Suum ius cuique, or why the Welsh Bishops are calling evil good.

‘Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.’ (Isaiah 5:20)

These words were addressed by the prophet Isaiah to the people of Judah as part of his warning of forthcoming divine judgement. They warn that God will judge those who seek to justify sin by arguing that it is not really sinful at all because good is evil and evil is really good. They came to mind following the announcement this week that the Governing Body of the Church in Wales had voted to support a proposal from the Welsh bishops to explore ‘formal provision for those in same-gender relationships.’

In this post I shall explain why the words of Isaiah apply to the Welsh decision.

The announcement from the Church in Wales did not explain exactly what is meant by ‘formal provision’ but the context of the statement as part of the long running Welsh discussion of same-sex relationships makes it clear that what is meant is at a minimum the liturgical blessing of same-sex relationships in Church and more probably the introduction of same-sex marriages. The fact that the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church was invited to talk to the Governing Body about the process by which the Scots came to allow the celebration of same-sex marriages is a clear indication that this is what the Welsh have in mind.

In 2015 the Governing Body voted in a secret ballot to allow same-sex marriages to be conducted in the Church in Wales, but the majority was not large enough to allow the matter to proceed further. The passing of the motion this week indicates that the intention is to re-visit this issue with a view to making it happen this time.

The motion voted on this week by took the form of the Governing Body being asked whether or not they agreed that it is ‘It is pastorally unsustainable for the Church to make no formal provision for those in same-gender relationships.’ In an explanatory memorandum provided for the debate on the motion the bishops declared ‘that it is pastorally unsustainable and unjust for the Church to continue to make no formal provision for those in committed same-gender relationships’[1] and what the Governing Body did was accept this argument.

What is meant by the current situation in the Church in Wales being ‘pastorally unsustainable and unjust’ is not entirely clear. The bishops did not spell this out in their explanatory memorandum and it has not been explained subsequently. However the argument seems to be that the current situation does not allow proper pastoral care to be offered to people with same-sex attraction and this is unjust. Making formal provision for same-sex relationships would allow proper pastoral care to be offered and this would be just.

It is this implicit argument that I think amounts to the bishops calling ‘evil good and good evil.’ To explain why, I want to start by considering what is meant by justice. To call something unjust means to say that it as an action that violates justice and so to evaluate the bishops’ argument we have to be clear about what justice involves.

The basic understanding of justice which those of us who are part of Western culture operate with (and which the Welsh bishops’ argument presupposes) is that classically expressed by the third century Roman writer Ulpian who said that the virtue of justice (iustitia) is ‘a steady and enduring will to render to each his or her ius (suum ius cuique tribuere).’[2] The word ius means that which someone has a right to, that which is their due. Hence the popular version of Ulpian’s maxim is that justice consists in ‘giving to each their due.’ We may owe people love, or money, or service, or whatever, but in each case justice consists in giving people what we owe them, that which is their due.

From a Christian perspective the fundamental obligation that we have as God’s creatures is an obligation to God. This obligation is to love God for who he is and what he has done for us, what the General Thanksgiving in the Prayer Book summarises as ‘our creation, preservation and all the blessings of this life’ and above all ‘the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ…the means of grace…and the hope of glory.’ To act with justice is to fulfil this obligation. So important is this obligation that Jesus declared that the first commandment is to ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength’ (Mark 12:30).

Loving God in this way involves obeying living in obedience to his commandments. ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments’ (John 14:15). These commandments take many specific forms, but these are all variations on one basic obligation, which is to observe the order established in creation by God when he created the world, an order which sin has disrupted, but which Jesus Christ has acted to restore.[3] For those of you who like C S Lewis, what we are talking about is the deep magic placed in Narnia at the dawn of time.

In order to understand what acting with justice in this way means in relation to the pastoral care of people with same-sex attraction we have to move on to consider what is meant by pastoral care.

The language of pastoral care is language taken from farming. It means to care for ‘the flock of God’ (1 Peter 5:2), both those who are currently part of God’s fold and the ‘lost sheep’ (Luke 15: 3-7) who are currently outside it, just as a good shepherd cares for their sheep.

Since human beings are not sheep, what does this caring for the flock involve? The overall answer given in Scripture, and in the Tradition of the Church following Scripture, is that it involves offering people the grace of God through word and sacrament in order that they will repent of their sins, receive God’s forgiveness, enter into the new life Christ has made possible through his death and resurrection and grow in holiness, so that in the next world they will live joyfully with God and his people forever. When this happens the order established by God is honoured because people live as the creatures he made them to be.

Christians have an obligation both to God and to their fellow human creatures to offer pastoral care in this way (see John 21:15-17, Acts 20:28-30, 1 Peter 5:2-4). It follows that it is just to offer such pastoral care and unjust not to offer it.

We can therefore agree with the Welsh bishops in saying that justice requires that people with same-sex attraction should be offered proper pastoral care, However, the issue that this leaves open is what form such proper pastoral care should take in this particular case.

To decide this issue we need to return to the idea that God has established an order in the world according to which his human creatures should live. What does this order look like in relation to human sexuality?

We find the answer to this question through the study of Scripture and the exercise of reason. Scripture (in the creation narratives in Genesis 1 and 2 and in the rest of the biblical text building on them) and reason, looking at the observable reality of what human beings are like, tell us that:

  • The human race is a dimorphic species consisting of men and women whose sex is determined by the biology of their bodies;
  • Sexual intercourse is designed to take place between men and women and has as its purpose not only physical and emotional pleasure, but the procreation of children;
  • God ordained marriage between two people of the opposite sex as the sole legitimate setting for sexual intercourse.

Honouring God’s order means thankfully accepting that this is how God in his wisdom and goodness created us to be, living according to this created pattern ourselves, and encouraging and supporting others to do likewise.

It is true, of course, that there are people who are sexually attracted to people of their own sex, either for the whole of their life, or for some period within it.

From a biblical perspective, however, these people’s experiences are not due to God’s creative intention (they are not part of God’s order, see Romans 1:24-27). They are instead a result of the disorder introduced into the world as a result of the Fall, a disorder which Christ came into the world to overcome.

As a result, proper pastoral care for same-sex attracted people does not mean accepting this disorder as something good, but seeking to combat it by helping the people involved to live in a way that reflects as far as possible God’s original creative intention in anticipation of God’s final kingdom in which all things will finally be made whole.

What this means in practice is helping people who are same-sex attracted to understand that God did not create three types of people, men, women and gay people, but only two, men and women. This being the case, for them to live rightly before God means living as a man or a women. This in turn means for them (as for everyone else) being open either to entering into (heterosexual) marriage, or living a life of sexual abstinence as a single person. If their calling is to be single, then they will need  a network of friendship and support to sustain this vocation.

As with people with opposite-sex attraction, either of these vocations may represent God’s calling to a particular individual. Neither is better than the other. They are equally good ways to ‘glorify God in your body’ (1 Corinthians 6:20). It is sometimes suggested that those with same-sex attraction will not be able successfully marry those of the opposite sex, or that it is impossible for people with same-sex attraction to lead fulfilled Christian lives as single people, but there are numerous counter examples which challenge both these suggestions.[4]

Justice requires that pastoral care be offered to same-sex attracted people along the lines just described. However, there is nothing in the current situation in the Church in Wales that prevents this happening. Therefore the suggestion by the Welsh bishops that it does, and that this situation is ‘pastorally unsustainable’ and therefore unjust, is simply untrue. They have called good evil.

Furthermore they have also called evil good by suggesting that proper pastoral care involves the Church making formal provision for same-gender relationships. This means suggesting that same-sex sexual relationships can be blessed by God and can even constitute marriage. Both of these suggestions are untrue and acting upon them would involve the Church in Wales leading people astray by encouraging those who are in such relationships to remain in them and those who are not yet in them to think that entering into them would be acceptable to God. In both ways the Church in Wales will be encouraging sin by calling it good. If it does this it will be turning its back on what God has said and leading people into a situation in which they are in danger of being cut off from God for ever (1 Corinthians 6:9-10), Galatians 5:16-21).

