Thursday, January 17, 2019

Obstacles to the Kingdom

Again, I break my rule of trying not to be interested in what the CofE is up to. It’s because the problems that the CofE are having are pervasive through Society and I live in Society albeit reluctantly. The question of Inclusivity has caused problems in the CofE Diocese of Oxford in which a hundred clergy have expressed their concern over the bishops’ ad clerum on same-sex relations. The tension that is building between the Evangelicals and the Liberals is becoming more and more visible.

Really the tension in the CofE lies between dogmatic theology and pastoral theology – it’s almost a head-heart problem. In many ways, I sympathise and do recognise that people are trying to preach the Gospel in a practical manner. This isn’t easy when the Gospel is being interpreted in the exclusive light of modernity rather than according to the whole Church – the true definition of what it means to be Catholic.

The problem is very simple: how is the Church to respond to those who suffer from Same-Sex attraction?

The Church’s doctrine from Tradition is very clear. Sexual activity is only morally acceptable within the bounds of Christian marriage and Christian marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman. Therefore, sexual activity between people of the same sex is sinful.

The logic is sound and utterly indifferent to the loneliness of those afflicted in this way. Perhaps that’s the problem – the doctrine is so cold that it seems to lack any warmth of humanity about it. In this short doctrine, the sufferer from SSA appears to be condemned to a life without intimacy, without companionship and without tenderness.

We do have to cut through some of the emotive language here. What has really been forbidden? The answer is sexual activity. That’s the only thing off the table here. I’ve said it before that the monastery is a place where a community of people of the same sex can be convened in love, that’s true love – agape – and companionship – that’s philia. Eros is not allowed because it is not holy in such a set up. The Biblical record is very clear on that and academics such as Dr Robert Gagnon have written so much in order to clarify something that is very clear. The disease does not come from the human desire for love, affection, affinity and closeness, but from the notion that love must be able to be expressed physically. It’s a form of materialistic nihilism and it can be found in the corruption of Society.

This is why the Church has to be so careful when dealing with those who do suffer from SSA. There is an underlying assumption that the Catholic Church hates gay people. Given the way that many Christians seem to act when faced with SSA issues, it is not surprising when gay people feel vilified after having Leviticus xviii.22 is rammed down their throats. However, it is also problematic when that sensation of vilification comes from the brokenness of human nature.

Society is bent on teaching everyone that gay sex is permissible. Thus the SSA-afflicted will naturally feel spurned when the Church tells them that it isn’t. The feel rejected because Society tells them that they have been rejected. Society tells them that their homosexuality is a defining part of them and that to be denied the intimate caresses of someone of the same sex is a rejection of them as human beings.

But we are not defined by our sexuality.

Why not?

We know that in Heaven there is no marriage. Our Lord refutes the Sadducees on the relationship between marriage and the Resurrection in Matthew xxii.30-32:
For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage , but are as the angels of God in heaven. But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
Thus the whole need for sexuality is done away in the Resurrection. Fornication – extramarital activity – is a sin and there is no sin at the Resurrection when we are perfected in Christ. If there is no marriage, then there is no sexuality. If we are saved in Christ, then we must be prepared to lose our sexuality now for this loss will be part of our perfection. Marriage is necessary now because of the fact that we die, and we die because human nature is infected with sin. Thus, our desire for sex is something that will pass away for everyone.

The temptation is to cling on to it. To cling on to sin in the face of God is practically suicidal because where God is, sin cannot be. Thus, as soap clings onto dirt and is borne away with it in the cleansing current of water, thus those who cling onto sin threaten their destiny to dwell eternally in the presence of God.

The trouble with having a fractured nature is that we get used to the cracks and come to see them as part of us. The worry is that if these cracks are removed we will somehow cease really to be ourselves. Each one of us is afflicted in the same way and there will be aspects of who we think we are that will vanish when we are perfected. The act of perfection will be painful: this is the Purgatory that I believe in and why I pray for the Dead so that I can be in solidarity with all of fractured humanity in agony as its bones are broken and reset so it can live again.

It’s not the Church that’s the problem, it’s the infected society in which we live that is driving those with SSA into believing that they have a right to be physically with someone of the same sex and saturating every experience of life with sexual provocation. No wonder people with SSA think that they are well and healthy – they are being told that by a humanity that is sick at heart!

Yet, we Christians, too, live in the same Society and are infected in much the same way. Our duty then, is to participate actively in our purification and in the purification of humanity. It is in the name of the Lord Jesus that we are washed and so we must seek Him out actively for that ongoing purification.

