Tuesday, 28 October 2014

No Surprise Here

From the Independent today:      

Two per cent of Anglican priests don't believe in God

“As a prerequisite for the job of being a Church of England priest, it would seem not unreasonable to expect a belief in God to be fairly essential.
But this is not the case, according to a poll of Anglican clergy which found that as many as 16 per cent are unclear about God and two per cent think it is no more than a human construct.

It is 30 years since David Jenkins, then the Bishop of Durham, caused controversy by casting doubt on the resurrection, but it appears that such unorthodox views are widespread amongst Britain’s priests.

In addition to those who describe God as a human creation, the YouGov poll found that three per cent believe there is some sort of spirit or life force and 9 per cent argue it is impossible to imagine what God is like.

Clergy were significantly more likely to hold unorthodox beliefs the older they were and the longer they had been in the ministry. Nearly 90 per cent of those ordained since 2011 believe in God compared with only 72 per cent of those who became priests in the 1960s, the research discovered.

The General Synod, the Church’s parliament, rejected moves to introduce “heresy trials” to take action against clergy over “doctrinal, ritual and ceremonial” matters, leaving clergy and bishops relatively free to deviate from doctrine without punishment.”  

Some, of course, see the glass as half full – one Anglican website commenting on the survey proudly announces “Anglican clergy are united by their strong belief in a “personal God” (83%) rather than in more impersonal understandings of God – like “spirit or life force.”.  Strong belief?

So, if you attend a random Anglican church on any given Sunday rejoice in the fact that there is an 83% chance that the pastor might believe in God.  

Not that atheism has been a barrier to progress and promotion in the Anglican or Scottish Episcopalian Church.  Richard Holloway rose to become a bishop and primus in the Scottish Episcopal Church, despite having jettisoned belief in a personal God in the early years of his “ministry”.  Read the fascinating interview with Holloway in the Scotsman.

The survey actually showed a higher level of atheism in Scottish Episcopalian clergy, at 3%.  Presbyterians were not surveyed, but canny Scottish liberals have a way of not saying what they don’t want people to know. Personally, I am suspicious that a number of Kirk ministers are already fuzzy on this issue and could not honestly and unequivocally affirm belief in a personal God.

Maintaining Unity

Our Kirk Session had a difficult decision to make recently. We have four elders and we had in effect three different views on the issue, each conscientiously held on biblical principles.

Our discussion was eirenic, harmonious, and open. We looked at pros and cons, and considered safeguards and protections. How could we biblically accommodate our different views in a manner that would preserve the peace and harmony of the congregation?

It so happens that in the providence of God I had been looking at Ephesians 4:1-3 and also listening to some excellent sermons on this portion of Scripture.  As Paul moves from exposition of doctrine to exhortation regarding behaviour what is his first focus?  

His priority is the unity of the local church! He is writing to a single church in Ephesus and his concern is not merely unity within the wider church, (“denomination” or “presbytery” in today’s terms), but the need for this specific church at this particular time to experience and express true unity.

We can be sure that if this is a primary focus in apostolic instruction, it is equally a primary focus in satanic opposition.  A disunited local church is an ineffective local church. The devil delights in disunity in the church and he will do all he can to foment such disunity whenever he can, over whatever he can and through whomever he can use.  The issues may be as trivial as the colour scheme to be used in redecoration, or as vital as fundamental matters of doctrine or morality.

What does Ephesians 4:1-3 say to this situation?

It speaks of the priority of unity in the local church.

It speaks of the nature of unity in the local church – unity of the Spirit in the bonds of peace, a Spirit wrought unity in a prevailing atmosphere of peace.

It speaks of the practical basis of unity in the conversion, (“calling”) and the consecration, (“walking worthy of the Lord”), of individual members of the church.

It speaks of the maintenance and development of this unity through the development of three traits of character, (meekness, gentleness, patience), and two tests of conduct, (forbearance with those from whom we differ, and the eager preservation of the Spirit wrought unity that already exists.)

