Archive for October, 2012

CAN CHRISTIANITY BOUNCE BACK?

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012


Brother, have you been saved?

With all sorts of charlatans offering salvation, Christianity’s answers are looking more convincing.

Brother, have you been saved? That’s a question we associate with soapbox preachers. But  the question of salvation has not gone out of style. Only the answer has.

Only last month, for example, two leading bioethicists published a book on salvation. Julian Savulescu, of Oxford University, and Ingmar Persson, of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden, have written a passionate proposal about saving the human race, Unfit for the Future: The Urgent Need for Moral Enhancement. We have an extraordinary capacity for self-destructive behaviour, they contend, and our selfish pursuit  of profit, passion and power could trigger a global apocalypse. Whether this happens because of climate change or a nuclear holocaust, our doom will be our own doing.

Savulescu and Persson have a plan. Their ambition is familiar: to make mankind virtuous; the means are not: drugs, genetic engineering, and neuroscience. “We have radically transformed our social and natural environments by technology, while our moral dispositions have remained virtually unchanged,” they write. “We must now consider applying technology to our own nature, supporting our efforts to cope with the external environment that we have created.” In other publications, they have advocated using technology to make people more altruistic and more loving.

Essentially what these philosophers are offering is the hope of salvation from human depravity. Creatures as corrupt as ourselves can only do the right thing if we are on drugs. The bioethicists’ dark and pessimistic view is that humans must become less human to be saved. Compared to them, Calvin was an optimist.

Salvation will never become old-fashioned because there is no escape from death. Everything within us hopes for freedom from suffering and immortality. If traditional Christianity is not the answer, how about technology? A 31-year-old Russian billionaire, Dmitry Itskov, is developing immortality technology – if you can afford it. “Substance-independent minds will receive new bodies with capacities far exceeding those of ordinary humans,” he claims. “A new era for humanity will arrive!”

This is only an extreme example of the hucksters of hope. Every day, we are bombarded by soapbox preachers selling happiness with a new iPad, or new cosmetics, or new ice cream – or politics. As November 6 draws closer, you might remember the giddy exhilaration of 2008. “There has never been anything false about hope,” said Senator Obama. Well, Senator, it depends on whether what you hope in has a use-by date.

The promise of Christianity has always been “an hundredfold now in this time… and in the world to come eternal life”. It’s a good product, far better than the one touted by snake oil salesmen. When people tire of gewgaws and trinkets, the odds are good that traditional Christianity will make a miraculous comeback, no matter what Richard Dawkins & Co say.

Certainly, this is what Pope Benedict XVI believes. Taking advantage of the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, he is promoting 2012-2013 as a “year of evangelisation”. Journalists – and some Catholics – may be sceptical, but he sees in the distance “a new springtime”. He has set up a department in the Vatican dedicated to promoting evangelisation (missionary work, really) in countries which have shaken off Christian culture. He has convoked a meeting of the world’s bishops for a synod on evangelisation in Rome which ended on Sunday.

This new vigour in the Vatican has been largely ignored by the media. Vaticanistas have cynically interpreted the synod’s focus on “the new evangelisation” as code for wooing Catholics who lapsed because of the Church’s stand on issues like women priests, divorce and contraception. But Benedict is more ambitious than that. Instead of clawing back lost market share, he is reviving the Church’s ambition to convert everyone.

What are the chances of success for a programme which must necessarily stretch far beyond the 85-year-old’s lifetime?

Superficially, they do not look good, at least in the West. The Catholic Church’s reputation has been tarnished by sex abuse scandals in countries where it was once strong, like Ireland, Australia and the United States. Attendance at Sunday Mass is low. There is a shortage of priests. There are many dissenters.

Despite all this, Benedict is confident. He has a strategy. He has tactics. He has a game plan. Recently he gave an interview in which he explained why Christianity’s future is bright.

First, because people thirst to fill an inner emptiness. “The desire for God, the search for God, is profoundly inscribed into each human soul and cannot disappear,” he said. “Certainly we can forget God for a time, lay Him aside and concern ourselves with other things, but God never disappears. St Augustine’s words are true: we men are restless until we have found God.”

