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On July 6, 2016, I wrote about the high church Anglican quiz ‘How “spikey” are YOU?’

One of my readers, Boetie, a Catholic living in Germany, sent in a thoughtful comment by way of response. He has kindly given me permission to use it as a guest post on the differences between Catholic and Anglican worship.

What he says closely parallels my own experience in the early 1980s and caused me to convert to the Episcopal Church and continue worshipping in the UK as an Anglican. I should emphasise that my conversion came through low church, which also had quite a lot of ritual, rather than high church. That said, I have occasionally enjoyed the freedom and the opportunity to revisit ancient traditions and vestments.

Without further ado, Boetie discusses his results and his own worship journey:

I came out “top of the flame” – not that I was in the least surprised, though. But this liturgical and at the same time humorous approach is what first attracted me to the Anglican Church in her High Church / Anglo-Catholic tradition ever since I was an 11 or 12 year old lad from Germany coming to Britain for the first time in the very early 1970s. Quite visibly the Anglican Church had not been through the devastations Vatican II had brought about in my own church (I’m a “Roman”:-)). Sadly, the Anglican Church has more than made up leeway since.

But for the first time in my life I saw priests who looked like priests with their dog collars and their cassocks/soutanes, who spoke like priests and who acted like priests. Our own RC priests at the time had opted for the “social worker” chic, loathed to be addressed as “Father” and were delighted when you told them: “I would never have guessed you were a priest”.

And, of course, in England I gained an insight into what “liturgy” meant – while in Germany they had already come up with that brilliant idea of happy-clappy services with do-gooder homilies. I had never heard e.g. an “Angelus” prayer in my home parish – the first in my life was in an Anglican church in Hertfordshire.

So, for many years in my youth, the Anglican Church shaped my own Catholic faith.

I noticed differences though, even at an early age.

Right from day one I was impressed by the style of hearty hymn singing – as opposed to many RC churches where people often can’t be bothered and where the singing is lacklustre. Also, I found traditional Anglican services solemn but ultimately more serene than traditional RC Masses. And the difference of the quality of style and language was stunning: introducing the vernacular after Vatican II into RC services didn’t work well: e.g. in Germany it was modern day German while in the Anglican Church the wonderful traditional English had been retained. (Doing away with Prayer Book English I regard as a a major flaw in today’s Anglican worship.) Not least of all, to this day I appreciate the humour that is never far from the surface with High Church priests – which makes it a pleasure to listen to their sermons and homilies.

The demise of the Anglican Church (namely the CofE) I find deeply saddening and I wonder whether the Catholic faith in her Anglican tradition will have a future within the Anglican Communion or whether in the long run it will be just “catholic” in name and maybe ritual but no longer in essence – with lesbians and feminists in fiddleback chasubles and birettas swinging the thurible – during a same sex marriage.

But I do not want to end on a sombre note. If you appreciate the type of humour of the quiz I am sure you will also like the cartoon figure of “Father Jolly” created years ago by the American Anglican priest Fr. Tom Janikowski during his formative years in the seminary. He is now Rector of Trinity Anglican Church in Rock Island, Illinois (an ACNA parish). Unfortunately there are only few of his cartoons on the net: the first 4 pictures here:

https://www.google.de/search?q=father+jolly&client=firefox-b-ab&biw=1370&bih=938&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiK2-ie_uDNAhVCbRQKHReiBVEQ_AUIBigB

Here is another one: http://www.thescp.org/documents/jollylovejoy.jpg

Should you come across more in the vein of that quiz – please let us know in your blog. I am sure I’d be not the only one to appreciate this.

You can bet I will, brother!

Thank you very much, Boetie, for your excellent contribution and for the witty (and realistic) Father Jolly cartoons.

It would be edifying if others sharing the same experience as Boetie’s and mine would kindly comment below.

In the early 21st the worldwide migration situation has produced Church-related anomalies in Europe, including the UK.

One of these has been the marriage of convenience, as a Workpermit.com post from 2006 describes. In 2005, a set of rules was introduced in the UK to put an end to this practice designed:

to get around immigration controls and require immigrants to obtain a special certificate of approval, or COA before they can wed in the UK.

However, Mr Justice Silber overturned these laws in 2006 because they violated the European Convention on Human Rights. Consequently:

The overturning of the marriage laws due to unfair discrimination against immigrants on religious grounds leaves the door open for hundreds of people from overseas getting married in the UK.

The test case involved in overturning by Mr Justice Silber, involved a foreign national from Algeria and an EEA national who was legally living in the UK. Once Mahmaud Baiai and Izabella Trzanska from Poland were refused permission to marry, they launched the challenge.

Mr Justice Silber said the case raised issues under Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to marry and found a family.

“The rules were incompatible because they discriminated against immigrants rights subject to immigration control on grounds of religion and nationality,” he declared.

Oddly, the rules overturned did not apply to Church of England members:

even if they are illegally in the UK.