So what should faithful Christians do in response to the Welsh decision? In a word, pray. Pray for the Welsh bishops that they may be convicted of their error and turn back to God in repentance. Pray for the Welsh Governing Body that it may overturn the decision it has just made. Pray for the Evangelical Fellowship of the Church in Wales as it members seek to witness to the truth in an increasingly dark situation.

M B Davie 14.9.18

[1] Governing Body, Same-gender relationships, Explanatory Memorandum and procedural note.

[2] Quotation in Nicholas Wolterstorff, Justice in Love, Grand Rapids and Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2011, p.85.

[3] For a detailed discussion of the idea of divine order and its relation to Christian ethics see Oliver O’Donovan, Resurrection and Moral Order 2ed, Leicester: Apollos, 1994.

[4] For information about pastoral care for same-sex attracted people see the resources on the Living Out  website at http://www.livingout,org.

Advertisements

On the flying of flags

Introduction

The purpose of this post is to consider the issue of the flying of the LGBTI+ rainbow flag by Church of England churches, an issue which has been raised recently by the flying of this flag by Ely Cathedral in order to mark Ely Pride. I shall argue that current regulations do not permit Church of England churches to fly this flag, and that it would be wrong for the regulations to be changed to permit them to do so.

Current regulations on the flying of flags.

It is sometimes thought that the flying of flags is entirely a matter of individual choice and that anyone is entitled to fly whatever flag they want, wherever they want and whenever they want. However, this is not the case.

The flying of flags in the United Kingdom is governed by government regulations which were last revised in 2012 and which are helpfully summarised in the Plain English Guide to flying flags published by the Department for Communities and Local Government.[1]

These regulations lay down a series of ‘standard conditions’ for the flying of flags. They stipulate that all flags must:

  • ‘ be maintained in a condition that does not impair the overall visual appearance of the site;
  • be kept in a safe condition;
  • have the permission of the owner of the site on which they are displayed (this includes the Highway Authority if the sign is to be placed on highway land);
  • not obscure, or  hinder the interpretation of official road, rail, waterway or aircraft signs, or otherwise make hazardous the use of these types of transport, and
  • be removed carefully where so required by the planning authority.’ [2]

The regulations also state that the following flags may be flown without requiring specific consent:

‘(a) Any country’s national flag, civil ensign or civil air ensign;

(b) The flag of the Commonwealth, the European Union, the United Nations or any other international organisation of which the United Kingdom is a member;

(c) A flag of any island, county, district, borough, burgh, parish, city, town or village within the United Kingdom;

(d) The flag of the Black Country, East Anglia, Wessex, any Part of Lincolnshire, any Riding of Yorkshire, or any historic county within the United Kingdom;

(e) The flag of Saint David;

(f) The flag of Saint Patrick;

(g) The flag of any administrative area within any country outside the United Kingdom;

(h) Any flag of Her Majesty’s forces;

(i) The Armed Forces Day flag.’[3]

In addition, a number of other types of flag may also be flown without consent, ‘subject to certain restrictions regarding the size of the flag, the size of characters on the flag, and the number and location of the flags.’ These include:

  • ‘ House flag – flag is allowed to display the name, emblem, device or trademark of the company (or person) occupying the building, or can refer to a specific event of limited duration that is taking place in the building from which the flag is flown;
  • Any sports club (but cannot include sponsorship logos);
  • The horizontal striped rainbow flag, such as the “Pride” Flag;
  • Specified award schemes – Eco-Schools, Queens Awards for Enterprise and Investors in People.’ [4]

On the basis of these general regulations it might appear that a Church of England church would be within its rights to fly the rainbow flag, just like any other individual or organisation in the United Kingdom.

However, the Church of England has its own regulations for the flying of flags which are more restrictive than the general government regulations just noted.

These regulations can be found on the Church of England’s ‘Church Care’ website. Following directions given by the Earl Marshal in 1938, they lay down that the flag which should normally be flown by a church of the Church of England is ‘The Cross of St George and in the first quarter the escutcheon of the Arms of the See in which the church is ecclesiastically situated.’[5] In other words, the flag to be flown is the St George’s flag with the appropriate diocesan arms in the top corner nearest to the flag staff. In addition, ‘Churches may also, if they so wish, fly the Union Flag on the same days when it is flown from Government and other buildings.’[6]

There are also regulations for the laying up in churches of military colours and Royal British Legion standards.[7] No provision is made for any other flag to be flown.

What all this means is that there is no provision for Church of England churches to fly the rainbow flag. Churches that do so are therefore acting against the Church of England’s regulations on the matter.

Should the Church of England permit the flying of the rainbow flag?

The fact that current Church regulations do not permit Church of England churches to fly the rainbow flag raises the question of whether these regulations should be changed. As we have seen, the government’s general regulations concerning the flying of flags allow the rainbow flag to be flown. Why shouldn’t the Church of England’s regulations follow suit?

In order to answer this question it is first of all necessary to consider what the flying of a flag signifies. One can come up with a vast range of idiosyncratic reasons why an individual or group might decide to fly a flag, for example, to win a wager, to please/annoy their neighbours, out of antiquarian interest, or simply because of an aesthetic liking for the flag’s design and colour scheme. However, in general terms we can say that a flag is a symbol of the identity of a nation or group, and that flying its flag is normally intended to express allegiance, respect, or support for the nation or group concerned.

We can see this if we consider the significance of two flags, the Flag of Zion, the national flag of the state of Israel, and the Red Flag, the flag of the international socialist movement.

The Israeli flag

The blue and white Israeli flag, adopted in October 1948, echoes in its design and colour the pattern of a Jewish prayer shawl, or tallit, and also has on it the ancient Jewish symbol of the six  pointed Star of David. By the use of these two elements the flag symbolises the identity of the state of Israel as a national homeland for the Jewish people in the country of their ancestors.

If an Israeli flies this flag it symbolizes their allegiance to the state of Israel. If non-Israelis fly it this act symbolises their support for Israel (as when the flag is flown at a pro-Israel rally), or their respect for the existence of Israel as an independent sovereign state (as when the flag is flown outside the United Nations or at international event such as the Olympic Games).

The Red Flag

The Red Flag has been a symbol of left wing revolutionary activity since the French Revolution and since 1848 it has been the symbol of the international socialist movement. As such, it was for instance, the symbol of the British Labour Party from its foundation until 1986, signifying the Labour Party’s socialist identity.

Flying the Red Flag, as happened, for instance, at Sheffield Town Hall in the 1980s, has traditionally been a way of showing allegiance to the socialist movement and support for socialist policies. The significance of the Red Flag as a symbol of loyalty to the socialist cause is famously expressed in the well-known words of Jim Connell’s socialist anthem The Red Flag:

‘The People’s Flag is deepest red,

It shrouded oft our martyred dead,

And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,

Their hearts’ blood dyed its every fold.

(Chorus)

Then raise the scarlet standard high.

Beneath its shade we’ll live and die,

Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,

We’ll keep the red flag flying here.’

The rainbow flag

The LGBTI+ rainbow flag, also known as the ‘pride flag,’ was originally devised by the gay San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker in 1978 at the request of the gay leader Harvey Milk and was first used at the Gay Freedom Day Parade in San Francisco on 25 June that year. Its significance is best understood by analogy with the Red Flag.

Like the Red Flag, the rainbow flag is the symbol of a revolutionary political movement and flying it has become a way of indicating allegiance to that movement and support for its policies. However, the revolution the two movements are seeking to achieve is different. Whereas the socialist movement has sought to liberate the working class from oppression by capitalists and the capitalist economic system, the LGBTI+ movement has sought to liberate sexual minorities from oppression by the majority population and its traditional view of sexual ethics and sexual identity. In specific terms this has meant the LGBTI + movement striving for three things: (a) the acceptance of same-sex sexual relationships (and latterly same-sex marriage), (b) the right of transgender people to define their own sexual identity regardless of their biology and (c) the recognition of intersex people as having a sexual identity distinct from male or female.

