Thursday, May 30, 2019

Going Up

As I approached the church where I was covering an Ascension Day communion today I heard voices in the churchyard but couldn't see anyone. People of a nervous disposition should be assured that this will not be a ghost story.

Arriving at the church door I could still hear the voices loud and clear but still no sign of life. Then I thought to look up. Two guys were hanging from the tower by ropes working on the clock. I filed this under 'normal churchyard behaviour' although lead thieves are becoming more and more audacious.

Communion progressed without great incident until my sermon. Then, as I delivered a line about this being an anti-gravity sermon because on Ascension Day we learn that what came down must go up, one of the abseilers appeared at the back of church. He hadn't fallen; merely prusiked (I think that is the term) back up the rope and come down the tower stairs.

It's just that I could see him and nobody else could, except the choir. So the congregation wondered why the choir and I were chuckling.

And I had to admit that to have guys working on the tower on Ascension Day and to have one of them appear as a visual aid with high vis clothes, coiled rope and hard hat gave a bit of oomph to the laboured 'don't stand there looking into space' line.

Post Ascension, you won't find Jesus by climbing up anything. He's more risen than that.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Thought for the Day

Sometimes a lighter thought is called for so I had a bit of fun with numbers today. As delivered a couple of hours ago on BBC Radio Bristol:

5th anniversary
20 miles per hour
20 thousand pounds

Today's show seems to be surviving on numbers.

Recently I celebrated my birthday, but because it didn't end in a 0 or a 5 it was not a 'significant' birthday. We love our numbers don't we? Long as they divide by 5.

Wouldn't it be strange if we only partied properly when it was a prime number? Normal people celebrate being 60 but why not enjoy being 59 and 61 far more? Certainly be odd.

The thing is that we use round numbers as a convenience. We like patterns so we tend to see sequences even if none exist. We like a party and have come to celebrate significantly every ten years.

What difference would it have made if the speed limit was 21 mph and the fund-raising target £19,999? Very little; but it would feel culturally wrong. Not rounded but weird.

Welcome to the Bible call-centre:

Press 7 for deadly sins
10 for commandments
12 for apostles and
666 to disconnect immediately

Some people try and play games with the numbers in the Bible. What do you get if you multiply the number of times Jesus said you had to forgive your neighbour by the number of the beast? Well, a headache at minimum.

The God of the Hebrew Bible self-described as 'one'. Jesus said 'I and my Father are one'. Christians believe in one God - Father, Son and Holy Spirit - three persons - one God. Monotheism.

I like 1. It's simple, memorable and celebratory. You can count on it.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Danny Baker, Racism and the State of Things

If, like me, you are a big fan of Danny Baker, the events of Thursday night will have disappointed you. Wit, raconteur, story-teller and extraordinary broadcaster he has kept me company for maybe twenty-five years of travels and leisure time. I have enjoyed his radio shows, read his books, recently found his Lineker and Baker - Behind Closed Doors football podcast revealing and I follow him enthusiastically on Twitter. Each evening he posts a picture of himself wearing a ridiculous hat, usually a fez, holding a beer or wine and saying 'Good evening everyone.'

I have a few expressions I use occasionally which I learned from him. If there is a suitable break in the conversation I try to attribute to him:

'Pull on that thread and the whole of your life unravels.'

'Picked myself up and came in fourth.'

There are probably others.

So this morning I was disappointed not to have my weekly dose of beautifully managed and appreciated callers, minor celebrity interviews and, of course 'the sausage sandwich game' on Five Live. Sacked. For a racist tweet. And almost nobody thinks it wasn't.

If, at this point, you do not know what I am talking about then off you go into a quiet corner with a Google. Others would be bored by a summary. Searching for 'Prodnose chimp' would probably do it.

And while reading a newspaper instead of listening to his show I found myself, hugely coincidentally, reading a review of his current live tour:

'This is a show of such warmth and lust for life that the only correct response is to sit back and enjoy it. There's no score-settling, no superiority, no victims.' Later in the same review '...he chooses to be a good news gospel, preaching about what a ride life can be if you're open enough.'(Paul Fleckney in The Guardian 7/5/19)

Browsing my Twitter feed yesterday it is as clear as it always was that Baker is a Marmite broadcaster. The haters were glad he had gone and didn't care why. The lovers did not tend to condone what he did but lamented that it had happened suggesting, in as close as you can get to empathy, that insensitivity is the tax you pay on quick-wittedness.

On Thursday night the first I heard that something was amiss was to read a Tweet from Baker himself (@prodnose) apologising that he had accidentally used an image to illustrate a joke which could be misconstrued. He was clearly remorseful and deleted the Tweet as soon as the error was drawn to his attention. The sign, to me, of a good apology, is one that is issued before the receiver becomes aware that they need it.

So, although others feel he must have known what he was doing, I simply don't accept that the quick-witted (a club I try to belong to) work like that. It is possible, I think, to be racist without being a racist. And the speed of apology and withdrawal is key.

I don't think the BBC had any choice. A little bit of me understands that. Another little bit wishes it lived in a world where they did.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Song of Songs Goes to a Bar

In honour of the Morning Prayer readings from Song of Songs here is a sketch I wrote for Scripture Union's Word Live a few years back.

Bad Chat Up Lines

The scene is a bar. The mood can be set by quiet 'lounge' music and the occasional clinking of glasses or noise of cutlery and crockery.

Barkeeper Yes what can I get you?

Female customer Can I have a Diet Coke please?

Barkeeper Sure. Are you alone? Waiting for someone?

Female customer No. Yes I am. My friend will be along in a minute. Is there a (pause) problem with that?

Barkeeper Oh no, no. But Derek's in the bar over there and he comes over and chats up any new attractive female customers. I just try and keep him away, that's all. His lines are all terrible clichés.

Female customer You mean 'Your father was a thief...'

Barkeeper '...he stole the stars and put them in your eyes.' Yeah that's about the measure of Derek.

Female customer Do you believe in love at first sight?

Barkeeper Or should I walk past again? Is there an airport round here?

Female customer My heart is taking off. I think I've heard them, all.

Barkeeper Watch out for 'You see that Porsche in the car park...'

Female customer Ooh sorry, not familiar.

Barkeeper When you say 'Yes' he says, 'Well mine's the Transit van parked behind it.'

Female customer Oh dear (pause), but listen. Can I have a go? I think I'm quite good at repelling boarders.

Barkeeper Of course. Be my guest. I don't want to interfere. I'll be over here if you need me. Ey up. Here he comes.

Derek Well (cheeky laugh), what's a nice girl like you doing in a place like this?

Female customer Girl? Girl? If I were a girl I would be under age and should be thrown out.

Derek I'm sorry. I was confused by your beauty.

Female customer Easily confused are you?

Derek Only in the presence of such grace and elegance. Can I buy you a drink?

Female customer Can you do the sweet smell of mandrake and the fresh fruit of the vineyard?

Derek You what? I was thinking of another Coke.

Female customer Moving on. My round thighs? Perhaps you consider they are like jewels, the work of an artist's hands?

Derek Eh?

Female customer Surely my neck is an ivory tower and my nose a mountain?

Barkeeper There's nothing wrong with your nose; it's lovely.

Female customer Do you not find my eyes like pools of infinite depth?

Derek (A little embarrassed) Well they are, er very nice but er, that is...

Female customer Isn't my hair like finest purple cloth?

Derek It looks blond in this light.

Female customer Does not my breath smell of sweetest apples; my mouth of finest wine?

Derek I know they don't clean the pipes that often but that Coke must be off.

Barkeeper I heard that.

Derek Sorry Trev.

Female customer I haven't yet heard you praise my navel like a drinking cup, my stomach a pile of wheat surrounded by lilies. My breasts are like fawns. I am a tall palm tree and my breasts like its bunches of ...

Derek (Running away) Hey lads. Leave this one. She's a nutter.

Barkeeper Wow. Have one on the house. Where did all that stuff come from? That was an epic performance.

Female customer Oh, it was more than epic. It was (pause) biblical. Here's my date now. Isn't he just a gazelle? Pomegranate wine darling (air kissing) - mhwa mhwa.

Barkeeper (Aside) Oy Derek. I think you could be right for once. Weird this one. What sort of Bible can she have been reading?

