Light in a dark world


A few thoughts on John 1:1-18 (mainly with Christmas preachers in mind)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light.

The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God—13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) 16 Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known. (NIV)

 John 1:1-4

As we know all good storied begin “Once upon a time”

But the best story begins “In the beginning…”

Gen 1:1 – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”

John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the word”, or “in the beginning the word already was”

… John’s magnificent Gospel begins by stretching our minds to the eternal existence of God, and the external co-existence between God and the Word.

… The word was with God and the word was God …. “I am the Father are one” (John 10:30)

This is the same one, who at this time, came to “be with us” – Immanuel. The one who was eternally with the Father, took on human flesh and was “with us”.

 What does “word” mean?

Rationality? The word ‘Word’ is the Greek word logos.  John’s Greek thinkers would have been very familiar with the concept.  Dating back to Heraclitus (500BC) the word came to refer to cataloguing, ordering, and sequential thought.  In fact the verb lego from which logos comes has become the name of a popular toy because of the way it encourages the development of building skills.  Other words in English include: Logical; catalogue, developing the same idea.

Certainly in John it is true that Jesus is seen as the logical coherence of this world.  He is its architect and builder, through Him all things were made and nothing was made without Him.

Wisdom? The idea of logos as wisdom spans the gap between Greek and Hebrews ways of thinking.  The Greek sophists saw knowledge as being the height of human development, and the concept was developed by Plato and Socrates.  God is the ‘big idea’, the seat of all knowledge and wisdom.  The Stoics came to see logos as the bridge between the material world and the world of the divine.

The wisdom emphasis in the Old Testament is found particularly in Proverbs and the prophetic writings (see Proverbs 22:17; 8:22-36).  The wise God reveals His plans through His prophets.

This leads us onto the dominant understanding of logos in the Old Testament.

Communication? God’s Word is God in action.

*             In creation: “By the Word of the Lord were the heavens made…” (Psalm 33:6);

*             In calling His people to Himself and producing spiritual life: ‘… so is my word that goes out from my mouth:  It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.’  (Isaiah 55:6);

The ‘Word of the Lord’ is not dry, arid or academic.  Far from it.  God’s word is creative and life-giving.  Through His Word God created the world, and still re-creates them with new spiritual life.

These two ideas come out very clearly in John’s Gospel.  Jesus, the creator of this world, through His Word brings men and women to new life.

John 1:5-8

The light has come – hooray! Praise the Lord? But many want to snuff this light out

The light shines; it penetrates darkness … like the far off lighthouse – slicing through the night.

Darkness doesn’t emanate. ..Darkness is the absence of light

Light reveals other things shine up in its light

Like the brilliance of truth

Like the ugliness of sin

Light is only welcome if you want to see what it illuminates cf John 3:17f.

If it’s not welcome you can seek to snuff it out… Herod tried; the Communists tried; the secularists tried; I tried ….but all you actually can do is shut the door on it… but it will keep pouring in through the cracks. …. Light is welcome but not if you would rather stay in the shadows (e.g. Nicodemus, a great example of one who journeys from darkness to light, Jn 3:2; 19:39)

John was the greatest witness to the light

But however great John was he wasn’t the light. He is the Voice; Jesus is the Word. He is the witness to the light, Jesus is the light.

Hence 1:29 – Don’t look to me, but look to the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

For us who believe, Jesus is brilliant. Revel in His light; but never forget that the brighter he shines the more people will want to snuff the light out – and the stifle the faithful witness to him.

John – 1:9-13

Twin big themes in John – rejection of the light, powerful and simple transformation through belief and trust in Him.

Many will reject the witness of the Word – He is this dark world’s light (kosmos 73 times in John). As we saw yesterday – the light shines in the darkness and the darkness is unable to overcome it (v5)… this verse might suggest either wilful or just ignorant… but v 10b clearly implies that he came to those who should be most likely to accept him, but they received him not. Even at this pinnacle of God’s self-revelation there remains ignorance and stubborn rejection. Rejection should not be a surprise to us. We should rejoice, though, that this is no “false dawn” the true light has come.

