Saints and Scholars

Anglican church planting

February 25th, 2010

The new Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), recently recognized by the General Synod of the Church of England, has just announced its intention to plant a 1000 new anglican churches in the USA over the next few years. At a church-planting gathering in Plano, Texas, it pledged itself to promoting the Gospel in America via sending out trained and able Gospel workers to start new churches. It’s a breath-taking vision, a bold move that could, under God, see it continue to grow and eventually overtake the Episcopal Church (TEC), the theologically liberal and deeply unfaithful anglican body from which ACNA has departed.

What about Ireland? What’s happening here in connection with planting new churches? There are some indications that some are taking this seriously, with ‘fresh expressions’ of church being encouraged in some dioceses. This is certainly to be welcomed, but by and large the picture of the Church of Ireland is of a denomination that is very little interested in evangelism or church-planting. For one thing, theological liberalism has a strong grip on many bishops and clergy. This has the effect of deadening any move towards promoting a Gospel which liberals see as mere ‘fundamentalism’. Yet while they write off the biblical gospel, they have nothing to promote in its place beyond a sickly ecumenism and watery socialism.

Imagine how Ireland would be effected if the Church of Ireland were full of bishops, clergy and churches seeking to reach a dispirited and disillusioned people with the wonderful news of Christ crucified. There probably has been no more opportune time in Ireland’s history to reach out to the people of Ireland with the biblical gospel than right now. Growing disillusionment within Irish society with many once trusted institutions has left a real void. Where is the Church of Ireland in all this? What has it got to say? It’s simply not enough to mouth the kind of platitudes and words that any politician could easily say better. Surely, it must be speaking of Jesus.

Despite the attempts of liberals to create a church with no biblical doctrine, the Church of Ireland does have a biblical doctrine and a powerful message to proclaim - at least on paper. Isn’t it time that the Church of Ireland rediscovered that? Now is not the time to retreat from the amazing message of Jesus Christ that can make people new, turn lives upside down and right way up!

So, what about church-planting? What about the Church of Ireland developing a more evangelistic approach to the needs of Irish people? It will take imagination in how to reach different kinds of people in different kinds of situations. It’s not just a matter of saying “Our doors are open for people to come in,” for by and large people are simply not going to walk in. The Church of Ireland has got to take seriously Jesus’ command to ‘go and make disciples.’ This will mean evangelism. This will mean church-planting. This will mean re-discovering Christ’s commands to go out and be fishers of men, disciples who make disciples, churches that plant churches. The Church of Ireland will need to become generous in promoting this, more flexible in releasing all kinds of people to be involved, less clergy dependent, less centralized in its organization, and more willing to resource local churches which take the risk of undertaking such church-planting.

How about it? Does the Church of Ireland see the need? Is it ‘up’ for the challenge? Is it even willing to get a conversation started, a debate going, never mind taking the amazing step of promoting an Anglican church-planting conference?

Ireland’s first Islamic university

February 18th, 2010

Headlines in the Irish Daily Mail newspaper (Thursday February 18th) announced the opening of an Islamic university in Ireland situated in CityWest, Dublin. What caused this to be headlines is that the School is being funded by Saudi Arabia, which has funded similar schools in England where controversy has surrounded aspects of the curriculum. In England, a British Muslim teacher who had taught for 18 years at the King Fahad Academy, a London school owned, run and funded by Saudi Arabia, claimed that pupils at the school were being taught from Arabic textbooks which described Christians as ‘pigs’ and Jews as ‘monkeys’. Indeed, the paper reports that in 2008, an enquiry into Muslim schools in Britain by a leading think-tank suggested that more than 60% of them are linked to potentially dangerous Islamic fundamentalists. The fear in Ireland is that this new school could promote the same kind of intolerant and racist thinking.

The announcement of the opening of this school makes sense of a recent bizarre change to the Irish Blasphemy law in 2009. This law, which led to outrage amongst Ireland’s atheist community, was a puzzle to many as no-one had called for such a change and no public controversy had preceeded it - it was simply introduced and narrowly passed in Leinster House. The new law was introduced to protect religions other than christianity and defines blasphemy as ‘publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matters sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherents of that religion, with some defences..’

It seems then, along with the recent announcement by the Irish government that it is to allow the introduction of Shariah law in the Irish banking system, that the Blasphemy law was designed to pave the way for the introduction into Ireland of Saudi schools and Saudi money. The Irish government is desperate for a way out of its present economic crisis that has left Ireland in billions of euros of debt. Saudi money, whether in banking or building schools, seems to be regarded as a good bet, but at what price? Saudi Arabia is a state associated with extremism and the funding of terrorist organizations as well as the persecution of Christians. What impact will Saudi funds and Saudi funded institutions have on Irish society and relationships in Irish society? Will its promotion of an extreme form of Islam be felt in Ireland? One thing is for certain, the new Blasphemy law will be no protection against Islamic extremism. Rather, its introduction would seem to be for the purpose of prohibiting any discussion, debate or criticism of the religious views and teachings of Ireland’s new Saudi masters.

