Obama the Hindu?

US Senator and presidential candidate Barack Obama calls himself a Christian. He has long been a member of Rev Jeremiah Wright‘s church, and although he has now left this church he has been attending other churches. And only in the last few days he has been “making a full-throttle push for centrist evangelicals and Catholics”.

Obama has often been accused of being a Muslim. There is no truth in this allegation if you accept the definition of a person’s religion as their personally accepted set of beliefs, faith commitments and practices. But there is another definition of religion which is held to by Muslims (and, in effect, Jews) as well as by some in the West who call themselves Christians, which is that religion is passed on by inheritance from parents to children. According to these people, because Obama’s father was a Muslim (although non-practising), Obama himself counts as a Muslim. But even they can hardly claim this after he has publicly renounced Islam, although they might consider him an apostate.

But now comes a new claim that Obama is in effect a Hindu. The evidence for this seems to be that he carries about in his pocket “a tiny monkey god”, as well as “a tiny Madonna and child”. This is reported by Time Magazine, with photographic evidence. According to Visi Tilak of the Christian blog Casting Stones (which lists Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren among its contributors), this monkey god is “none other than the Hindu god Hanuman”, and indeed Visi reports that “over the last couple of days every Indian newspaper has carried this story and photograph, with “Hanuman” and “Obama” on practically every headline.” The BBC reports that a group of Indians are planning to present to Obama a “two-foot tall, 15kg gold-polished, brass idol” of Hanuman.

It might be suggested that by carrying both Christian and Hindu lucky charms Obama is trying to be both Hindu and Christian. But polytheistic Hinduism has long accepted that Christian images can be used alongside originally Hindu ones, and I think that carrying lucky charms is accepted. Orthodox Christianity, on the other hand, has always condemned any kind of devotion to idols of non-Christian divinities, and has not approved of lucky charms. So by carrying this Hindu idol in his pocket, as well as a Christian one, Obama is showing himself to be either a good Hindu or a very bad Christian.

Obama is already facing an uphill challenge in his drive to win Christians over to support him, because of his positions on abortion and gay “marriage”. He may be able to win them over if he holds to a consistent Christian position on other matters of public and private morality, and promises to turn America away from the cult of self which has been promoted during the Bush administration towards caring properly for the poor and needy in America and worldwide. But this whole drive is endangered if Obama becomes seen as an inconsistent and compromising Christian, and especially if he is seen as trusting in evil demon gods (Hanuman is considered an incarnation of Shiva the destroyer) rather than in the true God and Jesus Christ.

Neither the prophet Jeremiah nor the prophetic preacher Jeremiah Wright would let Obama get away with this. He needs to read what the prophet had to say about idols in Jeremiah 10:1-16, and then publicly repent and get rid of his idol – and reject the gift from India. This may not win him immediate friends in India, but in the long run they and religious people of any faith will respect him more if he is consistent in his professed faith. Anyway, the Hindu vote in America is tiny, so this move would make electoral sense for him. More importantly, it makes sense for his own destiny and for the destiny of the country which he hopes to lead. For what God said to Israel in the past can apply also to America now:

“If you, Israel, will return,
then return to me,”
declares the LORD.
“If you put your detestable idols out of my sight
and no longer go astray,
2 and if in a truthful, just and righteous way
you swear, ‘As surely as the LORD lives,’
then the nations will invoke blessings by him
and in him they will boast.”

Jeremiah 4:1-2 (TNIV)

For too long the name of America has been considered a curse throughout much of the world, not just in countries which it has invaded and otherwise bossed around but also in countries which have been reduced to poverty while America enriches itself. If Obama repents of his idolatry and trusts only in the true God, then not only is he in a good position to win the election but he will also have the opportunity to restore to his own country the blessing of God and respect among the nations.

Bishop Broadbent to stay away from Lambeth

A few months ago I was writing a lot about the Lambeth Conference, and about the “alternative” GAFCON conference. Well, GAFCON is already here (but I have not yet kept up to date with reports from it), and Lambeth is coming up very soon.

One of the things which I did write was about Bishop Pete Broadbent of Willesden (still the only genuine Church of England bishop to comment on this blog):

I would be surprised if Broadbent stays away from Lambeth, although he might also attend GAFCON.

