Archive for April, 2014

God, Easter and Human History

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary on issues of the day…

Compared to the New World (America, Australia, etc), the Old World is brimming full of incredible and amazing history, and to walk its streets is to go back into ancient times. There is nothing like touring a city such as Rome to be reminded of all this.

And right now Rome is buzzing. With a population of three million, it may well double that number, if not triple it, in the next few days. That is because a number of things are all coalescing in a very short period of time. As I write this from a tiny Rome apartment, it is Good Friday. The Easter weekend of course brings plenty of Christian pilgrims into the city from all around the world.

christAnd then on April 21 there is Rome’s foundation anniversary. I am also told that this will be Rome’s 2767th birthday celebration! Also, there will be a canonisation day on April 27, when Popes John Paul II and John XXIII will be declared saints.

So it is all happening here, and as a result, this city is and will be, bulging with people from all over the globe. In that case, perhaps it is a good thing we leave tomorrow. But it has been an incredible experience here, not just mingling with the Romans, but with people from all over the planet.

I am reminded of how God has worked in human history, also on special religious days when folks from all over converged on a specific place. For example, Passover celebrations in Jerusalem in first century Palestine saw the city also greatly expand in numbers.

The Jewish historian Josephus claimed that as many as a million pilgrims would pour into Jerusalem during Passover. Even if these numbers are a bit exaggerated, we know that the city would have mushroomed considerably during such an important religious festival.

It was during such a time that Jesus entered Jerusalem for his final week, leading up to the crucifixion and resurrection. It has been said that the four gospels are basically passion narratives with long introductions. This is mostly true, with so much of the gospels devoted to the final days of Jesus on earth.

And of course the important significance and symbolism of Passover was extremely fitting, given the work of Christ on the Cross. Here was the New Exodus, the New Passover, the New Israel, all rolled up in the person and work of Jesus.

Everything that something like the Exodus prefigured was so gloriously fulfilled and realised in what Christ did centuries later. So a city already abuzz with religious emotion and celebration was heightened even further by some divine timing.

But it had always been that way. God’s perfect timing is always at work. Human history is really His Story as we know. Even his incarnation was perfectly timed. As Paul writes in Galatians 4:4-5, Jesus’ birth came “in the fullness of time”.

When things seem the darkest, God is always there, right on time. He is working out his plans and purposes, and no mere human or spiritual powers will stand in his way. And while for the early Christians it looked like that Passover time was terribly dark and horrible, it of course turned out to be the most glorious weekend of all.

The long awaited Messiah had come, and liberation, exodus, redemption and freedom were now being offered on a much bigger and grander scale than ancient Israel had ever known. This was at once the most terrible time on earth, but also the most beautiful.

That of course in the centre point of human history. Everything before it looked up to that day, while everything following it looks back to that time. It is the event that forever changed the world, and has forever changed the lives of millions upon millions of individuals.

While things like Roman anniversaries or canonisations may seem full of greatness and grandeur, an even more magnificent event – indeed, the greatest event of all human history – was that weekend two thousand years ago when the Lamb of God was slain, but then rose again to bring liberation to all mankind.

And this was not the end of the matter. What occurred two millennia ago is leading up to the grand climax of history. Indeed, this is where it is all headed:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1-5)

GAFCON Primates’ Communiqué

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

from GAFCON.org

Grateful for the gracious guidance of the Holy Spirit, and the leadership of its Chairman, the Most Reverend Dr Eliud Wabukala, the GAFCON Primates Council met in London from April 24th to 26th, 2014.

1.    Following the success of our Nairobi Conference last October, at which over 1,300 delegates from 38 nations and 27 Provinces of the Anglican Communion were present, we have met to take counsel together and address the mandate we were given in the Nairobi Communiqué and Commitment to take forward the work of the GAFCON movement. We are determined and enthusiastic, and we look for the prayer and financial support of Anglicans around the world who long for a clear and certain witness to Jesus Christ as Lord.

2.    As was stated in the Nairobi Communiqué, we believe that the GAFCON movement is emerging as a faithful instrument of unity capable of gathering the majority of faithful Anglicans in communion globally. We are now taking practical steps to heal, renew and revitalize the Communion for future mission by growing our membership, improving the frequency and range of our communication and setting up networks, which will equip us to fulfill the Great Commission. We are already eagerly anticipating GAFCON 3 in 2018.

