Friday, 26 May 2017


Yesterday the Church of England remembered John and Charles Wesley.  Now, those who know me will know that I think the most remarkable witness about John Wesley is that he shows us how God can powerfully use even a man who was often vindictive and wicked to proclaim the Gospel with such power and divine blessing that countless are saved.

John's pathological hatred of the Doctrines of Grace (often called Calvinism) is well known and repeated in the latter part of this piece.  It is ironic that in calling for not separating from the Church of England he deplores those who actually teach what the Church of England officially teaches!  

Nonetheless, at a time when there is much talk of evangelicals separating from the Church of England it is perhaps worthwhile to read what John Wesley wrote concerning this matter.  In the 1750's many evangelicals were clamouring for reform and schism, many clergy were not only neutral to the gospel and the truth but outright enemies of it, heavy persecution came on gospel preachers. At this time John Wesley defiantly refused to leave the Church of England.  He died a member of the Church of England and till his death held the conviction that if the Methodist movement left the Church of England then God Himself would leave it!  Because his thoughts may be relevant today I have taken his tract on the matter and modernised the English spelling and grammar that it might be easier to follow and understand.  I do not agree with all he says (obviously not so on the Doctrines of Grace!)  but it is still very thought provoking and challenging.

Printed in the Year 1758.

Reasons for not separating:

Whether it is lawful or not (which itself may be disputed and is not as clear as some may imagine) it is by no means expedient for us to separate from the established church:

1)  Because it would contradict the solemn and repeated declarations which we have made in all manner of ways; in preaching, in print, and in private conversation.

2) Because (on this as well as on many other matters) it would give huge cause for offence to those who seek and desire offence, to all the enemies of God and his truth.

3) Because it would cause many of those who fear—who love—God to be extremely prejudiced against us.  This will hinder their receiving benefit from our preaching—or perhaps even stop them listening all together.

4) Because it would hinder a great many of those who neither love nor fear God from hearing us at all.

5) Because it would occasion many hundreds—if not some thousands—of those who are now united with us to separate from us; some of those who themselves have a deep work of grace in their souls.

6) Because it would be throwing napalm grenades among those that are now quiet in the land.  We are currently sweetly united together in love. We mostly think and speak the same  thing.  But this would cause inconceivable strife and contention between those who left and those who remained in church as well as between those who left us and those who remained with us; it would even cause this among those who remained because they would be inclined one way or the other.

7) Because at the moment controversy is asleep and by and large we can live peaceably with everyone; which means we are peculiarly at free to spend our whole time and strength in promoting and enforcing plan, practical,  vital religion—O what our forefathers would have given to have enjoyed such a blessed calm! Leaving would utterly banish  this peace from among us and there could be no hope of its return.  It would engage me in a thousand controversies, both in public and private, because my conscience would oblige me to give reasons for my conduct and defend  those reasons against my opponents.  In doing this it would remove me from the more useful labours which might otherwise take up the short remainder of my life.

8 ) Because to form  the plan of a new church would require infinite time and care (which might be far more profitably bestowed) with much more wisdom—and greater depth and extensiveness of thought —than any of us are capable of.

9) Because from some who have already barely entertained a distant thought of leaving we see that evil fruits have already followed; prejudice against the clergy in general, a willingness to believe the worst about them; contempt (not without a degree of bitterness) of clergymen, and a sharpness of language towards the whole order utterly unbecoming of either gentlemen or Christians.

10) Because the experiment has been so frequently tried already, and the success has never lived up to the expectation.  Since the Reformation God has raised up from time to time many witnesses of pure religion. If these lived and died (like John Arndt, Robert Bolton, and many others) in the churches to which they belonged, despite the wickedness which overcame both the teachers and people within them, then why cannot we?  Indeed, they spread the leaven of true religion far and wide and were more and more useful until they went to Paradise.  We see that when such people separated and founded distinct parties—due to some provocation or consideration—their influence was more and more confined; they grew less and less useful to others, and generally lost the Spirit of Religion themselves in the Spirit of Controversy.

11) Because we have sad and depressing instances of this, even now before our eyes.  Many have in our memory left the church and formed themselves into distinct bodies.  Certainly some of them did this from a real conviction that they should do God more service in this way.  But have any separated themselves and prospered?  Have they been either more holy or more useful than they were before?

12)  Because by separating we will throw away the unique glorying which God has given us: that we do, and will, suffer all things for the sake of our brothers and sisters even though the more we love them the less we are loved.  Leaving would be in direct opposition to this end—for which we believe God has raised us up. The chief design of his providence in sending us out is, undoubtedly, to bring alive our brothers and sisters.  The first message of all of preachers is to the lost sheep of the Church of England.  Would it not be a plain contradiction to this design if we were to separate from the church? 

All these things being considered, we cannot believe—whether it is lawful in itself or not—that it is lawful for us: even were it only on the ground that it is not expedient.

1) "Until we separate we cannot be a truly united body."

 That is  true, we cannot be a truly united body, if by that expression you mean a body distinct from all others.  But we have no desire to be such a body.

2) "It is only cowardice and fear of persecution which makes you desire to remain united with them."

This cannot be proved.  Let every one examine their own heart and not judge their brother .  This is not even probably the case.  We have never yet, for any persecution we were in the middle of, either turned back from the work or even slackened our pace.  But this is certain: that although persecution many times proves an unspeakable blessing to them that suffer it, yet we ought not seek to bring it upon ourselves.  We ought to do whatever can lawfully be done in order to prevent it.  We ought to avoid it so far as we lawfully can; when persecuted in one city flee to another.  If God should allow a general persecution who would  be able to abide it?  We know not.  Perhaps those who talk loudest might flee first... remember the case of Dr. Pendleton.

3) "Upon the whole you cannot help but notice how desirable it is that everyone engaged in the same work should think and speak the same thing, be united in one judgement, and use one and the same language."

