Monday, 19 June 2017

Church for beginners?

In her book "The Word on the Wind" Alison Morgan makes reference to a young woman Sharon who was a respondent to a survey about faith. She tried going to church to find out about Christianity but came out more mystified than she went in. She said:

"I think they ought to do like a church for beginners really, because if you're not used to going, because they always have communion here. [She goes on to explain how she was encouraged to go forward for communion]. It was a really awkward situation, do you know what I mean? And he was giving us the sip of the wine, and the um, and he beckoned us to bring the children up as well, and they give you, whatever it is they give you to eat. Is it rice paper?"

Alison quotes the Church of England's report Mission-Shaped Church:

"The reality is that for most people across England the Church as it is is peripheral, obscure, confusing or irrelevant."

Another respondent Matthew who was also seeking said of people who go to church:

"I think they get a lot out [of it]; this is probably envy in me, but why don't they invent one that I can go to?"
The Word on the Wind page 104-105

Is it time to consider changing our weekly service pattern (again) to one where we either have a 'seeker' service once a month (not communion) or a non-communion service every other week? If the above survey is anything to go by there are people seeking God but are put off by a church that is for the 'found' not the ones who are lost.

Friday, 16 June 2017

And I thought we lived in a free country?

I wonder what people mean when they use the word 'tolerant'? I thought it meant being able to live with people who hold differing opinions to yourself in the freedom of what is meant to be a democratic country? I thought it meant - in the words of Voltaire - being able to say:

"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it".
And I thought the Liberal Democrats represented that view. But clearly, they don't. Here is a short article from Christian Today which underlines what an intolerant society we now live in:

David Alton, a crossbench peer and former Liberal Democrat MP, is warning his party has become 'narrow and intolerant' after Tim Farron resigned claiming it was 'impossible' to be a 'faithful Christian' and political leader.

In a damning indictment Lord Alton, an outspoken Catholic and former chief whip of the now-defunct Liberal Party, said the Lib Dems have become a 'sect'.

He wrote on Facebook: 'In turning themselves into a secular version of the Exclusive Brethren they become a sect rather than a broad-based political party. And they should reflect that millions of British people share his Christian beliefs.'

He added: 'It is ironic that a Party, which I joined as a teenager, because of its belief in conscience, human rights and free speech, has morphed into something so narrow and intolerant that, in resigning, its leader says "we are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society" and has been forced to choose between his Faith and his Party.'

David Alton was formerly an MP for 18 years before becoming a cross-bench independent peer in the House of Lords

Tim Farron resigned on Wednesday night saying he felt 'torn between living as a faithful Christian and serving as a political leader'.

He told party activists: 'To be a political leader - especially of a progressive, liberal party in 2017 - and to live as a committed Christian, to hold faithfully to the Bible's teaching, has felt impossible for me.

'I'm a liberal to my fingertips, and that liberalism means that I am passionate about defending the rights and liberties of people who believe different things to me.'

He said he had been the 'subject of suspicion because of what I believe and who my faith is in', adding: 'We are kidding ourselves if we think we yet live in a tolerant, liberal society.'

His statement drew praise and concern from a number of church leaders including the Archbishop of Canterbury and raised questions over whether a socially conservative Christian will ever lead a political party again.

Lord Alton finished his rebuke by saying: 'This same narrow intolerance characteristic of the commentariat and the political elites has also fed into the creation of the less tolerant and unreasonable world in which we live.

'Tim Farron should never have been forced to make this choice but has made the right call and should be admired for doing so.'

Tuesday, 13 June 2017

The other side in the gay marriage debate

 "The pain for those who are both gay and celibate, when a church changes its doctrine on marriage".
As the media and public opinion throw their weight behind the gay marriage debate and the voice of Christians who oppose this are being drowned out, and in some cases frankly denied, the following article by David Bennett is worthly (calmly) reading:

David Bennett 13 June 2017 | 2:25 PM (see Christian Today website:
https://www.christiantoday.com/

The Scottish Episcopalian Church was brave to apologise to LGBT people for the prejudices and horrors of the past weeks and yet no one has asked the question of why saying sorry for the past has anything to do with playing God's role in the present by redefining marriage.

Instead, the Scottish Episcopal Church, among many others, has trampled on celibate LGB people with the decision to depart from God's own teaching in scripture. Next year, when I move to Scotland to study, I may not be able to attend a Scottish Episcopalian Church. The question of whether I can continue to attend in line with the Anglican church I attend in the south of England hangs over my head.

A certain comment from the recent synod flagged this for me. 'Gay people can now be married in God's eyes.' Such a view highlighted the danger we first witnessed in humanity's parents. This danger is making God in our own image by eating from a kind of knowledge and role that God has. We are redefining things that God has already defined for the Church. We hear that voice whisper 'Did God REALLY say [that he made them male and female for marriage]?'

