Tuesday, 25 September 2012

→ A barrier to honesty

This is actually from the gospel coalition website, but as I like the Briefing you can go via there. Boo and hiss to accountability groups.

→ A barrier to honesty: Tullian Tchividjian on ‘accountability groups’ that wind up focussing on our own struggles with sin more than our saviour:

Setting aside the obvious objection that Christ settled all our accounts, once for all, such groups inevitably start with the narcissistic presupposition that...

[Click through to the Briefing site to read the rest of this article and to join in the discussion.]

Friday, 21 September 2012

The Devolution Of Marriage: Observations from Phillip Jensen

We're in a mess over our understanding of marriage. Here's an article from Phillip Jensen:

Articles | The Devolution Of Marriage:

The Devolution Of Marriage

Weddings and marriage have been in the news a lot recently. Same sex marriage and revising the wedding vows are not unrelated issues but reflect the community’s confusion about the nature of marriage and the place of weddings.

Over the last 30 years Anglican wedding services have evolved steadily away from the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. This change in theology and liturgy has undermined the minister’s ability to teach the faith and help couples to understand marriage.

It should be obvious that the Bible is the basis for Christian understanding of marriage. It teaches that marriage is a work of God in creation, symbolising our redemption, just as it speaks of the ways to conduct ourselves in marriage in the light of our creation and redemption.

The Book of Common Prayer(1662) is held by the Anglican Church of Australia to be “the authorized standard of worship and doctrine of this Church, and no alteration in or permitted variation from … shall contravene any principle of doctrine or worship laid down in such standard”.

The Anglican Church of Australia has produced two prayer books: An Australian Prayer Book (1978) and A Prayer Book for Australia (1995). The first of these, 1978 was accepted by the whole Australian church, but the second, 1995 was not accepted by everybody - the Diocese of Sydney rejected it, though certain sections became acceptable variations.

The simple changes in these prayer books involved modernising 17th century English into contemporary wording. The more dramatic change was to offer alternatives. The 1662 book had only one form of each service. The Australian books gave us two or more variations. Generally the 1978 provided a ‘conservative’ form, which was an updated version of the 1662, as well as a completely new ‘contemporary’ form. The 1995 book offered even more variations.

However, it was in the evolution of these variations, such as in the wedding service that the Bible and the 1662 standard were left behind. For the ‘contemporary’ form of 1978 became the ‘conservative’ form of 1995, and the genuinely Anglican form of 1662 was omitted entirely.

The Bible teaches that God made humanity as male and female so that out of the unity of husband and wife would come children who would be raised to godliness as they filled and subdued the world (Genesis 1:26-28, 2:18-25, Malachi 2:10-16, Matthew 19:3-6). Jesus explained marriage in these terms: “He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’.  So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.”

Marriage is therefore intended as a lifelong, monogamous, procreative union of a man and a woman. Its male and female polarity is God’s intention in creation and reproduction. Its unity is made by God and maintained by each party being faithful to the promises of their common agreement or covenant. Faithfulness rather than love lies at the basis of this union. Marriage symbolises Christ’s relationship with his bride the church – symbolising both the union between Christ and his church and also the diverse responsibility of the groom and bride (Ephesians 5:22-33).

This Biblical teaching is reflected throughout the 1662 service, such as in the introduction when the minister enumerates the reasons for marriage as (i) procreation, (ii) remedy against sin (drawn from 1 Corinthians 7 and 1 Thessalonians 4), (iii) companionship.

Similarly, the 1662 service emphasizes the Biblical teaching on the differing responsibilities of husband and wife. Not only are the consent and vows different for men and women, but also it is only the man who gives a ring and his wealth. At the end of the service we read: ‘if there be no Sermon declaring the duties of Man and Wife, the Minister shall read as followeth. “All ye that are married, or that intend to take the holy estate of Matrimony upon you, hear what the holy Scripture doth say as touching on the duty of husbands towards their wives, and wives towards their husbands.”’ There follows a sermon addressing first the husband and then the wife, using and reading three passages of scripture (Ephesians 5, Colossians 3 and 1 Peter 3) that differentiate the responsibilities of husbands and wives.

The contemporary service of 1978 changed all this. Children became the last reason for marriage, not the primary one. Marriage was now about love: a relationship of “a deepening knowledge and love of each other”. More striking still was the removal of all gender distinctive responsibilities. The consent and vows for groom and bride were identical. Worse still they became vacuous – giving each other the “honour due” as wife and husband without explaining what such honour is.