3.    We are prayerfully aware of the challenges that many of our brothers and sisters live with day by day in various parts of the world. We heard the tragic news of the recent massacres in Bor and Bentiu in South Sudan and the escalating of the conflict in South Sudan. We stand in solidarity with the Church in South Sudan in its appeal for a peaceful resolution to the crisis.  We express our deep sympathy to the families and communities of those who have died in the conflict and have been displaced. We pledge our ongoing prayer and material support, as able.

4.    We are also acutely aware of the ongoing violence against Christians in Northern Nigeria, and we stand in solidarity with the Anglican Church of Nigeria as it seeks to mediate peace and bring an end to the violence, and work towards genuine religious freedom in Nigeria. We pledge our prayers and urge the international community to support the Nigerian government and the Christian community to bring an end to the violence and provide comfort to the affected communities.

5.    We are equally concerned for the affected communities in Chile from the recent earthquake, terrorist attacks in Kenya, and the backlash from the international community in Uganda from their new legislation. We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters and pray for the comfort of the Holy Spirit to sustain families and churches.

6.    The rich experience of sharing fellowship as we met in Nairobi encourages our sense of needing to maintain our common life in faithfulness to Christ. Meeting shortly after the recognition in English law of same sex marriage, which we cannot recognise as compatible with the law of God, we look to the Church of England to give clear leadership as moral confusion about the status of marriage in this country deepens. The Archbishop of Canterbury has rightly noted that the decisions of the Church of England have a global impact and we urge that as a matter of simple integrity, its historic and biblical teaching should be articulated clearly.

7.    We are particularly concerned about the state of lay and clerical discipline. The House of Bishops’ guidance that those in same sex marriages should be admitted to the full sacramental life of the church is an abandonment of pastoral discipline. While we welcome their clear statement that clergy must not enter same sex marriage, it is very concerning that this discipline is, apparently, being openly disregarded. We pray for the recovery of a sense of confidence in the whole of the truth Anglicans are called to proclaim, including that compassionate call for repentance to which we all need to respond in our different ways.

Finally, we gave thanks for the faithfulness and visionary leadership of Archbishop Robert Duncan who is shortly to retire as the Primate of the Anglican Church in North America. His ministry as the founding Primate has modeled for us what it means to contend for the faith once delivered to the saints with great courage and grace. He has built that which will last on the one foundation of Jesus Christ our Lord.

To God be the glory!

Primates present in London were: The Most Rev’d Daniel Deng Bul, Archbishop, Episcopal Church of Sudan The Most Rev’d Robert Duncan, Archbishop, Anglican Church in North America The Most Rev’d Stanley Ntagli, Archbishop, Anglican Church of Uganda The Most Rev’d Nicholas Okoh, Archbishop, Anglican Church of Nigeria (Vice Chairman) The Most Rev’d Onesphore Rwaje, Archbishop, Anglican Church of Rwanda The Most Rev’d Dr Eliud Wabukala, Archbishop, Anglican Church of Kenya (Chairman) The Most Rev’d Tito Zavala, Presiding Bishop, Province of the Southern Cone

Also present: The Most Rev’d Dr Peter Jensen, Diocese of Sydney, General Secretary The Most Rev’d Peter J. Akinola, Church of Nigeria, Trustee Most Rev’d Emmanuel Kolini, Anglican Church of Rwanda, Trustee The Most Rev’d Dr Ikechi Nwosu, Anglican Church of Nigeria

The Church of England is not a church of privilege, but of obligation

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

 

From Cranmer

Here we go again. Someone in high authority (in this instance, the Prime Minister) happens to mention that the United Kingdom is a “Christian country”, and then mounts a defence (of sorts) of the constitutional establishment of the Church of England, and out they crawl from under every stone and slither out of the crumbling timbers of the disintegrating religio-political edifice – an entire tribulation of trolling disestablishmentarianists, who posit (with varying degrees of socio-politico-ecclesio-theological comprehension) that both Church and State would benefit from the severing of the union which has bound them since England’s kings in ancient times first responded to the gospel of salvation and pledged to govern these islands in accordance with the lively oracles of God.

And so we have Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg:

More generally speaking, about the separation of religion and politics. As it happens, my personal view – I’m not pretending this is something that’s discussed in the pubs and kitchen tables of Britain – but my personal view is that, in the long-run, having the state and the church basically bound up with each other, as we do in this country, is, in the long run…I actually think it would be better for the church and better for people of faith, and better for Anglicans, if the church and the state were to, over time, stand on their own two separate feet, so to speak. But that’s not going to happen overnight, for sure.

