Rowan Williams and NT Wright respond to GAFCON

On Saturday I linked to Ruth Gledhill’s report of the final communiqué from GAFCON, with its veiled plans for schism in the Anglican Communion. She has now reported some interesting episcopal reactions, from Archbishop Rowan Williams and from “+THOMAS DUNELM:”, who for those unfamiliar with Anglican-speak is none other than the infamous NT Wright, Bishop of Durham.

The response from Williams (UPDATE: taken from here) surprises me. A large part of it focuses on the practical difficulties of schism rather than on the principles, almost suggesting that Williams is saying that the GAFCON leaders should make sure they do the schism properly. But he also claims that

The ‘tenets of orthodoxy’ spelled out in the [GAFCON] document will be acceptable to and shared by the vast majority of Anglicans in every province, even if there may be differences of emphasis and perspective on some issues.

Well, if that is true, why not present the document to the Lambeth Conference? If every province accepts it by a large majority as Rowan imagines, the schism is over. But is does Rowan really think that every province will endorse the following, even with “differences of emphasis and perspective”?:

8. We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family. We repent of our failures to maintain this standard and call for a renewed commitment to lifelong fidelity in marriage and abstinence for those who are not married.

If so, he is clearly even more out of touch than I had thought. And even more seriously, would there really be near universal acceptance of the following?:

5. We gladly proclaim and submit to the unique and universal Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, humanity’s only Saviour from sin, judgement and hell, who lived the life we could not live and died the death that we deserve. By his atoning death and glorious resurrection, he secured the redemption of all who come to him in repentance and faith.

In the end all that Rowan can do is to quote completely out of context

the words of the Apostle in I Cor.11.33: ‘wait for one another’.

But how long are people to wait? There needs to be a willingness to wait on both sides. The North American churches were not prepared to wait before ordaining a gay bishop etc. Why should others wait?

Then, after some negative comments by Bishop Chane, presumably of Washington DC, Ruth moves on to quote “+THOMAS DUNELM:”, NT Wright. Wright’s comments (UPDATE: taken from here) are long, and generally very positive about the GAFCON process. This part is interesting:

I fully agree with the GAFCON statement – and with Archbishop Rowan – that the Communion instruments have not been able to deal with the problems, and that we need to find better ways of going about it.

He also puts paid to any suggestion that he has a colonialist attitude:

What’s more, it is enormously exciting to live at a time when new leadership is arising from places completely outside the north Atlantic axis. Africa was one of the great cradles of early Christianity, producing such towering minds as Tertullian and Augustine. Most of us have long ago moved away from any idea that Christianity, or even Anglicanism, somehow ‘belongs’ to England or northern Europe. … I would have hoped, actually, that all this would now go without saying: that we have long moved beyond the sterile stand-off between ‘colonialism’ and ‘post-colonialism’. We are brothers and sisters in Christ. That’s what matters.

Interestingly, he says that he was not invited to GAFCON. But then that may be because he attacked it in the Church Times perhaps before the invitation list was drawn up. In fact now he seems less critical than he was before, but in the end he rejects the whole GAFCON process:

In particular, though, there is something very odd about the proposal to form a ‘Council’ and then to ask such a body to ‘authenticate and recognise confessing Anglican jurisdictions, clergy and congregations’ – and then, as an addition, ‘to encourage all Anglicans to promote the gospel and defend the faith’. Many Anglicans around the world intend to do that in any case, and will not understand why they need to be ‘recognised’ or ‘authenticated’ by a new, self-selected and non-representative body to which they were not invited and which will not itself, it seems be accountable to anyone else.

He fears that the document

offers a blank cheque to anyone who wants to defy a bishop for whatever reasons, even if the bishop in question is scrupulously orthodox, and then to claim the right to alternative jurisdictional oversight. This cannot be the way forward; nor do I think most of those at GAFCON intended such a thing. …

… if GAFCON is to join up with the great majority of faithful, joyful Anglicans around the world, rather than to invite them to leave their present allegiance and sign up to a movement which is as yet – to put it mildly – strange in form and uncertain in destination, it is not so much that GAFCON needs to invite others to sign up and join in. Bishops, clergy and congregations should think very carefully before taking such a step, which will have enormous and confusing consequences. Rather, GAFCON itself needs to bring its rich experience and gospel-driven exuberance to the larger party where the rest of us are working day and night for the same gospel, the same biblical wisdom, the same Lord.