So we not all now see ourselves, the Methodists (so called) in general, the church, and the clergy in a clear light?  We look upon ourselves not as the authors or ringleaders of a particular sect or party (that is the farthest thing from our thoughts!) but as messengers of God who those who are Christian in name but heathens in the heart and in life.  We seek  to call them back to that from which they are fallen—to real, genuine, Christianity.  We are, therefore, debtors to all these, of whatever opinion or denomination, and are consequently to do all we possibly can to please all of them for their good and edification.
We look upon the Methodists (so called) not as any particular party (for this would greatly obstruct the grand design for which we believe God has raised us up) but as living witnesses in, and to, every party of that Christianity when we preach; which is hereby demonstrated to be a real thing and visibly held out to all the world

We look upon England as  that part of the world, and the church as  that part of England, to which all we who are born and have been brought up within it, owe our first and chief regard.  We feel in ourselves a strong attachment, a kind of natural affection for our country, which we believe Christianity was never designed to either root out or to impair.  We have a more particular concern for our brothers and sisters, for that part of our countrymen, with whom we have been joined together with from our youth up by both religious and civil ties.  It is true  that they are, in general, without God in the world (Ephesians 2.12)—because of this we are deeply moved for them.  They lie in darkness and the shadow of death (Luke 1.79)—and so our compassion is more tender towards  them.  And when we have the fullest conviction that complicated wickedness which covers them as a flood, then do we feel most (and we desire to feel yet more) that expressible emotion with which our blessed Lord beheld Jerusalem and wept and lamented over it (Luke 19.41-44).  It is at that moment we are the most willing to spend and be spent for them, yes, to even lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (1 John 3.16).

We look upon the clergy, not only a part of these our brothers, as that part whom God in his awesome providence has called to be watchmen over the rest, for whom therefore they are to give a strict account.  If these then neglect their important charge, if they do not watch over them with all their power, they will be of all men most miserable and so are entitled to our deepest compassion.  To feel, and much more so to express, either contempt or bitterness towards them betrays an utter ignorance of ourselves and of the Spirit which we especially should be of.

Because this is a point of particular concern let us consider it a little farther.

The clergy, wherever we are, are either friends of the truth, or neutral to it, or enemies of it.

If they are friends of the truth we should certainly do everything, and omit everything, we can with a safe conscience which will all us to continue, and if it be possible increase, their good will towards the truth.

If they are neither furthering nor hindering the truth we should do all that we possibly can, both for their sake and the sake of their flocks, to give their neutrality the right turn so that it may change into love rather than hatred.

If they are enemies of the  truth, still we should not despair of lessening, if not removing, their prejudice.  We should try every means again and again.  We should employ all our care, labour, prudence, joined with fervent prayer, to overcome evil with good and to melt their hardness into love.

It is true that when any of these openly distort the Scripture and deny the grand truths of the Gospel we cannot be declare and defend, at convenient opportunities, the important truths which they deny.  But in this case especially we have need of all gentleness and meekness of wisdom. Contempt, sharpness, and bitterness can do no good.  The wrath of man works not the righteousness of God (James 1.20). Harsh methods have been tried again and again (by two or three unsettled Railers); at Wednesbury, St Ives, Cork, and Canterbury.  And how did they succeed? They always caused countless evils and often completely stopped the course of the Gospel.  Therefore, were it only for prudent reasons and conscience unconcerned within, it should be a sacred rule to all our preachers: "No contempt and no bitterness to the clergy."

Another prudent rule for every Methodist preacher would be: "do not attend any dissenting meeting [non-Church of England church service]" (though we blame not those who have always been accustomed to going to them).  If we go to such meetings then our people certainly will too.  This is actually separating from the church.  If it is not (at the least) not expedient to separate from the Church of England then neither is it expedient to attend dissenting meetings.  We may attend our own assemblies and the Church of England too because they are at different hours but we cannot attend both the Meeting and the Church because they are at the same time.

4) Now some say "but at the Church of England we are fed with chaff whereas at the [non conformist] Meeting we have wholesome food."

I respond:

a) The prayers of the Church are not chaff; they are substantial food for any who are alive to God.

b)The Lord's Supper is not chaff; it is pure and wholesome for all who receive it with upright hearts

c) In almost all sermons we hear there we hear many great and important truths; who ever has spiritual discernment may easily separate the chaff from the wheat within it.

d) The case it not all mended by attending the Meeting.  Either the teachers are 'New Light Men' who deny the Lord that bought them and overturn his gospel from the very foundations, or they are 'Predestinarians' and so preach predestination and final perseverance more or less.  Now whatever this may be to them who grew up being educated in these churches, repeated experience has shown it is not wholesome food for our brothers and sisters who recently embraced it; rather is have the effect of deadly poison.  In a short time it destroys their zeal for God.  They grow fond of opinions and strife of words.  They despise self-denial and the daily cross, and to complete it all they totally separate from their brothers and sisters.

e)  It is not expedient for any Methodist preacher to imitate the dissenters in their manner of praying: either in their tone (all particular tones in both prayer and preaching should be avoided with the utmost care), nor in their language (all our words should be plain and simple such as the lowest of our hearers both use and can understand), or in the length of their prayer (which should not usually exceed four or five minutes either before or after the sermon.)  One might add, neither should we sing like them in a  slow and drawling manner: we sing swiftly both because it saves time and because it tends to awaken and enliven the soul.

f) If we continue in the Church not by chance or because we have not thought it through but because of solid and carefully considered reasons, then we should never speak contemptuously of the Church or of anything pertaining it.  In some sense it is the mother of us all who have been brought up within her.  We ought to never make her blemishes matters of division but rather of solemn sorrow before God.  We ought never to talk ludicrously of her blemishes—indeed, not at all—without clear necessity.  Rather we should conceal them, as far as we possibly can, without bringing guilt upon our own conscience.  And we should all use every rational and scriptural means to bring others to the same mindset and behaviour.  I say 'all' because if some of us think this way while others have the opposite spirit and behaviour this will breed a real schism amongst ourselves.  It will, of course, divide us into two parties; each of which will be liable to perpetual jealousies, suspicions, and animosities against the other. Therefore, on this account likewise, it is expedient in the highest degree that we should be tender towards the Church to which we belong.

g) In order to secure this end—to cut off all jealousy and suspicion from our friends and hope from our enemies of our having any plans to separate from the Church of England—it would be well to everything Methodist preacher, who has no scruple concerning it, to attend the service of the Church of England as often as he conveniently can.  The more we attend it the more we love it—as constant experience shows. On the contrary, the longer we abstain from it the less desire we have to attend it at all.

h)  Lastly, whilst we are surrounded on every side by those who are equally enemies to us and to the Church of England, and whilst these are long practised in this war and skilled in the objections against it, it is highly expedient for every preacher (because our brethren are quite strangers to all of this conflict and know not how to answer them) to be provided with sound answers to those objections and then to instruct the Societies where he labours on how to defend themselves against these assaults. It would be, therefore, good for you to carefully read over the 'Preservative against unsettled notions in religion' together with 'Serious thoughts concerning perseveration and predestination calmly considered.'  When you are masters of these yourselves it will be easy for you to recommend and explain them to our Societies so that they are no longer tossed to and fro by every wing of doctrine (Ephesians 4.14) but rather being settled in one mind and one judgement, by solid scriptural and rational arguments, they may grow up in all things into him who is our Head, even Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4.15).