The Pyrrhic victories of liberal-catholicism in TEC

July 17th, 2009

This year’s General Convention of the the Episcopal Church (TEC) has witnessed the victory of liberal-catholic theology over the teachings of the Bible.   The convention voted to overthrow a moratorium on allowing gay bishops and to start preparing liturgies and theological resources for the blessing of same-sex partnerships and gay marriages.  But what sort of victory is it?  Looking at what is happening in TEC, it has all the hallmarks of  a ‘Pyrrhic victory’, a victory that has come at devastating and ruinous cost.  

Over 200 of its own clergy have already left TEC because it has walked away from the plain teaching of the Bible and traditional Christian doctrine, expressed in Anglicanism in the 39 Articles and 1662 BCP.   Along with these clergy and many individual parishes, the bishops and dioceses of San Joaquin, Pittsburgh, Quincy, and Fort Worth are being litigated against because they are leaving the denomination in protest over TEC’s militant gay agenda.  Millions of dollars are being spent by TEC in litigation and at this year’s convention over 4 million dollars has been set aside to pursue further litigation.  Within TEC itself, 26 Bishops have since signed a minority report, repudiating the action of the General Convention.  With many orthodox and conservative anglicans having already left TEC to form the Anglican Communion in North America (ACNA), and the numbers in TEC declining, the latest triumph of liberal-catholicism may yet prove to be fatal for its future survival.  

Already, much of world anglicanism has officially through the GAFCON movement rejected the unrepentant TEC as a Christian entity.  The ‘god’ worshipped by TEC is not the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, as the Scriptures proclaim.  Rather, it is a ‘god’ of their own canons, a ‘god’ fashioned in the image of their own secular society.  Its latest pronouncements will do nothing to bring it back into the fold of mainstream anglicanism.  By its victory, it has consigned itself to a stagnant backwater, spiritually unhealthy and dangerous to all who come near it.

The same intolerant, militant liberal-catholicism that has led to this in TEC is at work in the Church of Ireland.  When these people look at the havoc caused by the actions of TEC, is that really the kind of future they want for the Church of Ireland?   Are they prepared to ruin the Church of Ireland in their quest to get their own way?  If they are, faithful anglicans within the Church of Ireland cannot afford to let them take our denomination in this direction and must work hard to ensure that Irish Anglicanism remains true to the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.    

FCA UK & Ireland launch

July 10th, 2009

On Monday 6th July, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans UK & Ireland was launched.  It was attended by over 1600 people, including members of the Church of Ireland.  Indeed, two Irish bishops, Ken Clarke of Kilmore and Harold Miller of Down and Dromore,  were publicly welcomed by the organisers.

Contributors to the day emphasised that this was not a schism - that has already been introduced into Anglicanism by the Episcopal Church of the USA when it consecrated an openly gay man to be bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.  Rather, the FCA UK & Ireland is  a movement of those concerned for Anglicanism to remain true to its biblical and historic doctrinal roots and to promote the Gospel of Christ on this ground alone.  Originating from the GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem 2008, the FCA seeks to offer a safe haven to those marginalized by a militant liberal-revisionist ecclesiastical hierarchy as well as to be a voice for orthodox anglicanism.

How does it affect the Church of Ireland?  The short answer is no-one knows yet.  Appearances suggest that the Church of Ireland is hiding its head in the sand when it comes to facing upto the major issues that are dividing the Anglican Communion.    The danger with this is that the Church of Ireland could find itself cut off from mainstream Anglicanism represented by the FCA.  In the meantime, individuals and churches within the Church of Ireland are signing upto the FCA.  As that gathers momentum, the Church of Ireland will have to face up to the new reality within worldwide Anglicanism that FCA represents.

One can only hope and pray that the Church of Ireland as a denomination will not walk away from the historic Christian faith but will firmly align itself with the majority of Anglicans worldwide who want to promote the Gospel and the traditional Christian and bibilical standards that have so long characterized Anglicanism.

GAFCON Final Statement Released

June 29th, 2008

The GAFCON Statement, including the Jerusalem Declaration, has been released, and can be read online here.

Login and comment below about what you think of it, and what it means for the Church of Ireland.

‘What we have heard, what we have seen’

June 28th, 2008

One of the features of GAFCON being held in Jerusalem have been the visits to various sites associated with the story of Jesus. From time to time during the last week participants of GAFCON have de-camped en masse from the conference centre, to board buses and be transported to places around Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Galilee. No mean feat to accomodate and choreograph tours of over 1000 people!

