“They who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah 40:31
We are fast approaching a new year. Yes, the joy of Christmas lies before us even as I write! But over the horizon of Christmastide we see circumstances and challenges that defy the promise we hear above for God’s people from Isaiah.
We face the expansion of war and violence in the Middle East.
The war has already expanded to the northern borders of Israel and to shipping through the Persian Gulf. This does not include repeated attacks on US Military in Syria and Iraq. Yes, we grieve the loss of life to innocents and hostages in Gaza. Yes, we desire to see genuine peace, humanitarian relief to refugees, and a government in Gaza under which all people may flourish without hatred and violence towards each other. But consider this headline in the Telegraph, a leading newspaper in the UK: “If Hamas is allowed to survive, their web of terror will threaten us all.” The subtitle warns: “It’s not just Jews who are in grave danger when terror groups like Hamas grow in strength and number.”
The writer is responding to reports that seven people were arrested in Germany, Denmark, and the Netherlands last week on suspicion of planning attacks against Jewish institutions in Europe. Four of the seven were suspected Hamas members. The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded: “In recent years, and even more so after the murderous attack on October 7, Hamas strives to expand its operational capabilities around the world—and in Europe in particular—in order to realize its ambitions to hit Israeli, Jewish, and Western targets at any cost.” How can followers of Jesus bring to bear upon such violence, at home and abroad, the healing and reconciling love of Jesus, the Prince of Peace? (Isaiah 9:6-7)
We face the expansion among Global Anglicans of the muddle in the Mother Church.
The majority of bishops in the Mother Church of England have gone ahead and authorized prayers of blessing during regular worship services for same sex couples. The “Living in Love and Faith (LLF)” prayers have rather muddled “pastoral guidelines” for use in local Church of England congregations. Sadly, not one active diocesan bishop among the minority who voted against the LLF Prayers has yet identified the teaching of the LLF Prayers as a fundamental Gospel issue. The focus has been more on the process of implementation rather than the theological substance and doctrinal implications of the LLF Prayers. We commend to you the ongoing updates that you can find on the Anglican Futures website.
There appear to be only three possibilities for biblically-faithful Anglicans today in the Church of England:
- Stay within the Church of England. Accept the reality of the Church’s teaching on “plural truth” (as the Archbishop of Canterbury declared at the end of Lambeth 2022, all interpretations of the Bible are valid). Hope for the best. Continue to proclaim Gospel truth. Pray for revival.
- Wait for a way to “differentiate” from false teaching in the Church of England. Demand and hope for a formal, structural differentiation from Canterbury and York (a third Province on the basis of doctrinal affinity), seek informal pastoral encouragement and oversight from Gafcon and Global South bishops, and redirect money that would otherwise have been given to the diocese to biblically-faithful Trusts that are immune from being lawfully challenged by dioceses in the secular courts.
- Leave the Church of England. For clergy this means surrendering compensation, housing, and other benefits from the CofE to replant or plant a new church in the Gafcon Anglican Network in Europe. For whole congregations this means leaving current facilities—many of them hundreds and hundreds of years old, and their cemeteries where generations have been buried—and relocate to a temporary facility as space in town permits.
In any case, this will require all biblically-faithful Anglicans in the UK to spend the next 5-10 years praying for the best and planning for the worst-case scenarios (see our video below on St Timothy’s Marshall TX as an example) and preparing the congregation for a decision that is biblically-faithful, mission-focused, and sacrificial.
In the meantime, the rest of the Anglican Communion can expect the leadership of the Church of England, including the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, to relentlessly apply pressure on other Anglican Churches to “catch up” with the “enlightened reality of plural truth” on human identity, sexuality, marriage, and leadership within the Church. Faithful biblical teaching and practice in other Anglican Churches across the Globe will be challenged directly and publicly by Canterbury and the Anglican Communion Office and less directly through funding sources.
We face growing equivocation on biblical teaching, now from the Roman Catholic Church.