But now the Telegraph reports (thanks to the Church TImes blog for the link, also for linking to this blog on another matter) that Broadbent will be absent from Lambeth, along with Bishops Nazir-Ali and Benn whose absence has long been announced. This is confirmed in this Fulcrum forum thread, in a post written “Sunday 22 June 2008 – 03:41pm”, in which Graham Kings writes that Broadbent

is not going to make a public statement about his reasons for not going to Lambeth, which are complex.

This is of course clear confirmation that Broadbent is not going. On the same thread this morning, “Monday 23 June 2008 – 09:23am”, Broadbent himself gives a public statement, not “about his reasons for not going to Lambeth” but about his reasons for not making a public statement about his reasons. I don’t think that is being inconsistent, but I’m not sure. He writes:

1. Because there isn’t a party line. There is a conference. There are invitations. You can accept an invitation or decline it. It’s not a matter for third parties.

2. Because you may feel that explaining your reasons publicly would not be helpful to the conference host, whom you may not wish to undermine.

3. Becasue non-attendance is of course saving money, rather than expending it, and allows the Anglican Communion to spend more on cheese.

No wonder “Liddon” calls Broadbent “a politician”! But I have my own interesting points to make here:

  1. Broadbent apparently does not want to undermine Archbishop Rowan Williams, who he considers “a good man”.
  2. He is avoiding both conferences, saving money for both sets of organisers!
  3. Nevertheless he has his reasons for not attending, and explaining them publicly would not be helpful to Williams – which implies that the reasons are not purely personal.

One might wonder if Broadbent is trying to keep a foot in both camps, not upsetting his evangelical friends by attending Lambeth, but also not upsetting Williams and his associates by attending GAFCON or going public with any criticism. I don’t want to suggest that Broadbent’s position is anything less than honourable, but I do see it as a political decision, a compromise. Sadly the Anglican Communion has got into its current bad state because of a series of compromises. I don’t think it is helpful to anyone to continue to compromise.

Sitting on fences is uncomfortable, and remaining on this one will surely become even more so. Some time quite soon Bishop Broadbent will have to jump down on one side or the other.

Miracles do happen!

Nick Norelli has been prolific for the last few days, including blogging about accounts of miracles in the early church, 3rd to 5th century AD. In this post he explains the series and links to each post in it. If he had wanted he could have added examples from succeeding centuries right through church history to the present day.

Many of these accounts focus on healing. So those who allege that Todd Bentley is doing something new by focusing on healing have simply not read their church history. Todd’s style may be new, and so is the worldwide publicity for his ministry, but the content of what he is doing is not new. Ever since Origen wrote his reply to the sceptical Celsus in the 3rd century, as quoted in Nick’s first post, indeed ever since Jesus and the apostles (and that is not to mention anything in the Old Testament), Christians have performed miracles, especially healings, and used them to convince unbelievers of the truth of the gospel. This is what Todd is still doing, in a world full of people who, even if they hold to the form of good Christian religion, mostly deny that it has any power (2 Timothy 3:5). But the true Christian faith, the true message of the kingdom of God, is not just a matter of words, it has power (1 Corinthians 4:20) to heal and perform other miracles, and above all to change lives, to bring people from sin and darkness into the God’s holiness and light. The critics may not like it because it is a threat to their powerless religion, but this is the message which Todd is proclaiming.

Ring binding

No time to post anything long or serious today. I have spent much of the last two days digging up my front garden and re-sowing it with grass seed. It’s only about 20 square metres but even that takes quite a lot of digging, all by hand, to reduce overgrown borders and a lawn which was mostly daisies into a fine tilth for sowing. So I will post some light relief.

Iyov mentions, or makes up, the binding wars between TNIV and ESV Bible versions. Now usually to me discussion of the binding of Bibles is a big yawn. His commenter “NT Wrong” suggests that it is even worse, something satanic. But Iyov’s mention reminded me of the words used at the recent “gay wedding”:

With this ring I thee bind.