Saturday, April 20, 2019

39 Articles - A Summary

THIS Book of Articles before rehearsed, is again approved, and allowed to be holden and executed within the Realm, by the assent and consent of our Sovereign Lady ELIZABETH, by the grace of God, of England, France, and Ireland, Queen, Defender of the Faith, &c. Which Articles were deliberately read, and confirmed again by the subscription of the hands of the Archbishop and Bishops of the Upper-house, and by the subscription of the whole Clergy of the Nether-house in their Convocation, in the Year of our Lord 1571.

This paragraph is how the 39 Articles end. We discussed earlier how the job of the ordained in the corridors of the good and the great is to speak truth to power. Bishops in the House of Lords have that responsibility. Trouble is, dumbing down at the other end of the priestly spectrum does not mean we should see our job as speaking truth to stupid. But we might accidentally behave like that. Sorry.

In one of his essays Martyn Percy uses a wonderful quote from writer Bill Vanstone about the Church of England, 'Why, he asked, is it like a swimming pool? Answer: all the noise comes from the shallow end.'

This last few weeks has been an opportunity to have a go at some of the harder and deeper things, understand them, and try to make their meaning plain. You will be the judges as to whether I have succeeded.

These 39 Articles were set out at a time when the Parish Priest was often the most educated member of the community and had a leadership role because church and state were connected.

I take from this exercise not a desire to be shouting spiritual truths into the shallows as an over-confident deep-ender. No. I want more people to come to the deep end. There are things to explore and it's not dangerous. Try swimming. You can do it. Let's have deeper conversations.

Sincere thanks to my companions on this journey:

On the Thirty-Nine Articles (Conversations with Tudor Christianity)
Oliver O'Donovan
SCM 2011 (1st published 1986)

Thirty Nine New Articles
Martyn Percy
Canterbury Press 2013

Reformed and catholic; happy Easter to you all.

Oaths - Article 39/39

XXXIX. OF A CHRISTIAN MAN'S OATH
AS we confess that vain and rash Swearing is forbidden Christian men by our Lord Jesus Christ, and James his Apostle, so we judge, that Christian Religion doth not prohibit, but that a man may swear when the Magistrate requireth, in a cause of faith and charity, so it be done according to the Prophet's teaching, in justice, judgement, and truth.

Christians have had a difficult relationship with oaths down the ages. In trying to be people of the truth, people of no-lying lips, people who let their no be no and their yes be yes we find it hard to swear on the Bible as if that raises the standard somehow.

But an oath in court is a matter of record and judgement. So whilst not wanting lies to pass our lips on any occasion we are allowed, by this final Article, to agree to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth in a court of law and be legally bound by it in a way we are not in everyday life.

We may want to ask questions about the court process, which uses a method of examination and cross-examination which can hinder the arrival of the whole truth rather than help it along. But the Reformers were happy for the Christian individual (they said 'man') to take part in legal process and not be exempted.

But swearing in court is not contrary to Scripture for the Reformers.

Possessions - Article 38/39

XXXVIII. OF CHRISTIAN MEN'S GOODS, WHICH ARE NOT COMMON
THE Riches and Goods of Christians are not common, as touching the right, title, and possession of the same, as certain Anabaptists do falsely boast. Notwithstanding, every man ought, of such things as he possesseth, liberally to give alms to the poor, according to his ability.

It's OK to own stuff. Be generous. I'm not just doing a short post in order to finish all 39 in Lent. This one really is that simple.

So Who's in Charge? - Article 37/39

XXXVII. OF THE CIVIL MAGISTRATES
THE King's Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other his Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction.

Where we attribute to the King's Majesty the chief government, by which Titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended; we give not to our Princes the ministering either of God's Word, or of the Sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen do most plainly testify; but that only prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evil-doers.

The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this Realm of England.

The Laws of the Realm may punish Christian men with death, for heinous and grievous offences.

It is lawful for Christian men, at the commandment of the Magistrate, to wear weapons, and serve in the wars.

The Queen is the boss of the church in 2019 in our Constitutional Monarchy; Defender of the Faith. Remember the fuss when Prince Charles said he would prefer to be 'Defender of faiths'? Article 37 says no. The Monarch would expect the clergy to look after the church but she looks after taxes, the administration of national justice and conscription to a fighting cause.

What we find here, as we have discovered in other Articles, is that the monarch is subject to the word of God (Scripture) but only in all things legal and honest do church members bear due allegiance to her. That expression 'in all things legal and honest' has been carried down into contemporary licensing services for new minsters in the Church of England where we offer due and canonical obedience to our Diocesan Bishop only in such terms. We can be taken forward no further than the Bible allows us to be taken. And of course some of the current disputes about episcopal authority are over the acceptability within Scripture of, for instance, female headship and same-sex partnerships.

O'Donovan points out that the organisation of society, very differently done between Tudors then and liberal democracies now, is not something on which Scripture has a view. Today we view the church as believers gathered out of society; the Tudors did not.

The unwitting testimony (if we can call it that) of our Bibles is an observation of the way land-grabbing led to settled societies which were occasionally conquered by other settled societies anxious to increase. Step on to the stage Assyrians, Persians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Hebrews and Romans to name but six and not in the right order. Scripture is interested in behaviour in the light of events. The Bible sets out the idea that after losing a battle the only attitude to have before God is penitence.

And the job of the prophet, in the courts of kings, was to speak God's truth to power, often at personal cost.


Friday, April 19, 2019

Ordination Rites - Article 36/39

XXXVI. OF CONSECRATION OF BISHOPS AND MINISTERS
THE Book of Consecration of Archbishops and Bishops, and Ordering of Priests and Deacons, lately set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth, and confirmed at the same time by authority of Parliament, doth contain all things necessary to such Consecration and Ordering: neither hath it any thing, that of itself is superstitious and ungodly. And therefore whosoever are consecrated or ordered according to the Rites of that Book, since the second year of the forenamed King Edward unto this time, or hereafter shall be consecrated or ordered according to the same Rites; we decree all such to be rightly, orderly, and lawfully consecrated and ordered.

This may not, at first, seem anti-Rome. But it allows the Church of England to confer valid ordination on a candidate and does not require continuity with the Roman idea of apostolic succession.

The way we do things round here (as good a definition of culture as any) does not invalidate holy orders taken since the Reformation. Recognition of each other's ministries is still one of the stumbling blocks to unity between Canterbury and Rome (especially since we now ordain, gasp, women).

But the bishop who laid hands on me to ordain me had a valid right to do so and so did the people who consecrated him and so on and so back.

So a quick story from my own ordination. Denis, Bishop of Southwell in 1984, was conducting the rehearsal himself. He turned to his chaplain and asked, 'How do you think it would be most seemly for me to share the peace with the candidates?'

His chaplain, well settled into a career of pricking the bubbles of pomposity, didn't miss a beat. 'I'd come down off the dais Bishop' he said.

And that, when sought, has been my advice to bishops ever since.

Proper Preaching - Article 35/39

XXXV. OF THE HOMILIES
THE second Book of Homilies, the several titles whereof we have joined under this Article, doth contain a godly and wholesome Doctrine, and necessary for these times, as doth the former Book of Homilies, which were set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth; and therefore we judge them to be read in Churches by the Ministers, diligently and distinctly, that they may be understanded of the people.

Of the Names of the Homilies

1.Of the right Use of the Church.
2.Against peril of Idolatry.
3.Of repairing and keeping clean of Churches.
4.Of good Works: first of Fasting.
5.Against Gluttony and Drunkenness.
6.Against Excess of Apparel.
7.Of Prayer.
8.Of the Place and Time of Prayer.
9.That Common Prayers and Sacraments ought to be ministered in a known tongue.
10.Of the reverend estimation of God's Word.
11.Of Alms-doing.
12.Of the Nativity of Christ.
13.Of the Passion of Christ.
14.Of the Resurrection of Christ.
15.Of the worthy receiving of the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ.
16.Of the Gifts of the Holy Ghost.
17.For the Rogation-days.
18.Of the State of Matrimony.
19.Of Repentance.
20.Against Idleness.
21.Against Rebellion.

The job of the preacher these days has much more scope for individuality. Article 35 recalls a time when the clergy could read but were not necessarily theologically educated. So there were homilies (talks) available to ensure the congregation were soundly taught. And reading down the list you can see the sorts of issues that were concerning. Not for nothing did Philip Pullman accuse the church of being an institutional vehicle to keep people in order.

But O'Donovan rightly points out that the Reformers had to come to terms with a situation that the New Testament did not; the conversion of a whole nation to Christian allegiance. And these Reformers wanted, just as much as the politicians (in fact some of them were the politicians), a hard-working, well-behaved population who kept the church building clean.

