Archive for December, 2011

Call for review of psycho-social factors in sexuality

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

Dermot O'CallaghanChurch of England Newspaper December 12

Relationships

Sir, Dr de Pomerai’s letter (9 December) highlights the “glaring omission” from the Lambeth 2008 book The Anglican Communion and Homosexuality of any discussion of psychosocial factors that may contribute to homosexuality. The House of Bishops plans to produce a consultation document on same-sex relationships in 2013. It is to be hoped that this will include the sort of “thoroughgoing review” of such factors that Dr de Pomerai has called for; it might also usefully include a discussion of how the biological and psychosocial aspects relate to each other in the ‘big picture’. Thought should be given, too, as to how the fruits of such labour might be disseminated throughout the wider Communion.

Dermot O’Callaghan,
Member of General Synod, The Church of Ireland

The Queen’s new chaplain declares: Women bishops are wrong

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

By Tim Walker, Telegraph

The Queen has appointed an outspoken critic of women bishops to be her new chaplain.

As the Church of England’s General Synod prepares to give final approval to the appointment of women bishops, opponents of the move have been given a morale boost.

Mandrake can disclose that the Queen has appointed one of the most outspoken critics of women bishops as her chaplain.

“It’s almost like a nod of approval by the Royal family and Church of England to receive this honour,” claims the Rev Preb Paul Lockett. “It shows that they still see the traditionalist voice as an important one that ought to be heard.”

He adds: “I will keep speaking about my traditionalist views, and making sure they’re heard. I can only say what I believe, and we need to make sure there is a code of practice and respect that fits with the authority a bishop should have, which can be done only when the bishop is male.”

Read here

Jacob Zuma blames Christianity for South Africa’s problems

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

By Barney Henderson, Telegraph

Jacob Zuma is at the centre of a religious storm in South Africa after reportedly blaming the introduction Christianity in the 19th century for the continent’s current problems.

Mr Zuma, South Africa’s first Zulu president, told an event in his home province of KwaZulu-Natal that Christianity brought about “orphans” and “old-age homes” thereby destroying Africa’s traditions, according to South Africa’s Times newspaper.

“As Africans, long before the arrival of religion and [the] gospel, we had our own ways of doing things,” he said.
“Those were times that the religious people refer to as dark days but we know that, during those times, there were no orphans or old-age homes. Christianity has brought along these things.”
Mr Zuma’s office later issued a statement saying that his comments had been reported in a “misleading manner” and were aimed at ensuring South Africans do not neglect African culture.
“While we should embrace western culture and Christianity, we should not neglect the African ways of doing things,” said Mac Maharaj, presidency spokesman.

Liberal Theology and Theological Education — A Cautionary Tale

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

The history of theological education in the United States is a convoluted tale involving a host of institutions — each with its own story. The New York Times recently looked at one of these stories in its article, “ A Seminary Where a Bicentennial Looks Forward.”

The focus of the article falls on the Andover Newton Theological School in Newton, Massachusetts (part of metropolitan Boston). Reporter Richard Higgins began his article with a look at the school’s 200th anniversary:

At the Andover Newton Theological School here, banquets, exhibitions and church services proclaim the bicentennial this year of the school’s founding as the Andover Theological Seminary.

The Rev. Nick Carter, its president, celebrates the seminary’s history proudly, but he is more engaged by how the school will adapt to the deep ferment in American religion and survive until the 250th anniversary and beyond.

The focus on institutional survival may surprise some readers, but many theological seminaries are in deep institutional crisis, and several have simply ceased to exist as institutions for the training and education of ministers. The survival of freestanding institutions (not related directly to a larger university) is especially in question in many denominations.

As Higgins reports:

The nation has 165 seminaries, but 39 percent of seminary students attend just 20 of them. The 20 large institutions, all but two evangelical Christian, raise substantial money, have big endowments or receive moderate to high denominational support — or do all three.

In addition, nonsectarian theological and divinity schools that exist within a university also tend to be in good shape.

But a majority of Protestant seminaries are smaller independents, and many, including Andover Newton, lack adequate endowments. The mainline churches that parented the older seminaries have sharply cut financial support.

