Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Staying Faithful

The following are questions by independent church minister Stephen Kneale to Church of England ministers in the light of recent developments, along with a first attempt at answering them.

1.       How do you understand the term ‘faithful’ and does your current situation help or hinder your being faithful?
Faithfulness means loyalty to Christ and his body. This includes devotion to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayers (Acts 2:42). It covers attitudes and behaviour as well as speech.
For me, as an ordained minister in the Church of England, it also means devoting myself wholly to the service of God, daily following the rule and teaching of our Lord and growing into his likeness so that God may sanctify the lives of all with whom I have to do. (From the Liturgy of Ordination)
Among other, equally important but perhaps less contentious, things this involves faithfully ministering the doctrine and sacraments of Christ as the Church of England has received them, proclaiming the good news of salvation, and defending the people committed to my charge against error.
(It also means submitting to the authority of the British Monarch and my Bishop in all things lawful and honest, and using only the forms of service which are authorized or allowed by Canon.)
My situation is both help and hindrance. The Church of England declares and formally asks of his ministers belief in the faith which is revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and to which the historic formularies of the Church of England bear witness, but it tolerates clergy that openly contradict the Scriptures and teach contrary to the Christian faith.
While many in this country worship Christ outside the Church of England, no other denomination, with the possible exception of the Roman Catholic church, has a better claim to catholicity, in the sense of seeking to hold together the body of Christ in a given place. Being in the Church of England is a help in terms of faithfully serving the body of Christ in my place. (It may well be different in other parts of the country.) I cannot have this close fellowship without having also fellowship with many who in word or deed deny Christ as our Lord and Saviour. This is a hindrance.
I can speak the truth freely but the lies of others compromise the message that is proclaimed. This would not altogether change by leaving the Church of England for a smaller, more faithful denomination. The background noise would not thereby go away.
Lest this be misread, I must add that my situation does of course include myself and I recognise that there are threats to faithfulness within me as well as from without.

2.       How can you remain faithful whilst in submission to those who, minimally, apologise for orthodoxy and are entertaining those who wish to undermine it?
As far as I can see, my submission to my Bishops (in all things lawful and honest) does not at present compromise my faithfulness to Christ, as far as my own actions are concerned.
The apology to which Stephen Kneale alludes was not for orthodoxy (or orthopraxis) as such but for stating orthodoxy (or orthopraxis) and maybe for doing so in a clumsy or untimely way. Still, the apology hinders rather than helps faithful Christian ministry. It does not, however, prevent it altogether.
I agree with the observation that our Bishops, on the whole, want us to keep company with people, including clergy, who wish to undermine the historic Christian faith (and by no means on matters of sexuality only), pretending that people are fellow servants in the gospel for the sake of the kingdom of God who in reality serve a God of their own imagination, perverting the gospel of Christ. This is a grievous ill, even allowing that most, maybe all, false teachers have persuaded themselves that they are promoting the Christian faith.
This does undermine my ministry. But, in some sense, it undermines all faithful Christian ministry in this country and beyond. It makes it harder to remain faithful but not impossible.