In an article by the Rev Marcus Green we see him take to task these Oxford Evangelicals when they say, “advocacy of same-sex sexual intimacy is either an expression of the love of God or it creates an obstacle to people entering the kingdom of God. It cannot be both.” I can certainly see his point. When we accept God as king over our lives – and thus become part of His kingdom – then we do so as broken, fallible and imperfect beings yearning for our perfection in God. Our entry into this kingdom is not prevented by being in an intimate homosexual relationship. If God offers His grace then we may receive it as we are. Given, however, that once we accept the kingdom of God we have to be active in our faith and accept His purification as it is, we will have to renounce our worldliness and the demands of Society in order for the grace that we receive to transform our lives. It is the love of God that prevents Him from forcing His purification upon us. He awaits our consent. The task we face in living is to bend our will to His and render our consent as full as Our Lady’s “yes” to the Incarnation.

In his letter to the people in Corinth, we see St Paul’s injunction that we cannot continue in the Kingdom of God if we embrace sin:
Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, Nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you: but ye are washed , but ye are sanctified , but ye are justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (I Cor vi.9-11)
Notice that it applies to other sins, not just sins of intimacy. Exactly the same argument applies to adulterers and that includes not only those who do the deed, but also the divorced and remarried AND those who look at a woman with lust in their heart. Those are Christ’s words.

While we may never be free from these sins and weaknesses in our lives, we must at least be praying for our purification from them. We need to recognise that we cannot hope to find holiness if we’re habitually drunk, nor forcing people to work for a pittance. Homosexual intimacy is equivalent to these. Thus, if we condemn those who do enjoy homosexual sex and, in ignorance, permit deprived children sewing trainers together for a fraction of a grain of rice, then we condemn ourselves. This is what Christ means when he says that we can cast the first stone only if we are without sin.

Nonetheless, Church doctrine still stands. St Paul’s words are part of that doctrine. Homosexual intimacy is not ever to be acceptable to the Church and thus it stands as a challenge to Society’s corruption of its members. Doctrine also tells us that the Church possesses only the keys to Heaven. While the Church has to reject Society’s decision that marriage can happen between homosexual couples, it is by no means against the individuals themselves, but rather seeks their eternal Good, their eternal joy, their complete, unmitigated perfection as Church members in the face of God Himself.

The Church seeks to wrench people out of the curse of being defined by their sexuality so that they can see themselves as more than that. And I pray that it will always do so.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Liberalism and Evangelism: a Traddie responds


I came across this article in the Church Times by Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes in which she claims that it is time for Liberals to “reclaim” evangelism from the Evangelical wing of the CofE. Given that the Evangelical wing of the CofE is the wing most likely to break off and ally itself to the Jerusalem Declaration Churches such as GAFCON and AMiE, it is quite apparent that the Liberals need to make sure that empty pews are filled by more palatable and inclusive Christians.

First of all, why do I bother commenting on this? Surely, it’s none of my business, being a member of the ACC having renounced my affiliation to the Established Church? Secondly, I’m a Catholic, neither an Evangelical (in the Low Church sense of the term) nor a Liberal (in the “progressive modernist” sense of the term). I don’t have a horse in the race, do I?

As I have said before, the fact of being established does mean that the CofE is trying to speak on behalf of all Christians, which it most assuredly does not. It raises the question as to whether it is, in fact, speaking for and Christians at all, given that it seeks to employ the atheist and the heterodox in positions of influence whilst leaving aside those who believe wholeheartedly in the three creeds and that God-given library which we know and love as Holy Scripture. I also have a profound doubt in the claims of the Liberal/Progressive wing within the CofE to be properly Christian.

Secondly, I am worried by the word that Dr T-H uses in her essay. When she says that she wants “want to reclaim evangelism for liberals” what does she mean by the word “reclaim”? Does she want to “want to reclaim evangelism for liberals from Evangelicals” i.e. does she regard the Evangelical voice to be contrary to the Gospel and need to silence it? Or is she being inclusive and just wanting Liberals to start evangelising better alongside Evangelicals? The problem here is quite clear in that Evangelicals, and Traddie Catholics like me, believe in the immutability of the nature of Sin and that Sin is not the matter of opinion of the Church but rather the clear direction of God as something He wants to save us from.

What I do notice is in Dr T-H’s article is that she does seem to build straw man and even almost admits it when she refers to the caricature of “Christianity as a religion of ‘Thou shalt not’, smiting, and the fear of hell.” It’s clear that she is trying to evoke the image black-clad bible-bashing Protestant flinging Hell and Damnation about like goodness knows what into the mind of the reader. Yet, she so readily talks about Salvation and this begs the question, “salvation from what?” If it isn’t salvation from Sin and Hell, then what are we to be saved from? If Christ Himself speaks of Hell, then should we not listen? Does God send people to Hell? No! They send themselves there. Surely, if Dr Threlfall-Holmes can understand that Traddies have left the Church because they will neither accept her as a priest nor her liberal preaching, then she will understand just how someone ends up in Hell by rejecting God and His salvation.

