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Most of us know that the Church of England has been in deep trouble for decades. The less our clergy believe, the emptier our Anglican churches become.
As every sheep follows his shepherd, the English instinctively know that what they hear from many of our pulpits does not come from dyed-in-the-wool Christians. Hence, they flee, rightly abandoning aberrant preaching.
Although we do not have eyes into the soul of our clergy, some really do not inspire confidence that they are men and women of profound, unshakeable faith.
The Guardian recently carried a report of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s — Justin Welby’s — interview with Lucy Tegg of BBC Bristol. I’ve read the article several times and am deeply disappointed with — although not totally unsurprised by — what he said. (Incidentally, this is the same man who in July 2014 told the paper we are ‘too hysterical’ about radical Islam and again mentioned the usual tiny minority — ‘extraordinarily small’ — engaging in it.)
If we are going to persuade people to follow Christ, then, may we never miss an opportunity to do so.
The Archbishop told Ms Tegg that he sometimes doubts — his word — if God ‘is there’. Welby then mentioned Psalm 88 as being one of doubt. Actually, it expresses a feeling of abandonment.
Perhaps that is what Welby meant to say. Perhaps not.
Before going to Let us look at definitions of the two words from the Collins English Dictionary (emphasis in the original below):
- uncertainty about the truth, fact, or existence of something (esp in the phrases in doubt, without doubt, beyond a shadow of doubt, etc)
- (often plural) lack of belief in or conviction about something ⇒
all his doubts about the project disappeared
- an unresolved difficulty, point, etc
- (philosophy) the methodical device, esp in the philosophy of Descartes, of identifying certain knowledge as the residue after rejecting any proposition which might, however improbably, be false
- (obsolete) fear;
- desertion, leaving behind ⇒
her father’s complete abandonment of her⇒
his abandonment by his mother⇒
Childhood experiences can leave behind intense feelings of anger or abandonment.
- cessation, discontinuation ⇒
Constant rain forced the abandonment of the next day’s competitions.
- giving up, relinquishment ⇒
the government’s abandonment of the policy
Psalm 88 was written by Heman and is a song of the Sons of Korah. The Sons of Korah wrote laments which express abandonment but then move towards hope and redemption. The first set encompasses Psalms 42 to 49. The next group of Sons of Korah songs are Psalms 84, 85 and 87. Nathan Albright has excellent explanations of the Sons of Korah psalms.
He also has a marvellous commentary on Psalm 88, which I would commend to the Archbishop and to all my readers, especially those who are suffering from depression and feeling very alone. It says, in part (emphases mine below):
In Psalm 88:10-12, Heman asks a series of (seemingly) rhetorical questions about God working wonders for the dead. Though the questions appear to presume a negative answer within the psalm itself (given its grim and deeply frustrated mood), the whole context of the Bible provides a positive answer to these six questions. God will work wonders for the dead (Ezekiel 37, I Corinthians 15). The dead will arise and praise God (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). The lovingkindness of God will be declared in the Grave (Revelation 20:11-13). The faithfulness of God will be declared in the place of destruction (Isaiah 58:12, 61:4). The wonders of God will be known in the dark. The righteousness of God will be known in the land of forgetfullness. This is not only true for death and literal ruins, but also figurative ruins. As our body is the temple of God (1 Corinthians 6:19), the restoration of our spirits and bodies, our thoughts and our emotions, is itself rebuilding the ruins. It is not only waste places and destroyed towns and cities, but also shattered lives, broken hearts, and wounded souls that need to be healed. Heman is far from alone in his plight, or his anguished longings to be made whole once again (or perhaps for the first time).
It would have been salutary if the Archbishop had mentioned some of these aspects of Psalm 88 in light of the fact he took the time to specify it in his interview.
Fair enough, he did say this:
It is not about feelings, it is about the fact that God is faithful and the extraordinary thing about being a Christian is that God is faithful when we are not.
He then went on to discuss his faith in Jesus Christ:
Asked what he did when life got challenging, Welby said: “I keep going and call to Jesus to help me, and he picks me up.”
