Theological Digest & Outlook
The March 1998 issue (Vol. XIII, No. 1)
NOTE: THE OPINIONS EXPRESSED IN THE SIGNED ARTICLES ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHORS AND DO NOT NECESSARILY REFLECT ENDORSEMENT BY CHURCH ALIVE.
- Harold Wells, "The Charismatic Movement and our Founding Traditions"
- Thomas F. Torrance, "The Soul and the Person of the Unborn Child"
- David L. Fisher, "A Response to 'Mending the World'"
- Philip A. Cline, "United or Untied?"
- R. George Morrison, "The Twenty Articles of Faith: A present guide or a past story?"
- Paul Miller, "The Lowville Prayer Centre"
- Graham Scott, "Statement on published remarks by Moderator Bill Phipps in October 1997"
- Kenneth Barker, "Review of Aspects of the Canadian Evangelical Experience (George Rawlyk)"
- Paul Miller, "Review of Jesus Christ and Creation in the Theology of John Calvin (Peter Wyatt)"
- John James, "Review of Embracing Transformation, The Purpose Driven Church, Growing Spiritual Redwoods (DMC; Rick Warrenl Wm.M. Easum & Thomas G. Bandy)"
- Editorial: "The Phipps Phenomenon"
- "Palms & Scorpions, Cheers and Tears" (Opinions expressed are those of the Editor and not necessarily Church Alive's.)
- Leslie McSpadden, "Greatness in Ministry"
- Morley Clarke, "An Open Letter to the Rt. Rev. Wm. Phipps"
- Mary Fraser, "A Child Asks, 'Can Jesus Tell Me What to Do?'"
EXPERIENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT:
THE CHARISMATIC MOVEMENT AND OUR FOUNDING TRADITIONS
The remarkable testimonies we have heard about the
Vineyard or Airport ministries, and longstanding awareness of the charismatic
and Pentecostal movements, present a theological challenge to us in the
so-called 'mainstream' churches. I believe that United
Church people need to be open to and to learn from these movements. They
rightly draw our attention to certain neglected aspects of the biblical
witness to the work of the Spirit. They have roots in our own Methodist
tradition, and we must regard them as close cousins in the great extended
family of the wider church. Our Methodist tradition, stemming
from John Wesley, has always had a healthy respect for Christian experience
of the Holy Spirit, and it was often Methodists, disappointed at how staid
and dry or ineffectual their churches had become, who formed the original
Pentecostal congregations. It is perhaps the genius of our United
Church, and still our great potential, to combine the excitement, warmth
and evangelical passion of our Wesleyan heritage with the Reformed emphasis
on the sovereignty of God, and justification by grace alone. A clear affirmation
of the indispensable work of the Holy Spirit in bringing men and women
not only to justification, but to sanctification and glorification, has
been central to both Wesleyans and Calvinists. At the same time,
our two major founding theological traditions have much to say about both
personal and social transformation.
Experience and Grace in our Founding Traditions
It is not my intention to offer an historical paper
on our Methodist and Reformed roots. However, a brief glimpse backward
may help us to achieve some balance, and a deeper sense of the breadth
of the Spirit's work.
Wesley's emphasis on experience of the Spirit had
biblical foundations of course. One of his favourite texts was that
of Paul to the Romans, 8:15-16, "When we cry, 'Abba! Father!' it is ...[the]
Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God...."
Wesley believed that if we have indeed received the Spirit, we will know
and experience that deeply within ourselves. Wesley insisted, sometimes
perhaps overzealously, that the true Christian must have a conscious experience
of grace. No doubt this grew out of his own experience of a heart
"strangely warmed". His strong empiricist bent (congenial with the
philosophy of his contemporary, the philosopher John Locke) inclined him
to insist upon those aspects of the biblical testimony that speak of experience
of the Spirit's work within us. We cannot, he said, have the peace,
joy and love of God in our hearts without knowing that this is so.
The Christian life is not some cool, rational opinion about God.
It is a heart-felt relationship with God which arises out of the indwelling
of the Holy Spirit. And so the evangelical revival, with which Wesley was
associated, was generally accompanied by warm experience of the presence
and work of the Spirit. Now Wesley and his followers did not speak
in tongues. But it was common, when Wesley preached, that people
cried out or fainted and fell to the ground. (I must confess, regretfully,
that this never happens when I preach.) For example, in his
Journal he records the following on June 12, 1741:
I preached on the righteousness of the law and the righteousness
of faith. While I was speaking, several dropped down as dead and
among the rest such a cry was heard of sinners groaning for the righteousness
of faith as almost drowned my voice. But many of these soon lifted
up their heads with joy and broke out into thanksgiving, being assured
they now had the desire of their soul - the forgiveness of their sins.
Wesley records a similar event in response to the preaching
of George Whitefield in his Journal entry for July 6, 1739:
...he preached concerning "the Holy Ghost, which all who believe
are to receive";... no sooner had he begun... to invite all sinners
to believe in Christ, than four persons sank down close to him, almost
in the same moment. One of them lay without either sense or motion.
A second trembled exceedingly. The third had strong convulsions all
over his body, but made no noise unless by groans. The fourth, equally
convulsed, called upon God with strong cries and tears. From this
time, I trust, we shall all suffer God to carry on His own work in the
way that pleaseth Him.
What Wesley and Whitefield witnessed was the response
of whole human beings to the good news they had heard proclaimed.
People responded not only with minds and souls, but with emotion and body.
Our own bodily responses may more usually be limited to a lump in the throat,
possibly a tear of joy, or an accelerated heart beat, but it is the same
kind of holistic, Spirit inspired response to the message.
It is salutary for us in our sober United Church congregations to remember
that such events stand at the beginning of our own Methodist tradition.
Wesley acknowledged such occurrences as marks of the Spirit's
working. On the other hand, it is also evident from his Journals
that he could be critical and suspicious of the genuineness of such manifestations.
First, as a good Anglican, he cherished order and dignity in worship.
Further, if alleged manifestations of the Spirit were not accompanied
by the transformation of life he discounted them as false or superficial.
He wanted to see the fruits of the Spirit, i.e., the evidence of sanctification.
The inner testimony of the Spirit, wherein the Spirit witnesses with our
spirit that we are children of God, must be attended by outward signs of
obedience, commitment to the church, a life characterized above all by
love, and participation in the transformation of the surrounding world,
i.e., service to the Kingdom. The conversion and sanctification of
Christians, according to Wesley, would surely lead to the social transformation
of England. And so, the Spirit's work had to do not only with a heart
strangely warmed. Because the Spirit is none other than the Spirit
of Jesus, the gift of the Spirit meant above all the life of love.
For Wesley it meant renouncing wealth and living modestly in order to share
more with the poor. The Spirit of Christ led Wesley into the prisons.
