Archive for May, 2011

Oxford’s theology dept set for multi-faith rebrand

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

May , 2011

From The Christian Institute

Oxford University’s historic theology department looks set for a controversial multi-faith rebrand.

The department may also ditch the requirement for all theology undergraduates to study Biblical subjects such as Old Testament and New Testament.

And a revised syllabus could place more emphasis on religions such as Islam and Hinduism.

The controversial proposals feature in a 40-page review document of Oxford’s Faculty of Theology.

The review urges the department to “strongly consider” changing its name because many theology students want to study Islam, Hinduism and Judaism as well as Christianity.

Read here

Barometer of belief

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011
Archie Poulos
May 20th, 2011

So many times I have heard it asked, not as a question but as an accusation;  ‘why are you not more generous to people of good heart but who differ from you on theological issues?’ and why is it appropriate that at times a person will be your ally and at other times your adversary?

My way of explaining this is what I call the barometer of belief. Barometers measure atmospheric pressure so that you can tell if you are under the influence of a high pressure or low pressure cell. But the real value of a barometer is seeing the change in atmospheric pressure that is occurring. If the barometric pressure is declining then we are in for unsettled weather (at least in the Southern hemisphere).

The same is true of a person’s theological position. Whether a person is an ally or a foe has as much or more to do with where they are moving from and where they are moving to than the content of what they believe.

Starting Point
Every person begins the Christian life from a different point. It is normal and right to have a loyalty to the theological position of those who were instrumental in your conversion. We normally hold on tightly to what we were first taught about God.

But what you do with that matters. I have had the immense privilege over the years of reading the Bible with people who, when they know God better in his Word embrace the truth and make changes to their theology. That we have differing theology at the beginning of our time together doesn’t matter as we are seeking, with Bible open to know God better and change appropriately.

It is a different matter for a person who begins with an orthodox theology and then chooses to move away from that position. This is a barometric indication of change. It is absolutely right and our responsibility to ask why. It could be that the change was made because Scripture calls us to do so, but it could also be that other, less noble factors brought about this change. A person who deliberately chooses to move from orthodox faith to error should be challenged lovingly and with Bible open.

Where you are
The issues you face also affects who is a friend and who is an adversary. There are times when you can work with those who hold a different position to you. This will normally be to complete a specific task. For example people of different theological positions could work together for an end to the abuse of minority groups.

Who is your friend is also determined by who is your enemy. The old line that my enemy’s enemy is my friend is true. In the battle for souls, you can work with someone who trusts in the substitutionary, sacrificial death of Jesus but differs in some areas when you are fighting against those who believe the gospel truth is a fairy story and Christian faith is merely about morality.

Where you are going
Everyone is on a theological journey from where they are to where they are going. We should always engage in open Bible, honest dialogue with those with whom we disagree. I find that in doing this, it so often helps get us to the correct goal. It is in the context of these open, truth-centered relationships, that theological change is often generated.

In our churches
If someone once held a position you regard as orthodox and does so no longer it is right to ask ‘what made you change your position?’ This is loving, as the change is often an early warning sign of unsettled weather ahead.

Before we accuse someone of being harsh and critical of another’s position, look at where they have come from and where they are going. It may indeed be a very dangerous track they are on that will lead others astray.

Orthodox Global South Anglicans Flex Muscles in Defiance of Western Pan Anglican Liberalism

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

News Analysis

By David W. Virtue
May  2011

If one has any doubt about where the Anglican Communion as a whole is going, look no further than the ever increasing encirclement of evangelical Global South Anglican wagons around the liberal-revisionist West.

A council of Anglican leaders who make up the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) representing more than 35 million Anglicans now plan to meet for a second time in 2013 in Jerusalem (the first was in 2008). They also plan to open offices in London and Nairobi.

This move to plant a Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) office on UK soil can only be viewed with alarm by Lambeth Palace. It is the first major encroachment on the turf of the Mother Church by orthodox Anglicans from the Global South and must be taken with tremendous seriousness. This is happening while a number of Church of England Anglo-Catholic bishops, clergy, and laity are fleeing to Rome under the offer of an ordinariate by Pope Benedict XVI. Evangelicals within the CofE are flexing their own muscles opposing both the possibility of women bishops and the acceptance of pansexuality that are being covertly and publicly endorsed by the Church of England.