For many of us, our belief in Christ makes us ever more convinced that God is everywhere and with each one of us every day, regardless of whether we choose to acknowledge it. Why would this not be true for the Archbishop?
Perhaps the Archbishop could have mentioned those passages, because many secularists ask the same question: why do so many bad things happen and why doesn’t God put an end to them?
Perhaps the Archbishop thought that his more encouraging words about his own personal faith would make the headlines. Sadly not.
It would have been better for him to have said that, like anyone else, he sometimes feels abandoned but that, even during those times, he believes that God will work everything to His divine plan and for a divine purpose.
If we are evangelising for Christ, let us measure our words carefully and put forward a positive, biblical case for Him, the Church and God the Father of us all.
It is unfortunate that senior Anglican clergy express themselves every bit as poorly as senior Roman Catholic clergy have been since John Paul II’s days.
What are they saying when giving interviews or writing books? Their language is impenetrable. It’s easier to understand French intellectuals than it is these men.
Gentlemen, we are supposed to be winning souls for Christ, not dissuading them.
My thanks to James Higham for alerting me to two Anglican news stories. This is one of them. The second appears in tomorrow’s post.
On Sunday, September 21, 2014, the Independent carried the Bishop of London’s — Richard Chartres’s (pron. ‘Charters’) — perspective on Christianity, taken from Jules Evans’s interview with him on the Philosophy for Life website.
Chartres’s views are such a mixed bag, it’s hard to know where to start or end — or interpret their meaning with any confidence. Some make sense, others do not.
First, rightly, the bishop tells Evans that religious extremism is a dangerous thing indeed:
The great Bishop Butler says to John Wesley: ‘pretending to special revelations of the Holy Ghost[,] Mr Wesley[,] is a very horrid thing. It’s a very horrid thing indeed.’ And it is indeed a very horrid thing.
Then Chartres immediately adds this statement:
Unless it’s held firmly within a community of interpretation, with a shared communal experience of discerning between evil spirits and good spirits, then it’s very dangerous.
Hmm. That will confuse a lot of people, especially those in staunchly experiential charismatic churches (e.g. the snake-handling ones) and those congregations which drum you out if you don’t start speaking in tongues. Both would readily assert that they are on the same page with discernment.
Meanwhile, did Luther or Calvin put forward enthusiastic experiences in their churches? No, they did not. In fact, those Lutheran and Reformed denominations which stay true to their founders’ respective doctrines advise against such religious experiences.
Chartres then goes into an exploration of enthusiasm and mysticism during the Middle Ages — a useful and interesting piece of Church history. No wonder the Reformers didn’t embrace it! More importantly, however, they knew it was unbiblical.
Even the Catholic Church was sceptical of mysticism. Sadly, Chartres says this was because of:
rigid control, bureaucratic church authority, and the over-definition of mystery in the interest of polemics.
Dear me. What does the last phrase in that sentence even mean? He’s probably saying that the Catholic hierarchy just wanted to pick an argument. No, they also saw that Christianity should have sense and balance, because where we have mysticism or unusual experiences, there is often a darker spirit at work masquerading as divine.
In any event, the mystical Christian mediaeval movements resulted in the Holy Ghost (as the Holy Spirit was termed until the late 20th century) being expunged from various denominational liturgies, such as the Book of Common Prayer.
So far, it’s an informative but unbiblical interview. However, that no longer matters to today’s Anglican hierarchy.
Then, Chartres revs up a few gears praising the Charismatic nature of London’s Church of England services.
Even worse, he quotes G K Chesterton. Whether this is accurate, I cannot tell, not being a great reader of Chesterton outside of one Father Brown story in a secondary school English anthology. Did he really say this?
you can’t really be an orthodox Christian without having a charismatic life.