The salvation that Dr T-H seems to be alluding to is very strange and it seems to me to be typical of the notion of Salvation in Liberal Theology. She says that she sees Liberal Theology as that “which does not see our salvation as relying on our getting Christianity right; and from a theology of creation which believes in “original blessing” rather than original sin.” It’s interesting that neither do the Evangelical nor the Traddie Catholics see our salvation as “getting Christianity right”: that would be Pelagianism. Where the Evangelical and I might part company is over the idea of Original Sin: I tend to understand that in the more Orthodox notion of a fracture of our human nature as a result of our misuse of free-will – a fracture which is infected with evil and sin. However, neither the Evangelical nor I see our salvation as something we get right. Our salvation comes about by faith in Our Lord Jesus Christ and (I believe) co-operating with His grace by wilfully displaying that faith in works of Charity alongside Him. In order to be saved, (and salvation, I believe, is a process, not a one-off event) I need to know Our Lord Jesus Christ – I need to make sure that it is the real Jesus Christ and not an idol of my own making. The fact that Our Lord is an historical figure as opposed to a mythical figure means that there are objective things we can say about Him, and the fullest historical evidence for what we can say about Him comes from the Gospels. We may not know His every opinion, but we can be sure that if He has an opinion on our salvation, then it is not just opinion, it is objective fact. Why? If the Christian believes John iii.16-17, then it is clear that Our Lord knows what He is saving us from and thus what He teaches is not a matter of opinion, but a matter of fact. Orthodoxy is therefore of salvation importance to the Christian.

And talking of Orthodoxy, what does “getting Christianity right” mean? Surely that’s orthodoxy. But I thought Liberalism was supposed to be about believing and trusting in God – isn’t that doing something right? Or are we saved without any input? Are we saved against our will? Dr T-H claims “The heart of liberal Christianity, for me, is, fundamentally, very orthodox: the belief that God’s love is unconditional, and is enough.” So there is some contradiction. Are we to get Christianity right by loving God with all our being and our neighbour as ourselves? Or are we saved regardless? Is Dr T-H a follower of “Origien’s” apokatastasis whereby all are eventually saved, even Hitler, Jimmy Savile and the Devil? No Hell means no Justice, it also means that love coerces our salvation and, to my mind, that goes against love.

She cites Bishop Michael Curry as being the prime example of Liberal/Progressive Evangelisation, and yet, if we do the biblical thing and test the spirits. Bishop Curry speaks to the emotions and passions rather than to the soul. His sermon has been shown to be rather content free and equivocating on the meaning of Love. I suspect that a translation of that sermon in Greek would show up the jarring discrepancies that Bishop Curry makes when he confuses agape,philia and eros in the same sermon. If this is the archetypical Liberal Evangelism, then it is a sower of confusion making the self the arbiter of what right and wrong are in this milieu of moral relativism. If this is the gospel that people want preached, then it isn’t actually going to transform them, rather, it will entrench them further in their own self-caricature. There is no challenge in this Liberal Gospel.

I notice that, like most Liberals, what is actually at the heart of Dr T-H’s gospel is not Love but Power expressed through the Marxist language of Rights and Privilege. She speaks of handing power over to the historically marginalised forgetting that Christianity is not about power, but rather Love. Yes, Christ’s Kingship means that Christians have a political dimension to their expression of the faith, but the kingdom of God will be built upon Christ and Faith in Him. It is not true that every historically marginalised body is Christian. The Jews have suffered much in the way of historical marginalisation, but Christians cannot accept their “power and agency” over the Church. Christianity is centred on the teaching of Christ and not on politically correct apologies to the socially marginalised, especially when that marginalisation has been self-inflicted through the rejection of the teaching of Christ. Yes, that teaching is centred on love, but on the transformation in that love by which we die to sin and live to Christ. If we continue to sin unrepentantly, then we cannot be living in Christ because to do so necessarily rejects that transformation which is offered not imposed according to the character of love expounded in I Corinthians xiii.

Again, Dr T-H resorts to the implied straw-man of the Evangelical selling a “pre-packaged solution” whilst the Liberal knows that she hasn’t “got there”. This is rather offensive in a way. The Incarnation is precisely the “pre-packaged solution” to the human calamity and to the transformation of human life. It requires unpacking certainly, but the Catholic Church has the framework in which that unpacking takes place. We don’t stifle questions but rather seek solutions in the person of Christ as has been revealed to us by God Himself in Scripture, Tradition and Reason. It is Experience which frames the question and Scripture, Tradition and Reason which work together to seek the solution. Experience is not a source of Authority, it is the means whereby we interact with the Revelation of the Incarnate Christ. Perfect knowledge is not attainable in the life, but Orthodoxy allows us to converge to it rather than diverge from it.