But – a big but! (A turnaround sentence “But God” Eph 2:4) – those who “receive” and “believe” will become children of God. This, of course, is why John wrote this Gospel “these things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (20:31).

 The human responsereceive and believe (acceptance and trust that He is the true light) correspond with the supernatural divine work (becoming a child of God) …. John emphasises both the Human response necessary and the Divine action required …

Not of natural descent or a husband’s will – it’s not inherent in being human. …you’re not born a Christian nor do you automatically become one by being born to a certain race or part of the world. It’s not a middle east or a western thing.

Not of human decision – it’s not even a personal lifestyle choice or a matter of personal preference.

You only become a Christian by receiving Jesus and believing in him. then you become a rightful child of God.– not illegitimate – but by receiving and believing you become a true part of the family of God. What a great privilege to be in this family and what a unity this brings about across the ages and around the world! He became a human child so that we, by believing and receiving Him might ourselves become children of God.

 John 1:14-18

It has been said of John’s Gospel that it is “a pool where children may paddle and elephants may wade”.  Maybe you are just getting “your feet wet” as a Christian.  Well, John is a good place to begin, for here we meet Jesus.  But for those who want to go deeper, the Gospel is intellectually stimulating and presents a challenge to our Christian discipleship.

God is invisible and unknowable apart from his self-revelation

  1. Believers get to see his Glory (v14). He pitched his tent among us. Veiled in flesh, yes, but – we get to see the unveiling of God (hence 2:11)… his glory is full of grace and full of truth.
  2. No one has ever seen God, but many people saw Jesus. “Have you ever seen God” – born too late. “Sight” is important for John, hence the signs … but seeing beyond the sign to the significance – the unveiling of God. He shines in this dark world, revealing a gracious God. He is not accessible through law keeping; he can only be known through Christ.

Yes, Good Friday and Easter matter. But so too does Christmas – God stooped low to be with us; to show unfallen humanity; to prepare the way for our salvation and offer grace and truth.

For more see



Mick Jagger and The Rolling Stones could never get any satisfaction back in the 1960s when this song played over and again on the airways: “I can’t get no satisfaction” (released 1965).

This week I have been working with a Wycliffe Hall student team, Peter Sanlon and the congregation of St Mark’s Tunbridge Wells.

Among other things we have been surveying people door-to-door, giving out fliers and the tract Longing for Paradise (see) as well as doing some video interviews.

Leafy suburbia is “largely satisfied” it would seem: health, contentment, peace and money. But not everyone; and not all the time.

Nagging questions the meaning of life and the possibility of life beyond death remain.

And, of course, the person of Jesus Christ continues to be a source of fascination and interest. Established Religion and Church-going hardly feature, but the quest for satisfaction does not go away. Our hope as a team is that the good people of Tunbridge Wells will find their deepest needs in Jesus Christ, for it was he who said: “I have come that you might have life in all its fullness (in all its abundance)” (John 10:10).

The team’s 5minute summary of this theme is here

The Adele phenomenon

I like many others enjoyed listening to Adele’s music in recent years.

Her latest Album “25” was selling 1 million copies per week in the lead up to Christmas.

She has a wonderful voice. But there is also something about her down-to-earth and grounded approach to her music which stays with you. She seems prepared to parody herself (see the wonderful sketch on the Graham Norton show!) and speaks with earthy honesty.