The Spirit inspired him constantly to be working for the relief of the
destitute. On one occasion, in his old age, he nearly died of exposure,
because he'd been out trudging around in the snow collecting money for
the poor. Wesley already knew the need for what we today call 'systemic'
criticism and transformation. At that very early stage of the Industrial
Revolution, he was already critical of the domination of the profit
motive as he saw it developing in his society. The Spirit also led
him to oppose slavery, and to directly confront the masters of the slave
trade in their stronghold at Bristol.1
If we have a criticism of this great church father
of ours, and the movements that sprang from him, - the main Methodist stream,
but also the holiness and pentecostal streams, - it could be the tendency
to insist upon, or to overvalue particular kinds of spiritual experience.
Whether it has been a conviction of absolute assurance of salvation, or
(as in Methodist revivalism) a dramatic conversion accompanied by weeping
and tears, or the gift of tongues, or of being slain in the Spirit, there
was always the danger that these manifestations could become additional
requirements for salvation. Wesley taught an unambiguous doctrine
of justification by grace alone, through faith alone. But an overemphasis
on particular manifestations of the Spirit could be heard as limitations
on the freedom of God's grace.
Now Calvin and the Reformed tradition have also had
a vigorous theology of the Spirit. I think it is fair to say, howver,
that Calvin put less emphasis than Wesley on dramatic spiritual experience.
He also must have had a vivid experience of conversion which turned his
life around, brought him into the Reformation movement, and inspired his
highly effective ministry. But Calvin does not draw attention to
any such personal experience. He declares simply that faith is the
principle work of the Spirit.2
Faith is the one thing needful, and that faith
is impossible without the gift of the Spirit. Without faith there is no
justification, or sanctification, or glorification. And all of these
are the Spirit's work. "It is by the Spirit alone that he [Jesus
Christ] unites us to himself,"3 giving
us a share in the benefits of his saving work. It is the Holy Spirit
who binds us together in Christ's body, the Church, and who enables the
preaching and hearing of the Word. It is a work of the Holy Spirit
that the bread and wine of the Lord's Supper become means by which we truly
receive Christ himself. There is a wonderful objectivity and a certain
sobriety about the Reformed tradition. God's grace does not depend
on our subjective experiences. Calvin does not prescribe that we
must experience this or that. Nor can the authenticity of our faith and
salvation be tested by any particular manifestations of the Spirit.
It is God's grace alone that saves us. It is by faith alone, faith
in Jesus Christ, by which we come to God with empty hands, that we have
our justification and sanctification, and hope of eternal life. That
is why a favourite text for the Reformed tradition is I Cor. 1:30: "Christ
Jesus ...became for us our wisdom, and righteousness and sanctification
and redemption..." Therefore, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the
Lord." We are to boast neither about our good works, nor about our
However, our Reformed heritage also stresses that
faith without works is dead, and calls for actual righteousness of
life, as an outward sign of our election, justification and sanctification.
Thus, while Calvin never asked people to have spiritual experiences, he
did expect the private lives of Christians, and also the public life of
Geneva, to reflect the righteousness of God. He also saw to it that
the poor and the widows of Geneva were well cared for. The Lordship of
Jesus Christ over all of life, both personal life and political life, is
basic to the Reformed tradition.
We have, then, in Calvin and our Reformed heritage,
a strong sense of the depth and breadth of the Spirit's work, which may
indeed be quiet and unobtrusive, yet have profound impact on the totality
of personal lives and on the world. If we have a criticism of the
pneumatology of Calvin and the Reformed traditions that stem from him,
it is perhaps to note a certain downplay on the more visible signs and
more dramatic gifts of the Spirit.
Our two founding traditions, then, have within them
a certain balance, breadth and depth regarding the Holy Spirit, both within
themselves, and between them. Where they are deficient, each needs
Turning back now from these relatively recent traditions
to the Scriptures, I shall explore very briefly the breadth of the Spirit's
work under three headings: 1) Receiving the Spirit and Baptism in
the Spirit; 2) Participation in Christ's Continuing Mission through the
Spirit, and 3) The Universality of the Spirit's Presence and Work.
1) Receiving the Spirit and Baptism in the Spirit
Speaking scripturally, if there is a way to define
who is a Christian, or when one becomes a Christian, it is probably in
terms of receiving the Spirit. Paul is quite exclusivist about this
when he says, (Rom 8:9) "Whoever does not have the Spirit of Christ does
not belong to him". The letters of Paul, and the Book of Acts, speak
frequently of people receiving the Spirit, or of being baptized in the
Spirit, or of the Spirit falling upon them. Often the receiving of
the Spirit was a dramatic, visible event. As in Acts 8:17: "When
Peter and John laid their hands on them they received the Holy Spirit."
Luke goes on to say that Simon saw that the Spirit was given through the
laying on of the apostles' hands. Again, in Acts 10:44, we are told
that while Peter was preaching, the Holy Spirit "fell upon all who heard
the word," and the believers were "astounded" at this. This was evidently
a visible, dramatic occurrence, possibly similar to those witnessed by
Wesley, or those that occur today in Pentecostal or charismatic gatherings.
Again, according to Acts 19:6, we hear that "when Paul had laid his hands
on them, the Holy Spirit came upon them, and they spoke in tongues and
What of this contentious term, "baptism in the Holy
Spirit"? John the Baptist, according to all the gospels and Acts,
said that, while he baptized with water, the One who is coming "will baptize
you with the Holy Spirit." Baptism with the Holy Spirit appears to
be a promise to all who would follow Jesus. In that it is Jesus Christ
himself who baptizes with the Spirit, it is what Christ does, in his unity
with the Spirit, to draw us to himself. Generally, in Reformed theology,
baptism in the Spirit is understood to be the same as receiving the Spirit,
or, to use the language of the Gospel of John, the same as being "born
anew of the Spirit". These are all different ways of speaking about
the beginning of the Christian life. It is the gift of the Spirit
to turn us toward Christ, to enable us to respond to the offer of God's
grace, and to re-create us as new persons. "Baptism in the Holy Spirit"
is such a basic promise to all, that it is, I think, an error to regard
it as a second blessing received by some Christians but not others.4
We see in the New Testament that speaking in tongues is sometimes an accompaniment
of receiving the Spirit, and may often have been the dramatic and visible
sign of this, though speaking with tongues is not usually explicitly mentioned.
However, Paul makes it clear that "no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except
by the Holy Spirit". (I Cor 12:3) In the same chapter Paul declares
that "in one Spirit we are all baptized into one body". (I Cor 12:13)
"Various kinds of tongues" is listed as one of many gifts of the Holy Spirit.
In this same twelfth chapter of I Corinthians, Paul asks rhetorically,
"Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?
