the early 20thC. The impact of the Gospel was enormously accelerated by the East African Revival which crossed over the border from Rwanda. It was warmly received in Kabale and from here emanated throughout East Africa.

The hub from which so much evangelistic zeal and worship emanated is the site where Bishop Barham Christian University now stands. The theological college students make up a small fraction of the 2,700 University cohort, but the Christian ethos pervades throughout.

We had the great pleasure of preaching in the chapel and nearby in the cathedral, teaching the Ordinands and sharing part of their training experience. We also taught in the local prep school and high school and visited local churches.

Why we need Ugandan Christians

The East African Revival lives on! Evidences of revival are strong, revealed for me in at least the following four ways

  • Worship is at the heart of community life

With African rhythm and harmony all you appear to need in order to sing praise to God is a drum! In fact adding extra amplification and electronic instruments (in my view) tended to distract (plus the electricity supply itself is pretty unreliable!)

The Luganda theme chorus was sung several times at every meeting we attended “Tukutendereza Yesu, Yesu Mwana gw’endiga, omusaayi gwo gunnaazizza, nkwebaza, Mulozi” (“We praise you Jesus, Jesus the Lamb, your blood has cleansed me, Saviour, I praise you”). It is quite complex to sing because of the interlocking harmonies – but the power of the message is evident and heartfelt.

Another aspect of worship is the power of testimony: yes, the preaching is important, but so too is the lived experience of the gathered Christians. A couple of us attended a Testimony and Praise meeting at All Saints Church in Kabale. It was hard for us to follow (all in Luganda) but person after person told their story of God’s mercy and faithfulness, interjected by “Praise the Lord” to which the response is “Amen”! There is power in a living, recent testimony of God’s work in a person’s life.

  • They Pray like they mean it!

Worship and prayer, of course, belong together. But the prayer meetings are worth a mention on their own. We attended the Graduation Ceremony, a rather long and tiring affair, followed by several delightful parties and celebrations. I was very tired and felt a little tetchy at being woken up several times during the night by what I had assumed were student graduation parties. Contrition eventually set in when I realised that what actually woke me was an all-night prayer meeting – marked out by corporate and public repentance and intercession for God to pour out His Spirit again!

Think about how hard it is to revive the traditional midweek parish prayer meeting in England. If we could but encourage some of the urgency, repentance and expectancy that marked these meetings I am a sure that we would delight to gather together as they did.

  • They Demonstrate Sacrificial living

For many Ugandans life is pretty good. There is not the level of poverty which I have witnessed in other East African countries (particularly Tanzania). The land is lush and fertile and the economy in Uganda is growing. Nevertheless, clergy tend to be self-supporting through modest subsistence farming. There is plenty of fresh mango, pineapple and other fruits. But main meals are pretty much the same lunchtime and evening. It’s the “not-the-Atkins diet” – high carb content with Rice, “Irish” potatoes (roasted) and Matoke (cooked bananas) accompanied by a piece of scrawny chicken or chewy beef/mutton. Don’t get me wrong, we were generously and graciously hosted. But we were guests who were humbled by the sacrifices they made for us and mindful of the material trappings which tend to distract us western Christians from simple living.

  • Theirs are Mission-focused Anglican structures

The Diocesan office was a hive of Gospel focussed activity. Bishops, Archdeacons, 5 talents workers, theological college staff and diocesan educators were there to resource the local church, be active in evangelism and church planting. Alongside this was a genuine desire to serve the whole person: education, health, community care and church growth belong together. I guess in a previous generation that was true for England too. Now, it seems, the church looks after the narrow sphere of the “spiritual” whilst the state looks after welfare and other social needs. I think that things are changing in England, but it seems to me that for a long time we have made Gospel preaching the centre of evangelical ministry out of anxiety that we will slip into “social Gospel” (and that has been a real danger). But giving the Gospel feet and hands as well as lips and ears is surely something we need to learn again from brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.

Why might Ugandan Christians need us?

Do we have anything to offer to Christians in Uganda? Not much, I think. But, they are keen for genuine partnership with us and it was great to be able to sit down with the Principal of Bishop Barham and confirm our mutual commitment to giving and receiving from each other in partnership.

Here are three things which with which I think we can be of some assistance.

