From the Archives – Chameleon of Canterbury

Rev’ David Ould’s latest piece on the Archbishop of Canterbury rang a bell for me. I dug out an old piece from 2013 that I wrote. Here is it below.

In an earlier post in the old version of this website, I mentioned the headline (which in my view was luxuriant)

 ++Welby backs GAFCONs vision for the Anglican Church.

Since then I have listened to the ABCs second GAFCON sermon. In light of what he has preached I think the onus is really on him to deal with the revisionists within the Anglican Church, not just with TEC, but within his own patch.

However, after reading his sermon that he gave in Iceland (the 8th meeting of the Primates of the Porvoo Communion, hosted in Iceland by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Iceland), I am even less confident that he will step up.

Sadly, in the way indicative of revisionists preaching, ++Welby uses the passage (Luke 18:1-8) as an allegory and a stepping stone for moralising (the moral of course being about social justice). He ignores the big idea of the passage which is that God will rescue and bring justice to the elect and concludes that:

If we are to continue to grow closer, so that our communion becomes family, and that family becomes the transforming influence in our society, which is so desperately looking for a new way, after the decades of reliance on material growth have betrayed us, if that family is to become what it should, then we need each other more than ever, not for comfort in the cold, receding tides of Christian faith, but to stretch and challenge each other to ever closer walk with God and evermore passionate fulfilling of his mission. Day-to- day”.

No mention of the cross, no actually unpacking of the passage, no mention of how God will bring justice his elect and no mention of what true unity is except to say that we all need each other, and throw in the word that is really in at the moment, mission. But not wanting to offend anyone, ++Welby does not define what the mission is, nor what the message of the mission is.

A big difference from what he said at GAFCON II:

“The Anglican world must be a sign to the world of the power of Christ and must engage in a deliberate program of “witness, worship, evangelism, and a passion for the Holy Spirit. “The more seriously we take the Bible” the more effectively we will be able to deal with our divisions.”

Why he did not say this to the Porvoo Primates eludes me? Will his message that he gave to GAFCON delegates be the message to the Bishops in England? Will he himself take the Bible more seriously when it comes to passages that deal with sin, holiness, purity, sexual immorality, repentance, dealing with false teachers and false teaching and model and exhort other clergy to do the same?

Sadly I strongly suspect that when he returns to England he will do no such thing, but will try to have it both ways and be just like a chameleon and adapt his theological colours and praxis to suite those he is surrounded by at any given time., (which is what I think he did at GAFCON and at Iceland).  Over time it will be seen to the discerning that his use of theological camouflage will be disastrous!

 

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Evangelism in an Emocratic World

The late Margaret Thatcher who was the Prime Minister of the UK from 1979 – 1990 was attributed with saying the following:

“Do you know that one of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas.”

Recently I was watching an interview where former Australian Deputy Prime Minister John Anderson speaks with academic and author Niall Ferguson and Ferguson quotes his wife, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, whom in a speech said:

“We no longer live in a democracy but an emocracy, where emotions trump facts”. 

Ferguson cited his wife in the context of speaking about how the ‘old’ rules of engaging in discourse and debate no longer apply. An argument had to be supported by facts, but in today’s culture this no longer applies;

“What you try to do [when arguing/debating in our western culture] is to try to destroy the reputation of the person on the other side. You simply attack their good faith and it does not matter what facts they may bring to the table”.

He wrote an article about Emocracy which you can read on his website.

So given the cultural penchant for aggrandising emotions and feelings at the expense of facts, how is the Christian to  evangelise in such a culture? Actually, another question that I think is germane in this piece is:

How are Christians to contextualise the gospel in such an emocratic culture?

The example of the Apostle Paul is very helpful in this regard. Acts 17 is very worth looking at for in this chapter we see two different principles that the Apostle incorporates into his evangelism.

By the way, when it comes to the book of Acts it is very important to remember what sort of book Acts is. It is primarily a descriptive, not prescriptive, it is primarily not a ‘how to do book’, because Luke is chronicling a very unique time, the birth of the church, the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, the Holy Spirit empowering the church and the Apostles. But having said that, there is still much here that we can apply to our lives.

