Saints and Scholars

Has the Church of Ireland lost its faith?

September 30th, 2016

Has the Church of Ireland lost its faith?  Why do we say that?  Within the Church of Ireland there have been recent substantial moves away from the historic Gospel which its official theology enshrines.  For example, a Roman Catholic priest can now lead services and preach in a Church of Ireland cathedral and presumably the only reason why he cannot lead in Holy Communion is probably because he’s adhering to his denomination’s teaching on this.  Most likely, from the Church of Ireland Cathedral’s point of view, there would be no problem in him doing so if he wanted to.

Furthermore, a recent article in the Church of Ireland Gazette, which was highlighted in the Belfast Newsletter, highlighted the claim that Church of Ireland bishops in the Republic of Ireland are turning a blind eye to clergy entering into homosexual ‘marriage’.

Surely, as the 500th anniversary of the Reformation approaches next year, the way forward for a rapidly declining church is not only to embrace its rich biblical heritage, but also to unashamedly preach it to a world desperately in need.  Flirting with Roman Catholicism or acquiescing in homosexual ‘marriage’ is far cry from the biblical teaching recovered at the Reformation and the traditional, Christian few on marriage.

Liberal catholic revisionists in the Church of Ireland continue to harp on for change and certainly aim to manipulate the next General Synod in Limerick into giving into their demands.  Will the Church of Ireland truly stand up for its own biblical teachings?  Will it truly love the world from the perspective of Christ and his Gospel?  Or will it cave in to manipulation, political pressure and the pagan onslaught on the Gospel that characterizes the revisionist strategies of so much liberal catholic ideology?

Where do Irish Christians go from here?

May 25th, 2015

On May 22nd, 62% of those qualified to vote in the Republic of Ireland referendum on same-sex marriage, chose to vote ‘yes’, effectively moving Irish values and lifestyle definitively away from God.  Commentators on this were quick to point out that the vote was as much an anti-Roman Catholic church vote as it was a move towards so-called ‘equality’.  The recent history of child abuse and cover-up in the Roman Catholic church in Ireland has appalled, disillusioned, and driven away many, including a new generation of young people, from its doors.

The Roman Catholic church is also at war with itself.  The Association of Catholic Priests, a liberal group representing about a third of Roman Catholic priests in Ireland estimated that about 25% of priests voted ‘yes’ and encouraged their congregations to do so, despite a number of bishops urging a ‘no’ vote.  Furthermore, it reports that at a Mass in Dublin just before the referendum, one priest urged his flock to vote yes, announced that he was gay, and received a standing ovation from his congregation!

Where do Irish Christians go from here?  Ireland is spiritually and morally bankrupt, at war with itself, and Hell-bent, detesting the idea of Christianity - at least the version of it that has been presented to it by the Roman Catholic church.  But in one sense, nothing has changed.  We know already from the Scriptures that Jesus said: ‘wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.   But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. (Matthew 7:13-14).  This is and will always remain true no matter what decisions nations and individuals take.

So, where do we go from here?  Well, like the Apostle Paul, our ambition in Ireland is simply to preach the Gospel where Christ is not known (Romans 15:20).  In Ireland, the vast majority ‘know’ Christ as only a swear word, or as a distant, cold stone statue figure at best.  But our ambition, as Irish Christians, as Evangelicals, is to bring the Gospel afresh to this generation of Irish to know Him as their loving Lord and Saviour.  To preach the Gospel, was ‘always’ Paul’s ambition in life, and this ambition should grip every Evangelical and every Evangelical church in Ireland.

We need to get ambitious about the Gospel in Ireland.  This is the only remedy to a sin-sick Irish society.  Abiding in Christ, we need to be growing personally as disciples and followers of Jesus before we can encourage others to do the same.  And when we get ambitious about Jesus and his Gospel, it will show and it will attract.  God’s strategy remains the same; disciple-making disciples, who ambitiously pray, live, and proclaim the Good News of Jesus.  This is where we go.

Archbishop of Armagh’s ‘outside the box’ thinking

May 8th, 2015

The Archbishop of Armagh, Richard Clarke, is to be commended for his call to the Church of Ireland General Synod to address the pressing issue of decline, revealed in the November 2013 census of church attendance.  He reminded General Synod that the average attendance over those three Sundays in November revealed that only 15% of those who declared themselves Church of Ireland in most recent censuses in N.Ireland and the Republic of Ireland actually attended a C of I church.  This amounts to around 58,000 people actually attending the Church of Ireland on any one Sunday - and out of an Irish population of about 6 million, this represents 0.97% attending an Anglican Church on any given Sunday.  Furthermore, of that 15%, the Church of Ireland internal census showed that only 13% (7,500) were between the ages of 12 and 30.