In the next breath, Chartres goes on to deny the ever-present gifts of the Holy Spirit such as wisdom, fortitude and piety (those which Chesterton would have learned when he was converting to Catholicism). Or is Chartres saying something else? It’s difficult to tell:
That doesn’t necessarily mean special gifts of the Holy Spirit. Such gifts are given to people at various stages of people in their pilgrimage, for good reason, often to break up the crust of convention which is keeping them imprisoned. Once a real fluency in spiritual matters has been achieved, they’re no longer necessary. It’s very dangerous to hold on to some of these psychic phenomena which often attend growing in the Holy Spirit.
Hmm. I would be highly wary of paying attention to anything this man says, as he concludes by advocating contemplative prayer and mystical experiences, recommending his favourite authors and false teachers.
Does the bishop speak of Christ and Christ crucified for our sins? No, he does not.
He also calls Christ’s Bride — the Church:
just as shallow as the rest of us … lacking in distinction …
Although he does say that the only way to God is through His Son, he says there are other faiths through which one can find ‘a way’, as all have an element of truth in them.
Heresy, like every other deception, also has an element of truth in it. That’s why people find error and damning heresies so easy to accept. It looks as if Chartres could be yet another clergyman taking that route.
A faithful Christian would not read this interview without thinking Bishop Chartres has served the Church or our Lord well in this exchange. One cannot imagine John MacArthur saying any of these things. I’d enjoy seeing the two debate this issue on video or television.
My ever-expanding left-hand column of links has good ones to discernment ministries which debunk mystical and contemplative prayer, which readers might find useful:
May God bless all of us — and may the Holy Spirit continue to work quietly through us — in finding eternal truth and salvation through Jesus Christ our Lord.
The Revd Matt Kennedy, rector of Good Shepherd Church in Binghamton, New York, and a regular columnist for Stand Firm, included Luke 17:2 — among other New Testament verses — in his recent article, ‘A Declaration of Principles for Reconciliation’.
Most of my readers know that The Episcopal Church (as well as other parts of the Anglican Communion) has been torn apart by gender-based discussions over the past decade.
Kennedy’s article explains that the Church must not encourage or condone that which Scripture forbids. Anyone who does promote these ideas and activities is a false teacher. False teachers must be removed by the church community until they repent and are forgiven, at which time they can be readmitted to full participation in it.
As the New Testament passages cited say, this means anything which would encourage serious sin by the believer (the ‘little ones’ to whom Christ refers below).
Excerpts from Kennedy’s post follow, emphases mine.
First from the Preamble:
… about those who encourage such sins Jesus said: “Temptations to sin are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.”(Luke 17:1-2)
Heresy, as Bishop Fitz Allison wrote, is cruel. It is cruel because it offers joy and fulfillment but delivers emptiness and hopelessness because it is grounded in a misrepresentation of God’s nature and character. Therefore, the New Testament everywhere instructs Christian shepherds to identify false teachers and drive them from the flock of God.
It is for this reason — as well as John MacArthur’s idea that our inability to forgive may inhibit God’s blessings — that some Christians might not be fully experiencing worship and fellowship. We’re still desperately unhappy, possibly even clinically depressed, because of — or aided by — the skewed, false teaching we receive from the pulpit.
From the principles to which clergy should commit (which follow the preamble):
1. Since Christian fellowship necessarily involves mutual recognition of the legitimacy and validity of one another’s profession of faith, as well as congruence of belief in the same Gospel, Christian fellowship with false teachers who purport to be Christians, yet do not believe the Gospel and lead people away from Christ is impossible. Reconciliation in the church means restored fellowship. There can be no fellowship with false teachers unless and until they publicly repudiate their false teachings and repent for the injury they have done to the body of Christ.
3. The success of the ministry of a false teacher adds greater influence and authority to his office and teachings. More souls are set at risk, the body of Christ injured, the glory of Christ diminished. Therefore we will not cooperate, collaborate, promote, or aid the ministry of false teachers in any way.
9. Teachers in the Church are accountable to the word of God. Rank and high office in the Church come with increased responsibility to live and speak as ambassadors of Christ. Leaders must submit both their words and their deeds to the measure of scripture. We willingly submit to biblically faithful correction and accountability and commit to hold one another to fidelity to the truth of the Gospel and to our vows.