Now I wouldn’t dare to describe in detail the image this conjures up in my mind of the gay couple tying one another up with chains, dog collars and the exchanged ring. I’m sure that is not what these words were intended to mean. But apart from that idea the words make little sense as an address from one of the couple to the other. However, they do make sense if addressed to a Bible. Do these gay priests bind their Bibles with rings? A Bible in a ring binder has the useful property that inconvenient passages can easily be removed. I wonder, have Romans 1:18-32 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 managed to fall out of this couple’s ring-bound Bible?

Guards down, armour on

I just found this quote given by Eclexia, from a book called The Gift of Fear:

The great enemy of perception, and thus of accurate predictions, is judgment. People often learn just enough about something to judge it as belonging in this or that category. They observe bizarre conduct and say, “This guy is just crazy.” Judgments are the automatic pigeonholing of a person or situation simply because some characteristic is familiar to the observer (so whatever that characteristic meant before it must mean again now). Familiarity is comfortable, but such judgments drop the curtain, effectively preventing the observer from seeing the rest of the play.

Eclexia was not thinking of Todd Bentley when she quoted this. I don’t think the original writer was thinking of him either. But this quote nicely summarises the attitude of so many people to him and to the Lakeland, Florida outpouring which he is leading. They claim to discern things about his ministry, but in fact the fail to perceive what it is all about because they make snap judgments about Todd.

Mark Cahill, an American evangelist whose qualifications, according to his “About Mark” web page, are “a business degree from Auburn University, where he was an honorable mention Academic All-American in basketball” (!) has written a June 2008 Newsletter entitled Guards Up. This has been quoted more or less in full by bloggers Andy Kinman and Ricky Earle, also in an apparent case of plagiarism passed off by blogger Brian Cranford as his own work. (Brian’s appears to be a genuine blog linked to a genuine Christian ministry, but there has been no reply to my comment of nearly 24 hours ago asking for clarification of the source of this post.) In his newsletter Mark links to my post about Todd Bentley and an angel called Emma, perhaps because I still have posted what Todd originally wrote about this but has now, I am told, had removed from his website. But this post from nearly a month ago is old news, and should be re-read in the light of what Todd has just recently written on this subject, which I posted on before.

Now “Guards Up!” may be good advice in business or basketball, but is it in the Christian life? First let’s look at some of Mark’s claims about Todd.

First, Mark accuses Todd of being a false prophet on the basis of a video, which is clearly some years old because Todd has quite a lot of hair. But I don’t see any false prophecy in this video. I see “words of knowledge”, which are not the same as prophecy, some of which are not immediately confirmed but that does not imply that they are false. But then I don’t think anyone ministering in “words of knowledge” like this claims 100% accuracy.

As for the video of Todd laughing, the style may be strange but that doesn’t make it evil. Is there really a good reason why God cannot make people laugh, shake or fall down? Of course not, because all of these are in the Bible: laughing in a positive sense in Job 8:21 (OK, this is Bildad speaking so should be taken with care), Psalm 126:2 and Luke 6:21, shaking in Job 4:14 (this time Eliphaz is speaking so again should be taken with care) and Matthew 28:4, falling to the ground also in Matthew 28:4 and in Ezekiel 1:28, Revelation 1:17 etc.

There is in fact nothing new in what Mark writes, just a rehash of the same old criticisms I have seen before. The disturbing thing is that Mark claims to know all sorts of things about occult practices but doesn’t know enough about the Bible and Christian practice to realise that there are no new manifestations happening in Lakeland. What is new is the style, the unprecedented power, and the worldwide attention.

Mark also seems to know rather well the Bible verses about false prophets and the need to discern them. But in fact he doesn’t apply these verses properly. The test of a false prophet in Deuteronomy 13 is whether the prophet leads people astray into idolatry. But there is no question that Todd is glorifying Jesus, not any other gods or idols, as he makes very clear in his recent article. So by this standard he is not a false prophet. Nor has he made any specific prophecies which have proved false, the test in Deuteronomy 18. But these Old Testament tests are only part of the picture. Why has Mark made no mention of the New Testament tests of false prophets and false Messiahs? Perhaps this is because in the NT discernment of spirits is a spiritual gift, 1 Corinthians 12:10. Mark makes no claim to this gift, but without it he has no right to make pronouncements on such a matter. Also, there is also an objective test in the NT, in 1 John 4:1-3, and by this it is quite clear that Todd is ministering in the power of the Holy Spirit and not the spirit of the antichrist.