Second, because Christianity is true. “The Gospel of Jesus Christ, faith in Jesus Christ, is quite simply true; and the truth never ages. It too may be forgotten for a time, it may be laid aside and attention may turn to other things, but the truth as such does not disappear. Ideologies have their days numbered. They appear powerful and irresistible but, after a certain period, they wear out and lose their energy because they lack profound truth. They are particles of truth, but in the end they are consumed.”

The irresistibility of truth is one of Benedict’s most consistent themes. In a culture of moral relativism which denies the existence of truth, and ultimately of a difference between good and evil, beauty and trash, Christianity has become a bulwark of common sense. He constantly reminds listeners that if God exists, the universe must be intelligible because it has been brought into being by an ordering mind. In the end, truth always triumphs.

And third, Benedict senses that a Gen Y is responding to Christianity.  “We are seeing the reawakening of this restlessness, and they too begin their journey making new discoveries of the beauty of Christianity, not a cut-price or watered-down version, but Christianity in all its radicalism and profundity.”

World Youth Days draw millions of young people from all over the world to celebrate with the Pope. Justin Martyr, a second-century Christian philosopher, pointed out that although Socrates was a great man, no one ever had died for Socrates, while both scholars and tradesmen died for Christ. Dawkins is a good speaker, but his crowds fit into a community hall; the Pope’s crowds spread over densely-packed acres. These impressive displays of enthusiasm and hope suggest that something unprecedented is just over the horizon.

Contemporary society offers many salvations. There is shop-til-you-drop consumerism, sex, drugs, Islam, Scientology, and even Savulescu and Persson’s moral enhancement. But Christianity’s appeal is as strong as ever: the God who created man also loved man enough to share in his wretchedness. Salvation through the cross is a unique message which has incredible resilience. It’s far too early to write it off.

Michael Cook is editor of MercatorNet.

Virginia Supreme Court Allows Appeal in Falls Church Case

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

A writ panel of three Justices of the Virginia Supreme Court, who heard oral arguments on October 16 in favor of the Petition for Appeal filed by The Falls Church Anglican following the adverse judgment by the Fairfax County Circuit Court has issued an order granting review of the case.

The Court’s order grants review of the following six points of error raised by The Falls Church:

1. The trial court erred in enforcing canon law, rather than “principles of real property and contract law” used in all cases … to award plaintiffs a proprietary interest in TFC’s property and to extinguish TFC’s interest in such property, even though TFC’s own trustees held title and TFC paid for, improved, and maintained the property.

2. The trial court’s award of TFC’s property to plaintiffs violates the Religion Clauses of the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions by enabling denominations to secure others’ property by means available to no other Virginia entity.

3. The trial court erred in finding that plaintiffs had proprietary interests in TFC’s real property acquired before 1904, when the legislature first referenced denominational approval of church property transfers. [Note: in the body of the Petition, this claim of error is restated in this way: “The trial court divested TFC of property by retroactively applying canons and statutes passed after the conveyances at issue, contrary to state law and the Contracts Clause.”]

4. The trial court erred in awarding plaintiffs TFC’s unconsecrated real property, which is exempt from plaintiffs’ canons.

5. The trial court erred in awarding TFC’s personal property to plaintiffs—even though plaintiffs never had any control over TFC’s funds or their use, and TFC’s donors, for religious reasons, gave on the express condition that their gifts not be forwarded to plaintiffs—in violation of Va. Code §57-1 and the Religion Clauses of the U.S. and Virginia Constitutions.

6. The trial court erred in awarding plaintiffs more relief than sought, including funds given after TFC disaffiliated and funds spent on maintenance, which plaintiffs stipulated TFC should keep.

In their response to the Petition, the Diocese of Virginia claimed that The Falls Church Anglican had “waived” Assignments of Error #3 and #4 above, for improperly presenting and/or preserving them in the record for appeal. The Supreme Court obviously disagreed with that contention, because there is no language in its order restricting the points of error which The Falls Church Anglican may raise on appeal.

Additionally, both the Diocese of Virginia and the Episcopal Church (USA) sought to have the Court review the one aspect of Judge Bellows’ ruling with which they disagreed: they contended that he erroneously concluded that Virginia Code Section 57-7.1 does not operate so as to give validity to denominational trusts.