This is a quite a devastation that makes the Labour and Lib Dem meltdowns in the recent UK election look trivial!   Archbishop Clarke is absolutely right to view this as a ‘missional challenge’  that we can embrace with confidence and hope as we trust in Christ.  He refers to the fact that the House of Bishops and the General Synod Commission on Ministry are discussing possible strategies for new pioneer ministry that will be ‘outside the box’ in trying to reach a country and generation that effectively sees the Church of Ireland as irrelevant.

The Church of Ireland might well follow the example of the Church of England in appointing an episcopal post simply to promote Church planting .  The problem with commissions and General Synod committees is that they are quite often unwieldy, slow and hesitant to advocate change, especially in such uncertain times.   However, it is a ‘breath of fresh air’ that the Church of Ireland is talking about evangelism at all!  Not only that, it is refreshing to see an Archbishop attempting to drive such change.

Certainly, Evangelicals within the Church of Ireland welcome such an emphasis and would want to support endeavours that faithfully promote the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.  It makes a welcome change from the liberal theological agenda that so often seeks to influence the direction of the Church of Ireland.  To actually have an operational theology that is Gospel minded, outward looking, and seeking to relate people to Christ, would not only be in line with our foundational theology, but would encourage a whole new generation of young church planters to join us for the task of reaching a new generation in Ireland.

So, please, Archbishop, keep up the encouragement and challenge for pioneer and ‘outside the box’ thinking!

Church of Ireland General Synod 2015

April 29th, 2015

The Church of Ireland General Synod meets next week (7th - 9th May) in Armagh in a climate of debate within Ireland, North and South, on same sex marriage.  The House of Bishops are divided on the issue with some southern bishops agitating for a ‘yes’ vote in the Irish Republic’s referendum, even though in the 2012 General Synod, the Church of Ireland affirmed it’s adherence to the traditional and biblical view of marriage.

The agitation of those seeking a ‘yes’ decision in the Same Sex Marriage Referendum in the Republic of Ireland on May 22nd will inevitably feed into the the work of the General Synod, causing much disunity within the denomination.  No matter what their reasoning for forwarding same sex marriage, we know it’s not a biblical one, in which case they are hardly promoting the Christian faith which they solemnly swore to uphold in their consecration as bishops.

What are they for then?  The issues of episcopal ministry will be debated at this General Synod, and in the light of the reckless behaviour of some bishops to deny the basic teachings of Christianity, can the church not simply get rid of them?  How valuable are Bishops who deny the plain teaching of the Bible, for example on human sexuality?  Are they really worth the money that is being poured into their upkeep?

At a time when Ireland, North and South, needs faithful men and women to promote the Gospel, which alone saves and transforms, why would we allow these folk to damage the witness of the church?  Members of General Synod are put in a position of responsibility and need to exercise that responsibility to keep the Church faithful to its calling to promote the Gospel in Ireland.  That will mean ensuring that those bishops who are promoting an unbiblical agenda are not allowed to disrupt and destroy the witness of the Church of Ireland.

In the words of the collect for the church of this land (BCP 2004)’Hear us, most merciful God, for that part of the Church which thou hast planted in our land, that it may hold fast the faith which thou gavest unto the Saints, and in the end bear much fruit to eternal life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.’

Ireland – To be or not to be – Tolerant or Intolerant – that is the question!

April 20th, 2015

The forthcoming same-sex marriage referendum in the Republic of Ireland on May 22nd faces Ireland with the question of whether or not it will be a tolerant or intolerant society.  From a popular viewpoint, the belief is that allowing same sex marriage will make Ireland more tolerant.  Saying, “No”, it is believed, will leave it an intolerant society.

However, by voting, “Yes”, could it be that Ireland will become a more intolerant society?  Evidence from those places where same-sex marriage has been allowed would indicate that a ‘Yes’ vote in the referendum would move Ireland in a very intolerant direction

Legislation, for example in the UK and some States in the US,  has been introduced to force co-operation from those who cannot conscientiously  agree that same sex marriage is best for society, marriage, and children.   Public servants such as civil registrars and judges are sacked for refusing to implement the new ‘tolerance’.  Parents are investigated for questioning new ‘educational’ material  on sex and the family, promoted in schools by gay activist groups.   Businesses are heavily fined for failing to promote the new political morality.  And State aid is removed from all voluntary groups who cannot conscientiously agree to the dictates of a new political agenda.  Is that the kind of Ireland the people of the Irish Republic really want – punitively intolerant of any view except the state’s?

