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Anglicans, Methodists and the sticking plaster of unity

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gensynod

The General Synod of the Church of England meets at the end of this week with a lot on its plate. Among the items they will discuss is a paper proposing closer ties – not quite union – between the Methodist Church and the Church of England. The predictable lines have been drawn well ahead of the debate: on the one hand it is important to take these steps to ‘heal a wound’ in the Body of Christ; and on the other hand, this small act would debase the currency of ‘apostolic order’. Both of these are wrong.

Both of these views rest on the assumption, variously articulated, that unity has something to do with agreeing on a few ideas either extrapolated from some passages in the New Testament or invented by the early church. The ideas extrapolated from the New Testament – from either Jesus or St Paul – centre on the ‘will’ of Jesus that his followers ‘should be one’ as Jesus and God are one, or the idea that we should all have ‘the mind of Christ’. Neither of these ideas, of course, mean that all Christians should agree with one another.

First of all, that’s not possible, as the same New Testament amply shows. Second, I’m afraid that those who claim to know the ‘mind of Christ’ most clearly are inevitably small groups of people who, from the beginning of Christianity, have always tried to impose their views on everyone else, claiming a kind of knowledge that none of the rest of us have. Never mind new knowledge or ideas, never mind how culturally conditioned those views might be, never mind that they were always invented by men, never mind how much pastoral reality cuts across intellectual purity – a form of ‘orthodoxy’ must be preserved, never compromised, because it is ‘the mind of Christ’.

But these tiny steps in allowing Christians of different sorts to minister to and with each other in pretty harmless ways, will not ‘heal the wounds in the Body of Christ’ either. That Methodists and Anglicans cannot minister in each other’s churches, that neither fully recognises the ministries of the other, or that they have different views on what ‘catholic order’ might mean, is not ‘the gaping wound’ the healing of which will make us more faithful to Christ.

The real ‘gaping wounds’ in the Body of Christ are those caused by our collective injustices against women, against those who don’t fulfil the social constructions of gender stereotypes, against those who have been abused (physically, mentally or spiritually) by our church institutions and their representatives, against those who think the church should not be exempt from even basic equality legislation, against those who even dare to think differently about the Christian faith: these are the wounds of injustice that will see the church – whether Anglican or Methodist – simply bleed away while the rest of the world moves on. These ‘gaping wounds’ are mostly self-inflicted, a form of institutional self-harm.

Until those major wounds of injustice and lack of love are healed, the minor cuts and abrasions caused by institutional division will remain insignificant. While the death-dealing wounds remain untreated, there will be no health – let alone unity – in the Body of Christ. The minor scratches on the institutional face of the church – so embarrassing to a church that seems more worried by ‘optics’ than justice – are not the mission threatening wounds that matter.

It will be a good thing if the Church of England decides to engage more formally with our Methodist sisters and brothers – we have a lot to learn from them, and I hope Synod can do the generous thing and agree it. But we mustn’t expect that to change the religious landscape in this country, or to suddenly make us more acceptable to the world we claim to serve. The message of the love of God in Christ is not served by forms of institutional agreement. As the Suffragettes, whose achievements we also celebrate on this day, put it, it is ‘actions not words’ that are needed: the actions that flow from doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with God.

Jonathan Draper, General Secretary, Modern Church

MCtickhttp://www.modernchurch.org.uk

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Official: Steve Chalke is the Anti-Christ!

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bible2              David Robertson (who tweets as @theweeflea and is a minister in Dundee), has taken exception to the approach Steve Chalke (a Baptist minister and founder of the Oasis Charitable Trust) takes to the Bible. Robertson even compares Chalke to the devil, pretending to be ‘a smiling shining angel of light’; Chalke is a man who would have us follow him rather than Jesus, a man who makes up the Gospel to suit himself; a man who is a ‘false teacher’; a man whose message is ‘anti-Christ’.

