Cross or Resurrection 3: What about Jesus' life?

Tim ChestertonI want to start by thanking my blogging friend Tim Chesterton for naming Gentle Wisdom as the first of his ten favourite Christian blogs. His own blog Faith, Folk and Charity is one of my favourites, when he finds time to post in his busy life. It is hard to believe that it is more than four years since I met Tim, when he was on sabbatical here in England. I regret that much of the excellent material from his former blog An Anabaptist Anglican was lost when that blog was closed after his sabbatical.*

I also want to thank Tim for a comment on my post on the central message of the Bible, in which he pointed out an issue with how I have set up the series of which this post is the third part. I started the series by posing a binary question: which is determinative, the Cross or the Resurrection? But in fact there are other choices which could be made on the basis of the New Testament. The one which I dismissed in part 2 of this series, that the example of John the Baptist is normative, is hardly a Christian one. But, as Tim reminded me, it is a Christian position to take the life and teaching of Jesus Christ as the basis for Christian living. This is in some ways a third alternative to focusing on the Cross or on the Resurrection. It is one especially associated with the Anabaptist movement, as well as with the strand of Catholic spirituality associated with the classic book The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. So in this post I will look at that alternative focus.

I want to affirm strongly that the life of Jesus is a good and important example for Christian living today. This has been a consistent theme on this blog. Five years ago I wrote that Jesus is Our Fully Human Example. Three years ago I suggested, rather controversially perhaps, that the faith of Jesus Christ should be a model for our Christian faith. I would also affirm, against some dispensationalists, that the teaching of Jesus is directly relevant for Christians today. We are even expected to live according to the Sermon on the Mount – although there is grace for us when we fail.

"The Sermon On the Mount" by Carl BlochBut this mention of grace illustrates the inadequacy of making the life of Jesus the centre of Christianity. Can we really be expected only to follow the teachings of the Great Teacher and to live as he lived? It is for good reason that many have concluded that the Sermon on the Mount was intended as an impossible standard to live by. It is indeed impossible if we try to live by it in our own strength, treating it as a new law to replace the one given through Moses. But the Sermon is surely intended as more than an unattainable standard given to force us to repentance.

While some might just be able to live for a time in obedience to Jesus’ teaching, there are clearly ways in which no one can hope to do as he did in their own strength. Jesus was best known in his own time, and perhaps in ours, for the healings and other miracles which he performed. As I have argued before, he was able to do such things not because he was God but because after his baptism he was filled with the Holy Spirit. And he expected his followers to do not just similar works but also greater ones (John 14:12). That is clearly impossible for ordinary human beings without the power of God.

Thus both the teaching and the miracles of Jesus point us beyond his life on earth. It is only through his death on the Cross that men and women can receive forgiveness, without which even a perfectly amended life is pointless as it cannot atone for past sins. It is only through his Resurrection that people can receive a new life with the ability to overcome evil and live according to Jesus’ teaching, even in the Sermon on the Mount. And it is only through Pentecost which followed them that anyone can receive the power of the Holy Spirit to perform the even greater works which God has prepared in advance for them to do (Ephesians 2:10).

So we have to conclude that, important as the life and teaching of Jesus are for the Christian life, they are not its central focus. True Christians need to look beyond following his example and his instructions to what follows, which alone is able to effect achievements with eternal consequences.

Continued in Cross or Resurrection 4: The Centrality of the Cross?

* UPDATE: Tim tells me that all the significant posts from Anabaptist Anglican have been transferred to his main blog Faith, Folk and Charity, where they can be found in the April, May, June, and July 2007 archives.

