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John F MacArthurJohn MacArthur often laments the state of the Church today.

In May 1998, he gave a sermon on 2 Corinthians 13:1-2, which I cited in my post yesterday.

The sermon is called ‘The Pattern of Sanctification, Part 1: Church Discipline’.

Whilst discussing the first two verses of 2 Corinthians 13, he also gave an excellent exposition of everything that is wrong in the Church today. Excerpts follow, emphases mine below.

Since 1998, the following has exploded in churches around the Western world. Around the end of the 20th century, church growth rose to prominence. Moving on to the 21st century, the last decade saw a rise in home churches. Online church services surfaced during the pandemic and became normalised. The Church of England hierarchy wants more online services and fewer church buildings, retaining them only in community ‘hubs’. I do despair.

MacArthur points out the folly of it all:

Now, before we look at the text itself, I want to kind of get us into the importance of the subject and the importance of the attitude of the apostle Paul here by sharing with you perspective that I think exists in the Church today. Many people are concerned about the state of the Church. The condition of churches today have caused a myriad of seminars and conferences and books to be written. There are constant calls for renewal in the Church, for better understanding of the culture, for changing the style of the Church to fit the style of the ‘90s, replacing preaching of the Scripture with more interesting methodologies and technologies.

All across our country – in fact, all around the world there are these efforts being made to reinvent the Church. The fear is that the Church is not speaking to the time, people are not listening. The Church has somehow become irrelevant; it has become obsolete. Self-styled experts are saying that the future of the Church is in the balance, and the Church may not survive in the West if it doesn’t become culturally relevant, if it doesn’t learn how to package its message better, if it doesn’t target felt needs, if it doesn’t employ more popular and efficient communication devices that it currently uses.

All of this comes into focus in a new book that’s just been out a couple of weeks. It’s one of those books that you could pick up and read rather rapidly. I read it fairly rapidly; I couldn’t put it down. It just kept compelling me to read. It was sort of like enjoying the pain, actually. It was like there’s something redeeming in this self-flagellation that I’m going through, and I’m going to carry it all away to the end. The book pained me deeply, and every page added more to my pain, but I couldn’t put it down because I was so startled by what the book was saying.

It is a book that calls for the Church to do what I just said: reinvent itself. And it says, on the cover of the book, “Today’s Church is incapable of responding to the present moral crisis. It must reinvent itself or face virtual oblivion by mid twenty-first century.” End quote.

So, the book says that if the Church doesn’t reinvent itself, and put itself in better cultural relevance, it’s going to go out of existence in 50 years. That statement alone was overwhelming for me. Do you mean to tell me that the eternal God who determined in the counsels of the Trinity, before the foundation of the world, before time began, who He would redeem and how He would gather His own to Himself and bring them to eternal glory is somehow going to find His whole plan coming unglued in the next 50 years? Do you mean to tell me that the Church which Jesus Christ purchased with His own blood is somehow going to escape His purposes for redemption and atonement? Do you mean to tell me that the Church which Jesus said He would build, and the gates of Hades could not prevail against it is somehow going to become victimized by its own inept[itude]? That is a brash and irresponsible statement, to say that if the Church doesn’t reinvent itself, it’ll face oblivion by the mid twenty-first century.

The only thing that could possibly obliterate the Church on earth by then would be the end of the age and the return of Jesus Christ and the glorification of the Church. That’s a very irresponsible thing to say. And the author of the book fearing – and I think he probably genuinely fears that the Church might go out of existence – suggests that there are some ways to save the Church, and these are the suggestions. “Develop cyber churches, virtual churches on the Internet.

Secondly, develop house churches which appeal to people because they have low control, low authority, and operate without historical tradition, I might add, or theology.” “Eliminate congregational churches” – like this – “for more congenial, less confrontational, and more dispassionately interactive forums. Preachers must be replaced by presenters who have no notes and don’t hide behind pulpits, and who generate a more positive response for their listeners.

“We must get rid of sermons, because one-sided communication is ineffective, and eliminate series and Bible exposition, because everybody’s attendance is sporadic, and people really get irritated coming in and out of series that they can’t consistently hear. So, we need to play to their sporadic attendance. And every sermon should be a unit in itself because most of the folks will miss the next two weeks before they decide to come back.”

You say, “Well, where did he get those ideas?”

They were the result of a survey. If you ask unbelievers outside the Church what they want, you can get answers like that. If you ask unbelievers inside the Church what they want, you can get answers like that. If you ask believers in the Church, ignorant of Scripture, what they want, you can get answers like that. But if you were to survey biblically literate believers, you wouldn’t get answers like that.

So, who is it that determines the character of the Church? You go to the lowest possible source. Unbelievers outside the Church, unbelievers inside the Church, or ignorant believers in the Church. What is the hope of the Church? Is this really it, if we can just disband congregational churches and develop a virtual church on the Internet, will that solve our problem? Will that dramatically affect the Church’s ability to confront the moral crisis of our day, as if that were somehow our reason for existence? And it’s not. Ours is not a moral agenda. Ours is a spiritual one.

Would it be better if we had presenters instead of preachers, and we got rid of pulpits, and got rid of sermon notes, and sat on stools, would that be the difference? And just sort of told stories?

Would it be better if instead of somebody preparing to preach a sermon and giving forth an exposition of Scripture we had a pooling of everyone’s ideas? Would it be better if we never had any continuity in or sermons but had little units week in and week out? Would that really save the Church from virtual oblivion?

And by the way, are we the ones responsib[le for] sav[ing] the Church from going out of existence? Is that our job? That’s all the result of a survey. You see, that’s what people want. And what they want is what they should get. That’s the basic thesis behind all of that.

Now, if you ask me what the Church needs, I don’t need a survey. I just ask the Lord of the Church, and He’s revealed it in His Word. And what the Church really needs is more consistent, faithful, clear theological exposition of the mind of God through the pages of Scripture. What it needs is better preaching, better sermons – and I may get in trouble for saying this – fewer small churches with ungifted, untrained, and unskilled preachers.

The Word must dominate the Church and bear its God-intended power and authority over all who hear. You see, the only way that the Church will ever effectively counter the crisis of our time – moral crisis, spiritual crisis – is when the Word of God is working powerfully in the Church – listen to what I say – to produce not information, but “holiness.” There’s the operative word, folks. Write that down somewhere; that’s the theme of the message this morning.

You see, the hope of the Church and the impact of the Church is all connected to the purity of the Church. Holiness is the issue. When Jesus first addressed the Church in Matthew 18, the first time he ever said anything related to the Church, in that great sermon in Matthew 18:7, the first thing he said about it is this, “If somebody’s in sin, go to him. If he doesn’t listen, take two or three witnesses. If he doesn’t listen, tell the church. And after the church has pursued him, if he still doesn’t repent, throw him out; treat him like an outcast.

The first instruction our Lord ever gave to the CHURCH had to do with sin. In that very first sermon, Jesus said, “If you ever lead another believer into sin, you’d be better off if a millstone were put around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea.” The Lord of the Church is concerned about the purity of the Church. He’s concerned about the holiness of the Church. Sin is the issue to the Lord of the Church, and it should be the issue for us. But I daresay you can go from conference to conference to conference, and book to book to book, and this is not the concern today. You won’t hear talk about the holiness of the Church, the purity of the Church.

When I was at Moody this week, I spoke, and I basically said to them, “You know, I’m going to preach the sermon I’ve prepared for my own church on Sunday.” I kind of tweaked it here and there a little bit. But I said to them what I’m going to say to you, because everybody’s talking about church growth and how to grow your church and have a successful church in a flourishing ministry and more folks and church growth is a begin thing. And I said to them, “It may surprise you to hear this, but I really believe the single greatest contributor to the impact of our church, to the growth of our church, to the ministries of our church, to the effect of our church – the single greatest factor that exists – has existed through the years of Grace Community Church – the single greatest contributor to the influence, and the strength, and the growth of our church has been” – and I paused, and it got real quiet, and I said – “church discipline.” And there was a pall over the meeting.

Church discipline. That is not normally considered a principle of church growth. Most people would assume, “If you want to kill a place, do that. Just start poking around in everybody’s life and they’ll split.” Not the people who love righteousness. Not the people who hate sin. Not the people who want to honor God. Not the people who care about obedience. And that’s the Church, isn’t it? That’s the true and redeemed Church.