Indeed it would be wonderful if GAFCON could bring its experience and exuberance to the larger party. But the problem is that some of those at the party seem not to be working for the same gospel, some might wonder if even for the same Lord. If the people working together cannot even agree on their goals, there is little point in them working together as they will simply undo one another’s work. Williams and Wright claim that this is not what will happen, but Williams has failed to reassure the GAFCON primates of this. Again, Williams is saying too little, too late. Unfortunately the result is a momentum towards schism which he seems powerless to stop.

A schism or not a schism?

Ruth Gledhill writes:

When is a schism not a schism? When it is done by Anglicans.

This is the introduction to her post of the final statement from the GAFCON conference of conservative Anglicans, which has been held in Jerusalem this week. The 1148 participants, including 291 bishops, write the following, extracted from the statement:

We cherish our Anglican heritage and the Anglican Communion and have no intention of departing from it.

GAFCON is not just a moment in time, but a movement in the Spirit, and we hereby:
• launch the GAFCON movement as a fellowship of confessing Anglicans
• publish the Jerusalem Declaration as the basis of the fellowship
• Encourage GAFCON Primates’ Council.

While acknowledging the nature of Canterbury as an historic see, we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

This leads into what they publish as “The Jerusalem Declaration”, which is “the basis of our fellowship”. Most of this is an unremarkable statement of orthodox Anglicanism. It does contain an explicit reference to “the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman”. There is no mention of issues controversial among orthodox Anglicans such as the ordination of women. But the Declaration does include the following:

We recognise the orders and jurisdiction of those Anglicans who uphold orthodox faith and practice, and we encourage them to join us in this declaration. … We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed.

So there is to be a continuing GAFCON movement, with no other name given to it. The leaders are encouraging other orthodox Anglicans to join them, and to reject the authority of unorthodox leaders. If this is not schism, what is it?

The next step is to be a Primates’ Council of the leaders of the GAFCON movement, which is expected to recognise as a province the Common Cause Partnership in North America. This of course implies rejection of the authority of the existing Anglican churches in the USA and Canada, whose leaders are largely unorthodox by these GAFCON standards. But it leaves entirely open the question of what might happen in provinces, such as those of the Church of England, whose leadership is much more miixed.

The statement finishes with the following:

The meeting in Jerusalem this week was called in a sense of urgency that a false gospel has so paralysed the Anglican Communion that this crisis must be addressed. The chief threat of this dispute involves the compromising of the integrity of the church’s worldwide mission. The primary reason we have come to Jerusalem and issued this declaration is to free our churches to give clear and certain witness to Jesus Christ. It is our hope that this Statement on the Global Anglican Future will be received with comfort and joy by many Anglicans around the world who have been distressed about the direction of the Communion. We believe the Anglican Communion should and will be reformed around the biblical gospel and mandate to go into all the world and present Christ to the nations.

Do I receive this with comfort and joy? Do I expect my fellow evangelical Anglicans here in England to do so? I’m not sure yet, because there is so far no way of knowing what the consequences of this may be for the Church of England. Perhaps things will become more clear at this meeting in London next Tuesday, which I am sadly not eligible to attend – I could attend the evening meeting and just might do so.

As for the final sentence of the statement, “We believe the Anglican Communion should and will be reformed …”, I can certainly agree with “should”. But we will need to wait and see about the “will”. After all, what is in all but name a declaration of schism is hardly the best way to promote reform. It may well be that the Anglican Communion can be “reformed” only in the etymological sense “re-formed”, as a new parallel Communion of orthodox Anglicans.

The blind see and the dead are raised – here in the UK!

Richard Steel reports on a blind man receiving his sight, on the streets of Dudley, England, this morning. This includes a video interview with the man.

Thanks also to my commenter Rhea for the link to a report of many healings in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where there seems to be a similar outpouring to the Dudley one. The report includes a young man being raised from the dead. Where does this report come from? The BBC website!

Yes, the outpourings in Dudley and Belfast are both linked to Todd Bentley.

A Buddhist views an evangelistic event

Jeremy Myers has an interesting post on the reaction of a Buddhist friend who he took along to a supposedly evangelistic event put on by Christians – not so much about the content but about the culture. This was the Buddhist’s conclusion:

It just a big show…a production. I thought Jesus was about serving and helping other people, not about lights and loud speakers, and trying to act like Britney Spears. I’ve spent many years investigating all religions, and tonight had convinced me further that Christianity has nothing I want.