I think myself bound in duty to add my testimony to my Brother's.  His twelve reasons against our ever separating from the Church of England are also mine.  I subscribe to them with all my heart.  I am quite clear that it is neither expedient nor lawful for me to separate: and I never had the least inclination or temptation to do so.  My affection for the Church [of England] is as strong as ever.  I clearly see my calling: to live and  to die in her communion. This, therefore, I am determined to do with the Lord being my Helper.
I have attached these hymns for lay-preachers to further secure this end, to cut off all jealousy and suspicion from our friends, or hope from our enemies, of our having any design to ever separate from the Church of England.  I have no secret reservation or distant thought of it.  I never have.  Would to God all the Methodist preachers were, in this respect, like minded with us.


Thursday, 18 May 2017

boldness before ridicule - Psalm 119.51

The arrogant constantly ridicule me, but I do not turn away from Your instruction. 119.51

Often what hurts most when people oppose our faith in Jesus Christ as Lord, God and Risen Saviour is not that they reject the truth but the arrogant veneer of contempt that laces the words of many opponents of the truth.  It is the way they look down on those who believe in the virtues of simple child-like faith.  It is the arrogant assumption that their learning and alleged academic prowess is insurmountable, is unchallengeable.  They cry ‘fundamentalist’ as a way of shaming us and ending debate.  

We see it not just in conversation but in the media.  How often are Christians ridiculed on the TV? From the frankly insulting insinuations to the boringly predictable stereotyping of ministers in sitcoms.  Then you have the ‘look at these crazy people not living in the modern world and accepting the infallible truths of contemporary science’ kind of new reports.  

Such ridicule of good faithful Christians and the truth we hold so dear can be painful and hurtful.  On one level it should help to promote good interaction with others on our behalf.  As Christians we are called to be humble not arrogant.  How sad and tragic, indeed heartbreaking, that Christians are the ones people so often think are arrogant!  More importantly, we must be very aware of the power of ridicule to subtly undermine our own views and beliefs.  No one likes to be ridiculed which leads to the real temptation for us to ‘tone down’ our message or to bury it under a mountain of qualifications.

The call of Scripture is to be on guard against this and to not turn away from the instructions God has given us for all time.  Following instructions is not something which comes naturally to humanity.  Living a life fully submitted to the instructions of Scripture is a real battle.  Being broken like a horse must be broken if it is to be usable by the rider is an unpleasant but vital experience in the Christian lifeand an experience which must be a continual reality in our hearts.  

Let us pray that nothing outside of us, no words or sneers, no allegations or stupid comic sketches would ever turn us against the plain instructions we have been given.  Pray that the voices all around us would be drowned out by the crystal clear voice of the true King.

Wednesday, 26 April 2017

A Chrstian guide to political warfare

Like many people my first reaction when Theresa May announced a snap election was a resigned groan.  Not because I hate politics—I actually love politics and find it fascinating—but because I knew what was about to hit my social media feed.  I am pretty sure Paul would use the great word skubalon to sum up what pops up all over our Facebook pages during election campaigns!  We saw it at the last general election, we saw it during the Breferendum, we saw it during the American Presidential  Election, and to no one's surprise we are seeing it again now.  

I am of course  talking about the highly polemical political posts which demonise the opponent, beatifies the person's political idol, make short unsupported declarations about very complex matters, and generally seem more about gaining approval from those of the same beliefs than really engaging in any meaningful debate.  If you were to take these things at face value then every Tory is seemingly possessed by the devil himself, hell bent on destroying the nation for their own profit and greed, and making sure children go into workhouses in a dystopian Dickensian future.  Meanwhile the Labour party are full of infighting spineless cry-babies led by a communist hell-bent on allying the nation with terrorist organisations and sending the nation into such economical decline that our future is basically living in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Oh, and every politician is also a fascist (naturally!)  [Just to make clear, I am not talking about intentional satire here which is free from political partisanship but even in these cases we must think carefully about what we post.]

Even posts that seem to try to make a point and engage in reasoned debate are ruined by images of the Prime Minister with a pig snout or Jeremy Corbyn in a clown costume.  It is just childish and immature—the kind of thing you expect in the playground not from grown adults.

I find all of this depressing, pathetic, and absurd.  People you know and respect seem to become playground bullies and football hooligans throwing custard pies across the political divide on Facebook feeds.  Two things in particular strike me as important: 

1) how should Christians engage in political debate? 

2) should church leaders get into the fray?

"I am pretty sure Paul would use the great word 
skubalon to sum up Facebook politics"

Christianity has a varied history with engagement in politics.  There are many Christians who hold that believers should never get involved in politics and shouldn't even vote.  Many other Christians champion the right to vote and believe Christians should engage in government actively whilst keeping church and state separate.  Finally many Christians—though not as many as there used to be—champion an Erastian ideal where the church and the state are not separated at all.  Ultimately, I don't think the Bible ever binds the conscience of the believer on these matters and we must respect each other and our choices when it comes  to voting or not.

What the Bible does do though is bind how we engage in politics if we choose to do so.   What Christians say and how we say it is a matter of huge importance before the White Throne of Judgement.  Let's take Matthew 12.36-37 as a starting point.

I tell you that on the day of judgment people will have to account for every careless word they speak. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.