With the announcement of the opening of a GAFCON office in London, African, Asian and Latin American Anglicans might just as well fly banners over the city and take out ads in “The Times, Guardian” and “Daily Mail saying”, “We’re not taking it any more” and hope the Archbishop of Canterbury is looking out his window at Lambeth Palace and listening.

The Global South’s non-appearance in Dublin earlier this year spoke volumes. They said they were disappointed that those who organized the Primates meeting in Dublin not only failed to address their core concerns over morals and discipline, but that they decided, instead, to unilaterally reduce the status of the Primates’ Meeting.

“This action was taken with complete disregard for the resolutions of both Lambeth 1978 and 1998 that called for an enhanced role in ‘doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters’. We believe that they were seriously misled and their actions unacceptable,” they said.

The GAFCON primates have now thrown down the gauntlet making it very clear that the great divide (some might call it a schism though that is not a word they use) has widened even further with an office in London. It will not only address their concerns but bring evangelicals into the Church of England to say they have friends in the Global South who believe as they do. Despite all the nonsense talk about cultural differences and worship styles, the core beliefs of the Global South are in exact accord with evangelicals in the CofE.

Furthermore, as whole dioceses in England, many of which are liberal, depend on the financial largesse of these core evangelicals, the establishment of the GAFCON/FCA (Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans) office must be viewed as a serious threat to their hegemony.

In their recent meeting, the Global South Primates reaffirmed the statement of orthodox faith formulated at GAFCON 1 in 2008, known as the Jerusalem Declaration. This stands in marked contrast to the Anglican Covenant which has been circling the globe. The Archbishop of Canterbury hopes it will draw the Anglican Communion together, but it has, in fact, become a lightning rod for dissent in The Episcopal Church (TEC) and the Anglican Church of Canada, (ACoC). It has been endorsed by Mexico, South East Asia and the West Indies. The Church of Ireland has “subscribed” to the covenant, while, the Province of South East Asia, has issued a “letter of accession.” Three other Anglican Communion provinces have officially adopted the covenant. They are The Anglican Church of Mexico, The Anglican Church in the West Indies, and the Church of the Province of Myanmar. It is by no means a slam dunk in either TEC or the ACoC.

In strong language, the Primates stated, “We believe that the theological principles outlined in the Jerusalem Declaration offers the only way forward that holds true to our past and also gives a sure foundation for the future.” The use of the word only cannot be overlooked or taken lightly. If that is the case, the Anglican Covenant document must be viewed as little more than Chamberlain’s “peace for our time” Munich Agreement document. We all know how well that worked.

Now the lines are being sharply drawn and the focus is becoming clearer.

In the U.S., the growth of The Anglican Mission (TheAM) and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), with new dioceses forming in TEC territories and the growth of the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC), and the Anglican Coalition in Canada (ACiC) continues apace. They are pouring new evangelical wine into new wineskins even as the old wineskins of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada dry up and dissipate. By any reckoning, this can only be an embarrassment to Dr. Williams as he tries to hold a flailing communion together.

Global South Primates are planning a second GAFCON in 2013 to be preceded by a leadership conference in New York in 2012. This can only be seen by Dr. Williams as a smack in the face against his authority as GAFCON represents more Anglicans than he does. What about the failure of pan-Anglican liberalism doesn’t he understand?

Tucked quietly away in the 13-point statement issued after their Nairobi meeting was this, “We continue to be troubled by the promotion of a shadow gospel that appears to replace a traditional reading of Holy Scriptures and a robust theology of the church with an uncertain faith and a never ending listening process. This faith masquerades as a religion of tolerance and generosity and yet it is decidedly intolerant to those who hold to the ‘faith once and for all delivered to the saints’. We believe that the theological principles outlined in the Jerusalem Declaration offer the only way forward that holds true to our past and also gives a sure foundation for the future.”