Are the evangelistic events we put on (yes, we can include Todd Bentley here) similarly full of Christian culture and foreign to those who we claim to be trying to reach? Jeremy concludes:

Have you ever tried so hard to do something for people who are not Christians, only to find out that only Christian come, and those few non-Christians who do come don’t stick around long? Maybe you should step back and take a look at what you are doing and how it might look to someone who has not grown up in the church. It truly is a bewildering spectacle.

Todd Bentley is coming to England in September

UPDATE: This visit has been cancelled or postponed, see here.

This evening (Thursday), for the first time in several weeks, I watched some of Todd Bentley‘s meeting in Lakeland, Florida. I had the chance to do so because I was visiting friends who have God TV. This was in fact a recording of Wednesday night’s meeting. I watched Todd for only about half an hour, as he first spoke about the centrality of Jesus and then prayed for the glory of God to be manifested. And his prayer seemed to be answered, both in the Lakeland tent and in my own heart. He explained that this was not preaching, this was his introduction and prayer time. Nevertheless there was enough teaching to show how untrue are the silly allegations that Todd worships angels rather than Jesus.

I thought I saw Trevor Baker, leader of the Dudley outpouring, on the stage behind Todd. And indeed this seems to have been confirmed by what I have read elsewhere; he has been there at least since last Sunday. Meanwhile, as Richard Steel reports, Jerame Nelson, an associate of Todd’s, is preaching in Trevor’s place in Dudley. At Trevor’s Revival Fires website there is a YouTube video, new on Thursday, of Todd talking to Trevor. I suspect that this was recorded after the Wednesday night meeting I saw part of: both are wearing the same clothes I saw on God TV, and Todd’s words in the video “the glory of God is so thick … you could feel the presence of the Lord in the atmosphere” fit well with what I saw and experienced.

Among other things the video announces the news which is also on the Revival Fires website, that Todd is coming to England in September:

Revival Fires is now working with Todd to arrange a trip to the UK from 20 – 24 Sept 2008 at the NEC, where he will personally release to the UK all that God has been doing in Florida. We hope you will be able to make the trip, and until then please keep checking our website.

In fact the video seems to imply that this is now more definite than suggested by these words. So it looks like we will be seeing Todd here in England quite soon, in the National Exhibition Centre, a 12,000 seater venue on the edge of Birmingham.

Phil Whittall visited Dudley last week, and his report, five parts about one evening, suggested to me that the fires of outpouring in Dudley were burning low. I even wondered if they should be calling a halt to their nightly meetings. Maybe Trevor also felt the fire dying down, and that is why he went back to Lakeland. Now he reports having received a renewed anointing. That, together with Todd’s new endorsement, will no doubt ensure that the Dudley nightly meetings will continue for some time.

Meanwhile my commenter John reports, from his viewing presumably on God TV, that at Lakeland

last weekend 125 people gave their lives to Christ in one night.

We may not all like Todd’s style, and we may have issues with some of his peripheral teachings. But surely, in the spirit of Philippians 1:15-18, we can all rejoice that people are being saved as well as healed at Lakeland, and hope and pray that we will see similar mighty things happening here in England, during Todd’s visit in September, and also before and after it as those who have been touched by this anointing put it into practice around the country.

Supreme Court promotes gun law

The US Supreme Court has, according to the BBC, ruled by a 5-4 majority that the US Constitution

protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defense within the home

and therefore that it is unconstitutional not to allow people to keep guns in their homes. While not allowing these guns to be used in anger, the ruling apparently implies that the state is not allowed to stop irresponsible people acquiring and keeping guns, which they can then use for all kinds of criminal purposes for which the only protection is a greater fire power of other guns. In other words, the Supreme Court has ruled that America must be governed by gun law, and state governments are powerless to stop it.

As I wrote last year, the result of this is that the rate of “intentional homicides committed with a firearm” in the USA in 2001 was about 20 times higher than in England and Wales. The striking down of the limited laws restricting guns which have been in force can only mean further increases.

Perhaps (although the slim majority implies that the legal arguments are ambiguous) the Supreme Court should not be blamed for their interpretation of the Second Amendment, passed at a time when the USA had only just broken away from the mother country and there may have been a need for citizens to defend themselves with guns. But in these times there can be no justification for proliferation of murderous weapons.

