Sunday, 31 October 2010

Quote of the month - October

Thought I might add this as a new theme.

I'll wait and see who gives me the best quote and post it here for all to enjoy!

October's Winner is:


Who emailed me with these wonderful words.

"I get so very tired of you bigoted Christians who think that you have the monopoly on Jesus!"

Not often I find myself speechless :)

Christian Scientists - more correctives and observations

I have received a couple of further thoughts regarding Christian Scientists. The first (from Linda Bargman) says:

"Hi Vic,
I think I can answer your question that you "would like to understand about the half a million plus errors within the Bible (not individually of course, but in terms of genre, repetitive themes and the like). Do Christian Scientists really believe there are so many erors or is this a misrepresentation?"

When Mary Baker Eddy wrote that phrase in 1875, she was quoting her beloved 1868 copy of Smith's Bible dictionary. She was an amazing Bible scholar, reading and studying about the Bible as well as looking to it as her ONLY guide in daily life.

Most Christian Scientists study the Bible on a daily basis, and use the Bible as the basis for their decisions. Science and Health is a textbook and includes a description of the Bible as "the chart of life" in it.

I recommend you read the book, since you are already very familar with the Holy Bible, and it might answer some of your questions, instead of waiting for individual Christian Scientists to tell you what they think..."

I have now sourced a copy of 'H&S' and am engaged in reading it and will return when I have some observations and opinions of a more informed kind to add to this place.

The second communication comes from a former member of the CS, who writes:

"As a former Christian Scientist,who was in CS from early childhood, I can confirm that it was instilled into our minds that "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" was, indeed, "The Key" to the Scriptures-necessary to rid ourselves of "old theology" and to aid us in spiritual development, including physical healing.

A comparison between MBE's (Mary Baker Eddy's) writings and Quimby's (George Quimby's) writings of that day would bring into question the so-called revelation of the former.

As for fairness, reading "The Religion that Kills,Christian Science:Abuse, Neglect and Mind Control" by Dr. Linda S Kramer (to name but one of many books on this subject))will be most informative as to the ill-effects of Christian Science.

ExCSUK,which exists to support those who have endured pain and misery and death of loved ones at the hands of radical CSists,who deny themselves the use of any medical treatment, is happy to provide copies! refers.

So more grist to the mill and more food for thought.

For those who read this and have some informed position regarding the CS types, Scripture and the errors that the Bible contains, if the 600,000 errors is an incorrect positioning of MBE and her views and attitudes towards the Bible, what is a true figure? Also, regarding Biblical errors, what number do CS members generally assume to be accurate?

4B4 Advent - A thought

But of course thinking is a dangerous thing, but perhaps not so dangerous as not thinking!

As I embark upon a reading of Mary Baker Eddy's 'Science and Health' I find myself struck bu a quote from William Shakespeare's 'Hamlet':

"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so."

These words, uttered by Hamlet to Rosencrantz in Act 2, Scene 2 are actually more than they appear and less than they are made of! Let us, for a moment return to the text of the play:

Hamlet: Denmark's a prison.
Rosencrantz: Then is the world one.
Hamlet: A goodly one; in which there are many confines, wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o' the worst.
Rosencrantz: We think not so, my lord.
Hamlet: Why, then, 'tis none to you; for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me it is a prison.

Perspective, personal conditions, education and many other elements all conspire to shape our perceptions and judgements. Hamlet may think Denmark a prison, but Rosencrantz thinks not. This quote does not confer right (or wrong) upon a situation, theology or event at all - and yet how many people do I find using it to support the unsupportable or condemn the right? It is merely Hamlet telling another person that from his perspective he is in a bad place, even though others might find it otherwise. In fact, it's not 'thinking' that makes it good or bad but the emotions that cloud the perspective - the 'madness' (real or imaginary) that clouds judgements and makes wrong right (and Vice versa).

This is actually a passage that sums up the place that those who counsel find themselves occupying and voices one of the fundamental truths that we engage in the counselling room, namely:

If someone thinks they have a problem, then regardless of whether the problem actually exists or not, then the problem does exist!"

Thinking does not make right things wrong, nor make wrong things acceptable (morally, Biblically or from a societal standpoint). We know what is wrong by means of many yardsticks and when thinking (or acting) in a specific area, then yardsticks (German 'Kanon'), checks and balances must be used, to do otherwise is to weigh flour in Amperes and measure length in grammes!

I am drawn to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle maintenance and the translation of Plato's 'The Phaedrus' by that nice Mr. Pirsig:

"And what is good, Phaedrus, and what is not good - need we ask anyone to tell us these things?"

Natural Law and rational thinking, people who place themselves on pedestals and attack faith and God and many others seek to demonstrate their belief that we do not. The problem is that when our selfish desires or our ignorance, bitterness or prejudice tell us otherwise, then it is obvious that we do.

This is why I have the Bible and live by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as I seek to live as God demands.

How you doing?

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Christian Scientists - some correctives

I have received a message from Curtis, a member of the Christian Scientists, who writes thus:

"Bravo Vicar for being willing to wrestle with Christian topics! Unfortunately, you largely misrepresent Christian Science. And it’s fair for me to say this, at least because I’m a Christian Scientist. But it’s perhaps also worth mentioning that I was raised and confirmed in a UCC church. Like Mary Baker Eddy, I’m a voracious Bible student, not to “correct” it but to gain inspiration and guidance. Our God is personal, a loving Supreme Being, although not a personality in the form of a self-absorbed mortal. With my life, I “believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ.” I go out into the world “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.” Christians see different significance in the Holy Ghost, but a Christian Scientist’s depends upon what he gains from Scripture. Like you who publishes a blog and like Christians who’ve published books, Eddy published her “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” with the intent to support one’s relationship with the Bible and Christ. Thank God for good intents, but may He help us also to build on those in a fair, productive manner."

First and foremost, thank you for contacting me. I'm extremely keen to understand things and have a right understanding so your comments are excellent and most welcome. I'm sorry that you consider me to misrepresent, this is not my intention and I'm happy to be shown things from a different perspective and educated in areas where I might fall down.

With regard to the corrective element, I understood that the Bible only made sense when accompanied by reading 'Science and Health' (S&H). Are you saying this is not the case and that you (and therefore perhaps others) see the Bible as an accurate, stand-alone, book which needs no corrective key or additional explanatory notes?

In that your "God is personal, a loving Supreme Being, although not a personality in the form of a self-absorbed mortal," I find myself torn and a little confused. As I understand it, God, as you perhaps perceive Him, is a spiritual being with no bodily form (fair enough, not a show stopper, I know many Christians who see God so) but God as, "A self-absorbed mortal," must (I assume) refer to Jesus. If this is correct there is obviously a very wide area of difference between what Christian Scientists and non-scientist Christians believe (and is, for orthodox Christians, very much a show stopper).

When you say, “I believe on the name of his Son Jesus Christ," and ""I go out into the world 'in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost'" What does this mean? in the context in which you find yourself?

I totally agree that, "Christians see different significance in the Holy Ghost." I am interested in understanding what is happening when you say, "Christian Scientist’s (understanding) depends upon what he gains from Scripture. Like you who publishes a blog and like Christians who’ve published books, Eddy published her “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures” with the intent to support one’s relationship with the Bible and Christ."

If I am understanding you correctly, everything you have and the source of understanding comes from the Bible. This, in relation to the way God is viewed is actually something that is logical. What stumps me here, and I thank you for the way you have contextualised S&H, it puts the book into some perspective and helps me see how Christian Scientists regard it and how you might see it relate to the Bible. I wonder what one might gain without the book when it comes to the Bible and would like to understand about the half a million plus errors within the Bible (not individually of course, but in terms of genre, repetitive themes and the like). Do Christian Scientists really believe there are so many erors or is this a misrepresentation?

Like you, I thank God for good intents and hope that we might both (and all) help us to build upon them in a fair and productive manner. As you may have noticed from my assessment of the Christian Scientists, I found this to be an area when my lack of knowledge was compressed by what appears to be a lack of coherence.

May God bless you (and us) as we dialogue.


Friday, 29 October 2010

Caption Contest - 20

Here's a little photograph that might stimulate you:

Christian Brands? Some requests

I have received a few requests regarding 'Christian Brands'. Some of these have been addressed and others are in the pot, hopefully appearing shortly, others are obviously not Christian but I'll probably have a go at them anyway, always a good exercise.

Anyway, the list at the moment is:

Jehovah's Witness - done
Latter Day Saints (mormons) - done
Christadelphians - done
Unitarians - done
Christian Scientists - done
Adventists (Seventh-day and Sunday)
Church of England (steady on!)
Church of God
Charismatic and Pentecostal churches (thanks people)
The Millerites (who?)
Oneness Churches
Restoration Churches
Roman Catholicism (really!)
Unity Church
Worldwide Church of God

I have to admit that I know some of these. Whether they are Christian or not is going to be a difficult assessment, but, I'm still going to have a look and try because I think it's a helpful exercise (although a blinking difficult and contentious one as well).