These days a preacher only has to irritate someone in a very minor way for them to google three other sermons which they find more comforting. The wise preacher today sets out the options within which people might choose to be holy and allows for some personal discretion. A return to the Homilies would scare the living daylights out of most congregations. Hmm. Might try it.

My Good Friday sermon would thus end:

'For it shall little auayle vs to haue in meditation the fruites and price of his passion, to magnifie them, and to delight or trust in them, except we haue in minde his examples in passion to follow them. If we thus therefore consider Christs death, and will sticke thereto with fast fayth for the merit and deseruing thereof, and will also frame our selues in such wise to bestow our selues, and all that we haue by charity, to the behoofe of our neighbour, as Christ spent himselfe wholly for our profit, then doe we truely remember Christs death: and being thus followers of Christs steps, we shall be sure to follow him thither where he sitteth now with the Father and the holy Ghost, to whom bee all honour and glory, Amen.'
(HOMILY ON THE PASSION FOR GOOD FRIDAY )

Amen to that indeed. Now excuse me while I visit all those who haven't been to church today and turn their faces to the dust in due penitence.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Nothing Changes Here - Article 34/39

XXXIV. OF THE TRADITIONS OF THE CHURCH
IT is not necessary that Traditions and Ceremonies be in all places one, and utterly like; for at all times they have been divers, and may be changed according to the diversities of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's Word. Whosoever through his private judgement, willingly and purposely, doth openly break the traditions and ceremonies of the Church, which be not repugnant to the Word of God, and be ordained and approved by common authority, ought to be rebuked openly, (that others may fear to do the like,) as he that offendeth against the common order of the Church, and hurteth the authority of the Magistrate, and woundeth the consciences of the weak brethren.

Every particular or national Church hath authority to ordain, change, and abolish, ceremonies or rites of the Church ordained only by man's authority, so that all things be done to edifying.

'The choir are singing 'Thou Visitest the Earth' at Harvest', said my training incumbent.

'Didn't we sing that last year?' (my first) I asked.

'As it was in the beginning, is now...' he replied.

It was indeed a church where the hymn line 'nothing changes here' was sung with more than the usual amount of verve.

But Article 34 gives local churches wriggle room to deviate from a national norm in unimportant matters, and for individuals to deviate from the local norm in their private devotions. But traditions and ceremonies, part of the 'common order', are to be respected.

Where does that leave us, a little planted church in a small part of Christendom? I once asked my neighbouring, previously mentioned, more Catholic colleague about this. As we considered what rites and ceremonies (to use the old expression) we were going to establish in a new church plant I wondered what he considered was the minimum such a church should do to consider itself part of the Church of England's fold. He didn't think for long. 'It should put itself under the authority of the Bishop' he said. It took me aback in its simplicity and elegance. Of course. We can all unite round that. I don't have to be abundantly clear with my diocesan authority figures about everything that I am doing which is close to the edge of legality or a few steps beyond. I simply need to make it clear that I am under their authority and if they ask me to step back then back I will step.

National churches can change things that national churches have decided to do. To paraphrase Woody Allen, traditions are no more than the illusion of permanence.

All things be done to edifying may take a litle longer, but bear with.

How to Avoid the Excommunicated - Article 33/39

XXXIII. OF EXCOMMUNICATE PERSONS, HOW THEY ARE TO BE AVOIDED
THAT person which by open denunciation of the Church is rightly cut off from the unity of the Church, and excommunicated, ought to be taken of the whole multitude of the faithful, as an Heathen and Publican, until he be openly reconciled by penance, and received into the Church by a Judge that hath authority thereunto.

Every year there is an award given to the book published with the weirdest title. The prize has been won by:

The Book of Marmalade: Its Antecedents, Its History, and Its Role in the World Today (1984)
Greek Rural Postmen and Their Cancellation Numbers (1996)
Cooking with Poo (2011)

But my favourite was 1992's 'How to Avoid Huge Ships'.

A bit of light relief for you there, but it came to mind because it reminds us that avoiding things is not as easy as we might think. It was discovered by archaeology that some of the 'ritual washing pools' described in the New Testament had a single stairway entrance with a central rail. This rail seemed far more sturdy than one would expect. Experts realised that a substantial division existed between the way in and the way out so that those on the way out did not accidentally touch those on the way in and have to go down again 'trapped in a clean/unclean groundhog day' (an expression I heard theologian Crispin Fletcher-Louis use at a New Wine Summer do a few years back).

The Article is clear. The excommunicate should be avoided. Probably, living in smaller communities then, with the church as the hub of communication, all offenders were well known. One would be in trouble associating with such people.

Many of the Reformers were excommunicates themselves. But, they would argue, by order of the church not Christ. They might, as O'Donovan discusses, have considered doing away with the idea of excommunication all together. Instead they opted for it not necessarily being permanent.  An appropriate judge could decide that a person could return by penance.

They were bit down on publicans in those days too. We have let that idea lapse.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Married Vicars and That - Article 32/39

XXXII. OF THE MARRIAGE OF PRIESTS
BISHOPS, Priests, and Deacons, are not commanded by God's Law, either to vow the estate of single life, or to abstain from marriage: therefore it is lawful for them, as for all other Christian men, to marry at their own discretion, as they shall judge the same to serve better to godliness.

Why this Article? Clearly not so I could bring 34 of my 41 married years into the ordained ministry although that is a blessing.

No, the church had, at the time of the Reformation, taken on a post-monastic tradition to clericalism and insisted on an unmarried, celibate, male priesthood.

But marriage or singleness is a discretionary matter within the new Testament. There are no special stipulations for leaders, priests and deacons.

So priests in the Church of England can arrive married and be married once ordained. Bible trumps Pope.

O'Donovan points out that Articles 32-36 are about discretionary matters within the church. 37-39 will be different. These articles were honed at the time of the Divine Right of Kings and therefore tend to separate those matters which are separate to the State form those which are bound up with the State.

At a time when our country's constitutional monarchy is being stretched to breaking point and may need substantial re-imagining we do well to remind ourselves, as the Reformers did, that Kings have to obey God. Or else.

Praying for the Dead - Article 31/39

XXXI. OF THE ONE OBLATION OF CHRIST FINISHED UPON THE CROSS
THE Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits.

One of the reasons I feel personally that the celebration of communion should be inclusive is that it defines the community. The Christian community in this particular place are those who gather around the Lord's table. Some are of long-standing faith but struggling to believe at the moment. Others are coming to faith and want to enjoy belonging before they have completely mastered believing. Some are children and enjoy a child-like membership which one day they will affirm or reject for themselves. And almost all Christian communities include those who, for one reason or another, would not be considered of sufficiently sound mind to enter into a valid contract.

The grace of God to all people is celebrated and demonstrated at Communion. The exact and actual faith of each individual participant is not.

This Article adds one more line to that list. The dead are excluded. We don't pray for the dead; we entrust them to God. They rest in peace and await the resurrection. We do not interfere with their rest. We cannot change their status before God by offering a mass for them. To suggest that we can was, for the Reformers, a blasphemous fable and a dangerous deceit. Christ has died for them, once for all. You cannot do any more for them.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

A Little Nod To Paris Today


Learning today that the trad tune behind Now the Green Blade Rises is French it felt appropriate to offer a French, jazzy, bluesy cover. Done in one take; excuse rough and readiness and general lack of finesse.

Pass the Cup - Article 30/39

XXX. OF BOTH KINDS
THE Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the Lay-people: for both the parts of the Lord's Sacrament, by Christ's ordinance and commandment, ought to be ministered to all Christian men alike.

I grew up low church. I was part of a conservative evangelical parish church by birth which eventually I joined by conviction. It was several years before I found myself at the sort of Eucharist (which I had never called it) where the administrators would not let go of the cup for love nor money. It was a learning experience. It is still the way some churches operate. But denying the cup to the laity is not. This is more of that 'Romish' behaviour to which the Reformers objected.

A few years ago, during the swine-flu epidemic, we were instructed not to share a common cup at communion. The minister was to drink on behalf of all. I think this was one of several moments when I felt keenly my set-asideness. I found it unusually emotional.

My understanding of my priesthood is functional, not ontological. I am freed from the necessity of earning my living in order to serve the church full-time. I get stipend (not salary) and a house rent and rates free.

But this opportunity, with its duties which come with the territory, is not because I am different. So denying the communion cup to lay people is divisive beween lay and ordained. We might get on to lay presidency at some point. Sure hope so, but the Reformers didn't anticipate it.

