Editorial Blog

Dave Doveton is the Senior Editor of this website. These articles are mostly concerned with authentic, biblically orthodox Christian faith and its interaction with the Anglican Church, especially the Church of England, and the wider culture. Please press the ‘Refresh’ or “reload’ button to ensure you see the latest blog post at the top of this column.

Rumours of War: reading the signs of the times.

Posted by on Feb 7, 2024 in Editorial Blog, Warfare | Comments Off on Rumours of War: reading the signs of the times.

Rumours of War: reading the signs of the times.

By Dave Doveton.

“You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times.” Matthew 16:3b, also Luke 12:56.

“The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.” Proverbs 22:3

“Proclaim this among the nations: Consecrate for war; stir up the mighty men. Let all the men of war draw near; let them come up. Beat your ploughshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears; let the weak say, “I am a warrior.” Let the nations stir themselves up and come to the valley of Jehoshaphat; for there I will sit to judge all the surrounding nations. The Lord roars from Zion, and utters his voice from Jerusalem, and the heavens and the earth quake. But the Lord is a refuge to his people, a stronghold to the people of Israel.” Joel 3:9, 10, 12,16.

 

Hardly a week goes by without some defence official or high-ranking military officer commenting on the readiness of Europe or the UK for a major war. Comments by General Sanders, head of the British army, that conscription may be necessary for the UK if it is to be prepared for war on land, set alarm bells ringing for many. This was by no means a prediction, but a call to readiness to meet any possible future scenario, given the heightened tensions in Europe around Ukraine and the conflict in the Middle East. British secretary of Defence, Grant Shapps, has been more forthright, saying that Britain was moving from a peaceful ‘postwar’ world to a ‘prewar’ world and needed to re-arm for protection against a Russian threat[i].

These prognoses followed a warning to Swedes from two top defence officials that they needed to prepare for war[ii]. Other parliamentary speakers from the Baltic nations of Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania have more recently delivered strong warnings about the preparedness of the west in the event of an expanding conflict in Europe. The United States is making serious preparations as it moves nuclear warheads back onto British soil after an absence of fifteen years[iii].

Let me begin by saying that I am not making predictions, nor in any way trying to be alarmist or spread fear and anxiety. Yet, at the same time, remembering the words of our Lord that we should always be ready and that we should be able to read the ‘signs of the times’, we need to ask what his admonishment would mean in practice for a Christian disciple. Also, how can we help others, as well as ourselves prepare for major changes around us that conflict, whether small or great, inevitably does bring. It is abundantly clear from scripture that Jesus wanted his followers to be prepared for future events that would alter their lives immeasurably. This is borne out by his warning to them regarding the cataclysm that would unfold in AD 70 when the Romans invaded and destroyed the temple[iv], Jesus not only prepared them mentally, but he also gave specific directions on how to respond to events[v].

The conflict in the Middle East between Israel and Hamas, and more lately the strikes against American bases in neighbouring countries such as Jordan and Syria; the wider involvement of Yemeni Houthi with their attacks on shipping in the Red Sea; the counter strikes by America and its allies on Iranian backed militia – this could spin out of control if Iran were to become directly involved.  The China/Taiwan issue also has the potential of erupting into a war involving the great powers, not to mention North Korea’s constant threats to ignite a nuclear conflagration.

Many countries would be affected by a world war, not only by direct destruction of vital infrastructure, such as roads, communication facilities, hospitals etc. but also by indirect effects. These may be physical, such as the disruption of normal trade and supply chains such as we have seen in the Red Sea region, which affect the availability of goods and services and result in soaring prices. The global financial system would be shaken to its core by a major war[vi]. Modern warfare is also transforming radically with the weaponisation of technology. Global financial systems have already been weaponised by the USA by its prevention of Russia from using the SWIFT system. “Hot” warfare often follows on from “economic” warfare.

Cyber-attacks can disable control systems such as electricity grids and water supply reticulation, not to mention nuclear and other power plants and render them inoperable.  A major world war would certainly degrade the communication systems of the world – the internet included. Even banking activities may be stopped by internet disruption and opportunistic criminal hackers.

Not least, as is often said, the first casualty of war is truth. The object of propaganda is the control of the narrative. How does one navigate the propaganda war? Christians should be those who are concerned to know the truth and therefore try the utmost to discern lies and half-truths when reading or listening to media reports and try to get information from a wide range of outlets.

Joel’s timely message (Joel Chapter 3:9-16)

Joels ancient vision of a coming conflict which he sees as affecting his people brings him to sound an alarm, but also to prepare the people of God for what will transpire. I will highlight several points in his message.

  1. God is sovereign (v12 – 16) He permits war for his sovereign purposes in the world and for his people. We therefore do not have to fear in times of conflict and even world war. Christians should never be ruled by their circumstances, because of the Biblical vision of God’s ultimate purpose for our lives and the world – which is ultimately good.
  2. God is our refuge (v16) Often we find there are competing claims to have God “on our side” in conflicts, and Christians should be wary of this. There are, however, ‘just wars’[vii] for we live in a fallen world.

 

Joel also helps the people to prepare:

  1. Consecrate for war. In my opinion, this means we need to seek the will of the Lord for direction as we navigate the circumstances and prepare for the time to come. Consecration entails a deepening of commitment to the Lord and his purposes – above even that of family and national allegiances.
  2. Let the men of war draw near. There are those whom the Lord has gifted to be leaders at times like these. They may not be the most likely candidates or the most popular (Winston Churchill certainly was not popular or favoured by the political class but turned out to be an amazing wartime leader). This can apply with regards to both political and church leadership.
  3. Beat your ploughshares into swords: The resources we used in civilian life are to be diverted and put into use appropriate to the situation of conflict. Just as in the last world war, industrial production was geared to the war effort, in a spiritual sense we invest in spiritual and practical defence. We must be prepared for change.
  4. Let the weak say I am a warrior: Everyone has a part to play, even the weakest believer. The time at hand calls for courage and boldness. Every Christian needs to stand firm and boldly proclaim what they believe in the storm of an evil hour when people are being swept along by totalitarian ideologies and hatred towards the Jewish people. War has the capacity to spread dehumanising ideas. When people are afraid and threatened, they become easy prey to people who dehumanise our foes and perceived enemies. This should never be tolerated. We pray not only for a just outcome to conflict, and just retributions but we also pray for enemies.
  5. Most importantly, the battle for the Christian is a spiritual one. We are prayer warriors first and foremost. Those who have a ministry of intercession have a vital role to play. During World War II, Rees Howells[viii] and his team of intercessors spent many hours each day interceding as God led them.

Sometimes we are daunted by the prospects we face, but the sentiment expressed by Mordecai to Queen Esther remains ever valid, “…who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this[ix]. The Lord has placed us in this world at this time and place for his purpose, and according to St Paul – he is able to do far more abundantly that all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us.[x]

 

[i] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2024/jan/26/why-are-european-defence-leaders-talking-about-war

[ii] https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-67935464

[iii] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/world-news/2024/01/26/us-nuclear-bombs-lackenheath-raf-russia-threat-hiroshima/

[iv] Luke 19:41-44, Luke 21:5-24.

[v] Luke 21:20,21.

[vi] https://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2024/01/31/markets-are-fatally-complacent-about-the-risks-of-world-war/

[vii] See for example the Roman Catholic just war tradition, https://juicyecumenism.com/2024/02/06/roman-catholic-just-war/

[viii] https://www.amazon.com/Rees-Howells-Intercessor-Norman-Grubb/dp/0875081886

[ix] Esther 4:14b.

[x] Ephesians 3:20.

 

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Holy Fire: Hebrews 12:28-13:19 and Unacceptable Worship

Posted by on Jan 5, 2024 in Apostasy, Editorial Blog, Worship | Comments Off on Holy Fire: Hebrews 12:28-13:19 and Unacceptable Worship

Holy Fire: Hebrews 12:28-13:19 and Unacceptable Worship

By Dave Doveton.

 

“See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven….

…let us offer God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:25, 28b, 29)

The passage from Hebrews is laden with references to the Lord’s appearance at Mount Sinai, where his glory was described as a ‘devouring fire’ (Exodus 24:17) and Moses’ warnings to the Israelites in Deuteronomy about idolatrous and false worship (Deut. 9:19). The quotation from Deuteronomy 4:24 highlights the fact that worship can be dangerous. Acceptable worship is that which reverences God’s holy nature and his position as judge. As early as the Jerusalem Church, false disciples were severely dealt with by God, as Ananias and Sapphira found out to their cost. Hebrews Chapter 13 continues with an outline of what this entails, as this theme continues through to verse 15. Thus, the author emphasizes mutual love, hospitality, freedom from the love of money, but also reminds his hearers that God judges the sexually immoral (13:4) – a repeat of the warning in 12:16 where he mentions the ‘ungodly Esau’.