I would welcome suggestions for those groups that we might look at and even would also welcome comments and correction wherever they need to be made.

So - come on people, don't just email me - post here and lend a hand - the pile is enormous :)

Thursday, 28 October 2010

Christian Forums

I don't know about you but I find it really hard to be on a 'Christian' forum without ending up either thinking nasty thoughts about people or realising that I just don't understand stuff. And when I find I don't there's nobody on the thing who will put me right, most just appear to enjoy putting me down (and of course pulling themselves up!).

With that in mind, the Cavedwellers forum came into being.

So, if you'd like to dialogue, share a point of view (politely) and have some great discussion, why not pop over and have a look at what's there.

Some of it is visible to the casual browser so you can get a feel for the place - and if you like what you see, why not sigh up.

Always space for more viewpoints and some nice people.


Christian Brands? - Christian Scientists

Origins:America (Massachusetts)
Began in:1879
Founder: Mary Baker Eddy
Membership:c. 200,000 - 400,000 (could be more, could be less - all a bit secretive)

Bible: Doesn't do too well in that it was considered by the lovely Mrs. Eddy to have around 600,000 errors (equally split between OT & NT). Instead they look to 'Science and Health' as the first book to have been written without any errors (guess who wrote it?) and should be used as a 'key' to unlock the Bible's truths and act as a corrective to it.

Beliefs: A bit like Alice in Wonderland, 'Words mean whatever one wishes them to mean,' and so everything is rewritten and new meanings appear everywhere for absolutely everything. Adam never existed, he is really a model for error whilst sickness and death are 'original sin', etc.

There's no such thing as the Trinity as this is seen as a polytheistic heresy. There is one God, the 'I Am' and rather than seeing Father, Son and Holy Spirit in unity we have God=father/mother, Jesus=sonship and Holy Spirit='diving science'. Yep, it's all about Life, Truth, and Love'!

God is a spirit being with no body and with no personality, just a bit of energy basically who created everything. BUT, He is loving, holy and just (which contradicts the previous sentence doesn't it?)! then again, as all creation is spirit too and matter doesn't exist. Better still death and illness don't exist, we only think that they do (I tell that to my next customer down the crem').

Jesus does feature in a rather weird Gnostic construction where a Spiritual Jesus would be infallible and god-like and a human Jesus is total human and therefore totally depraved (a term meaning sinful rather than kinky!). reading on this group it seems that Jesus could also be regarded only as spirit and looked like he had a body (yeah, docetism as well - now I'm really confused).

There is no atonement and it wouldn't have mattered because He wasn't dead when He was put into the tomb anyway, after all, He only appears to die on the Cross!

Bottom line is that we are subject only to the laws of matter because we believe they are real, once we stop believing that they are real we are set free and we can heal ourselves (my paraphrase - couldn't really cope with this topic much more)! The Holy Spirit is the 'Christian Science' in that He is the healer or comforter. (Just lost the will to live - the person I engaged in conversation (by telephone) said lots and yet nothing!).

The lovely Mrs. Eddy gave six points (or tenets) which form a sort of credal component. I leave you with them to try and make what you can of them, they are:

As adherents of Truth, we take the inspired Word of the Bible as our sufficient guide to eternal Life.

We acknowledge and adore one supreme and infinite God. We acknowledge His Son, one Christ; the Holy Ghost or divine Comforter; and man in God's image and likeness.

We acknowledge God's forgiveness of sin in the destruction of sin and the spiritual understanding that casts out evil as unreal. But the belief in sin is punished so long as the belief lasts.

We acknowledge Jesus' atonement as the evidence of divine, efficacious Love, unfolding man's unity with God through Christ Jesus the Way-shower; and we acknowledge that man is saved through Christ, through Truth, Life, and Love as demonstrated by theGalilean Prophet in healing the sick and overcoming sin and death.

We acknowledge that the crucifixion of Jesus and his resurrection served to uplift faith to understand eternal Life, even the allness of Soul, Spirit, and the nothingness of matter, and

We solemnly promise to watch, and pray for that Mind to be in us which was also in Christ Jesus; to do unto others as we would have them do unto us; and to be merciful, just, and pure.

Are they Christian? In this case it would be hard to find anything that could be used to even hint at anything other than a resounding 'No!' In fact they're not Christian and they're not Scientists either!

Tuesday, 26 October 2010

Christian Brands? - Unitarians

Origins:Transylvania and Poland
Began in:16th Century
Founder: Francis David
Membership:c. 750,000

Bible: Although regarded as valuable the Bible is fallible and therefore not regarded as authoritative. Or as one book I read said, "It needs to be read with a degree of reason, logic and a pinch of salt. At the end of the day the truth within it is dependent upon that which the reader wishes it to have!" The Bible is just one of many sources, sacred or secular, which can be used in the services for no one book has the monopoly on religious truth.

There is a strong belief that there is only one God but it is obvious that this means little in reality. In fact, it appears that views regarding God are such that he is a cosmic force, a convenient name given for natural (and supernatural) forces, a hindrance to any unified existence and an unnecessary encumbrance. Don't think we even need to consider their views from a Credal or Christian trinitarian setting as there simply isn't one.

Jesus ranges from a freedom fighter, a pacifistic visionary and a poet and there's many other takes on Him besides. The bottom line is that He is neither man made God or God made man, he's merely a bloke.

The Holy Spirit, like Jesus, continues the pattern in their non-trinitarian beliefs (understandable as they don't have a first member (God) either) but fares a little better than the other two (Father and Son) as the new age 'cosmic force' or as an eastern 'spiritual force'. But, at best, He's still an 'it'.

Seeing unity in all things, no matter how apparently diverse, this is a group who try to bring all things together in a way that allows for a very wide range of beliefs and doubts. All are free to believe whatever they wish in unity with others and the more diversity there is the more there is an opportunity to also find some unity. To this end it is possible to find a degree of pluralism that many faiths are embraced and lifestyles validated. So much so that within one group it is possible to find Jews, Christians, Pagans, Atheists, Buddhist and Hindus happily co-existing.

There are no creeds or set beliefs for all, or none, are valid. There are no ministers, for all lead themselves as they make their own journey and plot their own beliefs because, obviously, there are no exclusive or primary truths. That said, there are core values of love, respect and unity. After all, unity with all things in all things is what they're about.

The key evidence of being a unitarian is 'making a difference'. The motto should be 'actions not words' as I see it and it is because of this that we see them often in caring professions and roles within society.

Basically, for a bunch who are happy to admit just about everything, they omit or deny quite a bit! They deny just about everything that is Christian: the Trinity, Jesus' Deity, sin (just ain't there and there's no need for redemption if that's gone - so no need of Jesus). The Bible's dodgy, flawed, fallible and equal to everything (including Viz!) and yet they still call themselves 'Christian' (which I think in this setting means 'Humane' or 'kind').

Are they Christian? I have to fall back on something Donald Guthrie once said in a lecture, "Those who believe everything in fact find themselves believing nothing!" and it is here that the answer 'No' becomes rather obvious.

Christian Brands? Christadelphians

Origins: 1864 (although first roots seen thirty years before)
Founded in: America
Founder: John Thomas, although they'd say 'Jesus' (but they would, wouldn't they?)
Membership: c. 50,000

Bible: Bible-based (appears to be KJV) which they are supposed to read using a plan (OT, once a year - NT, twice a year). It is an inerrant, God-inspired piece of work (very 2 Tim 3:16 really) as long as you accept the translation and copying errors!

They are a non-trinitarian group, there is but one God, God the Father. Jesus is man, born of a woman by miraculous means but He is not God, but is the son of God! (Now there's a conundrum for you!).

The Holy Spirit (and 'it') is God's power and not being a person would make it Binitarian at best and singularly montheistic as a reality.

With regard to resurrection and the end times - Jesus comes and the kingdom of God is seen. the good guys get raised and judged and (if good enough) will live with Him. the others don't get this, they continue to be dead (as if they've never been, which we'd call annihilationism).

They hang very much on the wars, rumours of wars and other signs of the endtime (called 'the Olivet Prophecy' drawing on Matt 24 & 25; Mark 13; Luke 21) which, as they see it, having been fulfilled means Jesus will be here any minute now!

The epitome of an anti-clerical body of people and one which claims to be the 'authentic' Christian Church. It has no priests (other than Jesus) to run its churches (known as 'ecclesia' which means 'called out') but does have unpaid leaders (called 'serving brethren'). This is all very nice and sounds like a good place to be - no issues or conflict, just a nice bunch of believers.

They meet on a Sunday to break break and engage in a simple service pretty much like every church I know. Being lay led, they various members take turns at leading and doing stuff in the services. They are an exclusive group and so the services operate on a 'members only' basis to ensure that they don't become tainted by those who choose to have different beliefs! A rather isolationist stance which denies Christ's prayer that we should all be one and He and the Father are one!