Mark’s basic problem is that he relies on his own understanding in this matter. The guards which he tries to put up are deployed in his own strength. And such guards are powerless against an enemy who is more powerful than he is and quite able to deceive him apart from the leading of the Holy Spirit. People who walk into a spiritual battle without spiritual weapons and armour are likely to be defeated. Instead we all need to rely on the armour and weapons of attack which God provides for us, Ephesians 6:10-17. If we do this we can walk in safety into meetings like Todd’s, confident that we will not be deceived, and allow the Holy Spirit to show us what is his work.

Meanwhile Seth Barnes has offered some sensible criticism of the critics. I am not so happy to find myself listed as one of them, but at least this has brought significant traffic to this blog!

Also, Patsy of Rahab’s Place has gone on the offensive against the critics with her post Great Florida Outpouring – Lying Signs and Wonders, in which she refutes from the Bible the critics’ claims that the healing miracles at Lakeland are the work of the devil. She concludes:

There is a great deal of lying wonders going on regarding the Lakeland Outpouring. The lie is that satan has the power to heal and raise the dead. This lie has been fed to the church and the wonder is that she has accepted it in the light of scriptures.

Patsy has other posts about the “Great Florida Outpouring”, including a link to a TV interview with Todd in which he refers to documented healings, an endorsement from Bill Johnson, and a testimony of healing which is taken straight from Dr Gary Greig’s comment here at Gentle Wisdom. This is the same Dr Greig who has given his own biblical proofs, which I summarised, that what Todd is doing is valid.

So, let’s set aside the critics’ misrepresentations of the Bible, take down our human guards, put on the armour of God, and allow the Holy Spirit to lead us into the truth about Todd.

Blessing the Lord

Roger Mugs writes a good post about the importance of blessing the Lord, based on Psalm 102:1-2. He concludes:

… the East is a LONG ways from the West. There is nothing about the East that is ANYTHING like the West.

Our God removed our sins that far from us. So next time before a meal instead of “Good food, good meat, good God lets eat,” try a “God we bless you for your steadfast love, for your provision for this meal, for your great love for us, for dying on the cross for us. Bless you God!”

But what does it mean to bless the Lord? Clearly not what “bless” meant to the author of Hebrews 7:7. This was a real problem in the project I worked on, for translation of the Bible into a language without a long tradition of Christian terminology. There is a word meaning “pronounce a blessing”, but we could not use that of a lesser blessing a greater. There is one meaning “give abundantly to”, but that did not fit either. We could just say “praise”, like some modern English translations, but we wanted to avoid too much repetition and anyway this word does not fit everywhere.

Eventually we used in most places a word which is usually translated “applaud”, not necessarily in the sense of clapping hands, but would also include shouts like “Bravo!” But even that doesn’t really work in the case of blessing God for a meal.

And things became even more complicated in the case of blessing the bread, fish and wine at the feedings of the 5,000 and 4,000 and at the Last Supper. In these places the gospel writers made a careful distinction between two Greek words, one usually translated “give thanks” and the other “bless”. Now “give thanks” is clearly directed at God. In the context “bless” is probably to be understood in the same sense. Thus in Matthew 14:19 “he looked up to heaven, and blessed, and broke and gave the loaves” (RSV) the implied object of “blessed” is probably God rather than the loaves, especially because Jewish prayers of thanksgiving for meals always start something like “Blessed are you, Lord our God …” (I note that in Mark 8:7 and Luke 9:16 a literal translation is “he blessed them”, i.e. the fish or loaves are the grammatical object, but this too can be understood as “he blessed God for them”; similarly also in 1 Corinthians 10:16.) So there is no concept here of blessing being associated with a material object. (Indeed Deuteronomy 28:4,5,8 are just about the only cases in the Bible of this kind of association, and caused a different translation problem.) In fact in our translation we could not use the regular “bless” or “applaud” words and had to render “he said the prayer of thanks”. I note that TNIV simply uses “give thanks” for both the Greek words, used almost synonymously.

By the way, we used a quite different word in cases like Matthew 5:3-11 and Psalm 1:1, representing different Greek and Hebrew words.