Some Irish people may believe that voting ‘Yes’ in the referendum will make Ireland a more tolerant society.   But, in fact, a more probable outcome, is that a ‘Yes’ vote will help fashion an Irish society  more intolerant of tolerating the views of those who dissent from the mainstream.  For these reasons, it seems to me that the future of a truly tolerant, compassionate Irish society is better secured by a ‘No’ than by a ‘Yes’ vote.

Hypocrisy of Changing Attitude’s ‘victim’ tactics

October 25th, 2012
In the recent correspondence to the Gazette, on social network sites and in their public pronouncements, members of Changing Attitude have portrayed themselves as the ‘victims’ within the Church of Ireland. There is no denying that there have been victims of prejudice, discrimination and abuse within the Church of Ireland. There is no denying that the experience of some people is that they could only describe themselves as ‘victims.’ However, it would appear that the ‘victim’ stance is being used as a deliberate part of a concerted media campaign against the Church of Ireland synod’s decision to uphold the orthodox Christian view of human sexuality.

Psychology states that playing the role of a victim is always there to protect the person’s ego when he/she fails to reach his/her goals. Instead of admitting that he/she failed to do what they wanted to do they play the role of a victim and claim that external factors were the main reason they didn’t reach their goals. This is a defence mechanism deployed at all times, even when they have been respectfully listened to.

However, I think it is legitimate to ask are LGBT really the victims within the Church of Ireland? Is the Church of Ireland really ‘homophobic?’ The term ‘homophobia’ means an irrational fear of homosexuals. Is that really a correct term to be used against those who for legitimate historical, traditional and biblical reasons cannot accept the homosexual lifestyle? Many of those who wish to uphold the biblical, historical and traditional orthodoxy of the Church are silenced because they fear being labelled ‘homophobic.’ It is in fact a very subtle form of bullying and intimidation. To storm out of rooms, as happened at the Cavan conference and Connor Synod because you do not agree with what is being said and then to claim to be the ‘victim’ is to put it mildly lacking grace and respectful listening.

Many of our clergy deal pastorally with broken lives, including those whose lives have been shattered by brokenness in the area of sexuality. They support these people, give of themselves to them, pray for them and with them and walk beside them as they journey to wholeness in Christ. That is not an easy journey, nor is it one which clergy boast about or reveal to others. It is part and parcel of our vocation, an immense privilege and a heavy burden at times. What is not helpful and what adds to that burden is to be labelled ‘homophobic’ etc by a campaign lobby which has no idea of the pastoral care given to the very people they claim to speak for.

It is time that the ‘victim’ campaign was challenged by those in authority within the Church of Ireland and by those in the pew. It is time that those who are orthodox, from within the House of Bishops, the rectory, the pew and the parish raised their voices and spoke out for the biblically orthodox teaching of the church catholic. We have no doubt that in speaking out we will be accused of being ‘homophobic’ etc but that is a lie and it is a lie that needs to be challenged and those who perpetuate it need to repent of doing so. Those who are campaigning to take the Church of Ireland away from its biblical teaching in this area need to desist from playing the ‘victim’ card when they do not get their own way. It is a form of bullying and intimidation. They are guilty of the very thing they accuse others of, namely seeking to silence others and forcing them to remain hidden.

Reform Ireland would encourage members of the Church of Ireland to write to the gazette with their viewpoints on this, and other matters. Challenge those who play the ‘victim’ card when they do not get their own way. Do not be intimidated or bullied by those who shout louder, storm out of rooms and who use derogatory terms of abuse when they do not get their own way. It is important that this debate is engaged in the public arena, on social media networks and at every level of our Church of Ireland.

We encourage people to continue to pray for the Church of Ireland that it may remain faithful to the Gospel of Christ and the plain teaching of Scripture in this, and all areas, of human life.

with friends like these…

May 10th, 2012

‘Therefore, I want to pay a particular and personal tribute to my colleagues in the House of Bishops, not only for their committment to providing means by which the Church of Ireland may address what are experienced in all the churches as difficult and potentially divisive issues, but also for their committment to modelling and sustaining a spirit of unity in the Church of Ireland.’

So spoke the Archbishop of Armagh in his opening address to the General Synod of the Church of Ireland to a packed church of clergy, laity, and ecumenical observers. Little did he know a few hours later his words would look completely foolish as two of his bishops displayed anything but unity within the House of Bishops and modelled quite a different spirit to the Church.

Significantly, one of the bishops at the centre of the homosexual row, Michael Burrows, whose unilateral actions instigated the greatest degree of disunity the Church of Ireland has seen in the modern era, was one of those whose remarks led to the motion, affirming the traditional Christian belief in marriage as outlined in Canon 31, being dismisssed:this, despite the fact that the House of Bishops themselves had as a body brought the motion to the General Synod in the first place!