Interestingly, for me anyway, the Christadelphians first became a church to help conscientious objectors have a group to which they could belong so they could escape the American Civil War. The continued eschewing of violence and their pacifistic aims means that you won't find them in the forces (or many other areas). Oddly, they do smoke, swear and engage in sex (within marriage of course). But, they can only marry other Christadelphians

They claim to take the Bible literally and refuse to swear oaths. The don't tell lies, which is probably why they don't enter politics (or vote) either!

The devil isn't a person, just someone to lump the blame for our own desires and rebellion and better still, Jesus was a sinner and had a fallen nature just like the rest of us because, after all, he was merely a man!

Are they Christian? I have to say 'No', at least not any orthodox sense of the word they're not. They can't get too far down the creed without stumbling. They deny the deity of Jesus and the person of the Holy Spirit. They see Jesus as fallen and restored, which denies the 'without sin' bit and leaves us with a fair number of issues besides. If He can't save Himself that I, for one, have no chance do I?

The teachings are wrong, the isolationism is wrong (this is a big clue regarding their cultic nature) and although they read the Bible, the image they glean from it is distorted and erroneous in that they fail to see the Christian picture and see what they have created themselves!

Lovely people (if the two I've met) were anything to go by. Bit like exclusive Brethren with some odd ideas and a TV!

Christadelphians - some additional insight

One of those who read the blog added this insight, which is both helpful and valuable as he came from a Christadelphian family.

Christadelphians were founded in the nineteenth century by an English doctor, John Thomas, who was influenced by the Campbellites in the US. He concluded that in many respects the Christendom model of Christianity had deviated from the teaching of Jesus and the scriptures in a number of important respects.

Basically, salvation is by being baptised as a Christadelphian (as an adult, by full immersion), which conveys to the candidate forgiveness of their past sins; after that you need to keep your nose clean, though God does forgive minor sins. Like JWs and Mormons they are non-Trinitarian. Jesus is the son of God, but not God the Son, having no existence prior to his birth (well, maybe conception...). The Holy Spirit is simply an impersonal force or power of God at work in the world. These two things put them outside Nicene, orthodox Christianity.

Christadelphians also do not, as I recall, believe anyone goes to heaven. Death is a kind of "soul-sleep", after which everyone is raised in a general resurrection for judgement. Those who are condemned are annihilated (no Hell either); those who merit eternal life live that life on a renewed earth.

The restoration of the state of Israel was a big thing for them in the sixties - I imagine it is much the same today.

Christadelphians place great store in the Bible, but will argue that even the KJV (their favourite version in the 60s) has been inaccurately translated in some places.

Excellent - thank you!

ps. I've dated this earlier than the main piece so it should appear below it. Hope this works!

Monday, 25 October 2010

Christian Brands? - Latter Day Saints

Origins: 1870
Began in: America
Founder: Joseph Smith, a rather colourful character indeed!
Membership: c.14m worldwide (c. 200,000 in the UK)

Bible: The Bible (usually the King James Version) is one of the four sources of authority (known as 'The Standard Works') and is, at best, equal to, rather than having a primacy in this setting. It sits alongside the 'Book of Mormon', the 'Pearl of Great Price' and the book of 'Doctrine and Covenant'. Along with these four sources there are also 'inspired' utterances from the top table. These are 'The First Presidency' (the top man) and his counsellors (two or three advisers) and the 'Quorum of the Twelve Apostles' ('The Twelve').

The book of Mormon is claimed to be 'another' testament of Jesus - this is the book that Joseph Smith apparently translated from golden plates that he was led to by an Angel and has to be regarded as the keystone of the Mormon (they prefer Latter Day Saints by the way!) faith. The Bible is regarded as correct when errors are resolved by use of Joseph Smith's translation of it.

Beliefs: The church has gone wrong and the LDS is Jesus' answer to it. They are a corrective against the modern heresies and deviations from that which God designed. Quite recently, the LDS have moved strongly to try and convince people that they are a Christian group and of late I notice that rather than LDS they now bill themselves as the 'Church of jesus Christ'. As Jesus is at the 'centre' of their religion they see this as evidence of being Christian, so let's take a quick look at what they believe.

There is more than one god, but God (as we understand Him) has a physical body, had a childhood and is a 'perfected man'. We all have the potential in ourselves to become a god too.

The name for 'gods' is 'elohim' (which if I recall correctly is the generic term for small 'g' gods in the OT and ANE writings - God being Yaweh). Jesus is Jehovah and the Holy Spirit? Well, from those I have dialogued with, the HS was a bit of a fuzzy area. Bottom line, they're definitely not trinitarian, but they do say there are three separate beings - confused? They are (and so am I)!

God is not eternal in the 'always was, always is, always will be' sort of way - more like he's always been around and so it's been a long time (feels like an eternity sort of stuff!).

Jesus - Was with God at the creation and is the firstborn 'spirit' child of God, born of Mary and God (no inspiration - it was God as a man and Mary who made Jesus) as a man and appears as Jehovah across the OT. Died, buried and rose again into a physical body and will come again. Jesus is the way to salvation (as outlined in the Standard Works and the utterances.

Interestingly, Jesus returned to earth after the crucifixion and did miracles and the like in the US, living amongst a people called 'Nephites' whom he set aside as twelve disciples. he also appeared to Joseph Smith and has done so to various of the subsequent leaders since.

The Holy Spirit, as with Jesus, separate fron God the Father is a spiritual being but appears human and because of this physical limitation can only be in one place at a time (like the other two). To get around this the LDS use the sun as an analogy:

"The sun is in but one place but it's warmth and light, power and effect can be felt everywhere!'

The Holy Spirit is a guide who reveals the truth about Jesus and the Father, often as a sort of 'hunch' or feeling that something is right or wrong.

Are they Christian? From the problems that they have with the Creed, the Trinity, reliance upon extra-biblical material (and utterances from the top), baptising the dead and many things means I can only say 'No'!

Placing the name of Jesus Christ in a setting doesn't make that setting, or the people who gather there, 'Christian'. It's about more than just a name and the reality is that the general understanding of what an orthodox Christian faith is just isn't present! At best they are yet another Christian heresy and therefore the non-Christian 'cult' label appears fairly and accurately placed.

Over the years I have had some great friends from the LDS. We disagreed on stuff but they were really nice, family focussed, people. Sadly, being nice isn't the issue here though!

Sunday, 24 October 2010

Christian Brands? - Jehovah's Witnesses

Origin: 1870's
Began in: America
Founder: Charles Taze Russell - his writings used to have great merit within the organisation and were circulated as being almost holy writ - not so today (or with his successor, Joseph Franklin Rutherford, either) as they've pretty much rejected his (and Rutherford's) teachings!
Membership: c. 7m worldwide

Bible: Claim to support Bible as accurate and God inspired and meant to be taken literally (hence issues regarding blood transfusions). Prefer to use their own version, 'The New World Translation' rather than any of the 'mainline' version.

Beliefs: Only one true God (Jehovah, YHWH) who created Jesus, who is inferior to Him, to be his 'firstborn' son and who works through the Holy Spirit (an impersonal force who is an 'it').

A monotheistic faith (unity with the Jews perhaps but not the Christians!).

Jesus had some power but is not God and was not incarnate, He is a, subordinate, spiritual being who appears to be human (which makes it rather 'docetism' I guess) and never thought himself to be God either! In what can only be paralleled with Gnosticism, Jesus sits somewhere between God and the angels, who are of course higher than humans.

That said, they do regard Jesus as the Messiah and there is an understanding of atonement within their faith. Jesus' resurrection was spiritual and not physical. He will judge all at the end of time.

The Holy Spirit is an 'it' and is the life force of God at work in us.

The Trinity doesn't exist, it's a pagan concept and is wrong as it contradicts the original faith (Jewish) and the Bible).

There is no hell (phew!) and the dead, once dead, are dead and no longer exist and their soul also dies with them (a full stop). Mind you, God can recall a person and recreate them such that they are resurrected. This is a pretty good thing because most of the JWs I know are totally taken up with the end times and are looking for signs (which up until now they've been pretty awful at predicting) of the end date. This is probably because heaven only has space for 144,000 (AKA 'the anointed'). The anointed know who they are - it is these who take communion because they know they're the saved one. As for the rest, according to a friend it's an eternity of gardening duties on earth as the maintain paradise - so it's not all bad.

This bunch appear to live to knock on doors and seek converts, often trying to convince people that they're 'proper' Christians. They don't mark Easter or Christmas as Christians do - apparently this is pagan too!

Are they Christian? I'd have to say 'No'! At best they might be considered heretical Christians, but that means the same i.e. 'No'! After all, they fall at the first hurdle i.e. the Creed.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Which brands ARE Christian?

Having read Damian Thompson's piece Are Methodists and Anglicans part of the Church? an interesting and, for some more than others, a rather challenging pice for a number of reasons.