The lesson I take from this is that we need to unpack the meaning of a word like “bless”, which is quite different in different contexts, even if the same Hebrew and Greek words are used. We have to do this and then restate the concept in appropriate words if we want to communicate such things to people whose regular language is as far from Christian jargon as the East is from the West – which means plenty of people in the West as well as the majority in the East.

Yes, Roger is right, we need to bless God, applaud him, give him thanks for all the great things he has done for us. And as Jews as well as many Christians have understood, one of the best times to do this than before a meal.

Check it out!

Henry Neufeld has written this very sensible advice as the conclusion of a thoughtful post addressed to anyone unsure about Todd Bentley and the Lakeland outpouring, or any similar movement:

My intention here is to make it clear that caution should not become avoidance. One can miss a great deal spiritually by refusing to experience some new thing. For some reason, when people do things that appear foolish at a ball game or a concert, we think it’s funny; when people do something similar in church we regard it as dangerous. …

My suggestion is to change the motto “Danger, Will Robinson!” to “Check it out!” See what happens!

Priests go ahead with gay wedding

On Saturday I wrote about an American Anglican bishop who has banned church weddings because they do not provide complete equality for same-sex couples. At least he was giving some respect to the international rules that same-sex weddings cannot be performed in Anglican churches.

Only hours after I posted that, the news broke that here in England, in central London, those rules have been blatantly flouted, at least not by a bishop (the Bishop of London has ordered an investigation) but by a priest who performed what has been reported as a wedding ceremony, not just a blessing of a partnership, between two Anglican clergymen. Amazingly, Ruth Gledhill reports that similar services have been “happening regularly” for 30 years despite “breaking all the rules”.

The order of service shows that this is clearly intended as a wedding service, with vows and an exchange of rings, in language clearly deliberately adapted from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. The preface, also printed in part and in edited form by the Daily Mail, is adapted from the preface which I quoted in my previous post:

Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together these Men in a holy covenant of love and fidelity. Such a covenant shows us the mystery of the union between God and God’s people and between Christ and the Church.

The Holy Scriptures point to the offering and receiving of love as the principle [sic] sign of God’s presence; the union of two people in heart, body and soul is intended by God for their mutual joy; for the help and comfort given one another in prosperity and adversity; and that their love may be a source of grace and blessing to all whom they encounter. Today Peter and David wish to commend themselves to each other exclusively and publicly, in making a solemn covenant as a seal and sacrament of their mutual love and devotion. This step has been carefully considered and is not enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly and in the fear of God.

The first and last sentences are almost completely from 1662. The middle is partly a pastiche of it – note that “mutual society” has become “mutual joy” – mixed together with some bad theology and bad grammar. Here are the vows, repeated identically except for the names by each partner:

Peter (David), wilt thou take this man as thy partner, in the sight of God? Wilt thou love him, comfort him, honour and keep him, in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all others, keep thee only unto him, as long as ye both shall live?

Peter (David) shall answer, I will. …

I Peter (David) take thee David (Peter) as my partner, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part, and thereto I pledge thee my troth. …

With this ring I thee bind, with my body I thee worship, and with all my worldly goods I thee endow: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. …

Then shall the Minister speak unto the people.

Forasmuch as David and Peter have consented together in a holy covenant, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth either to other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving of a ring, and by joining of hands, I pronounce that they be bound together. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

This is followed by a celebration of Holy Communion.

This Order of Service does avoid the words “matrimony” and “marriage”, instead referring to “a holy covenant of love and fidelity”. Instead of “I thee wed” is the rather odd “I thee bind”, at which some minds might wander to stereotypes of homosexual practices. So I suppose some kind of case can be made that this is not intended as an actual wedding. But I note that the covenant is called “a seal and sacrament of their mutual love and devotion”. So if it is not holy matrimony but is a sacrament, what is it?

Here are a couple of sentences from the 1662 Book of Common Prayer which were not included in this service:

Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace. …

For be ye well assured, that so many as are coupled together otherwise than God’s Word doth allow are not joined together by God; neither is their Matrimony lawful.