Flying the rainbow flag has become a symbol of support for this programme by LGBTI+ people and their straight allies. The fact that the rainbow flag is now frequently flown by the government, and by other institutions and businesses, demonstrates the extent to which the LGBTI+ programme has now become a central part of the prevailing social and political ideology in this country, with support for this programme being seen as an integral part of ‘British values.’ Just as in the Soviet Union loyalty to the country and commitment to socialism were viewed as inseparable, so also in Britain loyalty to what Britain stands for is now increasingly viewed as inseparable from commitment to the beliefs of the LGBTI + movement.

In this context shouldn’t Church of England churches be permitted to fly the rainbow flag to demonstrate their commitment to Britain and its values in the same way that they currently do by flying the Union Flag? The answer to this question is ‘no’ and the reason that the answer is ‘no’ is because the LGBTI + programme , just like the socialist ideology of the Soviet Union, is incompatible with the Christian faith for which the Church of England stands.

The LGBTI + programme and Christian anthropology

The Christian faith involves a specific anthropology which is based on what God has revealed in the two books of nature and Scripture.

What the study of human nature reveals is that humanity is a dimorphic species consisting of two sexes, male and female, distinguished by their biology, and that these two sexes are designed to engage in sexual intercourse with members of the opposite sex and to produce offspring by this means.

A very small number of people (around 0.018% of live births) are genuinely intersex in the sense that they have bodies which combine male and female sexual characteristics. However, they do not constitute a ‘third sex’ alongside male and female since they do not have a separate set of sexual characteristics linked to a separate method of sexual reproduction. Their sexual characteristics are those of males and females, but these have become combined in a single individual due to a disorder in their sexual development. What we find in the bodies of people with intersex conditions is, in the words of Oliver O’Donovan, ‘an ambiguity which has arisen by a malfunction in a dimorphic human sexual pattern.’ [8]

What Scripture reveals in passages such as Genesis 1:26-28, 2:18-25, Mark 10:6-9, Ephesians 5:21-33, and Revelation 21:1-4, is that the existence of humanity as a sexually dimorphic species is not an accident, but is the result of the creative activity of God. Human beings have been created by God in his image and likeness as those who are biologically male and female and he has established marriage between one man and one woman as the context for sexual intercourse, which establishes a one flesh union between the man and woman involved and makes possible the procreation of children in accordance with God’s command to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’ The marital union between men and women is a symbol of the union between God and his people which will be consummated in the eternal communion with God which his people will enjoy in the life of the world to come.

The LGBTI + programme goes against what is revealed in nature and Scripture because it refuses to accept that sexual activity should only take place between a man and a woman in marriage, disassociates sexual intercourse from procreation,  holds that a person’s sex can be different from their biology and  holds that there is a third sex alongside male and female. Because this is the case, it would be wrong for Christians in the Church of England to accept the LGBTI + programme and therefore also wrong for the Church of England to permit the flying of the rainbow flag which is the symbol of this programme.

Can Christians use the rainbow flag to convey their own message?

It might be argued, however that it could be right for Christians to fly the rainbow flag, not in order to signify acceptance of the LGBTI + programme, but in order to bear witness to the Christian conviction that lesbian, gay, transgender and intersex people have been created by God in his image and likeness and are unconditionally loved by him, that they are therefore welcome to be part of the Church, and that they should not be subject to unwarranted exclusion, unjust discrimination, violence or persecution.

It is fundamentally important that Christians should bear witness to this conviction in a context in which Christianity is often portrayed as hostile to those who are lesbian, gay, transgender or intersex. However, flying the rainbow flag is not an effective way to bear witness to this conviction.

The reason this is the case is because what is conveyed by the flying of a flag in a particular context is not necessarily what is intended by the person flying it. For example, there are those in the United States who wish to fly the Confederate flag in order to mark the continuing importance of Southern history and culture, or to honour those who gave their lives for the Confederate cause. However, in the current American context, and particularly among black people, this is not what flying the Confederate flag conveys. What it conveys is support for white supremacy.

Anyone thinking about flying the Confederate flag needs to take this reality into account and in a similar way anyone in the Church of England considering flying the rainbow flag needs to take into account the reality of what flying it will convey. It will not convey the nuanced message of Christian conviction noted above. What it will convey is a message that those flying it are on board with the entire LGBTI + programme. This is a not a message that Christians should give out and consequently they should not fly the rainbow flag.

Conclusion

What we have seen in this post is that current Church of England regulations do not permit the flying of the LGBTI+ rainbow flag and that because of what the flying of this flag signifies this should remain the case. Church of England churches should therefore not fly the rainbow flag and it would be helpful if the bishops would write to the clergy reminding them of this fact and the reasons for it.

Addendum: Should the rainbow flag be placed on the Lord’s table?

Since this post was first published, the further issue has  been raised of whether it is right to place the rainbow flag on the Lord’s table in Church of England churches during ‘inclusive’ services, such as the  service held at Reading Minster on 30 August to mark Reading Pride, or the ‘Rainbow Church Eucharist which is due to take place at Wells Cathedral on 22 September.

This specific issue is not covered by the regulations concerning the flying of flags from church buildings for the simple reason that a flag is not being flown. Furthermore, there do not appear to be any Church of England regulations concerning which flags (if any) may be placed on the Lord’s table.

The matter therefore has to be decided by asking what message is being sent out by placing any given flag on the Lord’s table. If the message is contrary to the Christian faith as the Church has received it, then that flag should not be placed there. For the reasons given above this is true of the rainbow flag and consequently it should not be placed on the Lord’s table in any Church of England church.

Furthermore, as Lee Gatiss notes in a helpful article on the Church Society website, the very concept of holding a ‘Rainbow Eucharist’ is problematic regardless of whether or not the rainbow flag is placed on the Lord’s table. In his words, such services: ‘are not just blasphemy; they politicise the sacrament in an entirely unhelpful and indeed sacrilegious way.’[9] They celebrate sin and they divide the unity of God’s people by holding a Eucharist which is only for the supporters of a particular political cause.

M B Davie 25.8.18

[1] Plain English guide to flying flags, London: Department for Communities and Local Government, 2012.

[2] Ibid, p.1

[3] Ibid, p. 2.

[4] Ibid, p.2.

[5] Church Care, Flags, http://www.churchcare.co.uk/churches/guidance-advice/looking-after-your-church/flags.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Oliver O’Donovan, Transsexualism: Issues and Argument, Cambridge: Grove Books, 2007, p.8.

[9] Lee Gatiss, Eucharistic Signalling at http://churchsociety.org/blog/entry/eucharistic_signalling/

 

 

GAFCON, the Archbishop and Lambeth 2020

Last month almost two thousand Anglicans from all around the globe met together in Jerusalem at the third Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON). This was one of the largest Anglican gatherings ever held and at the end it produced a ‘Letter to the Churches’ which reported on the conference and the conclusions reached in the course of its sessions.

Among other things this letter declares:

‘…. we respectfully urge the Archbishop of Canterbury:

  • to invite as full members to Lambeth 2020 bishops of the Province of the Anglican Church in North America and the Province of the Anglican Church in Brazil and
  • not to invite bishops of those Provinces which have endorsed by word or deed sexual practices which are in contradiction to the teaching of Scripture and Resolution I.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference, unless they have repented of their actions and reversed their decisions.

In the event that this does not occur, we urge GAFCON members to decline the invitation to attend Lambeth 2020 and all other meetings of the Instruments of Communion.’[1]

What are we to make of what is said in this section of the letter?

The first point to note is that the Archbishop is not being asked to do the impossible. Ever since Archbishop Charles Longley invited Anglican bishops to the first Lambeth Conference in 1867 it has been accepted that it is for the Archbishop of Canterbury to decide which bishops should be invited. He can invite who he likes and not invite who he likes and he is not obliged to have the agreement of any other person or body about the matter. The buck stops with the Archbishop.

This means that Archbishop Welby can fulfil the requests made in both the bullet points in the GAFCON letter. However, this still leaves the question of whether he should do so. To answer this question it is necessary to recall what has taken place in the Anglican Communion in the twenty years since the Lambeth Conference of 1998.

Two key things have happened.