Every word we speak is important, every word will be held accountable.  Cheap shots at opponents, flippant remarks which demonise others, and insulting simplistic slogans are a serious matter.  As Jesus had just said; evil words spring from an evil heart and good words from a good heart.  If we are partaking in such careless argument we need to stop and check our heart for spiritual cancer.

In Colossians 4.6 Paul exhorts in these words:

Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.

Before you post something online ask yourself—is  this gracious, is it "seasoned with salt", or is it unforgiving, not attempting to understand the other side, is it instead bitter and going rotten?

"What Christians say and how we say it is a matter of huge 
importance before the White Throne of Judgement."

Consider also Ephesians 4.29-32

 No foul language should come from your mouth, but only what is good for building up someone in need, so that it gives grace to those who hear. And don’t grieve God’s Holy Spirit. You were sealed by him for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, anger and wrath, shouting and slander be removed from you, along with all malice. And be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as God also forgave you in Christ.

Is what you are  going to say good?  Not just in general but specifically is it going to be good for building up someone in need?  Is it going to give grace (freely given love and compassion) to those who hear it?  Is it going to come across as bitter, angry, and wrathful?  Is it really a conversational point or just shouting and argument seasoned with a dose of slander and malice?  Is it kind and compassionate to those you disagree with, forgiving of their mistakes and failures?  That last point is of immense importance.  We all live in very, very, fragile glass houses!  Being unforgiving to those who disagree with you only encourages them to be unforgiving to you and thus  the cycle of bitter shouting and slander spirals out of control.  Instead, can you rise above their shouting and slander and forgive freely, making you point with kindness and graciousness?

Similar messages about what we say (or post online) include:

So then, let us pursue what promotes peace and what builds up one another. Romans 14.19

But now, put away all the following: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from your mouth.  Colossians 3.8

"These are massive matters which reveal the 
light or darkness dwelling in your heart, 
the health or cancer of your soul."

What we say and how we say it are important when making an argument and presenting a cause, they are matters of first importance.  But how we think of those we disagree with is also worth considering.  I'm not talking about the politicians here (at least not primarily) but those fellow citizens who hold different ideas to you.  So many posts during the Breferendum seemed to revolve around those who vote for Brexit being essentially stupid and foolish, ignorant and air-headed.   Likewise many posts claimed the same for the Remainers.  Today posts are flying about how those who vote Tory are clearly idiots because  they want to destroy the NHS and pursue a "hard Brexit" whilst others claim those who vote against the Tory's are so dense  and ignorant of economics that they will plunge the nation into a financial black hole so deep the sun doesn't even shine.  

Jesus addressed this clearly in Matthew 5.22

And whoever says to his brother or sister, ‘Fool!’ will be subject to the court. But whoever says, ‘You moron!’ will be subject to hellfire.

The first word for "fool" Jesus uses is the Aramaic word raca which was something of a quasi-swear word meaning "air headed fool."  The second word translated "moron" is literally the Greek word moros from which we get the word moronic.  Simply calling people who disagree with you, who come at something with different presuppositions, with different ideological foundations an air-headed idiot, a moronic fool is a matter of hellfire and damnation.  Thankfully, we have the sacrifice of Jesus to give us forgiveness through faith in Him but here Jesus is clearly emphasising the seriousness of declaring such things. 

It does need to be mentioned, however, that things are not entirely so clear cut.  Jesus Himself calls the Pharisees morons (same Greek word) twice in the Gospels directly and once indirectly. Obviously the unspoken caveat in Matthew 5.22 and indeed in much of what we discussed above is that we should not do these  things without very good and rock solid justification.  We also shouldn't be saying them about matters which are debatable and not clear cut.  

As much a both sides of the political argument might like to think things are clear cut we need to have the humility to recognise they are not given that God hasn't directly spoken into them.  The Bible does not clearly promote modern 21st century Socialism or the presupposition that the State is to be  the primary source of care for citizens.  Nor does the Bible clearly promote capitalism.  In fact, it doesn't even really promote modern democracy as an urgent cause or need.   Though clearly thinking slavery is wrong it doesn't tell slaves  to rebel against their masters and it doesn't tell citizens to overthrow despotic dictators and implement democracy either.  

People can have just as much a heart for the poor and needy whether they believe that the State should care for them or they believe that personal charity among fellow humans should do this.   Let's not throw around moron and fool just because you disagree with people equally intelligent as you when God has not given a clear mandate to judge which of you is right.

So, a plea for everyone, especially Christians, to be careful in what they say and post. These are massive matters which reveal the light or darkness dwelling in your heart, the health or cancer of your soul.  Always pause and pray before you post!

"Thankfully, we have the sacrifice of Jesus 
to give us forgiveness through faith in Him 
but here Jesus is clearly emphasising 
the seriousness of declaring such things." 

Finally, I want to address my fellow ministers.  Like everyone else we have political opinions and we have a right to vote.  Unlike others, we are more constrained and held to a higher standard.  I've seen firsthand how toxic a minister getting involved in politics gets.  During the Breferendum I saw parishioners be so offended by the stance of their minister that they could no longer truly respect them, receive ministry from them, or listen to their views during sermons which had nothing to do with Brexit. I personally have found my view of some great men of God poisoned by their shallow politicking online and though I hold no malice to them I find that my ability to receive from them is still currently impaired.  Politics today is ever so toxic that getting involved in it publicly will poison your ability to minister to the souls under your care. 

The Ordinal speaks of this sort of thing in the exhortation to Priests about to be ordained in words which should always be before our eyes:

"Have always therefore printed in your remembrance, how great a treasure is committed to your charge. For they are the sheep of Christ, which he bought with his death, and for whom he shed his blood. The Church and Congregation whom you must serve, is his spouse and his body. And if it shall happen the same Church, or any member thereof, to take any hurt or hindrance by reason of your negligence, ye know the greatness of the fault, and also the horrible punishment that will ensue."

If you get involved in politics in the pulpit or online then you are going to cause hurt and hindrance through neglecting the wise words of Scripture I outlined above.  It is our duty to model godly, wholesome, behaviour before our congregations and this is often a heavy burden—but it is one we should gladly bear.  We must exhort our parishioners to care for the poor and sick, to consider what God would want, to seek after what is good in their voting.  We must not get dragged into dictating what this means on matters where it is not clear in Scripture.  In Britain at the moment the great and clear cut moral issues that Scripture would give us cause to dictate voting on are not on the radar because none the parties argue against them or really articulate their desire to enforce such moral laws on our land.  