I don’t mind a good argument about the Bible and how we use and interpret it. The Bible, like all of Christian doctrine, belief and practice, is an ‘essentially contested concept’ (as Stephen Sykes once put it). There has never been a time when all Christians in all places have agreed about any of it. To disagree – about the Bible, atonement, Mary, sin, grace, St Paul, icons, or even Jesus – is not to be ‘anti-Christ’; it is simply to be one fallible human being discussing important things with another fallible human being. There simply isn’t one right interpretation or understanding against which all others are wrong: there is no divine magisterium to which some people have access and others don’t, and have only, therefore, to obey.

But it’s more than that too. Disagreement about these things, however fundamental we think they are, even if we are looking for ‘good disagreement’ – which means we may never agree – does not turn the person you disagree with into the anti-Christ. David Robertson isn’t alone in doing this: the internet, especially Twitter, is full of people who appear to think that denigrating other people is the only way to get your point across – just look at some of the, frankly odious, responses to the appointment of Bishop Sarah Mullaly to London, let alone the ways in which our political debate has been so debased.

If I may use the Bible in this discussion, I would like to point to the way in which Jesus castigates those whose faith is based on self-righteousness rather than on love. I would also say that a faith that is completely dependent on being right is actually a form of fear, as if the whole house of cards will come crashing down if certainty about any of it is removed. It seems to me that the Christian faith is first and foremost a way of life, and not a house of any kind. I have argued before that I think it is also to forget that the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Jesus and Paul is a living God who has never stopped leading God’s people from where they think they would like to stop to where God would like them to be. And we haven’t got there yet. And the scary thing about stopping where you would like to be is that we tend to build a calf to worship and call it God.

The rush to judgement, the labelling of others as ‘anti-Christ’ or ‘heretic’ or ‘false teacher’ or ‘the least in the kingdom of heaven’, needs have no part in all our discussion and disagreement. Jesus (again, if I am allowed to bring him in to the discussion) seems to think that it is the fruit of a righteous life that matters, where even those who do not profess the faith we hold might be on the same side. Love not only defines the fundamental reality of the universe (God), and the fundamental kind of relationship we are to have with other people, it is the only thing that matters.

Jonathan Draper, General Secretary of Modern Church

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Praise Be!

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mitrePraise be! read the front page headline on the Evening Standard as Bishop Sarah Mullally was announced as the 103rd Bishop of London on the 18th of December. Amid all the gloom about Brexit and a faltering economy, amid all the great international tensions whipped up by the tweeting Trump, this was welcome news and something to cheer.

The move from allowing that women can be bishops in the Church of England to a woman bishop occupying the third most senior post in the Church of England has been reasonably swift, at least by Church of England standards. This, too, is something to be welcomed and cheered.

However skilled Bishop Sarah is (and I have first-hand experience of her many gifts and skills), this appointment does have the whiff of the ‘poisoned chalice’ about it. As in politics at Westminster, so the church in London has deep divides; and the opposing parties keep gigging their trenches deeper with the spades of ‘mutual flourishing’ and the ‘Five Principles’. Even churchy Twitter was divided as Bishop Sarah’s appointment was announced – the usual mixture of delight and horror. There is some gender equality here, though, as I suspect the reaction would have pretty much the same for a male bishop, especially if he ordained women. No one, whatever their gender, is going to be able to pull off the trick of keeping everyone in churchy London happy: it just cannot be done, and that’s probably not the best place to start a new ministry.

Sometimes, the impossible things we ask of our bishops makes me shudder at the inhumanity of it. And it’s not just bishops, though we do load all sorts of ridiculous things on them: ‘father (or mother?) in God’, ‘focus of unity’, ‘shepherd’, ‘servant’ – when in fact they are almost always none of these. Usually they are decent men and women with a strong vocation who are called into (or work at getting) positions that expose them as fallible and normal, not miracle workers, not even often very brave. Women and men who struggle with the same stuff that the rest of us do, but who are expected to have the answers, expected to be better than the rest of us, to behave as if the normal things that drive normal people don’t affect them, whether it’s ambition, anger, sex, money or love; we put them on very wobbly pedestals and then are shocked and saddened when they fall off.