Do all work miracles? Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak
in tongues? Do all interpret?" (v-29-30)
The obvious answer is No. Paul is clear that
it is not God's intention that all Christians possess all of the gifts
of the Spirit, including tongues. It is an error, then, to suggest
that only those who speak in tongues have been "baptized in the Spirit",
or to suggest that "baptism in the Spirit" applies only to the more mature,
more empowered Christians. It is difficult to imagine a more divisive
doctrine than this. If there is a test or criterion as to who is
a Christian, and who has received the Spirit, it is presumably just this,
- that one can say, with sincerity and truth, "Jesus is Lord". One
cannot do this without the Holy Spirit. He goes on then to speak
of "the greater gifts" and a "still more excellent way", namely, the way
We do need to recognize, though, that powerful works
of the Spirit do occur in the lives of Christians subsequent to the beginning
of the Christian life. To insist upon this is one of the great contributions
of the Pentecostal movement. Indeed, this should be regarded as normal
and to be expected. We may experience memorable, decisive turning
points, or we may recall several, or many occasions of a new deepening,
new empowerment. These may be dramatic experiences, such as beginning
to speak in tongues, or discovering a new gift of the Spirit such as healing;
they may be the discovery of less dramatic gifts, such as teaching, or
preaching, or administration. Sometimes we are admonished in scripture
to be "filled with the Spirit". (Eph 5:18) At the event of Pentecost,
we are told not that the disciples were "baptized in the Spirit", but that
they were "filled with the Holy Spirit..." (Acts 2:4) Peter
was "filled with the Spirit" also when he preached to the council of the
Temple. (Acts 4:8)
It is misleading to suggest that particular signs,
especially dramatic and visible ones, must accompany the receiving of the
Spirit and the beginning of the Christian life. It is also misleading
to imply that no signs or gifts of the Spirit will be in evidence.
Surely we should be expecting and looking for and praying for signs and
gifts of the Holy Spirit. Most especially we should be expecting
and praying for the gift of love.
2) Participation in Christ's Continuing Mission through the Spirit
It is clear, as we move back and forth among the
various New Testament authors, that the gift of the Holy Spirit is for
the mission. It is not for the sake of people having "experiences".
Mission has essentially to do with being sent. This is loud and clear,
for example, in John 20, where the risen Jesus declares, "'As the Father
has sent me, so I send you'. When he had said this, he breathed on them
and said to them, 'Receive the Holy Spirit'." (v. 21-22) The Spirit
is for the mission. The Spirit which is received by Jesus' followers
is the same Spirit which, at his baptism, inspired him for his ministry
of teaching and healing, and which empowered him in his death, (Heb 9:14)
and his resurrection. This same Spirit now indwells his disciples.
What is the mission for which the Spirit equips us?
If we want to know what our mission is, we must ask, What is Christ's mission?,
since the Christian mission is nothing else but a continuation of the mission
of the risen Jesus, in the power of the Spirit, and our participation in
it. No text is clearer and more explicit about the content of Christ's
own mission than Luke 4:18 (which is, I suppose, the favourite text of
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release
to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed
The Spirit's work, then, in and through the followers
of Jesus, is first to bring good news to the poor. To bring good
news obviously means evangelization. Preaching good news is mentioned
first when Jesus describes his own mission. But bringing good news
to the poor has other, practical dimensions, as both Wesley and Calvin
knew well. Good news to the poor specifically also means very mundane
things like a roof over your head, and food on the table. It means
education for your children and good care when you are sick. It means
employment and economic justice. This is very much of a piece with the
parable of the Good Samaritan and the parable of the sheep and the goats.
Release to captives has to do with justice for those imprisoned.
Sight to the blind speaks of healing, and it is constantly evident throughout
the New Testament, that the work of healing through faith and prayer is
part of the Christian mission, in continuation of Christ's own mission.
To let the oppressed go free, once again, has to do with the lifting up
of all who are disadvantaged, persecuted or marginalized. In this
respect, the mission of Christ in the Spirit is in continuity with God's
work with Israel as we see it in the Old Testament. It was the Ruah
(Spirit) of Yahweh who delivered the Hebrew slaves out of Egypt. The great
prophets, who called out for faithfulness to Yahweh through justice in
human affairs, looked for a great Messianic King or a Suffering Servant
of God, who would be empowered by the Spirit to bring justice to the nations.
Because the Lordship of Jesus Christ pertains to
the whole of life, the work of his living Spirit is indeed broad and deep.
There is no dimension of life, public or private, that is not touched
by the Spirit, because the Spirit's work is to build up God's Reign in
the world, - indeed in every nook and cranny of the world. The Spirit's
work is holistic. The Spirit strives among us for our physical, emotional,
mental and spiritual well being. The Spirit reaches out to us both in our
personal life and in our social and political life.
3) Universality of the Spirit's Presence and Work
I've been speaking about the particular working of
the Holy Spirit with Israel, and especially with the church, - those who
acknowledge Jesus Christ, - creating faith, justifying and sanctifying
them, inspiring them for mission.
However, it is evident in the Scriptures that the
Spirit's presence and work is not confined to Israel or to the church or
Christian people. The Holy Spirit, after all, is the Spirit of God,
the Spirit of the Creator, who loves the whole kosmos. God's providential
reign in the whole of creation means that the Spirit is never absent, and
is always and everywhere at work. Israel knew well that Yahweh was
not confined to Jerusalem or to the temple. The Psalmist in Psalm
139 praised God's omnipresence with the words, "Whither shall I go from
your Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from your presence?...
If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of
the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall
hold me." (vs. 7, 9). The Psalmist of Psalm 33 extols the Ruah
of God as Creator: "By the Word of the Lord the heavens were made
and all their host by the breath of his mouth" (v. 6) Yet this is
not merely a single, completed act of creation: According to Psalm
104 (vs.30) "When you send forth your Spirit they are created, and you
renew the face of the ground". The Spirit of God, then, is the source
of the ongoing creativity and fecundity of the created order. In
a more ancient text, the Spirit is credited with God's provision of intelligence
and skill to Bezalel: "I have filled him with the Spirit of God,
with ability and intelligence, with knowledge and all craftsmanship...."
(Exodus 31:2) This means that the Spirit is present and at work enabling
what we regard as the natural processes of life.
The ongoing universal activity of God as Spirit to
the natural world, as well as to all humanity, is attested in various parts
of the Hebrew Scriptures: According to Isaiah, the Spirit makes of
the wilderness "a fruitful field" and also brings about "justice, righteousness
and peace". (32:15-17) The second prophet Isaiah sees the Spirit
as the sustaining, life-giving source of all earthly blessing. (44:3-4)
We may say that the Spirit of God, whom Christians identify also as the
Spirit of Jesus Christ, is the ongoing, ever present source, power and
life of all creation. The Spirit is to be found everywhere and among
all people, giving and sustaining life. The Spirit's work among the
nations is not for nothing; it is always salvific, creating wholeness and
blessing. Indeed, the Ruah of God was there from the beginning of
creation, "brooding over the face of the waters," according to Genesis
1:2. And according to the Yahwist, when God shaped humanity from
the dust of the earth, God breathed life into his nostrils (Gen 2:7).
The gift of humanness is the work of the Creator Spirit. Humanity's
very humanness is this in-breathed life of God, which is given to all of
humanity by the Spirit.
This omnipresent work of the Spirit is attested by
Calvin, in Institutes I, 13 -14. Calvin writes, (referring to Gen
"the Spirit of God was expanded over the abyss or shapeless
matter; for it shows not only that the beauty which the world displays
is maintained by the invigorating power of the Spirit, but that even before
this beauty existed the Spirit was at work cherishing the confused mass....