First, in spite of being repeatedly urged not to do so, a number of provinces of the Anglican Communion (The Episcopal Church, the Anglican Church in Canada, the Episcopal Church in Brazil, the Scottish Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church in Aorateara, New Zealand and Polynesia) have acted in ways that go against Scripture and Resolution 1.10 of the 1998 Lambeth Conference by accepting, in terms of both doctrine and practice, the blessing of same-sex sexual relationships, same-sex marriages and the ordination of those in same-sex sexual relationships.

Secondly, in response to these developments, Anglicans in the United States, Canada and Brazil who have remained loyal to Scripture and Lambeth 1.10 have established the two alternative orthodox provinces mentioned in the first bullet point– the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Church in Brazil.

By acting in the way that they have, those Anglican provinces which have accepted same-sex sexual relationships have rejected the obligations that go with being a member of the Anglican Communion. These obligations were classically set out in the encyclical letter from the bishops who attended the 1920 Lambeth Conference. This letter declared:

‘For half a century the Lambeth Conference has more and more served to focus the experience and counsels of our Communion. But it does not claim to exercise any powers of control or command. It stands for the far more spiritual and more Christian principle of loyalty to the fellowship. The Churches represented in it are indeed independent, but independent with the Christian freedom which recognizes the restraints of truth and of love. They are not free to deny the truth. They are not free to ignore the fellowship.’[2]

Those provinces which have accepted same-sex sexual relationships have refused to accept the ‘restraints of truth and love.’ They have rejected the truth by ignoring the teaching of the Bible that God has created marriage to be between a man and a woman and sexual intercourse to be something that takes place solely within marriage (Genesis 2:18-24, Matthew 5: 27-30, 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, Hebrews 13:4). They have rejected loyalty to the fellowship of the Anglican Communion by ignoring what the Communion as a whole has said about the matter.

Because they have thus shown that they wish to go their own way rather than accept the obligations involved in belonging to the Anglican Communion it is right that their membership of the Communion should be suspended until such time as they amend their ways. The Bible teaches that those who persist in ungodly behaviour should be disciplined by the Church (Matthew 18:15-20, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13), both as a way of maintaining the holiness of the body of Christ and as a loving warning to the persons concerned that they need to repent of their wrongdoing and turn to God for forgiveness and a new start. Suspending the provinces concerned from the Communion would be a right exercise of such discipline and not inviting their bishops to the Lambeth Conference is the part of such suspension that the Archbishop of Canterbury has immediate power to enforce. This is therefore what he should do.

By contrast, those Anglicans who have formed the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Church in Brazil have demonstrated that they do take seriously the obligations involved in being faithful members of the Anglican Communion. They have gone through a very difficult and painful period as they have separated from The Episcopal Church, The Anglican Church in Canada and The Episcopal church in Brazil, but they have been willing to do so because they have wanted to remain loyal to Scripture and to Lambeth 1.10. It is therefore right that they should be recognised as full members of the Anglican Communion and one way this can happen is by the Archbishops of Canterbury inviting their bishops to be full members of the 2020 Lambeth Conference. This is therefore what he should also do.

In the final part of this section of the letter GAFCON members are urged not to attend meetings of the ‘Instruments of Communion’ if the Archbishop chooses to ignore their requests with regard to the Lambeth Conference. This means that they should not attend the Lambeth Conference itself, or the meetings of the Anglican Primates, or the meetings of the Anglican Consultative Council.

There are three reasons for this suggestion.

First, over the past twenty years the bodies just mentioned have repeatedly failed to address the disorder in the Anglican Communion by taking proper disciplinary action against those churches who have rejected the teaching of Scripture and Lambeth 1.10. If there is no indication from the Archbishop that this is going to change, then continuing to attend meeting of these bodies would be an exercise in futility. It would be a waste of time and money that could be better used in other ways.

Secondly, at the moment Anglicans representing provinces that have rejected the teaching of Scripture and Lambeth 1.10 are still included as full members of the Instruments of Communion whereas those representing the Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Church in Brazil are not. This is unjust, and by not attending meetings of the Instruments until it is rectified GAFCON members would be registering a clear protest against this injustice and standing in solidarity with their orthodox brother and sisters in North America and Brazil.

Thirdly, the continuing attendance of orthodox Anglicans at meetings of the Instruments has been used by the powers that be in the Communion over the past twenty years to suggest that divisions over marriage and sexuality are not that important. Anglicans, it has been said, can learn to live with divisions over these matters while continuing to ‘walk together’ and while the other business of the Communion continues as normal. However, marriage and sexual conduct are primary rather than secondary issues because they are integrally bound up with creation and redemption and effect peoples’ eternal destinies. They are therefore not ‘matters indifferent’ on which Anglicans can disagree while conducting business as usual.[3] Refusing to attend meetings of the Instruments of Communion until the authorities in the Anglican Communion take appropriate action about these matters would be a clear way of drawing attention to them and preventing them from being illegitimately side lined.

The major argument against non-attendance would be that orthodox Anglicans would forfeit their ability to contribute to the development of the Communion. However, this is not the case. There is nothing to stop them relating directly to the Archbishop of Canterbury and, as the emergence of GAFCON has shown, it is possible for them to develop alternative structures to help Anglicans to relate to one another and to work together to take forward the mission of the Church. This argument is therefore not persuasive.

For the reasons given above, what this section of GAFCON’s Letter to the Churches says makes perfectly good sense. The Archbishop of Canterbury should listen to what GAFCON has said and act accordingly.

M B Davie 9.7.18

[1] Letter to the Churches – GAFCON Assembly 2018, at https://www.gafcon.org/news/letter-to-the-churches-gafcon-assembly-2018

[2] Conference of Bishops of the Anglican Communion 1920 – Encyclical Letter with Reports and Resolutions,London: SPCK, 1920 p.14.

[3] See Dennis P Hollinger, The Meaning of Sex, Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009 and David Peterson (ed),Holiness and Sexuality, Milton Keynes: Paternoster, 2004.

GAFCON Seminar: Human flourishing and the mission of the Church

GAFCON Jerusalem 2018

Human flourishing and the mission of the Church.

Seminar outline

1. What do we mean by human flourishing and what accounts of human flourishing have been given by non-Christian religions and philosophies? Martin Davie (15 minutes)

Q and A Martin Davie (10 minutes)

2. What is the alternative Christian vision of human flourishing? Martin Davie (15 minutes)

How would you explain this Christian vision of flourishing to a Hindu? Canon Chris Sugden (10 minutes)

Q and A Martin Davie and Canon Chris Sugden (10 minutes)

3. Nathan Lovell interviewing Phumezo Masango on how we can help people to flourish as Christians in tough places like Khayelitsha township in South Africa (15 minutes)

Concluding Q and A Nathan Lovell and Phumezo Masango (15 minutes)

M B Davie 16.6.18

What do we mean by human flourishing?

GAFCON Jerusalem 2018

Human flourishing and the mission of the church.

What do we mean by human flourishing and what accounts of human flourishing are given by non-Christian religions and philosophies?

What do we mean by flourishing?

The New Oxford Dictionary of English tells us that the verb ‘to flourish’ means ‘to grow or develop in a healthy or vigorous way.’ A moment’s thought will tell us that what this means varies according to what exactly it is that we are talking about.

We have just planted some rhubarb plants in my garden at home in England and I will judge whether these plants are flourishing by whether they produce big green leaves and long red stems. If they do they are flourishing, but if they don’t they are not and I shall need to see what, if anything, I can do about it. The rabbit population in my garden is also flourishing, but in this case I judge flourishing by a different criteria. For a rabbit population to flourish means that the individual rabbits are big and healthy rather than small and sick, and that there are lots of offspring.

In both instances I have an idea of what it means for the plant or animal to be healthy or vigorous and I judge whether they are flourishing according to that yardstick.

As well as thinking about what it means for plants and animals flourish, all human beings have some basic idea of what it means for human beings to flourish, even if this is not the term they would use. It is this idea which shapes the way they live their lives.