3.       How can you remain faithful while remaining in formal communion with those who openly want to reject historic orthodoxy?
I am not sure that there is much difference between this and the following question. See below. Celebrating Holy Communion alongside false teachers has elements of both joy (because it is not communion with false teachers only but with Christ and his body) and pain (because it includes an element of falsehood, apparently recognising some as fellow servants who are not in fact submitting to Christ).
In the current context absenting myself from events like the Chrism Mass on Maundy Thursday at which ministers from across the Diocese gather and clergy renew their ordination vow would not effectively signal to false teachers the dangers in which they are. But the presence of those who openly want to reject historic orthodoxy devalues the renewal of vows and makes the Eucharist less joyful than it might be otherwise.
4.       How do you remain faithful staying in whilst taking seriously the biblical call to separate from those who depart the faith and partaking in the sins of those with whom we commune?
Knowing (in principle) how to respond to the instruction to keep away from those who call themselves Christian but are idle (2 Thessalonians 3:6), or sexually immoral, or greedy, or idolaters, or verbally abusive, or drunkards, or swindlers (1 Corinthians 5:11) was arguably more straightforward when the number of those who were Christian by name only was small.
Today there are many who bear the name of Christ but do not know him, do not acknowledge Christ as their Saviour, and do not submit to him as their Lord. Some of them are in open rebellion to Christ and the teaching of his church, others are confused, still others oblivious to their state. (And I am, of course, not necessarily in a position to judge.)
We need to be mindful of a double risk. Keeping close to ‘false Christians’ makes it more challenging to heed the call of Christ not to participate in the unfruitful works of darkness but rather to expose them, not least if we come to know them as friends whom we love, respect, and in parts admire.
But keeping a clear distance to ‘false Christians’ makes it more challenging to share the good news with many in our post-Christendom society. There are two broad differences between our situation and that of the early church: (a) those from whom the early Christians were to distance themselves had heard the gospel and the separation would have communicated to them a call to mend their ways in order to be re-integrated; (b) the separation would have helped those outside the church to see more clearly the meaning and significance of the Christian faith.
Today those outside the church see a multiplicity of denominations that tells them little more than this: Christians are not agreed about what it means to be a Christian. And separating ourselves from those whose lives or doctrine betray the faith in all likelihood communicates ‘we think ourselves better than you’ rather than ‘the way you live or teach is incompatible with being a faithful disciple of Christ.’
We partake in the sins of others by committing them ourselves or by endorsing them (which 1 Timothy 5:22 may have in mind). But this is not inevitably the case by staying in the Church of England.
It is a fair question whether faithful Christians staying in the Church of England helps to preserve nominal and false Christianity, thereby promoting confusion about the Christian faith. Would it not be better to let the Church of England die? Maybe, but this is a matter of carefully weighing up a range of factors, not a matter of simple obedience to a straightforward command.
5.       How can you remain faithful to the official historic teaching of the church when liturgies and practice, with guidance issued, now affirm what is unbiblical? Can one stand on a constitution that is not applied?
The fact that the constitution is not applied in other parish churches makes life and ministry more difficult but it does not mean that I cannot apply it in our parish church.
The Guidance for Gender Transitioning Services is a grave error (cf. this post) but I am resolved to remain faithful to the official historic teaching of the church and to use any liturgy accordingly. I am dismayed but not (yet) unable to remain faithful, except for my own weakness.
6.       What is your actual plan to change the situation? How are you ‘contending’ in a way that has any hope whatsoever of effecting change?
My plan is to truly preach the word and rightly administer the sacraments, as best as I can. My contending is a matter of faithfulness to Christ, whether or not it makes any difference. Only God’s Spirit can bring repentance and submission to Christ. I try to play my very small part. For now, I don’t think that leaving the Church of England would ‘change the situation’ for the better.

Sunday, 10 November 2019

Meditating on Body Parts

Psalm 17 contains more references to body parts than it has verses. (The poem is in parts difficult to understand and translate which is why some will interpret some of the verses differently from how I read them here although this does not affect the references to parts of the body as such.)

The psalmist refers to his lips in verse 1, his heart and his mouth in verse 3, his feet in verse 5 and possibly his throat in verse 9 ("my deadly enemies" = "the enemies at my throat"; in verse 13 nefesh ["throat", "neck", "soul"] refers to the life of the psalmist).*

The preposition "from" with which verse 9 opens hints at the face of the wicked (plural) and in verse 13 God is literally asked to confront the face of the wicked (singular) who is forced to his knees. The callousness of the wicked is described in verse 10 as being "inclosed in their own fat" (KJV, modern translation usually speak more freely of "closing their hearts to pity") and their arrogance finds expression in their mouths. Their determination to harm the psalmist is seen in their eyes (verse 11). The share in life of these people is what goes into their belly (verse 14).