It may surprise you to hear this. I believe that ignoring church discipline is the most visible and disastrous failure of the Church in our time. Because what it conveys is we aren’t really concerned about – what? – sin. The Lord of the Church is concerned about sin. The apostle Paul was concerned about sin. It left him with a constant, unrelenting ache in his heart.

The problem with the Church is not that it’s got bad methodology or bad technology. The problem with the Church is it’s lost its interest in holiness. It’s lost its interest in maintaining purity. Churches have become content to be fellowships of independent members with minimal accountability to God, and even less to each other

The absence of church discipline – and I mean it’s absolutely a foreign thing in churches – the absence of church discipline is a symptom of the moral decline, the theological indifference of the Church. It’s a symptom, I believe, of a shallow commitment to Scripture. It’s not as if the Bible is unclear on the subject. It couldn’t be more clear. It is a lack of reverence for the Lord of the Church. It is saying, “Well, I know you’re concerned about the holiness of the Church, but we’re really not. We have other things to be concerned about.” Church discipline is not an elective; it is not an option; it is a necessary an integral mark of true Christianity and life in the church.

And I say it again; the absence of church discipline is the most glaring evidence of the worldliness of the Church. And the worldliness of the Church is the reason for its impotence. And you can have all of the entertainment, and all the hoopla, and all the big crowds that you want and not impact the world. It’s the purity of the Church; it’s the holiness of the Church that is the cause of its power. The problem is the Church is unholy.

Even the idea of confession of sin is outdated in an age of moral relativism and moral ambiguity. The answer is not let’s break up the congregation and produce less accountability; let’s get down to house churches where we have less authority, less confrontation, more autonomy, more independence. The answer is not let’s have more compassion; let’s have a kinder, gentler church.

Albert Mohler, who’s the president of Southern Seminary, writes – and I quote – “Individuals now claim an enormous zone of personal privacy and moral autonomy. The congregation, redefined as a mere voluntary association, has no right to intrude into this space. Many congregations have forfeited any responsibility to confront even the most public sins of their members.” He says congregations are consumed with pragmatic methods of church growth and what he calls congregational engineering. And most churches just ignore the issues of sin.

Let us contrast that approach with that of St Paul:

Well, the apostle Paul wasn’t that way. We’re learning, at the end of the book here, about the faithful pastor’s concerns. What is it that concerns a faithful pastor? What is it that concerns Paul? Well, he’s giving us a summary of that, starting in chapter 12, verse 19, running all the way to chapter 13, verse 10. That whole section is a summation of what concerns Paul.

And we could sum it up in a word. He’s concerned with the spiritual well-being of his flock. That’s what he’s concerned about. Corinth was a challenge. The city was gross in terms of its wickedness. People who came to Christ in that city were coming out of very immoral backgrounds. They brought some of that garbage into the church. He had to write to them 1 Corinthians to confront a long litany of iniquities that they were still engaging in, even though they were in the church and calling themselves believers.

Having sorted out those problems in the writing of 1 Corinthians, it wasn’t long until false teachers had come, and along with false teachers came pride, and along with pride came more sin. And Paul could see the subsequent impotence of that unholy situation and the loss of testimony, the loss of evangelistic impact that would follow.

Paul knew that the problem in Corinth was not going to be whether they were culturally relevant or not. The false teachers criticized Paul for not having a relevant message, not taking into account the expectations of the Corinthians for what oratory ought to be because of what they were used to. They had criticized Paul because his person, his persona was unimpressive, and his speech was contemptible; he was a lousy communicator; he didn’t speak in the venue that people were used to hearing. He didn’t have all of the personal charm to woo the audience.

He had already addressed the issues that he didn’t speak with men’s wisdom, and he didn’t come in the wisdom of the world to achieve divine purposes. He already had laid it down that he was going to come and speak the Word of God, and he believed the Word of God, and he believed the Word of God was the power. And behind that came this conviction and commitment to the fact that the church had to be holy. And what Paul feared in his church was error and sin. Either one of those destroys the church. Theological error, theological ignorance or inequity devastates the church.

I can think of very few pastors who would pursue Paul’s route. Yet, it is the correct one for the Church.

There is the world, the slave to sin. And there is the Church, which teaches that the way to eternal life is through the repentance of sin, a turning around of ourselves and our worldly ways towards … holiness.

Do we notice how the more modern and relevant the Church becomes, the more people avoid it?

There is another problem and that is the use of churches as tools for evangelising. Evangelising is a necessary activity but, done properly, it takes place outside of the church service, not during it.

The church service is designed for worship of our Lord and the exposition of Scripture, not winning converts off the street.

How bad do things have to get before our clergy realise the error of their ways? Sadly, I fear this will drag on and on for decades.

Over the New Year, a few tweets from Anglican priests caught my eye.

The first is from the Revd William Pearson-Gee, vicar of Buckingham Parish Church, whose sermon about not closing church for coronavirus went viral on Sunday, December 19, 2021:

He has the following suggestions for 2022, which will serve us better than easily-broken resolutions:

The Revd Steve Collier encourages us to put away fear and embrace living:

As far as coronavirus is concerned, Mr Pearson-Gee would like a focus on meaningful data rather than scary statistics:

He was bemused by a panicked mother who drove her child from Kent to Milan for the vaccine:

On the deeply sad news that 400 Anglican churches have closed in England over the past decade alone, he made an unintentional yet inspired typo. He meant to say ‘conversation’:

I am pretty sure that the Church of England hierarchy is responsible for a number of those closures, as they advocate for online church and only a hub of actual buildings. Philistines! The laity are fighting back. We’ll see who wins.

At least Mr Pearson-Gee’s church is doing well:

People know that they need more human contact rather than online participation.

The Revd David Horrocks of Barkham Church in Wokingham

… pointed out the late Revd John Stott‘s prediction 40 years ago about this sort of thing:

Stott also warned about the effect of television on children:

In closing, why do we persevere with our faith? Because our Lord and Saviour did. He set the example:

Jonathan Edwards, who was a Congregationalist, can teach us a few eternal truths from long ago. It’s all in the Bible.

More’s the pity that the Church of England isn’t more rigorous in its seminary curriculum. At least Mr Horrocks reads a lot of solid theology books, such as this one by a Presbyterian, Sinclair Ferguson, in his own time:

There is a remnant of Anglican clergy who are truly devoted to Jesus Christ and, through Him, God the Father. We read so much about the irritating hierarchy and so little about the good local priests leading their flocks to light and truth.

I will pray that they continue to be faithful servants.

For at least ten years the Christians living in the Holy Land have been persecuted.

Over Christmas 2021, articles and interviews surfaced about their plight. Sadly, this is not new, but it does show how impossible a resolution to this situation seems.

In July 2011, The Sunday Times reported that the then-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was launching an appeal for Christians suffering in the Holy Land (emphases mine below):

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams yesterday launched an appeal for “suffering” Christians in the Holy Land, calling for Anglicans to do more to help with community projects and job creation.

Dr Rowan Williams told the General Synod in York: “I returned from a visit to the Holy Land last year with a very, very strong sense that we had to do more to express our solidarity with the Christian communities there …

He said he hoped that Anglicans and others would give generously to help build a fund for projects that would contribute to the sustainability of the most vulnerable Christian communities, especially on the West Bank

He launched the appeal prior to a joint conference on Christians in the Holy Land with England’s Catholic Archbishop — now Cardinal — Vincent Nichols :

Dr Williams’ appeal came ahead of a conference on Christians in the Holy Land which he and the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols are jointly hosting at Lambeth Palace in London next week.

In a video presentation to explain his appeal Dr Williams warns that the rate of Christian emigration from the Holy Land had reached the point of “haemorrhage”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols says: “People are leaving, Christians are leaving, and we want to say the Christian presence in the Holy Land is important to its balance, to its — not just its historical reality but to its presence and future viability.”

In January 2018, Patriarch Theophilos III, the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, wrote an article for The Guardian, ‘Christians are at risk of being driven out of the Holy Land’.

The Patriarch is from the Holy Land and says that socio-political tension has been part of the problem:

Much attention has been paid recently to political decisions recognising Jerusalem in one light or another. The media attention highlights the seemingly intractable political struggle here. But as well as the threat to the political status quo, there is a threat also to the religious status quo, a threat instigated by radical settlers in and around Jerusalem, the heart of Christianity. And one group that has always been a pillar of society in the Holy Land – Christians – seems to have been rendered invisible in this standoff

Now various sides want to claim the Holy Land, including Jerusalem, as the exclusive possession of only one people. This treats with contempt the mechanism that has maintained peace and our multi-religious landscape for generations.

