Friday, February 29, 2008

BREAKING NEWS: Gnostics Excommunicate Athanasius!

J.I. Packer threatened with suspension
As evidence of the escalating crisis in the global Anglican Communion, today one of the of the world’s most esteemed Christian theologians, Dr. J.I. Packer, received a letter threatening suspension from ministry by the controversial Bishop of New Westminster, Michael Ingham. Bishop Ingham accused Dr. Packer, hailed by Time Magazine as the “doctrinal Solomon” of Christian thinkers, “to have abandoned the exercise of ministry” after the church where he is a member voted to separate from the diocese and join the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone under the oversight of Anglican Archbishop Gregory Venables. Dr. Packer, who was ordained in the Church of England, is the author of the Christian classic, “Knowing God,” and joined Billy Graham and Richard John Neuhaus as one of Time Magazine’s 25 most influential evangelicals in 2005.

Read the whole story here.

A follow-up story gives the following information:

Dr. Packer together with the other clergy at St. John’s have been served with a Notice of Presumption of Abandonment of the Exercise of the Ministry under Canon XIX. According to Bishop Michael Ingham of the Diocese of New Westminster, the notice is based on the following “facts”:

1. that he has publicly renounced the doctrine and discipline of the Anglican Church of Canada; and
2. that you have sought or intend to seek admission into another religious body outside the Anglican Church of Canada.

The notice also states that if Dr. Packer does not take advantage of provisions under the Canons to dispute the facts stated above, Dr. Packer’s spiritual authority as a minister of Word and Sacraments conferred in ordination will be revoked on April 21, 2008.

I hope the English bishops and other Evangelicals who are urging all the Global South bishops to come to the Lambeth conference and have tea (and Holy Communion!) with the likes of Michael Ingham are taking notice of what he has done to one of their own.

On a personal note: I must add that I would not be an Anglican today, much less the Dean and President of an Anglican/Episcopal seminary, if it were not for the influence J. I. Packer had on me when I was a Baptist seminarian thirty years ago. If Packer had not written anything beyond his preface to a modern edition of John Owen's, "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ" he would still rank as a great theologian. But he has written a great deal more than that; and, in his long ministry, he has inspired several generations of Christians, clergy, and scholars.

Packer's great devotion to the theology and spirituality of John Owen is seen in this tribute to Owen, written by the well known pastor and author, John Piper.

This quotation from Owen seems particularly appropriate to the situation that Dr. Packer and many of us now find ourselves.
When the heart is cast indeed into the mould of the doctrine that the mind embraceth,—when the evidence and necessity of the truth abides in us,—when not the sense of the words only is in our heads, but the sense of the thing abides in our hearts—when we have communion with God in the doctrine we contend for—then shall we be garrisoned by the grace of God against all the assaults of men. (John Owen, Works, I, p. lxiii-lxiv.)

Monday, February 25, 2008

Survey: US Religious Landscape in Flux

By ERIC GORSKI (AP)– 7 hours ago

The U.S. religious marketplace is extremely volatile, with nearly half of American adults leaving the faith tradition of their upbringing to either switch allegiances or abandon religious affiliation altogether, a new survey finds.

The study released Monday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life is unusual for it sheer scope, relying on interviews with more than 35,000 adults to document a diverse and dynamic U.S. religious population.

While much of the study confirms earlier findings — mainline Protestant churches are in decline, non-denominational churches are gaining and the ranks of the unaffiliated are growing — it also provides a deeper look behind those trends, and of smaller religious groups.

[Read the whole story here.]

Sunday, February 24, 2008

Archbishop Peter Jensen: There’s power in our ‘product’

It is refreshing to see an Anglican bishop with such confidence in Holy Scripture and evangelism. It is also worth checking out the link for the Connect 09 program mentioned in the article. —RSM+

There’s power in our ‘product’
by Archbishop Peter Jensen

I love starting the year by going to CMS [Church Mission Society - Australia] Summer Schools. This year Christine and I had the privilege of attending the South Australian School as well as the NSW [New South Wales] one.

At Katoomba we had the joy of hearing John Woodhouse (principal of Moore College in Sydney) speaking to us from 1 Samuel on the life of Saul. Once more we were reminded of the power of God’s word, as John simply but effectively drew out and applied the meaning of the text so that we could be built up in Christ. We ought to be so grateful that our theological college principal can do this so well. He models the authority and power of the Bible to our future ministers.

In South Australia, what struck me were the stories told by our missionaries about the capacity of the Scriptures to cross boundaries and to make new Christians. Some unbelievers even put it about that Christians have put a curse on the Bible to fascinate the unwary! We know that this ‘curse’ is actually the work of the Holy Spirit in inspiring Scripture and then illumining us as we read it.