That statute, enacted to replace a former one dealing with the same subject, provides in part: ““Every conveyance or transfer of real or personal property … to or for the benefit of any church, church diocese, religious congregation or religious society …
shall be valid.” The Diocese and ECUSA wanted the court to read this statute so as to give effect to the Dennis Canon and other trusts which they claimed applied to the all of the parish’s real and personal property, but Judge Bellows ruled that the legislature had not intended to change pre-existing Virginia law against general denominational trusts when it adopted the new statute.

By its order, the writ panel expressly refused to consider the Diocese’s and ECUSA’s cross-assignments of this claimed error, so Judge Bellows’ ruling on that specific point will stand. And as I explained in this earlier post, that means that the Dennis Canon has no effect in Virginia. Instead, according to Judge Bellows, Virginia courts will look to other indicia of “proprietary interests in” (i.e., actual ownership and control over) parish property.

The result, as we saw in Judge Bellows’ ruling, can still come out the same as if the Dennis Canon had applied. At least now, however, the degree to which Judge Bellows went, in holding that factors such as restraints on alienation, episcopal visits and even the furnishing of Sunday service bulletins were decisive, will receive a fresh review by the full Supreme Court.

Where an appeal is completely discretionary with the court of review, as this civil appeal is in Virginia, the fact that it has granted review may generally be taken that the higher court does not agree with everything in the lower court’s decision.

In this case, the sharpest point of disagreement may well be with the one aspect of Judge Bellows’ ruling in which the Virginia Attorney General joined in requesting review: the order that The Falls Church hand over to the Diocese all of the pledge money it had collected from and after February of 2008, regardless of the intent expressed by the Church’s donors that none of their gifts should go to the entity that was suing them for their property. No matter what the Virginia Supreme Court eventually decides, this news cannot be welcome either to the Diocese or to ECUSA and their attorneys.

A Pastoral Letter from the Chairman of the FCA Primates Council

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

Archbishop Eliud WabukalaA Pastoral Letter from Archbishop Eliud Wabukala, Primate of the Anglican Church of Kenya and Chairman of the FCA Primates Council to the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans

October 29, 2012

The day we give special thanks for James Hannington, Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa, and his Companions, Martyrs, 1885

My dear people of God:

Grace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Primates’ Council has just concluded its October 2012 meeting in Dar es Salaam where we witnessed the blessing of God in a number of key areas:

•    In the increase of our numbers
•    Through the achievements of our April meeting
•    By the testimonies of those who are joining with us
•    In the new funding provided for our communication efforts
•    Through our decision to meet again in a Global assembly
•    By the recognition that we are not alone in this spiritual battle

We gathered in this historic city grateful for the faithful witness of the Anglican Church of Tanzania during these challenging times. The Most Reverend Valentine Mokiwa, Bishop of the Diocese of Dar es Salaam and Primate of Tanzania, welcomed us. We were made aware of some of the current difficulties facing Tanzania and committed ourselves to prayer for protection for the Church and peace and prosperity for all of this nation’s citizens.

During our meeting we were vividly reminded of the costly struggles of so many of our fellow Christians, whether facing violent persecution, natural disaster or spiritual conflict with competing ideologies. Such struggles have shaped our intention to use the next Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON2), now to be anticipated in October 2013 (rather than May as previously indicated) to stand in solidarity with all of our oppressed sisters and brothers and to study the theme of declaring the gospel of God ‘in the midst of much conflict’ (1Thessalonians 2:2). Read the rest of this entry »

The meaning of marriage and its benefits

Tuesday, October 30th, 2012

By Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, Res Publica

There has been a good press for marriage lately. More people are marrying and more people are staying married. This is welcome news. I have recently been with a number of community groups that promote marriage in schools, colleges and generally in society. This has been an encouraging and hopeful experience for me.
The Church certainly did not invent marriage. The union of a man and a woman for mutual support and for the upbringing of children has been there from the beginning but it did emphasise the importance of consent, love between husband and wife and ‘one-flesh union’ which is based on the complementarity of male and female; social, psychological, biological and sexual.
It is such a public doctrine of marriage that needs to be restored in this country. Both divorce reform and other kinds of legislation have not just damaged but almost destroyed any public understanding of marriage. What is marriage in this country? For many years, centuries perhaps, the public doctrine of marriage was that of the Book of Common Prayer as it is set out in the preamble to the marriage service and one by one all of the aspects of marriage in the preamble have been placed under severe threat at the very least, if not more than that.

