What is my real Christian tradition?

I just took a new quiz Christian Traditions Selector, recommended by Kevin Sam – not on Facebook I am glad to say, but the advertising images I saw in the sidebar are a bit suggestive.

As I correctly predicted before viewing my results, my number 1 result is “Pentecostal/Charismatic/Assemblies of God”. I’m also not surprised that “Anabaptist (Mennonite/Quaker etc.)” came second. It is a bit worrying that “Anglican/Episcopal/Church of England” came as low as 8th place, when I have been a lifelong member, although in a very untypical congregation for the last 24 years. Perhaps this confirms what I am already beginning to think, that I am in the wrong denomination.

Here are my full results:

(100%) 1: Pentecostal/Charismatic/Assemblies of God 

(86%) 2: Anabaptist (Mennonite/Quaker etc.) 

(81%) 3: Baptist (non-Calvinistic)/Plymouth Brethren/Fundamentalist 

(74%) 4: Church of Christ/Campbellite 

(70%) 5: Seventh-Day Adventist 

(64%) 6: Methodist/Wesleyan/Nazarene 

(63%) 7: Lutheran 

(57%) 8: Anglican/Episcopal/Church of England 

(57%) 9: Congregational/United Church of Christ 

(54%) 10: Eastern Orthodox 

(47%) 11: Baptist (Reformed/Particular/Calvinistic) 

(42%) 12: Presbyterian/Reformed 

(32%) 13: Roman Catholic

Rabbis act over swine flu – and not like Archbishops!

The BBC reports that

A group of rabbis and Jewish mystics have taken to the skies over Israel, praying and blowing ceremonial horns in a plane to ward off swine flu.

About 50 religious leaders circled over the country on Monday, chanting prayers and blowing horns, called shofars.

The flight’s aim was “to stop the pandemic so people will stop dying from it,” Rabbi Yitzhak Batzri was quoted as saying in Yedioth Aharanot newspaper. …

“We are certain that, thanks to the prayer, the danger is already behind us,” added Mr Batzri …

There is even a short video of this, taken during the flight.

I’m not sure that I would endorse this way of tackling the swine flu problem. Why did they take to the air for their prayers, rather than pray on the ground where the problem actually is? (If anyone knows an answer to that question, please put it in a comment.) But at least they are doing what religious leaders should: praying and doing religious ceremonial actions. And it is not really for me, as a Christian, to criticise how religious Jews conduct themselves, except to long that they recognise their true Messiah.

By contrast, the Archbishops of the Church of England have hit the news not for how they have prayed for the swine flu danger to pass, nor for how they have urged their clergy and church members to pray, but for their panicked reaction and abandonment of biblical and traditional Christian practice.

Is swine flu more powerful than God, so that the blood of Jesus Christ is not able to protect us from its effects? That is the implication of the Archbishops’ advice. Or is God Lord over swine flu and every other kind of evil? The rabbis who took to the air clearly believe that. Would that the leaders of the Church of England also believed it!

The Theology of Proof Texting

Frank Viola, of whose book Reimagining Church I wrote an incomplete review last year, has just posted a link to an online (PDF) version of part of a chapter from an earlier book which he wrote with George Barna, Pagan Christianity. The chapter is called Reapproaching the New Testament: The Bible is Not a Jigsaw Puzzle.

Proof texting is a phenomenon I am very aware of. I know very well how it is used by preachers and others, including bloggers, sometimes apparently allowing them to “prove” almost anything they want to prove from Scripture. I have criticised this approach before; indeed it underlines the fundamentalist approach to the Bible which I discussed in this blog series. But I have never before seen any attempt to justify proof texting theologically. That is not of course what Viola and Barna are doing, but in at the beginning of their chapter (pp. 2-3 of the PDF) they give an interesting explanation of the theology behind it:

The approach most commonly used among contemporary Christians when studying the Bible is called “proof texting.” The origin of proof texting goes back to the late 1590s. A group of men called Protestant scholastics took the teachings of the Reformers and systematized them according to the rules of Aristotelian logic.

The Protestant scholastics held that not only is the Scripture the Word of God, but every part of it is the Word of God in and of itself—irrespective of context. This set the stage for the idea that if we lift a verse out of the Bible, it is true in its own right and can be used to prove a doctrine or a practice.

