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. 

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