On Pressing with Your Teeth - Article 29/39

XXIX. OF THE WICKED WHICH EAT NOT THE BODY OF CHRIST IN THE USE OF THE LORD'S SUPPER
THE Wicked, and such as be void of a lively faith, although they do carnally and visibly press with their teeth (as Saint Augustine saith) the Sacrament of the Body and Blood of Christ, yet in no wise are they partakers of Christ: but rather, to their condemnation, do eat and drink the sign or Sacrament of so great a thing.

'The sacraments, then, mediate to us in our time the decisive redemption of mankind by Christ in his.' (O'Donovan)

Christianity is not a matter of pressing bread with your teeth (nicely put, I think) but of partaking in Christ. You can partake in Christ without bread and wine. You can feed on it but not in your heart by faith with thanksgiving (as the modern words put it). You can't conjure up Christ (O'Donovan's expression) by doing something. Not ever. It would be like standing on a tray and trying to lift yourself.

The sacramental articles have constantly turned our attention back to Jesus. And so they should. I have no particular problem with my Anglo-Catholic brothers and sisters apart from when they cast doubt on the 'validity' of my presidency because of details.

When it was explained to me that the reason for a Gospel procession to the middle of the nave in an Anglo-Catholic Eucharist was because the word of God was central, it was an eye-opening moment. Of course. I fear that in some churches it is more a ceremonial centrality than an actual one but at least it is acted out.

Every lasting reformation of the church is Jesus-centred.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Bread or Body? - Article 28/39

XXVIII. OF THE LORD'S SUPPER
THE Supper of the Lord is not only a sign of the love that Christians ought to have among themselves one to another; but rather is a Sacrament of our Redemption by Christ's death: insomuch that to such as rightly, worthily, and with faith, receive the same, the Bread which we break is a partaking of the Body of Christ; and likewise the Cup of Blessing is a partaking of the Blood of Christ.

Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions.

The Body of Christ is given, taken, and eaten, in the Supper, only after an heavenly and spiritual manner. And the mean whereby the Body of Christ is received and eaten in the Supper is Faith.

The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped.

So what about the real presence of Christ at the Eucharist because the bread changes substance? Article 28 doesn't muck about. It's wrong. It cannot be proved from Scripture, it is not implied by Scripture and is thus repugnant to a Scriptural church.

So why does the Rector of the parish next door believe it, talk openly of it, introduce practices which draw attention to it and yet insist on his allegiance to the Church of England. This 'historic formulary' does not bear witness to transubstantiation. It denounces it.

An Anglo-Catholic contact on Twitter who I know has announced to his followers his joy at being 'the first person to expose our Lord in the monstrance' when concelebrating. The monstrance is an ornate backdrop against which a wafer is exposed (shown).

Anglo-Catholics would argue they are simply following a pre-Reformation tradition that has never gone away. The Reformers would have said they were Romish and to Rome they should go.

Two quotes from my set books:

For the Reformers, 'If someone believed, it was because the gospel had aroused faith within his heart; if someone disbelieved the gospel, no pious attention to the sacramental act could compensate.' (O'Donovan) 

'...there is a tension between being an identifiable community with creeds and fundaments, and yet also being a body that recognises that some issues are essentially un-decidable in the Church.' (Percy) 

The Church of England has always struck me as an organisation which, to its credit, keeps talking about every important issue until a more important one comes along. It is fine as a policy as long as it is consistent. And if it is to be consistent then blatant deviation from an Article is cause for conversation not excommunication.

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Opening Ceremonies - Article 27/39

XXVII. OF BAPTISM
BAPTISM is not only a sign of profession, and mark of difference, whereby Christian men are discerned from others that be not christened, but it is also a sign of Regeneration or new Birth, whereby, as by an instrument, they that receive Baptism rightly are grafted into the Church; the promises of forgiveness of sin, and of our adoption to be the sons of God by the Holy Ghost, are visibly signed and sealed; Faith is confirmed, and Grace increased by virtue of prayer unto God. The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.

We note that the words baptism and christening were interchangeable for the Reformers. Initiation rites are important but, as discussed previously, controversial. Our local Baptist Church used to borrow one of our Parish Churches with a baptistery for their baptisms. We used to ask, as a courtesy, that they did not baptise people there who had previously been baptised as infants in the Church of England.

A member of my church, previously baptised as an infant, came to a living faith of his own. Wanting to make a public profession for himself we prepared him for confirmation and he was duly confirmed. Some years later he and his whole family left for a free evangelical church in order to allow his teenage children to experience a larger youth group (how hard it is for small churches to keep their teenagers) and they persuaded him to be baptised.

Now that's odd but it does show that many people desire the experience of baptism over and above the willingness to come to terms with the responsibilities of being a baptised person. I was baptised at four months and came to faith at about 19. Having been an ordained minister for 34 years now it is strange that many Christian churches will not consider I have been properly initiated.

Here's a tale. The Queen is booked to open a shopping centre. It is one of those rare occasions where the building project finished early and so shops are merrily trading for three weeks before the grand opening ceremony. On the day of the ceremony the Centre remains closed until 10.00 a.m. until the ribbon is cut and the plaque unveiled. Then trading continues.

Alternatively it is one of those less-than-rare occasions where the building work over-runs. On the day Her Maj is due all work stops and red carpet is placed over concrete. Barriers are erected in front of incomplete structures. The ribbon is cut, the plaque unveiled and then the builders hasten to finish the job.

Opening ceremonies do not have to precisely match the beginning of functionality.

Friday, April 12, 2019

We're Not Worthy - Article 26/39

XXVI. OF THE UNWORTHINESS OF THE MINISTERS, WHICH HINDERS NOT THE EFFECT OF THE SACRAMENT
ALTHOUGH in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ's, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry, both in hearing the Word of God, and in receiving of the Sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God's gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ's institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.

Nevertheless, it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church, that inquiry be made of evil Ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally being found guilty, by just judgement be deposed.

My College Principal used to say 'A clock that strikes thirteen is not only wrong once but also casts doubt on all further teaching from the same source.' So it is tempting, on discovering that your favourite theologian has been stealing money from her organisation, to disbelieve everything she ever wrote.

One of the things the Church of England has which may, at first, seem weird is a theology of intention. That which we intended to do can be deemed to have been done even if it was not done wholly, completely and utterly properly or, in the case of this Article, was done by evil men.

So the efficacy of Holy Communion, to the recipient, is not changed by the discovery that, at the time the vicar was having an affair with the Church Warden.

A marriage is not voided by the accidental use of the wrong words in the vows. And so on.

That we have safeguarding issues is sad, but not entirely unexpected, given that the church consists of sinners led by sinners. Evil ministers ought to be held to account, but their ministry up to that point can still be said to have been effective.

It is interesting that this Article begs many questions about the behaviour of the priesthood at the time. Enquiry into calling was a bit more hit and miss then than now. We still manage to ordain a few chocolate tea-pots but possibly slightly fewer criminals.

I am aware some of my ministry friends have chosen to rid themselves of the written works of those who have been found guilty of sexual misconduct. Respect to them. But I fear that such an attempt to purge the evil from the good is doomed to failure and Cranmer knew this. God bless the 'ever mingled' good and evil church.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Sacraments and All That - Article 25/39

XXV. OF THE SACRAMENTS
SACRAMENTS ordained of Christ be not only badges or tokens of Christian men's profession, but rather they be certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God's good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our Faith in him.

There are two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel, that is to say, Baptism, and the Supper of the Lord.

Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel, being such as have grown partly of the corrupt following of the Apostles, partly are states of life allowed in the Scriptures; but yet have not like nature of Sacraments with Baptism, and the Lord's Supper, for that they have not any visible sign or ceremony ordained of God.

The Sacraments were not ordained of Christ to be gazed upon, or to be carried about, but that we should duly use them. And in such only as worthily receive the same they have a wholesome effect or operation: but they that receive them unworthily purchase to themselves damnation, as Saint Paul saith.

The Reformers achieved a reduction in the number of stated sacraments from seven to two. I have never really understood why foot-washing wasn't ever in. Christ instituted it and it confers an inner valuing of washer and washed; as servant and served. And an inner humility to get down and dirty and to receive a cleansing. But then what do I know? The reason why the other five are out seems to be a reason why foot-washing should be in. Maybe it was simply not popular. Or they couldn't find enough humility in the ranks of the clergy?