Finally, Dr Threlfall-Holmes does as all Liberals do and refutes herself beautifully. “Ask questions, give away power, and risk trusting God rather than your programme for the results.” Indeed, I trust God rather than the Liberal programme for the results. Likewise, Dr T-H should also seek not to trust in her own liberalism but rather seek the real God in Christ. She can only do so if she rejects her relativism, especially her trust in “secular experience” and Liberation-Theology. We notice again, the Liberal search for Christ away from the Church – the search for the Groom away from the Bride. To bring communities up in secular philosophies will never bring them to Christ but rather to a distorted image worked out through secular morality and values.

It’s a shame that a clearly intelligent woman is so confused about the rot that Liberalism is causing her church. As an Orthodox Christian, I say that she is wrong but, out of love and respect, I must allow her to be wrong and wait for her, like the Prodigal Son, to return to the Church where the Father will gloriously and outrageously receive her in joy. However, for this to happen, she, like me and every other sinner must recognise sin and evil for what they are and repent. She can’t do this if she, like all followers of the Liberal Agenda, reasons sin out of existence through equivocating on the Word of God. Like most other Liberals, she seems to find fault with the conviction that Conservative Christians have for their faith. I am convinced that there is a God and I have good reasons for why I am an Anglican Catholic in my approach to Christ. If that offends her and that she rejects my arguments and those of other Conservative Christians on the grounds that conviction is a sin, then how can she be convinced that she is right to do so? If nothing is objective and we can be certain of nothing, then being convinced of something leaves us no worse off and all convictions are equal in this regard. She has no grounds on which to call Conservative Christians to account, nor any reason to evangelise to the unchurched in the first place.

I hope that the evangelising of the Evangelicals as well as the evangelising of the Traditional Catholics continue to expose the false evangelism of the Liberal and Progressive movement until the latter truly finds Christianity and thus ceases to endanger the salvation of souls.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

How to build your own god

Sermon for the first Sunday after Epiphany (Mattins)
You may have heard it said, “If God did not exist, then it would be necessary to invent Him.” Just how would we begin to invent a god?


[PAUSE]


Well, what would we want a god for? Isaiah suggests that we build gods in order to protect ourselves from the frightening possibilities of life. Any god that we make, we would bow down and say, “Deliver me; for thou art my god.” We would want a god that is powerful and on our side. We would want a god to make us better when we’re ill, feed us when the food runs out, send rain when the land grows dry, protect us from the enemies at the door, and bring us back to life when we die, or stop us dying altogether. There’s a problem though.


What happens when our worst enemy builds his own god with the same properties? Are they the same god? If they are different, then whose is more powerful?


[PAUSE]


We can look at all the gods ever worshipped, and most of them seem thoroughly disreputable. Look at Zeus seducing every woman he meets. Look at Hera and her jealousy caused by Zeus’ infidelity. Look at Odin who has to sell his eye for knowledge of the future. There’s something human about them. They behave like human beings. They are made in our own image.


This brings us to an important fact: the creator always creates in his own image. When we create a god, that god can only ever be an expression of our own imagination and is limited by that imagination. They are gods that fit our purposes. It is often claimed that the only reason we have gods is to keep human beings living together under some kind of law through the promise of eternal life in Heaven or eternal punishment in Hell. There are many who say that a god is nothing more than a crutch for people to rely on to stop them thinking about the purposelessness of life. The atheists will say that it is childish to believe in gods because it stops us from seeing the real world.


The trouble is that even atheists create their own gods. They make a god out of Science and say that only Science can tell the truth. They make a god out of matter and say that we are nothing but dust and have no purpose. They make a god out of their own reason and refuse to look beyond it. They make a god out of their own atheism and say that atheism is automatically superior to believing in God.


They have not known nor understood: for God hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.


Atheists have created a god out of the universe. They predict its beginning and they predict its end. Ultimately nothing, not even morals, law or love, mean anything because everything will end in the same cold, dark universe of dust.


[PAUSE]


The worship of false gods is called idolatry and the false god is called an idol. Ultimately, an idol will be made in our image embodying our hopes and dreams to the exclusion of the fullness of the humanity of others, no matter how much we love them. An idol cannot be God because it is created and the true God cannot be created. If a god has a beginning, then whatever began that god will be greater. If we create a god, then we will be greater than it. It won’t deliver us from evil. If there is no god, then our deliverance will be just by pure luck.