Firstly in  Acts 17, we see that  Paul reasoned with Jews from the Scriptures. His starting point was what they knew, he started where they were at. Yet in Paul went to Athens,  he does not use the Scriptures at all as his starting point but quotes Greek poets whom they knew.

Paul is a wonderful model for us to emulate because it is evident from his practice that he can proclaim the gospel to a variety of people from different grounds, in ways that are culturally appropriate.  He can proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus to Jews who would have known the OT really well; to God Fearing Greeks, so who probably knew some of the Bible, but would have come from pagan backgrounds. And the people in the market-place would have believed in all sort of things, there would have been rich people, poor people, educated people, uneducated people, tourists, students, tradies, people who worked in the stalls. Paul was very good at adapting the content of the gospel to the different contexts in which he proclaimed it. In other words, he was mindful of his audience. It is a good thing to adopt Paul’s practice or be willing to learn it so that we can adapt the gospel to those whom we are sharing it with (not the content, but the presentation).

So again, back to the question (slightly rephrased):

How are we to adapt the  gospel to a culture that appears to becoming more emocratic?

Are we to make our churches, pulpits/lecterns places where safe spaces exist to protect unbelievers feelings? Are preachers to provide trigger warnings before every sermon to ensure that unbelievers are not #Iamsooffendedrightnow?

I don’t think so.

But it is a tough question. Something I am wrestling with.

My initial thoughts are:

  • Emotions are not always reliable indicators. For example, someone hears about the Lord Jesus and their emotional response seems to be positive and yet they don’t come to faith. Yet someone else hears about the Lord Jesus and their emotional response is hostile, they are offended and they repent and believe.
  • God’s people are to discern their culture through the lens of Scripture and not the other way around. Thus there are some aspects of culture that the Christian has the liberty to accommodate and even embrace, and there are other aspects of culture that the Christian must reject, and sometimes there are aspects that appear to be not so black and white require God’s wisdom. So as far as our emocracy is concerned, I don’t think it is wise for Christians to acquiesce and be hijacked by the subjective whims of emocracy which seem to change constantly.

I know that I am missing something, and that others have said more on this and said it better.

 

 

 

So over to you dear reader. How would you answer this question, (whilst being cognisant of the following)?

  1. Remember the Power of the Gospel (Romans 1:16)- the Gospel is God’s power to save. Thus the Gospel does not need dressing up or garnished with a pitch to emotions. The Apostle Paul contextualised the Gospel and he proclaimed the Gospel, unapologetically.
  2. Remember the Primacy of the Gospel (1 Corinthians 2:2). The Apostle Paul did not speak about himself, but about the Lord Jesus. Evangelism is not easy, and it is important to build bridges, starting where people are at, but we have to get to Jesus, the real Jesus, the Jesus of the Bible. We have to cross the bridge as Paul did.
  3. Remember the battle is spiritual (Ephesians 6:10-12) – in observing our culture, and the “culture wars” that exist in the West, it is easy to be bogged down in cultural analysis and forget that the core battle we are facing in regards to evangelism and unbelief is spiritual, even though it is often played out in flesh and blood.
  4.  Remember the importance of truth (2 Corinthians 4:1-2) We are to preach the truth, even if our culture tries to deny it with emotions. When the Apostles preached, there was often emotional responses. But it did not stop them from proclaiming the truth.
  5. Remember some will be offended  (2 Corinthians 2:16) No matter how clear we are, how well we build bridges, how well we contextualise the gospel, someone will be offended. But something that our culture seems to have forgotten, nothing bad ever happens to someone because they are offended. It is not as if someone hears you tell them about the Lord Jesus Christ, his death and resurrection, why they need to believe in Him, and they get offended; the next morning they wake up and discover to their horror that they have leprosy.
  6. Remember Paul was offended (Acts 8:1-3) and look how he turned out!
  7. Remember the true human condition (Ephesians 2:1) – the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. The heart problem is that all humans are spiritually dead in sin, not almost dead, not spiritually sick, or spiritually drowsy, but stone cold dead! The problem is their sin, not their feelings, nor their emotions.

When I look at our culture,  it does seem that Western culture has the emotional resilience of a snowflake. We are #offended by everything and anything, including the truth but emotions change all the time. They are subject to the whims of fads, foods and flavours, the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is not, for the Gospel is God’s Gospel and the Gospel never changes.