A delegation of Christians had travelled to the UK only a short time before to discuss the seriousness of their plight:

Recently Christian communities from the Holy Land came to the UK to seek support for our plight in the face of legal and land threats to the Christian church in the Holy Land. We were moved that church leaders from across the UK came to our support. In meetings with Prince Charles and government ministers, as well as with church leaders, we highlighted a proposed “church lands” bill signed by 40 members of Israel’s Knesset that would restrict the rights of churches to deal independently with their own land. We also discussed threats to church land around the Jaffa gate of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Cardinal Nichols was also there:

The UK’s Catholic Cardinal Vincent Nichols summed up the view of many when he told us that the proposed bill represented “an intolerable infringement of the status quo and the legitimate rights of the churches, and should be recognised for what it is: an attack on the property rights of the Christian community”.

‘Radical settlers’ added to the tension:

In addition to the church lands bill, one of the foremost threats to Christians in the Holy Land is the unacceptable activities of radical settler groups, which are attempting to establish control over properties around the Jaffa gate. The properties in question are in the heart of Jerusalem’s Christian quarter, the seat of all the patriarchates and headquarters of the churches, and less than 500m from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

If the settler groups were to gain control of the properties, they would be able to pursue their aggressive campaign of removing non-Jews from the City and from these strategic centres at the heart of the Christian quarter, threatening the very presence of Christians in the Holy Land.

The Patriarch explains that the holy places are sacred because holiness is a divine characteristic, not a human one:

The Christian understanding of holy places is that all people have claims to the sanctity of their holy places, because holiness is a divine characteristic, not a human one. No party should ever be able to make an exclusive claim over a holy place – in this case, over the holy city of Jerusalem.

We shall continue the fight for this cause because it is right and because it is our basic pastoral duty.

Incidentally, in neighbouring Syria, in 2019, the Jerusalem Post featured a contrasting news story and a podcast: ‘Muslims convert to Christianity in Syrian town once besieged by ISIS’.

This took place in the town of Kobani:

A community of Syrians who converted to Christianity from Islam is growing in Kobani, a town besieged by Islamic State for months, and where the tide turned against the militants four years ago.

The converts say the experience of war and the onslaught of a group claiming to fight for Islam pushed them towards their new faith. After a number of families converted, the Syrian-Turkish border town’s first evangelical church opened last year.

Islamic State militants were beaten back by U.S. air strikes and Kurdish fighters at Kobani in early 2015, in a reversal of fortune after taking over swaths of Iraq and Syria. After years of fighting, U.S.-backed forces fully ended the group’s control over populated territory last month …

Christianity is one of the region’s minority faiths that was persecuted by Islamic State.

Critics view the new converts with suspicion, accusing them of seeking personal gain such as financial help from Christian organizations working in the region, jobs and enhanced prospects of emigration to European countries.

The newly-converted Christians of Kobani deny those accusations. They say their conversion was a matter of faith.

“After the war with Islamic State people were looking for the right path, and distancing themselves from Islam,” said Omar Firas, the founder of Kobani’s evangelical church. “People were scared and felt lost.”

Firas works for a Christian aid group at a nearby camp for displaced people that helped set up the church …

The church’s current pastor, Zani Bakr, 34, arrived last year from Afrin, a town in northern Syria. He converted in 2007.

That is a most positive step for the Good News.

Returning to Jerusalem, on Sunday, December 19, 2021, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Hosam Naoum, the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, co-authored an article for The Sunday Times: ‘Let us pray for the Christians being driven from the Holy Land’.

The two men say that the radical settlers have increased their persecution of Christians in the Holy Land:

Last week church leaders in Jerusalem raised an unprecedented and urgent alarm call. In a joint statement they said Christians throughout the Holy Land had become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups.

They described “countless incidents” of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, and attacks on Christian churches. They spoke of holy sites being regularly vandalised and desecrated, and the ongoing intimidation of local Christians as they go about their worship and daily lives.

The Romanian Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem was vandalised during Lent in March this year, the fourth attack in a month. During Advent last December, someone lit a fire in the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus prayed the night before he was crucified. It is usually a place of pilgrimage for Christians from around the world, and the vandals are thought to have taken advantage of the lack of visitors due to the pandemic.

These tactics are being used by such radical groups “in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land”, the Jerusalem church leaders said in their statement.

That is why, when you speak to Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem today, you will often hear this cry: “In 15 years’ time, there’ll be none of us left!”

This crisis takes place against a century-long decline in the Christian population in the Holy Land. In 1922, at the end of the Ottoman era, the number of Christians in the Holy Land was estimated at 73,000; about 10 per cent of the population. In 2019, Christians constituted less than 2 per cent of the population of the Holy Land: a massive drop in less than 100 years.

Elsewhere, in Jaffa, for example, there is good news, but not in Jerusalem:

In Israel, the overall number of Christians has risen. The imminent reopening of St Peter’s Anglican Church in Jaffa, which has been closed for more than 70 years, is encouraging. But in east Jerusalem, the central place for pilgrimage and the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — where Christ is believed to have been crucified — there is a steady decline. Church leaders believe that there are now fewer than 2,000 Christians left in the Old City of Jerusalem

Christians in Israel enjoy democratic and religious freedoms that are a beacon in the region. But the escalation of physical and verbal abuse of Christian clergy, and the vandalism of holy sites by fringe radical groups, are a concerted attempt to intimidate and drive them away. Meanwhile, the growth of settler communities and travel restrictions brought about by the West Bank separation wall have deepened the isolation of Christian villages and curtailed economic and social possibilities.

All of these factors have contributed to a steady stream of Palestinian Christians leaving the Holy Land to seek lives and livelihoods elsewhere — a historic tragedy unfolding in real time.

What can be done?

This trend can be reversed — but action must be taken fast. We encourage governments and authorities in the region to listen to church leaders in their midst: to engage in the practical conversations that will lead to vital Christian culture and heritage being guarded and sustained. The time for action is now.

On Christmas Eve, Tom Harwood of GB News interviewed His Grace Bishop Dr Munib Younan from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Palestine and Jordan:

He pleaded for the radicals to ‘be brought to justice’ and asked what Jerusalem would be like without its Christian community. He says that the city belongs to three faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

He said that love is at the heart of the Christian message and that those who are persecuted should pray for their attackers. He added that Christ died on the Cross to give us life and life abundantly.

He ended by saying that everyone has to work together to resolve this ongoing and desperate situation.

On Wednesday, 29 December, Janine di Giovanni, a journalist and Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, wrote about this subject in a broader sense for The Telegraph: ‘We need to talk about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East’.

She has reported from the Middle East for three decades and says:

I can tell you first hand, as a human rights reporter who spent three decades working in the Middle East, the situation there is urgent and it threatens to disrupt the entire demographic of the area. I made it my mission to work with embattled Christians, aiding them in their plight and trying to get the message out to the wider world: they are in peril. And so, I began in-depth field work on the most vulnerable Christian communities. I focused on four areas where I felt the risk was most prominent: Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and the minute group of Christians in the Gaza Strip. Their numbers are dwindling rapidly.

Social scientists estimate that some of them – such as the Iraqi Christians whose populations have plummeted from close to 1.5 million to an estimated 100,000 in 40 years – are in danger of extinction. It is unthinkable to me that Christianity in its birthplace, the land of the prophets where St. Thomas or Jonah had wandered, might disappear. Everywhere I went as a war reporter in my long career – Africa, Asia, the Balkans, Afghanistan – I always found a church. No matter where I was, these visits drew me back into a safe place where I found solace and freedom from gripping fear.

Even Kabul had a tiny Catholic chapel, Our Lady of Divine Providence, at the Italian Embassy, opened in 2002 after the fall of the Taliban. But unlike the Christians in the Middle East – whose ancestry can stretch back to the prophets two millenn[ia] ago – the tiny population of Afghan Christians were nearly all converts. Nonetheless, this month, Father Giovanni Scalese, the leader of that community, who has since fled, issued a plea that Christians need no “obstacles to religious freedom.” Their situation is bad in Afghanistan, but even worse in the Middle East.

During lockdown, she began writing a book — The Vanishing: The Twilight of Christianity in the Middle East — based on journals of interviews that she has kept since the 1990s. Her article recounts some of what Christians are experiencing in that part of the world. It’s a harrowing read.