What a shambles! It was even applauded - at least by those keen to introduce homosexuality as a valid Christian lifestyle in the Church of Ireland. It begs the question what unity is there in the Church of Ireland and what sort of behaviour are the House of Bishops modelling? Certainly, the question arises why anyone should ever trust their words again?

For many of us, the shambles on display at the General Synod, gives no reason to trust that the Church of Ireland will remain faithful to the Gospel and the Lordship of Christ over his church. Probably, it has confirmed that the time has come for faithful Anglican churches, clergy and people to look for alternative episcopal oversight apart from what’s on offer in the Church of Ireland.

The Gospel is too precious, souls are too precious, and the Church of Ireland is too valuable, to follow the ‘lead’ of the present occupants of the House of Bishops - with few exceptions.

Re-imagining the Church of Ireland

January 30th, 2012

Imagine the Church of Ireland was doing what it was set up to do! Believing the Bible, spreading the Gospel, building up believers, sending out missionaries to Ireland and overseas. Given the present reality in the Church of Ireland, that would take a lot of imagination. This is not to say that there aren’t any churches doing this - there are some - but they are the exception rather than the rule. Most of the Church of Ireland is busy dying. Having long abandoned the God of the Bible in favour of a more tame god, one that looks like a liberal, middle-income, harmless, slightly leftist leaning really nice guy, the Church of Ireland has effectively nothing to offer. Certainly, it’s still there for picturesque weddings, baby baptisms and funerals, but nobody’s paying attention anymore. It’s simply irrelevant.

But why does it have to be that way? Why can it not rediscover what it is meant to be all about? It’s not ‘rocket science’ to know what the Church should be about. It’s right there everytime we go through a prayer book service, everytime we see an ordination, everytime we witness the institution of a new Rector, not to mention in our baptism and confirmation services. At the centre of all of these is the life-changing, mind-blowing, heart-racing power of the Gospel. The truth is we have a tremendous message about a living, reigning, and returning Saviour, Jesus Christ, our Lord. It’s the number one, top priority message that the world needs to hear - and only the Church can deliver it.

So, why are we busy dying? Why aren’t we busy about this message? Why aren’t our Synods full of plans and excitement to get the Gospel out? Why isn’t the Church of Ireland producing Gospel men and women who are willing to risk everything to bring the good news to every part of Ireland and beyond? Why are we busy conforming to the world when we should be busy conforming to Christ? Imagine a company that no longer believed in its product. How long would it last? In this day and age, hardly any time at all. Similarly, the Church of Ireland has no right to continue to exist and call itself a Church if it no longer believes in its product.

So, imagine a Church that ‘did what it says on the tin’ - that actually believed in its own product and eagerly went about getting it out to the world! What would the Church of Ireland look like if it did this? One thing is for sure, it would probably look very different from the way it is today. So, maybe it’s time to consider abandoning the irrelevant little politically correct god that wouldn’t say ‘boo to a goose’ and confront the world with the God of the Scriptures. Imagine a Church of Ireland like that! Now that would be a church! Such a church would be exactly just what is needed and would never cease to be relevant to each successive generation of Irish people.

House of Bishops’ lack of leadership

October 7th, 2011

The Pastoral Letter of the House of Bishops on the recent civil partnership crisis gives great cause for concern to all in the Church of Ireland. Once again, no mention is made of the Bishops’ part in causing this crisis. This debate has not arisen in a vacuum. It has come about as the result of the decision of at least two bishops - there may be more- who, knowing that this civil partnership was to take place, did nothing to stop it. In this Pastoral letter, whilst they acknowledge that this civil partnership has caused division, hurt and schism within the church, they refuse to take responsibility for their part. There is no apology and no expression of regret for the hurt, confusion and utter chaos that some of their number have caused. .

Therefore, the statement: ‘we as bishops take very seriously our responsibility ….to act in a way that will help to further the unity of the church in truth and love’, is breathtaking in its hypocrisy. Some of those same bishops, including the Archbishop of Armagh, who admitted to a newspaper (Belfast Newsletter 7th October 2011) that he knew of the civil partnership 2 days before it happened, are the very cause of the current disunity and division. How can they claim to be furthering truth, unity and love in the church when they knowingly did nothing to stop an action that contradicts the truth of God’s word, has divided the Anglican Communion, and had no regard for the feelings and views of the rest of the Church of Ireland?