First and foremost, although Bennie and his colleagues in Rome might stress that they consider the CofE to be nothing more than an 'Ecclesial Community' the reality is that those RC plc members who inhabit the real world realise it is Church in the fullest and most proper sense! In this instance, the sensible and 'in the real world' people are the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales. I particularly enjoy their, albeit non-Bennie approved of I'm sure, explanation regarding this:

"Like any family, the Church has several branches. Each is different (Roman Catholic, Methodist, Anglican to name but a few) but all share a common source: Jesus Christ."

The Thompson article does lead us on
Actually, this view is explicitly to some very interesting considerations regarding who of course IS Christian and who's not. Some of these are easy to answer (although, I understand some of the 'Church Together' groups have difficulties with this) and some perhaps are more difficult.

So Who's In and who's out then?

Easy wins, which I'm sure most would agree with, are Jehovah's Witnesses and Church of the Latter Day Saints (AKA Mormons). I would have thought that these are easy choices for the 'Not' list. Over the years, some of my friends were Mormons claimed that they were part of the Christian Church. None of those who were JW's have ever claimed this. That said, both groups came from a position which sought to start with a common Bible or Christian theme and then depart for their strange lands from there.

So, first two on the list - more to come. Now, the 'common source' from jesus and the theology and thinking have to follow (I assume).

Disagree or agree? Have ideas about what makes a group, denomination or church Christian? This is the place to air views, give evidence and educate me as I seek to develop an apologetic and defence against those who would lead the sheep into error.

Friday, 22 October 2010

French civil disorder - A spiritual reality?

Having had the privilege of working just off of the Avenue des Champs Élysées, I got to enjoy many things (Sea Bass at the Café Gare de Nord for instance and the odd trip to the Louvre) and to dread others (the interminable summer strikes and the tourists!).

Once again France is finding itself experiencing the civil disorder that sees ports blockaded, petrol refineries and depots shut, fires, rubbish, flies, stench and violence as an everyday reality. One of the people in the office I worked in once remarked that, "It wouldn't be Summer if someone wasn't on strike!"

But why?

I have theory that might well cause some to sigh and others to send for the men in white coats, but here goes.

Modern France is a nation that was founded through violence, bloodshed, selfish desires and civil disorder. As a result what drives this nation is not 'liberté, égalité, fraternité' but something that is spiritually quite wrong and this manifests itself in the many examples of civil disorder and the reaction against some (the treatment of black immigrants from previous French colonies and the national action against Roma being but two examples) people groups in a highly reactive NIMBYism.

Scratch the surface and you'll find what C. Peter Wagner describes as a 'territorial spirit'. That is something that shapes and influences the characteristics of a person or place. I have seen this in a number of places (in another place, it took very little scratching to realise that the the people still embraced Nazism and the anti-semitic attitudes weren't even thinly veiled.)

France is a nation that has at it's roots spiritual issues. The revolution and the rise of secularism (or in some quarters more accurately 'anti-Catholicism) all have their roots in something that is not of God and needs to be prayed against.

So here's a task - long or short, why not stick a prayer out for this damaged and troubled nation that God might act to truly bring His 'liberté, égalité, fraternité' and bring an inner peace to this nation?

Who's in control here?

It's all a bit guerre-ish!

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Caption Contest - 19

Here's a great opportunity for those of you who can imagine the scene as one of the Ordinariate hopefuls tries to book his passage:

Rowan to organise emigrant's passage to Rome

What a very clever old sausage Rowan Williams is, for apparently he's offered to set up a sort of 'Cook's Tours' organisation (with his jolly old mates RC plc) to ensure that everyone gets safely across the Channel and the Tiber.

This is an extremely sound move in that it would enable those leaving his jurisdiction to be sent off with a cheery wave and a blessing. Of course, he could also check suitcases (and pockets) to make sure that those journeying haven't inadvertently packed stuff that should have left behind, which makes it a rather clever move too!

Not only that, but before the ship sets sail Rowan would get to know who was actually engaged with talking to Rome and their secret negotiations would suddenly become rather public. Mind you, surely those who are dialoguing and planning their move are doing so in a very honest and open manner and so this will cause no issue with Rome or the disaffected.

What's that you say Sooty? it will!

Sadly the choices aren't as easy as some would think!

Oppression of Women?

No, this is nothing to do with the ordination, consecration or anything else that you could choose to think of regarding women and the Church. This is a much wider consideration because it is a secular concern (although, seeing some churches !!!).

With the cuts that have been announced this week (did the Tories have to behave so badly with their boorish and ignorant catcalls to the opposition, who were equally awful and disgraceful considering the fact that the problems are their legacy?) I have think that we might be about to see the role of women in the workplace do an amazing about turn.

Yesterday I was discussing the situation with someone whose organisation has announced a sixty percent cut in staffing, the majority of which will (apparently) come from the administrative departments (which are almost totally female). My informant told me that, as a manager, she had received a call that meant that the jobs of some forty women and a couple of almost retirement age men were on the line.

Another telephone conversation brought up the topic of funding and the fact that a couple of family support projects were going to close at the end of 2010. These were staffed entirely by women. I heard the same in Liverpool last year as the (less than one per cent male) project workers talked on projects not being renewed because of projected council cuts.

The problem is that as the cuts come in the jobs that are most likely to vanish are 'back office', administrative and the 'soft and fluffy' caring stuff and this, generally, means women.

Seems to me that we are looking at a return to the male as the primary wage earner. This, potentially, heads us towards a terrible situation for many families and the death-knell for maternal single-parent units. We are perhaps on the edge of a three-tier society and a reversal of the opportunities for women in terms of employment.

Some professorial worthy was wittering on about the fact that, with equal pay, a reduced job market would see the emphasis swing towards males because the advantage that used to be 'cheaper' labour when employing women has been lost.

Another consideration (but not for today): Extending the life of the workforce by raising the retirement age means that those who have jobs will remain in them for longer, thus disadvantaging the younger job seekers.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Seems to me being Christian . . . .

Seems to me that there are a number of people who confuse serving God and doing what they want to do!

Seems to me that serving God means that we are obedient to His Word - this means accepting it as true and seeking to live within the standards and expectations that He has for us rather than rewriting it to justify(or permit) our own choices (and it seems that, unless medical/scientific research has produced something new in the past hour, they are still choices) and lifestyles!

Seems to me that serving God means that we love one another. This means refraining from the wicked and malicious lies and attitudes that so many people exhibit and being willing to dialogue and seek ways of peace, not just our own ways!

Seems to me that there are some people who want things as they have always been and are are unwilling to at least explore (consider, discuss, research - use whatever term you wish) the options and alternatives that others bring into the mix. Now doing so is not defending orthodoxy, it is condemning the Church to accusations of being as blind and bigoted as it was when Galileo was suggesting things! We must be open to the views of others and be willing to contest with them and their views in a Biblically-sound, God-honouring way.

Seems to me, we're doing a lot of stuff in our own strength and to suit our own ends!

Time to take stock and take a look in the mirror and see if we can see anything of Jesus!

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

A moaning in the Roman

On the Bonnie banks of the Tiber!

I have had a superb email outlining all the many ways that the C of E will be made to pay for its 'anti-Church unity' attitudes such that any hope of an Anglican Roman Catholic reconciliation is now, and forever, dashed. Those 'droves' of members and priests that will be off for swimming lessons will leave the Anglican 'ecclesial community'  weakened and without any proper substance.

Oddly, another email has told me that those who oppose the ordination and consecration of women and those who have difficulties accepting that God honours and blesses homosexual relations and fail to see that this is the future are but a hindrance to the Church and its mission.

Ooo'er mother! Two extremely polarised views (for which I thank the authors) and views which I have to say I do understand but actually disagree with.

In the first position, I understand that for many, homosexuality is merely a matter of discipline (being personal sin) and the ordination of women is an ecclesiological matter and is therefore to be considered a divisive, 'Church Splitter' of an issue! BUT - leaving and taking bat, ball and thiruble appears to cause more pain and damage to those who have left than those who return (a sad exercise in self-harm perhaps?).

 In the second position I can't see how revisionist thinking (or perhaps that should be wishful self-serving thinking) can actually claim to be supportive of a traditional or orthodox Christian faith. Another issue is that, if, we are really concerned with Church unity it doesn't do much for that either! After all, most of the churches and fellowships around me would cut us off as apostate should the revisionists have their way with regard to their liberalities!

Two extremes and as someone who finds himself to be quite central (surprisingly) I have to say that I think that both are wrong positions and both do damage to themselves, the Church and the mission of the Church.

Both see their 'choice' as a right and see themselves as right without concern for others, the church, The universal Church and the will and Word of God.

The Church should be one as the father, Son and Holy Spirit are - putting off selfish desires, passions and ambitions and following Christ - a tough call indeed, but the call that we have before us!,

Monday, 18 October 2010

One of the those Worzel Gummidge days

There are just some days when being in ministry makes you feel like you're Worzel Gummidge as you seem to change heads so many times! From the preaching head to the counselling head and then another service orneed means you've got yet another head on! And I wouldn't have it any other way!