This echoes the warnings in 1 Corinthians –

“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord …. For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement on himself. That is why many of you are weak and ill and some have died.”

The danger of unacceptable worship, especially regarding the eucharist, is thus clearly articulated in the New Testament and has precedent in the Old. As we have seen, Deuteronomy lays out what God regards as acceptable.

In the period of the two kingdoms, prophets such as Amos and Isaiah spoke vehemently against the manner in which people were worshipping God and proclaimed it unacceptable.  Isaiah renders the Lord’s clear and unambiguous verdict on Judah’s worship:

“When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers I will not listen; your hands are full of blood. Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good…” (Isaiah 1:15,16)

This excoriating sentence on the people of Judah is introduced by Isaiah by an address to the spiritual leaders which would have been even more shocking and offensive in their eyes.

“Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Give ear to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah!” (Isaiah 1:10)

He equates the spiritual leaders with the rulers of the most depraved pagan cities of ancient times and models of a terrifying judgement that is used throughout the Old Testament as an apocalyptic sign describing the destiny of rebellious humanity.

Amos in similar manner denounced the people of the Northern Kingdom – especially the priests and leaders, for their lack of concern for the poor and other social justice issues; he also warned about the dangers of unacceptable worship.

“Come to Bethel and transgress; to Gilgal, and multiply transgression; bring your sacrifices every morning, your tithes every three days; offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving of that which is leavened, and proclaim freewill offerings, publish them; for so you love to do, O people of Israel!” declares the Lord God.  (Amos 4:4,5)

The prophet denounces with stinging sarcasm the worship life of people living in disobedience to God. Their worship activity, their sacrificial offerings, far from procuring forgiveness for their sins effectively engaged them in more transgression.

The Israelites were going about their worshipping duties and services as usual. The externals were properly observed, but they were not living lives of genuine repentance and godliness. This is an offence to God, and it is despicable in his eyes.

He further admonishes them and pleads with them to turn before judgement comes,

“Seek me and live; but do not seek Bethel and do not enter Gilgal or cross over to Beersheba; for Gilgal shall go into exile and Bethel shall come to nothing. Seek the Lord and live, lest he break out like fire in the house of Joseph, and it devour with none to quench it for Bethel…” (Amos 5:21-23)

He repeats the warning that worship at Bethel would not quench the fire of God’s anger but would add fuel to it. The prophet excoriates the pagan forms of worship at these centres because they corrupted Israelite worship from being the worship of the creator and turned it into the worship of creation. Thus, whenever culture transforms the church, the results are:

  1. Godly behaviour and the pursuit of sanctification as an essential part of personal devotion and worship disappear.
  2. The importance of God’s purposes in creation are lost.

These traits (among others) are clear to see in those churches that are apostatising. Firstly, the acceptance of same sex unions, the decision by church authorities and synods to bless such unions – even amongst the clergy.

Secondly the acceptance of gender ideologies which deny the purpose of the creator in his design for human flourishing, which is the creation of male and female and the union of one man and one woman in marriage.

This is the thrust of Paul’s argument in the first chapter of Romans. Dishonouring God leads to outcomes – namely judgements in which God gives people over to impure sexual desires, a blindness to the truth and a proclivity to become captive to false ideologies (believing a lie), among other consequences.

We should not be surprised that those who follow revisionist teachings on human sexuality show no signs of changing their minds and seem ever more adamant in their adherence to heresy, and in the case of leaders, encouraging those in their pastoral care to continue in a lifestyle that has repeatedly and clearly been revealed as highly offensive to almighty God.

The call by bishops to prioritise the unity of the institution above all else[1] – including ethical and doctrinal fidelity – can be regarded as an encouragement to a misplaced trust in the institution. Jeremiah faced similar calls which he labelled as deceptive. “Do not trust in these deceptive words, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord’”,he warned. Trust in deceptive words has its consequences. Jeremiah told the temple worshippers that they trusted in deceptive words to no avail[2]. They were living lives in open defiance of the covenant yet came to stand before the Lord in worship, believing he would hear their prayer and deliver them[3]. Yet the security of the institutional structures represented by the temple meant nothing. Without sincere repentance leading to amendment of life and behaviour, they would be cast out of their land[4] – in Judah’s case by invading Babylonians. Some six centuries later, Jesus was to use Jeremiah’s description of the temple as a ‘den of robbers’, openly rejecting the temple worship leaders and the religious leaders in general. He then pronounced the same warning of a coming judgement to the worshippers of his day.

Both Jeremiah and Jesus were ignored, which precipitated cataclysmic judgements. History seems to be repeating itself in our present situation – or to put it a more theological way – God is not mocked.

 

[1] For example, the Bishop of Liverpool’s letter of December 13, 2023 states, “This remains a time when we must continue to be kind to one another as the Church of England takes this step. For through this what is most important is the unity of our purpose at this Christmas time reaching the communities we serve with the Good News of Jesus’ birth”.  https://liverpool.anglican.org/house-of-bishop-commends-prayers-of-love-and-faith.php

Also, one of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s many appeals:  https://www.christiantoday.com/article/archbishop-of-canterbury-appeals-for-unity-at-the-start-of-synod/134208.htm

[2] Jeremiah 7:4,8.

[3] Jeremiah 7:9,10

[4] Jeremiah 7:15

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From London to Cape Town: Displays of Antisemitic Intimidation and Violence.

Posted by on Nov 14, 2023 in Editorial Blog | Comments Off on From London to Cape Town: Displays of Antisemitic Intimidation and Violence.

From London to Cape Town:  Displays of Antisemitic Intimidation and Violence.

By Dave Doveton.

In the Cape Town suburb of Sea Point there is a quiet grassy open space near the sea wall and far enough from the busy street to hear the soothing rush of Atlantic waves. Sea Point has a large number of Jewish residents, and it was for this reason that the organisers of a Christian prayer rally chose the area for their meeting on Sunday 12th  November. They gathered to show support for the Jewish community and pray for the hostages taken by Hamas in their 7th October invasion of Southern Israel.

No sooner had the (legal) gathering started proceedings when they were assaulted by a crowd of Islamists. An Anglican clergyman who attended the prayers stated that on his arrival, “…there had already been altercations and clashes, especially between the police and the pro-Palestinian supporters., who had come with a violent intent.  Amongst other things, one elderly pastor’s Israeli flag was grabbed out of his hand. A scuffle ensued and the poor man’s finger was broken.”  

Another report by the ACDP (African Christian Democratic Party) noted that when the police tried to intervene the disrupters pelted the police with bottles and other projectiles. These disruptors quite openly showed their allegiance by displaying not only Palestinian flags but also the black ISIS Jihadist flag. Death threats were shouted. One of the intimidators who denied Christians their constitutional right to exercise their freedom of religion and freedom of speech was recorded saying, “You will not walk with an Israeli flag here, you will die, you will die.”

Eventually the police had to disperse them with teargas and rubber bullets. Another witness said, “these people are talking about bombing all American and Israel businesses – they are serious in their allegations.” Also, that “…they would bomb all churches who stand with Israel.”

Only a day earlier a “Pro-Palestinian” march took place in the City of Cape Town in which the Anglican Bishop of Table Bay proudly identified himself with the cause. One can only wonder how he could justify standing with people who were chanting genocidal slogans against Jews including the taunt “From the river to the sea…”

It is not only the capitals of the western world such as London, Paris and Washington that are the scenes of visceral racial hatred – recent events in South Africa show the rise of antisemitism is a global phenomenon and parallels the rise of Salafist Jihadi ideology.

 

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A Threatening Red Sky – Signs of the Creeping Advance of a Totalitarian Impulse. (Part Two)

Posted by on Nov 1, 2023 in Editorial Blog | Comments Off on A Threatening Red Sky – Signs of the Creeping Advance of a Totalitarian Impulse. (Part Two)

A Threatening Red Sky – Signs of the Creeping Advance of a Totalitarian Impulse. (Part Two)

By Dave Doveton.

““And in the morning (you say), ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening’. You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” Matthew 16:3

 

Mass surveillance.

In Part one I noted that totalitarian regimes restrict personal freedoms and facilitate ever more forms of control over their citizens via the economy, religious and social institutions, education of children and often the judiciary. Mechanisms of control include the media, mass surveillance systems and censorship. Freedom of speech is curtailed along with other personal freedoms such as freedom of movement and freedom of association.