In the case of these two men, men ordained to ministry in the Anglican church, there is plenty of “just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together”, according to God’s law and also according to canon law which is the law of the land. For they have clearly been “coupled together otherwise than God’s Word doth allow”. So even if perhaps we should “hereafter for ever hold [our] peace”, God will be their judge.

Bishop bans church weddings

John Richardson has brought to my attention one of the most extraordinary stories I have seen, even in the whole saga of discussion about homosexuality in the Anglican churches. Bishop Marc Handley Andrus of the Diocese of California (which in fact only “covers the immediate San Francisco Bay Area”), in the Episcopal (Anglican) church, is effectively banning church weddings in his diocese! He writes:

I therefore provide you with the following pastoral guidelines:

  • I urge you to encourage all couples, regardless of orientation, to follow the pattern of first being married in a secular service and then being blessed in The Episcopal Church. I will publicly urge all couples to follow this pattern.
  • For now, the three rites approved for trial use under the pastoral direction of the bishop, adopted by resolution at the 2007 Diocesan Convention (see appendix), should be commended to all couples (again, regardless of orientation) to bless secular marriages.
  • All marriages should be performed by someone in one of the secular categories set forth in California Family Code, section 400 (see appendix), noting that any person in the state of California can be deputized to perform civil marriages. The proper sphere for Episcopal clergy is the blessing portion of the marriage. …

In other words, he is instructing his clergy not to perform weddings, but only to bless secular marriages.

The sub-text here is of course that the bishop, in defiance of internationally agreed Anglican guidelines, is promoting complete equality of same-sex “marriage” with proper marriage between man and woman. Because the Anglican Communion rightly does not allow clergy to perform same-sex “weddings”, the only way this bishop can produce the equality he desires is to forbid his clergy from performing any weddings. Instead he only allows them to bless marriages, and according to a form of service of his diocese’s devising (and still against international rules) which treats same-sex and opposite-sex blessings identically.

The Anglican church has always performed marriages. “Solemnization of Matrimony” is a form of service in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, which is the official doctrinal standard of the Anglican churches. Here is the opening part of this service (taken from here as surprisingly it is not on the Church of England’s website):

Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this Congregation, to join together this man and this woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man’s innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church; which holy estate Christ adorned and beautified with his presence, and first miracle that he wrought, in Cana of Galilee; and is commended of Saint Paul to be honourable among all men: and therefore is not by any to be enterprized, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men’s carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.

First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.

Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.

Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. Therefore if any man can shew any just cause, why they may not lawfully be joined together, let him now speak, or else hereafter for ever hold his peace.

But it seems that the Bishop of California no longer considers “holy Matrimony” between “this Man and this Woman” to be “an honourable estate”. One wonders how he can continue to consider himself an Anglican.

Who has the right to test interpretations of Scripture?

James Spinti has drawn my attention to what is called in German the Sitzerrecht and in Latin the lex sedentium. In the title of Alan Knox’s post which James quotes this is translated into English as “the rights of the one seated”, but in James’ post title it aptly becomes “The What?”

The point however is a simple one. The idea comes from 1 Corinthians 14:29-31, in which Paul effectively directs that in a church meeting someone who is sitting down, if they have a prophetic revelation, can stop the person who is standing and speaking and take over from them. By the time of the Reformation this was certainly not taken as a licence to interrupt a preacher, but it was understood by the early Reformers as, in Alan’s words,

a principle that teaches that all believers have the ability to understand Scripture and to weigh what another says concerning Scripture, even if that “other” is a teacher or preacher.

However, in Alan’s words as quoted by James,

Sometime during the 1500’s the magisterial reformers abandoned the idea of Sitzerrecht – that all believers have the right and duty to test teachers and determine the meaning of Scripture together – and embraced the principle that only a “technically qualified theological expert” could properly interpret Scripture for a gathered group of believers.

Here “the magisterial reformers” is a deliberate contrast with the early Anabaptists, who in general maintained “the idea of Sitzerrecht“.