St Martin, Soldier and Conscientious Objector

Statue of Saint Martin cutting his cloak in two, above the gate of Höchst CastleToday, on both sides of the Atlantic, we mark 11.11.11, Armistice Day (now known as Veterans Day in the USA), and also, as Shane Claiborne reminds us, the feast of St Martin of Tours (316-397). Claiborne marks the day by sharing the testimony of a modern equivalent of Martin, a soldier who became a Christian and chose not to fight any more. He writes:

As the son of a Vietnam veteran who died when I was 9, I can’t imagine a better way to honor the soldiers and veterans today than by sharing Logan’s testimony …

The testimony ends:

Let us follow this subversive centurion in the way of Jesus, our ultimate Commander and the last, best hope for human kind. There is an entire guild of contemporary centurions marching to the beat of a different drummer, a Prince that grants peace nothing like that of Rome. War has been conquered, it is over, if we want it…

Meanwhile Jim West quotes Erasmus, from his book Against War – I have updated the English:

Where is the kingdom of the devil, if it is not in war? Why do we draw Christ into war, when a brothel suits him more than war? St Paul says that it is wrong for there to be any disagreement between Christian people so great that they would need a judge to mediate between them. What if he were to come and see us now, making war all round the world for minor and trivial reasons, fighting more cruelly than any heathen or barbarous people?

So today, let us remember those who have lost life or limb fighting other people’s battles, often without caring or even knowing what cause they are fighting for. But let us also carefully avoid glorifying war or presenting it as God’s will. And above all keep out of the trap of expecting God to be fighting on your side and against your enemies. If you are not sure why this is important, read, as conveniently posted at Experimental Theology, Mark Twain’s short story The War Prayer.

Anabaptists: Pioneers of the Charismatic Movement

Anabaptist Dirk Willems saves his pursuerIt seems that the early Anabaptists should be acknowledged as forerunners of the modern charismatic movement in the church. Thanks to a Twitter link by Alan Knox to an old post of his Things I Didn’t Learn in Baptist History Class, and to Jon for his post History of Speaking Up In Church, I found some interesting but little known information in the Wikipedia article on Anabaptists (links and footnotes deleted):

Charismatic manifestations

Within the inspirationist wing of the Anabaptist movement, it was not unusual for charismatic manifestations to appear, such as dancing, falling under the power of the Holy Spirit, “prophetic processions” (at Zurich in 1525, at Munster in 1534 and at Amsterdam in 1535), and speaking in tongues. In Germany some Anabaptists, “excited by mass hysteria, experienced healings, glossolalia, contortions and other manifestations of a camp-meeting revival”. The Anabaptist congregations that later developed into the Mennonite and Hutterite churches tended not to promote these manifestations, but did not totally reject the miraculous. Pilgram Marpeck, for example, wrote against the exclusion of miracles: “Nor does Scripture assert this exclusion…God has a free hand even in these last days.” Referring to some who had been raised from the dead, he wrote: “Many of them have remained constant, enduring tortures inflicted by sword, rope, fire and water and suffering terrible, tyrannical, unheard-of deaths and martyrdoms, all of which they could easily have avoided by recantation. Moreover one also marvels when he sees how the faithful God (who, after all, overflows with goodness) raises from the dead several such brothers and sisters of Christ after they were hanged, drowned, or killed in other ways. Even today, they are found alive and we can hear their own testimony…Cannot everyone who sees, even the blind, say with a good conscience that such things are a powerful, unusual, and miraculous act of God? Those who would deny it must be hardened men”. The Hutterite Chronicle and The Martyr’s Mirror record several accounts of miraculous events, such as when a man named Martin prophesied while being led across a bridge to his execution in 1531: “…this once yet the pious are led over this bridge, but no more hereafter.” Just “a short time afterwards such a violent storm and flood came that the bridge was demolished”.

Holy Spirit leadership

The Anabaptists insisted upon the “free course” of the Holy Spirit in worship, yet still maintained it all must be judged according to the Scriptures. The Swiss Anabaptist document titled “Answer of Some Who Are Called (Ana-)Baptists – Why They Do Not Attend the Churches”. One reason given for not attending the state churches was that these institutions forbade the congregation to exercise spiritual gifts according to “the Christian order as taught in the gospel or the Word of God in 1 Corinthians 14.” “When such believers come together, “Everyone of you (note every one) hath a psalm, hath a doctrine, hath a revelation, hath an interpretation,” and so on..When someone comes to church and constantly hears only one person speaking, and all the listeners are silent, neither speaking nor prophesying, who can or will regard or confess the same to be a spiritual congregation, or confess according to 1 Corinthians 14 that God is dwelling and operating in them through His Holy Spirit with His gifts, impelling them one after another in the above-mentioned order of speaking and prophesying”.