God is asked to give ear (verse 1), to incline his ear (verse 6) to the psalmist. The preposition with which verse 2 opens can be rendered more literally "from your face" (= "from your presence," cf. below on the final verse). The verse goes on to refer to God's eyes, later on the pupil of God's eye is specifically mentioned (verse 8). God's lips feature in verse 4, his right hand in verse 7. Verse 14 speaks more generally of his hand. While the danger from the wicked is described in leonine imagery (verse 12), the protection God offers is spoken of in ornithological imagery with reference to wings under which one can find refuge (verse 7).

The psalm concludes, "As for me, being in the right I will see your face; I will be satisfied when I awake [with seeing] your form."

These references allow for various connections and contrasts. The psalmist is caught between the presence of God and the presence of the wicked - both referenced in prominently placed prepositions which hint at the faces of friend and foe (verse 2 using the fuller form than verse 9). The wicked have their eyes on the psalmist for harm (verse 11) who therefore wants to be not only in the sight of his God but to be the very apple of his eye. The salvation must come from God facing up to and facing down the oppressor, bringing him to his knees (verse 13) before the psalmist is cast to the ground (verse 11).

The contrast between the psalmist and the wicked is marked by what comes out of their mouths (verse 3, verse 10). The good use of lips by the person praying is arguably also the result of paying heed to the word that comes from God's lips (verse 4), unlike the arrogant. From this comes confidence that God will incline his ear to what comes out of the psalmist's mouth rather than the mouth of the proud.

Only the feet of the psalmist are explicitly mentioned but the violent have their ways (verse 4), as God has his tracks (or ruts, usually translated "paths," verse 5). This assumes that the feet of the opposing parties have both left grooves between which the psalmist had to decide.(The wicked are now in turn trying to track down the palmist, verse 11.)

The references to the psalmist's heart and throat are unique within the psalm, highlighting his integrity and vulnerability.

The wicked are uniquely characterised by reference to fat and belly, fitting with a concern for the goods of this life without regard to the giver of life whose face the psalmist is keen to see.

The double reference to God's (right) hand stresses his power, the unique reference to wings his protection (cf. the unique reference to the apple of his eye).

What then does it mean to see the form or likeness of God (verse 15)? Does the psalmist expect to see the face of a large bird with hands? Hardly. The verse seems to allude to Numbers 12.
"When there is a prophet among you, I, the LORD, will make myself known to him in a vision; in a dream I will speak with him. Not so my servant Moses...with him I will speak mouth to mouth, clearly and not in riddles; the form of the LORD he will see."
The psalmist expects communion with God which is unambiguous and in a state of being awake, not in a dream. He expects to enjoy the presence of God (seeing his face), as he perceives the presence (the form or likeness) of a protective bird rather than an attacking lion. The verse speaks about intimacy and to speak about intimacy the psalmist reaches for bodily language.

* I use "his" in keeping with the gender of the Hebrew terms and the superscription "A Plea of David" and because the use of the singular "their" (which I use in other contexts) seems less appropriate in a discussion of body parts. This should not prevent women from appropriating the language for their own prayers.

Saturday, 31 August 2019

Hymns of Grace

This is a table of contents for the hymnal Hymns of Grace published by The Master's Seminary Press. At the time of writing free MP3 files with piano accompaniments of these hymns were available on the website from which this information is gleaned as well. The website also has an alphabetical list of hymns here.

