Sunday, September 24, 2017

The Cure for the Jailhouse Blues

In this Sunday's reading from Philippians 1:21-30 Paul weighs the value of his life and work against his desire to be with Jesus after death. Without the background of verses 1-20, most pewsitters will not be aware of the context of Paul's circumstances. Matthew Henry in his Commentaries puts it this way,
  "We see here the care the apostle takes to prevent their being offended at his sufferings. He was now a prisoner at Rome; this might be a stumbling-block to those who had received the gospel by his ministry. They might be tempted to think, If this doctrine were indeed of God, God would not suffer one who was so active and instrumental in preaching and propagating it to be thrown by as a despised broken vessel. They might be shy of owning this doctrine, lest they should be involved in the same trouble themselves. Now to take off the offence of the cross, he expounds this dark and hard chapter of his sufferings, and makes it very easy and intelligible, and reconcilable to the wisdom and goodness of God who employed him."
With that in mind, we can see why Paul is contemplating his death,

"For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me; and I do not know which I prefer. I am hard pressed between the two: my desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better; but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you. Since I am convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with all of you for your progress and joy in faith, so that I may share abundantly in your boasting in Christ Jesus when I come to you again." 
"Only, live your life in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that, whether I come and see you or am absent and hear about you, I will know that you are standing firm in one spirit, striving side by side with one mind for the faith of the gospel, and are in no way intimidated by your opponents. For them this is evidence of their destruction, but of your salvation. And this is God’s doing. For he has graciously granted you the privilege not only of believing in Christ, but of suffering for him as well— since you are having the same struggle that you saw I had and now hear that I still have."

The cure for the jailhouse blues, even maybe the death row blues may be just this, to stay alive for Christ and for others for the labour is never done.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Broken Communion Blame Game

Centuries after The Reformation, Catholics and Protestants still cannot agree on who is to blame and there is no shared communion between them.

Today, we are witness to the breakup of the Anglican Communion and get to watch as each side blames the other.

In the past it used to be said that one side of a disagreement must be right, one must be wrong, or both must be wrong, but today we "know" that both sides can be right (sarcasm).

Archbishop Peter Jensen is on my side of right or wrong and he tries to answer those who blame his side for the deepening divide in the Anglican Communion in the following statement (found here),

"The suggestion that Gafcon is a divisive movement, and in particular aimed at breaking up the Anglican Communion, is one I hear from time to time.
It’s heartbreaking to hear it because it is untrue and it is an indication of the power of gossip. 
I never tire of telling the story of the meeting of Primates at the end of the Jerusalem Conference 2008.  I was asked by the chairman to become the secretary to the movement.
Before answering, I asked the Primates, ‘Is it the aim of Gafcon to break away from the Anglican Communion? Are we setting up and new Communion?’
The reply was an instant, unanimous and resounding ‘No!’  Just as well, as I would not have had any further role in Gafcon had the answer been anything else. 
We are committed to the Anglican Communion, we are committed to its spiritual vitality, to its commitment to the word of God and the preaching of the gospel and the sheer goodness of our fellowship in the Lord. 
It is for that very reason, however, that we have taken the steps, scripturally mandated, to call those who have separated themselves from us by false teaching back to repentance and back into fellowship with us. 
The problem is that fellowship is catching. You can catch goodness from fellowship – a good model of holiness, a shared concern, the deep prayers for each other, material help. But we can also catch spiritual diseases from each other – pride, idolatry, false teaching, for example. Fellowship is powerful. 
When we knowingly have fellowship with those whose teaching endangers the gospel itself, we are in danger of catching the same disease and at the least endorsing it and putting others at risk. 
They may choose to move away from us, but our task is to call them to repentance and to renewed fellowship in the truth of God’s Word. 
To label this ‘divisive’, bearing in mind that it is a response to a deeply divisive prior action, is tragically misleading. Gafcon’s motivation is not to divide or to ‘grab power’, but to help ensure that the Church is preaching the truth for the sake of souls. 
Be assured: Gafcon is not divisive. It stands for the renewal of our Communion according to the word of God and for the glory of Christ." 