What I find interesting here is the clear evidence that the early Anabaptists were not only forerunners of the current organic church movement (Alan’s main concern) but also forerunners of the modern charismatic movement. This can be seen in their emphasis on prophecy, speaking in tongues, and miraculous healing. The phenomena of “falling under the power of the Holy Spirit” and “contortions” are reminiscent of the Toronto Blessing, one of the more recent expressions of charismatic renewal. And the reports of raising the dead remind one of Todd Bentley‘s claims.

The early Anabaptists were not the only Christians in their time to exercise the gifts of the Spirit. For example, in his book Surprised by the Voice of God Jack Deere has a chapter showing that the early Scottish Presbyterians practised prophecy. Even John Calvin may have spoken in tongues. But these gifts seem to have been more prominent in Anabaptist spirituality than in that of the other churches emerging from the Reformation.

The charismatic gifts soon fell into disuse among almost all these Protestant groups, including the Anabaptists. We have to accept that some of these charismatic Anabaptists went “off the rails” with outlandish prophecies, especially those linked with the misguided attempt to establish a theocracy at Münster. As a result prophecy got a bad name, and even the Anabaptists backed off from using the gifts. It was left to the Pentecostals of the early 20th century to rediscover this aspect of spirituality, and for the charismatic movement of the late 20th century to make these gifts again acceptable in many denominational churches.

Today’s church has a lot to learn from the early Anabaptists, who were so shamefully treated by most other Christians in their time, and who are still so often misrepresented. Here is yet another aspect of their spirituality which needs to be recovered for our days.

Those who live by the gun will die by the gun

Roman Catholic priest Ed EverittMy heart goes out to the congregation of Holy Ghost Roman Catholic Church in Hammond, Louisiana, who include a blogger friend, for the sad loss of their priest Ed Everitt. (I call no one on earth “Father”, Matthew 23:9.) Everitt was killed at a beachfront house in Mississippi, as reported by abc24 – thanks to Jim West for the link. See also the other JW’s post about this sad event.

I have good friends in Hammond, not Roman Catholics, and visited the city last year.

Jim rightly highlights the “Barbarism” and “depravity” of the suspect who has been arrested, who was reportedly planning to take his family to Disney World with the car and the money stolen from Everitt. But I want to look at another aspect of this story. I quote from the abc24 report as quoted by Jim:

A handyman is accused of using a Catholic priest’s own gun to kill him at a beachfront house in Mississippi …

What was a priest, a man of God, doing with a gun, when he had gone to the beach, 70 miles from Hammond, for his day off? For me this raises two questions.

First, is American society really so dangerous that a man needs to take a gun with him on a day at the beach? If so, then something really needs to be done about general violence, and in particular about the proliferation of guns.

Second, is it really appropriate for a priest to carry a gun? I wouldn’t want to make a general rule forbidding this as there might be special circumstances where it would make sense. But it seems very strange to me that a man who claims to be representing Jesus who said “Do not resist an evil person … turn to them the other cheek” (Matthew 5:39) would carry a weapon.

Anyway it seems likely that resisting evil led to this priest’s death. The full circumstances are not clear, but according to the abc24 report “Police believe the handyman had intended to rob Everitt.” Very likely if the priest had followed the teaching of Jesus he would have lost his car (only temporarily as it had a tracking device) and his wallet but saved his life. But for having a gun, and maybe for confronting the thief with it, he paid with his life.

This incident shows clearly that (to contextualise yet another verse from Matthew, 26:52) those who live by the gun will die by the gun.