[The Holy Spirit, is] ...diffused over all space, sustaining, invigorating,
and quickening all things, both in heaven and on the earth. The mere
fact of his not being circumscribed by any limits raises him above the
rank of creatures, while his transfusing vigour into all things, breathing
into them being, life, and motion, is plainly divine."5
It is appropriate then, returning to our theme of experience,
to speak of experiencing the Spirit in the stuff of everyday, natural life
and in the beauty and order of the world.
The presence and work of the Spirit, the Spirit of
the Creator, who is the Spirit of Christ, is also at work in all of human
history striving for wholeness, liberation and justice. Not only
the history of Israel, of Christ, and of the church, are the realm
of God's providential work. Note the words of the prophet Amos (9:7):
Are not you Israelites like Cushites to me? says
the Lord. Did I not bring Israel up from Egypt, and the Philistines
from Caphtor, and the Aramaens from Kir?
The text suggests that wherever we find works and
events of justice and liberty, there we find the activity of God.
Israel's experience of the redeeming God whose Spirit led them from Egypt
to the promised land, who spoke through their prophets and accompanied
them in exile, who brought them home through the hand of Cyrus, inspired
in them an awareness that their God of compassion was indeed the life-giving
Creator of all.
The American Lutheran theologian Robert Jenson speaks
well of this. If the Holy Spirit is God, he argues, "this Spirit's
wind must blow on and through all things". We must look far and wide,
then, to see the Spirit's work of blessing, wholeness and justice in the
entirety of the world and among all people. But Jenson warns us,
"the enterprise is also perilous, for it must be the particular Spirit
of Jesus... to whom we attribute cosmic efficacy...."6
This realization that God's Spirit is not tied down
to us, that God loves the whole world, and makes this love effective, saves
us from arrogance and superiority toward others, including members of other
religions. We must be open to their wisdom, even while sharing the
gospel with them, for God has not been absent from them through all the
millennia of human history. This should be grounds not for jealousy,
but for humility, and for praise and thanksgiving.
In conclusion: I have suggested that both the
Scriptures and our own particular Protestant traditions, encourage us to
be open to a great variety of experiences of the Spirit. We should
expect that the work of the Holy Spirit should be evident among us in various
ways, whether strange and spectacular, or very quiet, even ordinary ways.
On the other hand, we ought not to demand experiences, - either to demand
them from God, as proofs of the divine reality and presence, or to demand
them of others, as proofs of the authenticity of their faith. Faith
is the one thing needful, as Calvin insisted, since no one can say "Jesus
is Lord" without the Holy Spirit. I've also distinguished between
the universal working of the Spirit in the whole world and among all people,
and the particular working of the Spirit which marks the history of Israel,
the Christ event, and the life and mission of Christians. The particular
working of the Spirit which brings people to Christian faith may be referred
to as baptism in the Holy Spirit, or receiving the Spirit, or being born
anew of the Spirit. This particular gift of the Spirit implies justification,
sanctification, glorification, and, above all, faithful participation in
the continuing mission of the risen Christ.
Harold Wells is Professor of Systematic Theology, Emmanuel College,
Toronto School of Theology.
1 See a thorough
treatment of these themes in Theodore W. Jennings, Jr., Good News to the
Poor: John Wesley's Evangelical Economics (Nashville: Abingdon Press,
2 John Calvin, Institutes
of the Christian Religion, III, I, 4. (London: James Clarke &
Co., 1962, Vol. I, p. 465).
4 Note that Wesley
rejected the notion that 'baptism in the Holy Spirit' was an event subsequent
to conversion. See a thorough discussion of this by Randy Maddox,
Responsible Grace: John Wesley's Practical Theology (Nashville: Kingswood
Books, 1994) pp. 134-136. The argument is made meticulously by James
D. G. Dunn, in his book Baptism in the Holy Spirit: A Re-examination of
the New Testament Teaching on the Gift of the Spirit in Relation to Pentecotalism
Today (London: SCM Press, 1970).
5 Institutes 1-1.13-14.
6 Robert W. Jenson,
Christian Dogmatics, (Vol. II) ed. C. E. Braaten, R. W. Jenson (Philadelphia:
Fortress Press, 1984) p. 165.
THE CHRISTIAN CHARTER
The Soul and
the Person of the Unborn Child
Thomas F. Torrance
According to its Christian Charter, The Scottish
Order of Christian Unity is open to all Christians who believe in Jesus
Christ as God and Saviour, and uphold his commandments particularly in
relation to family life, education, and medical ethics. In the particular
aims of the Order as expressed in its "Christian Charter" we are not concerned
with theological discussions between Churches, but together with other
Churches to uphold the teaching of Jesus Christ as it bears upon all inter-personal
relations between men and women and children, particularly upon marriage
as a life-long partnership between one man and one woman, the training
of children in the home and in the school, the healing and preserving of
human life, and concern for righteousness in the framework of community
existence and activity. My particular concern today is with the bearing
of Christ's teaching upon the conception and pre-natal life of the child.
But first let me emphasize the fact that it is explicitly with the teaching
of Christ as God and Saviour to which we are committed, that is,
of Christ as "true God of true God", as we confess in the Nicene
Creed. If we detach Christian ethics from their source and norm in Jesus
Christ as God himself become man, everything goes wrong.
In 1938 when I was teaching at Auburn Theological
Seminary in up-state New York, I had students who were upset by my lectures
on Christ as God and Saviour, and claimed that Jesus knew nothing about
sociology! Reinhold Niebuhr, they said, was a greater authority on Christian
teaching than St. Paul! One of the students was so angry with a lecture
of mine on the Deity of Christ that he stormed into my study to protest.
I let him have his say, and then said to him, "Paul, the fact that you
are so angry tells me that your disbelief in Christ is not because you
cannot believe in him as Lord and Saviour but because you don't want to
believe in him". He stared at me, and then walked out. I did not see him
for three days. Then early in the morning of the fourth day he came to
see me. He had not eaten or slept for three days and nights, and was looking
very haggard. He told me that I was right. If Jesus Christ was not God
then he could pick and choose what he wanted from what he taught and go
his own way, but if he was God he had no alternative but to obey
him and follow him. Faith in Jesus as God and Saviour completely transformed
that young man's life. Paul had a history of mental illness, but after
that experience he was healed--with his psychological problems left behind.
The Scottish Order of Christian Unity is
committed to uphold the teaching of Jesus Christ as God and Saviour,
and to work out ways in which it can be applied in daily life. That is
urgently needed today, in the kind of moral and social outlook that seems
to pervade life and thought even within the Churches, governed by cheap
philosophies of self-fulfilment, self-expression and moral relativism constantly
disseminated by teachers in our schools and by the media. Church and Society
today need to turn again to the absolute truth of the teaching and commands
of Jesus, the incarnate Lord and Creator.
Before I discuss the soul and person of the unborn
child, let me say something about the kind of damaging fallacies that have
become prevalent, but which are detected and exposed by some of our great
scientists today, for they also are aware of the damage they cause.