Nothing could be more practical than the advice that Paul gives.  The preservation of unity in the local church begins with a Christ like attitude, sacrificial conduct, and a commitment to work strenuously to preserve what the Spirit has already established.

“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Monday, 27 October 2014

Multi Faith Infiltration

Looking for material that might be useful for our high school’s Remembrance Day event, I happened to chance upon materials published by the Church of Scotland’s Mission and Discipleship Council, designed originally for events remembering the start of World War One in August 1914. 

It makes interesting reading.  What resources does the national church believe would be useful in a Christian service?  There are the usual Bible readings, poems, prayers and sermon outlines. However, in addition there is an eclectic collection of inter-faith materials which the Council believe ministers may wish to read during the vigil.

They contain such beauties as:
“Viswa Kalyaana mantra (A mantra for the good of the entire universe)
Asato maa sad gamaya
Tamaso maa jyotir gamaya
Mrutyor maa amrutam gamaya
Om shantih shantih shantihi

May we go from the unreal to the Real; from darkness (of ignorance) to the Light (of knowledge); from Death (the sense of limitation) to Immortality (limitlessness, liberation). Om
Peace, Peace, Peace!”

Not to be outdone, in addition to the four pantheistic mantras, Sikhism  is also represented by a speech for the 11th November containing these words of affirmation:

“The Sikh faith is a distinct religion revealed through the teachings of the ten Gurus, the first of whom was Guru Nanak Dev Ji. He was born in 1469 CE in the Punjab, India. Guru in the Sikh faith means a Prophet a special messenger sent by God to help humanity. One who takes mortals from darkness to the Divine light.

The Gurus were the Divine Light who conveyed Gurbani (Word of God) and were all spiritually one. The tenth and the last human Guru, Guru Gobind Singh Ji, in 1708 vested spiritual authority in the Guru Granth Sahib Ji (the Holy Sikh Scriptures) and temporal authority in the Khalsa Panth (the community of baptised Sikhs)”

Good to know that the Guru can take us from Darkness to Divine Light and that the Word of God has been so effectively conveyed through the ten Sikh Gurus – I mistakenly thought that it was the Lord Jesus Christ who was the Light of the World, the only Mediator between God and man and the Word incarnate.

But we mustn’t forget our Muslim friends, for the following prayer is provided for use in the service:

‘O Allah, to You belongs all praise
You are the Light of the heavens and Earth and all that is within them.
To You belongs all praise,
You are the Creator and Sustainer of the heavens and Earth and all that is within them.
To You belongs all praise.
You are Lord of the heavens and the Earth and all that is within them.
To You belongs all praise
You are The Truth, Your promise is true, your Word is true, and the Day on which we will encounter You is true,
The Messenger and the believers with him, believe in what has been bestowed upon him from on high by his Sustainer…”

The “Messenger” of course is a reference to Mohammed and what has been bestowed upon him is a reference to the Quran (Koran).

Indeed, things become even more curious when a Nepalese mantra is included in Devanagari script with transliteration but no translation!

However, just to protect their backs the document ends with the disclaimer, “The views expressed in these materials are those of the individual writer and not necessarily the official view of the Church of Scotland, which can be laid down only by the General Assembly.”

I must have missed the chorus of complaints from the in-it-to-win-it evangelicals remaining within the denomination.  I know of no official protest from any Church of Scotland minister, Kirk Session, or Presbytery that their church is producing such multi-faith materials or that evangelical givings are being used to subsidise sub-evangelical propaganda. Perhaps their philosophy is that to “win it” it is best to keep silent when biblical truth regarding the exclusivity of Christ and salvation in him alone is undermined.