Totalitarian systems employ surveillance as a method of control. In the past, vast networks of informers and bureaucrats kept watch on the populace. Today we have much more sophisticated systems. Governments such as Communist China have already instituted their ‘social credit system’ using such systems. These systems co-opt privately controlled technology companies, especially those which collect our personal information, and those which design and monitor surveillance systems. Surveillance systems are proliferating at an exponential rate – on city streets and squares, in shops, public buildings and private estates. This is in addition to the surveillance which can be undertaken on private citizens via their mobile phones and email communication. Now potentially even within our own homes, our most private spaces, we could be watched. It is now possible to use wi-fi sensing technologies to ascertain where people are in their homes and what they are doing. All homes that have wi-fi would be susceptible to this type of surveillance. [i] Joel Kotkin warns of the developing alliance between western governments and the multinational technology companies:

The fusion of government with large oligopolistic companies, and the technologically-enhanced collection of private information, allow the new autocracies to monitor our lives in ways that Mao, Stalin or Hitler would have envied. A rising tide of money and administrative power defines the rising autocracy. If we as citizens, whatever our political orientation, are not vigilant, our democracy will become an increasingly hollow vessel.” [ii]

 

Dismissal, Distraction and Deficit in Moral Conscience

The rise of totalitarian power is assisted by at least three factors in society – dismissal of authority and of future consequences, distraction (through technology) and a deficit in moral conscience.

a) Dismissal of Authority:

The roots of totalitarianism have been especially investigated in the works of Hannah Arendt, who had a deeply theological understanding of the process. She points to the loss of confidence in authority in general as a precondition for the rise of totalitarian governments in the 20th century (Hitler and Stalin). Beginning with the family unit, then school, and eventually encompassing the institutions of the culture, authority is broken down – ultimately the state must assume all these authority roles.

 “The rise of fascist, communist and totalitarian movements and the development of the two totalitarian regimes, Stalin’s after 1929 and Hitler’s after 1938, took place against a background of a more or less general, more or less dramatic breakdown of all traditional authorities. Nowhere was this breakdown the direct result of the regimes or movements themselves, but it seemed as though totalitarianism, in the form of regimes as well as of movements, was best fitted to take advantage of a general political and social atmosphere in which the validity of authority itself was radically doubted.[iii]

She further noted that the origin was, “the gradual breakdown of the one form of authority which exists in all historically known societies, the authority of parents over children, of teachers over pupils and, generally of the elders over the young.” “The source of authority in authoritarian (by which she means a system which restricted freedoms as opposed to no political freedom in a totalitarian system) government is always a force external and superior to its own power; it is always this source, this external force which transcends the political realm, from which the authorities derive their “authority,” that is, their legitimacy, and against which their power can be checked.” 

 

b) Dismissal of Future Consequences:

Arendt also states something many may find surprising – a significant factor in the rise of totalitarianism is the disappearance of hell!

“However that may be, the fact is that the most significant consequence of the secularization of the modern age may well be the elimination from public life, along with religion, of the only political element in traditional religion, the fear of [H]ell. We who had to witness how, during the Hitler and Stalin era, an entirely new and unprecedented criminality, almost unchallenged in the respective countries, was to invade the realm of politics should be the last to underestimate its ‘persuasive’ influence upon the functioning of conscience[iv].”

This insight by Arendt is also the witness of scripture. In Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man, the rich man’s appeal from hell is rebuffed by Abraham who says, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). The disbelief in or dismissal of hell as a reality is a consequence of the rejection of authority – in this case the ultimate authority of God and his word.

Since hell is an ultimate metaphysical reality, the disappearance of hell (as Ahrendt puts it) really means that ultimate accountability – and therefore the threat of punishment for immoral actions – is no longer accepted as believable. If there is no transcendent law of the universe as postmodernists believe, then absolute personal autonomy must mean we are the authors of our own destiny. However, in Biblical and theological terms, the purpose of human beings cannot be ascertained apart from the ultimate purpose of God the creator. That ultimate purpose is to worship our creator and have fellowship with him eternally (Westminster Confession). Because there is the possibility of rejection there must be a place for those who do reject God. Thus, there are two possible teloi or ultimate destinations – the eternity of heaven or the eternity of hell.

 

c) Distraction:

In Brave New World, Aldous Huxley predicted that totalitarian systems would be assisted in their rise by the provision of endless distractions and entertainment to the subject population which dull their consciences and lull them into a false sense of security. Contemporary culture is awash with distractions on a scale which would have amazed Stalin and Hitler. Modern technology has given us mind numbing social media, Netflix, and a host of platforms that some believe have even changed human psychology.

The tech oligarchs are creating something similar to what Aldous Huxley called in Brave New World Revisited a ‘scientific caste system.’ There is ‘no good reason,’ Huxley wrote in 1958, that ‘a thoroughly scientific dictatorship should ever be overthrown.’ It will condition its subjects from the womb so that they ‘grow up to love their servitude’ and ‘never dream of revolution.’ It will maintain a strict social order and provide enough diversion through drugs, sex and videos to keep their artificially narrowed minds occupied and sated.[v]” 

It follows that in a secularized society there is a danger that unbelief and ignorance of Bible truths will spread and have an anesthetizing influence on the general populace. This together with the distractions of multiplying technological diversions makes the task of the church in preaching the truth about heaven, hell, and the gospel of grace even more urgent.

 

d) Deficit in Moral Conscience:

Ahrendt also turned the Marxist belief that “religion is the opiate of the people” on its head saying,

 “Authentic religion in general and the Christian faith in particular … could never be used as tranquilizers. Modern ideologies, whether political or psychological or social are better fitted to immunize man’s soul against the shocking impact of reality that any traditional religion we know.”[vi]

Only a few weeks ago the world witnessed the hellish pogrom against the Jewish inhabitants of Southern Israel, yet many Western intellectuals persist in finding justifications for the terrible actions of the Salafi jihadists. It seems that they are already numbed by the modern Marxist ideologies of “wokism”, and mesmerized by identity politics which all have a totalitarian underpinning. “Woke” ideology is not, as its adherents would have us believe, support for the marginalized and oppressed, but a radical claim to power that brooks no opposition. Ironically so too does the current brand of jihadist ideology. The extent to which the next generation has imbibed this toxic zeitgeist is illustrated by a recent survey in which a majority of young Americans (under 25) said the Hamas killing of 1200 Israeli civilians was justified by the grievances of Palestinians[vii]. Such attitudes are surely already evidence of a severe deficit in the functioning of moral conscience.

Again, it is clear we need a Church that will present the real saving Gospel of Christ and not some alternative gospel polluted by modern cultural Marxist ideologies.

 

 

[i] See https://rubino.substack.com/p/becoming-invisible-part-10-your-wifi

[ii] Joel Kotkin, Welcome to the end of democracy, The Spectator, 8th January 2022.

[iii] Hannah Arendt, Authority in the Twentieth Century, The Review of Politics, Vol. 18, No. 4 (October, 1956), pp. 403-417.

[iv] Hannah Arendt & Jerome Kohn, Between Past and Future, Penguin Putnam Inc, p133.

[v] Joel Kotkin, op. cit.

[vi] Hannah Arendt & Jerome Kohn, Op. cit. p135.

[vii] See https://thehill.com/policy/international/4268117-americans-overwhelmingly-support-israel-in-war-with-hamas-poll/

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A Threatening Red Sky – Signs of the Creeping Advance of a Totalitarian Impulse. (Part 1)

Posted by on Oct 4, 2023 in Editorial Blog, Totalitarianism, Uncategorized | Comments Off on A Threatening Red Sky – Signs of the Creeping Advance of a Totalitarian Impulse. (Part 1)

A Threatening Red Sky – Signs of the Creeping Advance of a Totalitarian Impulse. (Part 1)

By Dave Doveton.              (image credit: freepik.com/author/vecstock)

“And in the morning (you say), ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening’. You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times” Matthew 16:3 ESV.

 

Part 1: Alternate reality.

Several highly respected intellectuals, social commentators and historians have pointed to concerning signs of a growing movement among the global elite of western governments to restrict personal freedoms and facilitate more and more forms of control over their citizens. But how can this be compared to totalitarianism – in most people’s eyes, a vicious, cruel, and repressive system?

According to Wikipedia, totalitarianism is “a form of government and a political system that prohibits all opposition parties, outlaws individual and group opposition to the state and its claims and exercises an extremely high if not complete degree of control and regulation over public and private life”.

Apart from the repression of political opponents, totalitarian regimes exercise complete control over the economy, religious and social institutions, education and often the judiciary. Mechanisms of control include the media, mass surveillance systems and censorship. Freedom of speech is curtailed along with other personal freedoms such as freedom of movement and freedom of association. To ensure compliance, these regimes may also have secret police, weaponize the use of the court system via show trials and incarceration. Ultimately, state sponsored mass murder may also ensue, as happened in Soviet Russia and Nazi Germany.