"The culturalistic fallacy" - Filmer Northrop
This fallacy pin-pointed by Professor Northrop, the
great mathematician and philosopher of Science at Yale, has to do with
the twisting of scientific truth to suit some prevailing cultural trend,
but actually it has long been rampant in theology and ethics. Here is an
example from Scottish Church history. In 1642 the Earl of Lothian presented
Robert Leighton to the Parish of Newbattle, where he served for ten years,
but where he was constantly rebuked by the Presbytery for not "preaching
up to the times" and advocating the Covenants, that is, for not advocating
the political theology of the day. Leighton replied, "If all of you preach
up the times, you may surely allow one poor brother to preach up Christ
That is still our problem: the pressure to reinterpret
the Bible and even the teaching of Jesus about marriage, family life, and
sexual behaviour in such a way as to bring it into line with modern cultural
trends. This fallacy, alas, has even infected the Church of Scotland's
Panel on Doctrine, in its call for a cultural reinterpretation of the Bible
in line with the times.
"Moral inversion" - Michael Polanyi
Today we also suffer from another fallacy which Michael
Polanyi, one of the greatest scientific minds of our age, has called "moral
inversion", the twisting of moral truth to serve social and political ends.
He pointed to the way in which a particular ethical idea could be detached
from its real moral ground, exalted into a supreme place over all ethical
truth, and then used to attack and demolish the moral foundation of human
life. In the first instance Polanyi had Marxist, communist and fascist
regimes in mind, but moral inversion applies no less to what is now frequently
being done to Christian ethics, even to the teaching of Jesus Christ. His
teaching, as set forth by St. John, for example, about loving relations,
is detached from God's commandments, and then used to undermine the teaching
of Christ about marriage as a divine institution between one man and woman,
and so to condone sexual relations outside marriage and even to accept
same-sex relations. Thus anything goes so long as it involves some kind
of "loving relation", even though it contradicts the Ten Commandments and
the explicit Words of Christ. That is a very damaging form of moral inversion,
which is often decked out with a parade of compassion and accusations of
judgmentalism. It is particularly reprehensible when it is advocated by
Christian teachers and churchmen, as it is today, for example, by Richard
Evidently, what is acceptable is what is judged
to be appealing, pleasant or desired--that was of course the lie with which
Satan has always seduced people from the beginning, under the cover of
wisdom, the worship of sophia which has been infiltrating and damaging
the feminist movements of our time: all truth is relative. This self-centred
way of thinking leads people to reject the exclusive character of truth--everything
is said to be relative to what they desire, consider convenient, and choose
for themselves. That is why, of course, they dislike the notion of "heresy",
that is, the rejection of private choice in face of the exclusive nature
"The naturalistic fallacy"
This fallacy was first exposed by David Hume in Edinburgh
and then formulated by G.E. Moore in Cambridge. It
is basically similar to the culturalistic fallacy and to moral inversion,
but when it raised its head in natural science it was exposed and refuted
by Michael Polanyi and Karl Popper both of whom showed that when in rigorous
science we are forced by reality to adopt one way of thinking and formulating
a truth, we set aside at the same time alternative ways of thinking and
formulating it as misconceived or heretical. By its very nature
truth excludes untruth. Scientific truth and rejection of heresy belong
together. Thus in formulating a natural law science is committed to a way
of thinking that excludes other ways of thinking. That was, for example,
the principle imposed on science in the discovery that light takes the
shortest path or quickest route between two points, which excludes any
other possibility--thus the theory of relativity formulated by Einstein
by its essential truth excludes relativism. Any idea at variance with that
would be heretical for rigorous science, self-willed deviation from the
truth, when people hold that some course of events they have come across
in their observations is how they had to take place. Thus in discounting
any other or deeper explanation they claim that the factual state of affairs
they have found is what ought to have happened, and is the truth.
The Soul of the Fetus.
In a mild form a scientific naturalism of this sort
is a problem I find cropping up in the Symposium by The Royal
College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, organized in April this
year by Lady Lothian, Ticky Wright, and Carol Banfield, and published by
The Women and Children's Fund: Building Healthy Babies: The Importance
of the Pre-Natal Period. Undoubtedly, this is a very illuminating and
helpful report on the life and sensations of the unborn baby as a conscious
being in relation to his/her mother, in which it is shown that in their
own individual responses foetuses have a lot of capabilities in feeling,
hearing, recognition and learning which they do not just start developing
when they emerge from the womb. The Symposium also reports on research
into the alleviation of fetal pain and the effect of nutrition on early
brain development, which calls for profounder consideration of the effects
of painful pre-natal operations and not least of the effects of abortion.
Altogether this is a report of supreme importance, which will surely deepen
understanding and care of the pre-natal life of babies and have a profound
effect on the attitude of people, doctors, nurses, and parents, to abortion.
My concern now as a Christian theologian is to bring
to this exciting and illuminating scientific research a further dimension,
which may complement what has been done, and make a contribution which
I hope may further the insights gained. I have in mind here the scientific
appreciation, not least as developed by Michael Polanyi, of the multilevelled
structure of human being in which each level while incomplete in itself
is open to completion at a higher level. Thus he has called for a deeper
appreciation of the different levels of human existence and knowledge in
which each level is open to fuller explanation in relation to a higher
level with which it is coordinated. Not to take this into account would
be to fall into a what Polanyi dubs rationalistic and deterministic fallacy.
That is to say, failure to develop understanding of the different levels
of human existence in their relation to higher levels, and so to cut short
their meaningful reference beyond themselves, beyond what we can determine
by physical, neurological, and psychiatric analyses, would be to truncate
what we learn in those ways, and limit the value of what we have already
determined. The human being is characterised by an indefinite openness
to what is beyond him, and is properly to be understood in that open-structured
I believe thaat in the last analysis we must understand
our human being in relation to God the creative Source of our being, and
as a Christian I believe we must understand our human being in its relation
to the saving and healing activity of God in Jesus Christ. In the early
centuries of our era when the foundations of Christian theology were being
laid, the doctrines of the Creation and Incarnation had a decisive impact
upon the understanding of soul and person. That is why I
try to think out and seek to understand theological truth in the setting
of the created universe and its god-given intelligibility with which we
have to do in natural science.
While I am not concerned here with theology, what
I wish to do is to bring into consideration of the unborn child, his/her
his/her personal being, but I shall take into account basic changes
that were introduced into science and the foundations of knowledge by Christian
theology, which had the effect of challenging the dualist outlook of pre-Christian
understanding of human being. My concern here is with the notions of soul
and person that emerged, notions with which science and philosophy
are still struggling due to the hang-over ov pre-Christian impersonal causalist
or necessitarian forms of thought which damage our science; but it is in
respect of the soul or the person of the unborn child that we have to do
with its enlightening relation to what is beyond its merely physical or
Earlier this year I lectured in several Universities
in the USA about "Einstein and God", and showed that for Einstein "God"
was not just a metaphor but a "transcendent" and "spiritual" reality which
he confessed he had to take into account in the foundations of scientific
discovery. I discussed his recovery of biblical, Jewish-Christian, way
of thinking of man as body of his soul and soul of his body.
It was that unitary, non dualist, way of thinking (for example of the particle
and the field, of space and time) that governed his science, and determined
for him the fundamental interrelation between relativity and quantum theory.
I believe it is that non-dualist unitary way of thinking that we need to
recover in our understanding of the conception and life of the unborn child.