But God does exist. “All nature cries aloud that he does exist: that there is a supreme intelligence, an immense power, an admirable order, and everything teaches us our own dependence on it.” The fact that the universe has a beginning, that the very laws of physics have a beginning shows that some One without a beginning has created it the way that it is. The fact that we continue to exist from one second to the next without suddenly winking out into nothingness shows that there is some One beyond who keeps us going and also wants to keep us going. The fact that we know that there are actions that are good and bad shows that some One supremely good has declared them to be so and wants us to be good. “The heavens declare the glory of God and the firmament sheweth his handywork.”


This is God. He is beyond our understanding, which is why we can’t understand everything. We can’t understand why there is Evil in the world, or why appalling suffering happens and even appears to be necessary. We can’t know His thoughts. We can’t understand how He thinks. He terrifies us by His sheer inscrutability. We cannot control Him. He has no need of our worship. He shows us up to be sinners and shows His wrath against wrong doers.


We can’t ever truly know Him. So He asks us to trust Him. He invites us to get to know Him, to learn about Him as He really is as a thinking, willing, loving being, rather than a colossal lab-rat to be poked and prodded by our reason and made to leap through hoops to prove His worth. The whole Incarnation of Our Lord Jesus Christ shows that He is willing to go to great lengths to bring us to Him. He enters into history to show us that He exists and then seeks to draw us out into His Eternal life. He reveals Himself and yet allows us the choice to know Him.


Those who turn away will never know or see the truth but will trust only in bits of wood which may have hands and yet handle not, have feet and do not walk, have eyes and ears and nose and tongue but have no senses whatsoever.


That is the only god we can create. Let us rather put our trust in God Almighty, Real and True, Father, Son and Holy Ghost who was and is and is to come.

Wednesday, January 09, 2019

Syncretist Vampires: Power versus Love

I had occasion to watch a jolly old Hammer Horror film last night – The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires. Pure cheese and nonsense but a good old-fashioned tale of Good versus Evil. There were many problems with the plot such as when the events took place and whether Dracula could be in two places at the same time, to wit China and Transylvania. One problem did strike me most strongly.

Van Helsing (always the magnificent Peter Cushing) teaches his band of vampire hunters the old vampire lore. According to his teaching, vampires hate all that is holy. In Transylvania this is the crucifix, but in China it could be the image of the “Lord Buddha”. The question is, can two things be considered holy by two religions? Is the crucifix holy in Buddhism? Is the image of Buddha in Christianity? I don’t know the answer to the first, but I do know the answer to the second. No. Buddha (though he did teach the same Golden Rule as Our Lord) also taught that one can save oneself through enlightenment (i.e Pelagianism) nor did he teach anything about God the Creator. In fact, Buddhists largely reject the notion of a deity under the idea that everything must change. Much of his teaching is in keeping with the praxis of Christianity and therefore carries a certain worldly wisdom, but it is not in keeping with Christian orthodoxy. in Christianity, we believe that we are judged from the heart and that our transformation for theosis begins in there with God. Buddha is not holy because he does not accept God in Christ.

Is Christianity holy in Buddhism? Holiness is bound in keeping the eightfold way. While much of Christian moral teaching seems to adhere to the eightfold way, Christianity categorically rejects reincarnation.
And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for him shall he appear the second time without sin unto salvation.
The Crucifix speaks of this single death of Christ and of His resurrection, not His reincarnation. The Incarnation of Our Lord contravenes the Right View of the Eightfold Way and thus is not holy in the Buddhist sense of the word.

So, are Chinese Vampires afraid of the Cross? If Christianity is the true reflection of reality, then yes of course. All Evil flees at the presence of Christ. The Devil and all his works are rendered powerless by the work of the Cross. If this is the case, then they cannot be afraid of the Lord Buddha, because his statue is not holy in Christianity. Likewise if Buddhism is correct, then the cross would hold no terror for the vampire.

In short, a vampire cannot be repelled by both the crucifix and the statue of Buddha. But then, it’s only a plot device in a film, so it doesn’t make much difference… does it?

We have to step back a bit. Clearly the writers of the screenplay have this idea that holiness is something that can be compartmentalised to religions. I’ve seen something similar in the wonderful Curse of Fenric in Doctor Who whereby it is the faith of the individual that repels the vampire, not the nature of the faith. This is largely rejected in The Legend of the Seven Golden Vampires in which a vampire is dispatched by the holy image itself, not by an individual. According to the Seventh Doctor, the act of having faith plays havoc with the psychic faculties of haemovores (i.e. vampires).

Nonetheless, what both programmes have in common is the notion that it is only the faith that matters, not what we have faith in.

It’s a common view today and one by which most people reject a particular expression of faith – “that it’s all the same, really.” All will eventually come out in the wash.