This meant that the Anglican Church could conduct marriages of convenience. By 2008, as The Telegraph reported (emphases mine):

the number of bogus weddings performed by Anglican priests has risen by as much as 400 per cent in some dioceses over the last four years.

Foreign nationals have turned to the Church because it is exempt from rules that require all foreign nationals from outside the European Union to obtain a Home Office certificate of approval to marry in a register office.

That year, Church of England bishops warned their clergy to be vigilant when evaluating immigrants wishing to marry in an Anglican ceremony:

the Rt Rev Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark, urged priests to be wary of migrants looking to get married who have obtained a common licence – a preliminary for church weddings involving foreign nationls.

“The new regime does not apply to marriages by banns, common licence or special licence, which probably explains the substantial increase in demand for bishops’ common licenses,” he writes.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is significant abuse of the availability of Church of England marriage in order to try to gain some immigration advantage.

The Rt Rev Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, has also written to churches in his diocese with guidance on how to tighten measures.

The diocese of Southwark, which covers Greater London south of the Thames, has seen the number of applications for common licences rise from 90 in 2004 to 493 last year.

In 2013 the Coalition government (Conservative/Liberal Democrat) produced new rules to end marriages of convenience. From page 4 of the PDF:

Notices of marriage following civil preliminaries or civil partnership in England and Wales involving a non-EEA national who could benefit from it in immigration terms will be referred to the Home Office for a decision as to whether to investigate whether the marriage or civil partnership is a sham. Non-EEA nationals will only be able to marry in the Church of England or the Church in Wales following civil preliminaries, except in limited circumstances.

Perhaps something similar should be done in the case of conversions by refugees to Christianity.

On June 5, The Guardian reported that the Catholic bishops in Austria are suspicious of the number of sudden converts to Christianity among refugees from war-torn countries. The paper reported in 2014 that the same phenomenon is going on in the Lutheran Church in Germany.

Clergy with a rosy view of the world will say that this is a tremendous opportunity to revive the Church in Europe.

The Austrian bishops view the situation differently. In 2015:

the Austrian bishops’ conference published new guidelines for priests, warning that some refugees may seek baptism in the hope of improving their chances of obtaining asylum.

Admitting persons for baptism who are during the official procedure classified as ‘not credible’ leads to a loss in the church’s credibility across the whole of Austria,” the new guidelines say.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Vienna explained:

There has to be a noticeable interest in the faith that extends beyond merely the wish to obtain a piece of paper.

Austrian priests now informally evaluate potential refugee converts during their one-year ‘preparation period’. The Archdiocese of Vienna has recorded that 5% to 10% of potential converts drop out of the process prior to baptism.

In England, however, Anglican clergy are eager to not only ask no questions but to combine the conversion process with helping to ease the refugee application process.

The Guardian interviewed the Revd Mohammad Eghtedarian, an Iranian refugee and convert who was later ordained. He is a curate at Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral. Eghtedarian says that refugee status and religious affiliation are intertwined.

Liverpool Cathedral has a process which involves registering refugee attendance, which helps their asylum applications. A candidate for Baptism must attend the five preparatory classes. A baptised refugee seeking Confirmation must attend a dozen courses.

Hmm. It sounds very minimal.

The Guardian asked Eghtedarian about the sincerity of those candidates. Even he acknowledged that ‘plenty of people’ were converting for convenience!

In large part, only a cursory examination exists. The Cathedral will also provide a ‘letter of attendance’ to immigration authorities, if requested.

The article said that the Church of England does not record conversions, regardless of background, because it could be a ‘sensitive’ issue.

It seems the Austrian Catholic bishops have approached the conversions of convenience issue more sensibly than the German Lutherans, who resent that immigration court judges ask refugees to discuss their newly-found beliefs in detail in order to assess their sincerity.

It is the responsibility of clergy to do a thorough examination of heart and mind during the conversion process rather than let false converts through the doors for Baptism and Confirmation.

Church of England clergy should pray for divine guidance on the matter rather than deceive fellow Christians, other citizens of our country and our government.

Admittedly, some of these converts are sincere. However, if ‘plenty of people’ are not, then the whole thing is a sham.

If marriages of convenience rightly rang Anglican bishops’ alarm bells, then conversions of convenience should, too.

On April 26, 2016, The Guardian reported that the Church of England published a short prayer for the EU Referendum:

God of truth, give us grace to debate the issues in this referendum with honesty and openness. Give generosity to those who seek to form opinion and discernment to those who vote, that our nation may prosper and that with all the peoples of Europe we may work for peace and the common good; for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen.

The article says that the prayer was carefully worded to maintain neutrality.

However, the Right Reverend David Hamid, the Anglican Suffragan Bishop in Europe, told The Guardian he hopes Remain wins because a number of his congregants are British expats living and working on the Continent. He also thinks remaining in the EU secures peace.

The leader of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, also supports Remain because he prefers the status quo; it is easier, he says, for countries to work together.