The incarnation of God in our midst, which we Christians celebrate in a few days’ time, is a celebration of the human inhabited by the divine. More than that, it is a celebration of the divine made manifest in the human – not obliterating the human, but transforming it, known through it. All those things that make us human and give depth and meaning to our human experience become the vehicle of divine love, however exalted or humble. And yet elements in the church throughout history, and even today, spend disproportionate amounts of time and mental effort trying to deny that the human and the divine have very much to do with each other. What has sex got to do with God? Well, if we take the incarnation of our God seriously, then it has as much to do with God as prayer. What have my inadequacies got to do with God? Well, if we take the incarnation of our God seriously, then they have as much to do with God as wisdom and understanding. The Christian Gospel, made visible even in the mythologised Christmas stories we are about to tell, is about love incarnate. These are theological realities that even bishops need to understand.

Bishops are not superstars; they are no more inhabited by the divine than you or me; not many are even leaders whom I would follow (there are exceptions). Some are open to the working of God’s Spirit in the world; others seem fearful of every shadow, not least the shadows cast by their own selves, by their own humanity – and I’ve seen plenty of those.

I wish Bishop Sarah all the best in her ministry in London. Like every other human being, she will need all the help, prayer, and support we can give her. All the dressing up clothes in the world (and they have some wonderful dressing up clothes at St Paul’s), and even sitting on a throne in a magnificent cathedral, will not make Bishop Sarah less human, or less prone to be like the rest of us, and, crucially, no less able to live the love of God incarnate in the world than you or me.

Jonathan Draper

General Secretary, Modern Church

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A sermon for Midnight Mass

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If I was preaching at Midnight Mass, I would preach something like this.

Mary&Jesus

While it seems like it’s been going on for ages, tonight Christmas has finally come. We’ve just heard the familiar account of the birth of Jesus from Luke’s Gospel, complete with census-taking, Joseph going back to his home in Bethlehem, no room in the inn, shepherd’s washing their socks, and heavenly choirs praising God; and, of course, we have the birth of Jesus, with him being wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. It’s so familiar we hardly even think about it anymore; we hardly even notice that in that barn in Bethlehem, in the birth of that baby, that our God does the most astonishing thing – our God becomes one of us.

It’s difficult to know quite how to say that in a way that allows us to hear its power and importance again. God becomes one of us, God becomes like you and me, able to experience what we experience, able to feel what we feel, able to be angry, happy, lonely or afraid; able to know tenderness and love; able to be tired or cross or upset: God comes to know and understand us from the inside, as it were, even if, lying in that manger tonight he is aware of nothing more important than his mother. Jesus will grow and change and develop as we do; he will become aware of his strengths and weaknesses; he will slowly become aware of his calling, his mission from God. And it is of absolute importance to the rest of the story that Jesus is like you and me, or the cross and his death become a sham from which we can gain nothing.

God does this for you, and God does it out of love: not for a principle, or to make us feel bad, but to live love for you and for me. God becomes one of us so that with us God can transform our world and our lives. That’s what all those readings at the service of 9 lessons and carols are all about – the people of God express their longing and hope for a world of peace and plenty, a world redeemed from its sin and selfishness, a world where no one needs to be afraid, a world in which we can all flourish, unlike so many places in our world today. That message of God’s transforming love has never been more important or more urgent. This baby is born so that God can work with us in the transformation of the world as one of us. That’s the good news we proclaim, that’s why the angels sang, and that’s why we’re here tonight.