Sure sounds like Reformation language to me, and which side of that divide would you have gone with?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Consequences of "Unforgiveness"

This Sunday's Gospel reading from Matthew 18:21-35 is about forgiveness and the consequences of unforgiveness.
"Then Peter came and said to him, ‘Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?’ Jesus said to him, ‘Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven (some texts have 70 x 7) times. ‘For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, one who owed him ten thousand talents* was brought to him; and, as he could not pay, his lord ordered him to be sold, together with his wife and children and all his possessions, and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you everything.” And out of pity for him, the lord of that slave released him and forgave him the debt. But that same slave, as he went out, came upon one of his fellow-slaves who owed him a hundred denarii; and seizing him by the throat, he said, “Pay what you owe.” Then his fellow-slave fell down and pleaded with him, “Have patience with me, and I will pay you.” But he refused; then he went and threw him into prison until he should pay the debt. When his fellow-slaves saw what had happened, they were greatly distressed, and they went and reported to their lord all that had taken place. Then his lord summoned him and said to him, “You wicked slave! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. Should you not have had mercy on your fellow-slave, as I had mercy on you?” And in anger his lord handed him over to be tortured until he should pay his entire debt. So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’"

I wonder what most pewsitters heard during the sermon today? It is probably a great temptation to preach about forgiveness and to skip talking about the consequences of unforgiveness, but the consequences are too terrible to ignore. Without a doubt we should all be handed over to be tortured for all are guilty of the sin of unforgiveness.

Thankfully God is forgiving way beyond the seventy times seven limit mentioned in today's Gospel selection because our sins are far more numerous. God is so forgiving that He was willing to die upon the cross for the innumerable sins of the whole world.

The Bible has a lot to say about forgiveness, but very little to say about unforgiveness unless you consider O.T. tales of vengence as being about unforgiveness.

Earlier, in Matthew 12:31-32 we learn of the one thing God will not forgive,
"Therefore I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven people, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come."
More dreadful consequences.

 So when I hear someone say that we have a forgiving God, I have to agree with them but with one caveat, Matthew 12:31-32.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

On Fellowship With Followers of a Different Gospel

The recent rebuke of the Archbishop of Canterbury by the Archbishop of Nigeria about the upcoming Canterbury Primates Meeting highlights the problem of fellowship with people who consider themselves Christians but who follow a different gospel than the one that has been passed down to us through the centuries. ++Nigeria is not going to attend the meeting while some (not all) other Global South Primates are planning on going. While most of us can recognize a broken relationship when we see one, and most of us can recognize irreconcilable differences, what duty do we have once we have fulfilled the requirements laid out in Matthew 18? Do our responsibilities change based on whether we are dealing with a fellow pewsitter as opposed to an archbishop, bishop, or priest of the Church, or if we are dealing with potentially heretical teaching?

Some people suggest that leaders in the Church can maintain communion with other leaders as long as their differences do not touch upon Creedal matters. Others advise that false teaching such as today's revisions to human sexuality is every bit as important. Sexual issues were not addressed by the ancient creeds because they didn't need to be addressed, and to limit excommunication to just those who deny the creedal statements lets non-scriptural novelties such as same-sex marriage creep in, and that presents a danger to the Church just like the ancient heresies were a danger.

I think distinctions should be made between the excommunication of lowly pewsitters and the breaking of communion between Archbishops, bishops. dioceses, or denominations.

It is rare for an Episcopalian pewsitter to be excommunicated. I am aware of only two cases in recent history, Lewis Green for giving his priest the finger at the communion rail and Beverly Moore for pointing out a sexual predator in the church (see this post from 2009).

It would seem to me that promoting a false gospel would be a far greater sin than Mr. Green's or Ms. Moore's.

So why are the leaders of the church so hesitant to break communion over the issue of same-sex marriage?

Besides being wimps, I think they are over thinking things. So, I would like to help them by giving them some straight from the pew answers.

  • What is fellowship? Christian fellowship occurs when we agree on the message of the Gospel, it ends when we disagree. 
  • Are there limits on fellowship? Yes, see next Q+A.
  • How much can we associate with those who promote a false gospel? Only as much as we would with anyone else who needs to hear the Gospel. That means we can invite them to dinner or dine with them and work with them to correct their error. That does not mean that we should support their ministry.
  • Can we share Holy Communion? Only after we have resolved the basic Gospel issue, and it cannot be argued away as a non-Gospel issue, because that argument has never, never, worked. Until then, any Eucharist that is shared is a "Fauxcharist". 
  • How were the churches that lost in the great Creedal controversies over false teaching treated? They probably persisted for some time, but for the most part, they have gone the way that the Episcopal organization, the Anglican church in Canada, the Church of England, and the Scottish Episcopal church are going. Does anyone really want to walk with them into obscurity?
  • Isn't it a sin to be party to disunity in the Church? I defer my answer to ++Okoh,
  • "A unity that includes those who persist in rebelling against God’s Word is a false unity." - The Most Rev’d Nicholas D. Okoh, Archbishop, Metropolitan and Primate of All Nigeria and Chairman, the GAFCON Primates Council  
There is a third possibility as to why many Church leaders won't break communion, and that is because they are privately in favor of same-sex marriage and other innovations being advanced in the Church.

And that is a scary thought.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

There Will Be Irreconcilable Differences

Jesus never said it was going to be easy, as this Sunday's reading from Matthew 18:15-20 demonstrates,

"If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them."
Conflict between members of the church is predicted by the Lord, and Jesus sets out a seemingly simple process through which to address conflict due to sin.