So, let us all be careful and avoid the cesspit of shallow, demonising, ungracious politicking in person and online—and I would plead with all ministers to completely recuse  themselves from any hint of partisanship before those we minister to.

"Always pause and pray before you post!"

Friday, 21 April 2017

A little faithfulness: Anglican robes and heritage

On Maundy Thursday I attended the diocesan "Chrism Eucharist."  This of course is a very modern fad (though made out to be a 'tradition') which dates in Anglicanism to only the 1970's and before then only to the Roman Church by a decade or so.  Whilst I don't recognise as Anglican or biblical the use of oil in ordination or confirmation it is certainly enjoined for use with prayer in healing (James 5.14).  Sure, the idea that a bishop needs to pray over it is nonsense but such a "Chrism Eucharist" is still important in as much as it is pretty much the only time all (or most) of the clergy of the diocese get together and show unity with their bishops. 

This year only myself and one other minister wore the traditional robes of an Anglican:  a surplice, tippet, and hood (to which to truly complete it I had a Canterbury Cap—though any academic "square cap" would suffice).  Everyone else present wore surplice and white stoles or alb and stole.  The other person wearing scarf and hood when I asked why he wore it said simply "To fly the flag for Reformed Anglicanism."  Which is of course a very good answer (though one should not need to preface Anglicanism with Reformed!) 

I do not for a moment think that what clergy wear is a first order issue—or even perhaps a second order one!  It is a but a "little" thing really.  But it is still important because faithfulness in little things engenders  faithfulness in greater things whilst compromise on the minor matters betrays potential compromise on the major.  I have great personal respect for the ministry and faith of many Anglican evangelicals who wear stoles and albs and even chasubles.   Nonetheless, for myself, I feel that wearing such garments is a betrayal of the Reformation, a shameful mimicry of Rome, and something with no place in Confessional or Historic Anglicanism.  I believe that Anglicans should be proud of our heritage, the gospel truths we proclaim, and the unique synthesis of Scripture and godly tradition which has formed our denomination. 

In this post I wish to firstly consider the historical reality of what Anglicans wore and then secondly make a plea for the Anglican distinctives.

So what place has wearing stoles and chasubles (vestments) had in Anglicanism?  The answer is very, very, little.

In the most early and fledgling days of Anglicanism under Henry the VIII and the first few years of Edward's reign Thomas Cranmer did not wish to push Reform too quickly.  His vision was not on the small scale of reforming a single town or city like Geneva or Zurich but utterly transforming an entire nation under God!  This required careful and staged reform to get people on board so as not to cause undue dissent and protest.  It is thus not surprising that he would have kept vestments in his first Prayer Book of 1549 in the second year of King Edward's reign.

 The 1549 book was supplanted in 1552 by a fully reformed prayer book.  In this prayer book all vestments were to be banished (and by separate injunctions destroyed) and the surplice with academic hood and scarf were to be worn as every time of public ministry and prayer.  No longer were there special vestments for the Lord's Supper or other sacraments.  The minister had one dress for all worship and only one. 

What this dress was to be is in itself significant.  Gone were all the robes associated with the sacerdotal theology of the Roman Catholic Church and her sacrificing priesthood.  In their place was a plain white surplice without any ornamentation.    Bullinger remarks that the surplice and square cap were worn merely to distinguish the minister from the people and sees no issue with such robes.  Likewise in 1571 Cox, bishop of Ely, would remark that "the surplice was used in the Church of Christ long before the introduction of Popery."  With the gaudy colours and priestly patterns of sacerdotal priesthood removed the minister was to be garbed in simplicity and in a way which emphasised their primary role—a teacher and preacher.  Academic hoods showing degrees and tippets (originally part of academic hoods) become the order of the day and alongside them was to be worn an academic cap.  It was immediately obvious that this break was about more than simple distancing from sacrificial priesthood but rather about clearly promoting a  teaching and preaching presbytery.  

The premature death of Edward was to seriously mess things up.  After Mary's bloody reign in which the streets of England were painted with the blood of our great Reformers (who died wearing the academic centric garb they had introduced to the church!) her half-sister Elizabeth took over.  Elizabeth was not fully on the same wavelength as her Reformed bishops.  She wanted a rather more gaudy worship.  She got her way with copes (without crosses on the back) but the bishops won through on the general robes of a minister.   The history is not exactly easy to grasp at this point but I will do my best to briefly summarise it. 

In 1559 the Act of Uniformity restored the 1552 rubric to the new BCP meaning the legal rubric required the surplice at every service (thus outlawing mass vestments).  However, the Act of Uniformity later went on in section 25 to require that the ornaments of ministers outlined in 1549 were "to be retained, and be in use...until other order shall therein be taken...."   Either the Act is simply contradictory or else the phrase "retained and be in use" actually means that they are not to be destroyed but rather kept till further notice is given.  This is certainly how Bishop Sandys understood the wording of the Act at the time it was published. 

To complicate matters further the Book of Common Prayer printed in 1559 actually changed the 1552 rubric without any authority and in direct contradiction of the carefully outlined changes allowed in the Act of Uniformity.  In essence the new "unauthorised" rubric said what our current one does with the addition of a final few words saying that this is all "according to the Act of Parliaments set in the beginning of this book"  (at the time the BCP was published with the Act of Uniformity as a sort of forward).

So which was it to be?  Were the 1549 or the 1552 rubrics the ones to be used?  If there was any doubt the injunctions by the Queen and her bishops which shortly followed the printing of the 1559 Prayer Book cleared things up.  Across the land the Queen sent commissioners with injunctions  to which all churches were compelled to comply and accept.   the 30th injunction insisted on ministers wearing both within church and without the seemly garments prescribed in the 1552 BCP and the 47th injunction insisted all vestments, copes, and other ornaments be handed over to the commissioners for the use of the Crown (likely to be destroyed or sold by the Crown to stop parishes doing it themselves as records show they were doing).  

