Blogroll: Transforming Grace
I read blogs, as well as write one. The 'blogroll' on this site reproduces some posts from some of the people I enjoy reading. There are currently 4 posts from the blog 'Transforming Grace.'
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When Martha went to meet Jesus, after her brother, Lazarus, has died, she told Jesus that she believed confidently in the general resurrection of all people. Martha’s faith in resurrection is similar to many people today, who believe confidently in life after death. Jesus’ response is confusing and challenging. I read his words at the start of every funeral service and the confusion is highlighted for clarity:
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. (John 11:25)
How can someone die and never die? This is confusing.
The confusion exists when we assume that there is only one kind of death. But death is multi-layered in scripture. Death can be mortal, spiritual and judicial. We all die mortally, when our bodies grow frail and die. Death is spiritual, all people are dead in sins and must brought to life in Christ (Ephesians 2). Death is also judicial. God announced a the death sentence to Adam should he disobey the law (Genesis 2:17) and so one the day of judgement, the punishment for sin is “second death.” Paul writes that the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:23) and all who live without acknowledging God deserve to die (Romans 1:32). In both cases, Paul refers to judicial death as the punishment for sin, second death.
The confusion is resolved when the first death which Jesus to refers to is mortal death, which Lazarus had suffered. Those who believe in Christ will live after they die mortally. The second reference to death is spiritual and judicial. Those who believe in Christ are alive, spiritually and eternally, and in him they will not face the judicial second death, so never die, spiritually nor judicially.
The challenge is simple. Believe in Jesus and you will live even though you die and you will never face spiritual or judicial death. Don’t believe and you will be judged, with second death.
What follows is taken from my letter to Holy Trinity Church in our April magazine in response to the mottos “Good disagreement” and “radical inclusion” which are being banded about in Church of England circles at present.
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am worried about two phrases which are being repeated in Church of England circles at this time. The phrases are “Good disagreement” and “Radical inclusion”.
Why am I worried? First, I am worried because I don’t know what these phrases mean. I am really confused. Both phrases are simplistic and blunt, lacking nuance and definition in our complex world. I want to say “Amen” if they mean one thing and “No, never Lord” if they mean another.
Secondly, I am worried because the phrases have the power to manipulate and coerce a whole community, of which we are a part. The phrases are unclear but they have already gained a subconscious meaning and power which psychologists call “groupthink”. Groupthink leads to irrational or dysfunctional decisions and unconscious bias, based on the desire for harmony and conformity in that group.
Good disagreement has quickly come to mean that two Christians can completely disagree on something as long as they are nice to each other. Good disagreement is only a different way of saying we should tolerate and respect one another’s beliefs because there is no such thing as truth, only what we believe to be true. Good disagreement is the only way of creating an uneasy peace in a post-truth culture.
And what does radical inclusion mean? Again, from the context, it is rapidly gaining support to mean that everyone is welcome in church regardless of some kinds of immoral behaviour.
And so there is real danger for bible believing Christians. If I say “I disagree with you and I believe the way you think is wrong” I break the rules of “Good Disagreement”. Who is the bad guy here? Not the person who has faulty beliefs but the person who claims to know what is right and true. Or what if I say, “Jesus said, “repent and believe, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”” I am then breaking the rules of radical inclusion. Who is the bad guy here? Not the person who behaves in a way which is unacceptable to God, but me, for breaking the rules of “radical inclusion”.
Dear brothers and sisters at Holy Trinity, don’t let yourself be swayed by sub-Christian or unbiblical mottos or phrases, even when you feel their power and “groupthink” is against you.
My memory verse this week has been Psalm 86:11, which has been a great help as I have struggled with the growing feeling of manipulation and coercion in the Church of England.
Teach me your way, O Lord,
that I may walk in your truth;
unite my heart to fear your name.
Believing Christians are moved turn to God to be taught his way and to walk in his truth. This is a dangerous prayer for us all. Praying “teach me your way, O Lord” means studying and knowing his word but it means more. This prayer invites God to teach us in the school of life. There is much truth which God reveals to us but which can only be learned as it is put into practice. I am so reluctant to put what I know is true into practice that God will teach me through times of discipline and hardship. There are some lessons which I need to learn which will only come through suffering and rejection as God does his work in me. And so I need not fear “groupthink” but rather fear the name of the Lord.
And so I believe we must reject the mottos “good disagreement” and “radical inclusion”. We need more sophisticated ways of setting expectations for the times we disagree and how to welcome folk to church. We need to echo the theology of Paul’s letter to the divided church at Ephesus. “We have received every spiritual blessing in Christ and are united as one people under Christ as our head who has broken down the dividing walls of hostility; we must walk in a manner of our calling and so maintain the bond of peace and the spirit of unity whilst we attain to to the full knowledge of Christ through the apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists as we put on the full armour of God.”
Will you pray with me for protection against manipulation in the church and for the rejection of any phrase which can be used against one another? Will you pray for true unity and acceptance in Christ as we grow up into him who is head?
With love, Neil
“You never listen to me.” “He never listens.” Have you ever used one of these phrases? Has someone ever spoken to you that way? These words slip out when I am angry or frustrated, but do I really mean what I say?
I feel the need to write to you about the recent reports in the news about the Church of England’s debates on “Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations.” Media reports have been unclear and biased, which leaves us all feeling confused. I hope to make things clearer in this letter.