Power – is it good or bad?

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Yet again in the last couple of weeks we have witnessed politicians behaving badly towards one another, using verbal insults as a way of gaining advantage or a “power over” position over the other. On the one hand we should not be surprised: our political system inherently requires an adversarial position as each party continually jostles to be the one who wins at the next election – to be the ones to hold power. It is all too easy when seeing these outcomes to shy away from using power, to see power as something that is always detrimental, its use inevitably ending up with one person or party being forced into being the victim.

However, examining the nature of power and the ways in which it is understood from a Christian perspective reveals it as a force which does not have to be abusive: rather it is both beneficial and an essential for life.

Definitions of power

The English word power comes from the latin posse – “to be able” –  and has a number of meanings but chiefly refers to having the capacity to do something; to have the  power to… or alternatively, having the capacity to effect change in the surrounding environment despite opposition; that is having  power over someone or something. This second definition has the added necessity of a relationship between the object of power and the agent: that is, “power over” can only occur in the presence and acquiescence of a subjugated person or thing.

At its most basic level, these definitions raise an important point that power is not something that some people have and others do not: simply that those who have power can use it for good or ill, can achieve great things with it or use it to dominate and coerce. Too often the rhetoric around power slips into this mode of thinking which misses the point that it is hard to conceive of a human being who does not have the power to “do” something.

The importance and ubiquity of power is described thus;

Experiences of power and weakness and along with them the question of God, are woven into to fabric of life. Every human being, indeed every living creature, possesses and exercises power to some degree. We exercise power in everything we do, even in the smallest step we take. To be human is to have some power, to be able to do something, to reach a goal, to make a difference in the world. There is no life where there is no power. Possession and exercise of power is a necessity of life. (Migliore 2008, 3).

Despite the dictionary definitions, there are ways to conceive power being utilised in a non-coercive fashion, particular with reference to biblical witness. Examining   that grand narrative in Genesis where God is seen to create the world from nothing, Rowan Williams maintains that this event or process cannot be said to demonstrate “power” since there was nothing over which God exerted power. Exploring the Jewish/Christian view of God creating the world out of nothing, Williams outlines the way in which God’s creative act is a “call” or “summons”, not an imposition of order on chaos. Hence, in his view, creation is “not an exercise of divine power” (Williams 2000, 68).

So our relationship with God and his will for us is not one of God ordering us to be so: rather we are taking on the roles which we are created for. Accepting that the creative act itself is indicative of some “potentiality or resourcefulness” of God, it is not an indication of God’s involvement in some kind of “power over” scheme.

Furthermore, this indicates God’s power in our lives operating more in line with a “power with” concept whereby our potentiality placed there by God is drawn out through our cooperation with His plans for us. A theological understanding of the power of God can lead to an even more expansive view of the ways in which power can be exercised not as an oppressing power but as a liberating one. Exploring God’s power through the lens of the Trinity, Migliore examines how the example of self-giving and other affirming love that is seen in the relationships of the triune God negates the possibility of an authoritarian, abusive, absolute power: “The power of God is a shared power, transforming power, power that makes for just and inclusive community”.

Thus for us, in our relationships with others, we are challenged to exercise power not as we see modelled by politicians and superheros, but by asking ourselves the question “is liberation happening here?”; that only when the other’s freedom is enhanced can it be judged that power is being rightly used.

I like this story from Pooh Bear where Pooh uses his bulk [power] to free up Christopher Robin from his predicament:

“Hallo, Pooh Bear. I can’t get this boot on.”

“That’s bad,” said Pooh.

“Do you think you could very kindly lean against me, ‘cos I keep pulling so hard that I fall over backwards.”