Happy Monday people!

Sunday, 17 October 2010

Synchronised Swimming (of the Tiber)!

I see that the good folk of St. Peter's Church in Folkestone have become the first church to take up Bennie's offer and swim the Tiber (which will be pretty easy after making it across the Channel!).

Of course, what's really happening is a bunch of disaffected people are leaving and taking their bat, ball and thiruble with them as a gesture of dissent. Sadly, for those outside the Church it means nothing at all and for those inside it means perhaps even less unless of course you take on board the fact that by leaving they are possibly seeking their own ends and leaving the C of E to flounder and perish! Mind you, they'll still be in Folkestone at the end of it all - just away from their previous address - it's not a real move just a bit of a positional change ;). Not only that, but those who swim are no longer Anglican and have no right, upon leaving, to comment or advise those whom they have left behind for this is surely only the privilege of those who remain and contend for their beliefs.

Now, personally, I am very happy for John Broadhurst, the people of St Peter's and anyone else who makes a stand and leaves. BUT they must accept that having done so and criticism will be met with, "Well, they would say that wouldn't they?" and it (and they) will either be ignored or become the object of contempt, mirth or disgust. But they won't mind, they've entered the promised land, haven't they?

General Synod has an increased population of the high Church sorts and yet rather than back these and take up the fight, they have chosen to leave. The point they make shouts volumes and whilst I am not unsympathetic, it does appear to make the, "I'm only concerned about the C of E." sound like a rather hollow and meaningless statement when accompanied by actions.

Congratulations and farewell, I hope they find what they are seeking (I have my doubts) and I hope they can now settle down to being part of the RC plc and forget that they were ever Anglicans.

Rome, I fear, most certainly will!

Saturday, 16 October 2010

Hello John (Broadhurst) got a new denomination?

Bishop John Broadhurst asking of himself, "what's good about John Broadhurst?" answers, "He outrageously says what others only think!'He also states that this is also what's good about him too!

He is, apparently, resigning and seeking to join the ordinariate when it comes into being, taking his pension and swimming.

Highlighting the fact that the high church end of the Anglican Church is neither wanted or honoured, he claims that such promises to protect the integrity of other is now nothing but a 'deceit' and makes liars of many honourable people.

To support this claim he quotes from the 29/10/93 House of Commons proceedings which, recognising the divided views on the issue, stated that there would be safeguards such that people would not be asked to act against their consciences. There would be continuing provisions without limit of time, permanent parochial safeguards to prevent this ever happening.

This has fallen with the decision of the General synod and has made liars of otherwise honourable people who have promised otherwise!

He asks, "Is the C of E now an independent state that it can override the state? Can the often poorly trained clergy be trusted to make the decisions they do?" He makes the observation that "If those who opposed women's ordination treated women they way that they are treated, they would be quite rightly chastised and acted against. We live in a two-tier and perhaps duplicitous society within the C of E!"

Seems that the revisionists are free to act as they wish and those who support the orthodox view and marginalised and acted against with the blessing, nay perhaps incitement would be better, of the General Synod and those who are appointed to maintain theological rectitude.

Hear the whole talk here: here

Makes for some interesting thinking and highlights the problems that will be facing the Church in England over the coming months and years. Just more ground lost and a weakened community.

A very sad situation indeed especially in the light of the RC's positioning and the capital being made out of the suicides of young homosexuals in the US. We live in a time of thinly veiled deceit and gross uncharitableness.

God forgive us all!

Belgium - Best sticking to chocolate and Buns!

Belgium is fast becoming a 'not Catholic' nation, hemorrhaging members at an alarming rate for a number of reasons. RC plc claims that something in excess of fifty percent of the population is Catholic but the reality is that something less than fifteen percent attend mass and this number continues to shrink as Belgians become more secular and liberally minded.

So what would you do if you were the senior pointyhead in the Belgian franchise of RC plc and were faced with that as a reality?

I'd probably look at ways of making the Church relevant, reasonable and attractive without weakening the Gospel or throwing integrity out of the window. So let's take a look through the square window and see if that's what über pointyhead, Archbishop Andre-Joseph Leonard has done:

No! He's released a book which states that the AIDS epidemic is "A sort of inherent justice which comes about through the mistreatment of the profound nature of human love."

This is exactly the killer punch RC plc needed to develop a warm feeling (could that be the smell of burning flesh?) after details of hundreds of children who were abused appeared in a recent report.

If he was a Civil Servant he'd be promoted upstairs to somewhere full of dusty books where he could do no more harm.

If he was British, he'd probably find himself facing charges of incitement to hatred.

If he was an RC member, he'd probably be applauded for toeing the party line. Gosh, he is!

Is it any wonder that RC plc need the Anglo-Catholics to come across and bolster their number with episodes like this? Hardly the most sensitive or even scientifically accurate utterance is it?

Friday, 15 October 2010

Retired Clergy - Blessing or Curse?

Generally, my view of retired clergy is that they are a blessing, but that isn't the view of all that I meet and I have to admit that their reasons appear to be quite valid when one hears their experiences.

I hear stories of retired clergy who continue to visit former parishoners and stir the pot by what they say, or don't say, about happenings in their former parish, The rule that many dioceses apply regarding retiring outside of the parish is a good one and although some argue that they have friends in a place rather than (ex) parishioners, there has to be some maturity shown in their maintaining of  these relationships.

Many years ago I came across three rather bright retried clergymen who had negotiated with the local Crem' and the undertakers such that whenever there was no minister available, or perhaps where there was no church relationship, they would get the service. I was impressed because they a duty day on a rota basis and it appeared to occupy them and met a need. Then we got a missive from from the diocese telling all clergy that they should ensure that their churches made sure they did the funerals. The reason was two-fold:

Firstly there was the question of income. After all, generally speaking, the fees from a funeral (or cremation) are 'assigned', which means that they go to the diocese. This isn't the case with independent and unattached retired clergy. If they do it - they get it!

Secondly, funerals are actually one of the best opportunities we get to meet people within our parishes. We lose great pastoral opportunities if we lose these.

There are so many churches across our nation who would struggle to cover services were it not for willing and active retired clergy. The key is to provide assistance and not to meddle. One who offered to come to a church I was in also offered advice on the other clergy in the area and fed in a little spin to keep everything on the wrong foot. Malicious, bitter or mischievous? I'm still not sure, but he only came once.

I am a firm believer in not muzzling the ox that treads, or has trodden, the grain and see in those who have retired and engaged in house for duty (something we need to preserve for the retired clergy rather than provide for others who might fancy the role perhaps?)  and see them getting the money for the funerals as right and proper. I feel the same about those who, though retired, are willing to act as part of a parish and take up the slack, enabling the pastoral opportunity to remain whilst they too get the money.

As for the rest? If only they'd remember their own attitudes to what they now do before they retired, might change their attitudes and moderate their actions. Hey Ho!

Thursday, 14 October 2010

Ministerial Volunteers - Blessing and Curse!

Many years back I was rather saddened by a quote from a bishop in a book on non-stipendiary ministry. Not having the book (it was lent it out to someone considering calling to such a ministry and never returned) I'll have to paraphrase it from memory.

In considering the prospect of non-stipendiary ministry, there was the caution that in order to save money, or operate with less, the emerging NSMs would fill a very great need. That said, one would have to accept the fact that with the saving in outlay would come a diminished theological and ministerial reality.

Now this comment is a match to tinder! I have met some extremely sound theological types who were also NSMs and have seen some excellent schemes and courses out there, teaching theology and engaging in what we call 'formation'. I have also met people who are pretty frightening when it comes to theology and understanding the Biblical bit ("Oh, I didn't know that was in the Bible, but I like my idea better!," being a quote from one after I'd challenged a point in a sermon!) and not all of those were NSMs!

The idea that NSMs are a second class ministerial option was perhaps best illustrated by a comment for a group of them when we were discussing OLMs (Ordained Local Ministers). One of them commented that they loved the OLMs coming into being as they (NSMs) were no longer the bottom of the pile!

Still, I know and work with a number of excellent NSMs and value their working shoulder to shoulder with me, BUT, I have to say that I do tire of some of the bleatings and situations that come from a few of the others (let's hope they read someone else's blog!) in that:

1. When an evening meeting is put on the agenda by some diocesan worthy, they (NSMs often respond with, "Oh, an evening meeting! It's O.K. for you stipendiary people but we've had to work all day before we come to the meeting!" The result is that they are often rarely seen and I'm out all day (apparently not working) and then out all evening (working) too! A taster of my usual sort of day in the day before me:

 I get behind my desk early to do my Daily Office (Which you will find here ) and paperwork find that the day has already filled itself with ministerial and pastoral stuff (Today, harvest assembly, funeral, pastoral visit, there's a school visiting the building for a lesson on 'Church', finalising service details and then a 'Padre's hour with local cadets). I choose to be busy, but I also find that I cannot be as selective as people think clergy are. There is a church to be run and the needs of those around me (but outside the church) to be met as well as the stuff I choose to do!

