Archive for July, 2016

Review: Amazing Love

Friday, July 29th, 2016


Peter Sanlon

Amazing Love: Theology for Understanding Discipleship, Sexuality and Mission. Ed. by Andrew Davison. Darton, Longman & Todd: London, 2016. 144pp. £8.99

I know Andrew Davison, and had enjoyed theological conversation with him in the past. I was planning to post a review of his short book (which was sent to all members of General Synod prior to the session which included Shared Conversations) next week. But I was sent this review by Peter Sanlon, which I think is fair and interesting, and post it here with permission.

This aim of this book can be given in the authors’ own words: ‘This short book explains why we think it’s good for Christians to embrace their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, and to celebrate their relationships … We think that the Church should be willing—delighted even—to hallow and strengthen such commitments.’ (75) The authors believe such a course is virtuous: ‘We are convinced that gay and lesbian relationships can be very good for people, and that they can be all about people living in the ways Christian theology has long marked out as excellent (or ‘virtuous’).’ (12) So questions are posed in a way that presupposes the Church must embrace same sex relationships:

What would happen if the question posed was not, ‘same-sex relationships: right or wrong?’—which is a limiting, brittle question—but rather something like ‘What is the significance and purpose of sexuality and marriage in Christianity? What does sexuality and marriage look like in the way of Jesus Christ?, with consideration of same-sex relationships as part of that?’ (56)

The context of this book’s origin is noted as being the Shared Conversations in the Church of England. However it is observed that those are but ‘one example of the listening process … we hope that it will be of use further afield too. (2)

This review will firstly summarise and comment on the argument of the book, as structured by the six chapters. It is helpful that each chapter has a thesis and the work as a whole does therefore make a coherent argument. In a follow-up to this review, I will offer some reflections on both the rhetorical and theological significance of the book insofar as it pertains to its original context—the Church of England. It will be seen that the book explicitly aims to achieve something far more audacious than even the celebration of same sex relationships.

There are six chapters to the book. The chapter titles are followed by a summary of the chapter thesis, along with critique.

1 Being Followers of Jesus: A crucial aspect of being a disciple of Jesus involves accepting the world as it is. In the words of the authors we must focus on ‘attending to what things are really like’. (8) We must do the ‘hard work of paying attention to how things really are.’ (10) This attention to the way things really are is given theological justification on the basis of Augustine’s vision for science (10) and it is argued for on the grounds that God’s Word in the Bible cannot contradict his Word in creation: ‘What God has spoken in the Bible relates to the world that God also spoke into being. No divine word of moral instruction is at cross-purposes with God’s creative Word.’ (9) As Christians work to understand the world as it truly is, they are warned that the Church has in the past been egregiously wrong on matters such as Just War (4) and slavery (5). Those wrongs are presented as equivalent to thinking that same sex relationships are sinful. While others are to doubt their understandings the authors have reached a place of assured certainty as regards the way Anglicans should view homosexuality.

The plain fact of the matter is that it is possible to take a very positive view of love between gay people and believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. Similarly, you can be glad when a lesbian friend finds someone to commit herself to—giving her whole self, including her body—and believe exactly what the Thirty-Nine Articles say about God. (6)

2 Being Human: This chapter is about science and argues that the scientific ‘evidence is conclusive’ (13) on three matters. Firstly there is diversity and complexity in sexual desires. Secondly, homosexual desires are not chosen by the individual. Thirdly, same sex desires are not easily changed. None of these claims are technically incorrect in and of themselves, however their abstraction, presentation and rhetorical deployment means the claims of the chapter are in the end misleading to the uninformed reader.

The chapter has an embarrassingly simplistic view of ‘science’. The following terms are used as if their meaning is straightforward and obvious: biology, psychology and science. So we read of ‘psychological facts’ (20), ‘psychiatric conditions’ (17), conclusive evidence (13) biological cause (24) and more varied matters such as population studies (25). The nature of evidence and conclusion in these fields is necessarily complex and certainly not the same in each one or simple. Yet the authors claim their conclusions are conclusive and based on ‘clear evidence’ (24). They inform us that ‘scientists agree almost universally that there is a biological basis to same-sex attraction.’ (29) When any of the claims made in this chapter are approached by a moderately informed reader they fall apart. So for example the informed reader will be aware that claiming biological evidence for human sexual desire is ‘clear’ when the basis for that is same sex activity in animals is dubious on many levels (24). The claims that it is difficult and rare for a person to change their sexual disposition is technically true on the basis of certain studies—but that discounts the more expensive and significant longitudinal population studies that show considerable fluidity in sexual desire.

On numerous points matters of major relevant significance are ignored. So for example the removal of homosexuality from the American Psychiatric Association’s ‘Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders’ was a pivotal step for the homosexualist movement. This is described by our authors as if it were merely a purely rational decision taken on the basis of ‘the psychological facts’ (20) and in light of ‘psychological reality.’ (21) Failure to include information about what actually occurred in the APA is disingenuous. In reality the organisation was subject to exactly the same kind of manipulation, bullying and pressure that homosexual activists now use against any institution that refuses to celebrate their lifestyles. The details of this are given at length by Dr. Ronald Bayer (a pro-homosexual psychiatrist) in the book, Homosexuality and American Psychiatry: The Politics of Diagnoses (1981). That historical narrative is only one of many areas that are so partially covered in this book as to present a misleading whitewash of history. Readers are not told that the studies of Alfred Kinsey of which much is made (23) were not done upon representative samples of the population, but rather on convicts and horrifically on babies and children who were sexually abused in the process. To present conclusions from Kinsey without mentioning this is grotesque. The disgraceful matters involved are widely documented, summarised in reports such as this:

The second major problem with the chapter is the assumption throughout that the ‘certain’ conclusions summarised within it are actually clear. Clarity of the simplistic science presented in this chapter is central to the thesis. So for example, ‘That a proportion of the population is attracted more or less exclusively to people of the same sex, and that this attraction cannot be changed, is clear.’ (25) The import of this claim of clarity for the overall argument is seen in light of the subsequent chapter.

3 Being Biblical: This chapter ostensibly argues that the Bible does not teach clearly on the topic of homosexuality as to whether it is good or sinful. If we wish to be Biblical we must accept the Bible is not clear:

What we should be willing to contest is the sense that there is only one, settled, and unquestionable human understanding of precisely what the Bible says on a given issue, including this one. (38)

The argument given most space to demonstrate the Bible’s lack of clarity on homosexuality, is that some in the past thought the Bible justified slavery, and that view turned out to be wrong (39-42). If the Church can be wrong on that point, then the Bible must be unclear and we could be wrong if we think the Bible teaches homosexuality is sinful. Incidentally the slavery argument occurs so frequently throughout this book that at one point it is even acknowledged that ‘Slavery [has been] mentioned in this book a number of times.’ (71)

Further arguments for lack of clarity on this topic include the idea that many texts traditionally thought relevant are not (43). The Old Testament Laws are dismissed since we do not keep all the food laws (45). Sodom is about gang rape, not monogamous same-sex relationships (43). Paul’s teaching is set aside due to the assumptions of his day which colour his words (51). The condemnations in Rom. 1 are contextualised within the wider narrative of Romans to suggest that they mean the opposite of what they seem to say due to the ‘overarching argument of Romans that God, in God’s goodness, acted against nature, to include, unexpectedly, those who had been outside the covenant.’ (52) Incidentally this is an excellent example of handling the Bible in a manner which contradicts Article 20 which tells us the Church may not ‘so expound one place of scripture that it be repugnant to another.’ The lack of academic credibility in the chapter is evident in the fact that not one of the arguments has not been more than adequately handled in standard academic treatments such as those by Robert Gagnon. No alternative views or counter-arguments are mentioned or noted at any point.