Jews and Christians believe that God created the universe, matter and mind
alike, out of nothing--that is the all-important notion of contingent rational
order upon which all our modern empirical and theoretical science rests.
My concern here is with the fact that this applies to human being. In creating
human being, body and soul, our of nothing God did not give being and life
to the body by itself, or to the soul by itself, but to man/woman in whom
body and soul form a living unity. The human being is an embodied soul
and a besouled body, as Karl Barth once expressed it.
This truth has two far-reaching implications, which
are very relevant for us today.
(1) The inseparability of soul and
body applies to the human embryo from the moment of conception. Although
distinctive features of human being may not yet be discernible in any differentiated
form, the essential nature of the unborn child is nevertheless a living
human being, not just a natural or biological organism, which is the object
of God's concern whether as a child or as an adult. For Christians this
truth was considerably reinforced by the fact that the human life of Jesus
the incarnate Son of God commenced from the moment of his conception in
the womb of the Virgin Mary. It was thus that the Early Church was led
to reject abortion and feticide as well as infanticide. Thus in its teaching
of the ten commandments it added two others: "Thou shalt not procure abortion",
and "Thou shalt not commit infanticide".
The fullest consideration of this
was given by St. Gregory of Nyssa, who held that since man's being is one,
consisting of soul and body, soul and body come into being at the same
moment in the womb. And with other Greek theologians he held that each
soul is created by God along with the body and grows together with the
body from the moment of conception. The human being is already potentially
complete as "the human germ", as Gregory expressed it, which is startlingly
similar to modern scientific finding that the human being is genetically
complete in the embryo from the moment of conception, which makes abortion
and feticide as morally and utterly abhorrent as infanticide. Let it be
granted, however, that difficult circumstances arise in which exception
is called for in the prohibition of abortion. Unfortunately, however, especially
in a society rife with moral relativism, the exception tends to be turned
into a rule, which would then be another and serious form of moral inversion,
one which, alas, is now fearfully widespread.
I believe firmly that what we need to take into
account today, along with our scientific understanding of the pre-natal
period of a baby, is that the human fetus is a soul as well as a
body, as soul of his/her body and body of his/her soul. The human embryo
is already a being with a multi-levelled structure which is properly to
be understood in the coordination of the body and the soul, that is of
the lower level with the higher level of its existence. Thus what is learned
of the embryo as a physical or biological organism, for example in respect
of its conscious sensations, may be deepened and furthered in respect of
its feeling, hearing, recognition and learning. Thus I believe that the
human fetus, incomplete in itself merely as a biological organism, is open
to deeper and more complete understanding as a embryonic human being, when
we take into account that it is an embodied soul and a besouled
body. This will surely help our neurological and medical science to
think more fully of the unborn-child in its open structure to what is beyond
mere empirical observation (in line with what we do elsewhere, for example,
in mathematics and physics) -- and also help them to avoid what Polanyi
called the rationalistic and deterministic fallacy. My intention is not
to be critical of them but to further the remarkable scientific account
given of the pre-natal life of the child by the Symposium of Obstetricians
and Gynaecologists, to which I have referred.
(2) That the human being is soul of his/her body
and body of his/her soul applies to the distinction between male
and female. It means that the difference in sex is not simply a feature
of the body, merely accidental to the soul, but is intrinsic to the human
soul which far from being neutral is either male or female. Sexuality
determines the innermost being of people, making them either male or female
However, in that the basic form of humanity, the
essential human nucleus is neither man by himself nor woman by herself,
but only man and woman: man is man only in relation to woman, and woman
is woman only in relation to man. That is of course in accord with the
teaching of Christ about marriage, that in God's creation man and woman
are not finally two but one. Hence this difference in gender within the
oneness and fullness of human being, far from being an external convention,
goes back to the union between man and woman in God's original creation
which must not be put asunder. This has important implications for our
concern in the Scottish Order of Christian Unity for Christian education
in sex which is very much needed today. Unfortunately much that passes
for education about sex seems to be concerned mainly with its physical
and biological aspects, so that sex education in schools tends to concentrate
on the physical side of sex and thus on the mechanics of sexual relations.
Without proper attention given to the soul and the spiritual nature of
male and female relations, this may even foster the animalisation of sex
which gives rise to the unhappiness and disaster so very evident today
in teenage pregnancies. This is an area to which we in the Scottish Order
of Christian Unity must give much more attention, especially in regard
to the all-important personal relations involved. The embryonic child as
an embodied soul and a besouled body is already a person.
The Personal Being of the Fetus
Embedded in the otherness and togetherness of man
and woman in love and marriage, each of whom is an independent and distinctive
human being in partnership with the other, there is an inherent relatedness
in human being which need to be cultivated. This is the personal or inter-personal
structure of humanity. It is not often realised that the very concept of
was unknown in antiquity, in Greek or even Hebrew tradition. It was the
direct product of Christian doctrines of Christ and the Holy Trinity, and
reflects in a creaturely form the transcendent way in which the divine
Persons of the Father, the Son and the Holy spirit eternally live and act
in communion with one another, in such a way that they are in their divine
Being the distinctive Persons they are in personal relation with one another.
It was undoubtedly the Christian doctrine of the Holy Trinity, and the
concept of the person to which it gave rise, that played a decisive role
in the epoch-making transition in thought from an impersonal to a personal
understanding of human being and of the operation of the human reason,
and thus became an essential feature of the Christian conception of the
world. It is in the relation of man in soul and body to God, the Source
and Ground of all human rationality and freedom, that man is constituted
a rational subject, i.e. a person in relation to other persons, for it
is in that relation of persons to each other that persons are what and
who they are as persons. The Greek view of man as the embodiment of a divine
soul or of a soul as a spark of the divine reason carried with it a notion
of man as turned in upon himself, hence the philosophy of "know yourself'
advocated by Socrates.
Unfortunately, however, once the Christian concept
of the person and of the personal entered the stream of ideas in history
its significance tended to be twisted and its central importance was swamped
by the resurgence of dualist patterns of thought. The person came to be
defined first in an individualist and rationalist, and then in a legal
and psychological way so that its profound ontological import became submerged.
That is particularly evident in the romantic and subjectivist notion of
"personality". As a result the personal became excluded from scientific
investigation, so that even the personal participation of a scientists's
mind, as Schrodinger and Polanyi lamented, was excluded from scientific
thought, although it is actually with the mind of the scientist as person
that all scientific research takes place and scientific knowledge is achieved.
After all it is only a person, as Polanyi insisted, who can engage in objective
scientific operations, weigh evidence, distinguish truth from error, weigh
evidence and make rational judgments.
There is another side to the history of the person
and the personal, however, evident in the scientific work of the great
James Clerk Maxwell. When Clerk Maxwell was faced with the problem of explaining
the behaviour of the electromagnetic field discovered by Michael Faraday,
he first tried to do that in a Newtonian mechanistic way. But when he failed
again and again in the three different models he constructed, he took over
the idea from Trinitarian theology (which he found in "the older divines",
for example, in the Lectures on Ephesians by Robert Boyd of Trochrig)
that the relations between persons belong to what persons actually are,
and applied that dynamic onto-relation to explain how particles of light
are related to one another in such a way that their relations to one another
belong to what they actually and dynamically are. In doing so he developed
the epoch-making concept of the continuous dynamic field, which Einstein
claimed brought about the greatest change in the rational structure of
science, upon which his own science and all subsequent science rests.