Monday, 6 October 2014

500th Anniversary of John Knox

My former denomination, the OPC, has a double celebration of the 500 year anniversary of the birth of the Scottish reformer, John Knox. Both the denominational magazine, New Horizons, and the ministerial magazine, Ordained Servant, have special issues focussing on Knox.   (Find both at http://opc.org  ) Of particular interest are the articles “John Knox and Public Prayer” by Glen J. Clary and “John Knox and the Reformation of Worship” by Gregory E. Reynolds.  Sadly, the liturgical riches of Knox and the Scottish Reformation have been all but lost among evangelical Presbyterians in Scotland.
The Death of Knox, from Thomas McRie’s “Life of John Knox”
Monday, the 24th of November, was the last day that he spent on earth. That morning he could not be persuaded to lie in bed, but, though unable to stand alone, rose between nine and ten o'clock, and put on his stockings and doublet. Being conducted to a chair, he sat about half an hour, and then was put to bed again. In the progress of the day, it appeared evident that his end drew near. Besides his wife and Bannatyne, Campbell of Kinyeancleuch, Johnston of Elphingston, and Dr. Preston, three of his most intimate acquaintance, sat by turns at his bedside. Kinyeancleuch asked him if he had any pain. "It is no painful pain, but such a pain as shall soon, I trust, put end to the battle. I must leave the care of my wife and children to you," continued he, "to whom you must be a husband in my room." About three o'clock in the afternoon, one of his eyes failed, and his speech was considerably affected. He desired his wife to read the fifteenth chapter of the first epistle to the Corinthians. “Is not that a comfortable chapter ?" said he, when it was finished. "What sweet and salutary consolation the Lord has afforded me from that chapter !" A little after he said, "Now, for the last time, I commend my soul, spirit, and body (touching three of his fingers), into thy hand, Lord." About five o'clock, he said to his wife, " Go, read where I cast my first anchor ;" upon which she read the seventeenth chapter of John's Gospel, and afterwards a part of Calvin's sermons on the Ephesians.
After this he appeared to fall into a slumber, interrupted by heavy moans, during which the attendants looked every moment for his dissolution. But at length he awaked, as if from sleep, and being asked the cause of his sighing so deeply, replied, — "I have formerly, during my frail life, sustained many contests, and many assaults of Satan ; but at present he hath assailed me most fearfully, and put forth all his strength to devour, and make an end of me at once. Often before has he placed my sins before my eyes, often tempted me to despair, often endeavoured to ensnare me by the allurements of the world ; but these weapons were broken by the sword of the Spirit, the word of God, and the enemy failed. Now he has attacked me in another way : the cunning serpent has laboured to persuade me that I have merited heaven and eternal blessedness by the faithful discharge of my ministry. But blessed be God, who has enabled me to beat down and quench this fiery dart, by suggesting to me such passages of Scripture as these: — “What hast thou that thou hast not received ? — By the grace of God I am what I am : — Not I, but the grace of God in me.' Upon this, as one vanquished, he left me. Wherefore I give thanks to my God through Jesus Christ, who has been pleased to give me the victory; and I am persuaded that the tempter shall not again attack me, but, within a short time, I shall, without any great pain of body or anguish of mind, exchange this mortal and miserable life for a blessed immortality through Jesus Christ."

He then lay quiet for some hours, except that now and then he desired them to wet his mouth with a little weak ale. At ten o'clock, they read the evening prayer, which they had delayed beyond the usual lour, from an apprehension that he was asleep. After this exercise was concluded, Dr. Preston asked him if he had heard the prayers. "Would to God," said he, "that you and all men had heard them as I have heard them; I praise God for that heavenly sound." The doctor rose up, and Kinyeancleugh sat down before his bed. About eleven o'clock, he gave a deep sigh, and said, "Now it is come." Bannatyne immediately drew near, and desired him to think upon those comfortable promises of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which he had so often declared to others ; and, perceiving that he was speechless, requested him to give them a sign that he heard them, and died in peace. Upon this he lifted up one of his hands, and, sighing twice, expired without a struggle.”
Would that Scotland were again blessed with men of Knox's faith.