Saturday, December 19, 2009

Priorities

One of the less exciting things about being a bishop is that one has to deal with ecclesastical politics. Now I freely confess that there was a time in my life when Church politics had their appeal, but when I saw what they could do in terms of destroyed ministries and shattered churches I decided that the best policy was to watch, but not get involved. I have far more important things to do.

St Paul wrote, "Woe to me, if I preach not the Gospel!" and he wrote that because he felt impelled to use the whole of his wit and energy to proclaim the saving good news of Jesus Christ. St Paul had walked away from fame and renown to become a preacher of the sect of the Nazarenes, a proclaimer of the Way, as Christianity was then called. Why? Because he knew it to be the truth. That should give us a clue as to what we should be about. Our priority is to preach the Gospel.

So far as I am concerned that preaching of the Gospel has to include some fairly unfashionable statements.

Firstly, that human beings are very far gone from their original righteousness.

Secondly, that we are called by God to repent of our sins and accept Christ as our Lord and Saviour.

Thirdly, that Christ has died that "all those who believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life."

Fourthly, that God's grace, not our works, make us "right" before Him and bring us to eternal life.

Fifthly, that those truly called will persevere in the Faith.

I have never been able to determine for myself whether I believe those propositions in a Calvinist or an Arminian sense, but I am very aware of the fact that I have been called and baptized, and am therefore participating in the process that will, by God's grace, bring me to eternal salvation. In that journey I am sustained by God's Word, the Sacraments, and Prayer, and give evidence of my faith by good works. I am also called, as a Minister of Word and Sacrament, to proclaim that good news - as is every other bishop, priest or deacon of the Church.

From my anle, one of the problems with the Church today is that we are not clear enough about sin being the problem and Christ being the answer. We waffle. Why? I do not know. Perhaps that we are afraid of offending people? Well, if we are, then God is offended at us. St Paul was not afraid of offending people with the truth, so let us say with him,

"Woe to me, if I preach not the Gospel."

11 comments:

  1. Bishop Peter,

    You said, "From my anle, one of the problems with the Church today is that we are not clear enough about sin being the problem and Christ being the answer."

    You might be interested in a discussion going on among traditionalists in the ELCA about this issue, which can be found at http://www.wordalone.net/docs/wa-grorud08.shtml.

    In this discussion, insights provided by Philip Turner about the same problem in ECUSA were helpfully used.

    David+

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  2. Amen! The only saving gospel is that of free grace in Christ. That Gospel of couse benefits us because of that same grace of God, not our works. Thanks, Bishop, for that excellent post.

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  3. I have always wondered at the very idea that when we accept and embrace statements by Saint Paul that there arises a question as to whether we have embraced Calvinist views. It seems to me enough that we accept and believe the New Testament teaching as there stated and let others worry about such questions. Our problem as Christians, and it is not restricted to bishops, is how to live and preach by our lives what we believe (hopefully all) of what the Old Testament and the New teaches and demands of us.

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  4. At an arminist blog/society, the similarities between calvinism and arminianism were summed. Not only original sin but, in terms of the operation of grace, they said both systems admit:
    "(1) In ascribing all good to the free grace of God.
    (2) In denying all natural free-will, and all power antecedent to grace. And,
    (3) In excluding all merit from man; even for what he has or does by the grace of God.”

    This elaborates upon the fourth point in Bp. Peter's post. After a recent skim of the 39 Articles I noticed how all medieval-scholastic categories are put aside. Both merit congruity and condignity are dismissed, and a strict Augustinianism position is taken. The fifth point, "those truly called", is more controversial. Article 17 is hard for many an arminian to swallow, and often it is appropriated by the Calvinist. I tend to think the Articles are neither one or the other, and this is their difficulty. Reading the 1543 Catechism, there is a strong sense of Augustine, especially in questions of divine election, preferring instead to point to baptism and the sacraments rather than the secret council of God. Nonetheless, I kind of think Article 17 lends the 39 Articles to a rather high view of preventing grace, without overthrowing free will. This might be hard to wrap our mind around, and often our ego too. A God that loves is always easier to deal with than a God that Judges. In this age we tend to conveniently narrow God's attributes to perfect love, but what does this mean? As the 1543 catechism wisely reminds us, part of abiding faith is a healthy fear of God, alongside our trust, obedience, and love. This follows especially if one is an Arminian, i.e., our free will can reject grace, that unforgivable sin... so, we must remain in the church, under the tutelage of Word and Sacrament for the remission of our daily sin... ?

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  5. Thanks for your good words. I used to keep a sign above my desk which read, "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing." So often in the church we forget what the "main thing" is, and major in the minors.

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  6. Hello Peter & Happy New Year! I am one of your neighbors (Cory Ave) and wanted to thank you very much for the Midnight serenade w/your bagpipes! I just LOVE it as I am also Scotch/Irish :) We have also met, I gave you a ride to church one cold morning last year. We chatted but I never knew YOU were the New Year's bagpiper, small world...

    Shelly

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  7. Actually, my wife and I are both bagpipers. Denise is probably the one you hear, as she plays the Great Highland Pipes. I play the Scottish Small Pipes, which are much, much quieter.

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  9. Bishop Peter,

    Semi-Arminian for the first 20 years of my life and Calvinist (Reformed Presbyterian) for the last 20 years of my life. And Canon Tallis is spot on along with what you say let Scripture speak for itself. Also let's focus on the revealed Will of God rather than His Hidden or Secret Will. Christ and Redemption are God's revealed Will why we spend so much time on God's Hidden Will and trying to know the mind of God is beyond me. I really feel that I've spent the last 20 years of my life wasting energy on God's Hidden Will when men, women, and children are perishing without the Gospel. I am in the process of repenting of my sins in this area and correcting my focus. Good for all of you who haven't struggled with this. I'm finding the 39 Articles of Religion satisfying as a proper exposition of Scripture in the areas in which it addresses and feel any further speculation is divisive.

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  10. If you are a classical Anglican, then you're bound or at least obliged to adhere to a Reformation understanding of the doctrines of grace. That means unconditional election. The issue of the extent of the Atonement is a non-starter. So we can tell off puritan subversives who would want to impose a straight-jacket interpretation. All this is to say, as a classical Anglicanism and Augustinianism cannot be separated.

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