Time to Bring Back the A Word

At the time of this writing, over 1000 biblical Anglicans are meeting in Jerusalem at a Global Anglican Future Conference. It is being held as an alternative to the Lambeth Conference to be held next month. Many of these delegates will boycott the July conference.

The Anglican Archbishop of Nigeria Peter Akinola set the stage for the Jerusalem gathering when he told the conservative delegates: “We must rescue what is left of the church from the error of the apostates.” It is exactly the issue of apostasy that has brought about this rebel conference.

The main issue which is driving biblical Anglicans away from the worldwide body is the issue of homosexuality. The US Episcopalians (the American version of Anglicanism) has as one of its Bishops a homosexual, who is “married” to his male lover. Gene Robinson dumped his wife and kids and proclaimed that homosexuality was quite compatible with his Christianity.

It is not just Robinson that has the biblical Anglicans worried. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, is also a source of concern. The renegade Anglicans feel the denomination is being destroyed by theological liberalism, and that the Word of God is no longer seen as authoritative.

Which brings us back to the A word. Apostasy, in a general sense, simply means abandoning or renouncing one’s faith. In the Christian understanding, it has to do with defecting from, or abandoning, basic Christian doctrine and practice. It is a term closely related to, but perhaps not identical with, heresy.

Both involve a major departure from the faith, with key beliefs and practices rejected or distorted. The issue of homosexuality is obviously a significant behaviour and practice which Scripture clearly denounces. Theological liberals and revisionists cannot gainsay the clear teaching of Scripture on this topic, so they must greatly distort the Word of God, or deny it altogether in order to push their pro-homosexual position.

Thus the issue of ordaining homosexuals as church leaders, or of granting same-sex marriage rights in the churches has to do not only with practices which are sinful, but with the very Word of God. By rejecting the Bible as the final and sole authority on matters of faith and practice, believers who take the pro-homosexual position are certainly putting themselves in the position of being apostates or reprobates.

The Third World Anglican leaders recognise this, while many Western Anglican leaders do not. To tamper with the Word of God in this area, and to seek to trump Scripture with trendy secular theories and ideologies, means one is no longer submitting oneself to Scripture, and thus is in real risk of apostasy.

Whether the worldwide Anglican Communion splits over this contentious issue remains to be seen, but unity – based on a return to God’s word – does not look very promising. Theological liberalism and contempt for the Word of God have been allowed to linger too long in certain parts of the church.

Of course we are warned in Scripture that a little leaven leavens the whole batch. Allow false teaching and practice to fester, and it simply gets worse, infecting more and more areas. Paul warned that in the last days there would be a falling away from the faith (2 Thess. 2:3). The term “falling away” comes from the Greek word apostasia, which of course is where we get our English word from.

Jesus also warned about dark times ahead, with many false Christs and false prophets being on the prowl (Matt. 24:24, eg.). Peter warned about false teachers and false prophets who would bring into the churches destructive heresies. And he speaks of their “shameful ways” as well (2 Peter 2:1-3). Wrong beliefs and wrong practices go hand in hand. Indeed, Paul could admonish us to watch our lives and our doctrine closely (1 Tim. 4:16).

There are dozens upon dozens of such warnings in the New Testament. In fact, the entire Bible is filled with warnings about turning away from God and his Word. Yet that is just what we find in so many parts of the church today, when the clear teaching on issues such as homosexuality are deliberately rejected or distorted.

Indeed, Paul in Romans 1 strongly makes this case, using homosexuality as his prime example. He speaks about those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness”. In Romans 1;18-32 Paul makes the case for the ugliness, folly and insanity of rebellion against God. Sin and idolatry are described and condemned here, with homosexuality used as a chief example of this rebellion. The wrath of God, says Paul, falls upon such idolatry and wilful rebellion.

Three times Paul says that God gave them over to this depravity. It is at once both an indication of man’s idolatry and rebellion against God, and a means of punishment as well. Homosexuality is both a sign of rebellion against God as well as the punishment for such rebellion.

This is worth looking at in more detail. As James Dunn in his commentary explains, this giving over is for Paul a case of man apart from God regressing to a lower level of animality. “God had handed them over in the sense that he has accepted the fact of man’s rebellious desire to be free of God, and has let go of the control which restrained them from their baser instincts. The rationale is, presumably, that God does not retain control over those who do not desire it; he who wants to be on his own is granted his wish.”

Or as Thomas Schreiner puts it, “The context suggests that the ‘penalty’ is not something in addition to homosexuality. The penalty is rather being handed over to the sin of homosexuality itself. . . . Thus people had to be handed over to punishment precisely because they had scorned God’s glory. Once again, the main theme of the text is driven home. The foundational sin of refusing to thank and glorify God leads to other sins.”