1           Sing Praise to God Who Reigns Above
2           Praise to the Lord, the Almighty
3           Praise the Lord Ye Heavens Adore Him
4           Praise, My Soul, the King of Heaven
          How Great Thou Art
6           The God of Abraham Praise
7           Sing Praise to the Lord
8           We Praise Thee, O God, Our Redeemer
9           Stand Up and Bless the Lord
11         All Creatures of Our God and King
14         Give to Our God Immortal Praise
17         O Father, You Are Sovereign
18         All People That on Earth Do Dwell
19         To God Be the Glory
23         Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee
24         O My Soul, Bless God the Father
25         The Perfect Wisdom of Our God
26         I Sing the Mighty Power of God
29         Creation Sings
31         This Is My Father's World
32         These Great Things
33         Our Sovereign God
35         O Great God
36         Immortal, Invisible
37         How Great Our God's Majestic Name
39         Eternal Light! Eternal Light!
40         Let the Earth Resound
42         Our Great God
44         Come, Praise and Glorify
47         Tell Out, My Soul
48         Holy, Holy, Holy
50         Adoration
51         The Secret Place
52         Dear Refuge of My Weary Soul
53         A Mighty Fortress Is Our God
54         My Lord I Did Not Choose You
55         O God, Our Help in Ages Past
57         God Leads Us Along
58         He Leadeth Me! O Blessed Thought
59         Abide with Me
60         Be Still, My Soul
61         Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah
63         I Asked the Lord That I Might Grow
64         Like a River Glorious
66         Whate'er My God Ordains Is Right
67         Still, My Soul, Be Still
68         When All Thy Mercies, O My God
69         Day by Day
71         Take Thou My Hand, O Father
73         O Lord, Thy Touch Hath Stirred My Soul
75         O Love That Will Not Let Me Go
76         Lord, with Glowing Heart I'd Praise Thee
77         God of Grace
78         Grace Greater Than Our Sin
79         When Trials Come
80         How Deep the Father's Love for Us
81         I Am His, and He Is Mine
83         By Grace Alone
84         Mercies Anew
85         My Song Forever Shall Record
86         Great Is Thy Faithfulness
87         Love of God
88         God Moves in a Mysterious Way
89         Amazing Grace! How Sweet the Sound 
91         The Love of God
92         God of Grace and God of Glory
94         Praise Him! Praise Him!
96         When Morning Gilds the Skies
97         We Will Glorify
98         My Worth Is Not in What I Own
100       O God, My Joy
101       My Heart Is Full of Christ
102       Jesus Is Lord
103       I Greet Thee, Who My Sure Redeemer Art
104       Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing
105       My Savior's Love
106       Let Us Love and Sing and Wonder
107       Fairest Lord Jesus
109       Why Should I Sorrow More
110       Thine Is the Glory
111       We Come, O Christ, to You
112       Complete in Thee
113       Join All the Glorious Names
115       Jesus, Thou Joy of Loving Hearts
116       Rejoice, the Lord Is King
117       King of the Ages
118       Hail to the Lord's Anointed
119       There Is a Higher Throne
120       Jesus Shall Reign
121       Christ Triumphant, Ever Reigning
124       Lead On, O King Eternal 
125       Come, Christians, Join to Sing
126       Behold Our God
127       Look, Ye Saints! The Sight Is Glorious
128       Onward March, All-Conquering Jesus
129       Crown Him with Many Crowns
130       Hail, Thou Once Despised Jesus
131       The Head That Once Was Crowned
133       All Glory Be to Christ
134       Begin, My Tongue, Some Heavenly Theme
135       O Worship the King
136       O for a Thousand Tongues to Sing
138       All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name
140       At the Name of Jesus
141       Lift High the Name of Jesus
143       All Hail the Power of Jesus' Name
144       Glorious Is Thy Name
146       How Sweet the Name of Jesus Sounds
147       I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say
148       Relentless Love
149       Jesus, Thy Boundless Love to Me
150       Wonderful Grace of Jesus
151       Jesus, Lover of My Soul