2. They have a 'pick and mix' mentality. In discussion only a couple of weeks back I was told, "I only do the things I want to, that's the beauty of being NSM, I can decide when I want to do stuff!" Now this was the view of one person, but was I glad that they're not anywhere near me! I understand work/life balance but 'cherry picking' just isn't helpful, ministry has its fair share of wielding the shovel along with bowing to the applause!

The reality is that we need ministers on the ground and tentmaking is an excellent model to meet this need. But in doing so we need people who are priests (I consider the ontological reality that being presbyteros means that 'Priest' is what you are not what you do!) and who are workers approved and assured int he use of the Word and the exercise of pastoral and spiritual gifts/ministry.

They shouldn't be regarded as second-class and they should endeavour to ensure that they are not second-class too! I'm only an NSM is not an excuse for far too often it's a curse and apologetic for laziness or lack of commitment. Not a lot of money about, but loads of work - the strength of good NSMs.

SAFTAS - Schoolkids being creative.

Last night I attended the SAFTAS. Like the BAFTAS but for Staffordshire schoolchildren!

Sat through a really entertaining evening as children from infants upwards displayed their efforts and won awards. There was some extremely clever stuff, some really funny stuff and some quite odd films too! But they were encouraging kids to animate, produce, film, and act in and this has to be a good thing.

After all, Nick Park had to start somewhere!

One of those who won last night was our son, who had an animation in the finals. Here's his effort:

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

Lay Volunteers - Blessing and Curse!

During one phase of my pursuits of some sort of theological understanding I encountered a very interesting group of people, the lay and non-stipendiary ministry types.

One of the first insults that I heard bandied about was that those who ministered for free did so because they loved the Church more than those who had to be paid to serve it! I have to be honest in that it came as a bit of a shock (to put it very mildly), especially as at that time I was looking towards selection conference as a non-stipendiary (now called 'self-supporting minister' or 'paying their own way' or something equally politically correct in that you mustn't use the word 'non' as it give people the vapours!!!).

Still, let's consider the lay volunteers first (always best to only offend one group at a time ;) ).

Having managed to persuade our bishop and the panel that was a selection conference (AKA ABM, ACCM and now BAP) that I was the 'right' sort of material (thick and resistant to knocks) I set about finding out what the business of doing Church was all about. First shock, having done theology and ordination training I was to find that there was a breed of people who wanted to be Vicars but somehow had missed out the theology and the ordination training and instead were content to be up the front but somehow eschew all the responsibility.

This was brought home by a sad and sorry little man who came to a potty training weekend and informed us that he was regarded as the Vicar by many of the members of his church. Not only that, but he always got his own way in the church by threatening to leave if he didn't! Up came a cry from pretty much all the assembled baby Vicars, "Bye then, we'd be sorry to see you go!" The man was appalled at our rudeness and was glad that his Vicar was a nicer person than we obviously were (as he told us as he flounced out).

Over the year's I have met a number of people who have been excellent lay ministers. They have given sacrificially of their time and gifts and sought to support and equip the body of Christ and the ministry of the Church. They have sought to exercise the calling that they have in a professional and selfless manner and they have been an example and encouragement to me.

But for those who see themselves as having all the benefits of being clergy without the encumbrance of responsibility or training, they are a liability and a bit of a pain. Happily, these have been the minority in my experience (but again this display the blessing and curse nature of volunteers I guess).

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Volunteers - Blessing and Curse!

I have been engaged in a few discussions recently regarding two potentially knotty issues.

The first is that of volunteers in general and the second relates to volunteers with regard to ministry areas. The second of these split nicely into lay and retired clergy; Sadly though, all three of these are a potential source for frustration, rancour and niggle though!

Let's look at volunteers of the general sort first:

Recently I received an envelope which, upon opening, proved to be empty! More than a little bemused I rang the organisation to ask how they'd managed to spend 60p on a letter which was empty! The response was that they'd had a volunteer 'helping' and they had , thinking they were being helpful, posted all the envelopes because they assumed that another volunteer had already stuffed them!

A while back I contacted a Christian organisation about receiving their daily reading books. Each book covers three months and they were proving to be quite popular with various members of the Parish. When I explained that we were waiting for the new books to arrive and that with days left in the month people were starting to contact me regarding their next Bible fix I was greeted with these words. "I'm sorry but this area is dealt with by a volunteer and he's away for three weeks. He will be back the second week of next month, can you contact him then!" Bottom line is that we now hand out the UCB daily reading books and they've lost readership and a source of financial support!

The problem with volunteers is that we can't live without them (and generally wouldn't want to) but there are times when we can't live with them. You can't sack them! You can't get annoyed with them! You can't always get them to be there when you want them!

Volunteers are a blessing and a curse in equal measure at times. We want the whole church to be involved, but as much as some are priceless, others are costly in terms of efficiency, accuracy and the inability to work on their own initiative.

Here we have a lady who does all the weddings paperwork and organises the fees and such. She's been away ill for a few months now and the place has gone to pot! Margaret, not that you'd read this, but you are a saint.

Elsewhere, a colleague has a little old lady who mans (womans?) the Parish Office telephone once a week. Over the past few months she has managed to books events on days when the church was booked (difficult to have two funerals at the same time), given out provate telephone numbers of clergy and members to anyone who asks and, trying to help, provide the congregation with a Sunday service sheet for the year before. The problem is, how do you sack a volunteer without wounding them and causing an uproar in the pews, especially when they're old and their volunteering is all they have?

Can't live with them - can't exist without them!

Monday, 11 October 2010

I'm O.K. - It's the others!

Is it just me or is the world pretty much full of people who can tell me the reasons why their sin is either actually not a sin or is a sin but they've been forgiven? Better still, the same people can always tell me why others sins are definitely sin and explain how there's no way God can forgive them!

Regardless of whether people like it or not, I have to assume that when we do something that is wrong in man's (generic term meaning 'everyone') eyes or in God's (when of course we call it sin, although in both cases it's sin!), it's always a matter of choice.

Of course, some will argue that they have no choice because it's all about upbringing, or it's biological, genetic and the like. Well as much as some will not like this - there's always a choice, for sin is a binary function. It's a 'do it' or 'don't do it', a "1' or a '0'.

Sin, as I understand it, is a term that means 'missing the mark' and the reality is that all of us engage in doing that - and we do it through choice.

So today, regardless where we are, before we do things that we know are wrong (in man's or God's eyes) why don't we stop and think before we do them.

The excuse that we have no choice is pretty weak as the reality is that the choice is made to give us some form of pleasure rather than to conform to some nurture or nature hard-wiring.

Let's try to make the right choices today (and how about all week too?).

Sunday, 10 October 2010

Sexuality - A Sadness and a disgrace!

I am saddened and appalled in equal measure at the report of the suicide of a young man, Tyler Clementi.

A student at Rutgers, he was filmed having sex with another man and the media was streamed onto the internet. What appears to have been a freshman prank has gone much further and has resulted in a young man taking his own life.

Saddened - Because it is always sad when a life is lost needlessly and this was such a very short life. Saddened because this is one of many young homosexual people who have taken their own life in the US over the past month because of their sexuality. Saddened because others will see this (and the others) and like the Welsh suicides, may well choose to emulate them.

Appalled - Because the story has attracted the wicked 'pseudo-Christians' who are cheering at the death of another homosexual and when interviewed uttered disgusting and obviously non-Christian comments. It is time that Christians dealt with people like this and excluded them from the company of believers with the same passion they exhibit!

Galatians six (in case we forget it) tells us that when we see someone 'caught in sin' we who are 'spiritual' should 'restore them gently, taking care that we don't sin ourselves in making the correction'.

Simple isn't it? The homosexuality is a secondary issue here - what is in sharp focus is the way that people respond to it.

We need Christians to behave like Christ, not like the fascists that live within both the 'fundamental' and 'liberal' sections of the Church (and world).

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Grooming? Say it with Biscuits!

In a stunning example of Golgafrinchanism and sheer blessed stupidity a 'Catering Supervisor' (AKA 'Dinner Lady') working in Northern Ireland was cautioned that giving a child a biscuit could be construed as 'grooming'

Apparently, a child asked for a biscuit and the woman in question asked a colleague to let the child have one and this constitutes 'grooming'! Better still, Oddly, the child in question is a member of the woman's family and so it was not just grooming but was potential incestuous too. Obviously someone missed an opportunity to add icing to the biscuit there!

After three meetings with senior teaching staff (and the prospect of a fourth looming) the woman resigned.

Now, two years after the incident it has finally been laid to rest and the LEA (local education authority) has been told to apologise for its handling of the whole incident. Of course this will do nothing to remedy the fact that the woman has faced, "Gossip and rumours," over the past two years and has been left with a "Shadow hanging over her!.