Jim West was spurred to respond by James’ suggestion that Zwingli was wrong to abandon this principle. Perhaps Jim can clarify whether Zwingli abandoned it in response to persistent questioning by his Anabaptist opponents, replacing it by an appeal to his own authority. (No, Jim, I won’t say that he persecuted the Anabaptists, as doubtless you know better on this point than Wikipedia and the Catholic Encyclopedia.) Jim writes:

The ’spiritualists’ [i.e. the Anabaptists] were in need of refutation so Zwingli and the other Reformers rightly pointed out that interpretation of Scripture REQUIRED training- and based it on the well known verse which states: ‘Study to show yourself approved…’ That one verse broke the back of the ‘enthusiasts’ then, and I must say, does now too. Individual ‘interpretation’ without valid expertise leads to nothing but the most ridiculous heresy, such as we find in the likes of Todd Bentley …

The fallacy here is the assumption that Zwingli and the other “magisterial” Reformers had training which the Anabaptists lacked. This is probably not true of early Anabaptist leaders like Conrad Grebel, who had six years of university education followed by several years of private study with Zwingli, George Blaurock who studied at the University of Leipzig, and Felix Manz who was also an educated man. Zwingli, older than these three, was also educated, but nevertheless it is written of him that

Like many of his contemporaries, Zwingli went to work for the Church having studied little theology.

So, when Zwingli fell out with Grebel and Manz, his position became the official policy in Zurich surely not because of any greater theological education, but because of his seniority and his official position as pastor of the Grossmünster, and perhaps because his views were more acceptable to the political authorities in Zurich. In other words, he prevailed because of ecclesiastical and political power, not because of academic theological arguments. And the political authorities enforced Zwingli’s victory by drowning Manz and expelling the other Anabaptists.

So how do we apply this principle today, to cases like that of Todd Bentley who Jim brings into this? As I do support “the rights of the one seated”, I accept that any believer has the right to express their opinion about Todd and to judge his teachings and practices according to Scripture. But I do also see some limits to this, as I previously wrote about here. First, if it actually comes to making accusations of wrongdoing, Paul lays down the principle

Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses.

1 Timothy 5:19 (TNIV)

So proper evidence is needed to support any accusation. Paul also gives this instruction:

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

Ephesians 4:29 (TNIV)

These principles of course apply equally to those with theological education and to those without it, and should perhaps rule out condemnations based on ignorance like this one.

Now I accept the importance of a properly nuanced theological study and discussion of the teachings and practices of a new Christian movement like Todd’s. The only one I have seen of this particular movement is the one by Dr Gary Greig which I discussed yesterday, which James Spinti has endorsed. So, Jim West, should I accept this at face value because it was written by someone with a PhD in theology? Somehow I don’t think you would say that I should. Well, I will give Jim the benefit of the doubt by assuming that his condemnation of “Lakeland-ianity” was based not on prejudice and third hand reports as it might appear but on his own proper theological study which he has chosen not to publish. Now I, as a mere MA in theology, am no doubt quite unqualified to evaluate the studies which the learned Dr West and Dr Greig have produced. But their conclusions are apparently diametrically opposite: one concludes

I wholeheartedly encourage you to support what God is obviously doing through the Lakeland outpouring.

and the other

Now it’s up to the adherents of Lakeland-ism to abandon the heresy and return to the truth.

They can’t both be right. So it is clear that possession of a doctorate in theology is no guarantee of knowing the truth in such matters.

So how do I decide which position to follow? I could of course look to those in ecclesiastical authority over me – in my case a vicar who has been to Lakeland and supports it with some reservations, as summarised by his friend Dave Faulkner. And indeed I do greatly respect my vicar’s views and would not go against them in public. But I don’t follow his authority uncritically, and reserve the option to confront him privately if I ever think he goes seriously wrong, and in an extreme case to leave his congregation.

For when it comes down to it I believe that this is an issue between me and God. As I wrote in a comment on Jim’s blog,

it is not the human brain but the divine Holy Spirit who leads us into all truth.

Jim is of course right that this does not solve the problem in any objective way, for

the One Spirit can’t lead to Two Truths. So being ‘led by the spirit’ isn’t determinative either, since anyone can make that claim.

Indeed. In the end I can only say that subjectively, as a matter between myself and God if I have allowed him to guide me, I believe that I can be sure of my own position. I cannot prove it to others, I can only leave it in their hands as a matter between them and God.

And on this particular issue I have to say that I am sure that, in general terms if not necessarily in every detail, Dr West is wrong and Dr Greig is right.