So on the face of it this chapter states that its thesis is that (in contrast to the plain simple science of the previous chapter), the Bible is unclear on whether homosexuality is sinful. When the actual argument is traced through it can be seen that the thesis is something more bold. The authors do not think the Bible is unclear on homosexuality—they think it is clear that it can be blessed by God. Those conservatives who think otherwise are caricatured as guilty of what C. S. Lewis called ‘chronological snobbery.’ (55) They hold a ‘one-dimensional’ (55) view. A theological basis for the claim that scripture means the opposite of what it appears to say is that we must interpret scripture in light of God’s voice elsewhere:

Much less can we imagine that the God who inspired these texts, and inspires the church today, can be contained in our limited understanding of Scripture. We must be open to the continuing movement of God, within the Church and out, to bring us into truth. (42)

So the true thesis of the chapter is that God is clear in communicating to us about the potential goodness of homosexual relationships. It is recommended that we should stop asking whether same sex attraction is right or wrong, and instead ask ‘What does sexuality and marriage look like in the way of Christ?, with consideration of same-sex relationships as part of that?’ (56) In other words the Church should stop asking if homosexual relationships are wrong and just accept that they are to be celebrated. Academic and spiritual engagement is shut down under the guise of ongoing academic and spiritual engagement.

There are, then, two arguments within this chapter. On the one hand scripture is unclear whether homosexual relationships are sinful. On the other hand it is clear that they can be virtuous. This rhetorical strategy shall be commented on further below.

4 Being Part of the Story: This chapter presents a vision of how believers can embrace homosexual relationships as being in line with a new definition of the Church’s tradition.

We are told that ‘The Christian tradition is dynamic, not static.’ (57) It is argued that ‘We can understand Christian tradition, in part, as the readings of Scripture that each generation makes afresh.’ (58) Examples are given of areas where the church has changed its mind. These are thought to support the dynamic view of tradition, and include contraception, clerical celibacy, slavery (again!) and female roles. Setting aside the complexities of the examples given, it must be said that the understanding of tradition given by the authors is not one that any Church Father, Medieval Schoolman, Reformer or Anglican divine would have recognised. Given the idea of tradition being something that is handed on through generations, this is problematic. From earliest days the tradition of the church was to do with a central apostolic message comprised of loci that were recognised as the Rule of Faith. The emphasis was not on it changing as one generation died and another arose – quite the opposite. As Irenaeus wrote,

The Church having received this preaching, this Faith, though scattered through the whole world yet carefully preserves it. She believes these points of doctrine as if she had but one soul and one heart. She proclaims them, teaches them and hands them down with perfect harmony.

The tradition of the church concerns a message that must be stable if it is to be tradition, and if the church which hands it on is to remain recognisably a church. When it comes to the actual topic of homosexual practice, even though it is not properly speaking a matter of the Rule of Faith, it is still the case that the Church has universally and consistently through time insisted that scripture teaches same sex relationships are sinful. This is demonstrated in some detail in Fortson & Grams. Unchanging Witness: The Consistent Christian Teaching on Homosexuality in Scripture and Tradition. B&H (2016).

The chapter concludes by asking how a believer can be a part of the ongoing dynamic story that is the Christian tradition. The answer given is that we must discern the ‘revolutionary message of the Bible’ and distinguish that from what ‘simply reflects the common assumptions of the time.’ (72) This would, one might imagine, be a massively complex and convoluted task—perhaps comparable to relating Q to the priority of the Gospels. Not at all. The authors are able to explain breezily how ‘we think the principle applies to discernments about same-sex relationships.’ (73) The timeless unchanging revolutionary core of scripture (i.e. what the Church has traditionally called Tradition) is that ‘we are most truly ourselves when we live for others.’ (73) As regards the topic in hand: ‘We learn that this living-for-others underlies the truest meaning of sexuality.’ (73) And so it is argued that a same sex relationship which is engaged in for the good of the other, is in the final analysis an embodiment of scripture’s revolutionary call to live for the other. Anything that the Bible appears to say which contradicts this can be dismissed as merely being the assumptions of people in the past, who were out of step with both the revolutionary message within the Bible and what God is currently saying through the culture and church. The inconsistencies and difficulties with this vision of how God speaks are legion.

5 Being in Love: This three page chapter argues that ‘love is love’ (76) wherever it is found and in whatever form it is experienced. Since it is the role of the church to welcome love wherever it is found,

This book explains why we think it’s good for Christians to embrace their gay and lesbian brothers and sisters, and to celebrate their relationships … We think that the Church should be willing—delighted even—to hallow and strengthen such commitments. (75)

The argument that love must be celebrated wherever it is found is stated with a striking boldness and naiveté.

We can rejoice in love between two women, or two men, simply because it’s love. We can take this love—these relationships, these people—into the heart of the Church because that’s what we do with love, with relationships, and with people. (77)

The difficulty with this completely unqualified vision of welcoming love is that it fails to recognise that some loves are sinful because they are love for sinful things. The love of somebody married to another is but one obvious instance. The possibility and location of sin is something our authors struggle to articulate. While in Chapter 5 there is no room for sin in loving desires, in Chapter 1 sin is granted a potential but undefined role. So we are told, ‘Sex isn’t sinful in itself, nor is desire sinful in itself, but we can sin in this part of life.’ (6) The obvious way to bring clarity to this is to say that desires can themselves be tainted by sin – most obviously if they are desires for something that is straightforwardly forbidden by scripture, or (more subtle) if we are seeking something that is in itself good (e.g. sense of belonging) too much or in a place God says we ought not look for it. Furthermore the Christian doctrine of sin is not restricted to consideration of that which is fully conscious, chosen or volitional.

Insofar as the specific example of love between two same sex attracted persons is concerned—on what basis would the authors say that such love ought not be extended to include a third or fourth willing partner? Most fundamentally this vision of unqualified acceptance fails to account for the fundamental nature of Christ’s welcome. The point is that all are welcome into the Church but all are commanded and empowered by the Spirit to be changed by his ongoing welcome. Whatever the world assumes is love and sees as an unqualified good is not necessarily so viewed by Jesus. One of the most loving gifts Jesus gives us is the daily work of repentance and mortification of sin.