Why, then, whould we not think of the personal being
of the unborn child in that kind of dynamic and ontological way, primarily
in his/her relation to God the Creator, and secondarily in the interrelation
of the child with his/her mother? If that interrelational way of thinking
was so effective in the scientific account of the behaviour of light particles
with one another in a continuous dynamic field, why should we not think
of it as applying (mutatis mutandis, of course) effectively to a
new and deeper understanding of the interrelation of the body and soul
and personal life of the fetus, certainly in relation to God, but also
in relation to the mother, and indeed to the father? I believe that it
is in and through relation with the mother that the embryonic being of
the child begins his/her personal existence, and that it is through loving
personalising relation with the mother that the tiny personal being of
the fetus is nourished, and its embryonic personal response to the mother
is developed, evident, for example, in recognition of his/her mother's
voice. I recall here the account in the Gospel of how the embryonic being
of John the Baptist leaped in the womb of his mother Elizabeth at her meeting
with the Virgin Mary. I believe, that through fuller understanding of the
unborn child in the unity of body and soul, and in the personal relatedness
of the child to the mother particularly, we can deepen and advance what
we learn today from the researches of medical scientists, particularly
in our understanding of the personal life and behaviour of the unborn child,
not least in respect of his/her sensations of joy and pain. Certainly it
is God himself who is the Creative Source of all personal being and inter-personal
relations--he is the personalising Person, who brings us into personal
life and being through the inter-personal activity of a father and mother,
which begins with our conception, develops in our pre-natal life, reaches
fruition in birth and childhood, and blossoms within the inter-personal
life and love of a human family. What happens to children in these personal
ways after they are born goes back to the pre-natal period in the life
of every one of us, in the beginning and growth of personal being
already in the womb, through the personal and personalising relation between
the unborn child and his/her mother.
This makes it quite clear that we cannot but reject
and reject with Christian and scientific horror, the outrageous proposal
by Japanese scientists to develop artificial wombs with artificial placentas
called "womb tanks" through which babies may be born in the future. Apart
from anything else such attempts to mechanise the process of human birth,
would suppress or eliminate the all-important personal relation between
the foetus and the mother, and kill off any growth in the personal being
of the unborn child. But it would also amount to a very retrograde step
in science, for it would involve a lapse back into a Newtonian mechanistic
explanation of nature. That was precisely what Clerk Maxwell set aside
in his epoch-making adaptation of the idea he gained from real inter-personal
relations, when he put forward the idea that the relations between elements
in a dynamic field belong intrinsically to what they really are. No! Gynaecological
science must surely move forward in a similar way, away from rationalistic
and deterministic explanations of the pre-natal life of the child, and
give fuller and more understanding attention to the personal growth
of the baby in the womb through inter-personal relation between
the baby and his/her mother.
All this calls for a profound rethinking of what
we mean by person, and the realisation that each child is actually personal
from the very beginning of his/her life in the oneness of his/her body
and soul in the mother's womb, and grows in person being, as in body and
soul. This leads to a clearer and more definite appreciation of the life
and behaviour of the fetus as a conscious personal being with growing cognition
and recognition of other personal beings, and with growing personal responses
to others. And this in turn calls for profound changes in our appreciation
and treatment of the unborn and newly born child, changes which lawyers
(who still work with old Roman and medieval ideas of what "person" is)
as well as doctors (who often tend to think of "person" in terms of modern
romantic psychological notion of personality) must surely accept, not least
in connection with the issue of abortion, and in upholding the sanctity
of human life and marriage. But it calls all of us who are committed Christians,
pledged to uphold the teaching of Christ which we have embodied in the
Christian Charter, to be more active in fulfilment of its objectives and
(Address delivered under the auspices of The
Scottish Order of Christian Unity, Edinburgh, August 21, 1997.)
A Response to "Mending the World"
David L. Fisher
The main thrust of the United Church's Interchurch-Interfaith
Mending the World: An Ecumenical Vision for Healing and
Reconciliation is found in its expansion of the Church's understanding
of ecumenism to include "the whole inhabited earth." While traditionally
the ecumenical movement focused on the relations of Christian denominations
between one another for the sake of mission, Mending the World breaks
new ground by calling the United Church to make a "common cause" with individuals
and institutions of good will regardless of their religious tradition or
faith stance. The "search for justice for God's creatures and healing for
God's creation" was named as the common cause. A resolution asking for,
among other things, 20% of the value of the Church's reserve fund (which
would have amounted to over $1,000,000 dollars), as well as mandating that
20% of General Council's human resources be deployed in work that conformed
to the priorities of Mending the World , was set before the 36th
General Council. Although this General Council did not approve of such
a costly resolution, it did affirm the world-centered ecumenical vision
of Mending the World.
The core of the paper which follows was written prior
to the 36th General Council and focuses mainly on the "Theological Foundations"
section of the document.
See to it that no one takes you captive through
hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and on
the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ
all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given
fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority. CColossians
The Mending the World document appears to reflect
post-modern values and a panentheistic orientation. This makes it ideally
suited as a point of departure in dialoguing with other religions since
it makes no truth claims which could be viewed as being absolute or contradictory
to other world-views. On issues of faith it presents several alternative
"traditions" which some Christians subscribe to. At the same it advocates
the use of a " common cause" to bring about stronger relations with people
of other religious traditions.
While this approach is helpful insofar as it promotes
tolerance, unfortunately it appears to undermine traditional Christian
claims to absolute truth. Moreover Mending the World, in
its quest for an environmentally friendly theology, seems to advocate panentheism
which is foreign to the Christian faith. This has major implications for
how the United Church understands God, and as a result would dramatically
change the nature of how we do mission.
This paper will attempt to show how the Mending
the World report is influenced by a postmodernistic outlook, how panentheism
is espoused and, paying close attention to what it means for God to be
reconciling the world, how our mission as a Church is re-prioritized.
A Postmodern View
Postmodernism is a contemporary way of viewing the
world. It is a reaction to modernism, which held that reality could be
discovered through our senses and by applying the scientific method. Modernists
believe that human bias could be eliminated through the rigorous application
of observation and analysis. Whereas modernists believe that an objective
view of reality could be realised, postmodernism emphasizes that not only
our interpretations, but also the process of selecting and analysing what
we observe, is unavoidably laden with bias.1
Alister McGrath writes:
There has been a general collapse of confidence in the Enlightenment
trust in the power of reason to provide the foundations for a universally
valid knowledge of the world, including God. Reason fails to deliver a
morality suited to the real world in which we live. And with this collapse
of confidence in a universal and necessary criterion of truth, relativism
and pluralism have flourished.2
Before beginning my studies in University, I recall
spending some time looking at the venues of each of the subjects sponsored
by the General Arts department. A kindly philosophy professor stood behind
a table and presented me with a challenge: "define reality in 25 words
or less." After a moment's hesitation I shot back: "reality is whatever
I perceive it to be." I was unaware that my answer typified post modern
thinking. According to postmodernism, there is no objective reality which
can be discovered, rather only a reality which we each construct based
upon our own experience. A common consensus on truth may develop as we
write our collective story, or what postmodernists call a "meta-narrative."3
Yet this "truth" is not true because it corresponds to some objective reality
of which it speaks, rather it is true only because we believe it to be
so. Hence there can be contradictory "truths" espoused by various people
and groups. To take a pertinent example, Christians may regard Jesus as
the Messiah and for them this is quite true, while at the same time Jews
may deny that Jesus was the Messiah and for them this is no less true.