We remind ourselves that the Reformers return, again and again, to the one-off, once-for-all achievement of Christ. They wanted to avoid any idea that this might be added to by Eucharistic practice. They were, as indeed am I, memorialists. Everything we do is to remind us of Jesus. My own church has a liturgy simple enough for the youngest child with language to join in:

This bread reminds us of Jesus' body
It reminds us of Jesus

This wine reminds us of Jesus' blood
It reminds us of Jesus

We have this bread and wine to share
They remind us of Jesus

We never quite understand how a lengthy Eucharistic Prayer adds anything to this.  Once a year, on Maundy Thursday, we do it properly. Feels about right to me.

'The Reformers wished to say that the sacraments could not substitute for the gospel in providing a primary ground for faith.' (O'Donovan)

They were pretty down on transubstantiation too and both this, and Article 28, emphasise that 'carrying about' the consecrated bread is not to be done. A reformed church shouldn't do it but a new minister at one of my neighbouring parishes, only one incumbent on from a significant evangelical ministry, introduced it. Possibly that ship sailed.

Why is all this important? Because attention should be drawn to Jesus, not the bread and wine which represent him. That is the doctrine of the Church of England

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

The Story of My Life

I went to the same school as Jonathan Coe. He was about five years younger than me so we never communicated.

He has visited and revisited the formative years of life at school in three novels.

The characters he has followed who went to King William's (what he calls it) are set up for life by the experience. The geography of the school is recognisable and even some of the teachers are sketched thoroughly enough for me to put a real name to them.

But the books are more than about what school does to you. The context of the Rotter's Club is 1970s industrial strife and IRA atrocities. Two characters, carefully drawn to have interesting futures, die in the Tavern in the Town bombing of 1974. My wife and I were in that pub the night before.

The Closed Circle catches the key players twenty years later and offers a commentary on Blair's Britain.

The third book, which I have just finished, 'Middle England' joins the cast again in Brexit Britain. How did they vote? What did that do to their relationships?

It's a great trilogy. In fact it's bostin'.


Hocus Pocus - Article 24/39

XXIV. OF SPEAKING IN THE CONGREGATION IN SUCH A TONGUE AS THE PEOPLE UNDERSTANDETH
IT is a thing plainly repugnant to the Word of God, and the custom of the Primitive Church, to have publick Prayer in the Church, or to minister the Sacraments in a tongue not understanded of the people.

The very language of Article 24 is not easily understanded of the people. But this is not about reducing clerical input to kids' talk; it is about doing it in English. That is its precision.

Latin had been the language of the church. And almost nobody understanded it. When the celebrant stood with his back to the congregation and said 'hoc est corpus meum' all the people at the nave end, separated by sanctuary rail, chancel/choir and rood screen heard (in the days before PA) was 'hocus pocus'. Which is as good a story of the origin of that expression that I have heard.

We still have many discussions in the church about the nature of religious language. From time to time I try to explain short words that have specific theological meanings – sin, the Word, saving. And any foreign words that we still use – hosanna, hallelujah, maranatha. Should we keep it simple? Or should we make sure we explain? Or should we ask people to make an effort to understand? That is its problem.

Church services should feel special, carefully crafted and understandable by ordinary people. That is its principle.

Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning, a fine place for a Baggie after a 3-2 defeat by City:

Although our Bibles are full of writing, many of the stories were passed down orally before they were recorded.

We learn that 94 year old Leonard Trewin from Yate has been given a Légion d’honneur for his part in the liberation in France in World War 2. He’s apparently a bit of a legend. His party trick for years was to move the shrapnel under his eye around with a magnet.

So when I got the details of today's stories from the producer yesterday afternoon they included a note, after the details of Leonard's story. The note said, in capitals...

PLEASE CHOOSE THIS ONE - followed by four exclamation marks.

I had an English teacher who was anti-exclamation marks. 'If your words aren't exclaiming what are they doing on the page?' I can still hear him shout.

Many of us have our party-tricks. And of course we all have our bugbears.

Emma please tell your producer that for four exclamation points she has earned a detention.

But we're running out of people who were heroic in the Second World War. Maybe we're also running out of shouty English teachers.

My thought. What's my thought?

It's this. Don't forget to take advantage of the stories older folk can tell. My Mum has dementia. She is 91 but can't answer questions or tell stories. I wish I'd quizzed her a bit more.

The Bible has no exclamation marks because they don't exist in Hebrew or ancient Greek. But it has great stories which were told and told and told until printing appeared.

Ask Leonard and his generation to tell you their tales. You hide the magnets. I'll hide the exclamation marks.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

Ordination? - Article 23/39

XXIII. OF MINISTERING IN THE CONGREGATION
IT is not lawful for any man to take upon him the office of publick preaching, or ministering the Sacraments in the Congregation, before he be lawfully called, and sent to execute the same.

And those we ought to judge lawfully called and sent, which be chosen and called to this work by men who have publick authority given unto them in the Congregation, to call and send Ministers into the Lord's vineyard.

We have not, in the Church of England, encountered many experiences of breaking the rule about administering the sacraments. They would become public. I would expect to be severely rebuked and disciplined if I allowed lay presidency. That's probably the main reason I don't do it. I have no theological objection to it personally. I find it weird to invite strangers to preside at communion when I am missing, if the congregation is full of well-known (locally) mature Christians who could do the job equally well.

But we are much quicker to allow preachers without authority. I guess the key is that we don't present them with the authority to go elsewhere and preach. And we do, if people have a gift for preaching, look to find ways to publicly acknowledge this and seek appropriate authorisation. The ministry of a Reader (once called a Lay Reader) used to be the ministry of someone, other than the priest, who could read. Now it is broader and some, who only wish to preach occasionally, do not want the full three year reader training course.

O'Donovan reminds us that this Article is about order. He would like the Reformers to be more thorough about the distinctive ministry of every person of God gifted for service, before talking of those set aside for 'special' purposes. It was my choice to put 'special' thus. I personally understand my ordination in functional rather than ontological terms. The best way I can put it is that in 1984 I was saved from the necessity to earn my own living in order to serve the church full time. This after appropriate testing and training which took nearly six years.

But my main work is to support, encourage and equip my volunteer members and co-leaders.

O'Donovan also notes that the threefold order of Bishops, Priests and Deacons is not discussed here (it comes up later) because, for the Reformers, that was a matter of discretion and ceremony, whereas word and sacrament were fundamental.

Monday, April 08, 2019

Purgatory - Article 22/39

XXII. OF PURGATORY
THE Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping, and Adoration, as well of Images as of Reliques, and also invocation of Saints, is a fond thing vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God.

The Articles have not been slow to condemn Rome. The great Protestant Reformation was a desire to move away from all doctrines that had developed that were not only invisible in Scripture (not necessarily a problem) but also repugnant to it.

O'Donovan differentiates between theological speculation and elucidation. The former involves invention; the latter an attempt to understand.

All preaching is an exercise of imagination but the Article is condemnatory when that raises imagination to the level of ritual. It was abhorrent to the reformers to worship relics or to process consecrated bread and wine and adore it.

I will not pretend that my church tradition respects the Articles and Anglo-Catholic traditions don't. In fact we both pay a bit fast and loose with them. What I will say is that those rituals which draw people back to a full exploration of Scripture are good; those that are seen as an end in themselves are less helpful.

A useful check as we embark on Holy week. Duty or joy? Mindless ritual or re-exploration?

The focus on purgatory in the title would have been the main bugbear of the reformers. Those who had rediscovered forgiveness as the grace and gift of God were appalled at the suggestion that any more than Jesus' sacrificial death for sin was necessary. The pre-reformation doctrine was of a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of sinners who are expiating their sins before going to heaven. Not necessary says Article 22.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

General Church Councils - Article 21/39

XXI. OF THE AUTHORITY OF GENERAL COUNCILS
GENERAL Councils may not be gathered together without the commandment and will of Princes. And when they be gathered together, (forasmuch as they be an assembly of men, whereof all be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God,) they may err, and sometimes have erred, even in things pertaining unto God. Wherefore things ordained by them as necessary to salvation have neither strength nor authority, unless it may be declared that they be taken out of holy Scripture.

Here's the real break with Rome. In the battle between God's living Pope and God's living word it is the word that wins. Every time. So even a General Council of the church, however unlikely that sounds today, can err if it does not place itself at the feet of the Scriptures.

I don't know what standard people running Confirmation preparation in the Church of England require these days, but O'Donovan points out that the Reformers were of the mind to require confirmands to know the Lord's Prayer and the Ten Commandments (which are in Scripture) and the Apostles' Creed and the Catechism, which are not. However they would argue, I'm sure, that the latter two could be deduced from Scripture and are certainly not contrary to it.