6 Being Missional: The final chapter argues that the Church is viewed as a ‘toxic brand’ (82) due to its refusal to celebrate same sex relationships. Changing this is essential to reverse decline in the Church of England (79). Needless to say the fact that every denomination that has embraced same sex marriage has seen catastrophic and in most cases near terminal decline is not mentioned. No explanation as to why the outcome for the Church of England would be different is given, since the arguments used to justify the innovation elsewhere are identical.

It is claimed that a vision of mission which embraces the culture’s acceptance of homosexuality will be Biblical since it follows the Pauline example.

Paul’s mission did not impose alien values from afar. He became all things to all people … This is how Christianity spread in all cultures, taking everyone seriously as the people they were. (83)

It is difficult to see how this is a faithful summary of the message which demanded that all hearers repent and which was accused by observers as having ‘turned the world upside down.’

The chapter concludes by focusing not on the mission to the watching world, but on the real mission which this book is concerned with—that of forcing the Church of England to submit to the homosexualist agenda. More must be said about the rhetoric and theology which underlies this mission to the Church, but for now we can note that Chapter 6 quotes a letter written to a Bishop by a lay person. The letter complains about a vicar who has sought to uphold the traditional view of homosexuality. What is astonishing about the letter is that it is reproduced in an academic book without any qualification or clarification, and within it associates a conservative Anglican group with the desire to execute homosexuals. I shall quote the relevant paragraph in full (The three usages of ‘…’ are original to the book):

‘I am 48, happily married, one son, but do have gay friends and family and I don’t view them as sinners who need to be put to death … Our vicar … posted on the church website that ‘we’ were proud to support Anglican Mainstream … Obviously this was not the view of the PCC.’ (90-91)

It is not possible to tell from the excerpt published whether the original letter accused Anglican Mainstream of supporting the execution of gays, but as reproduced in the book that is the implication. Furthermore, the letter concludes by accusing the vicar’s sermon on Romans 1 of extreme prejudice and possible criminality:

How can a simple layman like me prevent this type of extreme prejudice (and possibly criminal offence) from happening again. Should one just walk away and find a Church, or vicar, who is, quite frankly, more Christian? (92)

The way this letter is reproduced without any critique or clarifications is a long way from responsible journalism, never mind academic writing! The highly emotive and irresponsible conclusion to this book demonstrates that the authors’ mission is to change the Church of England—and the methods utilised will be not balanced reasoned academic argument, but a form of deceptive and manipulative rhetoric that ought to have no place in the Church. I shall say more about the rhetorical strategy and theological significance of this book as a whole in the follow up.

What in summary is the argument of this book for the Church celebrating same sex relationships? Taken at face value it is as follows:

Disciples of Jesus must learn what the world is really like. We do so from a simplistic caricature of science. That which in the Bible appears to condemn homosexuality is unclear or not really about homosexuality or reflects prejudices of people in a primitive culture. There is a clear revolutionary message of welcome to the outsider in the Bible which means the Church should celebrate same sex relationships. The tradition the Church has which offers an ethical vision that does not accept homosexuality is not really the Church’s tradition. The tradition is whatever each generation finds when it brings its experiences into conversation with scripture. God continues to speak through the culture and Church as it engages in this process. Love is love and is good without any qualification. We believe that same sex love is therefore something the Church is obliged to celebrate as the Church should celebrate love. Celebrating same sex relationships is essential if the Church is to engage in a mission that faithfully reflects that seen in the Bible, and that is effective in today’s culture.

In a follow-up, I will explore the significance of this approach for the Church’s conversation about sexuality and sexual ethics.

Reprinted by permission of the author from Psephizo

Lex Orandi, lex Credendi and the proposal for the affirmation of same-sex relationships by the Church of England

Friday, July 29th, 2016

Read whole article here.


Latin phrases and their meanings.

There are a series of Latin phrases that are widely used in theology such as sola scriptura, sola fide and ecclesia reformata semper reformanda. One thing they all have in common, apart from saying things that are theologically significant, is that their meaning needs careful unpacking if it is to be understood properly.

Thus the phrase sola scriptura (‘Scripture alone’) does not mean that the Bible is the only rule of Christian faith and practice in the sense that no Christian should either believe anything or do anything that is not explicitly mandated in the Bible. As Richard Hooker points out in the Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, this is an extreme position which is it is impossible to live out in consistently in everyday life. ‘For in every action of common life to find out some sentence clearly and infallibly setting before our eyes what we ought to do, (seem we in Scripture never so expert,) would trouble us more than we aware.’[1]  Try deciding between a flat white and a latte in your local coffee shop on the basis of an explicit sentence in Scripture on the issue and you will see what Hooker is getting at.

What the phrase sola scriptura does mean that Scripture is the supreme authority in all matters of doctrine and practice. There are other authorities, such as Christian tradition and the exercise of sanctified reason, that the individual Christian and the Church collectively may rightly draw on to shape what they think and what they do, but all such other authorities are subordinate to, and subject to correction by, the written word of God.

In similar fashion the phrase sola fide (‘by faith alone’) does not mean that there is no need for the Christian to exercise the virtues of hope and love (1 Corinthians 13:13) or for the Christian to perform good works (James 2:14-17). What is does mean is that the means by which the Christian enters into , and remains in, a right relationship with God is through faith in the saving work of God in Christ (John 3:16) a faith which will be expressed in love, hope and good works.

Likewise the phrase ecclesia reformata semper reformanda (‘the Church, having been reformed is always in need of reformation ’) does not mean that the life of the Church needs to be in a state of perpetual revolution in which every aspect of faith and practice has to be continuously re-examined and thought out afresh. What it does mean is that visible churches are liable to error and that when they do err they need to be reformed in line with biblical teaching (reformanda secundum verbum dei as the final words of the full version of the phrase put it).

Another Latin phrase which is often used and which needs careful unpacking is the phrase lex orandi, lex credendi (‘the law of praying is the law of believing’) and it is this phrase which will be the focus of this paper.

The origin of the phrase lex orandi, lex credendi.

The phrase goes back to the work of the fifth century theologian St. Prosper of Aquitaine who wrote in the eighth chapter of a work entitled the Indiculus Gratia Dei (‘Index concerning the grace of God’): ‘Let us consider the sacraments of priestly prayers, which having been handed down by the apostles, are celebrated uniformly throughout the whole world and in every Catholic Church so that the law of praying might establish the law of believing (ut legem credendi lex statuat supplicandi) ’[2]

How Evangelicals Became Theological Liberals

Sunday, July 24th, 2016

Evangelical Christianity has long been known for its emphasis on theological orthodoxy, a high view of Scripture, and an adherence to sound doctrine. Indeed, one of the defining distinctions between evangelicals and theological liberals over the past few centuries was the fact that evangelicals took the Bible seriously and saw sound doctrine as essential for the Christian life.

These were distinguishing features of evangelicalism and unashamedly so. But all that is now being undone. For various reasons many evangelicals are caving in and capitulating to the surrounding culture. That includes buying into relativism, subjectivism, and worldly notions of tolerance, acceptance and the like.