So don’t be ashamed of it, it is God’s power to save, point people to Christ and not yourself, praying always remembering that the battle is spiritual.  Remember that the Gospel will offend, so let it be only the Gospel that offends and not you.

 

 

Doing the Thinking For Them

I have a hunch that when it comes to Christians proclaiming the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ to non-Christians, part of our reluctance to share the Gospel with them is that we assume one of four things about the non-Christian. They will:

  1. Be offended
  2. Not Understand
  3. Experience discomfort
  4. Combination of all three

So we do the thinking for them and decide not to say anything.

I wonder if we carry this assumption into our gathering together to worship God in Word and Sacrament, that when we invite them to an outreach event, or even to our regular Sunday services that make those same assumptions. That the non-Christian will:

  1. Be offended
  2. Not Understand
  3. Experience discomfort
  4. Combination of all three

I remember many years ago now, an article was produced by a well known Evangelical Anglican body here in my country (Australia) and the article stated that we should, in essence, drop any language that may be deemed too exclusive. So words like ‘lecturn’, ‘pulpit’, ‘pew’ should go. The reason we should do this is for the sake of the outsider feeling, we don’t want to make them uncomfortable. So everything we do at church should be as normal and regular for the non-Christian as possible.

However, do we really assume that de-churched or even un-churched people are going to be uncomfortable by terms such as ‘sermon’ or ‘lectern’ or offended by such terminology?

Once I dropped the word ‘verse’ when referring to Scripture, I replaced it with the word ‘sentence’ in order to try and be contemporary. Even though I thought changing ‘verse’ to ‘sentence’ felt artificial and strange, I was acting on the assumption that the non-Christian would find the word ‘verse’ archaic or discomforting so that assumption prevailed over common sense and I did it anyway. It was a dumb move!

I also think the same when it comes to changing other terms. I had never heard of a lectern or even seen one before I went to church, I did not know what a baptismal font was, or what a prayer book was, nor did I know what the Lord’s table was. But it did not turn me off. I assumed that this was part and parcel of church and what Christians did and said.

Imagine this scenario:

Hi welcome to chu…our gathering…ahhhmmmmm…I mean our meeting…our family (no that sounds like a cult) ahhmmm our fellowshi…our assembly…arghh! (Starts again). Welcome to church everyone. If you would like to turn page (inset page no.) of the Prayer boo…I mean ahhh the book that has prayers in it. We are going to pra…talk to God…and ask give him thanks…that means we are going to thank God…he is the one who made us and created us…

  Skip forward in service…

 We are now going to sing a hymn…I mean song…it is like a song but the music is really quite bad and we don’t believe in syncopation…and then Morag is going to come up and is going to lead us in prayer…I mean ahhh…she is going to talk to God out the front in the lecte…pulpi…she is going to talk to God and stand in front of this wooden stand that I am standing behind right now.

Skip forward in the service…

We are going to have our Bible readi…if you would like to pick up that big thick book that has the words Holy Bible on it, and turn to (insert book, chapter, verse) and after this our Minister…no he is not a politician, he is not that kind of minister, our pasto…the man who runs the show…not that it is a show…the minister and he is going to give the serm…ahhhmmmm…I mean the talk…ahhhmmmm yes I know I am talking to you know…he is going to explain what that passage…I mean…ahhhmmm… he is going to explain that pericope…explain those words that were read out of that big thick book that has the words Holy Bible on the front cover.. ,and then he is going to preach…I mean teach…I mean explain how it applies to us so that we can…he is going to unpack it for us so that we do life together! Ahhhmmmm yes I know that the expression “do life” is ridiculous…what I mean is…”

Coming from a non-Christian family when I first attended an Anglican church service as a young teen service I did not know what anything was, what the words meant or what things were called. But the church would really have done me a disservice if they did not use the terminology that is indicative of church and terms such as propitiation, lectern, pew, sermon, etc. It is how I learned. It is how everybody learns. All these little things I found attractive, and especially the message of Christ crucified and risen from the dead, along with the people I met whose lives had been transformed by Him.

Non-Churched people are not stupid (not that I am implying that the article I read years ago was suggesting this), they will expect Church to be different. We should be clear of course, but I think to ‘over-contemporise’ will come across by the un-churched as us being try-hards. We don’t need to do the thinking for them.