Some chaos still reigned in the land when it came to the garb of the minister but it was not those who wore vestments (who didn't exist!) causing problems but rather those who refused to wear even a surplice and hood.  In 1566 the Queen published, with the authority of Parliament, the Advertisements of 1566.  These were officially the "other order" which the Act of Uniformity had hinted would follow to finally clear everything up.  Whilst the Advertisements reinstated the cope in cathedrals and collegiate churches for all services it essentially kept the rules of 1552.  The cope itself is a non-sacerdotal item—hence the use of it in all services without distinction—which was really just a cloak for indoor use not uncommon in secular usage at the time.  There were to be no Roman vestments of any kind and the same 'uniform' was to be worn at all services.  In 1604 the new Canons cemented in law that vestments were never to be worn but only a surplice with academic apparel and in Cathedrals and Collegiate churches a cope.

 Come 1662 the unauthorised 1559 rubric was included but without the mention of the Act of Uniformity.  It appears on the surface to allow or even insist once more on the 1549 vestments but this is farcical. 

Context is king.

One can—and some have—read Article 32 as allowing priests to have gay marriages because they can marry "at their own discretion".  This is clearly scurrilous, disingenuous, and frankly ridiculous.  To interpret a text without historical context is a rookie error. 

No one in 1662 started wearing Roman vestments; they were still illegal under canon law and we have records from every single diocese in the land showing that the status quo of the Advertisements and canon law were still very much in force.  Beyond this the three most important archdeacons in the lower house of convocation involved in the 1662 revision also demanded surplices around this time in no uncertain terms.  The King and both upper and lower houses of parliament understood the surplice alone to be required and mass vestments were not even on their radar.  (See John Tomlinson, Tracts of Ritual - Tracts 89, 92, and 165 for very extensive detail on these matters.)  

Fast forwarding to the Ritualist controversy in the 19th century when the Ritualists tried to bring back Roman Vestments based on the 1662 rubric seemingly pointing to the 1549 vestments we find that every single court of the land which tested it determined that they did not have a leg to stand on.  Such Roman vestments remained illegal in the Church of England until the revision of canon law in the 1960's—though the law was widely flouted from the turn of the century onwards.

So what place did stoles and chasubles and the like have in Anglicanism historically?  Virtually none. Clearly the traditional dress of the Anglican clergyman for the first 400 years of the church was what is today called choir dress; a surplice with academic hood, tippet, and square cap. 

The question still remains: what does this history mean for us today and how should it impact what we wear in our churches?

If you wish to associate yourself with the timeless truths the Anglican church was grounded on, if you wish the associate yourself with our illustrious martyrs, if you wish to associate yourself with the Protestant and Reformed heritage of the Anglican church then wearing what they themselves wore— and ardently insisted upon—is clearly a very visual starting point. 

Today the academic hood and academic cap are still popularly associated with learning, knowledge, and teaching (just look at a comic book depiction of a teacher or graduation scenes in films).  Wearing these promotes the biblical image of a presbyter's ministry. 

In our Confession of Faith the Roman Catholic Church is rightly called out for her errors, blasphemous fables, superstitions, and idolatry.  Anglicanism protests for the Biblical truths of right religion but part of our very essence is also a protest against the errors summed up by the Roman Catholic Church and the Papacy.  I struggle to see why any confessional Anglican would want to dress like a Roman Catholic sacrificing priest.  Chasubles and Stoles represent a priesthood and church which believes dramatically different things to Anglicanism and these things were deemed so serious that our Reformers were willing to die—painfully—rather than be dragged back into association with them.  Indeed one may question why ministers dress like Roman Catholic priests and not Eastern Orthodox priests or Ethiopian Tewahedo priests?  What is it about looking like Rome that is so important and enticing?

A supporter of Manchester United Football club does not go around wearing a Liverpool football kit.  They might both play the same sport but they are not on the same team!  The Roman Catholic Church may be a creedal church and thus playing, as it were, the same sport as the Church of England but we are most certainly not on the same "team."  To swap the uniforms of two incompatible understandings of priesthood and ministry is to sow confusion all over the place. 

To my mind Anglicans should have no reason or desire to appear like Roman Catholic sacerdotal priests.  As Archbishop Longley said on the 22nd of June 1866 "It is strongly felt that these innovations [wearing of Roman vestments] are but a mimicry of the Church of Rome, and involve, in some instances, the adoption of her erroneous teaching."  Or as Bishop Tait said on 8th of September 1859; Anglicans wearing such things are simply offering a "childish mimicry of antiquated garments, as by so dressing himself up that he may resemble as much as possible a Roman Catholic priest."
I have no desire to mimic Rome on any matter. I don't wish to be associated with that church in great matters or small.  I wish to promote a vision of ministry which is focussed on preaching and teaching.  I wish it to be clear which team I am playing for: the team of the Anglican Reformers and the Biblical truths they stood for. 

Is what we wear as ministers a matter of first importance?  No. 

Is it a "little matter" in comparison to many of the great challenges and debates the church currently faces today?  Yes.

But let us not forget Jesus' words in Luke 16.10  "One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much."

Faithfulness in little things is a sign of faithfulness in greater things.  I would implore you to also be faithful to our Anglican heritage and both the Biblical truths it promotes and the unbiblical ideas combats. 

Wednesday, 1 March 2017

A Modern English Commination Service & Why Commination

or Denouncing of God's Anger and Judgement against Sinners

The Greeting
We begin by greeting one another

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.

A hymn may be sung.

Words of introduction
The practice of commination is introduced

In the Primitive Church there was a godly discipline, that, at the beginning of Lent, anyone who was convicted of a notorious sin was put to open and public penance.  They were punished here and now, in this life, that their souls might be saved when the Day of the LordJudgement Daycomes.  It was hoped that everybody else, seeing this punishment, would seriously think again before following the way of sin.
      Until such a practice can again be restoredand this is something we should hope forit is good that you should all hear the general sentences of God's cursing against sinners who refuse to repent.  These Biblical curses are from, among other places, Deuteronomy 27. After a moment to reflect would you respond to each curse by saying 'amen'.  We do this now to remind ourselves of how great God's disgust and anger towards sinners is.  We hope that we will be moved to intense and true repentance; that we would walk all the more warily in these dark and dangerous days; that we would flee from the sin and evil we here state we understand God so hates and curses.