Restrictions on personal freedoms can creep in without much resistance – and in a democratic system. In Germany after the Reichstag fire in February 1933, a decree was signed under which personal freedoms simply evaporated. The decree, inter-alia, ordered “Restrictions on personal liberty, on the right of free expression of opinion, including freedom of the press; on the rights of assembly and association, violations of the privacy of postal, telegraphic and telephonic communications; warrants for house searches; orders for confiscation, as well as restrictions on property, are permissible beyond the legal limits prescribed.”

In short, under a totalitarian system the state controls all human activities – religious, economic, social, and political. The state claims to be ultimate order, thus arrogating to itself ultimate authority over its citizens. Not only does it control all aspects of life, but, as the ultimate authority, it also claims the right to define reality. In 1930’s Germany, Crankshaw[i] notes that the populace surrendered their freedoms because they were willing to reject reality- “the rejection of that reality that includes one’s neighbours”, and the willingness to accept a false abstraction in the form of Nazi racial ideology.

Tyrannical systems are always utopian, but in our case (western civilization) they substitute the transcendent ethical order of the Judeo-Christian for an idealism of their own invention. An example of this is the now widespread acceptance of gender ideology in western nations and the use of it by authorities to define a new ethical order which, if questioned or resisted, will have consequences. In California, for example parents may have their children taken from them if they object to their child’s chosen ‘gender identity’.

One aspect of totalitarian control is this state grab for power over areas of family life – marriage and child rearing – and especially education. Under Marxist-Communist style dictatorships, the state takes the role of authority belonging to the parents. The Marxist writer Alexandra Kollontai describes the priority of the state in the upbringing and education of children – effectively usurping the authority of parents. This was mainstream Stalinist policy. She writes, “Communist society considers the social education of the rising generation to be one of the fundamental aspects of the new life. The old family, narrow and petty, where the parents quarrel and are only interested in their own offspring, is not capable of educating the “new person’…. ‘What responsibilities are left to the parents, when they no longer have to take charge of upbringing and education?”[ii]

These attitudes are spreading. Not long after President Biden declared America’s children to be “all our children”, the South African Minister of Education insisted that the nation’s children were a “state asset”.

In the United States, an ideological battle to impose gender ideology upon children rages with an ever-stronger undercurrent of authoritarianism. TIME magazine recommends “experts” – i.e., LGBTQ activists should be tasked with the education of children about gender, because parents are not qualified and may even be a ‘danger’ to their children![iii]

The British Department for Education’s Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) is a transgender affirming policy that still recognizes parental authority. However, this is not stopping activists. No less a person than Jayne Ozanne – a member of the Church of England General Synod – is an all-out supporter of removing the authority of parents for the moral education of their children. In a Soviet style pronouncement, she declared that “parents are the problem” when dealing with the education of youth around the issues of gender identity.

In a Biblical understanding of reality, the family is the basic unit and the foundation of a healthy society. The biblical laws protected the family and invested it with powers and responsibilities to maintain its healthy functioning. The family (not the state) is the basic foundation of the community, being the source of welfare, property ownership and basic government in society [iv] What we are witnessing is the inversion of that order.

The campaign to impose an anti-reality gender ideology is part of a wider phenomenon. In the court case against Päivi Räsänen, the Finnish MP, Rod Dreher points out that the issue goes deeper than free speech: in her case the freedom to quote the bible. Commenting on the state prosecutor’s arguments, she says, “This is the essence of totalitarianism: the demand to control reality. The Finnish state attempts to outlaw not simply expression it does not like, but facts it finds offensive.”

The mere fact that the state imposes an ideology that is antithetical to the truth shows that the state is acting in a totalitarian manner.  As Dreher explains, “It’s like this: If, in a liberal democracy, the state has the power to declare truth subordinate to ideology, then you live under totalitarianism. It might be a soft totalitarianism—fines for thought criminals like Päivi Räsänen, instead of the gulag—but it is totalitarianism nonetheless.[v]

In Biblical teaching, human identity is biologically defined. The family has as its foundation the marriage of a male and female. It is identified biologically and so too the relationship between parents and children. In the United States a regulatory proposal by the Department of Health and Human Services would eliminate the words “mother,” “father,” “paternity,” and “his” and “her” from childcare-related laws. This follows a proposed law in California that not only threatens the authority of parents over their children, but effectively redefines “parents”.

“… the notion of being a parent has become more and more removed from the simple biological relationship of being the source of half a child’s DNA. And as biology has faded as a stable basis for definition, so a functional definition of “parent” has risen in prominence. Thus now, with psychological categories coming into play, the way is open for “parent” to be defined ideologically by the state. That is what the California bill is, in practice, proposing…. “parenting,” to use the egregious verbal form, becomes a matter of political taste, to be policed by the state.”[vi]

Where the state usurps the authority to define reality, it is usurping ultimate authority – it is, even unknowingly, making a claim to deity. Rushdoony comments on this usurpation of authority by the state, “According to 1 John 3:4, sin is transgression of the law of God, but sin is now seen as transgression of the law of the state. Politicizing sin tells us the state is the new god whose laws must not be transgressed.”[vii]

This assessment is made sharply clearer when we consider the inversion of biblical law by the state, or when the state defines a new moral law antithetical to the truth. Christians are faced with a decision – either to obey God or to obey the state.

Scripture is quite clear about the identity of a state that claims ultimate authority – it is a Babylonian system, and Babylonian systems are apt to creep into God’s Church, corrupting it. That is why the angel of Revelation commands us to resist the system, “Come out of her, my people, lest you take part in her sins, lest you share in her plagues; for her sins are heaped high as heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities.” (Rev 18:4 ESV)

 

[i] Edward Crankshaw, Gestapo: Instrument of Tyranny, Ebbw Vale, Wales: Wren’s Park Publishing, 2002, p246,247.

[ii] Communism and the Family-from Selected Writings of Alexandra Kollontai, Allison & Busby, 1977; translated by Alix Holt.

[iii] https://www.lifesitenews.com/blogs/pro-lgbt-media-activists-go-into-meltdown-as-pride-month-backlash-grows/

[iv] Joseph Boot, The Mission of God, Wilberforce Publications, LONDON, 2016, p327.

[v] Rod Dreher, https://europeanconservative.com/articles/commentary/we-cannot-say-we-werent-warned/

[vi] https://www.firstthings.com/web-exclusives/2023/06/toe-the-government-line-or-lose-your-kids

[vii] Rushdoony, Leviticus, 267-268

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The Scripture and Unbelieving Church Leaders

Posted by on Sep 7, 2023 in Editorial Blog | Comments Off on The Scripture and Unbelieving Church Leaders

The Scripture and Unbelieving Church Leaders

By Dave Doveton.

The recent Times survey in which a small portion of Church of England clerics were asked to give their opinions on a wide range of subjects – including sexual ethics and whether they thought England was still a Christian country – has resulted in a flood of commentary on the results. Some have questioned the methodology used in the survey, but it is clear that a considerable number of CofE clerics and bishops do not believe what the scriptures teach regarding sexual ethics.[i]

Dr Ian Paul, who has rightly highlighted the very flawed methodology of the survey goes on to make an important observation; “despite very clear statements about the doctrine of the C of E in canon law, despite the clarity of the Articles and Ordinal as founding documents, and despite the clear statement made by clergy at ordination that they believe and will expound the doctrine of the Christian faith as the Church of England has received it, it is very clear that many clergy do not. Because of this almost unbounded diversity of views within the C of E, we have lost the ability to speak clearly on any major issue — other than those where our views will not cause any real dissent.”[ii]

This survey came at a time when the newly elected Archbishop of Southern Queensland (Brisbane) Jeremy Greaves, came under scrutiny. He is not only an outspoken supporter of ‘same sex marriage’, but he also rejects key understandings of Christian truth as expressed in our creeds, saying he would be happy to ‘abandon the creeds’[iii].

This is not a mere wrestling with doubts which many of us from time to time as fallible human beings find ourselves doing, while we hold onto the foundational truths as expressed in the creeds. This is much more serious and consequential.

The writer to the Hebrews after recounting how the Israelites lapsed in their belief, in a characteristic admonition to his hearers sounds a severe warning “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.”[iv]

The word translated ‘fall away’ is apostēnai, which involves a deviation from basic doctrinal truth. He has observed that some of this congregation risk the same heart condition that the early Israelites displayed. The danger of unbelief is that it has evil consequences, and further it is necessary for fellow believers to alert and call back by mutual exhortation those who have been hardened (v 13).

Unbelief is a recurring theme in John’s gospel. In John 5, when Jesus confronts the spiritual leaders of the day, the Pharisees, he outlines the real issue which lies behind their arguments against him.