However, one place stood out for her:

it was the 800 Christian inhabitants of Gaza who perhaps touched me the most. Gaza was mostly Christian until the fourth Century. Today, the mainly Greek Orthodox Christians – but also Catholics, Lutherans Baptists – are sandwiched between Hamas, which is at war with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and also with the Israelis.

The lives of these Christians (as all civilians in Gaza) are perhaps the most hellish on a day-to-day basis: the lack of electricity, fresh water and health services, the fear of more bombing and their inability to visit family in Bethlehem and Jerusalem during the holidays. They are isolated and abandoned. Last summer, I returned, my first trip since Covid – and the situation was the worst I had seen in 30 years.

Nonetheless, faith and love characterise the persecuted:

But faith somehow continues, even in these embattled communities. Throughout the hundreds of interviews I did for The Vanishing, there was one theme that was consistent: love. Whether it was Father Mario da Silva, an inspirational Portuguese priest who had left a comfortable posting in The Vatican to work in Gaza, or a family celebrating its existence after encountering Isil on a mountaintop near Mosul. These people continued to pray, to believe, to gain inner strength from something they could not see or even at times understand: their profound belief in God.

Their faith, in many ways, was more powerful than any of the forces that tried to destroy them.

Christians know that persecution is to be expected, but we can pray that God relieves believers in the Middle East of this daily scourge, a seemingly intractable — and tragic — situation.

The other day, I read the comments to an agony aunt column in The Guardian concerning a family issue.

One of the paper’s readers remarked that ‘blood is thicker than water’, which received this response

The original meaning of “Blood is thicker than water” was that a blood bond (where two friends or comrades cut their hands or wrists to mingle their blood together and vow eternal support) was regarded as stronger and of more importance than the accident of birth (the “water” being the amniotic fluid, as in the phrase, “Her waters have broken”).

… followed by this one (emphases mine below):

Incorrect. The phrase is a corruption of the original saying, which is “The blood of the Covenant is thicker than the water of the womb”.

The original saying meant that people’s relationship to each other through their Christian faith was even more important than kinship. Over time, it was shortened to “blood is thicker than water” and the modern meaning is now precisely the opposite of the original meaning.

I learned something new that day.

By His Grace; For His Glory has a thought-provoking devotional on this saying, affirming its religious meaning. Excerpts follow.

One example from the Bible is Luke 8:19-21:

Over the past 8 months of devoted Bible study I have come to terms with the grief I often felt by what I had considered a “lost relationship” in my life. One that should have been much stronger than it is. My lesson from the Lord began in Luke chapter 8.

19 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they couldn’t get to him because of the crowd. 20 Someone told Jesus, “Your mother and your brothers are standing outside, and they want to see you.” 21 Jesus replied, “My mother and my brothers are all those who hear God’s word and obey it.”

Here I began to understand that the relationship I grieved was not necessarily a void in my life; but rather, God began to show me He has provided the satisfaction and fullness of what that relationship should bring through others that are not of any blood relation.

The author of the devotional gives several other examples from Scripture, one of which is from the Old Testament, involving Jonathan and David in 1 Samuel 20:16-17:

I Samuel 20:16,17, “So Jonathan made (cut) a covenant with the house of David, saying, ‘Let the Lord even require it at the hand of David’s enemies.’ And Jonathan caused David to swear again, because he loved him: for he loved him as he loved his own soul.”

The author then cites an explanation from Pastor Johnie Akers of how the blood covenant ceremony in the ancient world was done:

The expression “blood is thicker than water” may be familiar with us in general terms, but its true meaning, especially in Western culture, is somewhat foreign. An understanding of ancient Eastern covenants brings new light to this obscure phrase. During the ritual of ancient covenant making, the two parties involved would divide an animal in half, and stand together in the blood, with their right hands clasp, and swear a mutual oath binding them to each other. In some cases, each party would cut their respective hands, bind them together with the other party, allowing their blood to mingle. The resulting union of this blood oath was never to be broken. In effect, the two participants in the covenant would become “blood brothers,” and thus become one flesh. The relationship born of this union was so knit, that brothers made through the blood of covenants were closer to each other than brothers who were born from the same womb. Hence, blood (of the covenant) is thicker than water (of the womb).

In the … scripture above, Jonathan and David cut a covenant and become, likewise, blood brothers. This bond lasted until deathChrist, too, makes a blood covenant with his disciples and thereby binding himself to them, and all disciples to follow, with a covenant that exceeds any natural relationship. As ancient covenants go, Christ’s was also “till death us do part.”

The devotional concludes:

Of course we should love and pray for our families. However we must be aware that some boundaries are needed even between family. We can love without enabling, we can care without subjecting ourselves to a situation that brings harm. We can pray for them but one thing we have to remember is that we can not change them! Only God can bring about true change. I’m not saying it’s easy to do but proper relational balance is in order.

So pay close attention to those you spend your time and energy with. If you don’t have a good relationship with the ones you think should be closest to you, don’t count it as a loss. God can still fulfill that desire through others in the family of God.

Wise words, indeed.

The Church of England (CofE) has been undergoing a post-coronavirus exercise of church closures and consolidation.

Having been buoyed by Zoom worship in 2020 and 2021, Anglican bishops have decided to pull the plug on some of the world’s most beautiful churches, a source of community and comfort to those who worship in them.

Last week, Emma Thompson, not the actress, but a journalist and member of Save the Parish, wrote an article for The Telegraph about this dispiriting and destructive plan.

She rightly wonders whether England’s Anglican churches will still be there for her children. I share her view of the local church (emphases mine):

I love my rural village church. My vicar. My neighbours who attend. It’s local. It is, somehow, intrinsic. I love the Church of England and what it has brought to our constitution, language, law, architecture, art and music. Yet, unfortunately, I am increasingly worried that this great institution of our national life may not survive for my children’s old age.

At a time when the CofE could be offering comfort during a pandemic, it moved instead to championing political issues and the need to combat climate change. At the most senior levels of the Church, God has been sidelined.

In the last five months, three Anglican bishops have been received into the Roman Catholic Church. The latest is the former bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir-Ali, who, several years ago, was shortlisted to become the next Archbishop of Canterbury.

Thompson rightly points out that his crossing the Tiber should be a red alert to Anglican bishops:

The significance of Dr Nazir-Ali’s decision should not be lost on those at the top of the CofE.

Bishops, now all nominated by the same appointments secretary, appear to prefer groupthink to diversity of thought. If no room exists for Dr Nazir-Ali – a theologically erudite, spiritually committed man who challenged the CofE’s strategic direction – then it is clear that a form of cancel culture has invaded the Church. How strange if the concept of tough love – the idea that someone who cares enough to criticise might love you most – is not embraced by Christ’s followers. Without extraordinary people, the institution will sink.

The new CofE strategy involves the closure of the local church, to be replaced by the diocesan office. How will that provide pastoral care for thousands of churchgoers?

Thompson reminds us that being the Good Shepherd to the flock is still part of the ordination vows:

… ordination vows reference being the Good Shepherd. The parish, the contact point with people providing local pastoral care, must be the basic unit.

Absolutely.

What is happening to CofE churches is nothing short of alarming:

Various dioceses announced morale-shattering parish clergy cuts. The Archbishop of York proposed the “Myriad” scheme to create 10,000 new lay-led “house churches”. Leicester Diocese voted to consolidate 234 parishes into 20-25 huge groups, cutting local vicars.

This accompanies a third shift, the Church’s loss of respect for its buildings, our shared national heritage. A green paper, nicknamed the Church Closers’ Charter, has suggested empowering dioceses to dispossess vicars, close churches and sell parish-owned buildings more easily and quickly.

What are these bishops thinking? Thompson said that these decisions are being taken by a ‘cabal’ of 12 of them, deciding the future of the faithful, and not in a good way.

She says that the Methodist Church in England adopted a similar plan and is now a shadow of its former self.

In closing, she says that the only way to combat this is to give generously:

Some dioceses, by pledging not to cut parish clergy, have managed to increase giving. This shows that we need not despair.

Even so, this dire plan of the bishops is a dangerous path for an established (national) church to take. One can only pray that divine intervention thwarts it.

On Saturday, August 7, 2021, Mark Dolan of GB News interviewed a Scottish clergyman on his late night show.

The Revd Dr William Philip is the pastor of Tron Church in Glasgow. Earlier this year, he led a handful of other Scottish clergy in filing a successful lawsuit against the Scottish government for having closed churches in 2020 during lockdown.