While Buddha may teach a good moral code, the Gospels provide good, solid evidence of Our Lord Jesus Christ and eyewitness statements to His Resurrection. It seems to me that the teaching of Our Lord about what is truth is much more empirically sound than that of reincarnation. I do recognise that there are cases where reincarnation appears to have happened as are found with strong past-life memories. I can’t explain all of these case away with one brush. But it’s clear that if Jesus taught that He was the son of God and proved it, then Christianity is true and, further, it is the only truth to the nature of God and our relationship with Him.

We have seen so many attempts to fuse Christianity with different religions before. This has been a danger that Pope Benedict XVI famously preached about. Syncretism – the act of amalgamating religions – is destructive of one’s soul because it makes Christ out a liar when He says that He is the Truth.
There is another form of syncretism that dogs the poor old CofE. In a piece that seeks to prevent people who actually believe the Christian Faith from helping congregations which want to hold the same faith, Stephen Parsons says
As a parish priest I have often had to stand up to small ‘factions’ when it was suggested that some activity or teaching was not ‘biblical. I have had to point out that the Church of England takes more than one view on a variety of topics. This is not a teaching that is found in conservative congregations. Far too many Christians are being taught that truth is a single entity. You either have it or you don’t. It is thus hard for these Christians who are taught in this way to feel comfortable in a place where difference of opinion is not only tolerated but even encouraged. Many of them want to hear only from a minister who preaches a single perspective, based on this ‘biblical’ perspective. Preaching from the bible should of course produce a single consistent message. But we know that it does not in fact happen. There are as many bible ‘truths’ as there are preachers to disagree about what they are. The reason for the current popularity of the independent congregation is that there only one voice is heard, that of the minster. Hearing a single opinion creates a kind of semblance of unity. But this can only exist when all other opinions and perspectives have been removed from the arena. In a political context we call this a one-party state or fascism.
Yes, it’s true that the CofE “takes more than one view on a variety of topics” but when one of those “topics” is sin, then there is a big problem – a problem that has, at its root, the same problem as syncretism. Parsons believes that truth can only be expressed through opinion and thereby he is proclaiming that he, and the church to which he belongs, is morally relativist. Is the CofE right to take more than one view on a variety of topics?

The fact that Parsons misses is that there is only one Christianity which is actually Catholic. Many would say that, in the early church, there are lots of different Christianities which arises out of their relativistic and syncretic viewpoint. The faith that one finds crystallised in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed is a faith that has been expressed throughout Christianity. The Holy Scriptures themselves bear witness to Christ Himself being THE Truth, that only God creates, and that we are not our own creators. There has only been one Christianity and it has been consistent in the revelation that it has received.

The CofE tries to hold together contradictions: “women can be priests” and “women can’t be priests”, “marriage is exclusively heterosexual” and “marriage is not exclusively heterosexual”, “we define our own gender [sic]” and “God defines our gender [sic]”. It will say something like Christ Himself held contradictions together. For example,
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John iii.16)

Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (I John ii.15)
and
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. (John iii.17)

And Jesus said, For judgment I am come into this world, that they which see not might see; and that they which see might be made blind.(John ix.39)

The moral relativism that Parsons and his church shows denies the objective truth that Christ Himself does reveal in Holy Scripture and to which the Catholic Church has held since He walked with us. It is his “inclusive” church that has demonstrated “mutual flourishing” by promoting one integrity to Diocesan Bishops, Deans and Archdeacons, by denying the other integrity to being, at best, barely-tolerated Suffragans. This dual-integrity syncretism isn’t working because it cannot work!

Why be syncretist?

Behind every moral relativist is the idea of equality as identity, not equality as complement. Men and women are equally human in complement: they are not identical. Homosexual relationships are not identical to heterosexual relationships, though they are correspondent in earthly law. This relativism is designed to allow equality of power. Look very carefully at the movements within the progressive church. They are about equalising power. Given the arguments about patriarchy and control that some women have made in order to force the church to ordain them, it does appear to me that the decision has been made not out of love but of power. Likewise, the transgender issue is about trying to claim the power to force others to accept what is so obviously not the case. Ironically, it is the transgender issue that is robbing women of the power to exercise their identity as women. If the law gives everyone the power to define themselves and force that definition on others, then “woman” will be defined out of existence: it will be “man” and “noman” – a letter’s difference!

Likewise the syncretism between religions seeks to make some form of appeasement to level the playing field between people of faith and thus make one religion the same as another. They can’t be. The Q’ran is as out of place in the pulpit as the Nicene Creed is in the manara. Make every belief equal and no-one has any power over another - save the secular law and the State.

The struggles between traditionals and progressives is about power and the progressives are doing so by redefining what love is so that “love” and “rights” become intertwined. St Paul is very clear that love has nothing to do with rights – it bears all things, never rejoices in iniquity but rejoices in the truth. When St Paul speaks of the husband being set as head over the wife, this is grounded in the concept of love, not of power. Throughout all ages, it is power in law that has trodden women down underfoot. If the relationship between husband and wife is to mean anything, then it comes about through love and seeking to express that love. Man’s headship over Woman means absolutely nothing if it is not expressed in love.