As the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor notes in his book A Secular Age:

‘Every person, and every society, lives with or by some conception(s) of what human flourishing is: what constitutes a fulfilled life? What makes like really worth living? What would we most admire people for? We can’t help asking these or related questions in our lives. And our struggles to answer them define the view or views that we try to live by, or between which we haver. At another level, these views are codified, sometimes in philosophical theories, sometimes in moral codes, sometimes in religious practices and devotion. These and the various ill-formulated practices which people around us engage in constitute the resources that our society offers each one of us as we try to lead our lives.‘[1]

Why flourishing matters for mission.

As the Church engages in its God given mission to proclaim Christ faithfully to the nations it has to engage with the issue of human flourishing. This is because people will only begin to follow Jesus Christ, or continue to follow him if they do so already, if they believe that following him will lead them to flourish more than some other way of life.

We can see this point if we consider the famous words found at the beginning of Book I of the Confessions of St. Augustine, ‘Thou hast formed us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless till they find rest in thee.’[2] The point that St Augustine is making is that human beings have been created by and for God and in consequence they can only truly flourish if they find rest in a right relationship with God. According to Augustine, the reason for being a Christian, rather than being a Neo-Platonist or a Manichee, is that Christianity enables people to find this rest and so to flourish as they were made to do. Just as being a flourishing rhubarb plant means having big green leaves and a big red stem, so being a flourishing human being means being people whose hearts find their rest in God and, says Augustine, being a Christian makes this possible.

If we are going to try to persuade people to follow Jesus Christ because doing so will best enable them to flourish we have to begin by understanding what they currently think about the matter. Think of St. Paul preaching in the Areopagus in Athens in Acts 17. The Athenians whom he is addressing hold that what enables human flourishing is worshiping the various gods of the Greek pantheon. What St. Paul tells them is that they are right to take the need to worship seriously, but that the objects of their worship are wrong. In order to flourish they need to give up idolatry and worship instead the one true God who made heaven and earth and every human being and to whom the Greek poets bore witness.

In similar fashion we have to target our proclamation of the gospel so that it addresses what the people we are in conversation with think makes for human flourishing.

So what do people in the world today think makes for human flourishing? Obviously in the time available I cannot give a comprehensive account of the matter, but in the remainder of this first presentation I shall sketch out the main non-Christian options before going on in my second presentation to set out the Christian alternative.

The non-religious philosophies of the contemporary West.

a. Secular individualism

 

In much of the Western world the prevailing understanding is that what makes for human flourishing is something that each individual has to decide for themselves. To quote Charles Taylor again, what this approach says is that:

‘Everyone has a right to develop their own form of life, grounded on their own sense or what is really important or of value. People are called upon to be true to themselves and to seek their own self-fulfilment. What this consists of, each must, in the last instance, determine for him-or herself. No one else can or should try to dictate its content.’[3]

This view fits in with the late capitalist consumer culture that dominates Western society. Life is seen as a vast shopping centre, or online shopping site, and we flourish when we are free to choose whatever we want from everything that is on offer. What we choose is up to us. It is having the freedom to choose what we want to choose that matters.

Three further points about this view are:

Firstly, that although people are theoretically free to choose a simple, or even ascetic, lifestyle, there is a strong cultural message that says the way to find self-fulfilment and therefore to flourish is through acquiring the latest brands of consumer goods. Secondly, although people are theoretically free to choose to be chaste or celibate, there is again a strong cultural message that says that in order to flourish you need to engage in consensual sexual activity with whatever sex (or sexes) are right for your particular sexual orientation and sexual needs. Thirdly, this approach to human flourishing is secular both in the sense that it leaves God out of the picture and in the sense that it is concerned with what happens in this world. The idea that this world is a preparation for the next is not part of the picture.

b. Marxism

 

Since the collapse of the Soviet bloc in the late 1980s Marxism is not the force it was in human affairs. However, there are still countries, most notably China, that are still officially Communist, the Marxist critique of capitalism has seen a renaissance in response to the austerity following on from the 2008 financial crisis and Marxist thought is still influential in academic circles. Marxism therefore still requires our attention.

Marxism is a philosophy of history which declares that ‘The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.’[4] These struggles have been between a small class of exploiters and the majority who they have exploited. They have taken various forms, but the final struggle in which history finds its completion is the struggle between bourgeois capitalists and the proletariat who they subject to ‘naked, shameless, direct, brutal exploitation.’[5]

For Marxist thought history will reach its proper end when, under Communist leadership, the proletariat rise up, overthrow the capitalist system and substitute an equitable system of economic and social relationships in which the ‘free development of each is the condition for the free development of all.’[6] When this happens, Mankind as a whole, and each individual within it, will finally flourish. To achieve this flourishing not only does capitalism need to be overthrown, but so all do all forms of religion and ideas of a world to come, colonialism, and the nuclear family and the sexual ethics associated with it, since these are all tools by which the bourgeois keep the proletariat in enslavement.

Primal Religion

The traditional religions of tribal peoples, what used to be called primitive religion and is now called ‘primal religion,’ are in decline because of the growing influence of the world’s major religions, the growing impact of industrial civilization in the most remote corners of the globe and large scale migration from rural areas to the cities. Nevertheless they remain hugely important for many millions of people today.

As the researches of the Roman Catholic scholar Wilhelm Schmidt and others have shown, almost all traditional societies show evidence of belief in one, benevolent, creator God. However, what governs human affairs is not the activity of the transcendent creator, but the life force running through all things, the activities of lesser spiritual powers (what in Western terms might be described as ‘gods’ or ‘demons’) who may be benevolent, malevolent, or both at different times, and who are thought to inhabit the natural world, and the continuing influence of the ancestors who still wield power over the lives of their descendants.

Although the details of their beliefs and practices vary enormously, one can say that in general adherents of primal religions believe that human beings flourish (i.e. their life force is increased) when they respect the given order of the world by playing their proper part in the affairs of the tribe, adhering to the way of life laid down by the ancestors, and keeping the spirits on side by performing the appropriate religious rituals under the guidance of those with special knowledge in such matters.

As the importance attached to the influence of the ancestors indicates, primal religions generally include a belief in life after death, with some holding that the nature of that life will depend on how people have behaved in this one and whether they have received the proper burial rites. If people have behaved wickedly or not been properly buried they may be punished in the afterlife or be forced to wonder as a ghost.

The great religions of South and East Asia

a. Hinduism

 

Hinduism is a form of religion that gradually developed in South Asia over thousands of years.

The Hindu worldview holds that there is one supreme God (or for non-theistic Hindus one supreme reality) from which all things emanate and to whom all things will ultimately return. The various gods of the Hindu pantheon are understood as emanating from the supreme deity and representing some aspect of his existence. Human existence is seen as a cycle of birth, death and rebirth in which the soul passes through various reincarnations. The nature of these reincarnations depends on how the previous life was lived, in line with the principle of karma that holds all actions have consequences either in this life, or in the next. In order to flourish in each successive incarnation one needs to behave in accordance with dharma, the order which governs the cosmos and human behaviour within it. The highest form of flourishing, and the goal of human existence, is to achieve moksha, liberation from the cycle of reincarnation and union with God.

b. Buddhism  

Buddhism is a spiritual tradition that traces its origins to the teaching and practice of the Buddha (the ‘enlightened one’), Siddhartha Gautama, who lived sometime in the sixth century BC. In the Buddhist worldview there is no creator God, rather the universe is simply the working out of a cyclical process in which world-systems come into being, exist for a time, are destroyed and are then re-made. Within this cyclical worldview human beings are also seen as being trapped in an endless process of re-incarnation, experiencing suffering through many lives on the basis of their behaviour in previous incarnations). In this world view for human beings to flourish means to be achieve liberation from this cycle of death and re-birth (nirvana) by means of enlightenment.