In the 20-minute interview below, he explained why it is so important to be able to gather together to worship during the coronavirus crisis. Believers need to gather together in one place — church — for communal prayer and fellowship. His words were well received not only by Dolan and his guests but also on YouTube:

Philip, who worked as a hospital physician before ordination, also does not think that vaccine passports are necessary:

While churches in England and Wales re-opened in July 2020 and closed again for three weeks in October, Scotland took different measures. In January 2021, Nicola Sturgeon’s SNP government forbade — criminalised — public worship during new lockdown measures.

On January 6, Philip and five other Protestant clergy sent a letter to Nicola Sturgeon, which reads, in part (emphases in the original):

We write as ministers and leaders of churches in Scotland, supported by colleagues across the United Kingdom, to raise our profound concerns at the measures to suspend public worship in Scotland as part of the currently increased restrictions.

We understand entirely the exceptional difficulties of leading the country at the present time, and we and our churches have prayed for wisdom and clarity for your government repeatedly. But we strongly disagree with the decision to prevent the gathering of the Church at this time, which we believe is profoundly unhelpful and may be unlawful.

As pointed out by Sir Edward Leigh in his letter to you of 4 January, Article 9 of the European Convention of Human Rights prohibits governments from interfering with religious practice unless demonstrated as essential for public health because church services were proven a significant source of spread of disease. We know of no evidence of any tangible contribution to community transmission through churches in Scotland; to the contrary, since churches re-opened in July we have demonstrated that places of worship and public worship can be made safe from Covid transmission. It is for such reasons that legal challenges in other jurisdictions have overturned prohibitions of the freedom to gather for worship.

However, above all we are dismayed because there seems to be a failure in the Scottish Government to understand that Christian worship is an essential public service, and especially vital to our nation in a time of crisis …

In national times of crisis past, governments have looked to the church and sought leadership in a national call to prayer to the Living God. We urge you not to be the government which denies our nation the collective prayer of the churches of our land in days when it is most greatly needed.

We echo the words of the Archbishop [of Canterbury] and other leaders to the Prime Minister and call on the Scottish Government to recognise and support this, and enable us to continue to worship safely, as part of the essential fabric of the nation.

On February 9, Philip wrote an article for The Critic: ‘Meeting others to worship is a lifeline’. Excerpts follow (emphases mine):

A group of Clergy taking government to court might seem a surprisingly ‘un-Christian’ thing to do, when closing churches is to ‘save lives’. In fact, the reason we have commenced action against Scottish Minsters is born of profound Christian love for our nation. We all recognise the challenges facing the government. But we believe that, however well-intentioned, criminalising corporate worship is both damaging and dangerous for Scotland

There is an urgent need for a message beyond that of health and safety: a message of hope and salvation. This is the calling of the Christian Church – especially in dark and difficult days: to ‘hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering’ (Hebrews 10:23). Jesus Christ is the only hope that dispels all fear, death included.

That is not to say Christians don’t care about present physical threats. Indeed, it is this eternal perspective that liberates to love and serve neighbours truly, and fearlessly. As CS Lewis pointed out ‘those who want heaven most have served earth best’. This is what our society needs to witness, proclaimed boldly by Christian leaders and adorned visibly in the worshipping Church. So it is of great damage to Scotland that corporate worship is now illegal.

It also brings great danger.

Many in the world today brave huge threats to worship as Christ’s Church. We do not remotely claim such persecution; however, our situation is unprecedented in modern times. For centuries Scottish law has embedded the truth that both Church and Civil government are ordained by God and subject to Him, but their roles are distinct and government must not interfere in the Church. It was the Stuart monarchs seeking to undermine this ‘twa kingdoms’ doctrine that led to a century of conflict before religious toleration prevailed across Scotland and England with the Claim of Right Act 1689. Scots law reiterated then that Jesus Christ alone is head of the Church and this remained paramount in the Union of 1707, was reinforced again in the 1921 Church of Scotland Act, and is affirmed by each monarch in the Coronation Oath

I never imagined myself involved in action like this. But Scots would not have precious freedoms today had our Kirk forebears shrunk back in their time. I truly hope that our government will see what a grave incursion this ban on public worship is – to centuries-old Scots law as well as modern Human Rights protections – and also the suffering it is inflicting on many. The proper place of Christian worship must be restored so that, as Martin Luther said (amid a far more deadly epidemic), our people may ‘learn through God’s word how to live and how to die’.”

One week later, Lord Braid of the Scottish High Court granted permission for a hearing. By then, 27 clergy had pledged their support. Christian Today‘s article says:

Lord Braid has granted permission for a hearing which will take place remotely on 11 and 12 March after Scottish ministers rejected the arguments of 27 Scottish church leaders in a pre-action letter.

The church leaders argue that the “disproportionate” closures are a breach of human rights law and the Scottish constitution, and are preventing them from meeting the material, emotional and spiritual needs of their congregations and communities.

In their response, Scottish ministers said the state was within its rights to “regulate the secular activities of Churches…for the purposes of protecting public health”, and that churches were compelled to “comply with secular law.”

The church leaders come from a broad range of denominations, including the Free Church of Scotland, Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), Church of Scotland and a number of independent churches …

Rev Geoffrey de Bruin, leader at Christian Revival Church Edinburgh, said: “This is now a crucial moment for the freedom of the church in Scotland …

For Christians, spiritual health is more important than physical health.

Churches serve as lifelines of support to the most vulnerable during the toughest times and we pray that these important principles and beliefs will be recognised and upheld by the courts in March.”

The Christian Legal Centre (CLC), founded in 2007, took the case on behalf of the clergy.

Fortunately, the clergy won their case in March. Christian Concern issued a statement on the outcome:

Permission for a judicial review was granted and heard at the Scottish High Court on 11 March 2021.

On 24 March 2021, judgment was handed down by Lord Braid, ruling that the Scottish Ministers’ decision to ban and criminalise gather church worship during lockdown was unconstitutional and disproportionate.

The Tron Church serves a diverse congregation in central Glasgow. In 2012, it broke away from the Church of Scotland, opposing its move to accept gay clergy, although it maintains a cordial relationship with the Kirk, as the state church is known. The Tron is now part of the West of Scotland Gospel Partnership.

In February 2020, the SSE Hydro stadium in Glasgow cancelled an appearance by the Revd Franklin Graham, Billy’s son, amid accusations of ‘homophobia’.

Philip joined several other clergy from the West of Scotland Gospel Partnership in signing a letter to The Herald, expressing their disappointment. Excerpts follow:

THE cancellation by the SSE Hydro in Glasgow of the Franklin Graham event is a deeply disturbing decision that is antithetical to freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and to true democratic values.

Franklin Graham is being discriminated against for having on occasions expressed mainstream Judaeo-Christian views on sexuality. His views in this area are not religiously extreme, indeed they simply reflect the historic and orthodox teachings of the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of England and countless other denominational groups. Like all mainstream Christian leaders Franklin Graham believes that every human being is a precious soul made in the image of God, and thus should be loved and treated with respect accordingly.

The planned event is one in a rich tradition of such Christian activity going back centuries in both Glasgow and the country at large. As Rev Graham has expressed himself his mission is not political but to make known the good news about Jesus Christ to every person regardless of their sexuality or any other characteristic

Christians disagree about many things, but Christians all agree that respect for religious freedom and freedom of speech is fundamental to a free society. Therefore, we ask that the SSE Hydro management, and those political leaders who have influence in such matters, reverse this decision.

A failure to do so would be an ominous move towards a less free society and one that will in time have serious repercussions for the civic liberties of all.

The Revd Dr Philip sounds like a good clergyman and one who refuses to stand by when the Church is discriminated against.

On Thursday, July 29, 2021, mindless vandals ruined St Mary Magdalene Church in Caldecote, Hertfordshire:

Hertfordshire is a quiet, leafy county in England, so this was a surprising and unhappy incident.

The church had just undergone nine months of renovation:

Fortunately, volunteers from Friendless Churches stepped in to clean up.

A heavy duty vacuum cleaner was needed:

Volunteers worked through the weekend:

By the end of the day on Sunday, August 1, it was presentable once again, although repairs must be redone:

The electricity supply also needs repair:

St Mary Magdalene, which dates from the 14th or 15th century, is one of 59 redundant — deconsecrated? — and ancient churches in England and Wales that Friendless Churches looks after. Some are open for visits and concerts, such as St Mary Magdalene:

Sadly, another St Mary Magdalene church in another part of the Home Counties — Boveney, Buckinghamshire, near Eton College — was vandalised last week, although not as badly:

It is unlikely that the poor box will be replaced:

Crimes such as these make it more likely that ancient treasures of worship could be under lock and key in future. Restoration is expensive, as is the installation of a security camera system.