By the time I was confirmed in 1974 no such commitment to memory was needed, although Don Humphreys made me learn quite a few verses.

We may well ponder awhile on the possibility of there ever being another General Council of the Church. Who would need to be invited? And who does the inviting? The article says 'Princes', which means those in authority in the land, deemed to be the monarchy in authority over those in authority in the church. You have two hours. Ask for more paper if you need it.

I end this post with a remark made by a co-writer, Alan Hewerdine, back in the 1990s. I have never bettered it. He said, 'When two Christian denominations merge, a third is formed. Be very scared of General Church councils and try to avoid them.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

Contradictions - Article 20/39

XX. OF THE AUTHORITY OF THE CHURCH
THE Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God's Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree any thing against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of Salvation.

Who, or what, is 'the church' in this article? Same answer as in the last part of the previous post. The one true church is the catholic (meaning worldwide, because of the lower case c) church. All of us erring institutions are part of that yet we are not, in any one place, a complete representation of it.

Percy helpfully draws our attention to the analogy Jesus used – he is the vine and we are the branches. This suggests interdependence rather than independence (chopped off branches don't do well) and a need to acknowledge the existence of the trunk, or the whole vine, to stick with the metaphor.

Individual churches should not over-stress their particularity (these days that is often on sexual matters, which have taken over from initiation rites as the cue for division). 'The consequence' says Percy 'is that the branches attempt to define the vine.'

There are some hidden gems in this Article. It keeps Scripture as the reference point (we have got used to that by now) but it doesn't allow what we call 'proof-texting'. You can't call a verse in your defence if the opposite is also in Scripture. This behaviour is described a 'repugnant'. In early debates with non-Christian friends the argument was often raised that Scripture is contradictory. The solution is that the same advice does not work in all circumstances.

My College Old Testament tutor John Goldingay showed us, in a lecture on Proverbs, that 26:4 and 26:5 were contradictory. He said, I try to recall, 'The Bible understands that some things in life are paradoxical; so it puts them next to each other.' There will be times to worship in faith and times to respond with works. Lifting a verse from the Bible that recommends one or the other is not clever.

Can we track the 'lawful' of the first part of the sentence into the second? Not sure. Maybe. But we are not so down on illegality these days as the reformers were.

Being a witness to Holy Writ is a great responsibility. We should not deny any of it nor add to it. The job of the church member is to either be a Bible student or to listen to those who are. One job of the church leader is to increase the number of Bible students in the congregation. This will enable the load of ministry to be shard and the orthodoxy of the particular church to be constantly re-evaluated.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Where did I put that church? Article 19/39

XIX. OF THE CHURCH
THE visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in the which the pure Word of God is preached, and the Sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.

As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred; so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.

We move on into a series of Articles on the church – its doctrine, function, ministry, order and language.

It is clear from the Articles to date that Cranmer has replaced ecclesiology with Christology. For him, we are only who we are, and it follows that churches are only what they are, in Christ.

O'Donovan has a lovely title for his chapter on Article 19. He calls it 'The Disappearance of the Invisible Church'. For the Article talks of the visible church as if there is an invisible one too, yet it is never mentioned. Where'd it go?

Over many years of ministry I have been told on many occasions by people who don't go to church that you don't need to go to church to be a Christian. I think we are somewhat in hock to language here. We have, unfortunately, ended up using the same word for the gathered people and the place where we gather. I have some fun when I tell people that my church has no building of its own, for it doesn't. We meet in a school. We rent it and it meets all our physical needs.

No. What we need people to work out is how to be church. Those who call themselves Christian yet make no attempt to gather are depriving others of their gifts and skills. They are being selfish, not liberated. I am not throwing my all in with weekly, Sunday gatherings. We can be more imaginative than that.

Institutional churches are proper churches and yet every single expression of the institutional church, being a human response to the goodness of God, has erred. Cranmer listed Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch and Rome. We must add 'and so have we' whatever our denominational expression.

The one true church is the catholic (meaning worldwide, because of the lower case c) church. All of us erring institutions are part of that yet we are not, in any one place a complete representation of it. It is that sense in which it is invisible; it cannot be seen all at once, complete and whole, from any one place.

For reformation is a constant task as we compare our expression of church with Scripture and sit it under the authority of Christ as a bride waiting for her husband (other metaphors are available).

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

No Other Name? - Article 18/39

XVIII. OF OBTAINING ETERNAL SALVATION ONLY BY THE NAME OF CHRIST
THEY also are to be had accursed that presume to say, That every man shall be saved by the Law or Sect which he professeth, so that he be diligent to frame his life according to that Law, and the light of Nature. For holy Scripture doth set out unto us only the Name of Jesus Christ, whereby men must be saved.

O'Donovan reminds us of St Peter's great statement in Acts 4:12 that '...there is no other name under heaven given... by which we must be saved.' He adds, 'The Christian Church has always made this exclusive claim, and that is why the status of other religious professions has always been something of a theological problem.'

Note, a theological problem. We look back with sorrow at the times when the borders of Christianity were extended with the sword. We believe in inter-faith dialogue and we carry 'I am the way, the truth and the life' lightly into those discussions.

So what does that mean for our current relationship with Article 18? It doesn't change the fact that our job is still evangelism. In the context of dialogue we must tell people about Jesus. It is our great commission, whether we be universalist or not.

And the condemnation is for those who suggest that salvation lies in any other name, not for those who are yet to understand the significance of the name of Jesus. And if we ponder a little we can only conclude that this condemnation is because those who venture to suggest there is salvation beyond Christ have put themselves in the place of God. There may be, indeed the Bible suggests there will be, some surprise at who we get to share eternity with, but it is not for us to pre-judge the matter. Speak of Jesus when we speak. Leave the results up to the one who sent him.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Choose Life - Article 17/39

XVII. OF PREDESTINATION AND ELECTION
PREDESTINATION to Life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) he hath constantly decreed by his counsel secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honour. Wherefore, they which be endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God's purpose by his Spirit working in due season: they through Grace obey the calling: they be justified freely: they be made sons of God by adoption: they be made like the image of his only-begotten Son Jesus Christ: they walk religiously in good works, and at length, by God's mercy, they attain to everlasting felicity.

As the godly consideration of Predestination, and our Election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons, and such as feel in themselves the working of the Spirit of Christ, mortifying the works of the flesh, and their earthly members, and drawing up their mind to high and heavenly things, as well because it doth greatly establish and confirm their faith of eternal Salvation to be enjoyed through Christ, as because it doth fervently kindle their love towards God: So, for curious and carnal persons, lacking the Spirit of Christ, to have continually before their eyes the sentence of God's Predestination, is a most dangerous downfal, whereby the Devil doth thrust them either into desperation, or into wretchlessness of most unclean living, no less perilous than desperation.

Furthermore, we must receive God's promises in such wise, as they be generally set forth to us in holy Scripture: and, in our doings, that Will of God is to be followed, which we have expressly declared unto us in the Word of God.

Martyn Percy suggests that there are two great questions which should accompany a student into seminary (training for ministry). They are the Jesus question, 'Who do you say that I am?' Followed shortly by the identity question, 'And who are you?'

These questions are good companions when non-academic Christian potential leaders are taken through the training process. It can be a bit of a shock.

I would like to suggest that they are questions on which all Christians, trained for service or not, should ponder.

This Article, with its continued background of 'those in Christ' (taken as a whole not individually), is unerringly positive. O'Donovan points out that we wait throughout the Article for the balancing condemnation of the 'Foreordination to death...' but it never comes. It had been there in the antecedent writings but Cranmer leaves it out.

This Article is all about the good things available to those who choose Christ; as it is written it is unable to contemplate anyone making any other choice. Quite so.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Perfectly Clear - Article 16/39

XVI. OF SIN AFTER BAPTISM
NOT every deadly sin willingly committed after Baptism is sin against the Holy Ghost, and unpardonable. Wherefore the grant of repentance is not to be denied to such as fall into sin after Baptism. After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given, and fall into sin, and by the grace of God we may arise again, and amend our lives. And therefore they are to be condemned, which say, they can no more sin as long as they live here, or deny the place of forgiveness to such as truly repent.

Once you are in Christ, which for the reformers was after baptism, you can still sin and you can still be forgiven. We note they continue to grind the same axe, which is pretty sharp by now.