Truth is no longer championed, the Word of God is no longer seen as the supreme authority, and biblical morality is now seen as passé and restrictive. Doctrine has been abandoned and feelings have been put on a pedestal. Personal preference now reigns supreme in many church circles, and those who stand strong on biblical doctrine are dissed as being narrow-minded, judgmental and unloving.

Many of our biggest and most popular megachurches in the West today are the most reluctant to proclaim the hard truths of Scripture, to stand strong on doctrine, and to clearly and faithfully exposit Scripture on a regular basis. Instead we have entertainment galore, and a celebrity culture.

theology 15There are some notable exceptions of course, but on the whole, most of our big churches are competing with each other to see who can have the most hip and groovy entertainment experience. The black auditoriums, the strobe lights and the smoke machines are often top priorities, while the Word of God and its proclamation – especially on the hard issues of the day – are noticeable by their absence.

Thus today most of the clear Christian distinctives once fought for and championed have all but disappeared. Sin is almost never heard of in so many of these megachurches. The wrath of God is certainly not heard about. Hell is never mentioned.

The two distinct humanities and their eternal fate is seldom mentioned. The holiness of God is hardly even spoken of. The need for repentance is just the stuff of a bygone era. I have even heard contemporary pastors in large churches saying all this stuff was maybe OK to discuss back then, but not today.

All this stands in marked contrast to evangelicalism of several centuries gone by. If one simply looks at the various warnings and clarion calls for orthodoxy by the evangelical leaders of the recent past, we see how much of a contrast there now is to what we find today.

They fought with all their might to retain core biblical truths no matter how much they were attacked, ignored or downplayed by everyone else – both within and without of the church. Let’s consider just a few of these voices. H. Richard Neibuhr warned about this very thing for example.

Although he was not a conservative evangelical by any means, he rightly lamented in his 1937 volume The Kingdom of God in America the emptiness of liberal Protestant theology in which “a God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.”

As was said in the 19th century about the religious scene in America’s northeast, especially about the Unitarians congregated in and around Boston, this liberal theology comprised three elements: ‘the fatherhood of God, the brotherhood of man, and the neighbourhood of Boston’.

One stalwart of the importance of biblical truth and doctrine was of course B. B. Warfield (1851-1921). In a 1916 article he wrote this:

The habit of calling ‘Evangelical’ everything which was from time to time characteristic of that church or which any strong party in that church wished to make characteristic of it—has ended in robbing the term of all meaning. Along a somewhat different pathway we have arrived at the same state of affairs in America. Does anybody in the world know what ‘Evangelical’ means, in our current religious speech?
The other day, a professedly evangelical pastor, serving a church which is certainly committed by its formularies to an evangelical confession, having occasion to report in one of our newspapers on a religious meeting composed practically entirely of Unitarians and Jews, remarked with enthusiasm upon the deeply evangelical character of its spirit and utterances.
But we need not stop with ‘Evangelical.’ Take an even greater word. Does the word ‘Christianity’ any longer bear a definite meaning? Men are debating on all sides of us what Christianity really is…
We hear of Christianity without dogma, Christianity without miracle, Christianity without Christ. Since, however, Christianity is a historical religion, an undogmatic Christianity would be an absurdity; since it is through and through a supernatural religion, a non-miraculous Christianity would be a contradiction; since it is Christianity, a Christless Christianity would be—well, let us say’ lamely (but with a lameness which has perhaps its own emphasis), a misnomer.
People set upon calling unchristian things Christian are simply washing all meaning out of the name. If everything that is called Christianity in these days is Christianity, then there is no such thing as Christianity. A name applied indiscriminately to everything, designates nothing.

Of course entire books were written on all this. One of course was the classic 1923 volume by J. Gresham Machen, Christianity and Liberalism. A few quotes from that classic work are worth sharing here:

But if any one fact is clear, on the basis of this evidence, it is that the Christian movement at its inception was not just a way of life in the modern sense, but a way of life founded upon a message. It was based, not upon mere feeling, not upon a mere program of work, but upon an account of facts. In other words it was based upon doctrine. There should certainly be no debate with regard to Paul himself. Paul was not indifferent to doctrine. On the contrary, doctrine was the very basis of his life….
But the tolerance of Paul was not indiscriminate. He displayed no tolerance in Galatia, for example. There were rival preachers there too. But Paul had no tolerance for them. “But though we,” he said, “or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal. 1:8)….
It never occurred to Paul that a gospel might be true for one man and not for another; the blight of pragmatism had never fallen upon his soul. Paul was convinced of the objective truth of the gospel message, and devotion to that truth was the great passion of his life. Christianity for Paul was not only a life, but also a doctrine, and logically the doctrine came first.

Another keen defender of biblical doctrine was Anglican layperson Dorothy L. Sayers. Consider a few great lines from her 1940 booklet Creed or Chaos?:

The thing I am here to say to you is this: that it is worse than useless for Christians to talk about the importance of Christian morality unless they are prepared to take their stand upon the fundamentals of Christian theology. It is a lie to say that dogma does not matter; it matters enormously. It is fatal to let people suppose that Christianity is only a mode of feeling; it is vitally necessary to insist that it is first and foremost a rational explanation of the universe. It is hopeless to offer Christianity as a vaguely idealistic aspiration of a simple and consoling kind; it is, on the contrary, a hard, tough, exacting, and complex doctrine, steeped in a drastic and uncompromising realism. And it is fatal to imagine that everybody knows quite well what Christianity is and needs only a little encouragement to practice it. The brutal fact is that in this Christian country not one person in a hundred has the faintest notion what the Church teaches about God or man or society or the person of Jesus Christ….
And however unpopular I may make myself I shall and will affirm that the reason why the churches are discredited today is not that they are too bigoted about theology, but that they have run away from theology….
If Christian ministers really believe it is an intellectual game for theologians and has no bearing upon human life, it is no wonder that their congregations are ignorant, bored, and bewildered.

Or consider two other great defenders of evangelical truth, writing over a century ago. J. C. Ryle in his 1877 volume Holiness, said this: “Never, never be afraid to hold decided doctrinal opinions; and let no fear of man and no morbid dread of being thought party-spirited, narrow, or controversial, make you rest contented with a bloodless, tasteless, colourless, lukewarm, undogmatic Christianity.”

And William Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army, said this in the late 1890’s: “The chief danger of the twentieth century will be religion without the Holy Ghost, Christianity without Christ, forgiveness without repentance, salvation without regeneration, and heaven without hell.”

And famous Catholic thinkers have rallied to the importance of doctrine in an age that distains doctrine. G.K. Chesterton said, “In truth, there are only two kinds of people; those who accept dogma and know it, and those who accept dogma and don’t know it.” Or as Fulton Sheen put it:

Modern religion has enunciated one great and fundamental dogma that is at the basis of all the other dogmas, and that is, that religion must be freed from dogmas. Creeds and confessions of faith are no longer the fashion; religious leaders have agreed not to disagree and those beliefs for which some of our ancestors would have died they have melted into a spineless Humanism. Like other Pilates they have turned their backs on the uniqueness of truth and have opened their arms wide to all the moods and fancies the hour might dictate. The passing of creeds and dogmas means the passing of controversies. Creeds and dogmas are social; prejudices are private.