According to Buddhist teaching the way to achieve nirvana is through ‘The Noble Eightfold Path’ which consists of:

(1) Right understanding (the acceptance of Buddhist teachings);

(2) Right intention (a commitment to cultivate right attitudes);

(3) Right speech (truthful speech that avoids slander, gossip and abuse);

(4) Right action (engaging in peaceful and harmonious behaviour, and refraining from stealing, killing and overindulgence in sensual pleasure);

(5) Right livelihood (avoiding making a living in harmful ways such as exploiting people, killing animals, or trading in intoxicants or weapons);

(6) Right effort (freeing oneself from evil and unwholesome states of mind and preventing them from arising in future);

(7) Right mindfulness (developing an awareness of the body, sensations, feelings and states of mind);

(8) Right concentration (the development of the mental focus necessary for this awareness).

c. Sikhism

 

Like Hinduism and Buddhism, Sikhism, which was founded by Guru Nanak in the fifteenth century, holds that human flourishing involves escaping from the cycle of life, death and rebirth. The way of escape (known as mukti) involves, negatively, escaping from attachment to the world and the bondage of egoism and, positively, achieving total knowledge of, and union with, God.

According to Sikh teaching, the path to mukti involves avoiding five vices and performing three basic duties. The five vices are lust, covetousness, greed, anger and pride. The three duties or ‘pillars’ are:

  • Nam japna, ‘meditation on God through reciting, chanting, singing and constant remembrance followed by deep study and comprehension of God’s name and virtues’;
  • Kirt Karna, ‘to honestly earn by one’s physical and mental effort while accepting both pains and pleasures as God’s gifts and blessings’;4
  • Vand Chhakna, ‘To share the fruits of one’s labour with others before considering oneself.’[7]

Judaism and Islam

a. Judaism

 

Judaism goes back to the call of Abraham by God sometime around 1900 BC and the subsequent covenant entered into by God with Abraham’s descendants, the people of Israel, at the time of the Exodus from Egypt in about 1250 BC. Judaism is very diverse form of religion, but the traditional Jewish view is that human beings were created by the one creator God to be in right relationship with him. They flourish when this is the case and fail to flourish when they do not.

For those who are Jewish being in right relationship with God involves living according to the covenant between God and Israel at the time of the Exodus, by observing the teaching contained in the twenty four books of the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh (what we call the Old Testament) and the commentary on this teaching contained in the later Jewish texts known as the Mishnah and Talmud. Those who are non-Jewish can be in right relationship with God if they observe the seven laws which according to Jewish tradition were given by God to the sons of Noah as a set of laws for the entire human race. These laws are not to worship idols, not to curse God, to establish courts of justice, not to commit murder, not to commit adultery or sexual immorality, not to steal and not to eat flesh torn from a living animal

Judaism has also traditionally held that there is life after death, with the righteous ultimately being resurrected to share in the Olam Ha Ba (the world to come) and the wicked being finally and eternally excluded from this.

b. Islam.

 

Islam emerged in the seventh century AD. Its view of human flourishing is an outworking of its basic statement of faith (the shahada) which declares ‘There is no god but God. Muhammad is the messenger of God.’ Like Judaism, Islam believes in one creator God and that for humans to flourish they need to be in a right relationship with him. Where it differs from Judaism is that it holds that being in a right relationship with God involves following the teaching contained in the Qur’an (the sacred text said to have been revealed by God to Muhammad, the final messenger or prophet of God) and also in the Sunnah (the record of Muhammad’s life and practice) and the Hadith (reports of what he said or approved).

To live in this way involves being part of the Ummah (the world wide Islamic community) and observing the basic five pillars of Islam (sincerely reciting the Muslim profession of faith, praying five times each day, paying a charitable tax to benefit the poor and the needy, fasting during Ramadan and going on pilgrimage to Mecca. Like Judaism, Islam believes in the resurrection of the dead and a final judgement which will lead people to either finally flourish in paradise or suffer in hell depending on the balance of their good or bad deeds.

What we have seen so far.

This is obviously a selective overview of the world’s religions and philosophies (for example I have not covered Confucianism or Taoism). However, what we have seen thus far has established the basic point that how to flourish is a vital issue for all human beings and that there are a variety of different religious and non- religious approaches held in the world today. This raises the question as to where Christianity fits into the picture. What do we have to say about human flourishing as we engage in mission? We shall begin to address this issue after a time for Q and A s.

 

[1] Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, Cambridge MA: Belknap Press, 2007, p.16.

[2] St Augustine, The Confessions, Book 1:1.

[3] Charles Taylor, The Ethics of Authenticity, Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1992, p.14.

[4] The Communist Manifesto, Chapter 1, at https://www.marxists.org/archive/marx/works/1848/communist manifesto/ch01.htm#007

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Definition of the three pillars from Sikhwiki at http://www.sikhiwiki.org/index.php/Three Pillars

The Christian Vision of Human Flourishing

GAFCON Jerusalem 2018

Human flourishing and the mission of the church.

The Christian vision of human flourishing

In my opening remarks I explained why the concept of human flourishing is important for the mission of the Church and sketched out the understanding of human flourishing put forward by a range of non-Christian philosophies and religions.

The picture of flourishing in Psalm 1.

I shall now go on to consider what an alternative Christian view of flourishing looks like. I shall begin by looking at Psalm 1, since this is a section of the Bible which directly addresses the issue of what it means for a human being to flourish. If we ask what a flourishing human being looks like then Psalm 1 tells us.

Psalm 1 runs as follows:

‘1 Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners,  nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord,     and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree     planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so,     but are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,     nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous; for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,     but the way of the wicked will perish.’

This Psalm can be divided into two parts.

The first part is in verses 1-3. In these verses the man who is described as ‘blessed’ in verse 1 is said in verse 3 to flourish like a well-watered tree which produces a harvest of fruit at the proper time and whose leaves never wither because of drought. Just as this tree prospers so also it is said of the blessed man ‘In all that he does, he prospers.’

These verses also describe the characteristics of this flourishing man, first negatively and then positively.

Negatively, (1) he ‘walks not in the counsel of the wicked,’ That is, he does not ‘follow their advice rather than the guidance of God.’[1] (2) He does not stand ‘in the way of sinners,’ that is, share their way of life.’[2] (3) He does not sit ‘in the seat of scoffers’ by ‘making light of God’s law which ought to be one’s delight.’[3]

Positively, ‘his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.’ In other words, what he delights in is what God wants and this is what he constantly thinks about. Furthermore as the parallel verse in Joshua 1:8 indicates, this is not ‘merely an intellectual exercise, but, above all, it is a study of the will of God for the purpose of doing it.’[4]

The second half of the Psalm, verses 4-6, describes the fate of the ‘wicked.’ By the ‘wicked’ the Psalmist means the godless, those who lack the characteristics described in verses 1-3. They fail to flourish but are ‘like the chaff which the wind drives away.’ During the corn harvest in Old Testament times the corn was thrown into the air with the chaff, the dray scaly protective casing of the gain, being blown away by the wind and the heavier grain dropping to the floor to be collected and stored for subsequent use . Chaff is thus a metaphor for all that is useless and transitory and this is what is being said about the life of the wicked. ‘They are thought of as having become worthless in themselves, and their life as empty and without permanence.’ [5]

Objections to this picture.

So far everything seems nice and clear. If we take Psalm 1 as our basis we can construct a nice simple division between two types of human beings, the ‘blessed’ who reject sin and live in obedience to God, and so flourish, and the wicked who don’t and whose lives are therefore worthless and impermanent.

However, if we delve more deeply in to the biblical witness we find that things aren’t quite that simple. The Bible itself raises two objections to this view of human life.

First, it would appear that the sinfulness of the human race means that the category of the blessed as described in Psalm 1 is an empty category. It has nobody in it. We are told in Psalm 14 verses 2-3, for example, that:

‘The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men,  to see if there are any that act wisely,  that seek after God,

They have all gone astray, they are all alike corrupt;  there is none that does good, no, not one.’

Secondly, as the write of Ecclesiastes testifies, experience calls into question the notion that the blessed flourish and endure while the wicked pass away. As Ecclesiastes 9:2 puts it:

‘… one fate comes to all, to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As is the good man, so is the sinner; and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath.’

How the Christian account of flourishing answers these two objections.

How can we respond to these two objections, given that God’s word in Holy Scripture cannot contradict itself?

If we start with the issue of the universal sinfulness of the human race, a good place to begin to respond is with the words of St. Paul in Romans 3:21-22. In the previous section of Romans, 1:18 – 3:20, St. Paul explains that both ‘all men, both Jews and Greeks, are under the power of sin’ (3:9). However he then goes on to declare in verses 21-22:

‘But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from law, although the law and the prophets bear witness to it, the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.’