In 1995 the contemporary service of 1978 became the conservative service and a new contemporary service was introduced. All the services of 1995, even the conservative one, were unisex with identical consent and vows. Totally missing was any teaching on differing responsibility of husband or wife. Now the reason for marriage was first and foremost for love and secondly where children ‘may be’ born.
All this matches society’s move away from marriage, away from life-long monogamy, away from commitment and faithfulness, away from family life towards the romance called ‘love’, away from ‘husbands and wives’ or even ‘spouses’ to ‘partners’.

Sadly Anglican liturgies have given up on the Bible and The Book of Common Prayer. This is not Christianity accommodating its language into the terms of today, or being relevant to changing circumstances. This is Christianity submitting itself to society’s rejection of the Creator and his ways. This is “being conformed to this world” (Romans 12:2).

Family life is where creation speaks deeply and intuitively to people and where today’s unhappy society is so desperately in need of the cross. This is the time and the place to teach accurately the Creator’s purpose and the Redeemer’s actions.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Christianity: A degenerate sort of cult (from Shaun Usher)

(From 'Letters of Note' by Shaun Usher.

A degenerate sort of cult:

In the year 112 AD, Pliny the Younger — Roman governor of Bithynia (now northern Turkey) — faced a problem: An obscure Jewish sect called "Christianity" had begun to spread through the region, resulting in numerous complaints from locals and calls for the immediate execution of those who refused to worship the Roman gods. Seeking assistance on how to deal with this "wretched cult," Pliny wrote the following letter — a letter which remains one of the earliest written accounts of Roman conflict with Christians — to Roman Emperor Trajan and asked who to punish, and to what extreme. Trajan's reply also follows.

(Source: The Letters of the Younger Pliny.)

To the Emperor Trajan

It is my custom to refer all my difficulties to you, sir, for no one is better able to resolve my doubts and inform my ignorance.

I have never been present at an examination of Christians. Consequently, I do not know the nature or the extent of the punishments usually meted out to them, nor the grounds for starting an investigation and how far it should be pressed. Nor am I at all sure whether any distinction should be made between them on the grounds of age, or if young people and adults should be treated alike; whether a pardon ought to be granted to anyone retracting his beliefs, or if he has once professed Christianity, he shall gain nothing by renouncing it; and whether it is the mere name of Christian which is punishable, even if innocent of crime, or rather the crimes associated with the name.

For the moment this is the line I have taken with all persons brought before me on the charge of being Christians. I have asked them in person if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and a third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution; for whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished.

Now that I have begun to deal with this problem, as so often happens, the charges are becoming more widespread and increasing in variety. An anonymous pamphlet has been circulated which contains the names of a number of accused persons. Among these I felt that I should dismiss any who denied that they were or ever had been Christians when they had repeated after me a formula of invocation to the gods and had made offerings of wine and incense to your statue (which I had ordered to be brought into court for this purpose along with the images of the gods), and furthermore had reviled the name of Christ—none of which things, I understand, any genuine Christian can be induced to do.

Others, whose names were given to me by an informer, first admitted the charge and then denied it; they said that they had ceased to be Christians two or more years previously, and some of them even twenty years ago. They all did reverence to your statue and the images of the gods in the same way as the others, and reviled the name of Christ. They also declared that the sum total of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this: they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately among themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery and adultery, to commit no breach of trust and not to deny a deposit when called on to restore it. After this ceremony it had been their custom to disperse and reassemble later to take food of an ordinary, harmless kind; but they had in fact given up this practice since my edict, issued on your instructions, which banned all political societies. This made me decide that it was all the more necessary to extract the truth by torture from two slave-women, whom they call deaconesses. I found nothing but a degenerate sort of cult carried to extravagant lengths.

I have therefore postponed any further examination and hastened to consult you. The question seems to me worthy of your consideration, especially in view of the number of persons endangered; for a great many individuals of every age and class, both men and women, are being brought to trial, and this is likely to continue. It is not only the towns, but villages and rural districts too which are infected through contact with this wretched cult. I think though that it is still possible for it to be checked and directed to better ends, for there is no doubt that people have begun to throng the temples which had been almost entirely deserted for a long time; the sacred rites which had been allowed to lapse are being performed again, and flesh of sacrificial victims is on sale everywhere, though up till recently scarcely anyone could be found to buy it. It is easy to infer from this that a great many people could be reformed if they were given an opportunity to repent.