It’s hard to understand why anyone would want to vandalise such beautiful buildings. In any event, those who committed the crimes will one day have to answer to the ultimate Judge. Their defence of drug use or whatever other excuse will be pointless on that fateful day.

On the evening of Saturday, June 26, many Britons were relieved that Prime Minister Boris Johnson appointed a new Secretary of State for Health and Social Care so soon after Matt Hancock’s resignation.

Although lockdown supporters say that Sajid Javid has no experience in health, that is why many of us think he is a good choice. He will give the department a fresh pair of eyes and a new perspective, one that isn’t tied to SAGE or ‘our NHS’, which has become a cult religion over the past 16 months (March 2020 – June 2021).

Since the pandemic began, it has become very difficult being able to see a general practitioner (GP) in person.

The Telegraph‘s Ross Clark wrote (emphases mine):

… many patients struggle to get a doctor to see them even at the surgery. Hancock’s vision of us all consulting medical staff via smartphone app doesn’t allow for the fact that, according to Ofcom, only 55 percent of the over-65s – ie those who need the NHS the most – use a smartphone. Even if it did, it ignores the views of cancer specialists who have warned that cancer is often diagnosed via subtle changes in a patient’s appearance – something you can’t capture by uploading a photograph of a spot.

Hopefully, the new health secretary will bring a keen eye to Hancock’s failures and won’t shy away from tackling vested interests so that we can a real doctor, in real life, when we need to.

GB News covered the appointment on their Sunday morning programme:

TalkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer also thought Javid’s appointment was good news:

Mark Harper MP of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) in Parliament tweeted his congratulations:

The Sunday Times said that Carrie Johnson, who once worked for Javid in government, was influential in getting him the job:

The Mayor of London appeared on Andrew Marr’s show on Sunday to congratulate a fellow son of a bus driver (video here):

This confused Deputy Labour Leader Angela Rayner, who also said ‘fragrant’ instead of ‘flagrant’ in an interview this week:

Later that day, Times journalist Steven Swinford was told that the security camera in Hancock’s former office — now Javid’s — had been turned off:

Monday’s front page of the Telegraph reported a positive outlook from the new Health Secretary:

That morning, Javid gave an interview to Sky News expressing his desire for a quick lifting of coronavirus restrictions:

However, as Guido Fawkes pointed out, Javid has voted with the Government on continuing restrictions (emphasis in the original):

Co-conspirators will be relieved to hear that given hitherto he has voted in favour of every lockdown. Javid also confirmed the notorious camera lurking in his new office has now been disabled, though not by him personally…

Late Monday afternoon, Javid delivered his first statement in Parliament as Health Secretary. Excerpts from Hansard follow, emphases mine.

He stated the positives about the vaccine rollout, beginning with a brief tribute to Hancock:

I want to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my predecessor, my right hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), who has worked hard throughout all these testing times. He achieved a great amount in the work that he did, and I know that he will have more to offer in public life. I wish him the very best.

There remains a big task ahead of us to restore our freedoms—freedoms that, save in the gravest of circumstances, no Government should ever wish to curtail. My task is to help to return the economic and cultural life that makes this country so great, while, of course, protecting life and our NHS. That task has been made all the more difficult by the delta variant, which we now know makes up some 95% of new cases in the UK. Not only does it spread more easily, but the evidence points to a higher risk of those who have not been vaccinated needing hospital treatment, compared with the previously dominant alpha variant.

This narrowing of the race between the virus and the vaccine led to this Government’s difficult decision to pause step 4 on our road map until 19 July. We are using this extra time to protect as many people as we can. When the Government took that decision on 14 June, more than 4.3 million over-40s had had a first dose but not a second. The figure is now down to 3.2 million people over 40. We can all be reassured by how many more people are getting the life-saving opportunity that a vaccine offers.

At this two-week review point, I want to update the House on our progress on our road map to freedom. Our aim is that around two thirds of all adults in this country will have had both doses by 19 July. We are bringing forward second doses, and bringing forward our target for first doses too, so we can meet that 19 July goal. Vaccine uptake remains sky-high. We have seen that age is no barrier to enthusiasm for getting the jab: as of this weekend, more than half of adults under 30 have taken up the chance to be vaccinated—including, in the past couple of weeks, all three of my own adult children.

Our vaccines are working, including against the delta variant. The latest modelling from Public Health England shows that they have saved more than 27,000 lives and have prevented more than 7 million people from getting covid-19. We know that, after a single dose of vaccine, the effectiveness is lower against the new delta variant, at around a 33% reduction in symptomatic disease, but two doses of the vaccine are just as effective against hospital admission with the delta variant as with the alpha variant.

The jabs are making a difference in our hospitals, too. In January, people over 65 who were vaccinated earlier in our programme made up the vast majority of hospital admissions; the latest data shows that that group now makes up less than a third. While cases now are ticking up, the number of deaths remains mercifully low, and we will continue to investigate how our vaccines are breaking that link between cases, hospitalisations and deaths. I am also encouraged by new data just today from Oxford University’s mix and match trial, which shows that a mixed schedule of jabs, such as getting the AstraZeneca jab first and the Pfizer second, could give our booster vaccination programme more flexibility and possibly even some better immune responses

I spent my first day as Health Secretary—just yesterday—looking at the data and testing it to the limit. While we decided not to bring forward step 4, we see no reason to go beyond 19 July because, in truth, no date we choose comes with zero risk for covid. We know we cannot simply eliminate it; we have to learn to live with it. We also know that people and businesses need certainty, so we want every step to be irreversible. Make no mistake: the restrictions on our freedoms must come to an end. We owe it to the British people, who have sacrificed so much, to restore their freedoms as quickly as we possibly can, and not to wait a moment longer than we need to.

With the numbers heading in the right direction, all while we protect more and more people each day, 19 July remains our target date. The Prime Minister has called it our terminus date. For me, 19 July is not only the end of the line, but the start of an exciting new journey for our country. At this crucial moment in our fight back against this pandemic, we must keep our resolve and keep on our road map to freedom so that together we can beat this pandemic and build back better. It is a task that I am deeply honoured to lead and one I know will succeed. I commend this statement to the House.

Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth (Lab) responded for the Opposition, pointing out that Javid’s optimism might be misguided:

Can I just say at the outset that, despite our fierce political differences, my dealings with the previous Secretary of State, the right hon. Member for West Suffolk (Matt Hancock), were always courteous, respectful and professional, and I wish him well in resolving his personal difficulties.

I welcome the right hon. Member for Bromsgrove (Sajid Javid) to his place and thank him for advance sight of his statement. He will find working with the NHS and social care staff both inspirational and rewarding, and I hope he will agree to make arrangements for them to receive a fair pay rise and not the real-terms pay cut that is currently pencilled in.

Today, the Secretary of State has let it be known that the 19 July reopening will effectively go ahead. He told the news this morning that there is “no going back” and that lifting restrictions will be “irreversible”. A word to the wise: I have responded to a lot of these statements these past 15 months, and I remember Ministers telling us there was “nothing in the data” to suggest that 21 June would not go ahead. I remember children returning to school for one day before the January lockdown. I remember, “It will all be over by Christmas”. I remember, “We will send it packing in 12 weeks”.

Well, we have seen around 84,000 cases in the past week—an increase of around 61%. Today, we have seen the highest case rate since January. If these trends continue, we could hit 35,000 to 45,000 cases a day by 19 July. That will mean more long covid—the Secretary of State did not mention more long covid—and it will mean more disruption to schooling. For some, it will mean hospitalisation, and we know that even after two doses, someone can catch and transmit the virus, so what is he going to do to push infections down? Vaccination will do it eventually, but not in the next four weeks.

I want to see an end to restrictions and our constituents want to see an end to restrictions, but I hope the Secretary of State’s confidence today about 19 July does not prove somewhat premature or even, dare I say it, hubristic. Can he confirm that by “irreversible” he is ruling out restrictions this winter? Has he abandoned the plan that the previous Secretary of State and officials were drawing up for restrictions this winter? …

Javid responded, without addressing possible winter restrictions:

With all the data I saw yesterday—I sat down and discussed it with the experts and my colleagues—it is very clear that we are heading in the right direction, and I am very confident about that date of 19 July

Lucy Allan (Con), who has voiced her scepticism about coronavirus restrictions before, asked about the terminus date:

Can my right hon. Friend confirm that 19 July will mark the end of the road map out of lockdown, that “terminus” means the end of the line, not an interchange, and that it is his intention that all restrictions will be lifted on that date?