The Christian message is not all that complicated: God in Christ wants to transform the world, and God not only wants us to join with him in that transformation, he wants that transformation to begin with you and me. God wants us, like John the Baptist, to prepare people for the coming of Christ and the coming of God’s kingdom; God wants us, like the prophets of old, to be passionate about justice and peace and truth; God wants us, like Mary, to say ‘yes’ to God’s call, to God’s offer of unconditional love; God wants us, like Jesus, to give ourselves utterly to God’s work of reconciliation, healing and peace. And as we do these things, as we do them in the everyday ways in which we live our everyday lives, so the world can be transformed and God’s kingdom will come.

All this is cause for great celebration and gladness, and it’s why for over 2000 years Christians have kept this feast with high praise and tuneful joy. In Christ our God has come among us and the world will be transformed: Happy Christmas, indeed!

Communion, St Mary the Virgin, Marlborough, 10/12/17 The Prophets of Israel

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Isaiah fastingI’m very grateful to Andrew [Studdert-Kennedy] for the invitation to be with you this morning. Andrew and I have a friendship that goes back 30 years to when I was teaching in a theological college and Andrew was a student there. I don’t claim to have taught Andrew much, as he came to college both well-churched and well-educated, though I am happy to take credit for the many wonderful things he has taught you over the years he’s been here. We shared an interest in sport, in politics, in theology and beer – all of which is the foundation of a good friendship, it seems to me. And, in spite of any embarrassment it might cause him – perhaps even because of that embarrassment – I’m delighted to see Andrew in the scarlet cassock of a Chaplain to the Queen: Her Majesty has chosen wisely.

Normally at this time of year I would be neck deep in carol services, and way over my head in drinks parties. In fact, last year my wife Maggie and I hosted 13 drinks parties between the beginning of Advent and Christmas Eve; 13 in three weeks. That’s a lot of Cava and a lot of Christmas cheer. Last year in Exeter we had 28 carol services or concerts in 24 days. It felt like the largest number of drinks parties and carols service in the history of the world. No wonder clergy sometimes feel like the Grinch by the time Christmas actually arrives.

2017 has seen record weather too. It’s apparently going to be one of the warmest years ever since Adam was a lad, though you may not feel that now as winter has finally descended upon us. Climate change seems one of those realities in our world that could fit in with the Book of Revelation, which we read a lot at this time of year as we anticipate the first coming of Christ in Bethlehem in the context of looking forward to his second coming. The potential, and even actual devastation to the earth from climate change could be one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse heralding the end of the world and the coming reign of God. And if it doesn’t always seem like that in Britain, talk to people in Bangladesh, or the Nile Delta or any one of the dozens of islands in the Pacific that may well disappear from rising seas; or speak to the people of Sub-Saharan Africa as the land dries up and their cattle die; or ask the people of Santa Barbara as large swathes of California burn. But on this Sunday in Advent we turn our attention away from the end of the world to look a bit at how we are to live as God’s people in the meantime.

The Book of Isaiah is generally understood to be not only in three parts, but by three different hands at three different periods of Israel’s history. It tells, however, a single story: that of Israel’s relationship to God as they go into, languish in and come out of exile in Babylon. It is an extended meditation on what God requires from them and offers them, and on the kind of people they are to be.

Our reading from Isaiah this morning comes from the second part and is written while the people of Israel are in exile. In the passage we heard a few moments ago, the promise of the return from exile is made. Comfort my people, says God, for I will make their way plain and clear and bring them home from exile, where I will feed and take care of them as my flock. St Mark quotes this very passage, as we heard in our Gospel reading, as he sets the scene for the ministry of Jesus: John will make the way straight and clear, but not for a return from exile, but for the liberation the Messiah will bring as God incarnate, as the Prince of peace and Saviour of the world.