From Archbishop Harper’s interview, he said he could do nothing and even attempted to shift responsibility to the Archbishop of Dublin since it occurred in his province - this also raises the question of whether or not the Archbishop of Dublin knew this civil partnership was about to take place. Whilst the Archbishop of Armagh may indeed have been powerless to stop the civil partnership, it seems from this interview he did not even ask Dean Gordon to refrain from such an action; nor, it seems, did he warn him of the consequences for the church’; nor indeed did he suggest to him that if he went ahead with his civil partnership that he should immediately resign. Instead, it seems that the Archbishop took no action whatsoever to safeguard the Church of Ireland from the subsequent hurt, division and chaos that has ensued.

From the Pastoral Letter, the setting up of a conference to study the issue of human sexuality is intended only as a beginning of what could be a relentless programme to grind down all opposition to the acceptance of same-sex partnerships as a valid Christian lifestyle. Once again, this has shifted the focus from where it should truly be - on the offending clergyman and bishops who have caused such division. In the light of the role of those bishops who knew this civil partnership was to take place and seemingly did nothing to prevent it, they should publicly repent. They have hardly served the best interests of the Church of Ireland by allowing this civil partnership to go ahead.

Furthermore, the appeal at the end of the letter for ‘all shades of opinion within the Church of Ireland to refrain from any actions or the use of emotive or careless language which may further exacerbate the situation within the church’, is also breathtaking in its hypocrisy. When we consider the lack of restraint on the part Dean Gordon, and the carelessness of those bishops who allowed this civil partnership to go ahead, and the utter chaos in which they have now embroiled the church, it ill becomes any of these bishops to lecture the rest of the church on restraint!

The (offending) bishops, having acted without the usual Anglican concern for ‘decency and order’ in the church - indeed they’ve driven ‘a coach and horses’ through that notion by their part in the civil partnership - cannot muzzle the voices of concerned Christians in the Church of Ireland. Whether they realize it or not, their disregard for decency and order means that many in the Church of Ireland no longer trust them to do what is in the best interests of the whole church. Church of Ireland people must now not only speak up, but they must take action.

House of Bishops’ statement avoids the real issue

October 5th, 2011

The statement issued on the 5th October by the House of Bishops following their special meeting to consider the present crisis in the Church of Ireland over the civil partnership of a serving cleric and his bishop’s approval, is sadly disappointing and completely inadequate. It utterly fails to address the real issue. It is not good enough for the House of Bishops to say that they met because of ‘current disquiet in the church caused by disagreements on the matter of human sexuality.’ The real issue is that a cleric entered into a civil partnership with the full knowledge of his bishop. This is the source of the problem and the cause of subsequent disquiet. The action of the bishop and the cleric is completely ignored and that is not acceptable. The fact that there is no specific mention of the real issue can only imply that the House of Bishops have effectively endorsed the actions of both Dean Tom Gordon and Bishop Burrows.

Amazingly, there is not even an expression of regret by the House of Bishops that one of their own has thrown the Church of Ireland into such ‘disquiet’. There appears to be no attempt to address the civil partnership and the action of the bishop. This obviously is a deliberate ploy to shift the focus away from the sinful actions of these clergy to a debating forum. This a gross dereliction of duty by the House of Bishops to restore godly discipline to the church. Indeed, this failure to address the action of the Dean and the bishop effectively prejudices any proposed future conference, for it sends out the signal that such civil partnerships are acceptable and gives the green light for other clergy civil partnerships.

Instead of taking a clear biblical stand, the House of Bishops are to issue a pastoral letter to manage a debate in a future conference. Not only is the debate prejudiced to find in favour of homosexual partnerships, but also the debate itself is over. People have effectively made up their minds - certainly Messrs Gordon and Burrows have. No amount of debating is going to change this. Secondly, this conference has ‘no teeth’ - it is not a special General Synod and therefore has no legislative power. This must certainly suit the revisionist bishops as it doesn’t allow any decision to be made. Rather, whilst allowing everyone to have their ’say’, there is now a chance to ’stage-manage’ a slow process of acceptance of the revisionist agenda into the Church of Ireland.

If a conference is to be held, the Dean and the Bishop should immediately stand down from pastoral responsibilities otherwise the outcome of the conference must surely include an acceptance of the present situation. Furthermore, whilst a conference may give a chance for people of different views to air their viewpoint, one wonders how it can possibly strive ‘to discern the mind of Christ’ when the mind of Christ is clearly expressed in his Word! The issue of whether or not homosexuality is a valid life style for a Christian is not a matter of the interpretation of Scripture, but of the authority of Scripture. There is only one valid standard of Christian living to which all Christians are called and there are no exceptions for any particular group. God’s Word is clear that all sexual lifestyles outside of marriage (one man and one woman in faithful life-long union) is sinful and wrong.

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