..supported by the National Secular Society:

“At last, we have a high profile politician have the courage to say that separating church and state would be a good idea. None of the others dare say it, although it is quite clear that the time has come to do it.”

..supported by former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams:

Read here

Next Step in the Process?

Saturday, April 26th, 2014

By Bishop David Anderson

 

When I was considerably younger and the Rector of an Episcopal Church in South Dakota, the manager of a beef processing plant asked me if I would like a tour of the facilities. I am by nature a curious person, and so, just as I had said yes to a tour of the Homestake Gold Mine in Lead, SD, I said yes to this tour. These two tours were, of course, quite different.

 

Let me preface my remarks by saying that I like to eat beef, and in my earlier life I helped to brand and neuter young bulls belonging to the church’s ranching families. This beef processing plant had a large fenced yard where cattle were brought in by truck and then unloaded and counted. Another part of the large containment area had progressively smaller pens with secure runways up to a ramp that led into the plant proper. What the cattle didn’t know was that as they were encouraged to move up the ramp, they passed through a narrow portal into the plant where a device struck them in the forehead. This device caused their immediate death, and machinery then took hold of the cow or steer and began the process of turning them into sides of beef cooling and aging in the cold locker at the far side of the plant.

 

This is enough description for my purpose of comparison. In life, we don’t always know where a given path will take us, and sometimes if we did we certainly wouldn’t take it. Cattle on a hillside eating grass look happy enough, but then at a certain point they are brought together and confined in a feedlot. Although there is a loss of freedom, there is great abundance of tasty grain and other feed. At each step in the process, no one sits down with the cow or steer and explains the road map of where all of this is going, and if they did, and if the cattle could understand us, they would jump or break down the fence and quickly leave the area.

 

Read here

Losing my religion: Clergy who no longer believe gather online

Friday, April 25th, 2014

 

 

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(RNS) Catherine Dunphy came to seminary in her mid-20s, full of passion to work in the service of the Catholic Church. By the time she left, for many reasons, she had lost her faith.

 

“I had this struggle where I thought, ‘I don’t believe this anymore,’” said Dunphy, now 40 and living in Toronto. “I felt I had no space to move or breathe. I felt like an outcast.”

 

Now, 10 years later, she is part of a new online project aimed at helping others like herself who are isolated by doubt in a sea of believers. Called Rational Doubt: The Clergy Project Blog, it debuts this week on Patheos, an online host of religion and spirituality blogs.

 

Rational Doubt is an extension of The Clergy Project, a private online community of clergy who, for a range of reasons, no longer believe in God. Started three years ago, the initiative has grown from just a handful of anonymous members who supported each other on online forums and discussions to a current roster of more than 550 priests, ministers, nuns, rabbis and even a few imams.

 

The blog’s goal is lofty: to engage and support clergy and laypeople who are not members of The Clergy Project but who doubt or reject religion and feel they cannot confide in friends, family and colleagues. Clergy Project members — all former clergy who no longer believe in God — will write posts, answer questions and engage in discussions about religion, nonbelief and the journey between the two.

 

Linda LaScola, a founder of the Clergy Project and editor of Rational Doubt. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

 

“There are a lot of nonbelieving clergy, and the fact that they can’t come out is having a negative effect on their lives,” said Linda LaScola, a founder of The Clergy Project and editor of Rational Doubt.

 

“People should not have to suffer that way.”

 

And they do seem to suffer. LaScola, a qualitative researcher, studied nonbelieving clergy with Daniel Dennett, a Tufts University professor. The two researchers found signs of depression, stress and debilitating anxiety.

 

After publishing their work, they helped found The Clergy Project with Richard Dawkins, the atheist and evolutionary biologist, and Dan Barker, a former minister who is now a secular activist.

 

“I hope the blog will provide encouragement and support to people who are in the same predicament as the people in The Clergy Project,” Dennett said. “I think there are a lot of them out there.”

 

The blog follows the recent publication of “Caught in the Pulpit: Leaving Belief Behind,” Dennett and LaScola’s book based on additional research among nonbelieving clergy. In interviews with 32 men and women from Pentecostal, evangelical, mainline Protestant, Catholic, Jewish and Mormon backgrounds, they discovered that many, like Dunphy, started wrestling with doubt in seminary.

 

Most said they kept quiet out of fear of disappointing others or because they didn’t have anyone to talk things through with.