Javid replied:

… As she will have heard in my statement, it is absolutely our intention to have step 4 commence on 19 July and to remove restrictions and start returning to normal. She asked me specifically about all restrictions, or which restrictions. It is certainly our intention to remove restrictions, but as we follow the data in the coming days, we will set out more in due course.

Jim Shannon (DUP), a staunch Anglican, asked about loosening restrictions on church worship:

… If we are aiming for progression and moving away from restrictions such as the wearing of masks, may I ask when people will be able to attend worship and sit in churches self-distanced, without wearing a mask, just as diners can sit in a restaurant self-distanced without a mask? If we are going to have parity, then I believe that churches should have parity with restaurants.

Javid gave a reassuring reply:

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks. I agree with him that as we move towards removing restrictions and step 4, we should take seriously into account what he said about people attending churches and the restrictions that they currently face. That is certainly my intention.

John Redwood (Con) asked whether Javid would look into improvements in ventilation and cleaning for various types of establishments to improve the air flow. Javid said that he would do so.

Theresa Villiers (Con) also asked about church, specifically singing hymns:

Now that thousands of people are allowed to gather together at a football match to shout and cheer as much as they want, is it not time that we allowed congregations in church to sing hymns together?

Javid responded positively, which is more than Hancock ever did when asked similar questions:

I can tell my right hon. Friend that that is certainly what I would like to see and it is certainly my intention to allow that to happen as soon as possible. When it does, I hope we can sing a hymn together.

Richard Drax (Con) asked how long it would take before people could see their GPs in person again.

It looks as if Javid will address that issue, which Hancock did not much care about, insisting that phone and video conferences were highly successful:

My hon. Friend has raised an important issue. Even before I had this job, that issue came up again and again when I was a constituency MP just like him, and I absolutely understand it. It has especially been raised by older members of my constituency; people have brought this issue up where they are perhaps not as familiar with technology and they want that face-to-face meeting. I have already asked for advice on that and I will write to him on it, if I may.

Liam Fox (Con) asked for more data to be made public:

As for the data we get, it is not just about the number of infections—it is about who is infected, what age they are, whether they have pre-existing conditions, and whether they have been offered a vaccine, but have refused. It is not just about hospitalisations and how many people are in hospital. How long have they been hospitalised compared with the figures for previous parts of the pandemic? How many of them require extra care and how many are in intensive care units? We need to understand much better how the Government are reaching their decisions. The British people are not stupid, and Parliament needs to be taken into the Government’s confidence much more. I trust, given the previous examples of how he has conducted himself, that my right hon. Friend can do that.

Javid replied:

… On his important point about data, I saw the data in the Department for the first time yesterday. I saw the detail that it provides and how granular it is. I was impressed with that data, so I can give my right hon. Friend reassurance that the Government are looking at the data, and are absolutely taking it into account. I would also like to find a way to make sure that we can share as much of that data as possible so that others can benefit from it, and I will certainly look at ways in which we can do just that.

Dr Ben Spencer (Con) asked about winter measures:

… Does he share my concerns regarding this winter, when we predict that an increase in covid hospitalisations may be superimposed on normal NHS winter pressures? Can he confirm that plans and preparations are being put in place now to support our NHS in what may be a very difficult winter indeed?

Javid responded in the affirmative:

My hon. Friend is right to raise this issue. I can absolutely confirm that plans are being put in place. A huge amount of work was done by my predecessor and, of course, I will continue that work—just yesterday, I had meetings on winter plans. I can give my hon. Friend the absolute assurance, not just on vaccinations but on dealing with the backlog, that there are plans in place, and in due course I will come to the House and set them out.

Huw Merriman (Con) asked about a return to international travel, especially for those who have had two vaccinations.

Javid said:

First, my hon. Friend will know that, in terms of 19 July and the restrictions that will be removed, we are focusing on domestic restrictions. He knows that, separately, we also take very seriously the border controls, the border restrictions and the so-called traffic light system. In terms of making any further decision on that, he will know that it is kept under constant review on a very regular basis, and it is something that I intend to sit down and discuss with my right hon. Friend the Transport Secretary as soon as I can.

Mark Harper (Con) pressed Javid with a question on winter restrictions:

… I welcome my right hon. Friend’s tone and his intent to get us back to normal, but let me pick up on his earlier answer to our hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Dr Spencer). There are those in government, from documents that I have seen, who are preparing the ground for the return of restrictions in the autumn and the winter. Will he rule out the use of lockdowns and restrictions in the winter as a mechanism for managing covid, and look at alternatives to ensure that the NHS is able to deal with us getting back to normal?

Javid answered:

I am very happy to meet with him to discuss the issues in more detail and listen to his views. He should know that it is my intention, and the Government’s intention, as I have said from day one on this job, to remove all restrictions as quickly as possible.

Steve Brine (Con) asked about the disruptive self-isolation rules following positive test results, especially for schoolchildren:

I am looking for a change in policy as much as a change in tone. I return him to the subject of education. Estimates suggest that a quarter of a million children are missing school today due to precautionary isolations, the vast majority of them sequential due to the bubbles that they are caught in. Under the current rules, 10 days of isolation is then unavoidable, even with a negative PCR test. Have our young people not suffered enough? Are we really going to continue to do this to ourselves? Is this not an area, given the availability and reliability of testing now, where I might find the change of policy that I am looking for?

Javid replied:

Other hon. Members have rightly raised this very important issue, and my hon. Friend is right to draw attention to it once again. It is something that I have focused on from day one on the job. That is why I have asked for fresh advice on it. As he knows, that decision was made with the data that was available at the time. Clearly, data is changing all the time, and we must ensure that we keep that under review for exactly the reasons that he has just set out. As I say, I have asked for advice on that and will hopefully be able to say more on it as soon as possible.

This is what journalists and the public picked up from that debate.

The Sun‘s Deputy Political Editor Kate Ferguson tweeted about the terminus date …

… and singing in church:

GB News was a bit more cautious:

The Telegraph‘s Alison Pearson gave Javid five suggestions for improvement, including sacking SAGE and publishing COVID-19 recovery data with the public:

It was pure speculation by Sage that led to the cancellation of Freedom Day on June 21. Subsequent figures have shown that we are not seeing any sign of hospitalisations for Covid “rocketing” or “surging” as we were warned two weeks ago. On the contrary, NHS England currently has just 1,445 Covid patients (one per cent of all beds). The rolling seven-day average of deaths after a positive test with Covid is 17. Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford, says the vaccines are holding up really well against variants. Asked about the large number of “cases”, he said, “This is trivial, actually. Most who test positive are under 30 and they don’t get very sick.” Sir John is clearly far too sane to qualify as a government adviser. Maybe have a word with him?

As for publishing the recovery data:

Matt Hancock promised he would last summer; the slippery eel never did. We are among the only countries in the world not to trust its people with positive information from which they can calculate their own risk. Please stop infantilising us.

The Telegraph‘s Jeremy Warner has hope that, by working together, Javid and Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak can turn this parlous situation around:

Like the new Health Secretary, Sunak has always been at the libertarian end of the debate on lockdown, as he must given his interest in a functioning, tax generating economy. So unusually, we for now have a Chancellor and a Health Secretary who are actually on the same page. The Prime Minister should enjoy the harmony while it lasts. The Treasury and Health department are not natural bedfellows.

On the other hand, Bob Moran, the Telegraph‘s cartoonist and a coronavirus sceptic, was unimpressed:

Someone picked up on ‘Build Back Better’:

However, author Carl Vernon, also a coronavirus sceptic, was positive:

I tend to agree with him.

As Sajid Javid has worked for some of the world’s greatest investment banks, I hope that he will cast a gimlet eye over all of the data and ask probing questions of SAGE when they make recommendations on continuing restrictions.

I wish our new Health Secretary all the best.

On Monday, May 17, 2021, a number of interesting news items appeared.

World Economic Forum cancels 2021 meeting

The World Economic Forum, the brainchild of Klaus ‘The Great Reset’ Schwab, is cancelling their 2021 meeting in Singapore:

MoneyControl reports:

With COVID-19 cases surging across the globe, World Economic Forum on May 17 announced the cancellation of its annual meeting in Singapore.