Much more recently Protestant theologian Michael Horton put it this way in Christless Christianity:

Secularism cannot be blamed on the secularists, many of whom were raised in the church. We are the problem. If most churchgoers cannot tell us anything specific about the God they consider meaningful or explain basic doctrines of creation in God’s image, original sin, the atonement, justification, sanctification, the means of grace, or the hope of glory, then the blame can hardly be placed at the feet of secular humanists.

Yes the evangelical world is often its own worst enemy here. We have eschewed sound doctrine, biblical theology and total reliance on the Word of God for whatever the surrounding culture is pushing at the moment. And what it is pushing has nothing to do with the old evangelical verities.

Of course I am quite aware that lifeless orthodoxy is not the solution. We need on-fire, Spirit-filled lives of commitment and dedication to Christ, but we also need a return to basic biblical doctrine. The same John Calvin who said “Zeal without doctrine is like a sword in the hand of a lunatic,” also said this:

“Doctrine is not an affair of the tongue, but of the life; is not apprehended by the intellect and memory merely, like other branches of learning; but is received only when it possesses the whole soul and finds its seat and habitation in the inmost recesses of the heart.”

Or as A W Tozer more recently put it. “You can be straight as a gun barrel theologically and as empty as one spiritually.” So the answer to an evangelical church big on emotion and entertainment but weak on teaching and doctrine is not to just reverse things.

We need both. We need orthodoxy and orthopraxis. But at the moment we have very little of the former, leading to a real deficiency in the latter. John Piper ties it all together:

“Right thinking about God exists to serve right feelings for God. Logic exists for the sake of love. Reasoning exists for the sake of rejoicing. Doctrine exists for the sake of delight. Reflection about God exists for the sake of affection for God. The head is meant to serve the heart.”

[2039 words]

A Brief Word to J. I. Packer on His 90th Birthday

Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

By Sam Storms
This is a guest post by Sam Storms, author of Packer on the Christian Life: Knowing God in Christ, Walking by the Spirit.

Today is J. I. Packer’s 90th birthday. Longevity in life and ministry is often taken for granted in our day. We quickly forget that Thomas Aquinas died at the age of 49. Both John Calvin and Jonathan Edwards were 54 when they entered the presence of Jesus. Charles Spurgeon died much too soon at the age of 57. Martin Luther outlived them all, passing away at the age of 62. The church of Jesus Christ should pause and thank God for sustaining Packer’s remarkable life for as long as he has.

As I reflect on who J. I. Packer is and what he has meant to me personally, several things come quickly to mind.

First, few theologians are as thoroughly and pervasively Christo-centric as Packer. When I was writing my book, Packer on the Christian Life, I was repeatedly and pleasantly surprised by the way in which all exegesis, theological reflection, and pastoral application were grounded in the truth of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. It was the odd page in Packer’s writings that didn’t include a hymn of praise or a prayer of adoration focused on the person of Jesus.

Second, although I’m profoundly grateful for all his writings, I want to especially highlight a short introduction he wrote to John Owen’s, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ. Packer openly acknowledges that no one in church history exerted a greater or more formative influence on the shape of his soul and the content of his theology than did Owen. Many of us who joyfully identify with the Reformed theology that Packer has so faithfully defended can point to our reading of his Introductory Essay as a decisive factor in persuading us of the truth of particular redemption or definite atonement. For those who are struggling to grasp the meaning and extent of Christ’s death, I can do no better than direct you to Packer’s essay.

Third, the evangelical world as a whole is deeply indebted to Packer’s relentless, yet loving, articulation of the truth of biblical inerrancy. When people on both sides of the Atlantic have argued that the notion of an inerrant biblical text is indefensible and out of touch with the discoveries of contemporary biblical criticism, Packer has held his ground. And he has done it with remarkable intellectual integrity, clarity, and in my opinion, persuasiveness. I’ve always been impressed with one statement in this regard, taken from his book, Truth and Power: “Authority,” he insists, “belongs to truth and truth only. . . . I can make no sense–no reverent sense, anyway–of the idea, sometimes met, that God speaks his truth to us in and through false statements by biblical writers.” [1] I thank God today for J. I. Packer’s immovable commitment to the truth of an inerrant Bible.

Fourth, I can honestly say that I’ve learned more from J. I. Packer about the nature of progressive sanctification through the power of the Holy Spirit than from any other individual in Christian history. Of course, Packer would confess that he himself has learned from the giants of the Christian faith, most notably Baxter, Bunyan, Calvin, Owen, and Edwards. But in a way that goes beyond each of these heroes of the faith, Packer puts the dynamics of spiritual transformation in a language that is accessible to believers of all ages. The clarity, conviction, and practical value with which he describes Christian living is, in my opinion, unparalleled in the history of the church.

Fifth, and finally, I want to draw attention to J. I. Packer as the consummate Christian gentleman. By this I have in mind the admirable and humble way in which he has conducted himself in numerous controversies, many of which resulted in unjustified assaults on his character. One need not agree with Packer on every issue to recognize that he has modeled for us the way one maintains a godly and principled position on disputed topics. Be it his involvement with Evangelicals and Catholics Together, his disagreements with Martyn Lloyd-Jones on church unity, or his unwavering opposition to so-called same-sex marriage, Packer has consistently displayed a unique blend, without compromise, of both immovable theological conviction, on the one hand, and the meekness and gentleness of Jesus Christ, on the other.

So, on this your 90th birthday, I say to you, “Jim”, thanks! May God richly bless and empower and extend your life as you seek to honor the Lord Jesus Christ in every way.


[1] J. I. Packer, Truth & Power: The Place of Scripture in the Christian Life (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 1999), 37.
Sam Storms (PhD, University of Texas at Dallas) has spent more than four decades in ministry as a pastor, professor, and the author of more than two dozen books. He was visiting associate professor of theology at Wheaton College from 2000 to 2004, and is currently senior pastor at Bridgeway Church in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He is the founder of Enjoying God Ministries and the author of numerous books, including Packer on the Christian Life: Knowing God in Christ, Walking by the Spirit.


Over the years I have interviewed Dr. J.I. Packer several times, most recently in Latrobe, PA when he was then 87 years young. He was a speaker at the Anglican Church in North America’s 2nd Annual Assembly meeting at St. Vincent Archabbey and College in Latrobe, on the occasion of the induction of a new archbishop of the ACNA, Foley Beach and a farewell to the Most Rev. Robert Duncan, the ACNA’s first leader. You can read it here:

I am posting links to other stories I and others have written about this godly leader over the years.

This story on his call for Archbishop of Canterbury Dr. Rowan Williams to resign was probably his most courageous. No one in modern memory had ever called on a sitting archbishop seated in Lambeth Palace to resign. He did. The story got over 12,000 hits just at VOL’s website and went viral via VOL’s weekly digest and on countless blogs. Soon after, Williams resigned eight years before he needed too because he could not square the circle over sodomy, unable to please the growing orthodox Global South or Western Episcopal pansexualists. His tenure might well be the worst the Anglican Communion has ever known.