I call on the presidential candidates to announce their intention to amend the Constitution, to repeal or greatly modify the Second Amendment and introduce tight controls on hand guns. Only in this way can the USA become a safe place for future generations.

Packer calls on Williams to resign

There is quite a small club of us who have publicly called on Archbishop Rowan WIlliams to resign. In December last year I did so myself, here. This Februrary I quoted Tom Jackson writing this in a comment on Ruth Gledhill’s blog, and I reported here that an “anonymous senior churchman” had made the same call. Williams has perhaps had a bit of a break since then, but this week at GAFCON, as the BBC reports (and Doug Chaplin mocks, I hope the Nigerian church’s libel lawyers are merciful to him),

Nigerian bishop Emmanuel Chukwuma called for Rowan Williams to resign with immediate effect.

But the real news today is what the leading Anglican Evangelical J.I. Packer ha said. Somewhat surprisingly, Packer is not at GAFCON but in England, in fact in Eastbourne which is on his friend Bishop Wallace Benn’s territory while Benn is away at GAFCON. The following was reported by Hugh Bourne who heard him speak, and quoted by the Church Times blog:

Packer stated that Rowan Williams’ views about homosexuality (documented before becoming A of C, and not changed since) mean that he is not qualified to lead the Anglican Communion and enforce rules layed down at Lambeth in 1998. Big Jim was clear, “Rowan Williams should resign”!

Ruth Gledhill reports what appear to be Packer’s actual words:

I would say with great respect Archbishop, I believe that the way of wisdom is for you to resign.  Now that of course is very bold and tough talk and if I wasn’t in my 80’s, I might not feel that I had the gall to answer your question in the direct way that I have done, but that is what I would like to say to the Archbishop and I believe that it would be the kindest thing to say to him.

Ruth wonders if Packer is still a significant figure. Well, Ruth, even in this modern age there is more to being a significant figure than using computers and mobile phones – something we bloggers always need to remember.

Despite my reservations about some of Packer’s views, on this matter I find myself in good, and significant, company.

Did Jesus say Christians will not marry?

I was startled this evening by a Bible passage quoted by ElShaddai Edwards, even though it is taken from my current favourite Bible translation:

Jesus replied, “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, 36 and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection. …”

Luke 20:34-36 (TNIV)

I was startled by what this appears to be saying. The contrast is between “The people of this age” (more literally “the sons of this age” but intended to be gender generic) and “those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead” (RSV “those who are accounted worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead”). This sounds at first like a contrast between worldly, sinful people and faithful Christians. After all in Luke 16:8 the same phrase in Greek, literally “the sons of this age”, seems to refer to dishonest people. So this passage would appear to be Jesus teaching that good Christians will not marry. Could that be what Jesus, or Luke, was really saying? Could this be the same teaching, but in stronger form, as Paul’s in 1 Corinthians 7:25-35?

The question cannot be resolved from the parallel passages as they omit this contrast and give much simpler readings:

At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.

Matthew 22:30 (TNIV)

When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.

Mark 12:25 (TNIV)

But it seems to me that there is a clear but subtle indication that Jesus’ meaning is not what I have suggested. It can be found only in the original Greek, not in English translations. I have checked all the versions of these verses at Bible Gateway and not one of them makes this point clear. The Greek word rendered in TNIV as “considered worthy” is an aorist or past participle, indicating an event preceding what follows. So an accurate rendering of the first part of verse 35 would be “But those who have been considered worthy of taking part”, or more pedantically “But those who will have been considered worthy of taking part”. The Greek clearly means that first they have been considered worthy and only then they do not marry. And the phrase “considered worthy of taking part” cannot be divided up temporally; if they have been considered worthy of taking part, that means that they have already attained this and are taking part in it. Luke uses a similar phrase in Acts 5:41, with the same main Greek verb, which implies that the apostles had suffered disgrace, not that they might do in future.

So, despite the possible misunderstanding in almost any English translation, Jesus’ words as recorded for us in Greek seem unambiguous. The ones who do not marry are not Christians who are looking forward to “taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead”, but those who are already taking part in them, in other words those who have been raised from the dead. Thus Luke teaches the same as Matthew and Mark.

As for “The people of this age”, the ones who do marry, the implication is that this phrase refers to everyone alive in this world, Christian or not. That may have implications for the understanding of the enigmatic passage in which Luke 16:8 appears – although we then have to ask, who are “the people of the light” in this verse?