“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.   I do not receive glory from people.  But I know that you do not have the love of God within you.  I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not receive me.  If another comes in his own name, you will receive him.  How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?  Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father. There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?” John 5:39-47 ESV

The Pharisees of course do not accept Jesus’ testimony about himself. They do not believe that he is the Christ, at the same time claiming their adherence to the TORAH and Mosaic teaching. According to Jesus, the root problem however is not their reading of scripture, but unbelief. Despite their confession of faith, they show that they do not in fact believe Moses’ writings (the TORAH) because they do not believe Jesus. Unbelief in Jesus and his word is related to unbelief in the Old Testament ethical law and by implication those who reject the sexual ethics of the Torah are in unbelief.

Furthermore, Jesus explains that the root of unbelief is a heart attitude.

How can you believe when you receive glory from one another and do not seek glory that comes from the only God?” John 5:44 ESV

Seeking human approval above honouring God is a sure sign of a heart problem. The Pharisees are not in the end honouring God, because they are concerned with human approval, not the approval of God. Paul expresses it well concerning those under the Old Covenant,

“But a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.” Romans 2:29 ESV.

Furthermore, from Jesus’ remarks, searching the scripture with a wrong heart will produce the wrong conclusions – as we see from those who produce revisionist readings of the TORAH – especially regarding the TORAH’s teaching on sexual behaviour. The Pharisees were respected leaders who were very religious and very pious but had constructed a religious system that did not ultimately spring from true belief and the desire to honour God. In Matthew 15 Jesus reveals how the Pharisees belief system sprung from false hearts.

“… Well did Isaiah prophesy of you, when he said: ‘this people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’” Matthew 15:7-9 ESV

Most orthodox Anglicans would have been shocked by the Archbishop of York’s statement in a BBC interview where he confirmed his belief that sexual immorality was not sinful[v]. He is not the first churchman to have this opinion. In an essay examining Karl Barth’s personal life (who had a long-lasting affair with his secretary), Samuel Parkison notes how this theologian, learned and competent though he was, justified his own sin of adultery. To see why this could be, Parkison consults a great theologian from the past, Gregory of Nazianzus. Gregory wrote at length on the necessity for purity of heart when theologising because our spiritual state will affect our intellectual apprehension – for as Jesus stated, it is the pure in heart who shall see God.[vi]

“Discussion of theology is not for everyone,” he says, “but only for those who have been tested and have found a sound footing in study, and, more importantly, have undergone, or at the very least are undergoing, purification of body and soul. For one who is not pure to lay hold of pure things is dangerous, just as it is for weak eyes to look at the sun’s brightness.”[vii]

Religious systems can turn people away from Christ when they are constructed with an eye to appease contemporary cultural norms. They can seem very spiritual and pious, but are deceptive and lead people not to life, but death. To these, Jesus sounds a very severe warning,

But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me. 46 Which one of you convicts me of sin? If I tell the truth, why do you not believe me? 47 Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.” John 8:45-47 ESV

Leaders who seek human approval above the honouring of God is a theme that is also examined in the Old Testament. One instance of this is found in 1 Samuel where God proclaims through the prophet his sentence on Eli and his family.

“And there came a man of God to Eli and said to him, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Did I indeed reveal myself to the house of your father when they were in Egypt subject to the house of Pharaoh?  Did I choose him out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, to wear an ephod before me? I gave to the house of your father all my offerings by fire from the people of Israel. Why then do you scorn my sacrifices and my offerings that I commanded for my dwelling, and honor your sons above me by fattening yourselves on the choicest parts of every offering of my people Israel?’  Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that your house and the house of your father should go in and out before me forever,’ but now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me, for those who honor me I will honor, and those who despise me shall be lightly esteemed”1 Samuel 2:27-36, ESV.

Eli’s sons had offended God by their sexual immorality and by profaning the sacrificial offerings. However, we note that the judgement of God fell not only on his sons, but Eli as well. Because Eli was both their father and their spiritual leader responsibility fell on him. He was responsible not only for the irreverent cultic practices, but for honouring his sons above God. Eli had honoured his sons above honouring God, and this is ultimately why he is judged. The clear message here is that Christian leaders have a responsibility before God in several respects for those they oversee. They are responsible for their own behaviour, but also for the behaviour and doctrine of those under them.

In the Anglican Ordinal, priests promise to “…banish error in doctrine with sound teaching based on holy scripture”[viii]. Bishops in like manner, are obviously further called to exercise “authority and oversight”, which of course includes discipline.  Most Primates and Archbishops of the Global South – both affiliates and non-affiliates of GAFCON – have made their orthodox doctrinal positions clear and have maintained discipline. Archbishops have a certain moral authority if not canonical authority over other bishops – they are primus inter pares. Bishops have canonical authority over diocesan priests. If those who have authority sit on the fence or turn a blind eye where other bishops or priests are openly promoting false doctrine, they are dishonouring God. If they place collegiality or unity above their responsibility to banish error, they are dishonouring God. Allowing subordinates to continue leading the church astray is to dishonour God, and to risk standing before the Divine judge.

 

[i] Over half of those who replied to the survey (53%) support priests being allowed to conduct same-sex weddings if they wish; 59% would offer blessings to same-sex couples if allowed, 62% said they supported a change to the Church’s current opposition to premarital sex, and 64.5% said that the Church should change its teaching that “homosexual practice is incompatible with scripture”.

https://www.christiantoday.com/article/majority.of.church.of.england.priests.want.to.conduct.same.sex.weddings/140689.htm

[ii] https://thecritic.co.uk/concern-trolling-the-clergy/

[iii] https://davidould.net/new-assistant-bishop-of-brisbane-is-happy-to-abandon-the-creed/

[iv] Hebrews 3:12

[v] See https://christianconcern.com/news/archbishop-of-york-says-sexual-immorality-is-not-sinful/

[vi] Matthew 5:8.

[vii] Parkison quoting St Gregory, What Are Theologians For? The Case of Karl Barth’s Adultery, The Gospel Coalition, February 2, 2023.

[viii] An Anglican Prayer Book, Anglican Church of Southern Africa, p588.

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Theology of victimhood: a pastoral response

Posted by on Aug 17, 2023 in Culture, Editorial Blog, Victimhood | Comments Off on Theology of victimhood: a pastoral response

Theology of victimhood: a pastoral response

By Dave Doveton.

Victimhood: the condition of having been hurt, damaged, or made to suffer, especially when you want people to feel sorry for you because of this or use it as an excuse for something. (Cambridge Dictionary)

Introduction

Liberal Protestantism has in recent times developed a theology[i], especially in the areas of socio-political discourse of victimhood. It can be summarised simply as “Jesus was a victim, and he identifies with all in society who are victims”.

I believe this simplistic meme leads to an incorrect understanding of Jesus’ mission, and it can have a disempowering, paralysing effect on people. Many people, conscious of their socio-economic status, compare themselves with those better off and develop a mindset of victimhood. This often leads to self-pity and the impulse to make others feel guilty for their situation.

I will first attempt a brief analysis of contemporary culture, and secondly offer what I believe to be a Christian response centred on a biblical anthropology and personal responsibility.

Was Christ a victim, and if so, in what sense was he a victim?

There is no Biblical Greek or Hebrew equivalent for our word ‘victim’, it does not appear in the Bible[ii]. The English word victim (from French victime) only came into usage to describe Christ in the mid 17th century[iii] – specifically as victim of our sins, and then later to describe people who suffered from criminal acts.  Theological reflection in earlier times saw Jesus as a victim in a metaphorical sense and in the language of sacrifice – he was the lamb of God, slain for us. It was a way of describing his vicarious suffering. Jesus laid down his life voluntarily  – he was not a victim in the sense of being subjected to the will of others non-voluntarily. Everything he did as a man he did freely; John records several times that Jesus indicated his voluntary and complete self-sacrifice, “I lay my life down and can take it up again anytime”.

This means that the only Christian “victimhood” must be vicarious (1 Peter 4:1ff, 2 Timothy 2:11-12) and not any other form (1 Peter 4:15).

Of course, we can be victims in the sense of suffering because of the actions and bad motives of others who wish to do us harm; we can be victims of crime, greed, drunken drivers, rapists or racists. We can also bear the brunt of unjust socio-economic and political structures. Furthermore, as Christians we have a duty to stand against all victimisation, oppression and injustice in society.

However, the concept of a victim group based on a perceived ‘victimhood’ has become a basis on which many people construct their identity. I believe the foundations of this in contemporary culture are to be found in the influence of cultural Marxism.