A Regent College scholarship has been set up in Dr. Packer’s name. A celebration was held, put together jointly between Regent College and St. John’s, Shaughnessy with wonderful tributes from the Rev. David Short, Jeff Greenman, Principal of Regent, and one from the Queen. A VOL subscriber said it was a memorable and happy occasion.

VOL invites its readers to record a remembrance they might have of this gentle scholar, and author whose books have influenced tens of thousands of lives, and will do so for decades to come.

David W. Virtue DD

How a rolling sexual revolution is crushing freedom

Saturday, July 23rd, 2016

By Gabriele Kuby

When German writer and public speaker Gabriele Kuby talks about the effects of the West’s student revolution of 1968 she knows her stuff. She was there, at the Free University of Berlin, studying sociology and gung-ho with the anti-authoritarianism of the era.

There has been a revolution in her own life since then and she now devotes her public work to raising consciousness about the cultural devastation being wrought by the ongoing sexual revolution. In the following Q&A she talks about her book on the subject, an English edition of which was published in December.

Q. In your book, The Global Sexual Revolution: Destruction of Freedom in the Name of Freedom, you report and warn about the destruction of freedom and culture through the global sexual revolution. Why is this so?

A. As sex goes, so goes the family. As the family goes, so goes society. Sexual norms have a decisive influence on the whole cultural edifice. The anthropolgist J.D. Unwin, an Oxford scholar of the 1930s, showed in his book Sex and Culture that high culture can only exist with strict sexual norms. Christian European culture rests on the ideal of monogamy. We are now in a cultural revolution that overthrows sexual morality. The severe consequences are obvious: The destruction of the family and the demographic crisis. But the powers of this world continue to force the sexual revolution on every nation.

Q. Does moral deregulation lead to sexual liberation?

A. To throw off any moral restraint to sexual activity is wrapped in the temptation of “sexual liberation”. Everybody knows from experience that the urges and drives of the body need to be controlled, be it sex or food or drink, otherwise they will control us. Therefore temperance is one of the cardinal virtues. The explosion of pornography through the internet creates millions of sexually addicted people, tragically more and more youth are among them. Marriage and families break up if husband and wife are driven into unfaithfulness by their sexual desires, because they have not learnt to make them a servant of the expression of love.

Q. Who has contributed to the sexual revolution intellectually?

A. Tracing the ideas that have powered the sexual revolution one can go back to the Greek philosopher Protagoras who proclaimed that “man is the measure of all things”. This belief is the basis of relativism which claims, that there are no absolute moral values. The French Revolution overturned the Christian concept of man, created by God and ultimately responsible to God. Since then, many revered minds have contributed philosophical and psychological ideas and cultural revolutionary expertise. They all sympathise with communist or liberal political movements. To name just a few: Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, Sigmund Freud, Simone de Beauvoir, Alfred Kinsey, the outright sexual revolutionist Wilhelm Reich, and the philosophers Adorno, Horkheimer and Marcuse, who are known as the Frankfurter Schule (Frankfurt school).

Q. What role did the radical feminism and Marxism of the 1968 movement play?

A. The breakthrough that changed society as a whole was the student rebellion of 1968. It was fuelled by the ideas of the Frankfurter School and it put into practice the ideas of Wilhelm Reich. Marxism, radical feminism and the “sexual liberation” merged and attacked the Christian value system at the root by rebelling against any authority. Children were the immediate object of the revolutionaries: So called anti-authoritarian “children shops” (Kinderläden) were founded, where children could do what they wanted and were encouraged in sex play.

Q. How has the 1968 movement influenced the time we live in?

A. The goals of 1968-movement have become the agenda of the UN and EU and are carried forward by the global enforcement of LGBT-“rights” and the deconstruction of male and female identity:

* The deregulation of sexual norms. Promotion of LGBT-privileges, including same sex marriage and transgender “rights”.

* Undermining of the family by ideological and economic means (tax- and social security systems penalize mothers and families)

* Collectivization of children below three years in state day care facilities

* Sexualization of children through obligatory sex-education in schools

* Eradication of “gender-stereotypes” by pedagogical methods in kindergarten and school

These attacks on the foundations of a healthy, viable society create masses of uprooted people who are easily manipulated. It is not only the strategy of the UN and EU, but of a network of UN-agencies like WHO and UNICEF, global NGOs like IPPF and ILGA, global corporations like Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook, billionaire foundations like Rockefeller and Gates, supported by the mainstream media.

Q. Abortion and contraception are often justified with the dangers of overpopulation of this earth. Do you think they are real dangers?

A. One obvious motive for these destructive policies is to reduce the population of this earth. This is foreign policy of the USA since the 1970s. But the real problem is the demographic decline which nearly all industrialized nations are facing and which is now beginning even in developing countries. It is a consequence of separating sex from its existential meaning and function, procreation, through contraception and abortion. Strong forces in the UN and EU battle for defining abortion as a “human right”. Where has humanity come to since the proclamation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948?

Q. What are the consequences of the “gender” concept that LGBT lobbies seek to impose on societies?

A. The goal of implementing gender-ideology into society with sophisticated methods of social engineering is the deconstruction of the identity of man and woman, thus attacking family and morality on its deepest level. Since the decision of the Supreme Court of the USA in June 2015 we see a new wave of transgender activism coming from the USA. Obama, president of the leading nation of this world, is at the front of the “bathroom battle”, authorizing policy that allows a transgender person to use the toilet and locker-room of the sex of his choice. That 99 percent of the population of the United States has a problem when members of the opposite sex enter bathroom-facilities, especially when they are used by children, seems to be of no concern to the political rulers.

Q. What are the main ways to change society according to gender-ideology?

A. Apart from changing the legal system and sexualizing children by force of the state, this ideology is worked into the brain and psyche of people through the media, the entertainment-industry (film and music) and pornography. Pornography is a multi-billion business. Watching pornography is addictive like a physical drug; it destroys marriages and families and is a slippery slope into sexual crime. Why is there no campaign of the EU against pornography, as there is against smoking? The difference is that smoking does not destroy family, pornography does.

Q. You’ve gone from participation in the revolutionary movement of 1968 as a student at the Free University of Berlin to a courageous activist against the ravages of global sexual revolution. You attribute your “awakening” to your conversion to Catholicism. What is the contribution of Christian humanism in this cultural battle?

A. I converted to Catholicism twenty years ago and discovered a wealth of teaching on the issues of man and woman, family and sexuality. John Paul II devoted his life and papacy to these issues, providing a theological basis for the encyclical Humanae Vitae of Paul VI, which addressed contraception. Benedict XVI is an enlightened analyst and visionary of our historical epoch. That is the intellectual side. But there is also a spiritual side: Conversion leads to a change of life. Jesus says: “Who loves me will keep my commandments (John 14,15). Keeping the commandments allows the Holy Spirit to enlighten our understanding and change our life.