And we’re not talking about the same love that progressives talk about. This love is the love that will sacrifice for the good of the others. It is not a love that will seek definition and demand that this be honoured and enshrined in law. The monastery is the place for people of the same sex to commit to love each other – a love that cannot ever be sexually expressed without incurring sin because that will go against what love is. The moment we equate agape with eros and philia we are being syncretist.

Parsons is right. No-one will leave the CofE without sacrificing their pensions and livelihood. The question is whether it is holy to remain in an institution which is trying to be “radically inclusive” and failing miserably (because radical inclusion cannot exist!) or whether holiness needs to be sought in places where the Gospel is being taught, believed and lived. I know which holiness I want to pursue, and it ain’t in the CofE! No wonder the vicar in the Curse of Fenric has a crisis of faith and succumbs to the vampires! I think my crucifix will work quite nicely.

Sunday, January 06, 2019

The three lights of the Epiphany

Sermon for the Epiphany of Our Lord (Mattins)


We’ve passed the winter solstice and the days should be getting lighter. The trouble is that, at this stage, this gradual lightening isn’t very noticeable. We tend to see the effects most as we head into February and March. In the eyes of the secular world, Christmas has come and gone, New Year’s Day has come and gone and this seems to be the end of the festivities. All this build up, and the world is back into the darkness and drudgery of living. No wonder February is said to be the most depressing month!


For behold, darkness shall cover the Earth.


[PAUSE]


Here lies the shame of it. All over the world, people celebrate Christmas. The National Grid struggles to power the various illuminations and neon Santa Clauses and robotic snowmen outside people’s houses. All is garish, all is very bright indeed. And then Twelfth Night happens and everyone turns the Christmas lights off, and the secular world plunges back into the darkness of winter.


And what of the Church?


[PAUSE]


This feast of the Epiphany is the day that we truly do see the light, for God in Christ is revealed to us through the Magi journeying to Bethlehem based on the study of their star charts; He is revealed in the Word from on high at His Baptism; He is revealed turning water into wine at Cana. The light for the Magi shines in their study, but it isn’t their study. The light for St John the Baptist shines through the water, but it isn’t the water. The light for those at the wedding shines in the wine jars, but it isn’t the wine jars. Their light has come and in it the glory of the Lord is revealed.


We do have to ask ourselves where we see the light burning strongest. The lights of the world have shut off by the 5th January, but our light should not, otherwise we descend back into the gross darkness that covers the peoples.


Too often, we identify the light of God with what it shines through. This is why the Enlightenment has not been good for Christians. Too often, Christians see the light of Reason and think that Reason must be the only source of light. We see people who call themselves Christians undermine the very faith that they are supposed to grow in pursuit of the light of Truth. We cannot think our way to heaven. The light of our minds is not strong enough to penetrate the darkness. This is why the Magi need God to shine His light for them so that they can see Him in person, not as a paper god. If Reason alone were strong enough then we would all be Christians for the arguments would all be won.


[PAUSE]


Too often, we read the Holy Scripture and think we understand it. We see the light that carries us on in our faith, but disagreements arise about interpreting the text. We see people who call themselves Christian seek to change the meaning of the text in order to justify themselves. That’s exactly what Arius and the Gnostics do. Marcion is even worse because he likes to cut bits of the Bible out and throw them away because they don’t fit the message. The word of Holy Scripture is fulfilled in the Word of Christ as He reveals Himself to the Church just as the word comes down from on high to ratify the testimony of the last prophet, St John the Baptist. The light of our interpretation of Holy Scripture alone is not strong enough otherwise Christianity would not be divided.


[PAUSE]


Too often, we rely on old stories which are only half true. There weren’t three kings or three wise men as far as we know. The number isn’t mentioned in Holy Scripture! Looking at the original language of the story of Our Lord’s birth, the Greek suggests that Mary and Joseph weren’t staying in an inn, but in a private house and that there wasn’t room for them to have a proper bedroom and so had to make do with the front room of the house in which the animals stayed. Too often myths build up around what is true. The light of our traditions alone is not strong enough to show us the truth about Our Lord. We need the water of these stories to be transformed into the strong wine of God’s loving truth.


[PAUSE]


The way we seek God’s truth for us is in the use of Reason from the Tradition of the Church built upon the Holy Scriptures. These are the media through which God has communicated His Eternal light to us. We know that Our God is the Trinity through the testimony of our reason. We know that Our Lord Jesus lives, dies and rises again through the testimony of the eyewitnesses passed down through the Gospels. We know what is right and what is wrong through the interpretation of Holy Scripture by the Church. This is how we can trust God’s revelation to us.