Hope for Libya, despair for the Ivory Coast

It is good to see hope at last for Libya, after two weeks of generally depressing news. Muammar Gaddafi’s advance against those who have overthrown him has not been as quick as John Richardson feared nearly two weeks ago. But the advance was beginning to look unstoppable, at least by the people of Libya. It was worrying to see how a probably tiny number of genuine Gaddafi loyalist troops, heavily armed and supported by mercenaries, could drive back even the majority of the country’s army which had turned against their self-appointed leader. And it was horrific to see how Gaddafi didn’t seem to care about bombarding civilian targets.

So I am pleased to see that the United Nations has agreed on definite measures, and how quickly they have had positive results. Especially in the Arab world a show of strength is often what is needed. While the world dithered in its response, Gaddafi felt he could wage his civil war with impunity. Now that action against him has been agreed, he must have realised that the game is up for that approach. So he has quickly agreed to a ceasefire.

Of course we have yet to see if the ceasefire will hold. But we may yet see Gaddafi shifting to quite different tactics. Perhaps he will try to negotiate a settlement with those who oppose him, one which leaves him as leader of a reformed Libya. He will no doubt be desperate to avoid being sent to the International Criminal Court. But he has few options left. Perhaps he will after all fly off to Venezuela, one of the few places he might find safety.

Now some of you reading this may think that I am being inconsistent in supporting this UN action in Libya, because I have opposed similar action in Iraq and come close to a pacifist position. But I have never been a complete pacifist, and have never said I have been. I would not support an invasion of Libya with ground forces – nor does the UN. I do accept that in some cases, in the political arena rather than in the church, evil does need to be resisted.

But this resistance needs to be as non-violent as reasonably possible. It also needs to be well thought out, to ensure that the consequences are not worse than they would have been without resistance. The western intervention in Iraq failed on both those counts. The intervention in Libya envisaged by the UN would appear to pass these tests. It is of course even better if the intervention is not needed because the threat of it solves the problem – although that would not justify making threats of unjustifiable force, such as the mutual nuclear threats during the Cold War.

Sadly Libya is not the only country where this kind of intervention might be necessary. I am not thinking of Bahrain, where diplomatic action is likely to be more appropriate. Rather, I am thinking of the Ivory Coast. Eddie Arthur, who used to work there, has chronicled the crimes against humanity perpetrated by Laurent Gbagbo, the man who was defeated in the presidential election last year but refused to resign. Since Eddie wrote, Gbagbo’s forces have shelled a market in the capital Abidjan, and the UN mission has used the same words about this: “a crime against humanity”. Eddie quotes a Human Rights Watch director:

The time is long overdue for the UN Security Council to impose sanctions against Gbagbo and his allies …

Indeed. But unfortunately there is probably little effective action that the UN could take in the Ivory Coast, other than a full scale invasion which would probably turn into a bloodbath. Gbagbo is no more likely than Gaddafi to surrender himself to the International Criminal Court. So in response to the crimes against humanity in the Ivory Coast I can only recommend prayer.

Vengeance is not ours

David Ker of Lingamish has challenged me to respond to his post What to do with the vengeance of the Old Testament? Skip it. So I will try to do so, although I don’t find this easy.

David is writing partly in response to his earlier post The Bible is not the Gospel. In that post he made a good point against the kind of Old Testament based preaching which he often comes across in Africa. Of course he is right that in Christian churches the dominant message presented should be one of grace and forgiveness, not of law and condemnation. And in general it is easier to preach grace and forgiveness from the New Testament.

But that does not justify David’s rather too negative views of the Old Testament, according to which “Everything in the OT is either a warning or a shadow”. There are in the Old Testament good positive principles and examples for us as Christians. The problem is sometimes in discerning what is profitable for us in this way, and what should be considered profitable only as an example of how not to behave.

In the light of this I return to David’s follow-up post, in which he looks particularly at the Old Testament passages which seem to promote vengeance. How should we relate to those?