Let me tell you about my church. It is the only Christian church that meets on the estate. Not many of the regulars are dyed-in-the-wool Anglicans. The idea of confirmation (which I sell annually) is anathema to many who were baptised as adults. Even the idea of asking God to provide you with all the things you need to be a member of the Church of England (and that is a lot of gifts) doesn't cut the mustard. We've been independent for over two years but my confirmation register is empty.

So is my baptism one. Many of my folk also choose a thanksgiving for their children rather than baptism (more on this at Article 27), preferring to allow them to make the decision for themselves when they are older and to 'experience' baptism. It came as slight shock to one of our families when the children asked to be baptised aged 7 and 9 but we did it and it was great fun, outdoors in a paddling pool.

Why am I telling you this? Well we also operate an open table at communion. All those who want to be included in what we think we're up to when we do church are welcome to have bread and wine (raisins for small kids). Even babies just on solids. Because for us communion is not a sign of Christian maturity. It is a sign of belonging. To my Anglo-Catholic friends I am just a memorialist – I will pick up that glove as it lies at my feet and hold it dear. We don't check baptism certificates at the door.

What is the minimum a church must do to consider itself a Church of England Church? My neighbouring Rector suggested that it puts itself under the authority of the Bishop. We do this. Gladly and willingly.

Are we the finished article? By no means? Do we get things wrong? Absolutely and often. This Article adds one further small thought – it denies the theology of perfectionism.

I'd like to do more baptisms. I'd like to arrange some confirmations. But I don't want to be any less inclusive, welcoming or hospitable. There isn't as much bad theology around as people think.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Sinless One - Article 15/39

XV. OF CHRIST ALONE WITHOUT SIN
CHRIST in the truth of our nature was made like unto us in all things, sin only except, from which he was clearly void, both in his flesh, and in his spirit. He came to be the Lamb without spot, who, by sacrifice of himself once made, should take away the sins of the world, and sin, as Saint John saith, was not in him. But all we the rest, although baptized, and born again in Christ, yet offend in many things; and if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Articles 11-18 will keep hammering this home until we get it.

Some years ago an incumbent (Vicar or Rector), on the first Sunday after arriving in a new church, was required to read the 39 Articles instead of preaching a sermon. It was a test of their orthodoxy.

I recall the late Colin Bevington (Bev the Rev) at St Stephen's, Selly Park breaking it into two parts and taking a fortnight.This would be about 1975.  I have never, in my recollection, been present when somebody actually did it in one and I have never done it myself.

Somewhere between Articles 11 and 18 many will have lost the will to live. But let's stick with it. The additional material this article adds (says O'Donovan) is that it '...rejects any conception of justification as an achieved possession within our individual past histories, an event on which we can count in such a way that we are no longer dependent as we once were dependent. When we speak of justification as finished and accomplished, we certainly should not mean that it is finished and accomplished in our lives...' (italics all his).

In other words, we need to remind ourselves to live Jesus-centred lives all the time.

Over and Above - Article 14/39

XIV. OF WORKS OF SUPEREROGATION
VOLUNTARY Works besides, over, and above, God's Commandments, which they call Works of Supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety: for by them men do declare, that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for his sake, than of bounden duty is required: whereas Christ saith plainly, When ye have done all that are commanded to you, say, We are unprofitable servants.

You can serve God with all your heart. Or you can become a monk. I think this is what the Article is popping at. Such works of 'over and above' (supererogation) add nothing. You either do your serving, your good works, in Christ or you don't. You can't add a bit more to end up a bit more saved. Even as I write that its stupidity is apparent.

Recently on Ash Wednesday I found myself discussing the difference between those who pray on the street corners to demonstrate their holiness (condemned by Jesus) and those of us who go out with an ash cross on our foreheads (hopefully to lead people to ask 'why' rather than to demonstrate our superiority). Shortly afterwards I was embroiled in a discussion about which, of two churches, was making the bigger financial sacrifice currently.

We can all fall into the Pharisee/tax collector trap of thanking God that we are not like others and the conversation from which we then need to extract ourselves is rarely edifying.

Thank God for Jesus, as Cranmer didn't quite say. The rest is response, in gratitude and in Christ.

Thought for the Day

As delivered earlier this morning at BBC Radio Bristol:

Jesus was passing a blind man (according to an account in the Gospel of John) and his disciples asked, 'Who sinned that he was born blind, the man or his parents?'

Now, even if there were a direct connection between sin and suffering, which I don't believe there is, a person can hardly be blamed for being born blind.

Forget, for a moment what a stupid question that was though. It represents a universal enquiry. Who is to blame?

We want a name. We want closure. Get someone in the dock for this.

Are you basically optimistic or pessimistic about the human ability to make life better?

The wonderful work of the DIY SOS team fills us with hope but doesn't, of course, tell us why a family might have such mobility difficulties. Nor should it.

And when we hear afresh of the devastation caused by tropical cyclone Idai we can't blame anyone. But we can be filled with compassion.

No. We can be pretty certain that bad things will happen to some good people. The key question for our humanity, and indeed our theology, is how we react when they do. Will you accept life's knocks without seeking to blame someone for everything? Will you move on without making your victimhood somehow define you? Both tough to do.

The guy in our opening story was healed by Jesus. Then he was submitted to a quite aggressive questioning. How were you healed? Who did it? How did he do it?

He kept replying that he didn't know anything except for one thing. 'I was blind he said 'And now I can see.'

He didn't care who was to blame. He was grateful that someone helped.

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

A Bit Incongruous - Article 13/39

XIII. OF WORKS BEFORE JUSTIFICATION
WORKS done before the grace of Christ, and the Inspiration of his Spirit, are not pleasant to God, forasmuch as they spring not of faith in Jesus Christ, neither do they make men meet to receive grace, or (as the School-authors say) deserve grace of congruity: yea rather, for that they are not done as God hath willed and commanded them to be done, we doubt not but they have the nature of sin.

Back to my imaginary funeral again. So often, visiting a family I had not met in church, I would hear an apology followed by praise of the deceased's good life. Often keeping themselves to themselves was seen as an attribute. How very English.

But this Article has no shrift with all that. If you try and do anything worthwhile before you have a relationship with the one who invented the whole caboodle then you have got the cart/horse order all wrong. For Cranmer, you may as well just sin.

This was scandalous then and continues to be so now. Your good works are meaningless save for the context of the saving love of God in Jesus Christ. There is no congruity. By hanging around in the are of good works you will bring God's love no nearer. For that which is to hand at all times, cannot be brought nearer.

Turn to Christ; then consider what implications that might have for your behaviour. That's the deal.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Feeling Fruity? - Article 12/39

XII. OF GOOD WORKS
ALBEIT that Good Works, which are the fruits of Faith, and follow after Justification, cannot put away our sins, and endure the severity of God's Judgement; yet are they pleasing and acceptable to God in Christ, and do spring out necessarily of a true and lively Faith; insomuch that by them a lively Faith may be as evidently known as a tree discerned by the fruit.

So why not live a riotous life and repent on your death bed? Two problems occur. Firstly, if this was your plan all along then a wise all-knowing, all-seeing God might rumble it. Secondly, not all are fortunate enough to die in bed with family gathered (see previous discussion of what car? Splat).

O'Donovan tells us that the Reformers' doctrine of justification is of moral union with Christ. It is an attack on individualism, especially ethical individualism. Good works, which are akin to a tree bearing fruit and therefore suggestive of a certain inevitability, are acceptable 'in Christ'. They spring out of a believer being united with Christ (and, I would add, thus united with other believers).

It follows that a church where a small number of people are known to have contributed a lot to society will acquire the church a good reputation, even if many are just per-fillers.

What led priests to become Christians in the early church? Luke tells us that a singular influence was the observation that the leaders went to some trouble to organise a fair system for support of widows.

As Matthew put it in his Gospel, 'By their fruits you will know them'. Fruit is the material of numerical growth.

Saturday, March 23, 2019

In Christ Alone - Article 11/39

XI. OF THE JUSTIFICATION OF MAN
WE are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings: Wherefore, that we are justified by Faith only is a most wholesome Doctrine, and very full of comfort, as more largely is expressed in the Homily of Justification.

There does come a time in a piece of theological exploration such as this when one is tempted to ask 'What is all the fuss about?' Why are there now eight articles about salvation. If this stuff could be explained to an uneducated Galilean labourer such that they would drop everything and follow Jesus, then why are Articles of faith now necessary? It's a fair question. It does have an answer.