Marxist thought sees the problem of suffering in purely structural terms. Reality is defined only in materialistic and economic terms. Society is defined only in terms of power relationships; it consists of two groups of people – oppressor and oppressed. The origin of suffering is this social dynamic. Inherent also is the idea of utopia – if oppression can be removed then we would have a utopian society. The black and white defining the nature of the moral issue – the oppressed as the only ones who really suffer- leads ineluctably to the demonization of one group – those who are labelled as the oppressors. Another dynamic is introduced when we identify victims of suffering and oppression with Christ’s suffering and oppression. There is the danger of sanctifying them purely on the basis of their existential experience and allowing them to mask self-pity as goodness in order to elicit action or solidarity with their particular cause. The Catholic philosopher René Girard warns that this is a thinly veiled power grab, he says, “Victimism uses the ideology of concern for victims to gain political or economic or spiritual power.” – and further warns that “The most powerful anti-Christian movement is the one that takes over and “radicalizes” the concern for victims in order to paganize it.”[iv]

The influence of “victimhood ideology” is seen particularly in the contemporary western ‘cancel culture’ in which group identity is based on victimhood. Mary Eberstadt[v] offers us this definition of cancel culture,

Cancel culture basically says – you cannot understand me, and you are committing an injustice against me unless you are part of my victimised group.[vi]

Each self-identifying ‘victim group’ (eg women, gays, transgender, black) generates an ever evolving set of boundaries to define their group identity. Transgression of these boundaries leads to a public shaming and a scapegoating – even a demonization. Eberstadt notes that there is no room for redemption in this culture.

 

Biblical theology uncovers a much deeper, more fundamental and more complex answer to the problem of suffering. Its’ origin is of course firstly spiritual (which manifests in social structures but does not originate there).  It cannot be understood without reference to the transcendent creator of the universe and his purpose in creating human beings. In Genesis Chapter 3[vii], Adam and Eve disobey God and sin enters the world: their actions have consequences, one is the knowledge of good and evil and also the potential to do either good or evil to others. Sin, or disobedience to God has resulted in suffering entering the world as human potential. Another consequence is mortality and struggle. Thus, suffering is integral to the structure of self-conscious being. It is not primarily the consequence of sociological or political oppression (but becomes bound up with social and political structures as the whole creation is in bondage to corruption – Romans 8:21).

In the narratives that follow Genesis 3, the theme of human sin and its consequences are explored more fully. In several of these stories – Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, Joseph and his brothers – we find two attitudes to reality that are highlighted. Professor Jordan Peterson has offered some powerful psychological insights that can help us observe these attitudes more clearly.

Cain and Abel: Genesis 4:1-16

Abel’s offering is accepted by God and he is rewarded. Cain is rejected. Cain reacts with disappointment (his face has fallen). Generally, the Bible does not suggest offerings operate automatically, but God’s acceptance of them is dependent on the heart attitude of the person making the offering.  Cain’s heart attitude is revealed by his reactions – he resented his brother and resisted God’s instruction. God tells Cain that his destiny is in his own hands, but resentfulness, anger and bitterness is controlling him, affecting his relationship with reality. He has projected his problem onto someone else instead of seeing it within. The epistle of 1John (3:12 to 15) expands on Cain’s behaviour and attitude; “…he practised unrighteousness and hated his brother”– he allowed sin to overwhelm him and eventually murders his brother.

In the story God tells Cain “…if you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at your door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” (Genesis 3:7) Hereby indicating that he must take responsibility for his life and the condition of his heart – he cannot blame others. Cain attempts to evade his responsibility “…am I my brother’s keeper?” (v9). Victimhood passively expects others to take responsibility for our lives.

Jacob and Esau: Genesis 25:19-27:44

Esau’s attitude and behaviour parallels that of Cain. He is called ‘unholy’ in Hebrews 12:16,17; this because he treated his spiritual inheritance as the firstborn as something he could sell – thus despising his inheritance and his calling. To despise what God has given us, even if we are born into very deprived conditions is to reveal an unholy attitude and without repentance, that person is in danger of both falling into bitterness and losing everything. The other side of the coin is to take for granted or even despise the priviledged position, the talents or the material wealth we have been blessed with, and misuse it.

Joseph and his brothers: Genesis 37-50

Likewise, Joseph receives preferential treatment. Texts throughout Genesis hint at his privileged status, even although he was the youngest brother. Genesis 37:12 is the first of these hints, which become clearer in later chapters. He was given a special coat by his father Jacob. This signified a special role – a status above his brothers, which was counter cultural, and his brothers would have continually seen this sign. His brothers hate him and conspire to murder him.

In these patriarchal narratives we see two views on reality contrasted – one person sees the worlds darkness, unpredictability, disadvantage etc (the bible does not say that these realities are in themselves good) and is angry and resentful. There is a consequent desire for revenge which leads to various actions like murder (Cain and Abel) plotting (Jacob and Esau) or selling into slavery (joseph and his brothers). The election by God of specific people causes offence and resentment, also the apparent unequal rewarding by God is also seen as unfair. The other person makes the most of his circumstances and the goods he is given and strives to make the best of his life.

Jesus himself examines these attitudes in several parables:

Parable of the Talents: Matthew 25:14ff  “well done, good and faithful servant” – these words of praise serve to highlight a key teaching in the parable that what matters is not how much you are given or how much you make, but faithfulness in using your potential and utilising your gifts. Those who are privileged in some way have a responsibility to those who are deprived. This is echoed by Paul who calls on those who are materially better off to be generous, sharing what they have and doing good (1 Timothy 6:5).

Parable of the Rewards: Matthew 20:1ff This parable of the labourers in the vineyard is told by Jesus in the context of Jesus’ prior challenge to the rich young ruler to give up everything. Peter, apparently in a bit of a self-pitying way, has asked what rewards the disciples will get for their own self-sacrifice. The parable seems to be a gentle rebuke to Peter. In the parable some workers protest the fact that the master gives all the same reward, despite the fact they worked longer hours. Jesus judges the man as having an ‘evil eye’. In other words, he judges God’s actions as unjust, because of his own self-interest, instead of being thankful for what he has – little or much. Jesus points out that God as owner of all is entitled to do what he chooses with what belongs to him. Here also we see that justice is not always self-evident. Biblical justice is God’s justice – it cannot be understood without relationship to created purpose (am I not allowed to do what I please with what belongs to me?).

Luke 12:13-15 Here a man asks Jesus to mediate in a dispute about inheritance (traditionally the role of a rabbi) He refuses to pass judgement and highlights the fact that covetousness is the motivation underlying some demands for justice in interpersonal affairs (v15). Jesus is more concerned with attitudes of people than with the question of whether or not a person gets what is “rightfully theirs”[viii]

 

 

Victimhood is not a Christian virtue and is a breeding ground for self-pity, self-centredness, covetousness, envy and resentment. It reminds us that that the world is not divided into ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people, but the line dividing good and bad runs right through every one of us. Sin blinds us to our own corruption and we project it onto others (Why do you see the speck in your brother’s eye but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Matthew 7:3).

 

[i] Helmut Koester, Jesus the Victim, Journal of Biblical Literature Vol. 111, No. 1 (Spring, 1992), pp. 3-15

[ii] Except that in modern Hebrew, the word used for victim is korban, which originally meant both the sacrifice and the sacrificial animal. See John J van Dijk: In the shadow of Christ? On the use of the word victim for those affected by crime, in Criminal Justice Ethics, 27(1):13-24 · January 2008.

[iii] In English, the first recorded time “victim” seems to have been used for a human person was in 1736. In that year it was used as an honorary name for Jesus Christ, the Crucified, in a translation of the New Testament. Christ was called the expiatory victim: the person who through his victimhood redeemed mankind. ibid.

[iv] René Girard, I See Satan Fall Like Lightning

[v] Mary Eberstadt, Primal Screams: How the Sexual Revolution Created Identity Politics, Templeton Press, 2019.

[vi] Interview with Eric Metaxis, retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LGwfUUj985Q

March 30,2020.

[vii] For this discussion on the patriarchal stories in Genesis I am indebted to Prof Jordan Petersen for his psychological and philosophical insights.

[viii] See Leon Morris, The Gospel according to Luke, IVP, 1983, p212.

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Titan, Titanic and Ignored Warnings.

Posted by on Jul 5, 2023 in Church life, Church of England, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Titan, Titanic and Ignored Warnings.

Titan, Titanic and Ignored Warnings.

By Dave Doveton.

(Picture credit: Titanic Sinking, engraving by Willy Stöwer; From Wikimedia Commons.)

The world’s attention was rivetted on the recent tragic events that unfolded in the penultimate week of June – when an experimental submersible, the OceanGate Titan under the command of its inventor, undertook an expedition to the wreck of the Titanic. The wreck lies about 400 miles off the coast of Newfoundland at a depth of 12,500 ft. At that depth, the water pressure is 6000 lb. per square inch. This was obviously a high-risk endeavour made all the more concerning in that non-specialist guests were aboard the dive.