The ruins of Capernaum

Today, being the Jewish Sabbath, the conference staff were given a rest as GAFCON participants took to their buses to visit Galilee. Take away the ornate church buildings and claims that ‘this is the spot where’, the tour really did drive home that Christianity proclaims a message that is based on historical facts. Seeing the landscape of the Judean wilderness, the Jordan valley, the Golan heights on the far side of the Sea of Galilee, the excavated ruins of the village of Capernaum and its Synagogue (built on the visible ruins of an earlier Synagogue from the time of Jesus), truly brought home the historicity of the story of redemption.

Christianity rests on events that truly happened! We know they happened because of the eye-witness evidence of the people who walked with Jesus, and saw the crucified and risen Lord. More than that, they talked and ate with him, and listened to him as he explained the meaning of it all. This is what they wrote: ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life - the life was made manifest and we saw it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life which was with the Father…’ (1 John 1:1-2): and again, Peter says, ‘ For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eye-witnesses of his majesty.’

In other words, not only do we have historical events (reliably eye-witnessed), but also the Spirit given interpretation of those events. We truly know why Jesus came, why he did what he; why he died; and why he rose again. Because we have God’s interpretation of these events recorded in Scripture, we are not left with uncertainty as to what the message of Christianity is.

The present crisis in the Anglican Communion is precisely about this interpretation of the meaning of Jesus for today. Those in the revisionist camp want to do away with the NT interpretation of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus in favour of their own interpretation, which unsurprisingly reflects 21st century secular western cultural mores. However, since none of the bishops of TEC and other revisionist bishops are either Apostles or eye-witnesses themselves of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, their re-interpretation of the Gospel events carries no weight whatsoever. In any case, since their re-interpretation is tied to the changing views of western culture, one day they believe one thing, and the next another!

GAFCON is calling the Anglican Communion back to the apostolic message of Jesus. Not only is this apostolic interpretation the only valid interpretation of Christ, but it is the only message that is the power of God to bring forgiveness and Christ-like transformation to the lives of sinful mankind.

Moving forward

June 27th, 2008

Today was a short day at GAFCON, but a highly significant day. Details will be released later by the GAFCON leadership, but what can be said is that decisions are being taken by those at GAFCON in a very tangible atmosphere of prayer, joy and worship. Not only is there a deep sense of fellowship in Christ, but also there is a huge desire to move forward under the Lordship of Christ to accomplish his mission in the world.

Yesterday, a wonderful aspect of the corporate worship of GAFCON was the marvellous singing led by the members of the Mothers’ Union Choir of Nigeria. But even that was trumped by a choir of four south American bishops, one toting a guitar, leading in a time of joyful praise - in spanish! Joyful as the fellowship is at GAFCON, it is most certainly not a spiritual ‘jamboree’. There is a serious determination to be about the heavenly Father’s business and this is expressed in the workshops, the plenary sessions, and in casual conversations.

Those who profess faith in Christ and are suspicious, or dismissory, or sceptical, or fearful, or downright hostile to GAFCON, should pause to think what exactly they are doing. Here at GAFCON are joyful, committed believers in Christ, faithful Anglicans, intensely loyal to the teachings of the Scripture as expressed in the formularies of Anglicanism: here, amongst the throng at GAFCON are some of Anglicanism’s best scholars and leaders; here are some of Anglicanism’s best evangelists; and here are people committed to godly living in Christ Jesus. What’s bad about that? Are those who sneer at or dismiss GAFCON jealous of the vitality and christian determination of the churches represented here? Do they feel threatened by the Gospel emphasis of GAFCON? If so, how then can they claim with any integrity to really have faith in Christ? They should be rejoicing at GAFCON, not keeping it at arm’s length!

GAFCON represents a movement that, under God, will renew Anglicanism and take it forward in serving Christ in the world. Isn’t that what those who have the Gospel at heart and the best interests of the Church of Ireland want to do? Then, if that is so, the decisions and statements of GAFCON should rejoice the heart and cause us in the Church of Ireland to want to align ourselves in joyful committment to the Gospel imperatives they reflect.

From North to South

June 26th, 2008

One of the immediately striking things about GAFCON is the evidence of the global shift in the numbers and influence of Anglicanism, from the northern hemisphere to the global south. The sea of african faces and the accents of the global south far outnumber those from the old centre of Anglicanism in Britain and America. Mainly, this has to do with the strong emphasis on evangelism so evident in the global south, as compared to the general apathy and even outright hostility to evangelism in much of the northern Anglican provinces. The long, slow death of the latter by the poison of liberal theology, is also a major factor in this evolution of Anglicanism from north to south.