Many of the readings we have from the Hebrew Bible in the run up to Christmas are from Isaiah, which express so powerfully the hope and longing given flesh in Jesus, and they come from the period when the people of Israel were hoping that their exile would end: the writers of the Gospels see Jesus through this kind of lens, as does Jesus himself as he describes his ministry. But as Israel’s exile ends and they are brought back to their land and the kingdom over which God rules, so the book of Isaiah becomes more and more a blueprint for how God’s people are to live in God’s way. So, the people of God learn things. They learn they are to welcome foreigners into their life and into their covenant with God; corruption in political and financial life is condemned and a strong message proclaimed that it is not fasting – that is, religious observance – that God requires, but justice in the life of the whole society and in each person’s heart. God is seeking to create, as Isaiah puts it, a new heaven and a new earth where the old ways will not do, where God’s law is written on our hearts, that is to say, God’s laws become instinctive for they arise from love, and where the wicked, those who act in unjust ways, will no longer be tolerated. The great bulk of the book of Isaiah is a sustained and eloquent expression of the need for justice, righteousness and compassion in our lives and in our societies as the way in which we embody God’s ways and will in our world. And the prophet – speaking for God – brooks no compromise in any of that, no matter how awkward or inexpedient it might be.

We need to understand, especially in the context of reading the prophets in the run up to Christmas and the birth of Jesus, that the prophets were, as the great Jewish scholar Abraham Joshua Heschel puts it, ‘some of the most disturbing people who have ever lived’. Heschel writes further that

a student of philosophy who turns from the discourses of the great metaphysicians to the orations of the prophets may feel as if he [or she] were going from the realm of the sublime to an area of trivialities. Instead of dealing with the timeless issues of being and becoming, or matter and form, of definitions and demonstrations, he [or she] is thrown into orations about widows and orphans, about the corruption of judges and affairs of the market place. Instead of showing us a way through the elegant mansions of the mind, the prophets take us to the slums. …The things that horrified the prophets are even now daily occurrences all over the world.’

Heschel wrote those words in 1962, 55 years ago.

We have this reading today because on this Second Sunday in Advent we remember the great prophets of Israel and their role in both preparing for the coming of Jesus among us as God with us, and the profound and important insights they had into what it means to live in and create a just and godly society. In the writings of the prophets we see again and again the call of God to what we would today call social justice: they remind the people that all their wealth and property and possessions are a gift of God and to be used for the benefit of all; they tell the people that to oppress the poor or to heap up riches upon riches is an affront not only to the poor but also to God; they tell the people that to grind the face of the poor into the dirt of their own poverty is a blasphemy of the worst kind. So who says the Bible isn’t irrelevant?

The words and actions of the great Prophets of Israel are not just a pretty, if sometimes eccentric, backdrop to the story of Christmas; more than that, they define the context and meaning of Jesus, as Jesus himself makes clear time and again. And they are among the most challenging words God speaks to the world, for they touch the very basis of our life together and our identity as God’s people. Their challenge to justice, their vision of peace, their call to compassion and mercy and righteousness are as powerful today as they ever were: as powerful and as challenging. Our present financial and political state brings these fundamental issues of justice and morality into sharp relief as the rich continue to get richer at the expense of everyone else, and as thousands in our own land and millions around the world experience the grinding poverty that drains your life away. The challenge of the prophets to us today is to remember our calling from God to love and look after each other and the stranger in our midst, and not to bow down to the false gods of the market and the economics of greed and growth. The test of our humanity as well as our faithfulness is how well we look after each other – especially in these most difficult of circumstances.

The prophets of Israel were, indeed, uncomfortable people, and it’s small wonder that religious and political leaders then, as now, try to silence them, try to ignore their insistent message of God’s love and justice as the foundation of our life together. But we need their insights and understanding of God’s will and ways as much today as we have ever done. Make it your Advent discipline to read them – read Isaiah and Amos and Micah and all the others and see the depth of God’s concern for justice, God’s concern for you and me and how we live our life together, and what the true meaning of Christmas is. The foundations for a just society where people look after each other were in fact laid down by the Prophets of Israel 2500 years ago, and not surprisingly, those foundations look more like justice than they look like charity. Amen.