In a strange twist, the submersible came to grief with all occupants lost in exactly the same place that the Titanic came to its final rest on the seabed 111 years previously. Tragically, there are similarities between the sinking of the Titanic and the loss of the Titan. Warnings were ignored – the captain of the Titanic, Edward Smith, ignored the warnings about moving icebergs in the frigid waters and proceeded at full speed ahead. The commander of the Titan ignored warnings[i] about the safety of his craft and proceeded with the dive.

Warnings come to us all – not only in these exceptional circumstances, but also during times when all seems normal and safe. Some years ago, I was the rector of a seaside parish church in a suburb of Richards Bay, a port city on the east coast of South Africa. Between our suburb and the town centre was a lake that flowed into an estuary via a canal. A bridge over the canal carried the access road from our suburb into town. One summer, we experienced several days of torrential rain, which resulted in severe flooding. On a dark night, the rising waters washed part of the bridge away. Immediately after it had collapsed, the driver of a car with several occupants sped towards the damaged bridge and roaring floodwaters in the pitch dark, unaware of the danger. A pedestrian who happened to be at the side of the road and knew the bridge had gone tried to flag the driver down. The driver ignored the warning and sped to his death, carrying with him his unfortunate passengers.

Jeremiah and many of the prophets were sent to warn God’s people of the danger they were in – not only in a physical but also in a fundamentally spiritual sense. Jeremiah preached in the temple to the people and to the king and his counsellors, calling them to return to the Lord and to covenant loyalty.  This had no effect. Then, at one point after his pleading, the Lord instructed Jeremiah three times not to pray or intercede for the people of Israel of his time. Why? They had passed the point of no return.

“As for you, do not pray for this people, or lift up a cry of prayer for them, and do not intercede with me, for I will not hear you.”[ii]

Moreover, even when Jeremiah preached to them, the Lord said that they would not listen to him. Then the Lord outlines two consecutive faults of the people that would have a clear result.

“And you shall say to them, “This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline, truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.”

When a church abandons the word of God, then refuses calls to turn back or any type of discipline, the result is a loss of ability to discern the truth. The same process is outlined in Romans chapter 1 as an exchange; when people turn from honouring God, they become futile in their thinking… and, claiming to be wise they become fools. They exchange the truth for a lie and become debased in their thinking.[iii]

It should perhaps not surprise us then, when we see and hear of churches and their ministers yielded to the spirit of the age, descend ever deeper[iv] into the insanity and follies of the host culture. What other explanation is there for the progressive devolution from the sexual and identity confusion to the genital mutilation of children who imagine themselves as something ‘other’? This process has been correctly described as a culture and a church losing touch with reality. The problem is, just as icebergs are real and water pressure is real, God’s law and His design for humanity is real, and we must eventually face reality.

A point of no return.

On the great Zambezi River, which forms the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, the Victoria Falls plunges spectacularly over a 190 ft drop. Above the falls, the river wanders wide and placidly with no hint of any danger, except for a soft thundering sound and a rising mist. Several hundred meters upstream from the waterfall on the riverbank is a large sign that states simply, “Do not proceed past this point”. This warns swimmers and those in boats of the danger ahead. Simply put, if you proceed past that point the current is too strong to be resisted, and you will be carried over the falls to certain death.

Repentance, in Hebrew shuv, is to turn back, back to God and His Word; but, also importantly, it is to turn back before it is too late. We live in the bounds of space and time. God gives us time, but that time runs out, and there is no further chance to repent. For our part, we do not know the point at which God’s patience runs out.

Jeremiah encountered the final decision of God when he was told “not to pray for Israel” any longer as they had passed the point of no return. The writer to the Hebrews emphasises that Esau, too, found no chance to repent even though he sought it with tears[v]. Many other Scriptures illustrate the fact that the call to repent is urgent, and God’s patience does run out. There is a point of no return.

Many are praying for the coming General Synod of the Church of England, hoping that somehow the Church will respond to the many calls from the majority Anglican world and change course. Some are wondering if their prayers are already hitting an iron ceiling. Is the Titanic already doomed?

[i] “…the BBC has seen emails which show that warnings over the safety of the Titan sub were dismissed by the CEO.”

see video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vXAyJWeI-f0

[ii] Jeremiah 7:16, see also Jeremiah 11:14 and 14:11.

[iii] Romans 1:21-28.

[iv] https://anglicanmainstream.org/canadian-anglicans-approve-liturgies-for-gender-transition/

[v] Hebrews 12:17.

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Deception and Desire

Posted by on Jun 5, 2023 in Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Deception and Desire

Deception and Desire

By Dave Doveton.

In a recent article on the individualistic and self-centred nature of western culture that has captivated the western church the Indonesian theologian N Gray Sutanto commented on how churches can fall prey to the same blind spots prevalent in the host culture. He noted in particular, “…the prevalent Western view that happiness and identity are found by following one’s passions and sexual feelings is an unprovable and parochial assumption[i].”

Falling prey to certain cultural trends which conflict with Christian belief, when simultaneously claiming moral innocence is in plain terms to be deceived. The Old Testament is replete with instances where the people of Israel fell into this trap even though they were severely warned about this possibility. In the covenant stipulations of Moses’ second speech to the people of Israel there is an instance of this warning which in turn alerts us to a terrible spiritual danger.

Take care lest your heart be deceived, and you turn aside and serve other gods and worship them, then the anger of the Lord will be kindled against you…”[ii]

Here is the biblical analysis; that the root of all unfaithfulness and idolatry is deception. The story of the fall in Genesis gives us an archetype of how we are deceived by our own appetites and desires. These can be morally neutral and created with good purpose by God, but through disobedience we are plunged into all manner of alienations from God and from others. In the Genesis account Eve was attracted by the appearance of the fruit and allowed her desire for wisdom and insight (all good in themselves) to lead her into disobedience and sin against God. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate…”[iii]

Despite all rational skills and intellectual nous, the child of God can fall away or drift into immoral behaviour and heretical beliefs. Great learning and wisdom cannot prevent it, status or high spiritual office cannot prevent it. This Jesus shows us by his comment to the Pharisees who prided themselves on their theological acumen and learning, “He is not God of the dead, but God of the living. You are quite wrong (planaō).”[iv]

The Greek planaō and its cognates means to be deceived or led astray. Being led astray has the spatial connotations of drifting from the truth, of separating from God and potentially an eventual destination in eternity without God. In his farewell discourses in the Gospels Jesus repeatedly warns the disciples not to be deceived[v]. He obviously understood this would be one of the greatest threats to the church, not only at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, but throughout the church age as we await his second coming.

 

The association of deception with persistent immoral sexual behaviours in addition to other disordered desires is found throughout the New Testament epistles. Ephesians calls believers to “put off your old self … which is corrupt through deceitful desires[vi]. Plainly, human desire can be good, but it can be corrupted and disordered. It is the disordered desire that Paul warns of later in the chapter, and its ultimate consequences.

For you may be sure that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure…has no inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.[i]

Paul warns the Corinthians. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers…”[ii]

In his letter to Titus he observes, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray (planaō), slaves to various passions and pleasures…”[iii]

James has some helpful metaphors in explaining the process of yielding to temptation. He enlarges upon the Deuteronomic warning; “…for God cannot be tempted by evil, and he himself tempts no-one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire, then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, sin to death.[iv]

Firstly, the metaphor of a fishing lure captures the dynamic whereby a hapless individual is drawn to a lure and so ensnared by a hook. The attractive lure conceals a deadly trap, and the individual yields control of his destiny to another, more powerful than them. The second metaphor of conception, gestation, and birth describes how desire conceives sin and sin matures into death[v]. There are several conclusions we can draw from James’ description:

  1. No one is tempted by God or can escape responsibility for moral actions, no one is born with immutable disordered desires. We are free agents; we always have a choice in our responses and our actions. We bear responsibility for our sin.
  2. It is clearly evil desire that ensnares us. This echoes Paul’s statement in Ephesians 4:22 where Paul uses the agricultural metaphor of sowing and reaping to make the same point. “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.” We can be deceived into thinking our sin will not have consequences – But God will call us to account.

In many of the statements by church authorities in response to orthodox believers calling for a return to biblical sexual morality there is often an appeal to submit to a ‘listening process’[vi] where some participants will be living in transgressive sexual relationships. The assertion is made that they are faithful believers. However, I wonder if we can be so confident about that seeing that when we turn to scripture, we find a different and severe verdict on the matter:

No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil. No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him…[vii]

This seems to cast a great deal of doubt on the assumption that because all participants are ‘communicants in good standing’ in the institution, those among them who persist in unrepentant habitual sin can claim to abide in Christ.

