Archive for November, 2011


I couldn’t help but notice while studying English Reformation Church history that the common tales of the period don’t always hold true on closer inspection.  That’s probably often the case, as history is complex and simple stories are easier to understand and retell.  But sometimes the generalizations can become so far from the truth that they no longer resemble it.

So it goes with the history of the English church during the Tudor monarchs (during the 16th century).  As we talked about in an earlier post, Henry VIII had his marriage annulled in order to try to conceive a male heir, whom he believed would bring stability to his kingdom.  (Ironically of the next three monarchs to succeed him, two would be women, and the country did not descend into civil war as he expected).  Though he split with the Roman Catholic Church, his doctrine remained decidedly Catholic, so much so that he was happy to have people executed for carrying the writings of Marin Luther.  He also had Catholics killed who did not go along with his separation from Rome.  In total Henry had about 80 or so people executed for heresy.

Edward VI followed Henry.  He was an avowed protestant and most of the reforms that we would call ‘protestant’ were brought into the Church of England during his reign (7 years).  The number of heretics that Edward had executed can be counted on one hand.  No-one was burned at the stake.

Mary, on the other hand, was completely different.  She was a convinced Catholic.  During her time as monarch (6 years) around 300 protestants were burnt at the stake.  Initially it was just the leaders of the protestant reformation, but her reign of terror continued until teenagers were being burnt alive for heresy.  Some of her most senior Catholic clergy suggested that she stop burning people as it was turning the population against her.  She refused the advice.

Elizabeth, who succeed her was in a difficult situation.  She was protestant and most of her population were now happy to accept a protestant state church, but there were still minorities who were staunchly Catholic.  Initially Elizabeth followed a policy of toleration, not wanting people to be persecuted for being Catholic.  The Pope made this exceedingly difficult by issuing the papal bull of excommunication in 1570.  In it he commanded all Catholics ‘never to obey her monitions, mandates and laws’.  In other words, the Pope commanded his Catholic subjects to commit treason against their queen.  His hope probably was that they would rise up and overthrow Elizabeth.  That never happened, but there were many plots hatched against her.  This was essentially Catholic-sponsored terrorism.  Some of those who attempted these terrorist acts have since been beautified by the Catholic Church.  The Catholic Church, after issuing the Bull sent in Jesuit priests to support the Catholics and to convert more of the population.  It’s fairly obvious how a monarch would view this move after the issuing of the papal bull.  Many of them were executed. After Elizabeth eventually had Mary, queen of Scots, executed, largely against her will, for her complicity in a plot to replace her as queen, the Spanish then tried to invade England in order to restore it to Catholicism.  Even taking all that into account the executions were still less in number than her sister Mary.

What can we take from this chapter in history?  It’s hard to relate to, since churches have so little power these days.  What we see here, though, in England is two very different ways that state churches used their power.  The protestants were far less violent to Catholics when they were in charge.  When they weren’t in charge their main interest was converting people to their beliefs.  The Catholics tended to murder the protestants for the sake of their beliefs when they were in charge.  When they weren’t in charge they were bent on getting in charge again.  Now that’s a gross generalization of the story we’ve just skimmed over, but generalizations are generally true.

The Roman Catholic Church has blood on its hands from England in the 16th century.  Their attempts to cover this over by claiming that everyone was doing it, or to beautify and canonize those involved, whitewashing their crimes, should be seen for what it is.

Perhaps, though, above all this teaches us the folly of the state church experiment.  Since the fourth century, when the church was incorporated into the state, we have seen the damaging effects of mixing two things which should be separate: church and state.

 

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Some of you may be aware of the story line of Les Miserables. A convict, Jean Valjean, is taken in by a bishop and given free food and board for the night. Jean uses the opportunity to rob the bishop and escape during the night. He is caught by the police and brought back to the bishop. The bishop claims to the police that he gave the silverware to Jean, and then proceeds to give him more expensive silverware. When the police go the bishop tells Jean that he has bought back his life with the silverware and should now be a changed man.