Pooh sat down, dug his feet into the ground, and pushed hard against Christopher Robin’s back, and Christopher Robin pushed hard against his, and pulled and pulled at his boot until he had got it on.

References

Migliore, Daniel L. The Power of God and the Gods of Power. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.

Williams, Rowan. “On Being Creatures” in On Christian Theology. Oxford: Blackwell, 2000, 63-78.

Fulcrum’s (theo)logical error

Monday, October 29th, 2012
Image of Rev John Richardson[…] The Church of England (as with evangelical theology more generally) has long recognized that faith is a necessary component of baptism. In the Prayer Book Catechism it asks, ‘What is required of persons to be baptized?’ and the answer is, ‘Repentance … and faith, whereby they stedfastly believe the promises of God.’
The problem with Kuhrt’s approach is that it reduces this ‘repentance and faith’ to a personal claim which must have a particular beginning but which is indefinite as to its present consequences. As he puts it, ‘once someone declares their faith we are obliged to regard them as a fellow brother or sister’ (emphasis added). As we have argued, however, this ought to entail treating all the baptized as ‘brothers and sisters’ — and this has certainly never been the evangelical position. If it were, we would never evangelize anyone who has gone through infant baptism. It would also encourage the peculiarly evangelical error of treating a past ‘conversion’ as sufficient for present salvation, which neither a more thoughtful evangelical tradition nor Scripture itself (cf James 2:14) would condone.
The question lies, as always in these matters, in the nature of faith. And the answer is to understand a ‘declaration of faith’ as not just a past affirmation (whether in baptism or elsewhere) but a present reality. Justification, in other words, is not just sola fide (by faith alone) but semper fide (by faith always).
The Christian life does not begin with an act of faith and continue in the doing of works. Every moment is lived in faith, and our works are always and only the fruit of that present faith. Thus faith is required constantly by God’s word to us (ie the gospel) and declared constantly by our response.
Hence our baptismal declaration is valid (whether made by ourselves or for us by our godparents) and our baptism is effective, so long as (and only so long as) we grasp by faith the promises of God held out to us in baptism. To those who grow up in this attitude, the Christian life has always been lived by faith. For others, faith begins later. The important thing in every case, however, is that faith should always be in the ‘present continuous’ tense: not ‘I have declared,’ but ‘I am declaring’ Christ’s Lordship. (Read more)

Bishop’s ouster stirs controversy

Monday, October 29th, 2012

Letter to Post & Courier from The Rt. Rev. C. FitzSimons Allison (Hat Tip: Barbara Gauthier)

This diocese and Bishop Mark Lawrence have worked strenuously to stay in the Episcopal Church while maintaining the historic faith and doctrine as this church has received it. With all its claims to inclusion, the increasingly intolerant Episcopal Church has excluded this diocese from its fold. Bishop Lawrence has now been accused of abandoning the church by those who themselves have:

1) abandoned the historic independence and sovereignty of dioceses by an unprecedented and illegal invasion of dioceses by the presiding bishop.

2) abandoned the teaching of the Anglican Communion in violation of Lambeth Resolution 1:10 which maintains marriage as the context for sexual expression.

3) abandoned the constitution of the church by passing canons that invade the sovereignty of dioceses and replace the historic canonical rights and protections for clergy and laity.

4) abandoned the rights of bishops by illegally deposing Bishops John David Schofield, John Iker, Edward McBurney, William Wantland, William Cox, and Robert Duncan.

5) abandoned the Christian faith by failure in their duty to correct and discipline those bishops who have denied the very oaths they made at their consecrations.

6) abandoned responsibility for Christian leadership in the example of the Presiding Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori’s explicit favor towards Marcus Borg (“he has opened the scripture for me”) who reduces Jesus Christ to a “shaman,” a mere man like Abraham, Moses or Mohammed.

Bishop Mark Lawrence and this diocese have not abandoned the Episcopal Church. The Episcopal Church leadership has abandoned not only this bishop and this diocese but its own heritage and the Christian faith itself.

It is ironic that the Episcopal Church is one of the most rapidly shrinking denominations but is now throwing overboard one of its very few growing dioceses

THE Rt. Rev. C. FitzSimons Allison

12th Bishop of South Carolina (Retired)