When John Nelson Darby emerged in the mid-1800s, he built a theology based on this approach. Darby raised proof texting to an art form. In fact, it was Darby who gave fundamentalist and evangelical Christians a good deal of their presently accepted teachings. All of them are built on the proof-texting method. Proof texting, then, became the common way that we contemporary Christians approach the Bible.

As a result, we Christians rarely, if ever, get to see the New Testament as a whole. Rather, we are served up a dish of fragmented thoughts that are drawn together by means of fallen human logic. The fruit of this approach is that we have strayed far afield from the principles of the New Testament church. Yet we still believe we are being biblical.

Ouch!

After an introduction to how the books of the Bible are arranged and divided, Viola and Barna list eight ways in which “We Christians have been taught to approach the Bible”. All of them are varieties of David Ker‘s Alexander’s Sword method. They continue (p. 10):

Now look at this list again. Which of these approaches have you used? Look again: Notice how each is highly individualistic. All of them put you, the individual Christian, at the center. Each approach ignores the fact that most of the New Testament was written to corporate bodies of people (churches), not to individuals.

But that is not all. Each of these approaches is built on isolated proof texting. Each treats the New Testament like a manual and blinds us to its real message.

A bit later they write (p. 12):

You could call our method of studying the New Testament the “clipboard approach.” If you are familiar with computers, you are aware of the clipboard component. If you happen to be in a word processor, you may cut and paste a piece of text via the clipboard. The clipboard allows you to cut a sentence from one document and paste it into another.

Pastors, seminarians, and laymen alike have been conditioned by the clipboard approach when studying the Bible. This is how we justify our man-made, encased traditions and pass them off as biblical. It is why we routinely miss what the early church was like whenever we open up our New Testaments. We see verses. We do not see the whole picture.

There are a few factual errors in the extract. For example, in 1227 Stephen Langton was not “a professor at the University of Paris” but Archbishop of Canterbury; a Wikipedia article suggests that in fact he divided the Bible into chapters in 1205, when, according to another Wikipedia page, he actually was a lecturer in Paris.

But these minor points do not detract from the strong message of this chapter. Viola and Barna clearly show how fundamentally flawed is the typical evangelical approach to Scripture, and so by implication how fundamentally flawed are many of the conclusions derived from it. As evangelicals we really do need to find a better way of understanding the Bible, if our claim to take it as the inspired and authoritative Word of God is to be meaningful and intellectually honest.

Gordon Brown: Christians should not have to hide faith

I thank TC Robinson for a link to this article in the British website Christian Today (not the US magazine Christianity Today, TC): Gordon Brown: Christians should not have to hide faith – based on an interview (17 minutes) our Prime Minister gave to Premier Christian Media, a British Christian radio and TV company.

TC’s reaction to this is that Political Endorsement of the Christian Faith is not A Good Idea. I agree with TC’s sentiment when politicians promote Christianity, and all the more any one particular variety of it, above other religions. I accept his point about:

Emperor Constantine the Great and his embrace of Christianity—an embrace which hurt instead of helped Christianity.

But I don’t think that is at all what Gordon Brown is doing here, from listening to the interview. He was very careful to talk about “faith” in general terms. The words in parentheses in the longest quote in Christian Today, “(for Christians to be expected to detach themselves from their faith as they work)”, are taken from a question he was asked. So he is in no way favouring Christianity above other faiths, and would probably say much the same to interviewers from other religions.

The interview was deliberately different from many others, as seen in this article about it. The interviewer writes:

I was given 15 minutes to interview Mr Brown, and I was also told what questions he wouldn’t answer. I wasn’t allowed to ask him about his own faith, his family, what he prays about or if he prays before making policy decisions.

Scrap first set of questions then….

However, there are still many issues Christians in the UK are concerned about that I could ask him: the fact many feel anti-Christian sentiment is increasing in Parliament, why talking about God is seen as dodgy territory for a British politician, and why many feel the government has become unbalanced in its approach to faith groups.

I also added a few questions to the mix in an attempt to find out what Gordon Brown really cares about.

I was very pleased by this part of the interview, as summarised by Christian Today:

In the interview the Prime Minister also confirmed that the Government would still prioritise foreign aid for those in poverty despite the current worldwide recession. Mr Brown said, “We have responsibilities to those in need and in difficulty and we cannot walk by on the other side.”

He added, “Our responsibilities to the poor are even more acute and obvious at a time when people are facing difficulty.”