The theory of Connect 09 is that we contact and connect with our community in a way which we have not done for many years. No doubt this will require planning, skill, imagination, training and perseverance. We live in a fragmented world, where the very idea of community and relationship is hard to sustain. When we think of this challenge, it is easy to be overwhelmed at the magnitude of the work – so many people, so few resources, so much apathy.

But if the word of God can cross the cultural barriers and speak with a converting power in the sort of places where missionaries find themselves, it can certainly also do so here. It is encouraging to hear so frequently of people coming to know Christ as a result of reading the Bible. We ought not to be surprised, of course. God is already at work when we use his word. It may be judgement which is being confirmed when people are hard-hearted. It may be the blessing of salvation. He will do his work in his way.

In any case, it is vitally important that we do all we can to make God’s word available and known in the community. There was a time when the stories and sayings of the Bible were familiar to all. They were simply the stock of imagination and of speech, even if people did not act on them. But every year that passes sees fewer and fewer people familiar with ‘the classics’, including the Bible. Modern technology suits our own individual tastes. As a result, fewer people have a shared ‘language’ in which to communicate – no stories, songs, experiences in common. All this makes for fragmentation and aloneness.

No one else is responsible for making sure that people at least know the Bible. That is our job as Christians. It is our message, which we are obliged to make known. The very technological advances which create division can also be used to communicate the truth. We live in one of the most amazing times in human history and the opportunities are as vast as the disadvantages. Mind you, there is still a powerful effect in a parent or grandparent simply telling the stories of the Bible at bedtime to young children. They remain engrossing tales, given by God to teach us how he relates to the world.

I would also like to underline once again the importance of Scripture in schools. Here at least we have children who will not be totally ignorant of what God has said to and about the world. I know that Scripture in schools can be hard work. But, if you are a Scripture teacher, let me encourage you to keep at it and to do so with individual prayer for the children wherever possible. God is at work in our schools.

Even at a basic level, then, I believe that Connect 09 is capable of doing much good. We want to make sure that God’s word is widely available and to do it in such a way as to encourage people to read it – or listen to it or watch it, depending on what we give them. We can trust our ‘product’ – it would be really good if we accompanied our gifts with prayer and friendship too.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Ash Wednesday (2008) -- 2 Corinthians 5:20-6:10

We know from history that the Roman Emperors liked to think of themselves (and to have others think of them) as being divine. Many of our Christian forebears suffered martyrdom rather than acquiesce to that absurdity—just as Christians will always encounter persecution for not being willing to yield to the popular delusions and cultural captivity of their age.

It is paradoxical, then, that when a Roman Emperor or General was honored with a Triumph—awarded after he had led Rome to victory over her enemies—the Emperor or General would ride in procession through the streets, dressed in regal robes with a wreath of honor held above his head, to the great accolades of the public. But just behind him would be a slave, whispering repeatedly in his ear, “Remember that you are mortal… Remember that you are mortal.”

(So now you will understand that scene in Mel Brooks’ History of the World, Part I, where the Roman Emperor, played by Dom DeLuise, is so irritated with the servant for telling him what he doesn’t want to hear.)

Ash Wednesday comes around annually, and like that servant, tells us what we do not want to hear. It whispers to each of us: “Remember that you are mortal;” or, more precisely, in the words of our service, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”—hearkening back to Genesis 2, “the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being” (Gen. 2:7), but also hearkening back to the curse on fallen mankind in Genesis 3: “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return" (Gen. 3:19).

So in the quiet of Ash Wednesday, when we reflect on many things, the first thing we need to do is to:

I. Remember our mortality

In the Burial office we pray the following words:
You only are immortal, the creator and maker of mankind; and we are mortal, formed of the earth, and to earth shall we return. For so did you ordain when you created me, saying, “You are dust, and to dust you shall return.” All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.

Now why have I just quoted the Burial Office and used the forbidden “A” word (Alleluia) in Lent? Because at the same time as we remember our mortality, we need to remember that death is not the end. We need to remember our immortality.

II. Remember our immortality. Not the immortality that only belongs to God, who is from everlasting to everlasting, but the life eternal that is the destiny of our immortal souls.

Some of you who were at Nashotah House last year will remember Dr. Jerry Root, who taught in our course on C.S. Lewis last spring. Jerry was one of the featured speakers at the Mere Anglicanism conference from which I have just returned. Drawing on the writing of C.S. Lewis, he made the point, “When a child asks you, ‘Do I have a soul?’ You should respond, ‘You ARE a soul; you HAVE a body.’” Our bodies will someday return to the dust; but we will continue to live on.