A result, said Daniel O. Aleshire, executive director of the National Association of Theological Schools, is that around 30 seminaries are in financial stress. In the future, Mr. Aleshire said, “There may be just two kinds of seminaries, those with substantial endowments or effective annual giving and the nonexistent.”

There is a wealth of data in those paragraphs. Virtually 4 out of 10 students enrolled in the nation’s 165 seminaries are in just 20 schools — and all but 2 of the twenty are classified as evangelical. This is an amazing imbalance, but it is essentially tied to the dramatic decline of Protestant liberalism.

Look carefully at this section of the report:

The nation’s first full-time graduate theological school, the Andover Theological Seminary was started by orthodox Calvinists who fled Harvard after it embraced Unitarianism. The school opened in 1808 at Phillips Academy in Andover, Mass.

Until then, ministerial training had been undergraduate, capped by parlor study under a pastor. Andover started three years’ graduate study of four subjects under a residential faculty: the Bible, church history, doctrinal theology and the practical arts of ministry.

That model became the gold standard, although Andover Newton has long since changed it. Andover Seminary, a bastion of Christian evangelical and missionary zeal, moved here in 1931 to an early Baptist seminary campus, merging in 1965.

Today, Andover Newton maintains ties to the United Church of Christ and the American Baptist churches and has 380 students from 35 denominations. One-fourth are Unitarian Universalists.

Andover Theological Seminary was indeed the first freestanding seminary in the United States and it was, as this report indicates, “started by orthodox Calvinists who fled Harvard after it embraced Unitarianism.”  But then look at the fact that today one-fourth of the students enrolled in the school are Unitarian-Universalists.  The school is also tied to the United Church of Christ, the nation’s most liberal mainline denomination.  The school now represents the very beliefs its founders sought to oppose.

Andover Newton underwent a massive theological transformation over a period beginning in the late 19th century and continuing into the 20th.  One historian of American higher education referred to the “liberal takeover of the Andover Theological Seminary” and traced its influence on other New England institutions. As far back as 1886 the editors of the school’s faculty journal commented that the “Christian faith is not necessarily committed to the infallibility of the Bible.”

Even as Andover Newton now shares its campus with a Jewish institution in order to save funds, The Christian Century reports that institutions associated with the Episcopal Church are also struggling.  As John Dart reports:

The deans of Episcopal seminaries warned bishops and other church leaders last year that their theological schools must deal creatively with hard financial realities. The schools can no longer function separately as “11 little grocery stores trying to sell the same products to the church,” declared Donn Morgan of Berkeley, California, then convener of the Council of Deans.

The challenges have been felt not only in the Episcopal Church–which has been torn by breakaway parishes and dissenting dioceses–but in virtually all U.S. denominations, added Ward Ewing of New York City, the current council convener. “Seminaries are in the midst of major transformational change,” Ewing told bishops in September.

Actions by three Episcopal seminaries reflected that crisis. Pullback plans were announced by schools in Evanston, Illinois, and Rochester, New York. A promising financial partnership was struck in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The Episcopal Church USA has experienced a catastrophic loss of members over the last several decades, and recent controversies over sexuality and biblical authority have only served to drive more members and congregations out of the denomination.  The crisis in the denomination’s seminaries should come as no surprise.

These two reports should serve to remind us all of what happens when theological liberalism takes control — the institutions and the denominations pass into decline.  Theological liberalism undermines the Christian faith, turning it into another religion entirely.  There should be no shock in the fact that this is also a recipe for institutional collapse.

Must We Believe in the Virgin Birth?

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Albert Mohler

In one of his columns for The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof once pointed to belief in the Virgin Birth as evidence that conservative Christians are “less intellectual.” Are we saddled with an untenable doctrine? Is belief in the Virgin Birth really necessary?

Kristof is absolutely aghast that so many Americans believe in the Virgin Birth. “The faith in the Virgin Birth reflects the way American Christianity is becoming less intellectual and more mystical over time,” he explains, and the percentage of Americans who believe in the Virgin Birth “actually rose five points in the latest poll.” Yikes! Is this evidence of secular backsliding?