God's Curses proclaimed
cf. Deuteronomy 27; Jeremiah 17.5;
1 Corinthians 6.9-10; and Galatians 5.19-21
The person who makes a carved idol or cast image, which is detestable to the Lord, and then worships it is cursed.
The one who dishonours his father or mother is cursed.
The one who moves his neighbour's boundary marker is cursed.
The one who leads a blind person astray on the road is cursed.
The one who denies justice to a foreigner, a fatherless child, or a widow is cursed.
The one who does anything sexually immoral is cursed.
The one who secretly kills his neighbour is cursed.
The one who accepts a bribe to kill an innocent person is cursed.
The one who trusts in mankind, who makes human flesh his strength and turns his heart from the Lord is cursed.
Those who are unmerciful, the sexually immoral, adulterers, greedy persons, idolaters, slanderers, drunkards, and extortionists, are cursed.
Anyone who does not put the words of the law into practice is cursed.

Application and Exhortation
The importance of these curses today is explained

Given that all who go astray and break God's commandments are so cursed; let usremembering the dreadful judgement hanging over our heads which could fall on us at any momentturn back to our Lord God, with all remorse and humbleness of heart.  Let us grieve and lament our sinful life, acknowledge and confess our offences.  Let us seek to bring forth worthy fruits of repentance. For now is the axe put to the root of the trees, so that every tree that doesn't bear good fruit is cut down and cast into the fire.  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God: He shall pour down rain upon the sinners, snares, fire and brimstone, storm and tempest; this shall be their portion to drink.

For behold, the Lord has come out of His place to visit the wickedness of humanity. Who can possibly survive the day of His coming? Who could possibly endure when He appears? His broom is in His hand, and He will purge His floor. He will gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn the chaff with unquenchable fire. The day of the Lord comes like a thief in the night. When men say "Peace" and when all things seem safe: then shall sudden destruction come upon them, just like pain comes upon a woman in childbirth.   They shall not escape.   Then shall appear the wrath of God in the day of vengeance.  Obstinate sinners, through the stubbornness of their hearts, have heaped upon their own heads this wrath from God.  They did this by despising His goodness, His patience, and  His long suffering.   When God called  them time and time again to repentance they ignored Him.

So God says: "They shall call upon me but I will not hear; they shall seek me early, but they shall not find me; this is all because they hated knowledge, they didn't fear the Lord.  Instead they were disgusted at my counsel, and they despised my correction. It shall be too late to knock because the door shall be already shut.  It will be too late to cry for mercy because it will be the time for justice."  What a terrible voice of most just judgement shall be pronounced upon them!  It shall be said to them, "Go, you cursed, into the everlasting fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels." 

Therefore, my brothers and sisters in Christ, take notice right now, while the day of salvation lasts!  The night is coming, the night when none can work and nothing can change.   Let us, while we have the light, believe in the light. Let us walk as children of the light so that we are not cast into utter darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Let us not abuse the goodness of God, who calls us mercifully to change our ways.  In His endless pity He promises us forgiveness of that which is past, but only if with a perfect and true heart we return unto him. For though our sins be as red as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow; and though they be like purple, yet they shall be made white as wool.  The Lord says, "Turn from all your wickedness, and your sin shall not be your destruction: Cast away from you all your ungodliness that you have done.  Make your hearts and spirits new. Why will you die, O house of Israel, when you know that I have no pleasure in your death?"

 Turn thenrepentand you shall live.  Although we have sinned, yet we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins.  He was pierced for our transgressions, and stuck down for our offences. Given this wonderful grace, let us return to Christ Jesus.  He mercifully receives all truly repentant sinners.  We must always remind and assure ourselves that He is indeed ready to welcome us back home.  He is most willing to pardon us.  But all of this, again, is only if we come back to Him with faithful repentance; if we submit ourselves to him, and from this point on set ourselves to walk in His ways. 

We are forgiven if we will take His easy yoke, if we replace the heavy burden of our sins with the light burden He offers usfollowing Him in lowliness, patience, and love. We must seek to be ordered by the governance of the Holy Spirit.  We must always seek His glory and His alone whilst serving Him appropriately in our vocation with thanksgiving.  If we do these things, Christ will deliver us from the curse of the law.  He will deliver us from the extreme judgment which shall come upon those sinners that shall be set to His left; and He will set us on His right, giving us the gracious blessing of His Father whilst commanding us to take possession of His glorious kingdom.  The Kingdom which in His infinite mercy He has promised to bring to all of us who truly repent and believe His Holy Gospel.  Amen.

The Penitential Psalm
Psalm 51 is said or sung

All kneel

Be gracious to me, God,
according to Your faithful love;
according to Your abundant compassion,
blot out my rebellion.
Wash away my guilt and cleanse me from my sin.
For I am conscious of my rebellion,
and my sin is always before me.
Against You
You aloneI have sinned
and done this evil in Your sight.
So You are right when You pass sentence;
You are blameless when You judge.
Indeed, I was guilty when I was born;
I was sinful when my mother conceived me.
Surely You desire integrity in the inner self,
and You teach me wisdom deep within.
Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones You have crushed rejoice.
Turn Your face away
 from my sins
and blot out all my guilt.
God, create a clean heart for me
and renew a steadfast
 spirit within me.
Do not banish me from Your presence
or take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore the joy of Your salvation to me,
and give me a willing spirit.
Then I will teach the rebellious Your ways,
and sinners will return to You.
Save me from the guilt of bloodshed, God,
the God of my salvation,
and my tongue will sing of Your righteousness.
Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare Your praise.
You do not want a sacrifice, or I would give it;
You are not pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifice pleasing to God is
 a broken spirit.
God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart.
In Your good pleasure, cause Zion to prosper;
 the walls of Jerusalem.
Then You will delight in righteous sacrifices,
whole burnt offerings;
then bulls will be offered on Your altar.

Glory be to the Father, and to the Son: and to the Holy Spirit;
As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be: world without end. Amen.