10. Christians are called to live lives of repentance. In carrying out all of these commitments we recognize that we fail and fall in many ways every day personally and professionally. It is by grace alone that we are saved through faith and this is not of ourselves, it is a gift from God and not of works that no man should boast. We commit to confess our sins daily and to seek God’s grace and mercy remaining mindful of our weaknesses.
Luring people into sin is a serious offence against God. Sin, encouraged by false teachers, makes us doubt God or makes us think that we are on a par with Him. It is deceiving and unsatisfying. Ultimately, it weakens our faith by enabling an overly enhanced belief in our own wills rather than a reliance on God’s grace.
As members of the Anglican Communion know, for better or worse, we are a broad church.
In light of a recent exchange on this site, it seems useful to clarify the Anglican position on private confession and how it arose again in our denomination’s history.
With regard to our broad church, we have Reformed Anglicans (Calvinists), Evangelical Anglicans, Anglo-Catholics — as well as the majority who find themselves somewhere in the middle. When I worshipped in the Episcopal Church in the United States, we referred to High (Anglo-Catholic) and Low (mainstream) Church. I belonged to a Low Church but occasionally visited a High Church with friends.
Whilst my experience is limited in the grand scheme of things, I did not and do not know anyone in the Anglican Communion — clergy or layperson — in the offline world who recommends private confession outside of a case of serious sin. It is not a spiritual discipline to be practised regularly, even among my Anglo-Catholic friends. This isn’t saying there are not Anglo-Catholics who recommend it, but I have not encountered it among those with whom I have worshipped over the past 30 years.
Australia and private confession
Private confession — called ‘auricular confession’ — in the Anglican Church in Australia made the news in July 2014. Church leaders have voted to ‘lift the seal’ of the private confession, enabling Anglican priests to go to the police if they hear of a crime revealed or contemplated. Child abuse and molestation are the primary motivators for a priest’s going to the authorities.
It should be noted that, where private confession is used in the Anglican Church, it differs from the Roman Catholic practice. Writing about the Australian developments for Patheos, the Revd George Conger explains (emphases mine, except where indicated otherwise):
Private confession in the Catholic Church takes place in the context of the sacrament of reconciliation followed by absolution.
Private confession in the Anglican world is not a sacrament, and was denounced as one of the abuses practiced by the Medieval church and was dropped by the English Church following the Reformation.
Conger then cites the Anglican Book of Homilies, which forms part of our doctrine.
Those who are interested can read Church of England denouncements of auricular confession in the Church Association’s Tract 27. Not one of our early Church leaders supported it. All said it was — and is — unbiblical.
One of them, John Jewel, Bishop of Salisbury in the 16th century, wrote that priests were to preach the Gospel, not hear confessions:
Christ’s disciples did receive this authority, not that they should hear private confessions of the people, and listen to their whisperings, as the common massing priests do everywhere now-a-days, and do it so as though in that one point lay all the virtue and use of the keys, but to the end they should go, they should teach, they should publish abroad the Gospel, and be unto the believing the sweet savour of life unto life, and unto the unbelieving and unfaithful a savour of death unto death.”
— Apology, vol. iii. pp. 60, 61. Parker Soc. Edition
Conger said that in extreme cases, auricular confession was heard, however:
it was never a mandatory part of the practice of the faith.
Furthermore, by contrast with the Catholic Church:
The Book of Common Prayer, the Homilies, the Articles of Religion and other sources of Anglican doctrine do not teach the doctrine that the priest acts in persona Christi or in persona Christi capitis.
He adds (emphasis his):
This understanding that the priest is not acting in the person of Christ, coupled with the view of the Reformers that confession to a priest has no more merit or imparts no greater grace than to a layman, helps explain what is happening in Adelaide.