In the West and elsewhere across the Globe, the Roman Catholic Church has always served as a moral compass and bulwark. Yesterday’s announcement that the Pope is now allowing Priests to bless same-sex couples has taken many by surprise, including those within the Roman Catholic Church itself. The actual statement from the Pope and the Vatican is a bit more nuanced than the headline seems, and you can find the whole statement here.
The Rev. Dr. Jim Denison of the Denison Forum gives a very concise and helpful summary of the Pope’s statement:
- It reaffirms the traditional Christian doctrine of marriage between a man and a woman for life exclusive of others;
- But it extends to Catholic clergy the authority for “blessing couples in irregular situations and same-sex couples.” (emphasis added), and
- Distinguishes a “blessing” from a “liturgical blessing or sacrament such as marriage”—only the latter of which confers moral legitimacy.
Sounds like Anglican fudge, doesn’t it? It is a confusing and weakening message for those who stand on the clarity and authority of the biblical teaching on human identity, human flourishing, sexuality, and marriage.
As Denison goes on to observe: “But in a culture that understands “blessing” not in the technical terms of the Vatican declaration but in the general dictionary sense of approving, the document will mislead many into believing that God condones what he in fact forbids. It will therefore encourage people to commit sexual sins—homosexual and heterosexual—that are harmful to them. And it will be used to marginalize and stigmatize further those of us who declare and defend biblical morality.”
When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do? (Psalm 11:3). How can we run and not be weary? How can we walk and not be faint? (Isaiah 40:31)
Remember that we have a glorious story to share with others—the Good News of Jesus Christ!
Sometimes we call this Good News the “Four Chapter Gospel”: God’s good Creation, humankind’s Fall, our Redemption and rescue through Jesus Christ, and the Restoration of God’s good creation, even better than before, when Christ returns again in glory. This is the story we have been anticipating in Advent, and the story we will celebrate soon on the Feast of the Incarnation of God himself!
By contrast there is another narrative apart from God and his word that drives wars, violence, false teaching, and moral equivocation. It is the narrative that all will be well once the oppressors are overthrown and the oppressed are exalted. We find echoes of this in the Bible too, in places like Mary’s Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). For this reason, followers of Jesus can be attracted to these critical theories that rightly point out systemic injustices. The problem is that these critical theories have much to say about things that are unjust and how to tear them down, but they do little to offer a future that is more than a utopian wish. As Carl Trueman points out in his brilliant essay “Critical Grace Theory”, secular critical theories are not critical enough, because they do not take into account the brokenness of the human heart, nor the sinfulness of human nature, in either their diagnosis or their utopian solutions. They offer no redemption—only an endless cycle of tearing down one oppressor after another. Trueman himself sums it up at the end of his essay:
“When secular critical theory turns from analysis to transformation, does it see grace and forgiveness as means of social change? If not, we are simply replacing one set of manipulative narratives with another. To borrow a Lutheran distinction: Critical theory is all law and no gospel.” (emphasis added)
The Prophet Isaiah, St. Paul, and St. Augustine of Hippo are far better sources of social criticism than Horkheimer, Marcuse, or Crenshaw. Yes, the world is imperfect and unjust and filled with strife. Sadly, such are the wages of sin. Acknowledging the fall of man does not entail a passive acceptance of injustice or evil. The doctrine of original sin does not entail the conclusion that nothing can ever be improved and that efforts of social reform are pointless. But a recognition that sin underlies unjust social systems means that our critical theorizing must be shaped by our belief in God’s grace and the healing power of forgiveness, both for ourselves and for others.
We have SUCH a better story to share this Christmas—SUCH good news.
We declare the possibility of redemption and restoration of people and systems that can be appropriated this side of the City of God, that will give us a taste of that heavenly Jerusalem. We declare that this is a gift of God through the weakness of a human baby born in a feeding trough. We declare that this free gift of God, in Jesus Christ alone, is the hope of the world, of all people and all systems, just and unjust. And this hope does not disappoint us, because the love of God is poured out into our hearts when we receive him!