Still, she's returned to the school and the LEA have apologised. Of course, there's nothing on the records about the Principal and Vice-Principal issuing an apology (and considering one of the one-to-one interviews with one of them was a 'one-to-one' grilling, that saddens me.

To make matters worse, the LEA say that there was never a question of this being a child protection issue. So what on earth was it them? A clash of personalities, victimisation, harassment?

I don't know

But, I think some involved here deserve to receive the, 'You're a Golgafrincham Award', because:

"You're a load of useless, bloody loonies!"

And we entrust the education of youngers to people who can't use common sense, excercise a little logic to resolve a simple incident without help from the grown-ups. Heaven help us!

Friday, 8 October 2010

Caption Contest - 18

Here's an opportunity for something witty from you clever people out there!

What Place Sunday PM? Our fault?

So having focussed in and in until there's nowhere else to consider but the Christians themselves I get a little worried because what I'm seeing is a bunch of people who want church to provide what they want and to do it in the way that they want it at the time and in the place where they want it.

The "I want it all, my way, now!" The mantra of the Church, now, and in fact (I assume), was always!

In discussion with one person, they related situation where one of the faithful was aggrieved because they wanted the Taize services to be part of the main Sunday morning service. The reason was that they couldn't make the night it was being held each month as they went out to friends for dinner parties! When it was pointed out that such a move was impractical and would damage the main service and the Taize, the (now offended) church member stopped coming to everything.

The consumer society has made such an impact into the way that we live that we cannot countenance not being able to have something when we want it and on our terms. To come out on a Sunday evening isn't something that many people do, well not for Church, but we're all so wonderful at picking up and developing new habits that this should be just another one.

So what do we do to be habit-forming? Here's a few ideas:

i. Develop a relationship with all the people we can. If those inside the church won't come, why on earth (and how?) do we expect those outside to come when they have the added inertial load of knowing no one?

ii. Realise that if people haven't been to a place it's impossible to bring them back to it. This is true for those who have no faith and also for those who claim to have a faith. If people have never had Sunday pm as their reality then we are engaged in evangelism rather than restoration with regard to it!

iii. Here's the real issue, I guess. I've spend most of my faith life engaged in two (or more) services on a Sunday. It's part of my commitment to being a Christian and because I was encouraged to make that the case when I came to faith, later life sees it as being nothing other than normal. This raises the painful question, "How are we birthing and discipling our new believers?"

The answer to the the last question appears to be 'badly!'

So how are we going to address this issue? Shrug it off as a response to the way we lived in days gone by and point to the provision of the pm service as something that is historically and culturally irrelevant in our progressive times? Close the evening service and by doing so confirm the post-Christian status that some would assign today?

What indeed?

Thursday, 7 October 2010

What Place Sunday pm? Sunday Shopping and Choice!

The church building was, for many years, the only place that people could go in a Sunday. I once spent a few days visiting a friend who lived in a picturesque Welsh village. Not only was it 'dry' (not a drop of alcoholic beverage to be found) but it was also totally closed and lifeless on a Sunday.

Sunday was for Church. there was nothing else and unless one took the bus (or drove) to those centres of sin and excess (AKA the city), it was that, television, radio or God!

When I was in the pentecostal movement, one of the jobs I had (when at conference) was to go and buy the Sunday newspapers and deliver them (without detection) to the various members of the executive so that the faithful wouldn't know they read the newspapers on a Sunday! I recall that the Northern Irish contingent were especially cagey about the keeping up appearances.

But of course today has changed. Sunday shopping means that whilst the faithful few gather to worship at the pointy-spired buildings, the general populace rush off to the cathedrals of commerce that are the Metro Centre, Bluewater and the many smaller imitators of the retail therapy venues. Those self same people who can't make a ten-thirty Sunday service are often to be found at nine-thirty driving into the city centres and out-of-town retail cathedrals.

Why can the make it for one but not the other? The answer is simple - because they want to.

Ask the question, "Why don't people come to an evening service?" The answer is - because they don't want to.

Church was once about duty and commitment and now it is about choice.

Talk to the general public and you'll quickly find that faith, God and all the stuff we do as Church are on their agendas, hearts and minds. They won't package the stuff in the words and action we (Christians) might use, but it's the same product.

So how do we communicate this reality and how do we get them (the world) into our church buildings?

Some people will hate this, but it's all about marketing!

I once appalled a couple of little old ladies by telling them that the reason for our decline was that we'd forgotten what our 'core' business was. It wasn't jumble sales, coffee mornings, fund-raisers and women's groups - it was about God and man coming together and engaging in a relationship.

If we were selling chocolate we'd find out what flavours the people liked and we'd set about making that flavour. Then we'd pilot that flavour and tinker with the product until the response was positive. Then knowing we had something people wanted, we'd market the stuff, making sure it was where the people were and trying hard to outdo the opposition so that we were the number one brand (in Church circles we call this 'sheep stealing' ;) ).

"If they don't know, they won't buy' - These were the words written big and bold on the wall of the marketing department of a multi-national foodstuffs manufacturer I visited years ago. Another wall said "selling coals to Newcastle or ice-cream to the Eskimos is easy - try selling something to your Mother first!"

There's a degree of truth in that - why do we expect the world to come to the very things we don't seem able to give away to out own friends and family?

We are trying to do that aren't we???

Wednesday, 6 October 2010

What Place Sunday PM? Young/Old!

Grace Davie's excellent books notwithstanding, I'd like to consider another reason for the decline of the Sunday evening service. This is the division that is age.

Many of the churches I have either visited or worked in have had lively services in the morning or some other form of service which meant that the older or more 'traditional' church goers found themselves moving into the security of the, predominantly BCP Evensong, evening service. This is the reason that evensong is the most popular of all the services that BCP offers.

The problem is that those who have been going to the evensong to escape the Sunday morning madness are not only a church in their own right but they are an old church. This brings together a number of factors to be considered:

i. The service has a high age profile, something which the comment "Churches die old and grow young," makes valid. Those who make this service their own are old and diminishing because, quite frankly, they're dying!

ii. The service has a captive (and potentially exclusive) audience which, more often than not, sees off any newcomers (well,young newcomers anyway) and so any hopes of longevity for the service are dashed before they can materialise.

iii. Everything revolves around the Evensong service in such a way that all you need is two/three evensongs, one communion and a fifth Sunday 'Prayer and Praise' each month and you have the Sunday evening services planned until Jesus returns.

So what do we need to do to make the Sunday evening attractive and overcome the problems?

We obviously need to attract younger people but the minute we consider this, people tell us we need to lose the evensong and this cause the Sunday morning exiles (also known as the 'Wrinklies')to go stark raving bonkers.

We obviously need to be doing something in our evening services that is either attractive or not a Sunday evening!

Recently,I went into a church just before their Sunday evening service started and counted heads. Congregation eight, choir twelve, one preacher, one crucifer and an organist. Those doing the service outnumbered those coming for it by almost 2:1. The average age of the consuming public was low to mid seventies. All it will take is a bad Winter and that's the game gone!

And the sad footnote?

As I left, one of the old folk sitting at the back remarked how sad it was because, "They used to get over a hundred and fifty at this service when I was young!"

What Place Sunday pm? Comfort Zones!

In 1957, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan speaking of a post-war nation made a startling and profound stament when he said that, "Some of our people have never had it so good!"

Moving on from the post-war austerity and the queues fror just about everything. People prayed hard during the war and now it was over there was little need to keep the faith. Not only that, but some were angry with God and they were about to find a new God in the consumerism and the sexual freedom that was to come (thanks in no small part to the contraceptive pill) in the 'Swinging Sixties'. Yes - the seeds os a secular society were being taken out of the packet.

It would be wrong to condemn the 60's as the time when the faith of other went from Christ to weird and wonderful religions and the emerging 'New Age' that was the dawning of the age of Aquarius. The faith was, it seems, for many a rather nominal thing and there were other things to do and they took place on a Sunday. Boring sermons in staid churches or have a day out with the family - for many, there was no choice and soon, decline was the fear.

Reading the census information we can see that in the period 1961 - 1971 baptisms fell by 65,000 and those coming for confirmation fell by 80,000. The seeds were being sown (or rather they weren't) for decline in the eighties and nineties (when the babies who were baptised would once have been making their mark in the church and taking their places as adults).

A secular society was being born, for regardless of whether the religious start of the community was experienced or merely habitually endured, it had been a guiding factor - and this was to be no more. Secular society - 'religions cause wars' - was the way forward. Shake off the religious killjoys and live man! Hope, cynicism, hedonistic abandon and nihilism crashed together and the Beatles were 'Bigger than Jesus' (and still are for many out there)!

Society was setting the conditions for the decline of a church going public - it was no longer frowned upon to be found anywhere else but church on a Sunday. People were finding they were free to choose and what they were choosing wasn't what was on offer. But the church kept selling the same product, oblivious to the reality that the product had changed and evolved into the almost turgid stability that was before them.