Conger concludes by alluding to the broad church of Anglicanism:
What we are seeing is a swing of the Anglican pendulum away from Anglo-Catholicism towards the Low Church or Evangelical wing. As the quotes from The Advertiser show, the Catholic wing of the Church (Archbishop Driver) is backing away from the hard line position on the sanctity of the confessional due to the clergy abuse scandals. The push has come from modernists who like the symbolism but are appalled by the abuses that have been protected by the seal of confession. The growing Evangelical wing never believed in auricular confession in the first place and is happy to see it go.
History of auricular confession in Anglicanism
Anglican Ink picks up on the Australian story and subsequent analysis both by churchmen and the media.
The author explains the history of private confession, stating that it was not even part of pre-Reformation religious practice until the Middle Ages. Henry VIII upheld this view in his Ten Articles of 1536.
In 1549, however, private confession was made optional in the Church of England. By 1552, the Second Edwardian Prayer Book
deleted the practice of auricular confession as well as a rubric in the service for the Visitation of the Sick which authorized a priest to use this form of absolution in all cases of private confession.
By the Convocation of 1562 the move away from auricular confession appears to have been complete ...
The 39 Articles of Religion declined to number the penitential rite among the sacraments, while the Homilies went so far as to condemn sacramental confession as having “no warrant of God” and had been imposed upon Christians “in the time of blindness and ignorance.”
This trajectory was continued in the 1662 BCP which offered a doctrine of the ministry incompatible with an ontology of the priesthood that could permit a priest to offer absolution (one of the arguments used against the validity of Anglican orders by Roman Catholics). The BCP also offered no rite for private auricular confession.
It was only in the 19th century that private confession became a topic for discussion again:
It made its return with the rise of the Anglo-Catholic movement – and private auricular confession became one of the issues of the ritualist controversies of the day. Anglo-Catholic leaders, then as now, sought to defend the practice by reference to two portions of the 1662 BCP. (They advanced other arguments but these lay outside their Anglican heritage and are not germane to this note.) …
This permission to provide private counsel and absolution was seen by the Anglo-Catholic party as a warrant to offer private auricular confession. Their opponents objected to this reading, arguing the passage was being taken out of historical and textual context.
Read in the context of the full Communion service, the private pastoral counsel of a minster sanctioned by this paragraph was for those unable to “quiet their conscience” by the ordinary “ways and means” set forth in the Exhortation and is for special cases – not for general purpose use.
Those who point to the Anglican rite of the Visitation of the Sick use this as support for regular private confession. However, as Anglican Ink explains, as the person receiving this rite is unable to participate in corporate worship and the public confession of sin, it is only logical that he receive the opportunity to do it privately from his sickbed.
Why public — ‘general’ — confession suffices
An AMIA (Anglican Mission in the Americas) church, Anglican Church of the Word in Florida, explains why we have the General Confession in our liturgy:
A general confession of sin by the whole congregation was an innovation of the 16th century. Earlier, the Lord’s Prayer, which concluded the Prayer of Consecration and contained the phrase “forgive us as we forgive” sufficed. No absolution was included for one of the benefits of Communion was understood to be the forgiveness of sins.
Today’s liturgies, whether traditional or modern, include a form of absolution. The suggested prayers of General Confession are varied. The Reformed Anglican Church page includes a prayer of absolution. This link has the full Book of Common Prayer (1662) liturgy for Holy Communion; the confession and absolution prayers are halfway down the page.
Faithful Anglicans should feel free to avail themselves of absolution at home, too. As John Welsh — a seminarian at the time he wrote the following — posits:
On the whole, unless an Anglican is of the Catholic tradition in the Anglican Church (ie, they are catholic to all intents and purposes except they reject the authority of the pope), then Anglicans do not go to confession.That does not mean that they do not confess their sins! At almost every Anglican service there is an act of confession and absolution, and Anglicans take sin just as seriously as Catholics. However, the vast majority of Anglicans do not see the need to confess to a priest as an intermediary, but confess directly to God, as per the early Church practices and reject entirely the Catholic tradition of ‘having’ to go to confession on, say, a weekly basis. Instead they confess their sins when they need to, directly to God, whether as part of a service or not.