What these verses tell us about is a righteousness, a state of being in the right before God, that is not dependent upon what we do (‘law’) but which is given by God to all who have faith in Jesus Christ. As the Lutheran scholar Anders Nygren puts it:

By faith in [Christ] we are recipients of the righteousness which comes down from God. It is not an inner quality of our own, but an active intervention by God by which he transforms our existence and renews its circumstances. Formerly the wrath of God from heaven pursued man who was doomed to death. Now through Christ the heaven of righteousness and life stretches out over all who believe. By the grace of God man is included in God’s own righteousness. [6]

According to Romans, therefore, if we have faith Jesus Christ we stand before God as righteous, just like the blessed man in Psalm 1, even though in ourselves we are sinners. How can this be? To start off with, we need to recall that there is one exception to the otherwise universal tale of human sinfulness, one person who perfectly fulfils the picture of the blessed man in Psalm 1. That person is Jesus Christ. As Eric Costa notes:

‘Literally speaking, there is only one person who thoroughly fulfils Psalm 1, whose delight is fully in the law of the Lord, who never walked in the counsel of the wicked, whose works always prosper, who is in himself ‘the way, the truth and the life of the righteous.’ [7]

Having made this point, Costa then comments further:

This is encouraging, because if I look at Psalm 1, then look just at myself, then look back and forth a few more times, I begin to wonder whether I can truly consider myself among the congregation of the righteous. But if I look to Jesus Christ with faith as the one who fulfilled Psalm 1 for me, then in him I have the full assurance of the benefits mentioned in the Psalm.[8]

But how can I have this assurance on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ? Because, as Martin Luther puts it, drawing on the imagery used by St. Paul in Ephesians 5:21-33, through faith I am married to Christ. I therefore become one flesh with him and so my sin is his, but his righteousness is mine. Listen to Luther in his great tract of 1520 The Freedom of a Christian:

‘The third incomparable benefit of faith is that it unites the soul with Christ as a bride is united with her bridegroom. By this mystery, as the Apostle teaches, Christ and the soul become one flesh [Eph.5:31-32]. And if they are one flesh and there is between them the most perfect of all marriages, since human marriages are but poor examples of this one true marriage – it follows that everything they have they hold in common, the good as well as the evil. Accordingly the believing soul can boast of and glory in whatever Christ has as though it were his own, and whatever the soul has Christ claims as his own.’[9]

This is good news, says Luther, because

‘…his righteousness is greater than the sins of all men, his life stronger than death, his salvation more invincible that hell. Thus the believing soul by means of the pledge of his faith is free in Christ, its bridegroom, free from all sins, secure against death and hell, and is endowed with eternal righteousness life, and salvation of Christ its bridegroom. So he takes to himself a glorious bride ‘without spot or wrinkle, cleansing her by the washing of water with the word’ [cf, Eph. 5:26-27] of life, that is by faith in the word of life, righteousness and salvation.‘[10]

Furthermore, through the work of the Holy Spirit the righteousness that Christ has achieved for me by coming, and dying, and rising, and uniting me to himself through faith begins to become manifest in my life as I start to live as the person God made me to be.

In the words of John Webster:

‘The Spirit… is the agent of those divine acts through which the creature really does become in full integrity what it is destined to be. The Spirit gives life, acting in and upon the creature in such a way that the creature attains its full stature, filling out its history in completion of the divine purpose. This gift of life is also the gift of holiness, as the Spirit makes actual and effective in the creature the blessing for which the creature has been livingly singled out and reconciled.’ [11]

This work of the Spirit does not mean that we will in this life ever cease to be sinners, ‘If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us’ (1 John 1:8). It does mean, however, that over time the objective righteousness and holiness we have in Christ will become increasingly reflected in our life and behaviour as we live for God within the particular vocations to which he has called us, a process which will be completed in the world to come when ‘we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3:2).

In summary, we can thus say with Luther that the Christian is ‘simul iustus et pecattor.’ In myself I am a sinner, but in Christ and through faith I am the blessed man of Psalm 1 and this reality is becoming reflected in my life through the work of the Spirit.

As the Evangelical commentator Thomas Scott comments, this means that when someone becomes a Christian he has ‘new desires, pleasures, hopes, fears, sorrows, companions, and employments: his thoughts, words, and actions are changed: he enters upon a new state and bears a new character.’ [12] However, this is not something that he can claim as his own achievement. Rather, it is the achievement of God in him. To quote St. Paul in Ephesians 2:8-10:

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God not because of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.’

In response to the suggestion in Ecclesiastes that in reality ‘one fate comes to all’ what we have to note is that this is only true in the short term (which is what the writer of Ecclesiastes is describing).

Psalm 34: 34-36 declares:

‘Wait for the Lord, and keep to his way, and he will exalt you to possess the land; you will look on the destruction of the wicked.

I have seen a wicked man overbearing, and towering like a cedar of Lebanon,  Again I passed by, and lo, he was no more; though I sought him, he could not be found.’

As the Book of Revelation makes clear, these words will find their fulfilment at the end of time when those who are righteous through Christ will indeed ‘possess the land’ by entering into the life of the New Jerusalem in the ‘new heavens and the new earth’ in which they will dwell forever with God, worshiping him and reigning with him, and ‘and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away’ (Revelation 21:1, 4, 22:3-5). However, as the Psalmist says, the unrighteous will not be able to be found, because they will be permanently excluded from the new creation and consigned instead to the ‘lake of fire’ (Revelation 20:15) which is St. John’s symbol for the total, irrevocable and eternal destruction of the wicked, equivalent to Jesus’ description of the ‘furnace of fire’ where ‘men will weep and gnash their teeth’ in Matthew 13:41.

The Christian vision of human flourishing is thus an eschatological vision. It says that this world is not all that there is. Human life does not end with death. Beyond death there is judgement and for the blessed who are righteous in Christ there is eternal fulfilment in the world to come where the river of life flows through the midst of the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:1-2).

The Christian view of flourishing and other religions and philosophies.

That, then, is the Christian vision of flourishing. If we compare it with the vision of flourishing put forward by the other religions and philosophies we have looked at we find a series of contrasts.

  • First, unlike secular individualism, the Christian account declares that it is not possible for people to flourish in any way they choose. There is only one way for human beings to flourish and that is to become righteous through faith in Jesus Christ and to live a life pleasing to God in consequence.
  • Secondly, unlike secular individualism and Marxism, the Christian account says that flourishing is not something that can finally be achieved in this world. Only in the world to come will we fully become the people we were always meant to be.
  • Thirdly, unlike Hinduism, Buddhism and Sikhism, Christianity says that you only get one shot at flourishing. It is what happens in this one life on earth between birth and death that determines whether or not you will flourish in the world to come.
  • Fourthly, unlike secular individualism, Marxism, non-theistic Hinduism, classical Buddhism, and to a large extent primal religion, the Christian account insists that you cannot leave God out of the picture. Christianity declares that to flourish human beings need to be rightly related to the God who created them and that only he can make this right relationship possible.
  • Fifthly, and following on from the previous point, whereas all the other religions and philosophies we have looked at say in different ways that flourishing happens through what we do, Christianity insists that flourishing is a result of what God in Christ does for us. As St. Paul says, eternal life is the ‘free gift of God’ (Romans 6:23).

Even in Sikhism, which stresses the grace (nadar) of God, ‘man has to strive in order to deserve His grace’ [13] Only in Christianity is flourishing something that happens from beginning to end through the totally undeserved grace of God

Given these sort of contrasts, Christians involved in mission need to think about the best way to explain and commend the distinctive Christian vision of flourishing to those of other faiths and philosophies. As an example, Canon Chris Sugden will now go on to explain how he would go about explaining the Christian vision of flourishing to someone who was a Hindu.

 

[1] A A Anderson, Psalms 1-72, Grand Rapids and London: Eerdmans/Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1981, p.59.

[2] Ibid, p.59.

[3] Ibid, p.59.

[4] Ibid, p.60.

[5] Ibid. p.61.