[PAUSE]


And what of our experience of God? Is that as authoritative?


No. All our experience of God needs to be passed through what we do know. Scripture, Tradition and Reason help us to see whether our experience is the neon light of the present age which will be switched off, or whether it is the Divine Light of Christ which will never dim. Our experience of God is vitally necessary for in it we can arise and shine ourselves with His light. We just need to be sure that it is His light. For many who say that they are in the Church, they find themselves in the neon light of their own making. This is why the Christian Church is getting smaller as people find that their light is actually a deeper darkness leading to confusion and error. This is why we need to be on our guard and faithful to God, seeking His light in all of the means that He provides for us. He reveals Himself to everyone, but not everyone will receive His light but rather blunder on in their darkness.


Arise, shine, for your light has come and, through His Church, God will ensure that you behold His glory.

Epiphany message from Bishop Damien

I am pleased to publish this message for the Feast of the Epiphany from my bishop, the Rt Rev Damien Mead



Venerable, Very Reverend, Reverend and dear Fathers, brothers and sisters,

Traditionally we see the birth of Christ as occurring in the ‘‘very dead of winter’’ and kindling in our imagination all that this means, particularly of the prevailing darkness. The choice of 25th December for the Feast of the Nativity, reaffirms this, at least for those of us in our part of the world actually experiencing “the dead of winter” and the shorter days.

The visit of the Magi sometime after the Birth of Christ, The Epiphany, which we celebrate on 6th January, has, at its heart, a journey through darkness.

We can imagine that Casper, Balthasar and Melchior, (the names tradition gives to the Three Wise Men), experienced many rigours in their undertaking. Of camels and camping; of dangers lurking, of wild beast, thieves and rogues.

The Magi were led by a bright star. So bright that it shone through the day as well as the darkness of the night. But, in their visit to Herod to ask where the new born King was to be found, we could be forgiven for thinking that there may have been moments when even the brightness of the Christmas Star, was hidden or obscured.

In a world of uncertainty we too are guided by a great light which lightens our darkness But sometimes, even those of us blessed with the greatest faith, can find that light obscured.

“And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.” John 1: 5

Sometimes the Light shining for us can be obscured and hidden as a result of sadness, discouragement, the tragedies of life, the pain of bereavement, the fear and loneliness of old age, the thought of our failures, the things we regret, perhaps terrible mistakes that we have made, worries about the past and worries about the future; problems that remain unresolved and perhaps can never be resolved; perhaps the bitter agony of illness and death that awaits us, or even worse, the pain and bewilderment of seeing a loved one suffer; the dread of separation; and sometimes you wonder what’s the point of it all. Life is hard indeed at times. Let us also be honest, adding to the mix, the size of our Church and the stresses and strains this does bring, difficulties can be multiplied.

Nevertheless, the life which God has given us, is tempered by the individual vocation and calling He has also bestowed upon each and every one of us, as Christians, whether ordained or lay.

He asks us to live, to embark upon and continue our journey, in faith, and faith is always driven by promise and hope.

If we continue in our honesty, we can admit, that while many times glimpsing the Star we maybe lose sight of it, for a moment or perhaps longer. It may even be the case we sometimes see the brightness of the Star as not being much consolation when it appears to be distant in the heavens, and not down here with us.

But let Wisdom attend! Faith tells us that the star, our Star, is there even when obscured by clouds of care and worry, and is leading us to somewhere really so much better than we can even begin to fully comprehend. Christ himself, the Word made flesh, who makes sense of all and of everything and makes it all infinitely worth while in the end.

Our vocations, our callings, share one important dimension: we are to manifest Christ to those around us through faith: by word and deed. Living as little epiphanies - as lights shining in the darkness reflecting the One True Light of the world - regardless of the incomprehension of the world around us!

One of the functions of our Sunday worship is to give us a periodic glimpse of the Star and indeed a foretaste of where it is leading us. We should in turn, try to make our liturgy as beautiful as possible, so that all who share in it may be lifted for a moment above those experiences we all have in common with the Magi travelling through the darkness; the camel men cursing and grumbling, and the night-fires always going out on us, and the lack of shelter, and the cities dirty and the towns unfriendly.

This liturgy is given to us to keep the star shining in the midst of our pain and bewilderment. As we begin 2019, I pray that you will come very close to God once again in the liturgy, for it will sustain you and gladden you on your long journey, all the days of your life, until at last the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts at the moment of that greatest manifestation of Christ, when we enter his presence for eternity and the place where faith is no longer needed!

My blessing on you and yours and the assurance of my prayers in the coming year.

+Damien