The profound grace of the bishop transforms Jean’s life. He skips his parole, changes his name and becomes a successful businessman. But his past has a horrible habit of catching up with him. Even late in the book when it seems his past is long since behind him and there is no longer a threat from the police, he still carries his guilt within him. You see, the bishop could forgive him for what he did to the bishop. But the grace of the bishop was limited. He could not escape his conscience. It still condemned him as a guilty man.

The grace of Jesus is in some ways like this story, but in others amazingly different. Like the bishop, Jesus forgives us profoundly and freely. We are let off scot-free from all our wrong-doings as Jesus pays the penalty in our place by dying on the cross. But different to the bishop, Jesus releases us from the condemnation that goes with our past, present and future. The conscience of the Christian need not be like that of Jean Valjean. As God says in Rom 8:1, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. As amazing as that is, Jesus’ grace releases us from all guilt and condemnation.

Now that truly is amazing grace.

Identity Crisis

When Paul wrote his first letter to the Corinthian church, he wrote to a bunch of young Christians who were suffering an identity crisis. They were judging themselves from a worldly point of view and thought they were pretty red hot. Paul, on the other hand, undercut their perceived identity (Not many of you were wise by human standards 1:26) and told them off for behaving in such a worldly way (3:3).

Instead he reminded them of their true identity. They were known by God (8:3), brothers and sisters in Christ (1:10), called to be holy (1:2) and God’s temple (3:16). This was a much more impressive identity than they were seeking to carve out for themselves.

The same is true today. These days we also want to carve out our own identity. But our Christian identity is given to us, not earned and not individually created. That’s not to say that we’re robots. It’s to say that we take our cues about who we are not from what we do or what people say about us, but what God says about us.

Consider for a second the identity that God gives us. In a world where who you know makes all the difference, we are known by the living God. In a world hankering for community, in which the family unit is breaking down, we are brought together into God’s family. In a world where everyone is trying to prove that they are something special, God has set us apart especially for his service. In a world clambering to be associated with someone great, we have the God of the universe dwelling among us.

Our true identity, the one that God has given us, far outstrips anything that is achievable in this world. What Paul wants the Corinthians to do is to recognise it, and then live it out. It’s the same thing that God wants for us. Recognise who you are, and then live it out.

Arguments Atheists Use

I don’t think I’m about to launch into a long series of responses to atheist arguments, but this is one that some of my friends have presented to me before in discussions.  It’s formally known as the Omnipotence Paradox and has its own wiki page.

Here is the argument:

If God is all powerful then there is no rock so large that God cannot lift it.

If God is creator then there is nothing that God cannot make.

God cannot make a rock so large that he cannot lift it, therefore God can’t be both all-powerful and creator.

Now, that all sounds very tricky, but how clever is it?  Let’s have a look at the logic.  If we take the first sentence as a given, and say that God is all-powerful, then it is not possible for a rock to exist so large that he cannot lift it.  Those rocks, by definition, cannot exist.  To then require God to make a rock like this is to require God to make something that doesn’t exist.  Creating non-existence is a nonsense.  The logic breaks down.

Not only that, but the two definitions at the start are quite poor and clearly set up purely for the sake of trying to make this argument stick.  A better definition of being all-powerful is being able to do whatever you want.  A better definition for creator is the one who has made everything that exists.  In fact this argument is particularly silly when you notice that the Bible argues from the fact that God is creator to the fact that God is all-powerful.  e.g. Jeremiah 32:17  ‘Ah Lord GOD! Behold, You have made the heavens and the earth by Your great power and by Your outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for You’.

I like the Simpsons version the best: (Homer to Flanders) ‘Can Jesus microwave a burrito so hot that he himself couldn’t eat it?’

Who does that?

Toward the end of the book of Deuteronomy, Moses predicts that Israel will fail to live up to God’s covenant requirements and they will suffer all the curses which go with covenant disobedience and be kicked out of the land and go into exile (29:25-26). So comprehensively will they fail the covenant that even those watching from a distance will be shocked at the state of affairs (29:23). Israel will be made an example of to the world.

Now, imagine you’re the foreign minister. An international treaty has been comprehensively broken and relations have completely broken down. What would you do? Probably not what God does.