To further illustrate the point: Fr. Doug McGlynn had hip surgery a few weeks ago. In that operation, the surgeon scraped away some tissue, and cut away some bone, and replaced it with synthetic, man-made material. And, yet, Fr. McGlynn is no less Fr. McGlynn.

We all know of people who have had transplants of hearts, lungs, kidneys, and livers. Part of what was once them was disposed of as medical waste, unless it was interesting enough for a laboratory to keep and study. Yet, those individuals, with new parts taken from another human being, continue to be the same individual. We are realizing increasingly that our bodies are vehicles that carry us through life; and, like the cars we drive, how we take care of them has something to do with how long they will serve us before they begin to wear out and break down.

If you have my appetite and don’t get enough exercise, you may look like I do at age 53. If you are more careful and have good genes, you may be blessed to be as active as Bishop Parsons at 85. Most of us need to treat our bodies better than we do in what we feed them and how we exercise them.

Now let me say parenthetically that the loss of our bodies in death is only temporary. When we speak of Resurrection, we are not merely speaking of the immortality of the soul. If that were the case, we would not need Christ. Socrates and many other philosophers have believed and taught the immortality of the soul. In Christ, we are promised Resurrection, when, as the Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 15, our perishable, corruptible, mortal bodies will, after the manner of Jesus’ resurrection, be raised imperishable, incorruptible, immortal. God is not merely the God of disembodied souls and spirits. We will not, as Paul says, remain “unclothed.” We will someday have resurrection bodies that will carry our souls for all eternity.

But what about that part of us that will live on after our mortal bodies have been buried? What about our souls? How well are we feeding them? And with what are we feeding them? What kind of exercise are we giving our souls? And so, on this day when we reflect on many things, we need to remember our immorality.

III. Remember our redemption
In our Epistle lesson we read, “We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (II Cor. 5:20-21). There are many verses that encapsulate the Gospel in a few words. This is one of the most powerful and most direct. Don’t let anyone tell you the Atonement is not substitutionary; this verse clearly states otherwise.

God so cared for us in our mortal state, lost in our sins, that he gave his only Son to be the sin bearer, who took upon himself our sins so that he became sin FOR US—so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. By a marvelous exchange, he has made it possible for us to receive his righteousness and thereby to be reconciled to God. Our standing and our acceptance before God are solely in Him and are freely available to us because of the initiative of divine grace. And so, on this day, I urge us to remember our redemption.

Our lesson continues in 2 Corinthians 6: “As God's fellow workers we urge you not to receive God's grace in vain.” Has it occurred to us that it is possible to receive God’s grace in vain? Saint Paul says that it is. How could we possibly receive God’s grace in vain? What does that mean?

The key is found in what Paul has just said, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” We are accounted righteous; we are made righteous positionally if we are in Christ. But how are we doing in becoming righteous? Remember that to be righteous is defined as to have God’s perspective in all things—to value what God values and to reflect God’s character in the way we live. So how are we doing?

The key is also found in the verses that follow. Paul quotes God’s words from Isaiah 49:8 when he says, “‘In the time of my favor I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God's favor, now is the day of salvation.”

God has heard our cry of lostness, and in the Atonement of his Son, has found and redeemed us. So how are we doing in becoming what he died to make us? On this day when we reflect on many things, let us remember our mortality, our immortality, and finally, our redemption.

Last Sunday night I was privileged to be a part of a beautiful service of Sung Compline at Christ Church, Savannah, GA. (If you are ever in Savannah on a Sunday night, I strongly encourage you to go.) That historic church is where John Wesley and George Whitfield served as rector. And sitting in the dim light of that awesome service, I was reminded of the Great Awakening that came about through the preaching of those two great Anglican spiritual giants.

Every revival or awakening that has happened in history came about when God’s people began to confess their sins. Who can deny that our Church and our society today need such an awakening? Who can deny the we need such an Awakening? And so I invite us to begin this Ash Wednesday with the words of confession from the office for the Reconciliation of a Penitent (that I have adapted in plural form):
Holy God, heavenly Father, you formed us from the dust in your image and likeness, and redeemed us from sin and death by the cross of your Son Jesus Christ. Through the water of baptism you clothed us with the shining garment of his righteousness, and established us among your children in your kingdom. But we have squandered the inheritance of your saints, and have wandered far in a land that is waste.

Therefore, O Lord, let us confess those sins that are known to us and from these and all other sins we cannot now remember, let us turn to you in sorrow and repentance. Receive us again into the arms of your mercy, and restore us to the blessed company of your faithful people; through him in whom you have redeemed the world, your Son our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.