The World Economic Forum has been preparing a Special Annual Meeting in Singapore, which was supposed to take place just three months from now. The next Annual Meeting will instead take place in the first half of 2022. Though final location and date will be determined based on an assessment of the situation later this summer …

“It was a difficult decision, particularly in view of the great interest of our partners to come together not just virtually but in person, and to contribute to a more resilient, more inclusive and more sustainable world. But ultimately the health and safety of everyone concerned is our highest priority,” WEF Founder and Executive Chairman Professor Klaus Schwab said.

The WEF event had already been rescheduled twice and had been moved to Singapore from its usual location of Davos, Switzerland. The event brings together politicians and business leaders from around the world.

Good news.

California can no longer lock down churches during coronavirus crisis

There’s more good news, this time from California. Governor Newsom can no longer issue coronavirus — and other — diktats preventing church worship:

LifeNews reports that:

a California District Court entered an order approving Liberty Counsel’s settlement of the lawsuit on behalf of Harvest Rock Church and Harvest International Ministry against California Gov. Gavin Newsom. The full and final settlement was approved today the District Court and thus is the first state-wide permanent injunction in the country against COVID restrictions on churches and places of worship.

Once entered by the District Court, this full settlement will be the first state-wide permanent injunction in the country against COVID restrictions on churches and places of worship. Under the agreed state-wide permanent injunction, all California churches may hold worship without discriminatory restrictions.

Under the settlement, California may no longer impose discriminatory restrictions upon houses of worship. The governor must also pay Liberty Counsel $1,350,000 to reimburse attorney’s fees and costs.

The settlement references several Supreme Court opinions, including Harvest Rock Church v. Newsom, that include a long list of similar nonreligious activity the High Court set forth as comparable gatherings. These include grocery stores, warehouses, big box stores, transportation, infrastructure, telecommunications, and much more. In other words, churches and places of worship may never again have discriminatory restrictions placed on them that are not equally applied to a long list of “critical infrastructure” or “essential services” as outlined in several Supreme Court precedents cited in the settlement agreement.

Excellent result.

Diner owner posts COVID-19 snitch list

Diner owner Craig Kenady of Washington State got tired of lockdown and decided to reopen his business, That One Place.

It wasn’t long before concerned Karens began complaining on Washington’s snitch site about the reopening. Kenady decided to print the list of complaints, complete with names, and post it at the entrance to his diner.

The town where he lives, Port Orchard, has a population of 13,000. Most people know each other.

PJ Media has the story, complete with photos, including the snitch list of complaints.

They also have excerpts of his interview with Seattle’s KIRO 7. He said:

The only motivation was is that I feel if they’re going to call and complain about us, then their neighbors deserve to know. We all, in our small community, deserve to know who we can trust or not.

That’s what started it. We felt that it was the right thing.

On Monday afternoon, Howie Carr interviewed him. Well worth a listen. Kenady has no regrets whatsoever.

Oxford University says imperial measurements must be ‘decolonised’

The Daily Mail reported that, in the aftermath of American-inspired protests last summer, Oxford University is in the process of decolonising certain aspects of its curriculum, including imperial measurements:

The University has suggested imperial measurements, including the mile, inch, pound and ounce, should be ‘decolonised’ due to its links to the British Empire.

Decolonising plans by Oxford’s maths, physics and life sciences departments suggest the teaching of the measurements in the curriculum may change, according to The Telegraph.

It comes after a pledge from Oxford’s vice-chancellor Louise Richardson to embed teaching on colonialism and the Empire into courses and ‘diversify’ the maths and life sciences curriculum.

The UK had these measurements long before it had an empire.

The libertarian site Spiked responded with this (emphases mine):

What British colonialism has to do with policing in 21st-century America is anyone’s guess. But this rage against imperial measurements is even more confusing. Imperial measurements, like all measurements, are simply a way of assessing distance, weight and height.

Just because they are called ‘imperial’ and were used in the British Empire doesn’t mean they are stained forever by racism. As one tweeter pointed out, the metric system is hardly without fault either in this regard, given it was spread around the world thanks to Napoleon’s imperial expansion.

The decolonisation movement presents itself as a serious intellectual and political endeavour. It isn’t. It is a project of historical offence-taking that is apparently without end. As the goings on at Oxford demonstrate, if you give these activists an inch they will take a mile.

Prince Harry deplores America’s First Amendment

Fox News carried a story about Prince Harry (great meme here) and his dislike of freedom of expression in the United States.

The article says:

Prince Harry is facing a wave of backlash after calling the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution “bonkers” during a podcast appearance last week. 

The Duke of Sussex made the comments on an episode of Dax Shepard and Monica Padman’s “Armchair Expert” podcast … 

He specifically took issue with the paparazzi.

“I don’t want to start sort of going down the First Amendment route because that’s a huge subject and one in which I don’t understand because I’ve only been here a short period of time,” Harry said. “But, you can find a loophole in anything. And you can capitalize or exploit what’s not said rather than uphold what is said.”

“I’ve got so much I want to say about the First Amendment as I sort of understand it, but it is bonkers,” he continued.

Harry’s comments ignited a wave of criticism online.

Fox News also included tweets about his interview.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) tweeted:

Nigel Farage rightly warned the prince about criticising America in an ill-advised way:

That’s true.

After Larry King retired from CNN, Piers Morgan took over his slot.

Once Piers Morgan began criticising the Second Amendment, his ratings tanked and the show was cancelled. Newsweek has the story, written after he was ousted from Good Morning Britain earlier this year:

The presenter hosted a CNN talk show from 2011 to 2014. In Piers Morgan Live (formerly known as Piers Morgan Tonight), he interviewed politicians, celebrities and members of the public.

His first guest in the prime-time slot—which was previously occupied by broadcasting giant Larry King, who died in January—was Winfrey.

Morgan’s show was canceled on February 23, 2014, after a run of disappointing ratings, which he blamed on his stance on divisive issues such as gun control.

“It’s been a painful period and lately we have taken a bath in the ratings,” Morgan told The New York Times at the time.

“Look, I am a British guy debating American cultural issues, including guns, which has been very polarising, and there is no doubt that there are many in the audience who are tired of me banging on about it,” he added. “That’s run its course.”

In the U.K. Morgan is also well known for being embroiled in a phone-hacking investigation—and for being sacked as editor of the Daily Mirror in 2004 over the publication of hoax pictures claiming to show British soldiers abusing an Iraqi prisoner.

He was interviewed by U.K. police officers investigating hacking in December 2013. CNN said this had no impact on its move two months later to axe his show.

The Sun reports the same:

While the show started off with respectable ratings, audience figures soon dropped, with some media outlets reporting that the British host failed to connect with an American audience.

Morgan struggled to match the ratings garnered by his predecessor, the Guardian reported.

By February 2014, viewership dropped to the lowest seen since he took over from King

CNN’s Allison Gollust said: “The decision had nothing to do with the hacking interview – not at all.”

The final episode of Piers Morgan Live aired on March 28, 2014.

Piers Morgan is still derided in both countries.

Prince Harry, take note.

In response to reader H E’s guest post last week on declining church numbers, another faithful reader of mine, George True, responded with an excellent comment about a truly Catholic priest in Arizona.

It’s too good to leave there, so here it is in full:

There is a firebrand priest here in the Phoenix AZ area by the name of Father William Kosco. He has publicly, from the pulpit, denounced the Catholic bishops of America for their cowardice in going along with all of the cultural Marxist insanity. He has also publicly denounced Joe Biden as someone who is diametrically opposed to every fundamental teaching of the Roman Catholic church. He has said that Joe Biden would receive Holy Communion at his church only over his (Father Kosco’s) dead body. He has declared that Joe Biden, being a public figure, must PUBLICLY repent of his sins against God and his nation in order to be allowed Communion.

The pews at Pastor Kosco’s church, St Henry’s in Buckeye AZ, are FULL.

At this point, allow me to post a tweet that I saw shortly after reading George’s comment. It ties in well, as it shows a church full of worshippers (click on the tweet, and when it opens in a new tab, click the image to see it in full):

Now on with the conclusion of George’s comment:

He is showing all priests, Catholic and Protestant, how to put butts in the seats. Start boldly and fearlessly declaring the truth, speaking out against evil, and affirming the fundamental precepts of our faith. People are hungering and thirsting for the truth, and they will flock to shepherds who exhibit courage in the face of evil.

One cannot say better than that. May the good Lord continue to bless Father Kosco and his congregation.

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