Before we think about what happened, we need to know how the Church of England is governed. The Church of England is governed by synod. Laws and policies are debated and voted on at synod. There are four levels of synod: General Synod, Diocesan Synod, Deanery Synod and Parochial Church Councils (PCC). The debate which was reported in the news took place at General Synod, our highest level of church government.
Over the past 20 years there have been lots of arguments in General Synod about the law of God on marriage between two people of the same sex. Three years ago, the Bishops tried to stop the arguments by starting a process called “shared conversations”. Every Diocesan Bishop selected a group clergy and members of congregations to speak to each other about their feelings, beliefs and experiences of same-sex attraction and practice. The House of Bishops then wrote a report on the outcome of the process and it was this report which was debated in synod.
The report states that the Church of England will not change its beliefs about marriage, which come from the bible, where God reveals to us his model for marriage; which is the faithful, lifelong, loving, sexual union between a man and a woman. The report also states that all people are affected by the Fall and so our sexual relationships and attraction are faulty, resulting in all sorts of behaviour which falls short of God’s purpose for marriage.
The bishops have accepted that we have failed as a church to offer proper pastoral and relational care in areas of sexual brokenness and sin. There has been too much argument about what is right and wrong, and not enough compassion and grace. As a result, we have been too embarrassed or ashamed to open up and take off our masks, not just about same-sex relationships, but lots of other areas too: the pain which marriage can cause; the difficulties of singleness; the emotional problems which arise later in life from sex before marriage; different kinds of sexual addiction; the aftermath of sexual abuse. In effect, we have failed to heal the wounds of sin because we argue too much about the law of God and this needs to change.
The report is good, but not perfect and so people voted for or against the report for a variety of reasons. Some members of General Synod were encouraged but thought the report was unclear whilst others, who want the church to bless gay or lesbian relationships and revise the bible’s teaching on marriage, don’t believe that the bishops listened.
Bishop Julian Henderson spoke about the difference between being heard and agreeing with each other. When I say “You never listen” what I can mean is “why don’t you agree with me?” The report disagrees with the proposal to allow same-sex marriage but this does not mean that the bishops have not listened.
Second, there is more than one voice to listen to. The voice which calls for same-sex marriage is different to God’s voice in his word. There are also the very different voices of same-sex attracted but celibate Christians and the voice of Christians from other cultures around the world. The bishops have listened to many different voices and reported on their conclusions.
Synod then voted according to house. The House of Bishops almost unanimously supported the measure. The House of laity voted to accept it, but the House of Clergy voted against the Bishops’ report. The debate and the vote revealed a deep divide in the Church of England.
Where does this leave us and what is God doing?
First, we need healing and unity. Jesus said, “a house divided against itself cannot stand.”
Second, nothing will change. Marriage in the Church of England is going to remain between a man and a woman and we can give thanks for this result. As Christians we are all called to humble and joyful submission to the will of God revealed in his word. We must stop arguing about the law of God on marriage (Titus 3:9).
Third, everything should change. When we stop arguing and stand beneath the healing streams which flow from the cross of Christ, everything will change. As we open ourselves to the grace and forgiveness of Christ, He will create for us a culture of openness, honesty and vulnerability. We will then be truly free to seek healing and cleansing from the sins of our past and the sexual brokenness which affects us all each day.
The Apostle Peter writes, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God.”
Brothers and sisters, will you pray with me for the unity, purity and sincere brotherly love which flow from the living word and from the cross of Christ, so that we might be an attractive church in a sexually broken world?
With love, Neil
Marriage in the Church of England is a complex legal thing. The CofE acts on behalf of the state for the legal aspect of marriage. For British ad EU nationals resident in the UK it is legally required, or at least normal, to marry by banns. Banns were introduced in the marriage act of 1753 and were designed to prevent polygamy and incest, by giving the community three opportunities before he wedding day, and a fourth on the day itself, to expose anyone who were already married or couples who were unwittingly closely related. Banns no longer serve this legal function because urban communities are too transient and are too big for everyone wishing to marry in church to be well enough known. Many banns which are read in church are for complete strangers to the congregation.
For non-EU nationals the couple can’t legally marry by banns and need to complete the legal prelims at the registry office. This inequality is what Stephen Trott’s private motion at synod last week tried to redress. Unfortunately, all three houses voted down his motion, preferring to put up with the legal and administrative inconvenience and the inequality of treatment for non-EU nationals for the missional opportunities banns provide.
It is too late for synod, but I suggest that we share best practice so that, if the motion returns to synod, someday, we might already know that simplifying the legal does not mean doing away with the missional.
For anyone marrying by banns, there are three Sundays, when the couple don’t need to attend church, but it’s nice if they do, when the vicar reads the banns (I find it slightly disingenuous to say to a couple “we must read your banns, why don’t you come to church?”):
I publish the banns of marriage between NN of … parish and NN of … parish
This is the first / second / third time of asking. If any of you know any reason in law why they may not marry each other you are to declare it.
We pray for these couples (or N and N) as they prepare for their wedding(s)
When a couple can’t marry by banns I propose to say the following, based on the declarations in the marriage service. This gives me the opportunity to say, “you don’t have to come but we’d love to announce your wedding in church and pray for you.”
I give notice of the marriage of NN of … parish and NN of … parish
The marriage vow and covenant which they are to make will be made in the presence of God, who is judge of all.
We therefore pray with them, that as they are united in love, they may fulfill Christ’s will for them throughout their earthly lives.
Does anyone else have a practice which replaces banns when necessary? If so, what do you say?