The older provinces of the northern hemisphere may glory in their relative antiquity in comparison to their southern counterparts, but any lingering notions of colonial superiority are seriously misplaced. The British empire has gone, and with the emergence since WW2 of independent sovereign states, especially in Africa, have come independent and strong Anglican provinces. Their growth has been phenomenal; and whether or not TEC and Canterbury choose to acknowledge it, the life, vitality, and growth of the churches of the Global South will effectively make the northern provinces side-shows within world-wide Anglicanism. The northern anglican provinces are ostrich-like, simply ’sticking their heads in the sand’ if they think they can just dismiss the wishes of this confident growing Global south movement.

The Gnostic liberals of TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada, have already made up their mind that they want nothing to do with the Global south as represented in GAFCON. However, unless they repent, they will eventually just disappear off the ecclesiastical map, ever declining and becoming a footnote in church history. The Church of Ireland will soon have to face up to the shift of influence, power, and spiritual life in worldwide Anglicanism. Will it align itself with the policies and outlook of the pagan gnostic leadership of TEC and the like, or will it fully embrace the refreshing, joyful emphasis on the Gospel so clearly displayed by much of the Global south?

At the heart of Anglicanism

June 25th, 2008

GAFCON small groups

What’s at the heart of Anglicanism? Is it liturgy, bishops, Synods, robes and Prayer books? No doubt these are important, and they play an important role in the expression of Anglicanism and for ordering our corporate worship and common life. But they’re not the heart of Anglicanism. In this morning’s Bible exposition on Exodus 24, the Rev. David Short, Rector of St. John’s, Shaughnessy, of the Anglican Network in Canada, expressed the true heart of Anglicanism.

At the heart of Anglicanism is a message, God’s message of redemption to the world. The Gospel is the heart of Anglicanism. It is this message that was recovered for the church at the Reformation and so clearly expressed in the Anglican formularies, Articles and prayer book. It is a message that brings people from every tribe, nation, and language into communion with God and fellowship with one another.

David Short powerfully and clearly expounded the Gospel of Christ from Exodus 24, showing us that God’s aim for human beings is to call for himself a people who will fellowship with him and one another, and enter his glorious presence forever. He does that through redemption, having rescued his people from the slavery of sin through the blood of the sacrificial Lamb of God. The death of Christ on behalf of his people expresses both the holiness of God as he judges sin, and the love of God as he acts simply by grace with no merit on our part to bring us to himself. This message is the heart of Anglicanism and the growth of Anglicanism worldwide is only where this message is clearly taught and lived out.

Those who have broken the fellowship of the Anglican Communion have done so precisely because they have rejected this message. TEC, the Anglican Church in Canada, and indeed all those who deny the message that is the heart of Anglicanism show they have never truly understood what it is to be a Christian, and what it is to practice true Anglicanism. Their revisionist canons, their revisionist liturgies, their policies of persecution of faithful Anglicans stand against them to their shame and show that it is they who have walked away from the Anglican Communion.

Exploring the future together

June 24th, 2008

One of the striking aspects of this unique international gathering of Anglican leaders at GAFCON is the creative energy that is underpinning and driving the whole conference forward.  What’s very apparent is that there is no ‘fortress’ or ’siege’ mentality-far from it; conference members see themselves as engaging biblically and creatively not just with the problems of the present, but with exploring a confident future under God for global anglicanism.

The conference’s creative enthusiasm ultimately has its origins in a people confident in Christ and that the future belongs to him.  It’s also generated by a deep sense of fellowship and common purpose.  Probably the best place to see this confident creative energy is in the workshops, where conference members are engaging with one another in discussion and in the sharing of ideas and experiences.  The workshop topics include Anglican identity, Gospel and Culture, Gospel and Leadership, Family and marriage, Evangelism and Church planting, Biblical Authority, and Theological Education

Rev Cezar GuzmanIn regard to the workshop on Theological Education, those Involved in the Church of Ireland for the reshaping of theological education would do well to get hold of the keynote addresses of the college principals facilitating this workshop!   The Rev. Cezar Guzman, a college prinicpal from Chile, gave the first of these addresses, stressing that the goal of theological training is to serve the Gospel by producing pastors who understand the Gospel and are capable of communicating it effectively at the local parish  level.  This is something that the former Church of Ireland Theological College manifestly failed to do, and something that the new Church of Ireland Training Institute should take great pains to aim at! 

Theological colleges must serve the mission of the church; be committed to a deep and faithful study of Scripture, and have the local church as its focus for the theological education being given to ordinands. 

There’s no doubt that the creative energy demonstrated at GAFCON is going to have an effect on the Anglican Communion for years to come.  It would be a great pity if the Church of Ireland missed out on this through an inability to see that God is renewing his church in these days.  Listening to and engaging in these debates, an obvious thought comes to mind: wouldn’t it be glorifying to God and a blessing to the Church of Ireland, if it too were to engage creatively, biblically and confidently with the Gospel issues that are occupying and stimulating the minds of the members of GAFCON!?   

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