I also liked this quote, which can surely be applied to the church as it should be:

Community … is not the buildings but thousands of acts of friendship and generosity and support for people.

The important point here is that the Prime Minister is publicly taking a stand against the kind of position which seems all too common in more liberal circles here in Britain, and in some arms of his government: that religious belief must be kept a private matter and faith-based groups should not be involved in public life or receive public funds for their work. Mr Brown counters this by saying that people of faith cannot be expected to keep quiet

because when we talk about faith we are talking about what people believe in. We are talking about the values that underpin what they do. We are talking about the convictions that they have about how you can make for a better society.

It is when people put convictions like this into practice that a better society results. On that basis Gordon Brown offers his support for faith-based initiatives. As Christians, while being cautious about any restrictive conditions, we should accept public funding when it does actually help to promote our vision of a society built around God’s love.

Welcome to my scattered readership

It is some time since I looked closely at the ClustrMaps map of the locations of visitors to this blog – a link to which has been on my sidebar for a long time. Currently the map shows 1,457 visits, representing only eight days’ hits as it was cleared on 1st August. I was interested to see where some of my readers are, or at least are reported to be by this not always accurate software.

There are some very far flung ones: Baffin Island in the Canadian Arctic; somewhere near Uluru (Ayers Rock) in central Australia; the jungles of northern Bolivia; the desert of central Egypt (or perhaps that just represents the whole of Egypt); and a rural part of one of the poorest countries in the world, Mozambique (I presume that’s you, David Ker).

I also seem to have readers in some startling places: Beijing, China; Pyongyang, North Korea; Riyadh, Saudi Arabia; and Qom, the religious capital of Iran. Well, I hope all of you find my blog interesting. But I doubt if you, or your counterparts in London and Washington, will find anything of political interest here. Perhaps this blog will help you to understand that the churches I write about are no threat to any of you – for the not very good reason that they are too busy fighting among themselves.

A warm welcome to you all, and happy reading!

Meeting Suzanne, and viewing the treasures of London

Last Sunday my fiancée Lorenza and I were very pleased to meet Suzanne McCarthy, who blogs at Suzanne’s Bookshelf. She writes about meeting me here. She and a friend were visiting London from Canada. We had arranged to meet up at the British Library, to look at the gallery of manuscripts and printed treasures.

The Lindisfarne Gospels: Gospel of St Matthew the Evangelist, initial page

The Lindisfarne Gospels: Gospel of St Matthew the Evangelist, initial page

I had been there before, but still found the collection amazing. Suzanne’s primary interest was the beautiful Lindisfarne Gospels, which  include the oldest surviving translation of any of the Bible into (Old) English. I was more excited to find sitting together in the same museum case two of the three most important Greek manuscripts of the New Testament, Sinaiticus and Alexandrinus (Vaticanus remains in the Vatican). In the next case was part of the Old Testament of Sinaiticus, now separately bound, which is one of the main sources for the Septuagint text.

St Lukes Gospel, Codex Sinaiticus, c.350

St Luke's Gospel, 'Codex Sinaiticus', c.350

[Sinaiticus] was made up of over 1,460 pages, each of which measured approximately 41cm tall and 36cm wide. … At the British Library the largest surviving portion – 347 leaves, or 694 pages – includes the whole of the New Testament.

We also paid a visit to the nearby British Museum. This was far too brief to take in all its treasures, but we got to see the Rosetta Stone, the Assyrian reliefs, and the not yet returned Parthenon friezes, or Elgin Marbles.

The Rosetta Stone

The Rosetta Stone

Then we visited the National Portrait Gallery, my first visit, where we found the originals of some familiar images, including this one of John Wesley which has featured on many blogs:

John Wesley, by Nathaniel Hone, oil on canvas, circa 1766

John Wesley, by Nathaniel Hone, oil on canvas, circa 1766

It is a privilege to live only 1½ hours away from such world class treasures, of which these are just a sample. I really should make more of an effort to explore them in detail.

Honest Scrap award

Honest Scrap awardIt is two weeks now since Kevin Sam nominated me for the Honest Scrap award. I have been too busy blogging about communion to respond to his nomination. But I will do now.

To quote Kevin,

I’m supposed to tell you 10 HONEST things about myself and then nominate 7 other blogs that I think deserve to receive the Honest Scrap Award.

Well, here goes. My answers are deliberately modelled on Kevin’s, but of course changed to what is true about me.