Apparently, so do those placing EU Referendum bets with Ladbrokes. On May 21, Matthew Shaddick (‘Shadsy’ at PoliticalBetting.com) wrote an article for The Spectator discussing the bets placed recently on the referendum’s outcome. Shaddick is Ladbrokes’ head of political odds. He says:

Bookies have seen a very substantial swing toward Remain over the last few days. The odds on the UK staying in Europe have collapsed from 1/3 last week to 1/5 today. This shows that the chances of Brexit are now at a new low of just 21 per cent compared to the giddy heights of 40 per cent at the end of 2015.

On balance, the polls have probably been better for Remain recently, but there’s still a lot of variance, with some surveys still showing Leave ahead. However, the betting public can only see one result: with more than nine pounds out of every ten wagered at Ladbrokes over the last month being staked on a Remain victory.

Conventional wisdom and history tells us that bookies are not often wrong. Shaddick reminds us that they got the results of both the 2014 Scottish Referendum and 2015 UK election results correct.

He concludes:

On the Referendum, I’ve gone for a bet on Remain winning with between 55 per cent and 60 per cent of the vote, but if the odds for Leave get any bigger that might become the value bet.

No doubt he has seen the results of a huge poll of 22,000 voters, published in The Independent on May 18 and to be released in full later this month. The Independent says:

The outcome of the EU referendum vote is on a knife edge with little more than one month to go, according to one of the largest surveys to date.

… Remain has a narrow lead of 43 to 40.5 per cent, according to new data from the British Election Survey.

But the advantage is wiped out among voters who say they are very likely to vote – giving Leave the victory by 45 per cent to 44.5 per cent.

We have one month left until voting takes place on Thursday, June 23. Meanwhile, the name calling on the Remain side is ramping up. As James Delingpole, journalist and Leave supporter who is in Brexit: The Movie, put it for The Spectator:

… if I were an undecided wondering where to place my X, I think the thing that would swing it for me would be the marked difference in tone between the two camps — with the Remainers coming across as shrill, prickly and bitter, and the Brexiters surprisingly sunny, relaxed and optimistic.

This isn’t what you might have expected at the start of the campaign. Really, it makes no sense. When you’re the odds-on favourite with the weight of the global elite behind you — Obama, Lagarde, Goldman Sachs, the BBC, Ed Balls — you ought to be able to afford to be magnanimous, jolly and decent. It’s the anti-EU rebels, the spoilers, the malcontents, you’d imagine would be most afflicted by rage, spite and peevishness.

But it hasn’t turned out that way. Yes, there has been some vicious factional backbiting between the different Brexit camps, I can’t deny that. The tone of their campaigning, though, has been almost weirdly upbeat: Boris larking about with Cornish pasties and angle-grinders; Gove batting off Marr with his effortless good cheer; Farage with his pint-and-fags common touch; Martin Durkin with his insightful, inspirational and often very funny crowd-funded documentary Brexit: the Movie.

He’s right. I certainly won’t be discussing it offline anymore. Once was enough. Everyone — bar one, thanks to Brexit: The Movie — I know is for Remain. If Leave wins, I’ll never hear the end of it, until five years from now, when we turn our nation into a hybrid of Switzerland and post-war Germany.

It seems to me that the Remain people are fearful Leave might just squeak through. We can but see.

Alt=Series title over a country skyline sceneBecause there was such a long wait between the first and second series of Grantchester, we watched the finale this week.

This was too good a show to watch weekly as it aired. Viewing pleasure must be rationed.

The tension in a few of the episodes was palpable, especially when Sidney and a half-cut (inebriated) Geordie were on the roof of King’s College Chapel.

It was a relief to hear during the credits that the series is being renewed for 2017. It will air on both ITV1 and PBS. Series 2 was broadcast in the US and the UK at around the same time.

If anyone wants to discuss Grantchester, please feel free to do so in the comments below. This has to be one of the most intelligent and content-rich shows on television today.

Last month, reader Lleweton and I saw The Telegraph article about Anglican vicars with beards.

(Photo credit: Stephen Tunstall via Twitter)

Both of us wondered if the UK had reached peak beard, which, according to hirsute columnist Christopher Howse, should have happened in 2014.

The Bishop of London, the Right Rev Richard Chartres, who has a well-trimmed beard, singled out two priests in the capital’s East End for praise. Both Reverends — Cris Rogers, Vicar of All Hallows, Bow, and Adam Atkinson, Vicar of St Peter’s church in Bethnal Green — sport hipster beards which help them connect with Muslim men and boys.

One neighbourhood man told Rogers:

I can respect you because you have got a beard.

Atkinson explained:

“It is an icebreaker – St Paul said ‘I become all things to all men that by all possible means I might save some’

“In our area there are three main groups, the poor, the ‘cool’ and the Muslims and beards cover at least two groups reasonably well.

“A Muslim friend said ‘I will lend you a hat and you can join me on Friday [prayers]. It was done in a jokey way but it was quite affirming.”

He added: “I have got Jewish heritage from a few generations ago and I am conscious around here that there is something about the ‘holy man’.”