The best known track on her album is “Hello” listing the apologies over a broken relationship ending with these words:

Hello from the other side
I must’ve called a thousand times 
To tell you I’m sorry, for everything that I’ve done
But when I call you never seem to be home

Hello from the outside
At least I can say that I’ve tried 
To tell you I’m sorry, for breaking your heart
But it don’t matter, it clearly doesn’t tear you apart anymore

For me, though, the most humbling and heartfelt words are in the track “Million Years Ago

I know I’m not the only one
Who regrets the things they’ve done
Sometimes I just feel it’s only me
Who can’t stand the reflection that they see
I wish I could live a little more
Look up to the sky, not just the floor

I feel like my life is flashing by
And all I can do is watch and cry
I miss the air, I miss my friends
I miss my mother; I miss it when
Life was a party to be thrown
But that was a million years ago

This track speaks about loss, regret, the passing of time, and the fear of wasted opportunities. People in our lives come and go with little time for us to say everything we mean. And the busyness of life means lost opportunities fill our memories with a sense of wistful longing:

I know I’m not the only one
Who regrets the things they’ve done
Sometimes I just feel it’s only me
Who never became who they thought they’d be
I wish I could live a little more
Look up to the sky, not just the floor
I feel like my life is flashing by
And all I can do is watch and cry
I miss the air, I miss my friends
I miss my mother, I miss it when
Life was a party to be thrown
But that was a million years ago

I am not emotionally moved by much contemporary music (but Mozart’s Requiem might do that to me!), but the close of this track is mournful; soulful, even. These words are emotionally laden:

“Sometimes I just feel like it’s only me” – Adele creates great empathy, not least with the sentiment that we suspect that others too sometime wonder: “Am I the only one who feels like this!”

How about: “I wish I could live a little more, look up to the sky, not just the floor”. Wouldn’t it be good to look “up” and not just see the world directly in front of me.

And, she sings, life is passing by; the past seemed young and carefree. I miss those who passed through my life.

Adele has a way of capturing human angst and longing for intimacy and something that lasts forever.

Our 21st century western world is full of Adeles. Generally speaking the Church has been pretty poor at reaching them with a message of love, hope, fulfilment, meaning…. But wouldn’t it be great if we could help them “look up” to God, not just to the floor? To have that loss and longing met in the God who is love?

I have no easy answer: but I do recognise that I need to hear the longing of a lost human heart, and ensure that my preaching is full of empathy, speaking “heart to heart” (not just “head to head”) and full of real hope.

As C.S. Lewis wisely observed: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Here are a few texts that might help:

  • 1 Peter 3:15 encourages to be prepared to “always give a reason for our hope” (not just reasons for “faith”)
  • Ecclesiastes 3:11 “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” As Augustine said “God has made us restless until we find our rest in Him”
  • To the woman at the well, who had gone from man to man, looking for love, but never finding satisfaction, Jesus said:”If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

There are plenty more examples, but the main point for me is the need to connect to the human heart and show that our deepest longings are best satisfied in God.

And my prayers are with Adele and many other young women like her, that they may find a reason for living in the Lord Jesus.


On making resolutions that count for something…

On making resolutions that count for something…

Yes, it’s that time of year again. Many people have mixed feelings about making New Year’s Resolutions. Do you or don’t you?  One problem with making such Resolutions is that we find that they have little lasting impact and can be a source of guilt when we consider our failure to keep them! Nevertheless, as a practice, making resolutions has a good Christian pedigree.

The best example is Jonathan Edwards, the famous New England revival preacher of 300 years ago. He wrote 70 resolutions during the period 1722-1723 which express his resolve to live, not for himself, but for God and His glory. He prefaces the Resolutions with these words:

Being sensible that I am unable to do anything without God’s help, I do humbly entreat him by his frame to enable me to keep the Resolutions, so far as they are agreeable to his will, for Christ’s sake I must remember to read over these Resolutions once a week. (a helpful modern version may be found here )

Three quick general thoughts:

  • Resolutions are not just about human effort

Clearly, resolving to do something matters, and human effort is necessary for this to happen. But Edward reminds himself that resolve in itself is not enough. Without divine help, we humans cannot change for the better.

  • Resolutions are only as good as their alignment with God’s design for humanity

It is only in-so-far as we encapsulate God’s will for human beings – to love him best and love our neighbours as ourselves – that we will also find his help to fulfil this resolve.