1. I drive a 1995 Astra, pictured hereCar-Astra (as it looked just before I bought it, in 2002). That is, a Vauxhall Astra, which is almost the same car as is known as the Opel Astra in continental Europe, the Saturn Astra in North America, the Chevrolet Astra in Latin America, and the Holden Astra in Australia. After 14 years (but only about 66,000 miles) this is now nearly a piece of scrap, but at least it will be “honest scrap”! And then I may well go for another Astra.

2. I very rarely watch TV, largely because there is so little worth watching on the limited range of terrestrial channels I can receive. Yet for some reason I collect TV sets that are given to me or left at my house. Not long ago I took two to the dump/tip to be “honest scrap”. Perhaps I should do that with the remaining one.

3. This will probably have to be the last item in my list directly about “honest scrap” – but I own an entire garage full of assorted furniture, mostly unattractive or in a poor condition, which I don’t think I can even sell as “honest scrap” – although I am open to offers.

4. I can quote Kevin on this one:

I’m a thinker-type, as opposed to a feeler-type and so admit that I don’t have a lot of patience for people who don’t make any sense when they get angry or flustered.

I too try to have patience, but I’m not a pastor so I don’t have to try so hard!

5. I spent 16 years training and working as a Bible translator, including seven years living in a former Soviet republic. But now I am back in my home town.

6. What really turns me on in a Christian setting is not preaching (although I appreciate a good preacher) but worship in music, if led with both technical skill and a real heart for worship, and if there is genuine response from the congregation. When that happens the style of music is largely irrelevant, although I do struggle with hymns accompanied on the organ.

7. Where I most differ from Kevin is that I am not at all a Calvinist. Well, I might accept about half of one of the five TULIP petals. All I can clearly agree with is the “T” if defined properly, i.e. in agreement with this Wikipedia point:

Total depravity does not mean, however, that people are as evil as possible. Rather, it means that even the good which a person may intend is faulty …

8. Politically, I am a Liberal with a capital “L”, a member of the Liberal Democrats party here in the UK, and I have been their candidate in a local election. But don’t blame me for the bad policies of many so-called liberals around the world, even those of Barack Obama.

9. I have lived in turn to the south west, the south east, the north east, the north west, and now again the north east of London, but never within the boundaries of Greater London (except for two years at London Bible College which was just inside the border) and also never more than about 50 miles from London – with the exception of the seven years that I lived in a former Soviet republic for my Bible translation work.

10. Unlike Kevin, I am by no means a city slicker. I was brought up in a country village and still prefer that lifestyle. I am happy to live on the edge of a medium-size town, so I can easily get into the countryside but also easily access the town’s facilities. But I rarely go into London, and don’t miss it.

Well, as usual I have written quite a lot. Now for seven other bloggers to tag:

David Ker

Sam Norton

Doug Chaplin

Dave Faulkner

John Meunier

Rachel Marszalek

Mike Aubrey

Swine flu panic over – will anyone tell the bishops?

The latest news on swine flu confirms what I have always thought: the “pandemic” is little more than a pandemic of panic, plus a few people getting a nasty headache for a couple of days. Here is the latest news from the BBC:

Big drop in new swine flu cases

The number of new cases of H1N1 swine flu in England and Scotland has fallen significantly, latest figures show.

England recorded an estimated 30,000 cases last week, compared with 110,000 the week before. In Scotland estimated numbers fell from 1,500 to 1,050.

The Health Protection Agency said there was no sign that the virus was mutating into a more lethal form, or developing resistance to drugs.

I don’t like to say “I told you so”. But I did, at least in a comment on Paul Trathen’s blog. Paul showed that he was not much of a prophet when he wrote, on 24th July:

It is a matter of fairly inevitable exponential arithmetic that numbers of those contracting this illness will escalate very sharply indeed over the coming weeks …

I replied on the same day:

Continued exponential growth of swine flu is not inevitable. I understand that in some countries including Scotland its spread is slowing down.

We can only guess why this illness is no longer spreading. It could be the warm weather – but probably not as until today it has been quite cool here. It could be the school holidays. It could be people taking more care not to touch and breathe on one another. I doubt if it has much to do with the Communion cup no longer being offered in many churches.

To be fair, I can’t claim to be a prophet either, for the BBC is also reporting:

Officials have always predicted rates of infection would fall away in the summer before a large surge in the autumn to coincide with the normal flu season.