Conclusion: Regular private confession is an unorthodox Anglican practice and should be used sparingly, if at all.
The broader Protestant perspective on confession
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) answers the question regarding the Reformers’ scriptural objection to private confession. This is well worth reading. Excerpts follow:
… to summarize the biblical evidence, private confession to an individual, specifically a priest, is simply not supported. There is confession of sin to God alone, there is a place for public and corporate confession of sin, and from James 5:16 a place for confessing sin to another believer (is this tied into Matt. 5:23-24?) But the Roman Catholic idea of auricular confession (confession into the ear of a priest) does not have biblical support or warrant and seems to have originated during the Middle Ages.
What the Reformed churches did was to take the public confession of sin that had been in the Roman Catholic mass and removed all references to the intercession of the saints and focused the attention of people on sin’s offensiveness to God. Here is the way one scholar described it:
“There followed at once [in the Reformed order of worship] the prayer of confession as a congregational act. This replaced the private confession of the priest before the Mass, for here was a congregational priesthood.” [James Hastings Nichols, Corporate Worship in the Reformed Tradition, p.41]
The worship we are talking about is corporate or covenantal worship. It is the worship of the people of covenant as the people of God. We are together a sinful and guilty people; how can we come, as a covenant people, before a holy God if we do not confess our sins? While it is certainly true and biblical to confess our sins directly to God, the act of corporately confessing our sins has a covenantal character to it that is missing in the Roman Catholic practice of private or auricular confession, for behind that practice is the mistaken idea that the priest needs to stand between us and God. The Bible teaches that there is one mediator between God and man, Jesus Christ the righteous (I Tim. 2:5). A priest has not power to absolve us of sin, only the blood of Jesus Christ can cleanse and for that we can go directly to God (I John 1:9; 2:1).
As for other Protestant denominations, the OPC says:
the practices in the Anglican or Lutheran churches would mirror this Reformed understanding rather than what the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox churches practice, for all Protestants have rejected the notion of auricular confession to a priest.
Any time we read or hear something notionally doctrinal from clergy or laypeople, we would do well to check it against a) our denomination’s tenets of faith and b) Holy Scripture.
If b) disagrees with a), then a) is in error.
If what we read or hear is contrary to both a) and b), we should disregard it. Often, research reveals background agendas to erroneous pronouncements preached or written with authority and charm.
The Internet offers endless resources enabling us to investigate such matters in the privacy of our own homes as and when necessary. Let’s use them!
Those who are anxious for their own souls — for whatever reason — really should book an appointment with a local clergyman who can discuss their concerns with them. Clergy will be more than happy to do this; it is part of their ministry.
Speaking personally, Confession as received in my Catholic days made me more not less anxious because the ‘state of grace’ was so ephemeral before the next sin was committed! It was only when I started reading intensively about Christianity a few years ago that I learned about forgiveness, assurance and sanctification.
This is why I so often recommend regular prayer, faithful reading of the Bible and studying doctrine which reflects Scripture. Those who are baptised should ensure they also receive Holy Communion.
That’s my recipe for assurance and sanctification. If this proves insufficient, then discussions with a clergyperson are in order.
What follows is a summary of that post.
First, there is the matter of how the victory was engineered. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said that he’d received pressure from the government for the Synod to approve women bishops. Welby was ready to dissolve the Synod and reconvene it for another vote on the matter had it been defeated on July 14, 2014. In other words, keep voting until you get the ‘right’ result.
Second, no scriptural arguments were used, or at least these were not made public. Persuasion revolved around cultural norms and bringing the CofE into line with the 21st century.
Third, a number of Synod members who had voted against women bishops in 2012 changed their minds this year because they feared being deselected from the next Synod or were tired of the grief they received from people in their diocese.
It is clear that the CofE is increasingly moving away from scriptural tenets. The co-founder of Orphans of Liberty — and one of my readers — James Higham has written an excellent essay exploring why and how England’s established (state) church is failing.