 

“I wanted to believe in God; all those years, I wanted to,” one former Presbyterian clergywoman says in the book of her time in seminary. “I wasn’t really sure if I did or not, but I wanted to.”

 

LaScola was so struck by the universality of doubt among seminarians — one called it the “dirty little secret” of seminary life — that she interviewed three seminary professors about how they handle (or avoid) their students’ more probing questions about faith.

 

“They were accessible people, they were nice people, but they were kind of ivory towerish,” she said. “They were sensitive to their students’ plight, but firm in their role as conveying the academic information about religion.”

 

And once the seminarians were leading congregations, they reported even more isolation and frustration.

 

“You do a lot of crying,” a Mormon bishop says in the book. “You try to talk to your wife about it, but she’s still pretty orthodox, so it’s hard on her. You’re alone. You’ve got no one to talk to because you’re a bishop … So it tears you apart.”

 

Will Willimon, a former United Methodist bishop and now professor of Christian ministry at Duke Divinity School, said seminaries and religious institutions do not usually have formal programs or resources to aid those struggling with faith. As a campus minister, he has counseled seminary students deep in doubt, and as a bishop in Alabama he helped several doubting pastors leave their congregations.

 

He says he respects those who find the strength to raise their doubts and leave the seminary or the church if it is no longer the right place for them.

 

“I consider that a victory,” he said. “Better now than when you are 50 and you’ve had your first heart attack and are miserable.”

 

The founders of Rational Doubt hope it will alleviate some of that misery. LaScola did not want to reveal planned discussions or articles but said contributors will range from former nuns to lifelong atheists. Many will be clergy who have left the pulpit after lengthy battles with a diminishing, and ultimately extinguished, faith.

 

Among them will be Dunphy — a founding member of The Clergy Project and its former executive director.

 

“We are all swimming in the same pool, but we are in the deep end and they are in the shallows,” she said of Clergy Project members and readers of Rational Doubt. “The blog will bridge that gap.”

GAFCON and the Road Ahead for Conciliar Governance

Friday, April 25th, 2014

For some time now, the American Anglican Council has been actively supporting the Primates Council of the GAFCON movement – the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.  We support these leaders with briefing papers, strategic planning and counsel as requested and needed. This week, the Primates Council will be meeting in London to worship, pray and reflect on the next steps for the development of this Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans – especially those steps that were outlined in the Nairobi Communique and Commitment from GAFCON 2013 in October.  I am heading there to support them in this great work of “Anglican realignment,” and I bid your prayers for the Primates as they consider the road ahead.

 

One of the most significant developments from the gathering in Nairobi was the recognition that GAFCON is now an “Instrument of Unity” within the Anglican Communion for those who believe that the future of Anglican mission, faith and order lies in a faith that is truly confessional – specifically, the confession that we find in The Jerusalem Declaration from the first GAFCON in Jerusalem 2008

 

Declaring GAFCON an “Instrument of Unity” is a critique of the failure of the existing Instruments of Unity” to hold the Communion together in the face of unilateral revisions of faith and practice by Anglican churches in the west (by this I mean the failure in the last ten years of the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference of Bishops, and Primates gatherings and the Anglican Consultative Council).  This is not news. Even Archbishop Justin Welby acknowledged from the pulpit at All Saints Cathedral in Nairobi, the day before GAFCON 2013 began, that the Instruments of unity had failed.

 

But the declaration that GAFCON is now an Instrument of Unity also stands for a very positive affirmation and recovery of something lost to Anglicanism.  It is the assertion that Anglicans need not wallow in the “deficit of authority” that has paralayzed the current Anglican leadership in the face of un-Biblical teaching and moral practices.  It is the assertion– and the beginning of the manifestation– of a recovery of genuine conciliar governance that we find as far back as Acts 15 and the earliest ecumenical councils of the undivided church.