Q. What prevents us from realizing that the sexual revolution puts the future of our society at risk?

A. Not keeping the commandments, that is, separating from God through sin creates blindness. The mass-media do what they can to make any kind of sin seem acceptable, so people lose the spirit of discernment between good and evil. In the Bible we read: “I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.” (Deut. 30,19). The statistics of family breakup, psychological disturbances of a high percentage of children and the demographic crisis shout at us, but we are deaf.

We do not know in which phase of the history of mankind we are. But as believers we know that the human story has a good ending. Each one of us can choose life and use his talents to work for life. To know you are on the side of life, and therefore on the “right side of history” allows you to lead a happy and peaceful life.

Q. You are personally attacked as a “homophobic” and “far right” in an attempt to ostracize you from the public discourse. There have been demonstrations against you, and in a theater play in Berlin you and four other politically active women were characterized as “zombies” who had risen from the graves in 1945 and who should be shot in the head to get rid of them. Does that discourage you?

A. I am not “homophobic”, because I have no fear (phobia = fear) of homosexuals, nor do I have anything to do with the “far right”. I am a defender of democratic rights against this newly arising totalitarianism. The Berlin play works with manipulated quotations, and we are taking them to court to protect the democratic right of free speech. The attacks do not discourage me. I do what I feel I am called to do.

Q. Can we win this cultural battle?

A. Let me answer with David: “The battle belongs to the Lord (1 Sam 17,47).

Gabriele Kuby is a German writer and sociologist, a frequent lecturer in Germany and around Europe, and has written for numerous print and on-line publications in Europe. This article is a slightly edited version of an interview with Hazte Oir. See also: Europe’s Cassandra.
The Global Sexual Revolution: Destruction of Freedom in the Name of Freedom | By Gabriele Kuby | Angelico Press (May 24, 2016) | Kindle Edition (print length 302 pages)

Us to revert to former name USPG

Friday, July 22nd, 2016


George Conger

An Anglican mission agency has conceded that its attempts to rebrand itself to be relevant to a 21st century audience has failed. The Us announced this week that it would be change its name back to the USPG. In a statement posted on its website, the Us said that a marketing study found that “while our partners in Britain and Ireland and around the world greatly appreciated the energy, values and practical work embodied in the Us brand, many remained saddened that we were no longer referring to the gospel in our name.”

It would revert to its former initials, USPG, but the letters would now stand for United Society Partners in the Gospel. Founded in 1701 as the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, in 1965 it merged with the Universities’ Mission to Central Africa (UMCA) merge to form the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG). Amidst great fanfare it rebranded itself in 2012 as The United Society, known as Us.

At its relaunch on 20 Nov 2012 at St Margaret’s Church in Westminster, the Society’s Chief Executive Janette O’Neill explained: “USPG changing its name to ‘Us’ is a statement that everyone is included.” Referring to a  In fact, the biggest cheer of the evening was reserved for a video looking at our history. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Rowan Williams lauded the new name’s ambiguity, saying it was a  “wonderfully ambiguous and non-specific title” suited to a world where boundaries constantly shift because it is “‘very difficult to tell where ‘us’ stops and ‘them’ starts.”

On 20 July 2016 the society’s website printed a statement written by Ms. O’Neill acknowledging the rebrand had not met expectations, and “in response, we have decided to move forward with our original name USPG, albeit it in a modernised form; the acronym USPG will now stand for United Society Partners in the Gospel. As well as reintroducing ‘gospel’ into our name, the new meaning of USPG emphasises our focus on working in partnership with the world church, while also encouraging the Anglican Churches of Britain and Ireland to participate more deeply in that partnership.”

The re-re-branding of the society will take place at next month’s Greenbelt festival, where the name and a new logo will be unveiled.



The Church: 18f. The Pastoral Care of Sinners and False Teachers

Thursday, July 21st, 2016


The past few weeks have entrenched immoral practices and the teaching of error in whole provinces of the Anglican Communion.  The affirmation of same-sex unions for laity and clergy in the Scottish Episcopal Church (and the Church of Scotland, with whom the Church of England has a relationship) and the Anglican Church of Canada have so compromised the Gospel at many levels that the mission of these ‘Churches’ is no longer viable.  The Church of England may well be on the same trajectory.

The only way to regain the ministry of pastoral care for sinners is to pursue with all diligence a movement of God’s Kingdom and its righteousness outside the Church of Men and Women.  True pastoral care involves the shepherd’s crook and the shepherd’s rod, not the false unity of a sheep pen for sheep and wolves.  The ministration of divine mercy in pastoral care–particularly in the Church’s mission in the West–requires the merciful call to repentance rather than toleration of sin, the merciful practice of judgement for the sake of restoration, and the merciful practice of separation for the sake of unity.

Pastors as Messengers, Watchmen, and Stewards of the Lord

The Church is not a depository for theological and moral diversity but a discipleship community devoted to God: ‘as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD’ (Joshua 24:15).  The voice of love is not toleration of error but obedience to truth: You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.  And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart’ (Deuteronomy 6:5-6).  Mercy is not indifference to error but forgiveness of error: ‘Remember your mercy, O LORD, and your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of your goodness, O LORD! Good and upright is the LORD; therefore he instructs sinners in the way’ (Psalm 25:6-8).  Confusion over such basic truths inevitably means pastoral abuse, not care.

The Anglican service for the ordination of priests has the bishop charge the ordinands, who have earlier been reminded that Scripture is the ultimate authority for their ministry, as follows:

In the name of our Lord we bid you remember the greatness of the trust now to be committed to your charge, about which you have been taught in your preparation for this ministry.  You are to be messengers, watchmen, and stewards of the Lord; you are to teach and to admonish, to feed and to provide for the Lord’s family, to search for his children in the wilderness of this world’s temptations and to guide them through its confusions, so that they may be saved through Christ for ever.[1]

Indeed, pastoral care is an administration of the Word of God to wounded souls: pastors are messengers of His Word, watchmen of error contradicting His Word, and stewards of the grace taught in His Word.  The Anglican Communion, however, is being torn apart by unworthy shepherds, instructed by false teachers denying the clear teaching in God’s Word, tended to by quacks perpetrating errors contracted from the culture, and abused by leaders perverting the grace of our Lord by licensing immorality in the Church.

Just how might pastors be faithful to their calling in such a dire situation?  Some have suggested unity over against truth, as though unity is some mere social practice for people to pursue instead of a unity in truth.  Others have suggested a pastoral accommodation to minister to all with a form of love that disregards the truth.  Still others have called for an obedience to the truth as the practical expression of godly love, calling for pastors to be messengers of mercy and watchmen against wolves.  Indeed, as shepherds carrying both a staff to guide the sheep and a rod to fend off wolves, pastors are called to exercise both forms of care.

Two Stories of Pastoral Care

Two stories of the Apostle John’s pastoral care circulated in the second century.  Both are aspects of pastoral care.  The first story was told by Clement of Alexandria and demonstrates the pastor’s unwavering ministry of mercy to sinners.[2]  While visiting churches in Asia Minor, John entrusted a particular boy to a bishop’s care.  The bishop agreed and raised the child in the Christian faith.  However, once the boy had matured into a young man, he came under the corrupting influence of other young men who knew nothing of the faith.  He took up a life of self-indulgence and luxury, and, with his new friends, engaged in highway robbery.  The young man rose through the ranks of his gang, outdoing all in violence and cruelty.  The gang recognized him as their leader.