152       Jesus I Am Resting, Resting
153       Beloved and Blessed
154       Oh, the Deep, Deep Love
155       Jesus, the Very Thought of Thee
156       His Forever
157       Oh, How He Loves You and Me
159       O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus
161       Love Divine, All Loves Excelling
162       Wonderful, Merciful Savior
163       Compassion Hymn
164       What a Friend We Have in Jesus
165       Jesus, Draw Me Ever Nearer
166       I Run to Christ
167       Good Shepherd of My Soul
168       Psalm 23
170       Savior, like a Shepherd Lead Us
171       The King of Love My Shepherd Is
172       All the Way My Savior Leads Me
173       O Thou, In Whose Presence
174       Give Me Jesus
175       My Shepherd, You Supply My Need
176       Be Thou My Vision
177       In Christ Alone
179       'Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus
180       And Can It Be?
181       His Robes for Mine
183       Ah, Holy Jesus, How Have You Offended?
184       Come, Behold the Wondrous Mystery
185       Here Is Love
186       A Debtor to Mercy
187       Before the Throne of God Above
188       Jesus, Thy Blood and Righteousness
189       Depth of Mercy
190       What Wondrous Love Is This
191       My Hiding Place
193       Beautiful Savior
194       O Love Divine
195       I Hear the Words of Love
196       I Will Glory in My Redeemer
198       Across the Lands
200       Hallelu Jah! My Redeemer
201       There Is a Redeemer
202       My Song Is Love Unknown
203       O Christ, Our Hope, Our Heart's Desire
204       Free from Guilt and Free from Sin
206       Jesus! What a Friend for Sinners
207       O the Love of My Redeemer
208       My Ransom
209       Rock of Ages
210       I Will Sing of My Redeemer
212       Glorious Day
213       My Hope Is in the Lord
214       Of the Father's Love Begotten
215       Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence
216       Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus
218       O Come, O Come Emmanuel
219       Thou Who Wast Rich
220       Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming
221       Fullness of Grace
222       Angels, from the Realms of Glory
223       The First Noel
224       Joy to the World
225       Go, Tell It on the Mountain
226       Good Christian Men, Rejoice
227       Angels We Have Heard on High
228       We Three Kings of Orient Are
229       Sing We Now of Christmas
230       What Child Is This?
231       O Come, All Ye Faithful
232       Away in a Manager
234       All Is Well
235       Away in a Manager
236       Silent Night, Holy NIght
237       Joy Has Dawned
238       Hark! the Herald Angels Sing
239       While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks
240       O Holy Night!
242       O Little Town of Bethlehem
245       Exult in the Savior's Birth
246       It Came upon the Midnight Clear
247       Once in Royal David's City
249       I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
250       Infant Holy, Infant Lowly
251       The Birthday of a King
252       I Wonder As I Wander
253       He Is Born
254       How Great Our Joy!
255       O Hearken Ye
256       Who Is He in Yonder Stall?
257       Love Incarnate
259       Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne
260       All Glory, Laud, and Honor
261       Hark, the Glad Sound
263       Worthy Is the Lamb
264       Lamb of Glory
265       Lamb of God
266       Come, Let Us Join Our Cheerful Songs
268       Gaze on the Christ
269       I Lay My Sins on Jesus
271       O Sacred Head, Now Wounded
272       The Power of the Cross
273       Jesus, Keep Me Near the Cross
274       When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
275       The Old Rugged Cross
276       Go to Dark Gethsemane
277       Lift High the Cross
278       Beneath the Cross of Jesus
279       The Wonderful Cross
280       O Mighty Cross
281       Jesus Paid It All
282       Alas! and Did My Savior Bleed?
283       Were You There?
284       At the Cross
285       In the Cross of Christ I Glory
286       Beneath the Cross
287       Hallelujah for the Cross
288       What Sacred Fountain Freely Springs
289       In the Cross Alone I Glory
290       When I Survey the Wondrous Cross
291       Arise, My Soul, Arise