When quoting directly from the creation narrative in Genesis, Jesus does so by rendering what appears in the Hebrew as God's voice, straight from the Creator's own 'mouth'. In Matthew 19:4, 'Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning made them male and female and said, for this reason a man shall leave his father.' When one decides who and what God's image is in contradiction to what he has said, one puts themselves in the place of God. When the Church exalts herself above God, she breaks covenant with God.

As a former agnostic gay rights activist involved in campaigns for gay marriage, I thought the Christian God was the justification of homophobes and a moral monster. He was a weapon in the hands of conservatives who deprived LGBTQI people of their rights. A God of such objectionable character, who wrathfully rejected homosexual people and yet 'made them that way' was beyond the pale of existence. It wasn't until I experienced God's love in a pub in 2009 that my life was turned entirely upside down. I discovered that what I thought at that time, in fact couldn't be further from the truth. God's incredible love for all people, beyond any label, is the reality that must be stressed above all, shown most principally in the giving of Himself on a cross to save us from our own self-made destruction.

The journey from agnosticism to Christian faith was what pushed me, among other obvious reasons, for gay marriage rights. I wanted to marry my partner in the holiness of Christian marriage. However, as I mined the depths of scripture, and came to know Jesus Christ more profoundly, deep doubts about the revisionist theology I had adopted to quickly started to emerge.

Why would this God of love make us male and female to the exclusion of other realities? What was the effect of our fall from relationship with God in these bodies and our sexuality? From these discussion, I discovered I wasn't created this way but like all human beings, I was born as a beautiful but broken creation.

As I discovered who God was in worship, I came to realise that marriage was not for just the sake of procreation or to exclude homosexual people from marriage as I often heard from conservative Christians. Rather, marriage between one man and one woman was designed as one way that our Earthly lives can reflect our deepest unity with God in Christ. The creation of physical sexes was to allow us to enjoy an allegory of this greater hope, not to exclude LGBT people. To enshrine gay marriage in the Church as the Scottish Episcopal Church has done is to erase the unique humanity of the sexes, and to 'exchange the image of the Creator' expressed in the designation of male and female sexes for another image. This is a false reformation, an anathema, equivalent to those who taught the Law had to be added to salvation.

And yet part of the issue lies in the Reformation, and that it did not go far enough. When Martin Luther reformed the church, he threw celibacy out as the pendulum swung one way against the corruptions of Catholicism at the time. He made celibacy into a 'lofty asceticism', and marriage, the godly ideal of the average Christian. This has done damage ever since, especially to those like myself who want to follow Christ with our homosexuality. Celibacy is now seen as some cruel deprivation of a human right, and absolute necessity for human flourish. Scripture teaches the exact opposite.

What I see in this recent decision by the Scottish Episcopalian Church is not just a decision on a societal issue, but a complete misunderstanding of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel is built on the good news that your worth or value is not dependent on marrying; our worth and value and acceptance are based in Christ and in our identity as children of God.

As a gay celibate man, who has given my whole self to God, and He, His Son, I am not interested in self-justifying theology – I am interested in the truth of the unchanging, holy God, our Father in Heaven. By standing against His image in creation in such a decision also disenfranchises one group of LGBTQI people, gay Christian celibate people like myself. We are already a minority within a minority, with the loud voices of the romantic sectarianism, which will continue to insist that we need romantic love to be whole. We are often treated with contempt, spat at and treated with contempt by many in secular society. Now we will have to enter churches in the future where our deep sacrifice for Christ is dismissed as a joke.

My heart mourns for the church of Jesus Christ who is forgetting the everlasting wisdom repeated by God since humanity fell: 'Flee Idols, and worship me alone.' Anything less is not worth the deathly dividend. If the whole church was living in the costly sacrifice of normal Christian discipleship, homosexuality and celibacy would not be an issue in the slightest.

The decision to legalise gay marriage reflects our cultures inability to see nuance, and shows that the damaging effects of polarisation and the ignorance of the culture war. This ignorance has become so deeply ingrained we have opted to change God to accommodate our hurt, brokenness and fallen desires.

I am deeply grieved for LGB people like myself, who have denied ourselves, picked up our cross and followed Jesus. We will have to find our place in the wilderness as activists and churches continue to ignore, neglect, culturally marginalise, malign and close their doors to us. Our voice is left unheard. For many of us our choice to be celibate is not some easy gift, but a costly sacrifice that speaks louder than these words ever can. I wish my family walked the narrow path of righteousness with me. Nothing has really changed since Jesus' own life – his true followers, like him, will be thrown out of the places of worship as he predicts in John 16. Perhaps we are better off there.

David Bennett has recently completed postgraduate studies in theology at the University of Oxford and is currently completing his first book, A War of Loves: A Gay Rights Activist Encounters Jesus Christ, with Zondervan to be released mid-next year.