  • Training

Even the undergraduate theology students who came with me were able to provide good pedagogical assistance to the college. Having enjoyed full time “High” School and, generally, undergraduate study in a non-theological discipline, and now completing another BA or higher in theology, they were able contribute to classroom conversation. Education is a gift! I come away from time spent preaching and teaching in Africa realising how fortunate I am to have been surrounded by such good teaching – which can easily be shared. And, they are eager to receive it!

  • Resources

The internet possibilities are opening up in East Africa with occasional wifi access, internet cafes and a computer lab in the library. Thanks to the generosity of Wycliffe Hall Students (and a generous charity baggage allowance!) we were able to take nearly 200 books for staff and students and a new laptop computer with logos software and office suite for the use of the teaching faculty. In England, we are spoilt for resources and when we share them, they are grateful! This extends to our time too. Short-term missions cannot achieve very much, but medium (3-6 months) or longer term is a great way to share your gifts with the wider church.

  • Preparing to live in a Post-colonial/post-Christian nation

I hesitate to write this point. What I mean by it is that colonial influence, whilst largely positively received in Africa, is an embarrassing topic in western culture, not least because of some the baggage we exported. Are the Anglican structures we exported the best way to manage an African group of Churches? Is it really necessary for Africans to wear a heavy, hot cassock and surplice to lead a service? These are relatively minor points, of course.

More significant though is the conversation about life the other side of Revival. Praise God for the evidences of its continuation. However, as we often say, God has no grandchildren.

I had a delightful hour helping an excellent female ordinand with her final project before graduating from Bishop Barham. She asked me for advice on how to go about evangelism. My initial reaction had something to do with grandmas and sucking eggs. But she had hit upon an area which with which I think we might be able to help.

Evangelism, for Ugandans is very much Church based, consisting of inviting people in to hear the preaching of the Clergy. In our post-Christian country we have realised that this is not necessarily the most effective strategy. Through the successes of “Alpha” and “Christianity Explored” we have seen that effective evangelism is not only a matter of explaining the Gospel clearly, but also of doing so on the territory of the non-believer. Although I would very much hesitate to recommend a strictly teetotal culture to do their evangelism in their local bar (nothing like a British pub, really!), the challenge to meet non-Christians where they are, is important.

It may well be out of desperation that we have arrived at innovative non-church evangelism. But, we now know that evangelism happens outside the boat, in the secular sea around us, seeking to drag as many souls aboard as possible. Out of necessity, we have been evangelistically innovative

Having said that, I found myself saying on more than one occasion: “Please pray for us because many of those who sacrificed greatly to bring the Gospel to you no longer believe it… we need you to remind us of the things we once believed”.

Our visit to Uganda was a wonderfully enriching experience and it was a great joy to be reminded that though cultures and nations separate us, what we have in Jesus Christ binds us to other Christians more than anything else.

 

  • I am very grateful to Jovahn Turyamureeba (Vice Principal Bishop Barham University College) for his book “The East African Revival and its impact on my life”, from which I have drawn several insights for this article

Feeding and being fed

Today was the first time back in my home congregation in Oxford since Christmas.

It was great to be among friends, familiar liturgy and good preaching.

I have been speaking and preaching at other churches during January. I find this to be a great privilege. I feel particularly energised when I preach, especially so when the passage has come to me with freshness, or when people speak afterwards about new things they have taken on board. Both of these happened over these past few weeks. On lady came up to me after I made reference to “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (see Mark 15:34). I said that this was single most influential verse in enabling me to grasp the Gospel. I had always been perplexed that the Son of God – who had been so close to his Father – was apparently abandoned at the time of his greatest need.  But of course, the heart of the Gospel is that the Son not only stood in for me at the cross (my substitute), but He bore the weight of the wrath of God’s punishment for me (providing propitiation):

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned He stood;
Sealed my pardon with His blood.
Hallelujah! What a Savior! (Philip Bliss)

So, when a congregation member excitedly reports that they have understood this verse for the first time, well, it was worth preaching a sermon for that one person alone!

But I also felt fed whilst sitting back in the pew: participating in corporate worship and feeding on the word along with brothers and sisters in Christ. It is unhealthy to not want to be fed regularly yourself so we should receive as well as give.

Both giving and receiving is part of worship; feeding and being fed is necessary. Exercising our gifts is exhausting but often energising and generally encourages us. Being fed is also very necessary to build reserves for the week ahead. We must do both. Paul was particularly positive about the Philippian Church, and not least because of their partnership in the Gospel: “…you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only.” (Phil 4:11).