The Boston Declaration: Choose Life

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BostoneDec   First we had the so-called ‘Nashville Statement’ (see my blog ‘The Nashville Statement’, 30/8/17, www.modernchurch.org.uk ) with its homophobia and idolatry masquerading as ‘Bible-based’ theology. Now we have the ‘Boston Declaration’ (www.thebostondeclaration.com )from a huge and diverse group of American academics and Church leaders, including a number from well-known conservative Evangelical seminaries, sub-titled: ‘A Prophetic Call to Christians of the United States’.

The whole Declaration is worth reading. The first half is a powerful statement of the nature of the Christian faith and is worthy of attention from us all. The second part, properly, is about the specific context of the United States and the many issues that confront the nature of Christian truth and Christian faithfulness at this current moment there – though that is not to say that many of the social, political and theological evils the signatories identify do not have their counterparts not only in England, but across Europe. This statement stands at the heart of the Declaration:

We believe in a God who holds all difference within God’s own life and in whom there is no one or no people who are distant from God’s justice, merciful love, and presence (Micah 6:8; Acts 10:34-35). We affirm the beauty and humanity of all people in their manifold difference–race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, and religion–as reflecting God’s image through lives of love and hope. We believe the Jesus Way calls us to the possibility of living in a world where all can love and be loved, and live into joy.

The ‘prophetic call’ in the Declaration is both a profoundly theological one, and a call to practical action. Theological, because it challenges Christians to change the way they read the Bible, and the way think about, understand and articulate their faith. It is also a profoundly incarnational theological understanding: we are called to ‘live’ our faith into being. We are called to embrace the deep Christian truth that all people are God’s people, that nothing and no-one stands outside the scope of God’s love and concern for God’s world, that God with us stands as much in solidarity as in judgement, that the incarnation of our God means that everything matters. We are called to open our hearts and minds to the love of God active in the world, and in everyone.

But we are also called to act decisively.

The Jesus Way continues through our best, prayerful, honest, and empirical attempts to understand why and how the world has come to be in the shape it is today. This pathway calls us to act in ways that are Spirit-led and strategic in confronting evil wherever evil exists, to combat ignorance wherever ignorance has led people astray and to place our lives and our bodies on the line with whoever is being threatened, beat down, or oppressed in any way, anywhere.

This is a clarion call worth heeding, for it re-calls us to the roots and dynamics of faith in a living God, active in us and in the world. We need this call back to the roots of love that are the foundation of our faith. We need this call at a time when truth is discarded and lies and corruption are rife. We need this call at a time when people and their lives and flourishing count for little and abuse of all sorts is tolerated – even perpetuated – by those with power in state and church. We need this at a time when some churches are so worried about numbers that they neglect those for whom they exist and treat with contempt those who would point to the Christ and say, ‘the world need not be the way it is’. We need this call to action, this call to revisit the deep roots and truth of our faith: we need this call because the world God loves needs this call.

The Living God asks us to make a decision: ‘today I offer you the choice of life and good, or death and evil…choose life’ (Deut. 31) Following Jesus today means choosing life, joining the Spirit-led struggle to fight the death-dealing powers of sin wherever they erupt. Whenever one of God’s children is being oppressed, we will fight with them for liberation with the power of the Holy and Life-Giving Spirit.

The Nashville Statement took us into the dark places of the narrative of hate and fear and evil. The Boston Declaration can lead us back from that narrative of hate to the open vistas of God’s love, to the landscape of life. Choose Life.

Jonathan Draper,

General Secretary of Modern Church, www.modernchurch.org

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Purity Cults: death by a thousand cuts

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TBM    There’s a report this morning (16/11/17) on the Religion News Service (RNS: http://www.religionnews.com) about the congregation of the First Baptist Church of Jefferson City Tennessee breaking away from the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (formerly the Tennessee Baptist Convention) because they have appointed a woman as pastor. While those of us who rejoice in the ministry of women may want to decry the misogyny and patriarchal attitudes that lie behind the split, it should also not be surprising. Purity cults are always doing that sort thing.