This is a direct attack on Dr. Williams himself. The term shadow gospel comes from a book by Charles Raven titledShadow Gospel: Rowan Williams and the Anglican Communion Crisis in which the author argues coherently that the Archbishop of Canterbury’s theology and the real problem facing the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion are not so much an ecclesial deficit as a confessional one. He argues that what Williams really believes is the shadow, not the substance of the faith. This has blinded the West and infuriated the Global South who have seen through his ecclesiastical and theological gerrymandering with his efforts to hold the Anglican Communion together at one Primates’ meeting after another. That day is done. GAFCON is a repudiation of the Lambeth Conference. The Jerusalem Declaration is a repudiation of a failing Covenant. The GAFCON primates meetings signal the end of any future meeting of Primates called by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

It also signals the end of the Instruments of Unity as having any binding authority on the Global South. They have seen how manipulated they have been by Canon Kenneth Kearon of the Anglican Consultative Council and will have nothing more to do with him. They also believe the so-called Listening Process is nothing more than a way of desensitizing orthodox Anglicans into believing that sodomy is good and right in the eyes of God when it is not.

They will also never sit down again with Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori of The Episcopal Church (TEC) and, by association, the Anglican Church of Canada, which is little more than a clone of TEC. Their archbishop is easily manipulated by a revisionist bishop like Michael Ingham of New Westminster. Jefferts Schori is paying obeisance to New Hampshire Bishop Gene Robinson or Mary Glasspool of Los Angeles. Pansexuality has triumphed in the West; it is a non starter in the Global South.

As Charles Raven observes, GAFCON is clear in its intention to build “alternative institutions” and they won’t be stopped, stifled or inhibited in moving forward. As Kenyan bishop Bill Atwood noted, GAFCON is not forming an “ordinariate.” It is a movement among Anglicans to promote mission to share Jesus Christ with the world and, as the Jerusalem Declaration makes clear, it is doing so in the Anglican way.

It is clear we are fast approaching what is called the “end game” in chess. The institutional and intellectual challenges GAFCON is now committed to are huge. They amount to founding the Anglican Communion afresh. The Primates have embraced their divine summons with sober faith in the power of the resurrection. As Kenyan Archbishop Eliad Wabukala observed on his appointment as Chairman of the GAFCON Primates during the Nairobi meeting, “I recognize that we have set ourselves a truly monumental task but we serve God for whom nothing, not even overcoming death itself, is impossible.”

Dr. Williams should take note.

Was Obama’s Speech Addressed to the U.S. or to the Muslim World?

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

May 23rd, 2011

by Michael Nazir-Ali

You cannot blame a politician for liking rhetoric, and President Obama’s speech on the Middle East is full of it. His favorite word “change” occurs often, and there are idealistic expressions like “a season of hope.” But what was wrapped up in the sugar coating, and will it be acceptable to the American people and those who value freedom in the world at large? A few observations on those questions:

Throughout the speech, I had a recurrent sense that he was not addressing the U.S. and its people but Muslim opinion in the Middle East and beyond. Some scholars have written about the dhimmi mentality, i.e., a subservient attitude developed towards Muslim rulers by Christian, Jewish, and other communities that were allowed to survive, but under heavy restrictions, in the Muslim world. It has sometimes been held that the West’s response to events in the Muslim world betrays a similar mentality, brought about by fear. Was the president’s speech an example of this?

The president seemed understandably but unduly optimistic about the aftermath of Osama bin Laden’s death. It will undoubtedly affect some of al-Qaeda’s operations, but extremist Islamism is now so decentralized that it will have little effect, for instance, on the Taliban in Pakistan or Afghanistan, or al-Shabab in Somalia, or even on AQ in the Arabian Peninsula. It would be a great mistake to see bin Laden’s death as the end of radical Islam. It may in fact lead to his becoming an icon or a martyr in exactly the way that the president does not wish.

Read here

Wisdom from the Scots: The CofE and Same-sex Unions

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

by Andrew Goddard and Giles Goddard

This article appeared in Church Times, 20th May 2011.

part of the ongoing conversation in the Goddard 2 Goddard series

Photo of Giles GoddardThe Anglican Communion is not, of course, the only denomination in which this subject is bitterly divisive. Next week, the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland will debate the subject. There are lessons to be learned from the way they have proceeded.

After a divisive debate two years ago about the induction of a minister in a same-sex relationship, the General Assembly, “for the sake of the peace and unity of the Church”, appointed a special commission, representing a breadth of opinion, to consult and prepare a study.

Its report, to be debated next Monday, is illuminating reading. Nine people have met roughly each month since June 2009. Although they report “many discussions in which we have not reached unanimity of view”, they note that this “has not prevented us from working together closely and with mutual confidence”.

The church-wide consultation which they undertook, probably unprecedented, reveals the scale of the disagreements in the Church. About three-quarters of the nearly 25,000 people involved in the consultation have a clear position on same-sex relationships. Asked whether a person in a civil partnership should be permitted to be an ordained minister, 46.2 per cent of elders said yes; 47 per cent said no.

The perception of this issue’s importance is also illuminating. Ten per cent of elders would regard a decision to ordain people in a committed same-sex relationship as “heretical”, and 28 per cent as unjustified by scripture. On the other hand, refusing to ordain was seen as heretical by four per cent, and unjustified by scripture by 24 per cent. Twenty per cent viewed the decision either way as “not particularly significant”.

Asked whether certain situations would make them “consider it obligatory to leave the Church of Scotland”, 19 per cent of elders said that this would be the case “if the General Assembly were to allow people in committed same-sex relationships to be ordained as ministers”; eight per cent would consider leaving if the General Assembly forbade such ordinations.

Nor is sitting on the fence comfortable: 12 per cent of elders said that they would leave if “the General Assembly were to decide not to make a clear statement on this issue”.

We suspect that similar findings would result if the Church of England were brave enough to undertake such a consultation. That is, of course, one reason why it has shied away from an orderly, constructive, nationally-led conversation. The question now is whether such an avoidance strategy remains wise, or the best way to discern the mind of Christ.

In addition to its survey, the Church of Scotland commission consulted widely with other Churches. It also explored the science, something often ignored (although it was thoroughly explored in the guide, sadly under-used, edited by Phil Groves in 2008: The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality).

The commission concludes that the Church should not determine the ordination issue “unless and until it has reached a view on the status of such relationships and the appropriateness or otherwise of allowing a minister to recognise and celebrate a life-long committed same-sex relationship in a form of a blessing or other liturgy”. This is because the dispute “is essentially a theological dispute about whether same-sex activity in a committed relationship is contrary to the will of God”.

Despite its differences, the commission reports that, “through discussion and patience, there was a great deal on which we agreed”. It is unanimous that “it is contrary to God’s will that Christians should be hostile in any way to a person because he or she is homosexual by orientation and in his or her practice” and that traditional teaching should not be classed as homophobic.

The commission calls for preserving the current moratorium on ordaining those in same-sex relationships but wishes to establish a theological commission to enable “a sustained theological addressing of the matters before the Church”. It also asks the General Assembly to signal the trajectory it wishes the Church to take. Should it consider an indefinite moratorium or consider lifting it and ask for a theological report to include advice on a form of service for blessing same-sex relationships?

As two people who hold opposing views on this issue, and want the Church of England to follow different trajectories, we believe we can learn from our Scottish Presbyterian brothers and sisters. We need to move beyond the current stand-off and instead engage in serious and substantive conversations, not just talks about talks.

As the Archbishop of Canterbury said, part of the problem is that the subject “has become a cardinal example of how we avoid theological debate”. We urgently need an “opportunity of clarifying” how different perspectives “see the focal theological issues”.

Some formal structure therefore needs to be established to enable “robust but respectful debate” in the context of deepening relationships. This needs to resource and listen to the wider church. As in Scotland, this is unlikely to resolve disagreements but it may enable greater respect between opponents and help us move beyond the current options of either staying silent (as have most bishops) or joining a political campaign on one side or the other.

We believe that the Church of Scotland report helps to identify key areas that we need to explore. It also highlights the urgency of addressing these and our divisions over them. We need to find new and better ways of doing this if, as we hope and pray, we are to find a faithful way forward together.

The Revd Dr Andrew Goddard is a member of the leadership team of Fulcrum; the Revd Canon Giles Goddard chairs Inclusive Church. They are not related.

Church of Scotland votes to allow gay and lesbian ministers

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

General assembly opens up prospects of church recognising civil partnerships for same-sex couples

    Church of Scotland

    The Church of Scotland general assembly debate on ordaining gay ministers before voting. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA

    Scotland‘s largest protestant church has swept away centuries of tradition and voted to allow gay men and lesbians to become ministers, opening up the prospect of the church allowing civil partnerships for same-sex couples.

    The Church of Scotland imposed a temporary moratorium in 2009 on admitting gay and lesbian ministers after Scott Rennie became the first openly gay clergyman in a homosexual partnership to be officially appointed as a minister in the church.

    The church’s general assembly, its law-making body, voted on Monday to lift that moratorium, officially officially allowing gay ministers to take on parishes for the first time since its formation 450 years ago.

    The general assembly also allowed serving gay and lesbian ministers who have kept their sexuality private to openly declare their sexuality – a proposal bitterly resisted by evangelical and conservative ministers.

    In one of the final votes, the general assembly chose by a small majority to lift a parallel ban on ordaining and training people who are in same-sex relationships, and gay and lesbians in civil partnerships. It called for a new report by 2013 on both proposals and on allowing ministers to bless gay and lesbian relationships.

    The vote followed official warnings that allowing gay clergy could split the church, forcing traditionalists to resign and join more conservative churches formed after the last great schism, when 474 ministers resigned in 1843.

    A commission set up in 2009 to investigate the implications of the Rennie affair predicted that up to a fifth of the church’s ministers, deacons and elders and 100,000 worshippers could leave in protest.

    It said that the issue was so divisive that another 1,800 church leaders and 40,000 parishioners had warned they would leave if gay ministers were not admitted. The church has 445,000 communicants, or active members, and around 50,000 less-active parishioners.

    A leading critic of the proposal, the Rev Andrew Coghill, a conservative minister on the Isle of Lewis, warned the general assembly that allowing homosexual clergy would be devastating to the church. To applause from his supporters, Coghill said the proposal to allow gay ministers was “the hand grenade [and] we’re being asked to pull the pin out, and it will blow the church apart.”

    However, the Rev Willem Bezuidenhout, a South African-born minister, urged the assembly to support the proposal. He likened opposition to homosexual ministers to South African pastors using the bible to justify apartheid.

    “Some of the gay Christians I know will be much better Christians than I will ever be,” he said.

    Coghill was supported by a series of traditionalists, some of whom called for a final decision to be delayed. Ministers in Aberdeen said Rennie’s ordination was so divisive it had “broken” the city’s presbytery, its ruling body, leading to threats of violence against some members.

    But in a clear indication of the general assembly’s mood, the decision to allow gay ministers on principle went through unopposed, leading to the vote late on Monday to allow gay and lesbian ministers to be ordained and recruited.

    In addition, the church has set up a commission to investigate the theological issues raised by the acceptance of gay clergy.

    Delegates to the assembly, known as commissioners, narrowly voted down a proposal to delay final decisions until 2013 on whether gay and lesbian ministers had to be celibate, or whether they were allowed to be sexually-active and in long-term relationships.

    They also rejected a proposal to prevent a minister who had not “come out” to their parishioners or presbytery before 31 May 2009, a cut-off date based on the general assembly’s last debate on the Rennie affair, from declaring his or sexuality. That suggests gay and lesbian ministers who have kept their sexuality private could now openly declare it.

Memorise Scripture on your iPhone

Monday, May 23rd, 2011
Steve Kryger
May 19th, 2011

18 “Imprint these words of mine on your hearts and minds, bind them as a sign on your hands, and let them be a symbol on your foreheads. 19 Teach them to your children,  talking about them when you sit in your house and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 20 Write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, 21 so that as long as the heavens are above the earth, your days and those of your children may be many in the land the LORD swore to give your fathers.” – Deuteronomy 11

I really want to know and love God’s word. The Fighter Verses iPhone app by Desiring God is helping me to do this.

You can learn more about the Fighter Verses Program here, and download the app (for $3.99) here. It’s well worth it – just by waiting for trains and having showers, I’ve memorised 5 passages in a week!