Or finally, as Douglas Moo says, it is not just a question of the divine influence being withdrawn from the rebellious idolater. “God does not simply let the boat go – he gives it a push downstream. Like a judge who hands over a prisoner to the punishment his crime has earned, God hands over the sinner to the terrible cycle of ever-increasing sin.”

Of course we must bear in mind that all sin alienates us from God; all sin is idolatry; and all sin brings upon us the just wrath of God. But it is quite revealing that Paul should single out homosexuality when he discusses the reprobate mind and the depraved heart. It is his example par excellence of those who exchange the truth of God for a lie, and worship the creature over the creator.

Thus the African Bishop was quite right to raise the A word here, and tie it in with the issue of homosexuality. It makes for a good test case: do we in fact let God be God, and let his Word guide us in matters of truth and morals, or do we claim to decide what is right and wrong, true and false?

Do we, in other words, let the creator/creature distinction remain, or do we seek to usurp the role of God, and pronounce our own version of events to be the inspired and authoritative one? The truth is, either God and his Word are the final authority, or we are. But it cannot be both. Either God calls the shots, or we do. And if we do, the A word is most appropriate here.

[1264 words]

8 Replies to “Time to Bring Back the A Word”

  1. In the same way that Satan successfully tempted Eve by twisting words to say what they did not mean, we too are being deceived and confused into accepting homosexual marriages and civil partnerships because they can be described as “Christian, committed, oving and praiseworthy“. A few years ago, Rev Dr. William Strange of St. Peter’s Carmarthen, set the scene like this:

    … “most heterosexual Christians will know lesbian and gay people whom they like and respect. One of the consequences of the increased openness of lesbian and gay people in the past generation or so is that the discussion is no longer about a faceless and anonymous ‘them’. It concerns a person with a face, a story and perhaps a pain. The introduction of a human element into reflection about homosexuality …. makes discussion more complex. … The secular world seems to be a good deal more accepting and tolerant on this issue than parts of the Christian church, and that also is an uncomfortable feeling…Most Christian arguments in favour of recognition and celebration of same-sex unions build up to proposals which alleviate this discomfort by arguing for something reassuringly familiar, something comparable to same-sex marriage: stable monogamous unions which apparently preserve the social landscape by doing no more than to ask us to extend the existing concept of marriage to include a hitherto excluded group.”

    Read the whole article: http://www.churchinwales.org.uk/resources/backissues/theology_wales/sexuality_same_sex_unions.html

    For Gene Robinson, Katherine Jefferts Schori and Rowan Williams it does not matter whether the relationship is heterosexual or homosexual (or for that matter incestuous, polygamous or paedophile); the most important thing is that the partners are “imaging in their personal and sexual life the love and justice of Christ.” (‘Knowing Myself in Christ’ Rowan Williams, 1997), presumably as described in 1 Corinthians chapter 13. But this portion of scripture does not describe behaviour that is appropriate only for Christians: it is universally demanded. Even then no human being can image it perfectly this side of death. Isaiah describes our attempts as filthy rags. Also, there may well be times when “Christian love” does not appear to be something with which we can live comfortably, but is impatient and intolerant – especially with regard to sinful behaviour.

    The imaging in their personal and sexual life, the love and justice of Christ as described in 1 Corinthians is not a technical, objective description of a Christian. A couple may well demonstrate unloving, bad behaviour and yet technically still be Christians – albeit backslidden ones.

    In his preface to Mere Christianity C.S. Lewis says: “Now if once we allow people to start spiritualising and refining, or as they might say ‘deepening’, the sense of the word Christian, it too will speedily become a useless word. In the first place, Christians themselves will never be able to apply it to anyone. It is not for us to say who, in the deepest sense, is or is not close to the spirit of Christ. We do not see into men’s hearts. We cannot judge, and are indeed forbidden to judge. It would be wicked arrogance for us to say that any man is, or is not, a Christian in this refined sense. And obviously a word which we can never apply is not going to he a very useful word. As for the unbelievers, they will no doubt cheerfully use the word in the refined sense. It will become in their mouths simply a term of praise. In calling anyone a Christian they will mean that they think him a good ( or tolerant, caring and loving) man. But that way of using the word will be no enrichment of the language, for we already have the word good( tolerant ,caring and loving). Meanwhile, the word Christian will have been spoiled for any really useful purpose it might have served.”

    The Bible makes no mention of other configurations of marriage apart from male and female, nor is there any mention of the two waiting until their personal lives ”image the love and justice of Christ.” in order to become one flesh. There have been marriages created for all manner of reasons, apart from love, such as those of economy, politics and plain convenience, as with the case, not only of that between Ruth and Boaz, but of C.S Lewis’ marriage to Joy Davidman. Theirs was a marriage of convenience which bloomed into a loving relationship.