  • Resolutions are not a one-off wish lists

We do well to follow Edwards’ practice of reading over the resolutions once per week to keep ourselves accountable to them (to “examine carefully and constantly, what that one thing in me is, which causes me in the least to doubt the love of God….”, No 25), examining himself every night, and at the end of every week, month and year.

We can summarise Edward’s 70 resolutions in three main categories:

  • The Christian life is to be lived for the glory of God. Hence Edward’s resolved: “I will do whatsoever I think to be most to God‘s glory” (No 1). “Resolved, never to do any manner of thing whether in soul or body, less or more, but what tends to the glory of God ….” (No 4). “Resolved, frequently to take some deliberate action, which seems most unlikely to be done, for the glory of God and trace it back to the original intention, designs and ends of it; and if I find it not to be for God’s glory, to repute it…..” (No 23)
  • The Christian life is to be lived for the advantage of other human beings. He resolves never to lose one moment of time, but to live it profitably, with all of his might (No 5 & 6). “Resolved, that I will live just so as I can think I shall wish I had done, supposing I live to old age” (No 52); “Resolved to endeavour to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments” (No 55). Well summarised in this resolution to speak only whatever is “agreeable to the highest Christian honour … and the lowest humility” (No 31). “Resolved, never to do anything but duty; and then according to Eph 6:6-8, do it willingly and cheerfully as unto the Lord, and not to man; “knowing that whatever good thing any man doth, the same shall he receive of the Lord” (No 62).
  • The Christian life is to be lived in self-denial and preparation for eternity. This is what John Owen called “mortification” (“putting to death the works of the flesh”, see Romans 8:13). For Edwards: “Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom” (No 10); Resolved, that I will live so as I shall wish I had done when I come to die” (No 17); “Resolved, to maintain the strictest temperance in eating and drinking” (No 20); “Resolved…never in the least to slacken my fight with my corruptions (No 56).

There is much more to be said about Jonathan Edwards’ 70 resolutions which speak volumes about his God-focused self-discipline.

But, for now, let me give a few hints for formulating your 2016 resolutions:

  1. Formulate a resolution which encapsulates John Newton’s famous resolve to “humble the sinner, exalt the saviour, and promote holiness”.
  2. Commit it to writing and allow this to act as a pledge you make to yourself and to God.
  3. Formulate an action plan (perhaps by listing Dave Allen’s “next actions” from Getting Things Done). Plan the next action which leads to furthering the resolve will help keep you focussed on it beyond January and enable you to track progress.
  4. Reread your resolution regularly throughout the year (daily, weekly or monthly). Again, this helps ensure that the resolution abides beyond the initial resolve.

Here Jonathan Edwards is so helpful. Remember that the goal of making resolutions is in order for us to focus, not on the bettering of this life, but on preparing for heaven and anticipating the happiness which is to be found there. Hence I end with what is perhaps the best known resolution:

Resolved, to endeavour to obtain for myself as much happiness, in the other world, as I possibly can, with all the power, might, vigour and vehemence, yea violence, I am capable of, or can bring myself to exert, in any way that can be thought of. (No 22).

So, what am I resolving in 2016?

In some respects my resolution is both mighty, and modest: “Resolved, to fight the world, the flesh and the devil, by the power of the Spirit and to the glory of God”.  This is a mighty goal because all Christians are engaged in this war – internally; in the world; and against the principalities and powers of this dark age, until Christ returns (Hence Eph 6:12). But, more modestly, I plan to write a book on this subject, with every hope that it will be a part of my personal discipline and devotion throughout the writing period, in the hope that my writing will overflow from my personal growth. And now I have told you, I really have to do it!

Happy New Year!

(A short article on Jonathan Edwards which I wrote for Churchman may be found here

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

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?


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


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.


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.)


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.


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.


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 see

o Mike Davidson of CORE issues believes that change is possible for men and women struggling with same-sex attraction

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.


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



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)


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

(Christian Medical Fellowship Spring 2008)

Archbishop John Sentamu

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

The Telegraph

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.


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!


 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.