I used to be a Baptist before the beauty and spirituality of Durham Cathedral enticed me into the Anglican fold. My experience of Baptists, in the United States at least, left me with two abiding experiences: the memory of a warm community with a deep reverence for Scripture, and a deep and abiding suspicion of those who didn’t think like us. While we were a part of a larger body of Baptists across the nation, our association was always conditional on that association remaining as pure as we were. Breaking up is not hard to do.

The history of the Christian church is littered with the carcasses of purity cults, and it begins in the New Testament itself. Table fellowship between different expressions of the Christian faith was threatened almost immediately in the fledgling church over the admission of gentiles into the fold. Some wished to welcome them with open arms because they could see that God’s Spirit was at work and alive in them (independently of the church’s official mission, it seems: there is an important lesson for the church today in that), and others wanted to make sure that they believed and acted in the same way they were. An uneasy truce was negotiated in Jerusalem for a while, but it didn’t last long. St Peter and St Paul went their own ways, preaching their distinctive versions of the Gospel, each convinced of the purity and righteousness of their own view to the point where St Paul uses some very violent language about Peter and his tribe and their version of the faith.

Purity cults – expression of religious faith which, in fact, worship their understanding of the faith rather than the God who inspires it – abound today. But because the basis for their existence are lines drawn very tightly around themselves (and therefore have a fleeting semblance of certainty about everything as if they knew the mind of God), they don’t last very long: it’s so easy to cross the line, to need to be disciplined, to be thrown out, with deep regrets, for apostasy. They tend, like the Baptists in Tennessee, to break away from each other in fits of righteous indignation over the apostasy of the other. No wonder there are not only First Baptists in Jefferson City, but nine other Baptist churches as well.

inquisition       Purity cults are not, however, always or even usually benign towards those who are apostate. The history of the Christian church is not only littered with the carcasses of purity cults, it is piled high with the corpses of the apostate. It’s remarkable how righteous indignation over the apostasy of the ‘other’ turns to violence; first of language, as St Paul shows so crudely and vividly, and then of a physical sort. Whether it’s the Inquisition, Calvin’s Geneva, or the religious wars of post-Reformation Europe, violence towards the apostate other seems to follow as night follows day as the purity cults draw the lines tighter and build their walls higher. Even Martin Luther King, Jr suffered and was killed because he dared to push at the lines in fighting for the rights of Black men and women, in looking for the broad uplands of social justice rather than the narrow valleys bigotry and self-righteousness. King had a vision of the God who demands justice and mercy and love and lifted the eyes of those who heard him above their lines of certainty to glimpse the promised land of God’s kingdom.

Even in my adopted spiritual home of the Church of England, let alone within the wider Anglican Communion, purity cults abound. We may not now be able to do physical violence to one another, but the violence of language is unabated, even if it is masked by talk of ‘mission’. In her resignation statement from the Archbishop’s Council, Lorna Ashworth states: “In light of this revisionist agenda and the heretical teaching that comes with it, I am no longer willing to sit around the table, pretending that we, as a governing body of the Church of England, are having legitimate conversations about mission.” ‘Revisionism’ and ‘heresy’ – words that open doors to darkness.

In her report on the split of Baptists in Tennessee, RNS reporter Holly Meyer writes, Southern Baptists highly value the autonomy of the local church to make its own decisions, but they also believe the Bible dictates who can preach from the pulpit. Earlier this fall, the convention’s credentials committee declared that First Baptist is “not a cooperating church” because its senior pastor is female.’ An interpretation of Scripture that is highly contentious is elevated to exclude. The lines are drawn tighter, the walls built higher, and the door to darkness is opened.

Jonathan Draper,

General Secretary of Modern Church, http://www.modenchurch.org

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