Friday, 9 June 2017

Trust the Bible

Praying for Five Friends #ThyKingdomCome from Thy Kingdom Come on Vimeo.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Muslims and dreams of Jesus

Abdul met Jesus in a dream while awaiting deportation at Heathrow.

‘I came to the UK because I had a problem in Afghanistan,’ says Abdul Ahmad (32). That’s a bit of an understatement, as it turns out.

Abdul is currently being held at Heathrow’s Immigration Removal Centre awaiting deportation. And it is here that he has discovered the Bible.

‘I committed adultery with my neighbour’s wife,’ he says. ‘The father of the man came and I ran away, because in Afghanistan when you commit adultery, they will kill you. I was afraid that I would be killed.’

Abdul fled to his uncle’s house in Kabul. There he paid $6,000 to a trafficker to bring him to the UK in the back of a lorry. This is ten years’ ago.

For four years he sofa surfed and lived a hand-to-mouth existence. Then, in 2011 he was stopped, randomly by the police. This revealed that he had no legal status in the UK, and so he finds himself at Heathrow awaiting deportation.

Here, he was befriended by a Nigerian Christian detainee who introduced Abdul to the Bible. Then one night, he had a dream.

‘I was asleep at 4.30am and I had a dream,’ he says. ‘All the world was very dark, but then a person came who was shining light. I couldn’t look at his face. I said, “Who are you?” He said, “I am Jesus, the Messiah”.

‘I said, “Who are all these other people?” He said, “These are all the people who love me.” And then I woke up. I couldn’t sleep. I stood and thought about it and then I came to the chapel.

‘I think that Jesus is my friend to tell me about himself like that,’ he says.

Abdul’s been reading a Bible in his native language. ‘The Bible gives me everything I need really,’ he says. ‘When I read it I become relaxed and I forget that I’m in the detention centre. It makes me very happy.’

Abdul’s future is at best uncertain. ‘I’m afraid for my life if I go back to Afghanistan,’ he says. ‘People aren’t educated. They will just kill me because I am a Christian as well as for the adultery.’

Abdul received a Bible in his native language thanks to our supporters. Find out more about our work in Heathrow’s Immigration Removal Centre.
Author: Bible Society, 2 June 2017

Wednesday, 24 May 2017

We have hope

18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; 21 because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; 23 and not only the creation but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words. 27 And he who searches the hearts of men knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
Romans 8:18-27

It is difficult not to read Paul's words (verse 18) without thinking of what happened in Manchester recently with the senseless killing of 22 people - many of them children - by a 22-year-old who blew himself up in the process. Here Paul reminds us that as beautiful and wonderful as life can be, there is darkness mixed in with the light. There is always the presence of suffering in one form or another, whether that is the suffering caused by war or terror, or the suffering of illness or old age.

But, as Christians, we live in hope:
First, that what we are seeing now, is not all that it is meant to be; what God intended. And so Paul talks about the present creation "waiting in eager longing" for the new creation God is going to bring about, and which one day will be revealed in all its glory. At the moment we are all subject to a "bondage to decay" (verse 21) which leads to death. But creation is looking forward in hope, and as it does it "groans inwardly" - or as one translation puts it - "in travail".

The picture is one of a woman in labour, struggling with the pain and effort of bringing a new baby into the world. For now, there is struggle and agony, but it is not in vain, for what will come will be qa joyful and glorious new life.  There will be a death, but there will also be a resurrection.

Second, we live in hope because we as Christians were saved in hope. In other words, we know that although the "wages of sin is death" (Romans 3:23) - which is the consequence of living in a world affected by sin and decay - yet by faith we can receive the "free gift of God" which is life in Christ Jesus. And it is "In this hope", writes Paul, that "we were saved" (verse 24).

Because of Jesus we know that death is not the end, that evil will not have the last word, and God will raise up his people, and his creation, to new life.

That is the glorious vision John the Apostle has in Revelation 21:1-6:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.......And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them.They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 'He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Lastly, we as Christians, by our faith and our lives, are meant to be signs of this coming new creation. We are, says Paul "the first fruits of the Spirit" (verse 23). We are light bearers and hope bringers. We know the power of the Spirit in our own lives for "the Spirit helps us in our weakness" (verse 26). He 'intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words" (verse 26b), when we have no words to say. And through our interaction with the Spirit, we come to know with assurance the mind and the will of God for us and for all (verse 27).

Listening to the news over the past few days, the word that kept cropping up in the comments, messages, poems, speeches and songs in response to what happened, was the word 'love'. And that is true as we saw wonderful examples of people helping others. But another important word is 'hope'. We need hope, the hope that one day evil will be judged and eradicated, and the love of God will ultimately triumph over death, suffering and the evil we saw in actions of that one individual and the ideology that persuaded him that wat he did was somehow pleasing to God.
(Talk given at midweek service in St. James, Uplands 24th May 2017)

Church for beginners?

In her book "The Word on the Wind" Alison Morgan makes reference to a young woman Sharon who was a respondent to a survey about ...