And then we had an answer in the ASB. The hip and trendy, still used (illegally according to church authorities) today attempt to be relevant. To little, too late and in the wrong way just as the rainbow guitar straps and 'kumbaya' were to be.

Could it be true that we lost the evening service slot (for all but the stalewart members) in the seventies and it's only now that the faithful remnant are dying off that we are realising it?


Tuesday, 5 October 2010

What Place Sunday pm? The Slippery Soaps!

Looking at our new MAP I found myself considering the question:

"What is the place of a Sunday Evening (and other non-Sunday am) provision?"

Where I am, our Sunday evening service regularly offers one of many delights. We have Taizé Communions, Healing services (with Communion), Compline, Reflective Prayer (ranging from multiple prayer/activity stations through to guided and reflective stuff), Media services (focussing on film, audio and the like), Café Church, theological teaching, discussions and other stuff besides.

Colleagues smile and tell me that they've got shot of the Sunday evening slot a long time ago and that it's "Flogging a dead horse. Better to finish at one o'clock and enjoy the fact that people just don't do Sunday evenings!"

With my Missioner hat on, I have decided to take a look at the (apparently declining) phenomenon that is the Sunday evening service. The first minister I telephoned managed to conceal his mirth at the fact that anyone would even want to do a Sunday evening. The next, told me that the church had always had a thriving evening service and that attendance was about a third of their 120+ ASA (Average Sunday Attendance). Continuing with my telephone call I found an alternating 'On/Off' pattern emerging.

Some who continue with the Sunday Evening service are seeing gradual decline and rising age of attender at their (generally Book of Common Prayer (BCP) evensong) provision. The old would come but they're ill or dead and the young can't get to grips with the 1662 setting. Those who are trying 'Evening Praise' and the like are reporting mixed results, some encouraging and others seeming only to make depression a clerical hobby!

It seems that for many, Sunday morning is church and that anything else is optional. As I have asked, some have pointed to the rise of television and the selling out of the Sunday evening service by the then clergy for the one-eyed monster that is television. Many of the churches found themselves in competition with the BBC televisions (repeat) showing of The Forsythe Saga on BBC 1 in the September of 1968 and some changed service times to enable people to make the journey home before the start. What Forsythe started, 'Upstairs, Downstairs' (ITV) and the BBC's 'Onedin Line' truly finished. Both airing in 1971, These two long-running (68 and 91 episodes respectively) contributed massively to a 'watch the box - evenings in church are optional' public by the time they'd finished (1975 and 1981 respectively).

A vicar who was active in that time has told me that the general feeling was that it was better to maintain and attract people to the 'main' service (am) by giving them concessions that meant Sunday evenings were available for the walnut whips and TV serial.

'The Onedin Line', Upstairs, Downstairs', "The Duchess of Duke Street', 'Poldark', the 'Duchess of Duke Street' and many others have conpired to make Sunday evening a viewing event (although sadly less of a family affair these days) rather than a church event.

Just one part of the equation we will examine. Next we'll have a think about the social attiudes . . .

Monday, 4 October 2010

Mission Action Plans - Being Honest!

Our church is just about to revisit the Mission Action Plan (MAP) this evening and one of the very first things we need to do is examine where things have gone right and take a look at the successes. Not only that, but we need to examine where things have not been a success and this is often the most important consideration of all and yet it is so often glossed over or passed by to keep things positive.

We have seen a number of successes in that we:

Have an embryonic Lay ministry team (Pastoral Minister, Pioneer Minister and Reader),

Have established a positive (and functioning) visionary Local Mandated Team,

Have established a Men’s house group – Supporting those coming through Alpha course.

Have more than 90% of the members taking at least one role in church - remedying lack of all-member involvement from previous NCD survey,

Have a thriving Kid's Club,

Have hosted a 'Foundations for Ministry Course' – Growing skills across the diocese.

Are working in the community through community partnerships - serving the community,

Have established a midweek Communion Service – Making Church accessible for those unable to come on a Sunday,

Have seen one of our number selected for ordination training – gifting wider Church.

Hosted and trained people on Money Management Courses – CAP and Red2Black,

Are positively engaged in Triple P* – running courses and provision management,

Have a Church caravan providing holidays within community – fully funded and free to needy (pastoral care and outreach in one!).

Have installed new Central heating (at no cost) – lowering our running costs to assist with Parish Share!

But of course there are also areas of failure too:

Building Project: Lack of drive from within - Lack of coherent support from outside agencies - Lack of obvious support from wider Parish setting

Church Socials: Poor attendance - One man band approach - Unsure of the reason for having them?

Sunday School: What is it about? - Who is it for? - Who does it?

Evening Services: Poorly Attended - Sunday Morning only approach - People want want teaching, reflection, prayer – But When? - Lots of energy writing, preparing and setting-up but for whom?

The last area beggars the question, "What is the place of a Sunday Evening (and other non Sunday am) provision?"

We will return to this as a real example of the ways that we can sort out our MAPS and bring a common (majority fellowship) vision and honest support for the things that we feel God is calling us to. After all, I'm their leader, I must follow them ;) .

Happy Monday

* Triple P - Positive Parenting Programme

Caption Contest - 17

Here's one to get you thinking :)

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Inspiring People

Last night I was privileged to be in the company of Ade Adepitan MBE a member of the bronze medal winning 2004 British Paralympic Basketball team (and Gold in the 2005 World championships) and Ambassador for the 2012 games.

This young man spoke of how although crippled by polio, sport had overcome the things that could have conspired to worked against him. As a result of his engagement in sport, colour, disability and an afro' hairdo and pink trousers that were him as a child had given way to a self-possessed credibility and kudos that he almost otherwise would never have had.

There are many who are negative about the 2012 olympics but from it there will surely be youngsters who find their dream to be an olympian (or paralympian) starting with the games and for some, this will be the start of them overcoming obstacles and rising about difficulties most of us will never know.

So often we find people who bemoan their situation and overlook the fully able bodies and minds that they possess and this only makes the company, and witness, of men like Ade all the more impressive and motivating.

Friday, 1 October 2010

Sexuality - a step further?

In response to my comment, "I don't see how one could be bisexual and in a stable monogamous relationship, I received this:

"I think perhaps this is the crux of the matter. Perhaps this is a more of a problem of definitions. Being bisexual does not entail relationships with both sexes, instead it is more of a case of either sex."

Take speed dating as an illustrative metaphor - in a room of, say 20 men and 20 women a bisexual man may be attracted to 5 men and 5 women. Or it could be 8 women and 2 men. (Indeed it could well be that there he liked 2 of the women and none of the men) This doesn't mean that he wants a relationship with all 10 of them at once, just that he is attracted to some men and some women.

The heterosexual equivalent is that a man may like, say, 5 out of 20 women (and obviously 0 of the men!). Again, he doesn't want a harem of several wives, but can be attracted to several women.

In short, although a person may be attracted to several people over the course of their life, that still does not stop them being able to find their one true love, settle down, have kids etc etc. And the only difference is that in heterosexuals, everyone they are attracted to is of the opposite sex; in homosexuals, the same sex; and for bisexuals it could be a mix of both. And of these 3 groups could chose to have a settled, stable, monogamous relationship.

As I understand it the majority of homosexual people are attracted (emotionally and/or sexually) exclusively to partners of the same sex in exactly the same way that heterosexual people are drawn to partners of the opposite sex. There are some who have been predominantly heterosexual or homosexual but have, at some stage in their life, experienced sexual or emotional attraction for someone outside their primary attraction group.

There are varying scales of bisexuality of course (Kinsey gave us hetero-0, homo = 6, anything else was bi) but generally those who consider themselves to be 'bi' (in my experience) don't own any of more transitory categories of bisexuality (transitional, latent, isolated, motivational, conditional, emotional, exploratory or circumstantial).

(Those who might have some form of bisexuality fit into 1 - 5 on the Kinsey scale)

It would seem likely that those more likely to consider themselves as bisexual probably exist in one of the four categories: hedonistic, integrated, concurrent or alternating bi's and it seems fair to assume that these would not, generally, be in stable (monogamous) relationships (heterosexual or homosexual) and therefore it seems your argument falls. At least for stable and monogamous (I have met many 'bi' triplets who claim to be stable (and other 'open' relationships) but they'd never sustain the claim of monogamous (would they?). :)

Of course those looking at their options (in terms of sexuality) might go to a speed dating event but they would not be considering themselves to be 'bi' anyway, rather they'd be exploratory. And unless it was billed as such, I would assume (from my limited knowledge of such) that it would be, by default, hetero. To be homo or bi would require this to be explicitly stated beforehand I would guess - don't think I'd be to happy if I were homosexual to be chatted up by the opposite sex.

Still - I can't see how bi can do anything but damage the case of those who state that homosexuality has no choice when they lump obvious choice in their ranks!

I hope this helps the discussion. Thanks to Mr. Anon for some intelligent and balanced dialogue - pity we can't do more of this.

Sorry for the delay - wrote this last week (directly after you post), but have been unable due to travelling and life to get back to posting it.