Trajan's response:

You have followed the right course of procedure, my dear Pliny, for it is impossible to lay down a general rule to a fixed formula. These people must not be hunted out; if they are brought before you and the charge against them is proved, they must be punished, but in the case of anyone who denies that he is a Christian, and makes it clear that he is not by offering prayers to our gods, he is to be pardoned as a result of his repentance however suspect his past conduct may be. But pamphlets circulated anonymously must play no part in any accusation. They create the worst sort of precedent and are quite out of keeping with the spirit of our age.

RSS Feed proudly sponsored by TinyLetter, a simple newsletter service for people with something to say.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

Para-church ministry: Challenge 1, number of relationships (from Jenny's blog)

Jenny's blog is terrific. No-one would ever accuse her of gilding the ministry lily:

Para-church ministry: Challenge 1, number of relationships:
A bit of background.  I'm married to a church minister, but he doesn't work for a church.  He works for a not-for-profit organisation that supports the ministry of Christian students on a university campus.  He is responsible for a team of about 20 full time staff members and is responsible for ensuring that the funds for this organisation are raised to pay everyone.  He also works closely with the student leadership of the group which at the moment has about 800 students involved.

Here's my first challenge about this type of ministry (nice way of say 'big fat whinge' but anyhoo, off we go).

I am on the introverted end of the spectrum but we have A LOT of different groups of people in our life that we are involved in.  The ministry is large and busy and totally people orientated.  We have our family (which is large and busy and people-orientated!).  We also go to our local church (which is thankfully not too large, but is also people-orientated).  We have two schools full of relationships that our kids attend that we're keen to be involved with (it will be three schools next year).  I have a job that is people-focussed.

Consequently we find it really hard to get up the energy to go to extra things like parties or social events.

Consequently I am regularly paralysed by guilt by how bad I am at keeping up with all the different people in our life.  I permanently carry a feeling of being a disappointing friend to many.

If I gave up working I could potentially do more, but contributing financially to our family does help make staying in this type of ministry more viable for the long-term.

And if I did stop working I could potentially do more in the ministry but I don't feel that I would actually be very good at it.  Not putting myself down.  I'm 40.  I've tried.   Just because I'm married to someone who is, doesn't automatically make me great at it.  And I'm pretty confident that I would drive Rowan totally mad with my helpful 'suggestions' ;)

I find this so tricky.  I'm still waiting for someone to give me the magic solution that will make me feel at peace about this issue.

Tuesday, 4 September 2012

A bad excuse

What sort of an excuse is this?
Hill's defence team said that he had been collecting such images for a number of years, and told a hearing at Derby Magistrates' Court that their client deeply regretted committing the offence, and was previously a "man of good character".
from here. Not a particularly good one, I would have thought, and my only current interest in it is that I've seen it offered in 2 different places in the space of 2 days, with reference to similar crimes.

Why Pushing Right is Harder than Pushing Left (from Andrew Wilson)

A fine message from Andrew Wilson for theological educators and Bible teachers who love to try out new ideas (the whole lot is his not mine.):

Why Pushing Right is Harder than Pushing Left: Why Pushing Right is Harder than Pushing Left primary image
Theologically speaking, pushing right is much harder than pushing left. I do both, depending on the context, and pushing right is definitely more difficult. When I'm trying to nudge people to their left on an issue - trying to persuade five point Calvinists to become four pointers or less, commending pacifism, defending theistic evolution, or championing charismatic gifts for today - I feel radical, creative, daring, exciting, and somewhat impish. But when I'm trying to nudge people to their right about something - inerrancy, hell, gender roles, sexual ethics, biblical authority, Reformed soteriology - I feel conservative, stern, unpopular, staid, and even somewhat apologetic. It's a very nebulous contrast, and I'd forgive you for wondering what on earth I was talking about, but at the same time I suspect there may be others out there who have felt the same thing. But why?
It’s true institutionally, and not just personally. When, forty years ago, churches like the one I belong to started to emerge, they were pushing left with gusto, and they were loving it. Lifeless hymn sandwiches? Let’s get some experience of God in our meetings! Legalistic lists of things we can and can’t do in church? We’re under grace now! Tradition? Yah, boo, sucks! (Or words to that effect.) And despite all the mockery and all the marginalisation they experienced, there was a sense of being part of something fresh, and revolutionary, which made it all worthwhile, and brought whoops of delight from the church (“we may be ridiculed for being happy clappy - but we’d rather be happy clappy than humpy grumpy!”)