    The campaign to normalise homosexuality is riddled with dishonesty and selectivity. On the one hand we are told that what consenting parties do is none of our business; that we must live and let live. Fine. But in the next breath we are told that we must be inclusive and affirm what they do. They want it both ways and here we have Bishop Gene Robinson and his groom/bride, Mark Andrew, doing just that: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article3833364.ece

    Again to loosely borrow from C.S. Lewis, Gene Robinson and his “June bride” could say to one another in an almost sacrificial spirit, “It is for love’s sake that we have led astray young people in the church and those weak in their faith.” They may even feel a particular merit in such sacrifices to the idol of such love; what costlier offering can be laid on the love’s altar than one’s conscience?

    As soon as we appeal to our human experience, as opposed to scripture, we are doomed.

    David Skinner, UK

  2. Well written Bill, and once again – another reason that we should all be familiar with the scriptures and receive our revelation from the word, comparing what is taught from the pulpit with the bible. We are all responsible for our own faith, and can not blame others if they have taught us wrongly.
    Andrew Munden

  3. Seems in result, if not in actual words, that Frank’s Sinatra’s “I did it my way” is the driving force in much of what is termed “Christendom”. But His ways, fortunately are not my ways however much I might like them to be. For that I am (and we should be) eternally grateful. The Law of Unintended Consequences has never been repealed and we see progressively the consequences of our apostasy. May the Lord have mercy on the souls of those who lead their ‘sheep’ astray.
    Arthur Hartwig

  4. I am finding this is only the tip of the iceberg. Already people are writing Scripture to suit themselves – the J.W.’s have done it for a number of years. The homosexual bible has now been written. To top that off, Rev Dr Chris Budden, the former Gen Sec of the NSW Synod, in the letters to the editor in May (Insults) Insights is suggesting it is time we questioned the belief that Scripture is authoritative. He goes one step further and suggests that it is time the UCA had serious discussions about the Canon of Scripture and its authority.
    First we weaken Scripture by tolerating the sin it condemns then we pull Scripture apart and do away with what we don’t like. Where does liberalism stop?
    Grahame Abrahams

  5. The categories of husband/wife, mother/father, male/female, married/single are being systematically replaced by playdo-like social units that are only defined by subjective, evolutionary value judgements, i.e., just so long as a group is caring, safe, committed, tolerant, diverse, inclusive and 21st century, in the humanist sense, it qualifies. The descriptors have become the all important thing – not that which is being described.
    David Skinner, UK

  6. Back in 1924, a cartoon was published by the fundamentalists (before the term became pejorative) with the purpose of showing how liberalism ultimately leads to atheism. It was titled the ‘descent of the modernists’ and showed a set of 9 labeled, descending stairs leading from the elevated ‘light’ of Christianity to the dark basement of Atheism. The first of those descending stairs was labeled ‘Bible not infallible’ which is essentially where this whole issue starts. Sadly, the liberal church stepped way beyond that stair a long time ago.

    However, much of the evangelical church is also already on, if not beyond that stair. Just look at any evangelical theology book for the past 100 years. Although inerrancy is supposedly one of the planks of evangelicalism, when it comes to the opening chapters of Genesis, these theologians do back flips, pirouettes, hand stands and many other contortions rather than accept that what God said is true. “It’s poetry” we’re told – well fine, but even if that were true, couldn’t our God (who we assert is truth) write a poem that was accurate? “It’s just a picture” – again, couldn’t God paint something that was correct? The same response basically goes with any such excuse. Are these theologians and their followers also not twisting the Word of God to suit their purpose? If so, are they not doing exactly the same as the liberals?

    If much of the evangelical church doesn’t believe the whole Bible, why are we surprised when the liberals have gone one (or several) stairs further towards atheism? Is it because many evangelicals are still too close to them and the distance is not sufficiently great to distinguish? We need to realize that the liberals are merely reflecting the modern, humanistic, secular worldview. What is maybe not so obvious is that many parts of the evangelical church have absorbed parts of this secular worldview also, just not as much (yet!) as the liberals. To cite but one example while on the topic of homosexuality, many of those pushing same-sex registers would consider themselves evangelical.

    The church has been dumbed down for years and has left itself open to massive problems in many areas, not just homosexuality. The 1924 cartoon is just as relevant today as when it was printed – but then most if not all of the New Testament epistles were written to correct error, so not much has changed!

    If we are going to bring back the ‘A’ word – which I would welcome – then we need theologians and teachers who can show the implications of not just accepting the Bible’s teachings on homosexuality, but many other topics as well. Until the church preaches (and believes!) the whole of the book it asserts is from God, it will continue to have problems.

    Roger Birch

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