 

What do I mean by “conciliar governance”?  Quite simply, it is the way of governing the church that we find in Acts 15, where leaders from every quarter and every order of the church met to worship, pray, address serious theological and missiological issues (must gentiles be circumcised in order to become followers of Jesus Christ), and reach a consensus on the basis of Scripture, apostolic witness and the Holy Spirit.  The Roman Catholic conciliarist Jean Gerson (1363-1429) gives the classic definition of conciliarism as both an ideal and a practice:

 

“A general council is an assembly called under lawful authority, at any place, drawn from every hierarchical rank of the whole catholic Church, none of the faithful who requires to be heard being excluded, for the wholesome discussion and ordering of those things which affect the proper regulation of the same Church in faith and morals.”[1]

 

In practice, Anglican ecclesiology embraces realism: there can be no true “Ecumenical Council” of the whole church since the Great Schism of 1054 AD between east and west.  But according to Paul Avis, Anglicans are not paralyzed by the impossibility of a truly ecumenical council:

 

“[Anglicanism] believes that provinces gathered into communions should act in a conciliar fashion within the limits imposed by the divisions in the Church.  It [Anglicanism] sets out to extend conciliarity as far and wide as it can until it runs up against the barriers erected by broken communion, rival claims to jurisdiction or serious differences in doctrine or order.”[2]

 

While Avis speaks with authority for many in the Anglican status quo, he gives too much away.  Anglicans are rightly allergic to monarchical and hierarchical forms of governance that have great potential for abuse.  We had a Reformation over this after all.  But I believe Avis also concedes so many limits to conciliar governance in his definition as to make it practically impossible within the deep theological differences among churches in the Anglican Communion.  This is precisely why the leadership within the Anglican status quo, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, find themselves defaulting continually to “process,” “dialogue,” and “facilitated conversations (aka Continuing Indaba)” as the end point and fulfillment of the conciliar ideal.  Process is a mere shadow of the ideal and practice of genuine conciliarism.  It is a far cry from Jean Gerson’s definition– and an even farther cry from the New Testament, apostolic practice and the Ecumenical Councils of the church.

 

But here is where GAFCON steps in, within the Anglican Communion.  For you see abuse of authority is not a one way street. Authority is equally abused “when it is dissipated to such a degree that Christian self-rule breaks down.”[3]  The confidence in process as the locus for authority underestimates the power of human pride and sinful resistance to the spiritual unity of the Church.  This is precisely what GAFCON gatherings, the Primates Council and the GAFCON movement have continued to address:  the restoration of faith, order and Christian self-rule within the Anglican Communion of Churches, and with it the necessary repentance from human pride and sinful resistance to unity that has come from the abandonment of Biblical gospel, grace and the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

 

From 21st to 26th October 2013, 1358 delegates (331 bishops, 482 other clergy and 545 laity) from 38 countries representing millions of Anglicans worldwide met in Nairobi, Kenya for the second Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON). As delegates they gathered to represent “the whole church” (Anglican Communion). They gathered to serve the common good, the spiritual unity of the Communion, which they defined as faithfulness to the truth and power of the Bible over and against a “false gospel.” They did so in the context of extensive daily worship, bible study and prayer. They stimulated theological inquiry through the bible studies, plenary speakers and meetings which helped form a commitment to theological education. They declared themselves to be a reforming council of the church, a new “Instrument of Unity” in the face of the failure of the existing Anglican Instruments of Unity. They pledged to set in order Anglican provinces and dioceses which upset the spiritual unity (common good) of the Communion through doctrinal innovations, and pledged to do so through the enhanced responsibility of the GAFCON Primates Council.  The delegates came to one mind in approving the Nairobi Communiqué, in the conciliar tradition of doing so rather than seeking decisions by majoritarian rule.

 

What happened at this GAFCON is a picture of what genuine conciliar governance can and ought to be within the Anglican Communion.  Yes, it requires greater development and theological reflection.  Please pray for the GAFCON Primates Council as they take this up and continue to work for the restoration of Gospel faith and order within the Anglican Communion.

 

The Rev. Canon Phil Ashey is CEO of the American Anglican Council. 

 

David Cameron rejects Nick Clegg’s call for separation of church and state

Friday, April 25th, 2014

 

By Andrew Grice, Independent

Nick Clegg has called for the separation of the church and state in England – before the idea was immediately rejected by David Cameron.

The Deputy Prime Minister, who is an atheist, said disestablishing the Church of England would be “better for Anglicans” but admitted such a change would not happen overnight. “In the long run, having the state and the church bound up with each other, as we do in this country, I think it would be better for the church and better for people of faith and better for Anglicans if the church and the state were, over time, to stand on their own two separate feet,” he said.

But Mr Clegg defended Mr Cameron’s decision to describe Britain as a “Christian country,” adding that “all faiths and none” were able to share values of “fair play and tolerance”. The Prime Minister’s comments attracted criticism from 50 intellectuals, scientists, writers and humanists last week.

Read here

Read also: Disestablish the tolerant and cohesive Church of England and we would be a poorer nation for it – Telegraph Editorial