First, we need to understand clearly what the passages are teaching. As Henry Neufeld points out in a post yesterday, the Old Testament teaching about “an eye for an eye”

was intended not to mandate revenge, but to limit it. Modern Christians understand it as some sort of command to mass mayhem, and are thankful that Jesus overruled it.

But the intention was precisely to limit the kind of “mass mayhem” which we are seeing in central Nigeria, on which Ruth Gledhill reports, where thousands have been killed horrifically in an escalating series of religious clashes. In the latest massacres the perpetrators are Muslims and the victims mostly Christians, but this is in response to earlier atrocities allegedly committed by professing Christians. I wonder what sort of teaching on revenge is given in their churches.

Then we also have to remember what kind of literature we are reading. David looks at Psalms 63 and 137 in which vengeance is mentioned. But the psalms are the response of fallible human beings to God, and should not be misunderstood as teaching from God. They are included in our “inspired” Bible not as propositional revelation prescribing human behaviour but as authentic examples in poetry of how real people poured out their hearts to God.

Not all of the Old Testament teaching on killing others can be dismissed so easily. There are places where God clearly commands mass killing, most notably the mandated massacre of the Canaanites after the conquest under Joshua. This post would be too long if I went into this issue in depth. So I will simply note that this killing was not a matter of revenge, but was commanded by God as a judgment on the Canaanites’ sin and because it was necessary for his wider purposes.

So what is the Old Testament teaching about revenge? David needs to remember that that is the source of the two quotations on the subject which Paul uses in Romans 12:19-21:

It is mine to avenge; I will repay.

The LORD speaking in Deuteronomy 32:35 (TNIV)

If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat;
if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.
22 In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head,
and the LORD will reward you.

Proverbs 25:21-22 (TNIV)

Deeply De-Christian Doctrines

David Keen, David Ker and Doug Chaplin have been posting on “5 Deeply De-Christian Doctrines”, a meme for which they have been tagged. So far no-one has tagged me specifically on this one, as far as I know. Is that because my name doesn’t fit the meme’s alliteration by starting with “D”? But David Ker did write:

If you’re a reader of this blog consider yourself tagged.

So I will make my contribution. The challenge is to

List 5 doctrines that are taught within the Christian church that you believe to be deeply de-Christian.

Here is my list, taking up themes already discussed on this blog:

1. Original Sin: Doug in his list has a go at Augustine, but doesn’t mention this, perhaps the most fundamental of his doctrinal errors. The Church Father and former Manichaean seems to have introduced into the church aspects of his non-Christian Manichaean teaching. I am not sure if the Manichaeans taught original sin, but, as I wrote more than two years ago, Augustine did, and justified his teaching from a misunderstanding of one poorly translated Bible passage. Later scholars have recognised Augustine’s exegetical error, but have relied on his authority as a Father and so failed to reject the false teaching that came from his error. Now I do accept that humans are born with a tendency to sin, and that, apart from Christ, all are guilty before God because all have sinned. But I reject as “deeply de-Christian” Augustine’s doctrine that babies are born guilty and subject to condemnation, apart from anything they might have done, because of the sin of Adam.

2. Church leadership by a special caste of pastors or priests: Now I know Doug would disagree with me on this one, but I don’t think either David would. It seems clear to me that Jesus and his apostles entirely rejected the concept of a special priesthood and hierarchy of church leadership. Doug is of course right that these ideas are found in the church as early as the second century. That simply shows how quickly the church became de-Christianised by taking on the values of the world. But then many Protestant Christians who would reject this concept of priesthood have set up a new priesthood by another name consisting of their pastors, elders or whatever name they choose to give – a self-perpetuating small group of those considered qualified for church leadership, and to whom deference is due. This is also “deeply de-Christian”. Of course churches do need leadership, but not on this model.

3. Leadership is male: This is one I have discussed many times before on this blog, so I won’t go into the details again. Just let me say that I can find no basis in authentic biblical Christianity for this concept, which also seems to have been imported into the church from the surrounding culture.