Uh huh.

One wonders, among the ‘cool’, how that translates to getting more hipsters into church.

Because, one month later — on February 17, 2016 — The Telegraph reported the Church of England is panicking about the slump in church attendance. Churchgoing is unlikely to revive for another three decades. To that, I would add ‘if ever’:

Even if it sees an influx of young people to services, the sheer numbers of older worshippers dying in the next few decades mean it is unlikely to see any overall growth in attendances until the middle of this century, officials now believe.

The stark calculations were revealed during discussions at the Church’s decision-making General Synod, which has been meeting in London, about ambitious plans to tackle declining numbers.

It is preparing to pump £72 million into a “reform and renewal” drive which includes plans to ordain 6,000 more clergy in the 2020s to build a younger priesthood which is less male dominated and less white.

As usual, the conclusion is that the CofE is institutionally hideously white and male.

The Synod is barking up the wrong tree.

No man wants feminised religion. And if a man does not attend church, his children won’t, either. Those who don’t believe me can read the following posts (see my Christianity/Apologetics page under ‘Church attendance — why it is in decline’):

Here’s what happens when Dad doesn’t attend church

Why Johnny won’t SING!

Women priests in the Anglican Church

Women bishops won’t boost Church of England membership

Once more with feeling — are church services too feminine?

The real problem with the CofE is that there is a clear lack of traditional liturgy on offer and a deplorable lack of biblical preaching.

In October 2015, a British study showed that 38% of people in the UK doubt Jesus ever existed, more than half doubt He rose from the dead and 25% of those under 35 believe He is a fictional character.

I was appalled to arrive here nearly 30 years ago only to find Sunday services with free-form, spontaneous prayers from the priest and little to nothing in the sermons that taught about the Scripture readings we had heard.

Granted, perhaps I was unlucky in my first London parish church.

The next one was better, but the liturgy was Roman Catholic. Why? It was not a High Church parish. Even those churches use Anglican liturgies.

My current one, outside the capital, is fine. The church has had three vicars since I began attending. The first was excellent. The second was a borderline atheist who spoke about secular poetry on Ash Wednesday, adding that, if we wanted ashes, we could impose them ourselves! Thankfully, he retired. The present one is good. He actually preaches on the readings and explains them, which is a blessing when it comes to the more obscure books from the Old Testament.

The CofE has also said that many clergy will be retiring in the coming years:

The Bishop of Sheffield, the Rt Rev Steven Croft, revealed that, in addition to the losses in the pews, around 70 per cent of the current body of clergy will have retired by 2030.

The Synod is implementing a programme called Renewal and Reform. According to The Telegraph, some call it Search and Rescue. A call for vocations, especially among the young, is part of the new scheme.

For now, the paper reports that the CofE’s biggest concern is that many of their members are forced to rely on food banks because their benefits have been stopped unfairly. The Synod is committed to lobbying Parliament for an independent review of why this is and what can be done about it.

As important as that is, one wonders about the greater issue of a country that has less and less knowledge of Christ Jesus because our established Church is engaged in socio-political mission rather than the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20):

19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in[a] the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

christogram-stained-glassFebruary 10 is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

What does this season mean? What does it involve? How do we use this season to prepare for Easter, the greatest feast in the Church?

Lutheran pastors show the way, with explanations about Lent in the early Church, including ashes and fasting:

Ash Wednesday reflections

Ash Wednesday: ‘No, that wasn’t dirt on my forehead’

St Athanasius and the Lenten practices of the early Church

Lent in the early Church — not a pagan practice

The last post about Lent not being a pagan practice refutes what an aberrant 19th century Free Church of Scotland minister Alexander Hislop wrote in his book The Two Babylons.

With regard to prayer and contemplation, I can highly recommend the Revd Joshua Scheer’s which you can follow every day:

Lutheran reflections for Lent

An Anglican pastor’s wife, Anne Kennedy, shared her thoughts on why Lent is an excellent time for addressing one’s spiritual state:

Thoughts as we enter Lent 2014

The Reformed and the Evangelicals are right to say that Christians should not feel obliged to treat Lent differently than any other time of the year. That means we should always be contemplating the state of our souls and repentance — turning away — from sin. In any event, we have the freedom in Christ to choose whether to observe Lent with special spiritual disciplines. See ‘Lent a source of Protestant contention’ in the next post where a lively written discussion takes place between a Reformed pastor-professor and Lutheran laymen:

Lent, denominational differences and freedom in Christ

Lent is an ideal time to begin reading the Bible, always profitable to body and soul:

Why not read the Bible this Lent?

Bible study plan suggestions

Some will ask, ‘What is the point when we only revert to our old ways afterwards?’

After 40 days, a new behaviour or spiritual discipline — more prayer! — should be part of us, enabling another step or two on the lifelong road to sanctification. We can then continue to build on that the rest of the year and when Lent rolls around next year, work on the next knotty and stubborn part of our sinfulness.