Well, we may see a surge, but also the main danger from swine flu will have passed, for

the first swine flu vaccines are likely to be licensed for use in the general population in September

– just in time to protect those who are vulnerable to anything more than a headache.

But when will the archbishops and bishops of the Church of England admit that they have overreacted and withdraw their theologically as well as medically flawed advice to clergy to withhold the Communion cup from their congregations?

The Church Times writes sense about Communion

I have just seen the leader in the Church Times for 31st July (thanks to Dave Walker’s Church Times blog for the link). And I was interested to see that this significant newspaper more or less agrees with the position I have taken about Communion being offered in both kinds, although from a more pragmatic perspective. After a summary of negative reactions received (including those in letters to the editor, which I am not able to read as I am not a subscriber), the leader writer continues:

Confusion and distress about the method of administration is not good for the Church, and, at the very least, is yet another distraction from the purpose of the eucharist itself … In this situation, the clergy need to offer the laity as much choice as possible, in order to remove any feeling of coercion … Any permanent change in the practice of the Church of England should not, however, be allowed to come about simply on the basis of a crisis mentality and the publication of press releases — even archiepiscopal ones.

Indeed. My only real objection is to the leader writer’s appeal to “the doctrine of concomitance”, defined by Webster’s as:

(R.C.Ch.) The doctrine of the existence of the entire body of Christ in the eucharist, under each element, so that the body and blood are both received by communicating in one kind only.

In other words, this appears to be a specifically Roman Catholic teaching, presumably to justify the mediaeval withdrawal of the Communion cup from the laity which was quite specifically and deliberately repudiated by the founders of the independent Church of England. If this is the doctrine that the archbishops and bishops are tacitly appealing to, that is, if they present Roman Catholic doctrine as the standard for the Church of England, then why haven’t they already submitted to the Pope? I don’t mean to sound anti-Catholic, but I do have strong objections to this kind of attempt to be more Catholic even than His Holiness.

Anyway, three cheers to the Church Times for standing up to the archbishops in such a high profile way, one which they will not be able to ignore.

Episcopalian lemmings ask to be thrown into the sea

The leaders of The Episcopal Church (TEC – the historic Anglican church in the USA) may seem to be rushing headlong, like the proverbial lemmings, into self-destruction, as a church and as a part of the Anglican Communion. See what I wrote about them in my posts The end of the Anglican Communion as we know it? and Anglicans and Anglican’ts. But now, it seems, not content with this, they are asking to be thrown quite literally into the sea – at least, to be expelled from North America as stateless refugees.

How so? George Conger (as linked to by Ruth Gledhill) reports:

The Queen must apologize for the wrongs committed by Henry VII and repudiate the “Christian Doctrine of Discovery,” the 76th General Convention of the Episcopal Church has declared.

What this means is that our monarch is supposed to repudiate the claims made by her ancestors to dominion and title over much of North America, and recognise instead that these lands remain the possession of the native Americans from whom they were grabbed.

But did the bishops and delegates who adopted this resolution understand its further implications? If, as they seem to demand, the whole of North America is returned to its rightful owners, the native Americans, what place is there for that huge majority of modern North Americans who have European, African or Asian ancestry? What would their new native American rulers want to do with these invaders who illegally dominated their lands for nearly four centuries? While they might allow to stay those who could prove some native American ancestry, they might very reasonably require the others to leave and return to their countries of origin.

Some of the countries of origin of today’s US and Canadian citizens might be happy to have them back, at least if they were able to bring their wealth with them. But I suspect that the majority of Episcopalians and Canadian Anglicans would trace much of their ancestry back here to the UK. After all, why else would they be Anglicans? The Canadians might be welcome here. But would we welcome back to these shores tens of millions of the descendants of those who rebelled against our Crown in 1776? I suspect not.

At the very least our Queen would be entitled to demand an apology from these people in return for the one they demanded from her – an apology for their unilateral and illegal assertion of dominion and title over lands claimed by her ancestor George III. These lands might have rightfully belonged to the native Americans, but they never legally belonged to the rebellious immigrants who set up their own laws to further dispossess the rightful owners.

So, if the apology demanded from the Queen is actually put into practice, the majority of TEC members might find themselves literally afloat in mid-Atlantic, turned back from any ports their ships try to dock at. Is that what they really want? With TEC, who knows!