These days, though, the boot is often on the other foot. The things that make me, and my church, the subject of ridicule now are not areas in which I’m pushing left, but areas in which I’m pushing right. The things I believe are the same as the things my Dad believed a generation ago, but the church landscape has changed, making me a reactionary rather than a revolutionary. Charismatic gifts are mainstream (at least in the UK); people across the spectrum fall over themselves to talk about how grace-filled they are; churches which preserve tradition at the expense of experience are dying slowly. So the things that make me and my church stand out are now the areas where we’re conservative: a high view of the gathered church, biblical authority, an orthodox view of hell, Reformed soteriology, complementarianism, and things like that. And for some reason, pushing right on these things doesn’t feel anything like as exhilarating as pushing left on the other things. It doesn’t draw the same whoops from the crowd, nor the same admiration for being courageous. (In fact, when I get called courageous at all, it’s usually for pushing left on something that most people approve of, even though this requires much less real courage than pushing right. It may just be me, but I think it requires far more bravery to say the things Al Mohler says than the things Brian McLaren says, even though the latter is far more likely to be admired for his courage.)


So I was wondering: why is that? I recognise sin in my own heart in this area; the temptation is to push left on something for the sake of it, just to feel creative and new and quirky and impish again, even if the real need is for someone to stand up and hold a line. But why does the spectrum work that way (if it does)? What factors make going left cooler than going right? Why is there so much more swagger in those who push left (“well, if I was going to be very controversial, ooh-er, I’d cheekily ask whether the Bible actually does mean that, as dangerous as it is to say so!”), even when it is normally far less dangerous to ask the question than to answer by reaffirming what the church has always said about something? Why does that generally hold true, even down to the comments on this very blog?


My guess is that there are at least three factors at work. The first is to do with the youth-centred spirit of the age, in which freshness is more fashionable than faithfulness, innovating inspires people more than imitating, technology trumps tradition, and novelty is confused with creativity. Many still think that the Dylanesque call to change everything your parents stood for is iconoclastic, without noticing that true iconoclasm is to be found when people challenge the deepest convictions of a culture, and (say) teach that children should obey their parents rather than tell them to move over because they don’t understand the world no more. When you add to that the modernist metanarrative of progress (which is not completely dead yet), and the wider social obsession with the possibilities brought by technology, it is easy to see why the view could creep into the church that changing things was Good and conserving things was Bad.


The second is equally obvious, in some ways, but it is worth saying anyway: contemporary secular culture is well to the left of the Bible on most things it teaches. Non-Christian Britain thinks the Scriptures are backward on all sorts of topics, including judgment, evolution, tradition, war, marriage, slavery, sexual ethics, holiness, gender roles, and the idea of teaching doctrine in the first place. So when we move to the left, we are almost without exception moving closer to what the culture around us thinks, and that makes the process much more comfortable for us. (I’m not saying, of course, that moving to the left is thereby wrong, merely that it is easy - and therefore that, if I know my own heart, the temptation to distort the Bible to get there is likely to be more acute.) Moving to the right, on the other hand, makes us more likely to be ridiculed by The Independent, Stephen Fry, the writers of sitcoms, our social network, and all the other cool-ade people we desperately want to like us. It shouldn’t, but that does make it harder.


The third factor, related to this, is that the victims of excessive rightishness are much easier to identify, and to feel sorry for, the victims of excessive leftishness. An anti-war protest is much easier to recruit for than a pro-war protest. It’s easy to make movies, or posters, about the victims of slavery and domestic abuse; not so much about the victims of abortion, since they don’t live long enough to be given names. When a couple splits up through unfaithfulness, causing massive pain to their children, the individualistic, morally leftish values that made it possible are not personified, and nobody blames the newspapers, TV shows or movies that make short-term romantic fulfilment life’s ultimate purpose. Being ostracised for challenging church dogma makes a great story, but being gradually dulled to the wonders of God because the gospel is not being preached clearly does not. Suffering under authoritarian leadership results in a narrative with clear goodies and baddies, replete with emotive terms like “spiritual abuse” and “cultish leadership”; the thousands who go nowhere under directionless leaders, with churches being endlessly hijacked by oddballs and dominated by the loudest voice there, have far less grotesque villains and do not lend themselves so compellingly to Oprah. In the modern world, if you’re going to make a public argument, you need a victim and a villain. And leftish victims and villains are just that bit more identifiable than rightish ones.


So there’s three reasons why I think pushing right is harder than pushing left. Practically, my guess is there’s some implications we should draw from that, affecting the way we lead, teach, and (yes) blog. But I’m done for now. I’d love to hear your thoughts.