Lent is a great time to build layer and layer of sanctification, accomplished only with divine grace through our only Mediator and Advocate Christ Jesus.

J C RyleThis post continues my series on hell. If you haven’t read about Origen’s unorthodox views on hell which are currently infecting the Church, please do so.

J C Ryle (1816-1900) was undoubtedly one of the greatest Anglicans who ever lived.

Educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, his parents expected him to enter politics. However, Ryle felt called to the priesthood and was ordained in 1842.

He was very much an evangelical preacher, firmly opposed to the Ritualism in the Church as characterised by the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement of the time. Although he had firm religious convictions which he expressed in no uncertain terms, in private, he was known for his kindness and warmth.  He also preached to the working class, bringing many to the knowledge and love of Christ Jesus.

One of Benjamin Disraeli’s last acts as Prime Minister was to appoint Ryle to the post of Bishop of Liverpool, a brand new diocese.  There, Ryle presided over the construction of 40 new churches, raised clergy salaries and instituted pension funds for them. He was also responsible for the building of the Anglican cathedral in Liverpool.

Ryle retired only three months before he died at age 83 in 1900. Today, he appears to have more of a following in the United States among orthodox Protestants than he does here in England.  He published several works on the four Gospels as well as on the Christian life.

(Incidentally, Ryle’s second son, Herbert Edward Ryle, served as Bishop of Exeter, then Bishop of Winchester before being appointed Dean of Westminster in 1911.)

If only the Church of England had many more clergy like Ryle today. He wrote:

My chief desire in all my writings, is to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ and make Him beautiful and glorious in the eyes of men; and to promote the increase of repentance, faith, and holiness upon earth.

And:

Every professing Christian is the soldier of Christ. He is bound by his baptism to fight Christ’s battle against sin, the world, and the devil. The man that does not do this, breaks his vow: he is a spiritual defaulter; he does not fulfil the engagement made for him. The man that does not do this, is practically renouncing his Christianity. The very fact that he belongs to a Church, attends a Christian place of worship, and calls himself a Christian, is a public declaration that he desires to be reckoned a soldier of Jesus Christ.

You can read his views on the Christian life and his analysis of English Puritan clergy. GraceGems has an extensive collection of Ryle’s sermons and books which you can read online.

Ryle’s written works include commentaries on the gospels. What follows is an excerpt from Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on Matthew. It is from his commentary on Matthew 26:14-25. Emphases mine below.

This is the relevant reading (ESV):

Judas to Betray Jesus

14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

The Passover with the Disciples

17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.

20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve.[b] 21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

The first part of Ryle’s commentary discusses Judas then concludes with the following. Note how Ryle relies on Scripture to make his point about the importance of avoiding everlasting hell:

We ought frequently to call to mind the solemn words, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” “We brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” Our daily prayer should be, “Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me.” ( Proverbs 30:8). Our constant aim should be to be rich in grace. “They that will be rich” in worldly possessions often find at last that they have made the worst of bargains ( 1 Timothy 6:9 ). Like Esau, they have bartered an eternal portion for a little temporary gratification; like Judas Iscariot, they have sold themselves to everlasting perdition.

Let us learn in the last place from these verses the hopeless condition of all who die unconverted. The words of our Lord on this subject are peculiarly solemn: he says of Judas, “It had been good for that man if he had not been born”. This saying admits of only one interpretation. It teaches plainly that it is better never to live at all than to live without faith and die without grace. To die in this state is to be ruined forevermore: it is a fall from which there is no rising, a loss which is utterly irretrievable. There is no change in hell: the gulf between hell and heaven is one that no man can pass. This saying could never have been used if there was any truth in the doctrine of universal salvation. If it really was true that all would sooner or later reach heaven, and hell sooner or later be emptied of inhabitants, it never could be said that it would have been “good for a man not to have been born.” Hell itself would lose its terrors if it had an end: hell itself would be endurable if after millions of ages there were a hope of freedom and of heaven. But universal salvation will find no foothold in Scripture: the teaching of the Word of God is plain and express on the subject. There is a worm that never dies, and a fire that is not quenched ( Mark 9:44) Except a man be born again,” he will wish one day he had never been born at all. “Better,” says Burkett, “have no being, than not have a being in Christ.”

Let us grasp this truth firmly, and not let it go. There are always persons who deny the reality and eternity of hell. We live in a day when a morbid charity induces many to exaggerate God’s mercy at the expense of his justice, and when false teachers are daring to talk of a “love of God lower even than hell.” Let us resist such teaching with a holy jealousy, and abide by the doctrine of Holy Scripture: let us not be ashamed to walk in the old paths, and to believe that there is an eternal God, and an eternal heaven and an eternal hell. Once [we] depart from this belief, and we admit the thin end of the wedge of skepticism, and may at last deny any doctrine of the Gospel. We may rest assured that there is no firm standing ground between a belief in the eternity of hell, and downright infidelity.