Just as in the life of the physical body we need to feed, exercise and thereby be able to nourish others – the same is true in the body of Christ. Let us enter into partnership with one another in giving and receiving.

Preaching in the New Year

John the Baptist has dominated the readings and theme of my first two sermons of the year.

Actually, rather: John’s unflinching testimony to Jesus has been the main theme: John is the messenger, but Jesus is the message; John is the witness, but Jesus is the word: John must decrease and Jesus must increase. That’s not a bad way for me to start the year.

At St Peter’s Church, Lake Mary, Florida I preached on Matthew 3:13-17 and was struck by the thought that Jesus’ Baptism is not only the start of his public ministry, but also his inauguration as priest – preparation for his “second baptism” of death on the cross. You can listen to this sermon here.

The second sermon was preached at St John the Divine in Houston, John 1:29-42. John invites his disciples to “Behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29, 36). Echoes of God’s provision of a lamb to spare Isaac (Gen 22)? Perhaps Isaiah 53:6-7? Or, maybe, the Passover lamb which substituted for the firstborn in every Israelite household thus sparing them from the angel of death? Whichever of these themes is more dominant in John’s thought, the Baptist invites us to “behold, consider, ponder and marvel at” the lamb…. more here

The 2013 phenomena which reveals a lot about ourselves

The 2013 phenomena which reveals a lot about ourselves!

Barack Obama did. David Cameron did it (see). Even the Pope is at it (here). And now, it finds its own spot in the Oxford English Dictionary.

The “selfie” is in fashion. Actually, it’s the word of the year for 2013. I’ve taken a few myself.2013-10-25 10.35.13

The self-portrait is nothing new: Van Gogh found the time to paint thirty of them. A certain artistic talent was essential to achieve this (which I know I don’t have!), but, perhaps more significantly, considerable time was needed too. You cannot paint them in an instant.

But why do we engage in this peculiarly modern phenomenon?

Technology

ImageOf course, we now have the technology, which helps. Picture-taking was revolutionised with the advent of digital cameras (so non-photographers like me can take lots of snaps and then select the best ones). But with a smart phone in our pockets, every moment can be captured in an instant – and uploaded for all to see.

Several British newspapers have picked up a piece of research pointing out that Facebook is becoming passé for teenagers with a friend-request from your Mum facilitating a hasty exit! (See). Instead, it seems, they prefer Instagram and Snapchat. The latter being particularly helpful because, once sent, the image is only viewable for a matter of seconds – any incriminating evidence can soon disappear! (see)

What does my selfie say about me?

Please like me?

Is the selfie a desire for approval? I think that this is part of the attraction.  How many “likes” will I get? I, for one, am glad that Facebook didn’t introduce a “dislike” button! For many people, perhaps particularly teens, our sense of self-worth is tied up with a feeling that I am “liked” by others.

Is this who I am?

At one level our identity is found – not online, nor in a virtual world – but in who we are as individual people. Both Cicero and Shakespeare thought that “the eyes are the window to the soul.” My face is uniquely me – like it or not!

Am I my public face?

Inevitably, the selfie is a pose. “This is the picture of me which I would like you to see rather than the images which you might already have of me.” Quite wise: I am glad that all the Christmas snaps of me have not appeared in public! Nevertheless the selfie is a projection. And, of course, true beauty and worth lies beneath the skin.

What does the selfie tell me about my desire to be “liked” by God?

We will see His face

God lives in unapproachable light; no one can see him and live (1 Tim 6:16; Exod 33:20). But, God has “shown his face”, so to speak, in the incarnation (Jn 1:14) and, Jesus promises that the pure in heart will see God (Matt 5:8).

Sin separates me from God and makes me self-absorbed. However, when I am in a restored relationship with God I long for him and his glory far more than for the approval of other people. Back in the 1970s Paul Vitz wrote of the danger of narcissism and self-absorption. He spoke about the hallmark of the modern age in his ground-breaking book “Psychology as Religion: The Cult of Self-Worship”. The selfie is very much image of today. It says a lot about our desire to be liked, but this desire will only find fulfilment as we seek His face.

Wouldn’t it be great if the word of 2014 was Christ-“like”? Off-of self and fascinated by God’s true image bearer.Image