Some years later, John visited the bishop and asked him to return the ‘deposit’ that he had left with him on the previous visit years earlier.  The bishop eventually realised that John meant the deposit of that boy’s soul, left in the charge of the overseer of the church.  He said that the young man had ‘died,’ that is, that he had turned his back on the Christian faith and entered upon a life of sin.  The apostle John thereupon reprimanded the bishop, called for a horse, and made his way to the gang’s hideout in the hills.  The gang captured John and brought him to their captain.

When the captain saw John, he began to run away—to the astonishment of everyone else.  John, though a very old man, ran after him.  He called after him that he should not be afraid as there was yet hope for his soul, that he, John, had a duty to give an account to Christ for the young man’s life, and that Christ had sent him to extend mercy.  The young man stopped running, flung himself into the apostle’s arms, and wept bitterly in repentance for his sins.  John assured the young man that the Saviour forgave him, and the two returned to the church.  The young man was then encouraged to follow a discipline of repentance, a contrition for sins that included much prayer, frequent fasting, and the subduing his mind by hearing the Scriptures and words of the apostles.

Another story is told of John.  One of his disciples, Polycarp, recalled a story about John’s encounter with a heretical teacher, Cerinthus.  On this occasion, John was in a bathhouse in Ephesus when he learned that the false teacher, a theologian altering orthodox theology by reinterpreting it with the philosophy of his day, was also present.  Rushing out of the bathhouse before bathing, John exclaimed to his own followers, ‘Let us fly, lest even the bath-house fall down, because Cerinthus, the enemy of the truth, is within’ (Irenaeus, Against Heresies III.3.4).  John thereby taught his followers to have nothing to do with false teaching, to give it no voice, and to expect God’s judgement on all such purveyors of error.

Two Lessons for Pastors

These two stories teach us two important lessons about error in the Church.  The first reminds us to continue to hold out the grace of God to all sinners.  As Jude says, believers are to snatch persons in error as though from the fire (verse 23).  James, too, says,

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins (5:19-20).

In so saying, Jude and James affirm Jesus’ teaching of pastoral care through his parable of the lost sheep (Matthew 18:12-14).  Jesus instructed his disciples to leave the ninety-nine safe sheep and pursue that one, lost sheep on the mountains because God rejoices over the sheep that is found and does not will that any one of His little ones should perish.

Regarding the person disobeying his teaching in the Church, Paul says:

2 Thessalonians 3:14-15   If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed.  Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.

With this, we see both the continuing message of mercy and the need for discipline—both aspects of pastoral care.  Similarly, in the case of the man sleeping with his father’s wife in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul calls for a discipline that cares for the whole church while also extending mercy to an unrepentant sinner.  First, Paul reminds the church that they are to have nothing to do with sexually immoral persons in their community:

1 Corinthians 5:9  I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people….

The church’s correct response is not mercy expressed in toleration of immoral relationships but mercy expressed through a pastoral and congregational process of exclusion from the community, recognition of error, repentance from sin, reformation of conduct, and restoration to community.  They are not taking the morally high ground in continuing to accommodate the openly sinful person in their midst who will not change his ways or to tolerate a diverse spectrum of views on sexual morality.  This is not Christian mercy but certain destruction.  The person desperately needs to be excluded from the church to learn a lesson and be warned of what will inevitably be a more serious exclusion when God’s judgement of sinners brings a final verdict, after which there is no further opportunity to repent.  Paul says,

1 Corinthians 5:4-5  When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus,  5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

In this, Paul picks up language from the Holiness Code in Leviticus 20.11: a person who ‘lies with his father’s wife’ is to be ‘put to death.’  Yet Paul does not apply the punishment called for in Leviticus literally, for he transfers the meaning of a negative, literal death penalty to a positive, spiritual purification from sin.  The ‘flesh’ to be destroyed is not the person’s body but the ‘flesh’ in the moral sense of his sinful life.  Only by turning the person over to Satan—that is, putting the person out of the church and into the arena of Satan—will the person appreciate that he is, indeed, no longer part of the church.  Only then is it possible that he will repent and return to the church.  Not turning the person out of the church will only encourage him to continue to live a sinful life that will ultimately lead to God’s condemnation, an exclusion from the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).  It also destroys the church as ‘a little leaven leavens the whole lump’ (1 Corinthians 5:6).  The church is not to pass judgement on unbelievers outside the church but to purge the evil from its own midst (1 Corinthians 5:13).  Far from being a way to unify the church in holiness, toleration of sexual immorality only brings further division as others are encouraged to pursue the same path of destruction (cf. Jude 12).

The second story of the Apostle John’s pastoral care, however, addresses not those who have fallen into error but those who teach error—the false prophets and false teachers leading others into error.  In this case, the Church is hard-pressed to take swift action against falsehood.  As Paul says,

Titus 3:10-11  As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned.

The case of false teachers is more serious, potentially reaping great destruction in the Church.  James warns, Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness’ (James 3:1).

Paul does not entertain the mistaken notion that such differences call for ‘shared conversations,’ as the Church of England has done over the heretical teachings on sexuality in the past few years.  Regarding the false teachers who misled the Galatian churches, Paul minces no words—this is no time for politically correct tones of civility:

Galatians 1:8-9  But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.  As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Indeed, he later says, ‘I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!’ (Galatians 5:12).

John, moreover, writes to the church at Thyatira:

Revelation 2:20  I have this against you, that you tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess and is teaching and seducing my servants to practice sexual immorality and to eat food sacrificed to idols.

Merciful Care: Not Toleration of Sin but Judgement Leading to Repentance

Diversity is not something to celebrate if it is a diversity that deviates from the truth proclaimed by the apostles (i.e., what we would now refer to as the New Testament).  Mercy is not about toleration of error; on the contrary, mercy is expressed in judging and shaming the person in order to lead to hope for repentance and restoration.  Exclusion is an important process for a community to use in order to warn a person bent on error that his or her views or practices are wrong and dangerous: only then is there hope that the person will repent and return to the truth.  Ongoing toleration sends the wrong message that the error is not really that significant—a matter of indifference—and will not be judged by God.  Rather, the church’s judgement of a person persistent in sin is the first step in sincere pastoral care for recalcitrant sinners. As Paul says, ‘have nothing to do with him’ and ‘warn him as a brother’ (2 Thessalonians 3:15).

This is not only true for the sheep.  It is also true for false shepherds: even with false teachers, Paul holds out hope that discipline will lead to repentance.  He says that he hands over two such false teachers ‘to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme’ (1 Timothy 1:20).


[1] ‘The Ordination of Priests,’ The Alternative Service Book (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1980), p. 356.

[2] Clement of Alexandria, ‘Who is the rich man that shall be saved?’ (XLII). Clement lived in Egypt towards the end of the 2nd century and was a teacher of the Christian faith.

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