We do need to guard against adopting unorthodox beliefs, those which go contrary to Scripture. As Ryle says, once we begin discarding one fundamental tenet of Christianity, we are unlikely to stop there. We depart on the road to questioning more and more of the Bible and discarding more doctrine. Where does one end up then? In a sorry spiritual state wherein we question whether we are saved.

Notional doubters or sceptics who claim they ‘want to believe’ but somehow cannot, would do well to study the New Testament. If they cannot bring themselves to do that, they should pray for the divine grace to enable them to do so:

I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24)

More on hell next week.

Today we had Epiphany readings at church.

The sermon was excellent. The priest gave us five takeaway messages about this feast day.

1/ The arrival of the Magi showed that Christ came to earth for Gentiles as well as Jews. The Epiphany represents this divine revelation.

2/ The three gifts were showing that they believed a King had been born. This is the reason they brought gold, associated with kings and rulers.

3/ Frankincense was used by the high priests. The Magi sensed that the infant Jesus was a High Priest.

4/ Myrrh was used as a medicine and an embalming element. This gift foretold His horrifying death on the Cross — the once-sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world.

5/ The Magi were astronomers. Astronomers were highly regarded wise men, similar to the famous scientists of our time. In the ancient world, stars were considered to be heavenly bodies with angelic characteristics. When the Magi saw the new star in the East, they followed its movement until it stopped. Their only error was in thinking that the Holy Child was born in sumptuous circumstances and calling on Herod to enquire if He had been born there. Herod knew the prophecies of the Old Testament. He feared that this child would eventually threaten his power. The Magi did not honour his request to tell him where Jesus was. Instead, after a portentous dream, they left Bethlehem by another route to return to their homeland.

These are a few brief points to remember and contemplate on January 6.

(Image credit: Save Send Delete)

On November 22, 2015, The Telegraph reported on the two very different responses to the Paris attacks from England’s most senior clergymen.

C of E ‘doubt’

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby now doubts the presence of God:

Asked if these attacks had caused him to doubt where God is, he said: “Oh gosh, yes,” and admitted it put a “chink in his armour.”

He told BBC Songs Of Praise: “Yes. Saturday morning – I was out and as I was walking I was praying and saying: ‘God why – why is this happening? Where are you in all this?’ and then engaging and talking to God. Yes, I doubt.”

I cannot help but wonder whether the ABC is a preterist, one who believes that Jesus’s prophecies about the end times and the events in Revelation all came true with the destruction of the Temple in 70 AD.

If so, I can see why he would doubt. What else is there?

Preterism, it seems to me, is a position adopted by Christians who wish to appear sophisticated and intellectually-minded.

Yet, when one examines Revelation and our Lord’s prophecies in the Gospel, which of those happened when the temple was destroyed? Certainly, there was a long-running conflict between Romans and Jews which culminated in 70 AD, but many events had not yet come to fruition.

Mark 13, about which I wrote in 2013, explains it well. Jesus talks about the coming destruction of the temple in the first two verses. The next set of verses — Mark 3:3-13 — record His prophecy of horrors, from false teachers to wars to natural disasters:

6 Many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he!’ and they will lead many astray. 7And when you hear of wars and rumors of wars, do not be alarmed. This must take place, but the end is not yet. 8For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes in various places; there will be famines. These are but the beginning of the birth pains.  (Mark 13:6-8)

13 And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved. (Mark 13:13)

All these are to bring us to repentance, a deeper faith and appreciation of the life to come, rather than rely on mankind and nature in the here and now.

God works all things to His divine purpose. I do not think this was the time for a clergyman to say that, as events were too raw and shocking.

However, the ABC would have been better placed to ask that Anglicans join with him in praying for the friends and families of those who have died and for the survivors, especially the wounded, that the peace of Christ Jesus helps them to cope in the weeks and months ahead.

Incidentally, I know a number of preterist clergy. They have rather odd views on Christianity. For them, because all has been ‘accomplished’, church is more of a tradition and a social club. I’m not even sure they think that much about the afterlife. They’re too wrapped up in their own neuroses and health issues.

Although Welby acknowledges that the terrorists have distorted religious views, he warned against attacks on IS:

A bombing campaign against Islamic State was launched after the events, but the Archbishop of Canterbury warned against a potentially damaging instant reaction …

‘If we start randomly killing those who have not done wrong, that is not going to provide solutions. So governments have to be the means of justice.’

Why does this not come as a surprise?

Catholic ‘strong action’

Meanwhile, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, leader of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales:

called for “strong action” to defeat terrorism.

“Terrorists and those who persecute and belittle people in the most terrible ways have to be stopped,” he said. “The judgement of how best to stop them is a political and a military judgement – but there is no doubt that strong action has to be taken.”

Too right. As Secretary of State John Kerry said after the attacks, there must be a multi-faceted approach, elements of which can be worked on simultaneously. These include co-ordinating attacks on IS, improving anti-terrorist intelligence in our own countries and arriving at a panel of Syrians who can sensibly determine how to transition out of the Assad regime into a democratic one not under threat from extremism.