Women bishops won’t fix a thing. (Women priests didn’t.) Nor will allowing single-sex church wedding ceremonies, which may well be a topic at the next Synod. Nor will support of euthanasia.
The CofE has become merely another social club which goes along with popular culture — the world — at every turn.
Who wants to get out of bed on a Sunday when one can get the same talking points from the media?
As I said at Orphans of Liberty, a small number of people will continue to go to other denominations or to independent churches which are faithful to the Bible.
Sadly, many more will choose to leave the Church altogether.
The CofE’s USP is its frequent Communion services. However, it is difficult to receive the Sacrament from a priest who embraces the world so fully, as many of our clergy do.
Yet, even there, Article XXVI of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion states:
… Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the sacraments ministered unto them, which be effectual because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.
That said, the Anglican Church is expected to depose such clergy. Article XXVI concludes:
Nevertheless it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church that inquiry be made of evil ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty by just judgement, be deposed.
It should come as no surprise that the CofE considers the Thirty-nine Articles as ancient history to be disregarded.
Much the same way they consider Holy Scripture: old-fashioned and out-of-date.
One of the drawbacks of being a church member is putting up with busybodies.
We all sin and churchgoers are no exception. Few things are as irritating or dispiriting as the church member who enjoys butting in to others’ business and pointing out their weaknesses.
Yes, they cite Scripture. Yes, they’re probably right.
But what if the person they are criticising is already aware of their own particular shortcomings?
We can become impatient with others’ sins, mainly because we sin differently.
I often wonder, however, if church busybodies criticise others they see as less gifted in the faith in order to make themselves look better.
The Revd Matt Kennedy is an Anglican priest and rector of Good Shepherd Church in Binghamton, New York. He is a regular columnist at Stand Firm.
His recent article ‘Speaking into Someone’s Life’ has seven excellent questions we should consider before interfering in someone else’s affairs.
His article has something for all of us, even if we do not fall into the category of busybody or troublemaker.
What follows are his seven questions someone should answer before interfering. Notional ‘love’ may come across as spite or one-upmanship, both of which hurt:
1. Is what I am planning to say true in an objective sense or just reflective of my own feelings? (expressing your feelings and speaking the truth are not synonymous. Scripture is the guide here, not your heart)
2. Is the person caught up in a sin or is he/she merely getting on my nerves? (a personality clash is not a reason to “confront” someone)
3. Do I have a past history of strife, jealousy, enmity or anger with this person? (If so, you probably aren’t the person to “restore gently”)
4. Do I genuinely want to help the person…am I willing to invest the time to meet, discuss, share my own struggles, and help this person escape from the sin I’ve observed? (if not, you’re not qualified to speak)
5. Is it something that the person knows about already and is trying to work on? If so, how would it be helpful for you to point out again what he/she already knows?
6. Do I have the ability to speak with gentleness and kindness or am I a battle axe? (if you don’t know, ask your wife, husband or closest friends. If you’re not kind, leave it for someone else)
7. Have I been praying for this person in private regularly? (If not, chances are that your heart is not in the right place)
How many church busybodies have examined their consciences in this area before opening their mouths?
That said, St Paul counsels the Galatians (Galatians 6:1):
But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.
No doubt, the time will come when most of us will feel the need to criticise or interfere unprofitably. This is why Mr Kennedy’s questions — and our answers — are so important.
Members of the Anglican Church in North America — ACNA — are delighted at the appointment of the Rt Revd Foley Beach as their new archbishop.
Bishop Beach was previously the first bishop of the Anglican Diocese of the South, a post he held from 2010 to the present. From the comments on Stand Firm it would appear that Beach will continue as Bishop of the Diocese of the South.
By all accounts, it would appear that he is a godly, humble man who enjoys teaching and preaching the Gospel to others. He does not compromise on liturgy, either.