4. War is an acceptable means for Christians to further their aims: As we come up yet again to Remembrance Sunday here in the UK, I want to mention this one again. I do want to honour those on all sides of each conflict who have chosen to fight for what they believe is right, or have been coerced into fighting, and especially those who have died or have been injured in horrific ways. Also I don’t want to take a doctrinaire position that war can never be right or just. But I consider “deeply de-Christian” the way in which professing Christians like Bush and Blair considered it acceptable to start wars of aggression when there was no real threat to their countries or to world peace.

5. Salvation by right doctrine: In his point 5 Doug touched on this one, the idea that one is justified or saved by assenting to the right doctrine. The idea is particularly prominent today among conservative evangelicals, especially the latest crop of younger Calvinists. But it has ancient origins, in the historic Creeds of the church, assent to which came to be seen as necessary for salvation. The biblical position, however, is that the only requirement for salvation is to repent and believe that Jesus is Lord – not as a propositional truth to be accepted in an intellectual sense, but in allowing Jesus to be the Lord of one’s own life.

Although I’m not officially part of this meme’s set of links, I will challenge Eddie Arthur, TC Robinson, John Richardson, Brian Fulthorp and Suzanne McCarthy.

To remember should be to work for peace

I want to start this post by expressing my admiration for the courage of those who have given their lives in military action in “defence” (which at least in the case of US and UK forces in Iraq and Afghanistan means “attack”) of their countries. And I have great sympathy for those who have lost loved ones. I also feel a great sadness that most of their lives have been given in vain, or at best in partly successful attempts to undo the damaging results of previous wars pursued by their own countries.

But I do object to the way in which remembrance of war heroes has been brought into churches. Yesterday almost every church in my country would have included in its morning service an act of remembrance. Now I suppose it is good in church to remember those who have died, but what is the reason for specifically marking the deaths of those who have died in war? Is it not some kind of glorification of war? But any kind of glorification of war is totally contrary to the spirit of Jesus as portrayed in the New Testament. It is also contrary to the teaching of the early church, as demonstrated by Anglican priest Tim Chesterton in a series of posts over the last few days Christians and War: The Early Church Speaks #1 #2 #3 #4 #5. See also the Mennonite badge which Tim posts a picture of: To remember is to work for PEACE.

If military people wish to have their own parades to mark their fallen comrades, they are welcome to do so. But please can they do so well away from the churches, whose fundamental attitudes are, or should be, completely at odds with theirs. And please can churches stop pandering to the expectations of those in the world outside, and of those among their own numbers, who hold anti-Christian militaristic views and expect the church to hold ceremonies for them, and disrupt its own regular programmes to do so.

I am prepared to attend my own church on Remembrance Sunday only because we have a very low key act of remembrance, with no military symbols displayed. For the last few years I have quietly absented myself from the main hall for the act of remembrance. This year I was on duty at the back, so stayed in the building but remained seated, in a place where I could not be seen so I didn’t give offence.

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.

Another quiz: What is the Kingdom of God?

I just found this quiz entitled What is the Kingdom of God? As this subject interests me, I will put myself in a theological box, as they put it in the post where I found the link to this quiz, even though it is not Friday. So here are my results:

What is the Kingdom of God?
created with
You scored as The Kingdom as a counter-systemThis approach has been adopted by Anabaptist and similar groups who saw themselves as recapturing the essence of true Christianity in opposition to a “Christianised” society and an institutional church.

The Kingdom as a counter-system
Kingdom as a Christianised Society
The Kingdom as Earthly Utopia
The Kingdom is mystical communion
The Kingdom is a Future Hope
The Kingdom as Institutional Church
Inner spiritual experience
The Kingdom as a political state

Interesting to see that I came out with the Anabaptist position of a Christian counter-system, although I wasn’t consciously thinking on those lines. But, and this is one of the points which I had trouble explaining to John Hobbins in our discussions on pacifism, I don’t take this to the extreme of withdrawing from the world, and so some of my answers reflected my position that I should be seeking to bring the values of this counter-system into the wider society.