It’s not often when I agree with Cardinal Nichols and John Kerry, but this is one of those rare moments.

Church and state averypoliticalwomancom

Our Lord’s words on persecution in Matthew 10 were at the forefront of my mind at the weekend.

On October 2, 2015, an article appeared in the Daily Mail about the Hussain family from Bradford who converted to Christianity from Islam 15 years ago.

Since 2003, the persecution — broken windscreens and harassment — from Muslim neighbours has not stopped. The police largely refuse to intervene. To date, only one investigated incident has resulted in a successful prosecution. The Mail states:

Mr Hussain said he feels so let down by police he has lodged a complaint with the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

He also criticised the Anglican Church for failing to provide any meaningful support.

In fact (emphases mine):

Mr Hussain had worked as a hospital nurse but was diagnosed with depression and post-traumatic stress disorder and has been unable to work. He owns several properties and now lives off rental income.

Although their faith remains strong, Mr and Mrs Hussain no longer attend church. ‘We have given up on the Church of England, they have done nothing for us,’ said Mr Hussain.

A meeting, arranged by a friend, with a local imam – who ‘listened and promised to help’ – also led to nothing, said Mr Hussain.

A West Yorkshire Police spokesman said: ‘We are aware of an ongoing matter involving Mr Hussain and are working closely with partners to resolve this situation. All reports of crime are taken seriously and are investigated thoroughly.’

Poor reaction

The younger Hussain children attended a local Church of England primary school. Most of the students are Muslim. The Hussains arranged a car sharing arrangement with Muslim neighbours whose children attended the school. When the neighbours found out the Hussains were Christian, the ride-sharing stopped. This escalated as word circulated among the other students at school. The Hussains’ youngest daughter was bullied:

Leena, now 14, was told by her friends ‘our parents say we mustn’t mix with you because you are a convert.’ Mr Hussain said: ‘She was heartbroken and made to feel like a second class citizen.’

England’s foremost Anglican blogger, who writes under the pseudonym of Archbishop Cranmer, finds the school episode:

frankly, quite literally incredible. Teachers and headteachers bend over backwards to ensure that Every Child Matters: when it comes to children’s well-being, Church of England schools have rigorous anti-bullying policies, in accordance with statutory requirements on child protection and safeguarding. And they implement them.

I’m not so sure about it being ‘frankly, quite literally incredible’ under the circumstances. It is quite possible that teachers would not want to intervene in an interfaith conflict, especially if any disciplinary action brought out angry older brothers, fathers and uncles en masse. Has Cranmer thought this through?

He added:

Bradford’s churches and schools are now under new management: the Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales. The new Bishop of Bradford is the Rt Rev’d Dr Toby Howarth, and his boss is the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Rev’d Nick Baines, who had been Bishop of Bradford for the preceding three years.

He concluded:

If it be the case (and it may well be) that no ministry team in Bradford has provided “any meaningful support” to the Hussain family, might we have a few more details? If it be true (and it may well be) that the Church of England has “done nothing for us”, could we please know a few specifics and particulars, so that Bishop Toby and Bishop Nick might learn from the Church’s past errors, shortcomings and pastoral deficiencies? Instead of just trashing the entire institution (though it may well deserve it) in the Daily Mail, might someone who knows something please get in touch and explain why a brave family of Bradford ex-Muslims has been so terrorised and persecuted by gangs of devout Bradford Muslims that they had no choice but to depart the Church of England?

Why didn’t Cranmer look for more information himself? A simple search would have uncovered InfidelsAreUs, the website of Anniesa Hussain, age 21. Anniesa has documented everything.

Anniesa’s story

Before exploring Anniesa’s story, it is worth mentioning that Mr Hussain was one of the converts featured in a 2008 Dispatches documentary on Channel 4. I saw the programme and was deeply concerned for the safety of all the ex-Muslim families involved. They were incredibly bold to appear on television. Although most of the filming was done discreetly, someone who wanted to harm these people could probably identify them. And so it was in the case of the Hussain family.

However, their persecution did not start then.

Anniesa tells us that it started in 2000. (Incidentally, the family converted to Christianity through a mostly Jamaican Pentecostal church.)

From the time I was 6 years of age, my siblings and I endured daily verbal abuse, physical altercations, car and house window smashing. School playground hostility and school-mate deprivation. Death threats. Mob rule. Initial prevention of riding our bicycles in the neighbour common ground to then prevention of us playing on the street directly outside our property. I watched my father’s effort in erecting a 6ft fence in his backyard to protect his children become effectively decimated. I can’t ever imagine his pain, his helplessness when his fence still never stopped the glass bottles and bricks being hurled at his children as they played in their own back garden.