292       How Rich a Treasure We Possess
293       Alas, and Did My Savior Bleed?
294       O Fount of Love
296       Hallelujah, What a Savior!
298       See the Destined Day Arise
299       Cross of Jesus, Cross of Sorrow
300       My Jesus, Fair
301       There Is a Fountain
302       Nothing but the Blood
303       Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted
304       He Was Wounded
305       Lead Me to Calvary
307       Christ Arose!
308       Christ Is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed!
309       Jesus Christ Is Risen Today
310       Resurrection Hymn
312       Christ the Lord Is Risen Today
313       Hail the Day That Christ Arose
315       Hail the Day That Sees Him Rise
316       Spirit of God, Descend upon My Heart
317       Light of God
318       Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God
319       Breathe on Me, Breath of God
321       Come Down, O Love Divine
324       God, Our Father, We Adore Thee
325       O Sing, My Soul
326       Come, Thou Almighty King
327       Holy God, We Praise Thy Name
328       Praise Ye the Triune God
329       You Are the Lord!
330       A Triune Prayer
332       Oh, How Good It Is
334       Brethren, We Have Met to Worship
335       Who Is on the Lord's Side?
337       Jehovah's Bride
338       O Church of Christ, Invincible
339       Rise Up, O Men of God!
341       Never Cease to Praise
343       The Communion Hymn
346       A Christian Home
347       So Send I You
348       Facing a Task Unfinished
349       Salvation's Song
350       How Sweet and Aweful Is the Place
352       I Love Thy Kingdom, Lord
353       O Church, Arise
354       The Church's One Foundation
355       Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation
356       I Know Whom I Have Believed
357       Great Is the Gospel of Our Glorious God
358       Ye Servants of God
359       My Soul Finds Rest
361       By Faith
363       Every Promise of Your Word
364       How Firm A Foundation
365       Ancient Words
366       My Soul Longs for the Lord
368       Speak, O Lord
371       O Word of God Incarnate
373       Rejoice, Ye Pure in Heart
374       My Heart Is Filled with Thankfulness
375       Take My Life and Let It Be
376       What Grace Is Mine
377       May the Mind of Christ My Savior
378       Soldiers of Christ, Arise
379       I'd Rather Have Jesus
380       My Jesus, I Love Thee
381       The Solid Rock
382       Dear Lord and Father of Mankind
383       God Almighty, Strong, Secure
385       More Love to Thee, O Christ
386       I Gave My Life for Thee
388       He Will Hold Me Fast
389       All I Have Is Christ
390       God, Be Merciful to Me
391       Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy
392       Today Thy Mercy Calls Us
393       Take My Life and Let It Be
394       Jesus, I My Cross Have Taken
395       Come, Lonely Heart
397       I Plead for Grace
398       God, Be Merciful to Me
399       The Master Has Come
401        Hiding in Thee
402        Rejoice! Rejoice, Believers!
403        Blessed Assurance, Jesus Is Mine
404        My Faith Has Found a Resting Place
405        Not in Me
406        Christ, the Sure and Steady Anchor
407        It Is Well with My Soul
408        My Faith Looks Up to Thee
409        Come, My Soul, Your Plea Prepare
410        The Lord's Prayer
411        All Your Anxiety
413        Merciful God
414        Approach, My Soul, the Mercy Seat
415        Come to Me
416        I Need Thee Every Hour
417        Fill Thou My Life
418        For All the Saints
419        Hear the Call of the Kingdom
420        A Charge to Keep I Have
421        Am I a Soldier of the Cross?
422        See, He Comes
423        On Jordan's Stormy Banks I Stand
424        Come Quickly, Lord
425        Glorious Things of Thee Are Spoken
426        He Shall Come Again in Glory
427        The Sands of Time Are Sinking
428        Come, We That Love the Lord
429        For the Beauty of the Earth
431        God of Our Fathers
433        Now Thank We All Our God
435        We Gather Together
436        Come, Ye Thankful People, Come
437        Now unto Him
438        Benediction
439        Doxology (OWENS)
440        Doxology
442        O Breath of God
444       Now Blessed Be the Lord Our God