[6] Anders Nygren, Commentary on Romans, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1980, p.152.

[7] Eric Costa, Reformation Theology, 14 February 2008,

http://www.reformationtheology.com/2008/02/psalm_1.php

[8] Ibid.

[9] Martin Luther, Three Treatises, Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1978, p. 286.

[10] Ibid, p.287.

[11] John Webster, Confessing God, London and New York: T&T Clark, 2005, p.128.

[12] Thomas Scott, The Holy Bible with Original Notes and Practical Observations, London: J S Jordan 1802, Psalm 1.

[13] http://www.sikhiwiki.org/index.php/God_in_Sikhism.

M B Davie  16.6.18

 

Ruritania, authority and the Jerusalem Declaration

Introduction

The third global GAFCON conference will be held in Jerusalem next week. Sadly, there are some people who feel that they cannot attend the conference because they cannot sign up to paragraph 13 of the Jerusalem Declaration, GAFCON’s statement of faith.

The paragraph in question runs as follows ‘We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.’ In this paper I shall look at why this statement is one that every Christian ought to be able to sign up to with a good conscience and therefore should not be an obstacle to people attending the forthcoming meeting in Jerusalem.

What do we mean by authority?

In order to understand what is being said in the paragraph we need first of all to define what we mean by the word ‘authority.’ The New Oxford Dictionary of English defines authority as ‘the power or right to give orders, make decisions, and enforce obedience.’ To say that someone has authority means to say that they have this power or right and to deny that they have authority means to say that they do not have it.

To illustrate this point let’s consider the case of an imaginary country which, for the sake of argument, we shall call Ruritania after the fictional country invented by Anthony Hope.

Ruritania is a monarchy ruled over by a good and wise king. He is a wise and beneficent ruler and his subjects accept that he has the power and right to give orders, make decisions and enforce obedience, because they know that the actions that he takes will always be for their good.

One day, however, there is a rebellion in Ruritania. The king’s ministers depose the king, but they continue to rule in his name. However, the actions they take are ones which they decide and they are not for the good of the inhabitants of Ruritania, but purely for their own personal interests. When the Ruritanians discover what has taken place they deny that the ministers have authority to rule over them because, although they claim to be acting in the king’s name, what they are doing is not according to his will, but their own, and is not for the good of the king’s subjects.

What the ministers are doing possesses nominal authority because it is done in the king’s name, but it lacks proper authority because it is not actually done on the king’s behalf and according to his will.

How this relates to paragraph 13 of the Jerusalem declaration.

The example which we have just looked at of nominal as opposed to proper authority relates to what is said in paragraph 13 of the Jerusalem Declaration.

According to the Christian faith, God is the supreme king over all the world. He is ‘King of kings and Lord of lords’ (Revelation 19:16). Because God is infinitely wise, good and powerful and always acts for the good of his creatures, he has proper and universal authority. That is to say, he has the power and right to give orders, make decisions and enforce obedience, not just in relation to particular groups of people, but in relation to all human beings.

Like the ministers of the King of Ruritania, Christian churches and leaders possess a derived authority. They have the power and right in particular circumstances to give orders, make decisions and enforce obedience. As Article XX of the Thirty Nine Articles declares ‘The Church hath power decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith.’ Churches and their leaders can rightly say to people what they should believe and what they should do. However, they act in God’s name and can only rightly exercise authority when they act in accordance with God’s will. When they do not do so they may still possess nominal authority, but like the wicked ministers in our fictional story they forfeit proper authority.

A classic biblical example of this distinction between nominal and proper authority can be found in Jeremiah 23:21-22:

‘I did not send the prophets,  yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council,     then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way,  and from the evil of their doings.’

The prophets whom Jeremiah is denouncing claimed to be acting in God’s name. They claimed to have authority from God to declare that the kingdom of Judah would be protected by God from the onslaught of the Babylonian empire. What Jeremiah is declaring, however, is that the authority they are claiming is purely nominal. They lack proper authority because the message they are giving to the people is not from God but from their own imagination.

A parallel point is being made in paragraph 13 of the Jerusalem Declaration. What it means by the ‘orthodox faith’ is the truth about God and his will that has been made known to us, partly through creation, but primarily through the biblical witness to God’s self-revelation in the history of Israel and in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ.

What the paragraph is saying is that, however much nominal authority they possess, churches and church leaders lack proper authority when what they teach and what they do is not in accordance with the truth about God and his will that has been made known to us in this way. Like the prophets denounced by Jeremiah, they may claim to be speaking and acting on behalf of God, but their claim is bogus and needs to be rejected.

The paragraph then goes on to say that when people have acted wrongly in this way the demands of Christian charity mean ‘We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.’ If we love them as we should, we cannot be content for them to persist in their error, but must rather take action to try to save them from it. Prayer and witness are the two ways in which we can do this.

Throughout the history of the Church both of these points have been accepted by Christians of all traditions. Christians have obviously disagreed in detail about what constitutes the orthodox (or as it has sometimes been called the ‘Catholic’) faith, but there has been general agreement that there is such a thing, that Christians do not have the authority to depart from it in word or deed, and that when people do depart from it Christians should pray for them and call upon them to repent.

The basic theological principles underlying paragraph 13 of the Jerusalem Declaration are thus part of the historic Christian consensus and for the reasons given above they are principles which all Christians should be able to accept.

Have churches and leaders rejected the orthodox faith?

Someone might still argue, however, that although they accept the basic principles underlying paragraph 13 they cannot accept the claim being made in it that there are churches and leaders today who have departed from the orthodox faith in word and deed and whose actions therefore lack authority and should be rejected. However, this claim is justified because there is no question that over the past two decades there have been churches and leaders within the Anglican Communion who have departed from the orthodox faith. They have done this by supporting same-sex sexual relationships and same sex marriages in word and deed and increasingly by also supporting the idea that it is right for people to claim a sexual identity that is at variance with their God given biological sex.

When they have done these things they have gone against the truth revealed to us in nature and Scripture that God has created human beings as male and female, with their sex determined by their biology, and that He has created them to have sexual intercourse with members of the opposite sex solely within the bounds of a permanent and exclusive marital relationship between one man and one woman (see Genesis 1-2 and Matthew 19:3-12, Mark 10:2-12).

It follows that they have acted without proper authority and that therefore, as paragraph 13 says, their claim to have authority to act in this way should be rejected by faithful Christians who should instead pray for them and call on them to repent and return to obedience to God.

What all this means is that there is no good reason for anyone to be unable to sign up to paragraph 13 of the Jerusalem Declaration and to therefore be unable to attend GAFCON.

What should acceptance of paragraph 13 mean in practice?

What it means in practice is first of all being prepared to say ‘no’ to teachings and acts that lack authority for the reasons described above. If a church or a Christian leader says that the Christians should teach things, or do things, or agree to things that go against the orthodox faith then Christians have to refuse to say them, do them, or agree to them. As St. Peter and the other apostles say in Acts 5:29 when ordered by the high priest to stop teaching in the name of Jesus, ‘We must obey God rather than men.’

Secondly, it means being prepared to call on the people responsible to repent. In line with Matthew 18:15-20 we should first of all raise our concerns privately with them, but if they do not respond it may become necessary to make our call for repentance public in order to bear clear witness to the truth which their actions have called into question (see the actions of St. Paul in response to St. Peter’s separation of himself from the Gentiles in Galatians 2:11-14). We should not make personal attacks on the people concerned, but we should be willing to explain courteously and clearly why we believe their actions are wrong and why we believe they need to desist from them.

Thirdly, it means praying for the people concerned. It will in the end be God through the work of the Spirit who will bring people to repentance and we need to pray seriously and persistently for this to happen. It is not enough to remain orthodox ourselves. We need to care for the spiritual well-being of those who have departed from orthodoxy and this means being faithful in prayer for them.

‘But you, beloved, build yourselves up on your most holy faith; pray in the Holy Spirit; keep yourselves in the love of God; wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ unto eternal life. And convince some, who doubt; save some, by snatching them out of the fire; on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment spotted by the flesh.’ Jude 20:23.

M B Davie 16.6.18