After the Dispatches programme aired, the Hussains’ neighbours accused Mr Hussain of making hateful statements about Islam, which he never did. Family A spread the rumours. As for school:

Life at school for my youngest sister became increasingly unbearable. She’d come home in tears, weeping that her Pakistani classmates had turned on her and weren’t allowed to associate themselves with a Christian – something I knew all too well. Dad could never comprehend the hostility in he found himself in the school playground as he collected my sister, nor why he would receive glares and jostles as he walked by certain parents. Until one day when he was approached by one parent to say ‘you haven’t said anything offensive about Islam! I’ve researched you on Youtube’. Seeing Dad’s baffled expression he explained that one of the brothers of family A had many of the school parents convinced that Dad was anti-Islamic and was preaching hatred on Youtube. However, upon his own research and refusal to rely on this ‘information’ of Dad, this parent – Muslim himself- proved to be a loyal supporter, berating any school parent who treated Dad with contempt. The school situation deteriorated to the point where the brother of Family A stormed up to Dad provocatively, threatening to kill him in order to goad him into a fight. That incident marked official police involvement in our lives yet again. Numerous meetings have been set up with school leaders, police officers and religious leading figures in the community, to achieve the most politically correct of outcomes: nothing.

Anniesa’s posts are well worth reading in full for the rest of the family’s story. She writes beautifully. I hope she becomes a journalist.

More on the family’s trials

Cranmer might also want to look at the articles about the Hussain family on the Barnabas Fund site.

After Britain’s May 2015 elections, Mr Hussain wrote to his MP. The Barnabas Fund includes the full text of the letter. Part of their preface to it reads as follows:

Nissar Hussain, a British man who converted from Islam to Christianity in 1996, has written a letter to his local MP recounting some of the long catalogue of violence, abuse and other attacks that he has suffered at the hands of some Muslims in the area of Bradford where he lives. Recently Nissar and his wife, Kubra, who have six children, have each had false allegations against them brought to the police for separate “offences” resulting in each of them being held at the police station for hours. Their car has been maliciously damaged four times, making it almost impossible for the family to meet the repair and insurance costs. Yet despite appealing to local authorities and organisations for support, Mr Hussain has struggled to find support and help.

In August 2015, the Barnabas Fund reported:

a mob of around 40 Muslim young men of Pakistani descent gathered outside his home in Bradford on 18 August in a patent display of intimidation.

In response to the Daily Mail article from October, the Fund issued this statement:

Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, says, “Barnabas Fund has supported Nissar Hussain throughout the violence and persecution he faced after his conversion to faith in Christ. We work with converts and with Muslim and Christian leaders to bring about a day when no one will be penalised and persecuted for accepting the claims of Jesus.”

Premier Christian Radio interviewed Mr Hussain after the Mail article appeared. They contacted the police and local clergy for a response:

West Yorkshire Police said in a statement: “We are aware of an ongoing matter involving Mr Hussain and are working closely with partners to resolve this situation.

“All reports of crime are taken seriously and are investigated thoroughly.”

The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Revd Toby Howarth (in the new Diocese of West Yorkshire & the Dales), said: “I am aware of considerable attention and support which has been offered and indeed provided to Mr Hussain by his local Anglican vicar, supported by myself and my predecessor.

“Mr Hussain’s vicar has met with him on many occasions and has worked with the local police, the local council and other bodies including representatives of the local Muslim communities  in trying to resolve this difficult matter.

“I fully support the ongoing work of  the Multi Agency Hate Crime Conference, of which the local vicar is a member, which continues to try to bring a resolution to this situation.”

It would appear that Mr Hussain is not wrong. Indeed, what he has said about lack of real help appears to be accurate.

In 2014, Christian Concern reported that he was planning on starting a series of safe houses in the UK for ex-Muslim converts:

It is hoped that the network, provisionally named “Converts to Jesus”, will launch in the Autumn and be chaired by Nissar Hussain, a convert from Islam, who lives in Bradford. 

Nissar, his wife and children, have all suffered as a result of following Jesus. He has been shunned by his family and labelled a “Christian Jew dog” while his wife has been sworn at and spat upon and his children have been ostracised by school friends.

In a related story from 2014, Rob James for Christian Today said that Jesus is weeping for His Church:

Hussain talked about how he was also upset by the reception he got from Christians. “We are broken people” he said, “I have given up on the Anglican church and independent churches. We are in a no man’s land; we are completely and utterly isolated”.

Is this the kind of Church Jesus envisaged when he said “A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples if you love one another”?

We need to remember that Jesus views this sort of love as a key to mission too for just before he died he prayed “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me”.

Jesus will build His church, of course. And He will take care of Nissar Hussain and his family. But I do wonder how He feels when he sees a Muslim convert admit that his experience of church has left him feeling “broken” and “utterly isolated”.

Too right! However, how to accomplish this is not easy in a school context when most of the pupils are Muslim. Rightly or wrongly, teachers may well fear reprisals.

Conclusion

The more I read about the Hussains’ plight, the more I pray for them.

However, it is difficult to understand why they have not moved to a safe majority-Christian area after all these years. That is the story which interests me.

Matthew 10:23 says:

When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

Let us pray that the Hussains find a new home in a new community soon. If I see an update, I’ll be sure to report on it.

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