The earth is not at risk …

The earth is not at risk from a new particle accelerator at CERN near Geneva, according to scientists as reported by the BBC. There had been suggestions, even by theoretical physicists, that the Large Hadron Collider could generate new “strangelet” particles which might destroy ordinary matter, or miniature black holes which could grow and swallow up the earth. But the scientists have now reported that there is “no conceivable danger”. This is not because the accelerator cannot generate black holes – it can. But it is because the earth throughout its history has been bombarded, if only rather occasionally, by cosmic ray particles which are just as energetic as those produced by the collider, but even over billions of years these have failed to produce killer particles or black holes of mass destruction.

So are we safe? The scientists seem to think so. But they also seem to accept that there is a small but not completely vanishing chance of a collision between particles, whether cosmic ray particles or ones generated in an accelerator, having effects which spread out to destroy or damage the whole earth. The assurance that they can offer is simply that it hasn’t happened yet, for billions of years, and so isn’t likely to happen any time soon. And the new collider increases the danger by apparently producing as many high energy collisions in one experiment as occur naturally on the earth in thousands of years.

What is God’s perspective on this? This is what the apostle Peter had to say:

Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. 4 They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” …10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. [footnote: Some manuscripts be burned up]

11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. [footnote: Or as you wait eagerly for the day of God to come] That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells.

14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.

2 Peter 3:3-4,10-14 (TNIV)

The scoffers claim that the earth is safe, it will continue as it is for ever, or at least for billions of years more, and God will never bring judgment or destruction. However, now even scientists are saying that there is a possibility, however remote, of the earth suddenly being destroyed. One possible scenario,

the mass conversion of nuclei in ordinary atoms into more strange matter – transforming the Earth into a hot, dead lump

sounds remarkably like what Peter prophesied nearly 2000 years ago. I don’t claim that this is how the prophecy will be fulfilled, but even scientists are not ruling out the possibility.

As Peter writes, the consequence of this for us Christians is simple: “You ought to live holy and godly lives … make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him.”

Chelmsford parishes to break away?

I have been catching up on news about GAFCON, especially through John Richardson’s Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream blog and the Church Times Blog run by another Essex Anglican, Dave Walker. The latest news is a denial that GAFCON will cause schism in the Anglican Communion.

But there is one important news report, by Ruth Gledhill in the Times, whose significance for Essex Anglicans neither of these bloggers seems to have noticed; John ignores it completely, while Dave links to it by title without mention of the relevant part. Here is that relevant part of what Ruth writes, concerning an international conservative Anglican Fellowship which may be set up in the aftermath of GAFCON:

Members of the fellowship could attempt to opt out of the pastoral care of their diocesan bishop and seek oversight from a more conservative archbishop, either from their own country or abroad.

The success of the fellowship in averting schism will depend on the response of the local leadership.

It is understood that hundreds of parishes in England could be interested in joining such a fellowship, if it did not mean schism from the Church of England.

The dioceses most affected by parishes looking for more conservative leadership are understood to include Chelmsford, St Albans and Southwark.

Graham Kings reports this on the Fulcrum GAFCON forum, “Monday 23 June 2008 – 09:12am”, but has little to add himself.

So we are talking about hundreds of parishes in England, and Chelmsford as one of the most affected dioceses. That means, I suppose, dozens of parishes in Essex and east London expected to join such a Fellowship and possibly “attempt to opt out of the pastoral care of their diocesan bishop”. If this happens, it will indeed be big news. But if so, why is it being announced in hints by Ruth Gledhill, and why is John Richardson, who as spokesman for Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream is certain to be close to the heart of this, making no mention of this story?

But then perhaps John was alluding to intentions of this kind when, on his personal blog The Ugley Vicar, he quoted with apparent approval the following words of Nigel Atkinson:

What will we have then achieved? We will have formed ourselves into a coherent ecclesial body. We will have our bishops, our clergy, our parishes, our people and our money welded together.

This was outwardly in a different context, that of women bishops. But could there be a plan to bring the two aspects together, to set up, formally within the Anglican Communion, “a coherent ecclesial body” with its own bishops, clergy and parishes, united not only by opposition to women bishops but also by a broader opposition to liberal trends in the Church of England?

The problem with that plan is, where would it leave the large number of us Anglicans who support ordination of women but reject what really is creeping liberalism?