Prior to his new appointment, he wrote an article summarising a bishop’s duties. Here are the first four — three more follow, so be sure to drop by his website to read more:
1. Teaching the Word of God, the Bible.
2. Defending the Christian Faith. We have a faith which has been handed down since the days of the Bible. The bishop is supposed to guard that Faith.
3. Evangelist. The bishop leads in proclaiming the Gospel and leading others in to a relationship with Jesus Christ.
4. Apostolic Leadership. Like the apostles of the New Testament, the bishop is called to expand the Kingdom of God to places where the Gospel is not present on a local basis, but also through missions to other parts of the world.
Too many bishops — Anglicans, in particular — forget these first four or politicise them to an extent that far removes them from Scripture.
May God continue to grant Archbishop Beach all grace that he may make ACNA — and the Diocese of the South — a beacon of Christianity to many people around the world.
Two years ago, one of my readers, Underground Pewster, posted on a sermon given by a supply priest at his Episcopal church.
The priest spoke of abundant life in light of 1 Corinthians 9:24-27. The sermon exhorted the congregation to live one’s life large for Christ. A bit ‘radical’.
Underground Pewster writes (emphases mine):
One point gave me a little trouble was when he talked about the goal of the Christian race we run. As he described, “salvation” has been misinterpreted by other denominations to mean “eternal life” whereas he would prefer to consider it to mean “healing” and “abundant life” to be the goal of the race …
His hypothetical Episcopal Church of the Abundant Life sounds a little fishy to me, and I am left with the following questions:
1) Is abundant life the goal?
2) What is the definition of abundant life?
3) Do you need the promise of eternal life as long as you have abundant life?
4) Can you truly live life abundantly if you do not have eternal life?
Unfortunately, I fear that the answer to #1 is all too often “Yes”, and when abundance is the goal in life, we will easily find it in things that please us but might displease God. Life seems even more abundant when we do not have to worry about upsetting God. In our Episcopal church tradition, we have been able to successfully eliminate God’s displeasure by writing it out of our language (see the numerous posts here on the missing verses in the Sunday Lectionary) or by re-defining things that once were “considered” sinful to now be “blessed” (abortion as a blessing pronounced by the Dean of the Episcopal Divinity School, and same-sex blessings for example).
When asked for a definition of abundant life (#2), I suspect that the leader of the hypothetical Episcopal Church of the Abundant Life would say that abundant life is that which promotes and furthers “justice.” Justice has to be defined next as the liberal social cause du jour.
In his conclusion, Underground Pewster says:
I contend that abundant life as a solitary construct, absent of the promise of eternal life, is the way of death.
He is spot on in his analysis.
This is what I mean when I say that, whether they realise it or not, clergymen with wonky theology are leading innocent souls to hell.
To find out more about Trinity Sunday, these posts might be of interest:
It appears that, thanks to disaffected Anglicans turning toward the Catholic Church, their greatest hymns are now being incorporated into the liturgy of the Mass.
One of these is For All the Saints, by William Walsham How, an Anglican bishop. He wrote his reflections in 1864 and Ralph Vaughan Williams composed the stirring music to accompany them in 1906.
Monsignor Charles Pope of the Diocese of Washington wrote a beautiful post on the hymn, analysing the theology and Scripture behind each verse. I commend it to all my readers, even those who have been singing this magnificent hymn all their lives.
This is what he says about the first verse (emphases in the original):
First we cast our eyes heavenward to the Church Triumphant:
For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee by faith before the world confessed,
Thy Name, O Jesus, be forever blessed.
Here then in the first verses is stated the purpose of the hymn. Namely, that we sing to and praise God for all those saints who have finished their course here and entered into the rest of the Lord. Like the the Lord they can say, “It is finished.” Like St. Paul they can say, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day (2 Tim 4:7-8). These saints declared to world the holy and blessed name of Jesus by their words and deeds. They confessed and did not deny him. To them and us Jesus made a promise: Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven (Matt 10:32). And we too are summoned to take up the cry: “Blessed be the Name of the Lord!”
Readers who have not heard the hymn before can do so via YouTube and the St Edmundsbury Cathedral Choir: