We are Protestant, Calvinistic and Reformed Prayer Book Churchmen and Churchwomen. In 2012, we remembered the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer; in 2012, we also remembered the 450th anniversary of Mr. (Bp., Salisbury) John Jewel's sober, scholarly, Protestant, and Reformed defense An Apology of the Church of England. In 2013, we remember the publication of the "Heidelberg Catechism" and the influence of Reformed theologians in England, including Heinrich Bullinger's Decades. Our book of the month for Aug 2014 is Mr. Underhile's "The Church's Favorite Flower: A Patristic Study of the Doctrines of Grace," a handy little volume at: http://www.amazon.com/The-Churchs-Favorite-Flower-Patristic-ebook/dp/B00KUCITIS/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1403315865&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=andy+underhile. We've added Mr. Underhile's anti-Marcionite and Reformed "Comfort in Chaos: A Study in Nahum" as the book of the month for September 2014 at: http://www.amazon.com/Comfort-Chaos-Study-Preserves-People-ebook/dp/B00KQX8JBI/ref=sr_1_fkmr0_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1407621661&sr=8-1-fkmr0&keywords=andy+underhile+nahum. Our book for October 2014 is Francis Turretin's 3-volume "Institutes of Elenctic Theology" at: http://www.amazon.com/Institutes-Elenctic-Theology-vol-set/dp/0875524567/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1412273572&sr=8-1&keywords=turretin+elenctic
Saturday, July 30, 2011
Some respect for Rev. Stott, or, on "Evangelicals without Blowhards," a testimony of honour, especially in view of American Tele-quacks. Evangelicals Without Blowhards
Damon Winter/The New York Times
Rev. John Stott, Major Evangelical Figure, Dies at 90(July 28, 2011)
Earlier, Mr. Falwell opined that AIDS was “God’s judgment on promiscuity.” That kind of religious smugness allowed the AIDS virus to spread and constituted a greater immorality than anything that occurred in gay bathhouses.
Partly because of such self-righteousness, the entire evangelical movement often has been pilloried among progressives as reactionary, myopic, anti-intellectual and, if anything, immoral.
Yet that casual dismissal is profoundly unfair of the movement as a whole. It reflects a kind of reverse intolerance, sometimes a reverse bigotry, directed at tens of millions of people who have actually become increasingly engaged in issues of global poverty and justice.
This compassionate strain of evangelicalism was powerfully shaped by the Rev. John Stott, a gentle British scholar who had far more impact on Christianity than media stars like Mr. Robertson or Mr. Falwell. Mr. Stott, who died a few days ago at the age of 90, was named one of the globe’s 100 most influential people by Time, and in stature he was sometimes described as the equivalent of the pope among the world’s evangelicals.
Mr. Stott didn’t preach fire and brimstone on a Christian television network. He was a humble scholar whose 50-odd books counseled Christians to emulate the life of Jesus — especially his concern for the poor and oppressed — and confront social ills like racial oppression and environmental pollution.
“Good Samaritans will always be needed to succor those who are assaulted and robbed; yet it would be even better to rid the Jerusalem-Jericho road of brigands,” Mr. Stott wrote in his book “The Cross of Christ.” “Just so Christian philanthropy in terms of relief and aid is necessary, but long-term development is better, and we cannot evade our political responsibility to share in changing the structures that inhibit development. Christians cannot regard with equanimity the injustices that spoil God’s world and demean his creatures.”
Mr. Stott then gave examples of the injustices that Christians should confront: “the traumas of poverty and unemployment,” “the oppression of women,” and in education “the denial of equal opportunity for all.”
For many evangelicals who winced whenever a televangelist made the headlines, Mr. Stott was an intellectual guru and an inspiration. Richard Cizik, president of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, who has worked heroically to combat everything from genocide to climate change, told me: “Against the quackery and anti-intellectualism of our movement, Stott made it possible to say you are ‘evangelical’ and not be apologetic.”
The Rev. Jim Wallis, head of a Christian organization called Sojourners that focuses on social justice, added: “John Stott was the very first important evangelical leader to support our work at Sojourners.”
Mr. Stott, who was a brilliant student at Cambridge, also underscored that faith and intellect needn’t be at odds.
Centuries ago, serious religious study was extraordinarily demanding and rigorous; in contrast, anyone could declare himself a scientist and go in the business of, say, alchemy. These days, it’s the reverse. A Ph.D. in chemistry is a rigorous degree, while a preacher can explain the Bible on television without mastering Hebrew or Greek — or even showing interest in the nuances of the original texts.
Those self-appointed evangelical leaders come across as hypocrites, monetizing Jesus rather than emulating him. Some seem homophobic, and many who claim to be “pro-life” seem little concerned with human life post-uterus. Those are the preachers who won headlines and disdain.
But in reporting on poverty, disease and oppression, I’ve seen so many others. Evangelicals are disproportionately likely to donate 10 percent of their incomes to charities, mostly church-related. More important, go to the front lines, at home or abroad, in the battles against hunger, malaria, prison rape, obstetric fistula, human trafficking or genocide, and some of the bravest people you meet are evangelical Christians (or conservative Catholics, similar in many ways) who truly live their faith.
I’m not particularly religious myself, but I stand in awe of those I’ve seen risking their lives in this way — and it sickens me to see that faith mocked at New York cocktail parties.
Why does all this matter?
Because religious people and secular people alike do fantastic work on humanitarian issues — but they often don’t work together because of mutual suspicions. If we could bridge this “God gulf,” we would make far more progress on the world’s ills.
And that would be, well, a godsend.
WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD FOR THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND?
By Roland W. Morant
Special to Virtueonline www.virtueonline.org
July 28, 2011
There has been a spate of waffle recently in the mass media on the future of the C. of E. Will it be around at the end of the next twenty years? Or even when sixty years have elapsed? Having chosen a year well into the future, pessimists then make predictions, mostly of the dire type. They say that the average age of congregations is elderly and that those that survive over the next few years will be ministered to by fewer stipendiary clergy. And because of "natural wastage" (the modern euphemism for death) the end is nigh.
Unsurprisingly, others (the optimists) have come to the defence of the Church. They quote recent figures which come from the Archbishops' Councils' Research Unit that suggest a very different picture of what has been happening since the turn of the century, a picture that could influence the direction that the Church takes in the future. They believe that it is actually in good shape, several encouraging factors pointing to this: An unexpectedly high proportion of younger people regularly attend weekly services. The Church has grown steadily during the last ten years (said to be 4% on average per year). Attendance at cathedral services where many additional services are now put on, is noted as showing a marked growth.
It is not my purpose here to query the factual accuracy of any of the statistics which have been marshalled to support arguments one way or another. These are taken at face value and for all I know they are accurate (although we should never forget the maxim that there are lies, damned lies and statistics, and that data can be massaged to support any side of an argument). Where such improvements in church attendance have occurred, I am certain that everyone, save atheists or secular humanists, will register satisfaction. Those of us who have a genuine affection for the Church want to see it thrive and prosper, even though it is paralysed by current disagreement and division, and has lost its reputation for toleration towards minority groups within its membership.
Social organisations, of which a church is a prime example, do not normally collapse like a pile of cards when the going gets tough. Because their followers struggle to resist the onset of adverse circumstances, a decline sets in which is often very protracted. For a variety of reasons, I cannot see the Church of England suddenly collapsing. It might well - many would say that it has done so already - move into a period of gradual decline. But the official statistical evidence does not suggest that this is so. On the contrary, it indicates that the general picture of the Church is one of steady if unspectacular retrenchment and evidence of advance.
Is there any reason to account for the mismatch between what the pessimists and optimists are saying? First of all, the cathedrals: It has been pointed out that apart possibly from a few large other churches e.g. Westminster Abbey, the cathedrals are the only places of Anglican worship in England today where the full range of Prayer Book services can be attended and experienced. Where else can you go, for example, to hear evensong sung in a religious setting by a choir of the highest quality? There is little doubt in this observer's mind that the cathedrals are meeting many peoples' spiritual, as well as aesthetic, needs extremely effectively, and the official statistics bear this out.
It also is the case that there is a scattering of major parish churches up and down the country which are not only attracting people - often with no church background - for regular worship, but are churches which are growing. These are predominantly churches of small country towns, churches in leafy suburbs, and above all churches teaching bible based Christianity. I suspect that the number of church attendances as a whole are skewed in a positive direction because of a relatively small number of such thriving parish churches that responding to the Great Command of Jesus, have adopted new and old ways of making their congregations grow. An afterthought suggests that such churches are those which are responding to the call for more money from the dioceses and are raising the lion's share.
But what about the large number of churches which do not fit into this mould of churches that are experiencing retrenchment and growth? In the largely rural diocese in which I live, there are a sizeable number of country churches which until recently each had its own incumbent and parsonage house. Many were able to have at least one service per Sunday, be it a choir-led matins, evensong or sung Eucharist, and not infrequently two or three services on that day. All this has gone within the last forty years.
Today the norm is seemingly for a priest in charge to be responsible for a group of six or more churches, each congregation being lucky if it gets a service once a week. The parsonage house has long been sold off and is now occupied by newcomers who have no interest in the Church. There is no choir and there is often difficulty in finding people to serve as churchwardens or organist. Congregations are typically small (half a dozen) and elderly.
I cannot speak with personal knowledge about congregations in the inner neighbourhoods of the cities and large towns. But what appears to be happening is that their plight is little different from that of their fellow worshippers in rural areas, save that many of them have to worship in larger edifices of Victorian vintage. Moreover many of the inhabitants around such churches are of foreign extraction, non-Christian, and therefore unlikely to want to support "their" parish church.
The official statistics would suggest that the long decline has been halted (at least for the time being) and that since the start of the new millennium matters have improved. In the light of this, is it possible to identify any factors which appear to be arresting in some measure the Church's long-term decline? Yes, I think there are several which can be grouped together as human resources. The first is the admittance of women to holy orders. Leaving aside the question of whether it was right or wrong for a church claiming to be catholic to ordain women as deacons and priests, the fact remains that encouragement has been given to women to take part in the wider ministry of the Church. It is a fact that has brought many women who a few years ago would have thought it beyond their vocational aspirations, to fill the rapidly depleting ranks of the stipendiary ministry.
Secondly, moves towards a non-stipendiary ministry in England have also had a dramatic effect on both men and women wanting to find ways to serve the Church. Forty years ago, there were virtually no non-stipendiary clergy, only a large number of readers (who then were nearly all men). Today, many parishes and groups of parishes have their non-stipendiaries. Their contribution to the work of full time clergy in the parishes has unquestionably lightened their load, a development which should not be underrated.
While touching on the subject of clerical manpower, we should not forget the work of many retired clergy who, in this recent period when many parishes have been merged, have filled the gaps, a clerical resource that due to "natural wastage" will not last for much longer.
So having touched on the manpower factors that have had a major bearing on the survival of the Church in recent years, factors that may well have stabilised and indeed strengthened the Church's general standing, we are now in a position to suggest and discuss those changes that are bound to affect its progress in the next few years, changes that I think are inevitable come what may.
The dioceses and bishops: Considering how the Church has shrunk in active membership since World War II, the Church is overloaded with bishops (1900:31 diocesans, 26 suffragans, 24,000 clergy; 2007: 44 diocesans, 69 suffragans, 9,000 clergy), there being an urgent need to reduce the number of bishops and cull several dioceses. It is reported that several English dioceses are having difficulty in meeting their financial commitments. By coincidence, today The Times gives brief details of an interim report published by the Church that action is finally to be taken. Three dioceses in the north of England are to be combined into a "super diocese" So far so good. But why do half a job? Why keep three cathedrals when one would do? Why not revert two of them back into parish churches which they used to be before being made into cathedrals? If the leaders of the Church are serious about making proper savings, they must not balk at making serious cuts. A smaller Church does not want or need super dioceses..
The parishes: The process in the countryside of parochial consolidation (another convenient euphemism.) is likely to continue. But what form will it take? How large can the grouping of parishes get before the parochial system ceases to exist in any meaningful way? The Church cannot afford, as it has done for many years, to maintain rural churches which provide only occasional services or to pay clergy to minster to single figure congregations. Rural church buildings will have to be closed, mainly because the Church has now arrived at a point at which it is unable to continue subsidising uneconomic real ecclesiastical estate. The notion that the Church can persist with having a church building in every village or even town is an ideal that can no longer be adhered to. When many such rural churches close (and it is not going to be the odd one here or there, but many), it is unlikely that the procedure used heretofore of merging underused churches into even larger groupings (eight? ten? twelve?) of parishes will be possible. It may well become a frequent occurrence that if church people living in rural areas wish to attend Sunday worship, it is more likely than not that a church down the road in their village will not be available. They will either have to travel a considerable distance or they will have to belong to a house church near where they live.
It looks that many churches in the centre of large towns and cities will also have to close on account of minimal use. The one clear advantage their parishioners will have (compared with their rural fellow church people) is that they will probably not have long distances to travel in order to get to church.
Surviving church worshipping communities and buildings: Looking forward, it seems that we will see the survival of a number of "successful" churches which are capable of maintaining a range of activities that are squarely biblical and therefore Gospel based, maybe not more than twenty or thirty in a diocese. Around them will be all the redundant church buildings that were hopelessly uneconomical to maintain, be they in rural or urban areas. Will there be any new churches? The answer must be in the affirmative if the Church is to have any lasting future, with such churches planted from one or other of the "successful" churches, under whose wing they would shelter until such time as they could go it alone.
This picture of the future where the Church of England survives, be it in a far more reduced condition than now, with a relatively small number of Gospel based congregations and church buildings, calls into question several other issues. Will the hitherto fiercely defended division of geographical areas parish by parish and deanery by deanery and even diocese by diocese survive? I very much doubt it. If church planting by Gospel based and Gospel led churches is to be meaningful, then "the wind bloweth where it listeth", that is, the founding of such new churches should not be held back by the ecclesiastical monopolistic constraints that have inhibited much of the Church's witness in recent times. If there are great swathes of land up and down the country from which the church has retreated through closing churches, then every encouragement should be given to the formation of new church groups wherever they may be wanted or needed, meeting in homes, redundant churches or any other kind of suitable premises.
The Established Church: The picture we have painted above leaves no room for the Church of England "by law established" to survive in any form. that we can recognise. The closure of a large number, almost certainly a majority, of existing parish churches which I believe is inevitable, will render such former churches - quite apart from other considerations - unavailable for baptisms, weddings and funerals. It would no longer be possible for people of any faith or none, as they are able now, to call upon the occasional services of an Established Church (The ramifications of disestablishment would of course go much further than this, but this is not the place to consider them).
With limited funding available to the Church, it is right and proper that its financial resources should be applied where they can do most good, that is in those churches which are growing, spreading the Gospel and where they are planting new churches.
Gospel led or Gospel Impaired? The 64,000 dollar question that has to be asked is this, "Can the Church of England survive in the foreseeable future if it does not hold fast to and proclaim the Gospel as brought to this country by the saints of old?
Realistically, at the present time we can see two visions of the Church. In both, a reduction in size is inevitable because of the closure of a large number of parish churches and the impending non-availability of existing services. In the first vision this slow decline will continue and last probably for many years to come. If the Church continues to dabble with and adopt secularist standards, any present short term growth will cease and the long-term decline will reassert itself. Preaching and teaching an impaired Gospel will not take the Church forward. In the second vision in which a relatively small number of vigorously led churches survive, hopefully Gospel based and Gospel led, cautious optimism would suggest that the decline can be halted and reversed with the emergence of new church plantings. Come what may, the Church of the future will be much smaller. But having had to strip off all the parochial accretions of previous centuries, will the C. of E. be prepared and ready once again, to preach the Gospel delivered to the saints? Only time will tell.
----Roland W. Morant is a cradle Anglican who has spent his professional life as a teacher, and latterly as a principal lecturer in education in a college of higher education, training students as teachers and running in-service degree courses
The Death of a Great Ministerby Mockingbird on Jul 28, 2011 • 9:51 pm 3 Comments
The English minister John R.W. Stott, who died this week, seems to have been the real thing. Not a figure of scandal, not a figure of greed, not a figure of hypocrisy, not someone trying to do a number on you.
Rather this man seems to have walked his whole life in the steps of Jesus.
He lived for the last 35 years in a two-room garage apartment above the rectory of an exceptionally busy Church of England parish in downtown London. He traveled all over the world encouraging simple Christians, mostly in the Southern Hemisphere, and always traveled second-class, in “the back of the bus”.
Rarely appearing in clerical garb except when strictly required by the occasion, his personal habits were simple, quiet and modest.
He was also the author of dozens of books, a chaplain to the Queen of England, and doubly cherished for having turned down a bishopric in the Church of England.
He always counseled people of traditional theological principles to stay in the old Church, no matter how mixed and distressed it could become, rather than thumb their noses and start something new.
This was because Stott thought that you can accomplish more by helping from within. This ”gentle persuasion” of John Stott’s was rooted in his character, which was unconsciously humble in every way you could see.
One of my readers reports that when Stott came to dinner in his rectory, the first thing he would do was play with the children. And mean it!
Our sons have never forgotten what they would later call ‘the John Stott factor.” By this they meant his kind persona, which was as interested in them when they were six, as he was interested in their parents and other elders.
The man never made distinctions between people. Therefore everyone who met him, from two to toothless, loved him.
We should probably study this man’s life. He never married yet had hundreds of children. He took no money from anything he did but was a rich man.
He wasn’t angular in controversy — no killer of churches! — but had rock-like convictions. He had authority coming out of every pore, but never took authority.
John Stott would say it all came from The Master. Wherever it came from, the world could use more of what he had.
An excellent article and book review by Charlie Ray. Eminent, sensible and well-argued.
Saturday, February 19, 2011
Book Review: The True Profession of the Gospel: Augustus Toplady and Reclaiming Our Reformed Foundations
[See Latimer Trust Dot Org].
An excellent article by Matthew Lush. Attribution to him is given. Found at:
The Dangers of Anabaptist Teaching: Definitions and Distinctions
On the one hand I hope and strive to be fair to Baptists of all variety, while on the other hand I still endeavour to be fair to Christendom. A number of references, definitions, and distinctions will be made to properly identify and distinguish what is properly Christian, Baptist or Anabaptist. I am of the opinion that the doctrinal similarities of the modern Baptist make them a mixture of both the Radical Reformation and Protestantism. Although Baptists most certainly share a similar heritage to both the Protestant and Reformed churches I will hope to show that they ceased to be Reformed when they departed from our teaching.
I have spoken thus far of Reformed teaching and it would be fruitful to define what the Reformed tradition is and what it is not. For the sake of the readers this will not be an exhaustive survey of Reformed thought. The focus of content will be the sacramental theology of the reformed tradition.
1. The French Confession (1559)
One of the earliest confessions is the French Confession of 1559 which is not as expansive as other confessions but nevertheless affirms what some initial concerns of the Reformed tradition were and elevated some doctrinal necessities. The section regarding the sacraments (Articles 34 & 35) is concise and to the point. According to the confession the sacraments and both “pledges and seals of the grace of God.” Additionally they are outward sign in which God works for God “not signify any thing to us in vain.” The Spirit is the effective agent of a) adoption b) engrafting in Christ, c) cleansing from sin and d) renewal of life. Since this is “a sacrament of faith and repentance” the necessary factor is not repentance as the Baptists argue but faith. As in accordance with the promises of God given to Abraham and confirmed through Moses, Christ, Peter, and Paul we not only bless our children through the sanctifying waters of baptism but we engraft them into the Body of Christ with a promise. For this reason it is written “Nevertheless, although it is a sacrament of faith and penitence, yet as God receives little children into the Church with their fathers, we say, upon the authority of Jesus Christ, that the children of believing parents should be baptized.”
2. The Scots Confession (1560)
The Scots Confession section regarding the sacraments follows in the pattern of Covenant Theology by first speaking of “the fathers under the Law” and their “two chief sacraments, that is, circumcision and the Passover.” Moreover they expound upon the great importance of these two sacraments by instituting that any who would reject such sacraments “were not reckoned among God's people.” In the New Covenant or “the time of the gospel” the concern is for “all who will be counted members of his [Jesus Christ] body.” One of the most explicit statements regarding the purpose and efficiency of the sacrament is the following:
“These sacraments, both of the Old Testament and of the New, were instituted by God not only to make a visible distinction between his people and those who were without the Covenant, but also to exercise the faith of his children and, by participation of these sacraments, to seal in their hearts the assurance of his promise, and of that most blessed conjunction, union, and society, which the chosen have with their Head, Christ Jesus.”
The confession goes so far as to “condemn the vanity of those who affirm the sacraments to be nothing else than naked and bare signs.” The signs are not adorned with reverence, since they can be distinguished from their source which is Christ, and neither despised, since in them Christ is given. A distinction is made between the Romanist understanding of the Supper, but a rejection of pure symbolism is nevertheless present. More could be said regarding the institution, signs and seals, but it should be sufficient to understand that a) pure symbolism is rejected and b) proper administration is necessary. In the next section under “The Right Administration of the Sacraments” it indicated that only lawful ministers may administer as well as the proper administration. Thus any department from what was instituted by Christ is no sacrament at all.
3. Belgic Confession (1561)
The Belgic Confession which was co-written by Protestant reformer and martyr Guy de Brès is modeled off the French Confession and became a doctrinal standard for the Netherlands. Together with the Heidelberg Catechism and the Canons of Dort these three documents compile what is commonly referred to as the Three Forms of Unity. By the mid sixteenth century the Swiss, French and Dutch were linked together in the Reformed tradition. Like the French Confession the Belgic speaks of a pledge and seal.
Like the French Confession the Belgic Confession is concerned with the benefits of baptism to the recipient. These benefits come only when faith is present and while the sign and seal is binding to children of believers the benefits can and will only be present when faith is first given by God.
4. The Articles of Religion (1563)
Concerning the Articles of Religion for the Church of England is a brief and concise description and application of the sacraments. They are ordained by Christ and not as “only badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession,” but rather are a sign of the grace and good will of God towards believers. Concerning baptism the articles indicate that it is a sign of one’s profession and difference with the world, but it is also a sign of regeneration and engrafting into the Church. It is a sign of the forgiveness of sins, adoption. Those who partake are “visibly signed and sealed” and “faith is confirmed, and grace increased.” Concerning children it is written: “The Baptism of young Children is in any wise to be retained in the Church, as most agreeable with the institution of Christ.”
5. The Second Helvetic Confession (1566)
It begins that Sacraments are added to the Word; effectively with the preaching of the Word is the administration of the sacraments. The author indicates that they are “mystical symbols, or sacred rites, or sacred actions.” They are God’s words plus the signs and the realities so signified. They outwardly represent what God inwardly does through the Spirit, which seals the Word of God in the heart. These are promises which require faithful hearing, and the promises are divinely united with the sacraments. The faithful receive the sacraments from the ministers but effectively “as from the hand of God.” As such the ministers cannot affect the sufficiency of the sacrament, not matter how great their fault. Like the Scots confession a parallel is made between the sacraments of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant which again shows the stream of the Reformed tradition regarding the continuity in the Abrahamic covenant. Regarding the place of the New Covenant sacraments it is written:
“But now since Christ the true Messiah is exhibited unto us, and the abundance of grace is poured forth upon the people of The New Testament, the sacraments of the old people are surely abrogated and have ceased; and in their stead the symbols of the New Testament are placed -- Baptism in the place of circumcision, the Lord's Supper in place of the Paschal Lamb and sacrifices.”
Regarding baptism the sign signifies “regeneration and the cleansing from sins.” Moreover it means to be “enrolled, entered, and received into the covenant and family, and so into the inheritance of the sons of God; yes, and in this life to be called after the name of God; that is to say, to be called a son of God; to be cleansed also from the filthiness of sins, and to be granted the manifold grace of God, in order to lead a new and innocent life.”
In conclusion of the article of baptism it writes concerning Anabaptists the following:
“We condemn the Anabaptists, who deny that newborn infants of the faithful are to be baptized. For according to evangelical teaching, of such is the Kingdom of God, and they are in the covenant of God. Why, then, should the sign of God's covenant not be given to them? Whey should those who belong to God and are in his Church not be initiated by holy baptism? We condemn also the Anabaptists in the rest of their peculiar doctrines which they hold contrary to the Word of God. We therefore are not Anabaptists and have nothing in common with them.”
6. Westminster Standard (1646-49)
The Westminster Confession of Faith is forthcoming in its treatment of the sacraments in that they are “holy Signs and Seals of the Covenant of Grace, immediately instituted by God, to represent Christ and his benefits.” They are also provided for the strengthening of faith as a means of grace. In the sacrament is “a spiritual relation, or sacramental union, between the sign and the thing signified” so "the names and effects of the one are attributed to the other.” According to the Westminster Confession, baptism signifies entrance into the visible Church, but also a sign and seal “of the covenant of grace, of his ingrafting into Christ, of regeneration, of remission of sins, and of his giving up unto God, through Jesus Christ, to walk in the newness of life.” Concerning the Anabaptist teaching it simply writes that “the infants of one, or both, believing parents, are to be baptized.” But it expands by writing “Although it is a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated, or saved, without it: or, that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.” Like the other confessions and the Christian faith, baptism is to be administered once.
Thus far we have seen a thorough rejection of three Anabaptist errors: 1) credo-baptism for the children of believers 2) cata-baptism or the rejection of one’s baptism and 3) ana-baptism or the rebaptism of a believer or child of a believer. Additionally, continuity between the Old and the New Covenant is assumed in all the confessions whereby the entirety of Visible Church does not constitute members of the Invisible Church as the Anabaptists and modern Baptists interpret New Covenant readings.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Confessions of an SGM Pastor
Sovereign Grace Ministries has been experiencing tremendous upheaval since C.J. Mahaney stepped down earlier this month. Almighty God appears to be bringing conviction to the hearts of some SGM leaders, and only time will tell whether these “heart changes” are the real deal.
Mark Mullery, senior pastor of the Sovereign Grace Church in Fairfax, made a public confession of his sins when he addressed the congregation last Sunday (July 24th) at a Family Meeting. These confessions were directed toward former members of the church, namely Noel and Wallace.
For those not familiar with these individuals and their testimonies, Noel is a wife and mother who discovered that her three year old daughter had been molested by a 15 year old boy who attended SGM Fairfax along with his family. Her story has been archived at SGM Survivors in three installments. You can begin reading here.
Wallace and his wife Happymom are also former members of SGM Fairfax, and their two children were sexually abused. We featured their story here at TWW on April 12, 2011. (link) SGM Survivors has also archived Wallace’s Story here.
Each of these families has suffered terribly in the aftermath of their children’s sexual abuse, but what’s even more devastating is that they were spiritually abused by their own pastors!
Last Sunday evening Mark Mullery gave an emotional confession that confirmed the testimonies of Noel and Wallace. You can access the audio of the Fairfax Family Meeting at this link. http://media.sovgracefairfax.org/mp3/07-24-11%20Family%20Meeting.mp3 Because we have followed both of these stories so closely, we wanted to update our readers with Mark Mullery's remarks regarding Noel and Wallace. Here is a transcript of Mullery’s confession.
Romans 12:15, the second half simply says: “Weep with those who weep.” This is a good place to start when it comes to the topic of sexual abuse and the sexual abuse of children. By now many of you have become aware of two stories on Sovereign Grace Ministries Survivor blog and the Refuge blog as well I believe — one called Noel’s Story, the other Wallace’s Story. Both of these individuals were at one time members of our church, and both have sad stories to tell.
Noel, a pen name, recounts the tragic story of the sexual assault of her young daughter, which occurred in 1998. Wallace, also a pen name, tells of having two children molested – the incidents coming to light in 1998 and 2007. In each of these cases the perpetrators were young men whose families were also part of our church.
These incidents are still exceedingly painful for these families and understandably so. No parent, no compassionate person can learn of these sins without experiencing sorrow, grief, and heartache over the violation of these innocent children.
But as sad as this is, it gets worse. When these incidents came to light, these families were in trouble. These were children who were victims who had been horribly sinned against.
“Blessed are the merciful,” Jesus says, and moments like this require extraordinary amounts of tender care, of merciful comfort. This is a time to bind up the brokenhearted and to weep with those who weep.
And that’s just what your pastors did, right? Well, with deep regret I confess, we didn’t. Noel and Wallace are justified in critiquing the pastoral care they received through their trials and afflictions. Sadly, and it breaks my heart to tell you this, sadly in seeking to care for them, we became part of their trial. Like Job’s counselors, we came in a time of need and made things worse. Looking back, we made many mistakes. Here are a few.
We lost sight of the victim. These are complicated moments in the swirl of all the other things to think about, we lost sight of the simple fact that an innocent victim had been grievously sinned against and was in need of constant care. One of the moms reflected to me later and said for us this was 24/7.
We should have followed up more and over a longer period of time. We failed to surround the victims and their families with care. Failed to SURROUND them. Our instincts were to keep the circle of those who knew about this small. We weren’t trying to cover anything up, but we did want to protect the identity of the victim.
Sadly, this left the victim’s parents without the support system they needed at the time when they most needed it. We should have made sure more people knew and knew quickly. Both people in their care group where they needed to be able to work these things through and close trusted friends as well. Many more people were needed to be in place to extend care to the victim’s family. We failed.
These were situations where the family of the victim and the family of the perpetrator were friends. There were pre-existing, close relationships. As they’re trying to sort these things through, when relational conflicts arose between the victim’s family and the perpetrator’s family, we unwisely used a Peacemaker model for conflict resolution. This resulted, put them on an equal plane – get the log out of your eye, get the log out of your eye, go for the speck, go for the speck – this resulted in the victim’s family being corrected when they should have been gently cared for as sufferers.
Oh, I’m so sad. We allowed that to happen and led and participated in that way. I did that. Our aversion to therapeutic thinking kept us from language and people and resources that would have helped these families and that would have helped us help these families. We didn’t give hurting people room to air their emotions.
How in the world is somebody whose child has just been cruelly sexually abused gonna process that flawlessly? Of course, it’s gonna be raw. But instead of giving them the room to work things through, we corrected them, and they expressed themselves in ways that we deemed incorrect. I’m so sorry. We were proud. We didn’t know what we didn’t know. We were ignorant.
The hurts from these sins, the effect of sexual abuse of a child runs deeper and lasts longer than any of us could have imagined. We’ve been accused of not getting it. Guilty as charged. We didn’t get it. I’m so sorry. (Long tearful pause)
These aren’t just stories or statistics; these are people. As an elder and the senior pastor, I had opportunities to bring mercy and grace, to bind up the brokenhearted, to comfort the suffering. I was trying. I was attempting to be helpful, but it pains me to see how often in retrospect I wasn’t. I deeply regret my impatience, self-righteousness, pride, hardheartedness. These things compounded their suffering instead of easing it.
We’ve reached out to Noel, to Wallace, their spouses and families. It pains me to say, it grieves me to say, that our attempts to be reconciled to them have not proven successful so far. Please pray that this might happen.
Now for some of you, this may hit home because you may feel that you too have been hurt or mistreated by your pastors here. If that’s the case, sorry. And we want to humble ourselves, and we want to make things right.
If you don’t feel safe talking to us, please bring a friend, write a note, reach out to us in some way. We really want to hear from you. We want to listen to you. We want to learn from you. We don’t want to correct you. We want to discover where we’ve hurt you, where we’ve sinned against you and seek your forgiveness so we can change.
We deeply regret our failures with these families. We deeply regret the pain that we have caused, but we do thank God that we have a risen Savior in heaven. Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. By God’s grace we commit ourselves to learning, growing, and changing so that no parent ever has this experience in this church again.
We can’t agree with everything that’s written about us on the blogs, but we’ve tried to go to school on what we can agree with. We want our children to be safe. We want children who are hurt, victimized, and abused to be well cared for and their families as well. We’ve tried to learn from our mistakes. We’ve tried to learn from these experiences and to make substantive changes in response.”
Rom828 (comment #211) July 27th, 2011 at 10:46 pm
"All this is quite overwhelming to someone new like myself. I entered like most sharing my two cents worth on arrival but really it takes time to absorb all that is said, felt and expressed on this site. Hard to keep up with which testimony is whose. So I am sitting back, listening, reading and learning what I can. One thought on Mark Mullery… if I am an SGM pastor (which I was) I would at least call the people I would be talking about in the meeting (hopefully he did but it does not sound like it) expressing that I would be following up with them on this. I would say please take what we will say as a teeny attempt at expressing our horror, sadness and regret for all that transpired. Please let’s get together and talk so that the pastors involved can adequately confess our sin to you and then more clearly and definitively confess our sin before the church. Just my thought… hopefully this happened… we’ll see. As someone mentioned… I would not want to hear from friends or mp3 or video what was said about me to a congregation by a pastor without hearing from him first."
Then yesterday morning Wallace’s wife, whose moniker is “happymom”, confirmed Rom828's theory in a comment on the Survivors blog (same link as Rom828’s): happymom (comment #245) July 28th, 2011 at 6:48 am
"Something I find interesting. Fairfax posted their response to the SGM issues on their Facebook account. July 10, 2011, Mark refers to us as “voices on the internet…speaking to the issues and OUR CHURCH IN PARTICULAR.” If not Noel, Grizzly, Wallace and myself, who else could he be referencing, since we have been the ones seeking to expose how they handle abuse? So how did he transition from labeling us as “voices” to the group of people he is now tearful over in front of his church? Why were we not informed of this sudden acknowledgment of wrongdoing? (emphasis mine) Their final summary letter to us dated September 30, 2010, clearly lays out that we were wrong and pastor lg is right. Are they now willing to hear our questions and allow pastor lg to answer them? This is not a family issue if the staff continues to ignore our challenges to lg’s apologies and cover him. I am appalled that pastor lg mentioned child b’s name when the behavior and abandonment of him and his family have caused as much emotional pain and suffering as the incident itself."
At the Fairfax Family Meeting, two other pastors (Vince and Lou) addressed the congregation. Lou is HappyMom's brother-in-law. Yes, the uncle of Wallace and HappyMom's children confessed that he sinned against his own flesh and blood by not comforting them in their time of tremendous need. You can hear Lou's apology in the audio link above.
I am continuing to follow the comments over at SGM Survivors, and last night Noel posted her initial response to Mark Mullery’s confession. She shares that she "cried as Mark confessed to the church and was so encouraged that he was finally trying to do something right."
However, the remarks made by Vince and Lou upset her terribly. Based on her candid reaction, it appears Vince and Lou spoke in such generalities that they misled the congregation about what really happened. She concludes her reaction with these words:
"Tell the truth about who tried to reconcile……tell the truth about why these families are not reconciled. Stop with the "damage control" already! Tell the truth." Sadly, it appears there is much more work that needs to be done before any kind of reconciliation can take place between the SGM Fairfax pastors and these victimized families. May God's will be done in this tragic situation.
Judge: Try Philadelphia priests, official together
Did he lay a legacy for Protestant and Reformed Confessional Churchmanship? Or Liturgical Churchmanship? The need for memory work in the Bible, the Reformed catechisms, or the Collects of that old and august Prayer Book? Will he be remembered for these things? I would love to have interviewed him on this.
Did he enable and facilitate non-Reformed, non-Confessional and non-liturgical Churchmanship? Why would he support Billy Graham, who, by many, many turns, turned his back on a rich Confessionally Presbyterian heritage with the Associate Reformed Presbyterians with the tradition of the Westminster Confession and Psalm-singing while favouring revivalism, notoriety, Arminianism, and 19th-century music? Perhaps John took issue with Billy on this, but this much, we have no documents that John dealt with Billy on these matters.
Upon graduation from high school (age 18), my father handed me Louis Berkhof's Systematic Theology and Charles Hodges Systematic Theology (3-vol). He said, "Son, while in university, read 10-pages per day from these. Read 8-10 chapters from the OT daily. Also, read 8-10 chapters from the NT daily." While double-majoring in chemistry and philosophy, I did that. While pondering organic chemistry by the hours or Aristotle by the hour, I maintained the regimen. As a result, I rather found the Rev. Mr. Stott's volumes, acquired later, to be rather...well...sophmoric. But, I came to view his works as suitable for--perhaps--a first or second year college student. Having said that, Dad's recommendations were better than the Rev. Mr. Stott. As years have passed, am glad for my Dad. He had alot of things right, including that old Prayer Book.
Having said these things, undoubtedly, a dear brother, elect from the aqes past, justified, but not on a level with the classics like Calvin, Luther, Cranmer and the 55-volume Parker Society set of English Reformers.
A bit jaded by the American quest for celebrity culture, including the conference circuit, so perhaps my review is jaded. But, it "is" what it "is." Glad for the old Reformed systematicians, our English Bible, and our old Prayer Book.
The moderns are "footnotes."
With thanks for John Stott