“The Virgin Mary is an interesting prism through which to examine America’s emphasis on faith,” Kristof argues, “because most Biblical scholars regard the evidence for the Virgin Birth … as so shaky that it pretty much has to be a leap of faith.” Here’s a little hint: Anytime you hear a claim about what “most Biblical scholars” believe, check on just who these illustrious scholars really are. In Kristof’s case, he is only concerned about liberal scholars like Hans Kung, whose credentials as a Catholic theologian were revoked by the Vatican.

The list of what Hans Kung does not believe would fill a book [just look at his books!], and citing him as an authority in this area betrays Kristof’s determination to stack the evidence, or his utter ignorance that many theologians and biblical scholars vehemently disagree with Kung. Kung is the anti-Catholic’s favorite Catholic, and that is the real reason he is so loved by the liberal media.

Kristof also cites “the great Yale historian and theologian” Jaroslav Pelikan as an authority against the Virgin Birth, but this is both unfair and untenable. In Mary Through the Centuries, Pelikan does not reject the Virgin Birth, but does trace the development of the doctrine.

What are we to do with the Virgin Birth? The doctrine was among the first to be questioned and then rejected after the rise of historical criticism and the undermining of biblical authority that inevitably followed. Critics claimed that since the doctrine is taught in “only” two of the four Gospels, it must be elective. The Apostle Paul, they argued, did not mention it in his sermons in Acts, so he must not have believed it. Besides, the liberal critics argued, the doctrine is just so supernatural. Modern heretics like retired Episcopal bishop John Shelby Spong argue that the doctrine was just evidence of the early church’s over-claiming of Christ’s deity. It is, Spong tells us, the “entrance myth” to go with the resurrection, the “exit myth.” If only Spong were a myth.

Now, even some revisionist evangelicals claim that belief in the Virgin Birth is unnecessary. The meaning of the miracle is enduring, they argue, but the historical truth of the doctrine is not really important.

Must one believe in the Virgin Birth to be a Christian? This is not a hard question to answer. It is conceivable that someone might come to Christ and trust Christ as Savior without yet learning that the Bible teaches that Jesus was born of a virgin. A new believer is not yet aware of the full structure of Christian truth. The real question is this: Can a Christian, once aware of the Bible’s teaching, reject the Virgin Birth? The answer must be no.

Nicholas Kristof pointed to his grandfather as a “devout” Presbyterian elder who believed that the Virgin Birth is a “pious legend.” Follow his example, Kristof encourages, and join the modern age. But we must face the hard fact that Kristof’s grandfather denied the faith. This is a very strange and perverse definition of “devout.”

Matthew tells us that before Mary and Joseph “came together,” Mary “was found to be with child by the Holy Spirit.” [Matthew 1:18] This, Matthew explains, fulfilled what Isaiah promised: “Behold, the virgin shall be with child and shall bear a Son, and they shall call His name ‘Immanuel,’ which translated means ‘God with Us’.” [Matthew 1:23, Isaiah 7:14]

Luke provides even greater detail, revealing that Mary was visited by an angel who explained that she, though a virgin, would bear the divine child: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; and for that reason the holy child shall be called the Son of God.” [Luke 1:35]

Even if the Virgin Birth was taught by only one biblical passage, that would be sufficient to obligate all Christians to the belief. We have no right to weigh the relative truthfulness of biblical teachings by their repetition in Scripture. We cannot claim to believe that the Bible is the Word of God and then turn around and cast suspicion on its teaching.

Millard Erickson states this well: “If we do not hold to the virgin birth despite the fact that the Bible asserts it, then we have compromised the authority of the Bible and there is in principle no reason why we should hold to its other teachings. Thus, rejecting the virgin birth has implications reaching far beyond the doctrine itself.”

Implications, indeed. If Jesus was not born of a virgin, who was His father? There is no answer that will leave the Gospel intact. The Virgin Birth explains how Christ could be both God and man, how He was without sin, and that the entire work of salvation is God’s gracious act. If Jesus was not born of a virgin, He had a human father. If Jesus was not born of a virgin, the Bible teaches a lie.

Carl F. H. Henry, the dean of evangelical theologians, argued that the Virgin Birth is the “essential, historical indication of the Incarnation, bearing not only an analogy to the divine and human natures of the Incarnate, but also bringing out the nature, purpose, and bearing of this work of God to salvation.” Well said, and well believed.

Nicholas Kristof and his secularist friends may find belief in the Virgin Birth to be evidence of intellectual backwardness among American Christians. But this is the faith of the Church, established in God’s perfect Word, and cherished by the true Church throughout the ages. Kristof’s grandfather, we are told, believed that the Virgin Birth is a “pious legend.” The fact that he could hold such beliefs and serve as an elder in his church is evidence of that church’s doctrinal and spiritual laxity — or worse. Those who deny the Virgin Birth affirm other doctrines only by force of whim, for they have already surrendered the authority of Scripture. They have undermined Christ’s nature and nullified the incarnation.

This much we know: All those who find salvation will be saved by the atoning work of Jesus the Christ — the virgin-born Savior. Anything less than this is just not Christianity, whatever it may call itself. A true Christian will not deny the Virgin Birth.


I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me at mail@albertmohler.com. Follow regular updates on Twitter at www.twitter.com/AlbertMohler

Rwandan HOB Appoints Bishops Glenn and Barnum to Oversee AMIA Congregations in US

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Shock, Confusion and hurt across US over sudden disintegration of Anglican Mission in the Americas

News Analysis

By David W. Virtue
www.virtueonline.org

The House of Bishops of the Anglican Province of Rwanda (PEAR) has appointed Bishop Terrell Glenn, Jr., of Charlotte, NC, and Bishop Thad Barnum of Fairfield, CT, to oversee the care and shepherding of all clergy who are canonically resident in PEAR and affiliated with the Anglican Mission in the Americas. Bishops Glenn and Barnum will work on behalf of PEAR and with the leadership of The Anglican Mission in the Americas in assisting clergy and congregations with their present and future canonical residencies.

“We are deeply saddened and dismayed by the recent turn of events that have brought pain and separation between the Province of Rwanda and the Anglican Mission in the Americas. We are also deeply grieved by the subsequent ‘Internet’ eruptions and email trails that have contributed to further damage in our witness before believers and non-believers alike,” wrote The Rev. Alan Hawkins, Network Leader of the Apostles Mission Network in the AMIA. (NOTE: VOL was told that this statement did not include Virtueonline as one of the eruptors.)

“To that end, we are requesting an ‘Advent Respite’ while leaders representing those clergy and congregations concerned can honorably and honestly work through their respective issues. We respectfully ask members of the different media sites and those who ‘blog’ to observe this respite as well.

“We recognize this situation has raised numerous questions, especially those of canonical status and future affiliations. We believe these situations will be addressed and questions will be answered “in a manner worthy of the gospel” of Jesus Christ. We also know that, in God’s time, there will be an opportunity to bear witness a positive and a Christ-honoring resolution to this painful situation.

“In addition, we request of all clergy and congregations in PEAR, that all recruiting, posturing, and gathering for allegiance to one side or another in these matters cease immediately. In place of these, we commit to join everyone in fervent prayer to our Lord that His reconciling love would prevail in our hearts and that His grace would abound as we seek a way forward that blesses Him and brings glory to His Name,” wrote Hawkins.

Across the country the split has caused shock, pain, hurt and confusion among the laity and clergy of some 156 congregations and missions. Emotions are raw. There is mass confusion. Many feel betrayed and unsure of where to turn and what to do, VOL has been told.

The Rev. Mark Quay, an AMIA priest wrote, “My heart is broken over this. I especially feel torn apart by what has happened with Archbishop Rwaje…I came to love him like a favorite uncle.”

For Quay, the evidence favors his leaving the authority of Rwanda. “I have come to the conclusion that it was necessary for the AM to leave the Province of Rwanda. I am angry about this. I am heartbroken about this. I am deeply, deeply, deeply saddened by this. But I am at peace about this. I plan on remaining in the AM until God calls me elsewhere. And I would go elsewhere not in reaction to what’s wrong with the AM, but because God has something for me to do other than in the AM.”

Others feel differently. Opinions, blame and finger-pointing have led many to ask why AMIA did not stay in the Anglican Church of North America (ACNA) (when ACNA was first formed) choosing instead to walk apart. On May 18, 2010, it was announced that the AM would seek “ministry partner” status with the ACNA and remain fully a part of the Province of Rwanda. Others reflected on injudicious comments made by AMIA Chairman and Bishop Charles Murphy in the various interactions between him and Rwandan Archbishop Onesphore Rwaje.

More believe that AMIA is in the throes of growing up and moving from a subservient position of “personal prelature” to that of Missionary Society (under Rwanda). This had not worked out as hoped, and therefore it was felt that AMIA needed to go it alone…as a missionary society.

Still others believe that Bishop Murphy’s “style” was on a collision course with that of the newly anointed Archbishop Rwaje and that personality differences between the two men made confrontation inevitable. (While this reporter has never met Archbishop Rwaje I am a personal friend of Archbishop Kolini who was probably the easiest archbishop to get along with and one of the most warm and loveable men I have ever met. This also goes for one of his bishops, John Rucyahana.)

Rucyahana wrote VOL saying, “I don’t think there is anyone other than the Lord Jesus who can measure the depth of sadness I have for what has been developing and now transpired in AMIA. I wrote an open letter to +Chuck calling for him and the House of Bishops in Rwanda to put right the differences that developed in the June 2011 meeting. Indeed what I predicted has come true. The formation of a missionary society came at a wrong time when Rwanda was transitioning in leadership from ++ kolini to ++ Rwaje.

Secondly, the formation of a Missionary Society looks [bad] prompted by disappointments from the June meeting. Thirdly, there were trades of accusations such as (the reversal of colonialism) which hurt Rwanda so deeply. The love and support given as sacrifice being turned to a reversal of colonialism. I am glad to hear (from you) that Chuck apologized for his abusive words to Rwandan Bishops.

“I want you to know that I love AMIA so much so that I sacrificed for it in obedience to my God. I was called by God the Almighty to be in His service to get AMIA started with one congregation Saint Andrew’s, to two Bishops and four in Denver so God blessed AMIA to what it was. I am deeply groaning for what is going on. It is sad [that] what started by the wave of the Holy Spirit ends with the human agendas.”

Many are asking why the AMIA leadership chose to announce the formation of the Missionary Society move right after Archbishop Emmanuel Kolini retired and Archbishop Rwaje was on his way in and his feet were still wet. The timing seemed poor to many.

It should be pointed out that Bishop Murphy’s decision to withdraw the AM from Rwanda was not unilateral. It was the result of consultation among the AM Council of Bishops AND Archbishops Moses Tay, Yong Ping Chung, and Emmanuel Kolini. I believe the decision was based fundamentally on this-which principle in this instance is more important: to submit to the authority over you (i.e. Rwanda) or to stand against injustice?

Those in AMIA’s leadership who have decided to stay with Archbishop Rwaje and Rwanda’s HOB (and have asked that their names not be revealed) say that Bishop Murphy’s remarks about “reverse colonialism” were painfully received in the Rwandan House of Bishops. As I wrote to Bishop Rucyahana, Murphy later profusely apologized for this remark.

Later he made remarks saying that God is “doing a new thing” and the AMiA is being led out of the Eygpt of Rwanda into the promised land by its Moses, Bishop Murphy. He compared the Rwandan Province to the Egyptians and Rwaje as Pharaoh and himself and the AMIA as the liberated Israelites. This was not only bad theology and exegesis, it was deeply offensive and painful to the Rwandan House of Bishops, making any way back towards reconciliation now virtually impossible.

FINANCES

Outrageous reports by CEN rewrite man George Conger suggesting that AMIA had mismanaged funds is wildly inaccurate and suggests sour grapes and whining hubris.

“The AMiA tithe numbers don’t add up,” he opined. While blasting the numbers he himself admits receiving $6,692 for a “White Paper” written for the province.

The Ven. H. Miller, Executive Director of The Anglican Mission in the Americas, responded to Conger’s charges and wrote VOL saying that during the 2004-05 time frame, the Anglican Mission commissioned the Rev. George Conger to write a series of “white papers” on different matters related to the Anglican Mission and the Province of Rwanda including the parish as the basic unit of the American church and issues of overlapping jurisdictions. Some of the work was charged to the expenses of the Anglican Mission and in consultation with Rwanda; some of it was paid for on behalf of the Province. Only those fees and expenses paid on behalf of the Province were in the accounting publicized last Friday.

“We annually receive an audit by Capin Crouse, LLP one of the premier auditing firms in the country that specializes in non-profit religious entities. In addition we are members of the ECFA and have submitted to their financial standards,” said Miller.

A letter from Cynthia Brust, Communications Director of the AMiA, adequately addresses this issue. The Mission gave above and beyond the 10% tithe (more like 12%). Much of the money was distributed at the discretion of Archbishop Kolini and thus was not under the control of the House of Bishops (some grounds for resentment). If there was a problem here, it was not on the AM’s end, wrote Quay to VOL.

The fact that the Mission has ECFA accreditation is really all that needs to be said here.

What remains a real mystery in the break up is what happened between the time Rwaje met with Murphy in Washington, DC, where apparently both men left on the same page, and two weeks later when Murphy received a letter that was basically an indictment and a summary judgment against him by Rwaje. Indeed, VOL was told Rwaje expressed support for Murphy and gave his assurance that the problems were largely “miscommunications”.

In less than two weeks after the meeting, Murphy was sent a letter reversing most of what was understood and it was downhill from there. Apparently there was no provision for a canonical trial under the very same canons Murphy was accused of disobeying.

Furthermore, Murphy and the AMIA Treasurer were not allowed to present evidence or witnesses to exonerate himself and the AM when they were called to Rwanda.

AMIA and ACNA

An article by Matt Kennedy suggesting that there are talks going on between AMIA dissidents and ACNA Archbishop Bob Duncan and that a large portion of AMIA is ready to defect to ACNA is simply untrue.

“Categorically NO,” an ACNA source told VOL. “Yes Duncan has talked to a few people who are in the AMiA, but not about anyone coming into the ACNA. We may reasonably assume that some will come to the ACNA.”

As things now stand, Archbishops Moses Tay, Yong Ping Chung, and Emmanuel Kolini are supporting the AMIA and Bishop Murphy. The bishop has promised some kind of arch-episcopal oversight for the Mission, that he will not “go it alone.”

Sages, straw dogs, and same-sex marriage

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

By Zac Alstin, MercatorNet

Heaven and Earth are ruthless;
To them the Ten Thousand things are but as straw dogs.
The Sage too is ruthless;
To him the people are but as straw dogs.

A “straw dog“ was a ceremonial object used in place of an actual dog in ancient Chinese sacrifices. Sacrificing a dog made from straw fulfils the requirements of ritual without the cost or the burden (or the mess) of killing an actual hound. A straw dog looks the part and plays its role, but no one really cares about its loss. It is form without substance, a placeholder without value.
This verse from theTaoist classic, the Dao De Jing, tells us that a sage should emulate Heaven and Earth in viewing the people as straw dogs, looking upon them with a ruthless (literally “not compassionate”) detachment. From a Western perspective this does not sound like sage advice. We appreciate above all else the primacy of the individual and the value of personal feelings. We are eminently empathic and easily won over by the emotional narratives of others. So in the debate over same-sex marriage, people have been greatly moved by the simple request that couples who love one another be allowed to express their love in “time-honoured tradition”, regardless of their sexual orientation.
“Marriage Equality” is being fought for not only on the grounds of justice, but on the grounds of compassion. Who among us has the will, let alone the right to deny marriage to people who love one another, and thereby imply that they are not worthy, or that their love is inferior? Who has the audacity to stand in the way of happiness for such ardent couples?