The Prayers
We pray for ourselves and the church

Lord, have mercy upon us.
Christ, have mercy upon us.
Lord, have mercy upon us.
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be Your name,
Your kingdom come, Your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins
as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation
but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are Yours
now and for ever.   Amen.
O Lord, save Your servants;
That put their trust in You.
Send them help from above;
And mightily defend them for all eternity.
Help us, O God our Saviour;
And for the glory of Your Name deliver us,  be merciful to us sinners, for Your Name's sake.
O Lord, hear our prayer;
And let our cry come unto You.

A prayer for absolution
Lord, we beg You, in Your mercy hear our prayers, and spare all those who confess their sins to You; so that those whose consciences by sin are accused may by Your merciful pardon be absolved and set free, through Christ our Lord.   Amen.

A prayer for pardon
Most mighty God, and merciful Father, who has compassion upon all people, and  who hates nothing that You have made; who does not desire the death of a sinner, but rather that they would turn from their wickedness and be saved: Mercifully forgive us our sins; receive and comfort us who are grieved and wearied with the burden sin places upon us. Your nature is always to have mercy and only You can ever forgive sin. Spare us  good Lord, spare Your peoplethose You have redeemed and enter not into judgement with Your servants, who are nothing but vile earth and miserable sinners. Instead, turn Your righteous anger from us, who humbly acknowledge our sinful vileness, and truly repent of our faults.  Come quickly to help us in this world, that we may live with You forever in the world to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord.    Amen.

A prayer for conversion and restoration
Change us, good Lord, and we shall be changed. Look with favour on Your people; who turn to You now in weeping, fasting, and praying. For You are a merciful God, full of compassion, longsuffering, and of great pity. You spare us when we deserve punishment.  Even in Your wrath You think of mercy. Spare Your people for You are good,  let not Your heritage be brought to disaster.  Hear us, O Lord, for Your mercy is great.  After all Your countless mercies look upon us Your children; through the merits and mediation of Your blessed Son, Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. Amen.

A hymn may be sung.

The Lord bless us, and keep us; the Lord lift up the light of His face to shine upon us, and give us peace, now and for evermore.   Amen.

Why Commination?

What is the purpose of the service of Commination?  Why is it an important service?  What does it teach?  Why should we still do it in the 21st century?

These are good questions about a service that can make some people today feel rather uncomfortable.  Today most of us are used to services of 'ashing' at the start of Lent.  The Reformers, however,  ditched this ritual as early as 1549 and it did not return to Anglicanism till the Ritualist movement came to prominence in the 19th Century.  It is my belief that Commination is a powerful, relevant, and Gospel centred service that presents Biblical teaching on God, humanity, eternity, and the Good News of Jesus Christ. 

Commination literally means the action of threatening divine vengeance or as the service itself explains:  a denouncing of Gods anger and judgements against sinners.”  The idea of God being angry may make us uncomfortable, but it is very Biblical.  Gods anger or wrath at sin and sinners is mentioned around 600 times in the Bible.  The most frequently mentioned attribute of God is His complete Holiness.  Because God is Holy, He cannot stand to be near sinHe hates and despises it.  Importantly, Scripture does not say hate the sin, love the sinnerthat was Ghandi.  God is perfectly just, we are all sinners, we all deserve judgement and the death penalty because as Saint Paul said the wages of sin is death (Romans 6.23).  That the service of Commination is based in the Bible can be seen by the over 75 verses of Scripture that it quoteswith many more alluded to.

In his worship song Here I am to Worship Tim Hughes wrote these lyrics Ill never know how much it cost, to see my sin upon that cross.  This is the essence of the teaching of the Commination serviceuntil we understand Gods hatred of sin, and all He had to overcome to restore us to a right relationship with Him, we will never know how much He loves us.  Commination begins by displaying Gods anger and judgement against sin.  Importantly though, even at the beginning, it says that Gods anger and judgement is only a curse against those who refuse to repentit is only those who dont repent to Jesus who face such judgement.  For the next part of the service the curses of Scripture are read, and like the 10 commandments, we are all guilty of breaking them.  Explaining that the Day of the LORD is comingjudgement daythe service compels the believer to fear God and turn away from sin and not to despise His goodness, His patience, and His long-suffering. 

Boldly the service proclaims that through Jesus there is forgiveness of any sins For though our sins be as red as scarlet, they shall be made white as snow; and though they be like purple, yet they shall be made white as wool.”  It declares Jesus to be on our side Although we have sinned, yet we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus the Righteous; and He is the propitiation of our sins Propitiation is a word which means the removing of wrath against sinners.  We are then reassured that Christ is ready to receive us whenever we come to Him in humility, no matter what we have done or how many times we have done it: (Jesus is) most willing to pardon us, if we come to Him with faithful repentance.

Scripture teaches that everyone has sinned (except Jesus) and not only that, but that we are all depraved 26 verses of Scripture declare that even from conception all of us are lost and our hearts are inclined to evil, even from conception we are all in desperate need of a Saviour.  Indeed, we are so lost that of our own power and choice we would never seek out God None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God (Romans 3.10-11).  If we are ever to truly get right with God, to make progress in our faith and discipleship, to be moulded by the Holy Spirit into the likeness of Christ, we must first look in the mirror, deeply, and recognise how fallen we are.  We are far worse than we like to imagine but Jesus is far stronger than we could ever hope.  This is why towards the end the Commination service declares "spare Your peoplethose You have redeemedand enter not into judgement with Your servants, who are nothing but vile earth and miserable sinners. Instead, turn Your righteous anger from us, who humbly acknowledge our sinful vileness, and truly repent us of our faults."  Also worthy of note is that it is not by our own doing that we are saved, we are not saved by good works or keeping The Law.  We are saved by the grace of God: "Through the merits and mediation of Your blessed Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

As I hope you can see, the service of Commination, though an uncomfortable one, is full of the Good News of Jesus. It is designed to, at the start of Lent (or at other times), bring us to our knees, to acknowledge our sinfulness, to fall on the mercy of God and not our own strength, to see the judgement against sin and so be encouraged to fight valiantly against it, and to know the assurance of forgiveness through Christ.  This message is more relevant than ever and just as important as the day it was written.

This service was modernised by the Reverend Adam C. Young from the 1662 BCP and is accompanied by his short explanation of the service: 'why commination'. 

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