In researching these verses, I have found that people really do make things more complicated than Jesus intended. When they try to apply these principles to public disagreements or to dealing with secular, non-Christian folks and issues, all kinds of problems ensue.
"The New Testament is a plain book designed for plain people. The gospel is to be preached to the poor and simple who are as capable of receiving it as the wise, and in some sense more so."
--John Newton, Letters of John Newton (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1869/2007), 202.
What constitutes a sin against a plain individual? These days one could claim that anything that offends another person is a sin. Look no further than the way people are pilloried in public on Twitter or Facebook for committing the sin of expressing their opinions when those opinions offend the zeitgeist.

This hyper-offendedness is present everywhere. If you think about it, there is no way we can even get through coffee hour without offending someone. Maybe we neglected to greet them, perhaps we glanced at our watch while they were speaking, or maybe we didn't scarf up the cheese puffs that they had brought as a snack. These don't seem like much, but they can cause resentment in sensitive individuals, and some people take offense at anything. What are we to do when the uber-sensitive  don't accept our apology? I once read a book that examined the many different ways people expect to hear an apology. If someone doesn't hear the words of apology said the way they prefer, guess what, you have caused more offense.

I think Jesus was talking about much more serious sins than just our hurt feelings. Things like stealing, bearing false witness, adultery, and others, you know, the real game breakers in a church.

This is why treating false teachers is dealt with in such a different manner in the Bible.

Certain disagreements in church practice are not handled in a calm, polite, systematic Matthew 18 manner. Remember how Paul took down Peter,

Now when Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed; for before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews?” (Galatians 2:11-14)

You cannot be reconciled with a false teacher until they repent. Peter needed to be confronted.

Nobody ever accused Paul of being reserved, and I suspect the way he settled a dispute would be considered offensive by today's church leaders like the Archbishop of Canterbury who considers reconciliation to be his strength.

So there will be conflict, but the way of conflict resolution can be more complicated than it should because while it takes two to tango, it takes two or more to untangle, and with humans involved there will be times when you just can't reconcile differences, and that is the time to treat the irreconcilable as someone who is unconverted, like a first century Gentile, in need of the healing power of Jesus.

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

On the Situation in South Carolina

As we in South Carolina keep one eye on the projected path of Hurricane Irma, the other eye is on the continuing legal battle between The Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina (ACNA) and the Episcopal Diocese in South Carolina (TEc). The best account of this debacle can be found at the blog of Allan Haley, the Anglican Curmudgeon (link on the right-hand column), who I count as a friend and fellow sojourner on the road out of the mud swamp that is the Episcopal organization.

It took the South Carolina Supreme Court almost two years to come to a decision on the first lawsuit between "The Protestant Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina, et al." and "The Episcopal Church, et al." A 3-2 ruling went against the ACNA diocese meaning that they may have to turn over their church buildings to the TEc diocese, a small group which cannot fill or maintain most of these structures. Appeals to the court are already winding their way through the legal system which probably means more years of litigation.

Any ruling that takes two years for a court to formulate has to be suspect, and our Anglican Curmudgeon has all the details here and here. First, one judge is a party to the case. Justice Hearn is a member of TEc and the Episcopal Diocese in South Carolina. She should have recused herself but did not, and her bias is documented in Allan's posts.

Second, the majority could not agree as to how they came to their conclusion (Allan's second post).

In conversations with clergy and pewsitters in the ACNA diocese it is clear that they are uncomfortable with the situation and some are losing sleep over the matter. I am glad to report that they are keeping God in the forefront, praying together, and fasting, while their legal team tries to right the injustice done by the South Carolina Supreme Court.

As an outside observer who has always believed that the Episcopal organization should let God's people go, I pray that God will right the wrong, but I know that his answer to my prayer may not come in the form that I expect.

If my friends lose their buildings, I am confident that the new churches they build will be vibrant hatcheries for new disciples of Christ, whereas I cannot express the same confidence in the evangelistic abilities of TEc or its followers if they wind up with the old, empty church buildings.

You cannot evangelize a false gospel. Nobody needs what TEc is peddling.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

The Maxims and Proverbs of Paul

This Sunday's reading from Romans 12:9-21 has Paul giving some maxims to the Roman church some of which take the form of proverbs. I will format them so you might note the similarities.


  • Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good;  
  • love one another with mutual affection; 
  • outdo one another in showing honour.  
  • Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord.  
  • Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.  
  • Contribute to the needs of the saints;  
  • extend hospitality to strangers. 
  • Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.  
  • Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.  
  • Live in harmony with one another;  
  • do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly;  
  • do not claim to be wiser than you are.  
  • Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  
  • If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  
  • Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’  
  • No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.’  
  • Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
May the blessings of the Lord be upon Presiding Bishop Michael Curry.