Another deceptive use of semantics is the use of the word love. The New Testament Greek has several words all translated in English Bibles by the single word love, as any Greek scholar will attest. Two of the Greek words are pertinent to our discussion – Agape, which means a non-physical, divine self-sacrificing love which acts in the interests of the other, and Eros, which is sexual desire for another, and has selfish connotations. The banal ‘love is love’ is a platitude touted frequently to defend immoral sexual relationships, but often we are assaulted by a revisionist use of the text in 1 John which states “God is love”. This is a misuse of the text which in Greek translates literally as “God is agape”, not “God is eros”.  Eros is another god.

In Greek myths and philosophy, Eros is the god of passionate physical love and sexual desire. With his arrows he inflicts on the hearts of his targeted person powerful feelings – even confusion of mind. Eros is also associated with homoerotic desire, and he was considered its protector.

Perhaps this says something about the spiritual influences we open ourselves to if we submit to disordered desire. Paul certainly indicates that behind pagan idols such as Eros stood real spiritual powers. Even if we believe that the Greek gods had no objective reality, they still personified powerful psycho-spiritual realities.

To those who, like the Israelites of old, are captured the prophet has a plea from the heart of God.

“…Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”[viii]

 

[i] Ephesians 5:5,6.

[ii] 1 Corinthians 6:9 ff.

[iii] Titus 3:3.

[iv] James 1:13-15.

[v] See also Romans 7:11 “For sin, taking occasion by the commandment, deceived me, and by it slew me”, and the oft quoted Romans 6:23 “For the wages of sin is death…”.

[vi] See for example Archbishop Stephen Cottrell – https://anglican.ink/2023/04/22/archbishop-of-york-we-are-not-judged-by-doctrinal-orthodoxy-but-love/.

[vii] 1 John 3:6-9.

[viii] Ezekiel 18:31,32.

[i] https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/jakarta-western-judgments/

[ii] Deuteronomy 11:16.

[iii] Genesis 3:8.

[iv] Mark 12:27.

[v] Luke 21:8; Matt 24:4,5,11,24; Mark 13:5,6.

[vi] Ephesians 4:22.

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The reordering of the Anglican Communion and the correlation with contemporary events in the geopolitical world order.

Posted by on May 9, 2023 in Anglican Communion, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on The reordering of the Anglican Communion and the correlation with contemporary events in the geopolitical world order.

The reordering of the Anglican Communion and the correlation with contemporary events in the geopolitical world order.

By Dave Doveton.

The Revd. William Taylor, rector of St Helens Bishopsgate, in a recent interview described the rejection of the Archbishop of Canterbury as head of the Anglican Communion by the GAFCON Kigali Statement as “the end of an era”. This he said, because Canterbury had walked away, and that this would have enormous implications not just for the Anglican Communion, but for the Commonwealth as well which was founded on the basis of the United Kingdom giving spiritual leadership to the countries it had once colonized.

Those who watched the coronation service of King Charles III on May 6th would have seen the Commonwealth leaders present, this following a prior meeting the day before where they affirmed their commitment to the Commonwealth under his leadership. There is an interesting correlation between the formation of independent autonomous provinces which make up the Anglican Communion and the later development of the British Commonwealth. Through the colonial period there was a symbiotic relationship between Church and State which had positive but also negative outcomes and many historians have chronicled this symbiosis. After the colonial era this symbiosis between church and the bureaucratic state was broken. Later the relationship between the mother Church of England and the Churches planted in her colonies was also transformed over time through processes which varied according to each situation.

Colonial Anglican churches throughout the British Empire were gradually freed from dependence on the Church of England and the Crown. This process of disestablishment started in 1868 with the Church of the West Indies. Following this the See of Canterbury relinquished legal primacy over other bishops in 1874. The next step occurred with the institution of the first Lambeth Conference in 1867 by Archbishop Longley. The spiritual arm of the Empire had developed into a fellowship of autonomous and equal provinces, all acknowledging their origins in the mother church of England, and all based on the Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles of Religion. They acknowledged the Archbishop of Canterbury as primus inter pares with an important role of moral leadership over the Communion with responsibilities which included calling the Bishops of the Communion together once every ten years for the Lambeth Conference.  Later more structures were developed – such as the formation of the Instruments of Communion which were the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council and eventually the Primates Council.

Not only did the mother church gradually relinquish control over the churches she had birthed, the British Empire was gradually receding into the sunset granting political independence over several decades to its former colonies, but still retaining economic, financial and trade links with them through private and quasi-governmental bodies (especially in Africa, where there were agricultural and rural development projects). There developed a complex relationship between the geopolitical sphere and the spiritual.

At the 1926 Imperial Conference Britain and several of her dominions and former colonies including South Africa, India Australia and Canada agreed to membership of a community within the British Empire. In 1949 it was decided at the Commonwealth Prime Ministers meeting that republics and sovereign independent nations could be members of the Commonwealth. Today 56 countries are part of it sharing goals such as economic development, peace, and democracy. The British sovereign, particularly Elizabeth II has played an important symbolic role as titular head, and the Commonwealth nations respected her moral leadership.

Fast forward to the present and there are rumblings of discontent in certain of the Kings Dominions – at least six Caribbean nations are calling for their independence from the monarchy[i]. In the wider geopolitical order, there are parallel realignments and challenges to the status quo especially as regards developing nations. Developing nations are being far more forthright and sharply outspoken in their resistance to hegemony of the so called “international rules-based order” – led by the United States of America and NATO countries including the United Kingdom and France in particular.

In terms of global economic trade relations, several new trading blocs have emerged over the past years which are increasingly independent of the US dollar, the world’s reserve currency and western dominated trade interests. Among these are the BRICS group together constituting 40% of world population, China’s Belt and Road initiative (150 nations), and RCEP which groups China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand with the 10 member ASEN group of nations.

The Indian Minister of External Affairs S Jaishankar has made powerful statements in several international forums, rebuking western and European nations for arrogantly believing that they are the centre of the world and expecting developing nations automatically to support their policies (such as the sanctioning of Russia).

During a recent visit by President Emmanuel Macron of France to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the President, Felix Tshisekedi, publicly berated Macron saying that he and other European leaders must learn to see Africa in a fundamentally different way than they had during their colonial past. “You must begin to respect us and stop treating us in a patronizing and paternalistic way, as if you are always absolutely right and we are always absolutely wrong”.

There have been similar instances elsewhere – for example Namibian President Hein Geingob rebuked a German leader for arrogantly calling into question Namibia’s right to determine its own foreign policy. In April of this year, President Museveni of Uganda lashed out at Western nations, saying they could not dictate to Uganda on how it should handle internal issues relating to culture and religion. In the same month Chad expelled the German ambassador, “for his impolite attitude and non-respect of diplomatic practices”[ii]

The American historian and social commentator Victor Davis Hansen has succinctly captured the essence of the present widening schism between the affluent West and the developing nations. His comments centre on the United States but could well apply to Europe and the United Kingdom.

“The rest of the planet worries whether it will have enough food, energy, security, and shelter to live one more day. For most, the incessant, woke virtue-signaling from affluent Americans comes across as the whiny bullying of pampered, self-righteous—and increasingly neurotic—imperialists.”[iii]

Reading the GAFCON Kigali Statement, especially its clear rejection of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s moral authority, one is left in no doubt that the majority of the Anglican Communion is no longer willing to be cajoled or sweet-talked by the church leadership in the West who have capitulated to secular ideologies corrosive to the Gospel. In a manner similar to the current rejection by developing nations who increasingly are looking to develop alternate political and economic alliances – for example the BRICS, the Churches of the Global South are rejecting the old Canterbury order and looking to develop new structures and rules of order which reflect a new reality[iv]. There is a growing self-confidence and sense of Spirit led destiny in both the GAFCON movement and the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans, albeit mixed with a deep sorrow that the Canterbury-led portion of the global Communion has departed from the Gospel, thus precipitating schism.

In his response to the GAFCON Kigali Statement the Archbishop of Canterbury mentioned the decision by the General Synod of the Church of England to give the Communion a ‘greater role’ in the choosing of future Archbishops of Canterbury. This will be seen by many as throwing a bone to a global Communion that refuses to be treated with high-handedness any longer.

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[i] https://foreignpolicy.com/2022/04/28/caribbean-monarchy-queen-republic-reparations-jamaica-belize-protest/

[ii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSDplay10vQ

[iii] Victor Davis Hansen, The new ugly Americans, TORONTO SUN, May 6, 2023.

[iv] The Church of Nigeria had as far back as 2005 removed “communion with the See of Canterbury” from its constitution (as a definition of membership in the Communion).

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