Justification by faith alone is the pinnacle of the Protestant Reformation. It does us good to remember that Christian behaviour in the area of forgiveness, with a suggestion that souls could be released from purgatory by making a financial offering, was behind all this. Pondering on the letter to the Romans, Martin Luther came to the conclusion that the church had erred in its teaching and he returned to a theology of the grace of God as starting point and salvation as a gift.

You can't, says orthodox Christian teaching, do any more for the dead. Indulgences (paying for their forgiveness) are abhorrent. It leads us to our lovely prayer in the Common Worship funeral service to which I refer in most of my funeral addresses, that our job now is to use aright the time left to us here on earth. We've done all we can for the deceased except to commend them to God. In the light of their life and influence we go away and live better lives, hopefully as followers of Jesus.

O'Donovan reminds us that this Article's agreed wording wasn't quite as new as we might think. Medieval theology had struggled with this too. 'The achievement of the Reformers was not to raise the question of justification for the first time, but to handle it in a new way, and so to give new answers.' 'In Christ alone' is both wholesome and comforting.

Thursday, March 21, 2019

Freely, Freely - Article 10/39

X. OF FREE-WILL
THE condition of Man after the fall of Adam is such, that he cannot turn and prepare himself, by his own natural strength and good works, to faith, and calling upon God: Wherefore we have no power to do good works pleasant and acceptable to God, without the grace of God by Christ preventing us, that we may have a good will, and working with us, when we have that good will.

Interesting to note the change of use of the word prevent. It used to mean going before. Now it usually means stopping. And, of course, the generic use of 'man' on which we now turn our backs.

We remind ourselves that these historic formularies bear witness to the same God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who contemporary Christians worship, as best we can.

This article is headed 'Of Free Will'. O'Donovan reminds us that the reformers meant, very specifically, the free will to turn to and please God by our own natural strength. It was not saying that we cannot make decisions for ourselves, that we are somehow stuck in a rut of predestination (more on that later, probably).

The story the Articles tell is of a creator God, far beyond the grasp of human understanding, based in a time when human understanding was half a millennium less developed than our own. And of that remote (in the 'graspable' sense) God revealing himself in Jesus Christ, uniquely. And on that, surprisingly orthodox, note, I'm going for a lie down.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Is there not a better word than sin? - Article 9/39

IX. OF ORIGINAL OR BIRTH-SIN
ORIGINAL Sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk;) but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is ingendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God's wrath and damnation. And this infection of nature doth remain, yea in them that are regenerated; whereby the lust of the flesh, called in the Greek, "Phronema Sarkos", which some do expound the wisdom, some sensuality, some the affection, some the desire, of the flesh, is not subject to the Law of God. And although there is no condemnation for them that believe and are baptized, yet the Apostle doth confess, that concupiscence and lust hath of itself the nature of sin.

In the story of Noah, God's decision to wipe out humankind is predicated on this assessment of behaviour, 'Every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil all the time.' 'Nothing but evil' would have sufficed but who doesn't like a bit of rhetoric?

O'Donovan stops short of original sin as a thing per se but points to '...a generalised bias towards evil.'

The Bible knows this. It doesn't sugar coat it. Even the great Old Testament King David announced his arrival on the world stage in the story of Goliath with the words 'What's in it for me?' He doesn't have any lines in the other two introductory myths.

St Paul simply reached for 'All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God' to make things easy to understand.

In the little booklet Journey Into Life, which has accompanied many spiritual seekers on their journey into the faith community, Norman Warren spoke of 49/100 and 1/100 both being a fail if the pass mark is 50/100.

Francis Spufford, in his lovely book Unapologetic avoided the word 'sin' and opted for THCTFTU (The Human Capacity To Fuck Things Up).

Martin Percy suggests, helpfully, that 'A culture formed mainly out of desire and achievement may find itself in the grip of a subtle temptation, namely to confuse sin with imperfection, with what we lack as people.' Maybe he was reaching for Jessica Rabbit's 'I'm not bad; I'm just drawn that way.'

And me? What am I reaching for? Well maybe it is OK to be a sinner, to share the human condition, but not to let that be the end of the story. It is not a sin to say things others don't want to hear. It is not a sin to listen and disagree. It is not a sin to dress differently, have piercings, wear a hat indoors or have a day at the races. Culture defines sin far more than we think. Some strict churches in the 1950s were so anti the dance halls that had sprung up that one wag commented 'We're not allowed to have sex standing up in case it might lead to dancing.' 

I am also, clearly, suggesting, that in order to understand the human condition you should be widely read. Or if you can't manage that, go to better movies. They don't tell you, they show you what people are like. They're not better; they're just drawn that way.


Thought for the Day

As delivered at BBC Radio Bristol this morning:

One of the great biblical metaphors for the human condition is that we need rescuing. We are unable to help ourselves and need someone to do the job for us. In this picture Jesus is the one who takes responsibility for the human capacity to mess things up. He puts us right with God.

We have contrasting stories of things needing fixing today. Birnbeck Pier falls into greater and greater levels of dereliction. Nobody seems able to agree how to mend it or who should pay. To think that Birnbeck was originally a lifeboat station - a place of rescue.

Meanwhile the wonderful DIY SOS team have come to the rescue of a Weston family who have multiple mobility problems to overcome.

One of the great unstated questions of our time is this; who or what gets rescued? How do we decide?

We have limited resources of actual money and also of generosity. How should we use our time and talents for the benefit of others? People? Buildings? Vistas? Piers?

I suspect that the various owners of Birnbeck Pier down the ages have seen their ownership as an investment. How can we make money out of this thing that sticks out into the sea? As the possibilities of economic development are exhausted, the pier itself has more and more bits that fall off. I know how it feels.

The Victorian Society declares it needs rescuing. But someone needs to do it.

The DIY SOS team declare that a family need rescuing and many volunteers step up, sacrificially.

The Bible declares that we, more important than a pier, all need rescuing or we die? I wonder if you agree?

Credibility Gap - Article 8/39


VIII. OF THE THREE CREEDS
THE Three Creeds, Nicene Creed, Athanasius's Creed, and that which is commonly called the Apostles' Creed, ought thoroughly to be received and believed: for they may be proved by most certain warrants of holy Scripture.

Credo. I believe, in Latin. The first word(s) of most creeds. It is interesting that a corporate statement of faith used to be made by many people all saying 'I believe' at the same time. Now that many versions seem to start with 'We believe' the mood is changed somewhat. For I cannot be certain that everyone in the room with me believes the same thing.

In fact, a few years back, I attended a very conservative evangelical church having moved from Durham. I had expressed some limited support for Bishop David Jenkins. I discovered that when I said the Creed some people were looking across at me to check I said every word. This is not a joke, folks. It happened.

Yet what are words but a deep metaphor for truth? How many Christians could say 'I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth...' and be sure that every co-professor meant the same?

So our Article points us back to Scripture. There you will find the God about whom we have been making affirmations to whom we try and listen.

Friday, March 08, 2019

If you would prefer a milder god please ask - Article 7/39

VII. OF THE OLD TESTAMENT
THE Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man. Wherefore they are not to be heard, which feign that the old Fathers did look only for transitory promises. Although the Law given from God by Moses, as touching Ceremonies and Rites, do not bind Christian men, nor the Civil precepts thereof ought of necessity to be received in any commonwealth; yet notwithstanding, no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.

I've recently enjoyed the company of a small group of people who make up what we call the Bible Book Club. We have a set book, or a clear narrative section from a longer book, which we read in advance. Then, over a drink for an hour, we discuss questions from Book Club world. Did you enjoy the book? Did you follow the plot? If you were making a film who would you cast in the various roles? If it were a separate book what artwork would you put on the cover?

The stories from the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament) have been a wonderful resource to us. We do not come away with the feeling that 'milder gods are available' but that the great tales represent a striving for meaning which finds completeness in the Gospels. The Bible is the story of what O'Donovan calls 'an emerging theological idea'. The Articles are proof that the written word of God is complete but the ideas continue to emerge – or I wouldn't be writing this.

At BBC (yeah, great initials) we read each story separately and treat it on its merits. If you are local to Nailsea you'd be more than welcome to join us; faith experience not necessary. Contact me for joining details or visit the church web-site.

It has been reformed Christian teaching, ever since the Articles clarified it, that post-Jesus' time on earth we are freed from the burden of the ceremonial and festival law but not the ethical. The commandments (not just the ten) are still a good limitation on human weakness, but we can eat what we want and the pigeons live.