In Deuteronomy chapter 30 we have a picture of Israel returning to the Lord in repentance and obedience. What has changed to make this come about? God has done something new. He has changed (circumcised) their hearts (30:6). Rather than wiping Israel out and washing his hands of them (as they deserve) God pours out his mercy yet again and draws them back to himself in covenant love, to prosper them.

Who does that? Who shows that kind of patient, costly love?

That’s our God.

Gay Marriage

I was door-knocking recently and met a girl studying for her HSC.  She identified herself as ‘Anglican’ and claimed that she believed in Jesus, but didn’t agree with what the Bible said about gay marriage.  It seems that there is nothing more disagreeable and repulsive in Australia at the moment (at least in the media) then to challenge the ‘right’ to gay marriage.  In fact I have heard it described as a ‘basic human right’, suggesting that Christians are oppressive for suggesting that any homosexual couple should be denied that right.  Perhaps that makes what I’m about to say a little risky, maybe some might think fool-hardy…

I don’t believe that Christians should be allowed to legislate their morality on the rest of the country.  But I also think that Christians should be allowed to put their view forward in the public arena, and be heard, along with the other voices.  I believe that what the Bible has to say about marriage is important for the well-being of Australia – for the present and for the future.

First, let’s examine the claim that, “Denying anyone the right to marry because of gender or sexuality is simply not fair”, that comes from www.australianmarriageequality.com.  Are the ‘marriage equity’ supporters willing to take that argument to its logical conclusion?  There are two other situations that are legislated against in the marriage act that this argument also allows, they are incest (two close family members) and polygamy (marrying more than one person at the same time).  They are other alternative forms of ‘sexuality’.  Are they also to be allowed to marry?  Do they also have the right?  Why should we deny a brother and sister getting married, or a man from marrying two women at the same time?  It seems to me that to argue for gay marriage with this argument, but to deny polygamy or incest is to not seek marriage equality after all.  Their argument is inconsistent.

What do Christians have to say positively about marriage?

3 things:

  1. Jesus loves homosexuals
  2. Jesus loves marriage
  3. Jesus is against gay marriage

Jesus loves homosexuals

It was characteristic of Jesus throughout his earthly ministry to hang out with anyone and everyone in society.  No-one was to ‘sinful’ for him.  In fact this became a common criticism of Jesus.   “Why does he eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?” (Mark 2:16) was the complaint of the religious authorities of the day.  (Tax-collectors were traitors against their own people).  But Jesus’ response was, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)  It was because Jesus loved them that he hung out with them.  Jesus loved all those who sinned, and he was quite clear that everyone has sinned.  All sin is sin to Jesus, whether that be homosexual activity (Jesus does not condemn people for being tempted, just acting on it), lust, lying, stealing or disobeying your parents.  He loves us all.  So Jesus loves homosexuals, even though though they sin.

Jesus loves marriage

Everybody thinks marriage is great.  Some believe it’s great for everyone but them, but marriage is still held in high regard in Australia.  That homosexual people want to honour marriage is to be applauded.  They are right.  Marriage is a fine institution, that was given to us by God.  Jesus rightly gave God all the credit for marriage: “what God has joined together, let man not separate,” (Matthew 19:6).  Not only did God start marriage in the first place and give it to us, but God is intimately involved in the creation of every marriage.  That’s why Jesus is so pro-marriage and against divorce.  Marriage is to be treasured.

Jesus is against gay marriage

Jesus’ description of God’s institution of marriage in unequivocal: “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,”  and he also said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (Matthew 19:4-5)  Jesus was clear that marriage was designed by God for one woman and one man, to the exclusion of all others, for life.  Any diversion from that pattern (including divorce) was a perversion of what God has instituted and is bad for people.  What does Jesus have to say about gay marriage?  He is against it.  It is bad for our society.

It’s tempting at this point to rehearse all the other arguments that don’t include God to back up what Jesus has to say.  But I’ll leave that to australianmarriage.org to do that.  What does Jesus want to say to all Australians about gay marriage?  He wants to say, ‘I love you (even if you’re gay)’, ‘I love marriage’, and ‘I am against gay marriage’.  I think nothing would be better for you then to get to know Jesus, but even if you don’t have any time for Jesus, life always goes better when we live Jesus’ way.