In postmodernism, all belief systems may be regarded as equally plausible.
The inherent advantage of this way of thinking is
that it promotes tolerance and pluralism. Yet it does so by denying the
possibility of arriving at any knowledge of objective truth. Postmodernism
views truth as what we make it, as opposed to Biblical Christianity which
holds that certain absolute truths can be revealed to us by the inspiration
With respect to its theological foundations, Mending
the World reflects a postmodernist spirit. It states that "from the
Church's beginnings, a common, pithy, and universally acceptable understanding
of Jesus' life and significance have not existed."4
It presents Jesus as a "prophet of the end time", as "teacher of law",
as "emissary of wisdom" , as "revolutionary for social change" and as "revealer
of the gift of grace" adding that each of these is a "construction". It
goes on to say that, "the constructions are always stories of faith, not
history. Even the biographical bits are recorded by post-Easter people,
and are included not to provide some presumed "neutral" history of Jesus,
but in order that, as John's gospel states, 'you may believe.'"5
This begs the question as to the extent to which the Bible can be relied
upon to be the revelation of any objective truth. If there is no objective
reality to which it points, then one could question whether it should be
considered as anything more than a mere fanciful, albeit meaningful fiction.
If this were in fact the case, then I would suggest that the promises "of
God" as contained within the pages of scripture are nothing more than wishful
thinking, self-fulfilling at best, or hollow myths making believers most
pitiful fools at worst (1 Cor. 15:15-19). This type of reading is at odds
with the United Church's founding belief in, "the Holy Scriptures of the
Old and New Testaments, given by the inspiration of God, as containing
the only infallible rule of faith and life, a faithful record of God's
gracious revelations, and as the sure witness of Christ."6
In this same spirit, Mending the World presents
four "traditions" or theories "of atonement". It then goes on to present
three contrasting perspectives on how God's initiative to "reconcile and
redeem" can be understood. Not surprisingly it refuses to "adjudicate"
between them. Instead it acknowledges that "this multiplicity of views
[is] a significant issue for Christians in the new ecumenical setting."7
Proposing to leave these critical issues unresolved
while on the threshold of unprecedented inter-faith cooperation at great
expense to the Church is hardly satisfying. How we view the world has dire
consequences for what we believe and how we act.
At issue are two things. First, the determination
as to whether the truth claims of Christianity are unique and necessitate
a specific form of response, and second, an assessment as to whether these
claims, while confessional in nature, are reflective of objective truths
which can be evaluated over and against competing ways of viewing reality.
To view them as such is not to deny the role of bias in relation to the
way that reality is perceived. Rather, it is to affirm that reality exists
apart from our perceptions or "constructions" of it, and that in spite
of bias the relative merit of competing "truths" can be assessed.
If the unique claims that Christianity makes about
the spiritual condition of human beings and the necessity of salvation
are true in an objective sense, then it is a matter of love and compassion
that they be shared with sensitivity. That is the Good News. To present
them as options like dishes in a cafeteria, sorely lacks appeal. The key
question is this: given the competing truth claims of various religions,
which way of looking at the world and at God most closely corresponds to
reality? Undoubtably the answer will be a matter faith, but it is a faith
that holds that an objective reality exists. I would not expect people
of other religions to compromise their beliefs by relativizing their truth
claims, even if their world view may be in complete contradiction to my
own. Real dialogue does not gloss over our differences but respects others
while holding to them.
Perhaps most disturbing is the fact that this report
advocates panentheism. Pantheism holds that God is all and all is God.
It makes no distinction between what we know as creation, and God whom
we call the Creator. Panentheism on the other hand, is a term that was
devised by Karl C. F. Krause (1781-1832) to describe his thought.8
is best known for its use by Charles Hartshorne and recently by Matthew
Fox. Fox's book The Coming of the Cosmic Christ is quoted several
times in the Mending the World document.
Allan Anderson quoting from, New Thought: A Practical
American Spirituality writes:
Panentheism says that all is in God, somewhat as if God were
the ocean and we were fish. If one considers what is in God's body to be
part of God, then we can say that God is all there is and then some. The
universe is God's body, but God's awareness or personality is greater than
the sum of all the parts of the universe. All the parts have some degree
of freedom in co-creating with God. At the start of its momentary career
as a subject, an experience is God--as the divine initial aim. As the experience
carries on its choosing process, it is a freely aiming reality that is
not strictly God, since it departs from God's purpose to some degree. Yet
everything is within God9.
The Mending the World document portrays Jesus
as "representative of humanity", "representative of God" and "representative
of the whole of creation." (Italics mine). It states that "the Church
speaks, then, both of the humanity and divinity of Christ. It affirms that
this Christ is present to, and in every form of life in the universe.
'All things were created in Christ' says the author of Colossians, 'and
in Christ all things hold together.' (Col. 1:17)".10Mending
the World goes on to say that "lifting up the image of Christ as present
in and to all of life may help us re-image and transform our relationship
to nature."11 Quoting from Matthew Fox,
Mecthild of Magdeburg is recorded as saying, "The day of my spiritual awakening
was the day I saw, and knew I saw, all things in God and God in all
things."12 [Italics mine].
A close look at what is being proposed reveals a
significant and alarming logical error. Namely, to say that all things
are in Christ is very different than saying Christ is in all things. It
suggests that if A is in B, then B is in A. It would be no more true than
if I were to say that because I am in Canada as I write this, that therefore
Canada is in me. This is patently false.
There are two passages of scripture within the New
Testament which speak about all things being in "God" or "Christ". The
first is cited above, and suggests that nothing in all creation exists
apart from Christ. To say everything is in Christ, is to say that, in the
words of one Bible translation, "he holds all things in unity." (JB) This
does not imply that Christ is in all things in the sense that we could
say that carbon is a part of every living creature. Rather it means that
all things are sustained by him. Hence Hebrews 1:3 speaks of Christ as
"upholding all things by the word of His power." Christ is not a part of
creation, but has taken part in creating and as creator is separate and
distinct from creation.
The second reference can be found in a famous speech
Paul made to the Athenians. Using first an expression suggested by the
Greek poet Epimenides of Cnossas, and then quoting from the Phainomena
of Aratus he states: "In him we live and move and have our being, as also
some of your own poets have said, 'For we are his offspring.'" In the sense
that the whole human race has been created by God, in that sense all human
beings are said to be the children of God. Thus Adam himself is known as
"God's Son." (Luke 3:38). Paul is not saying, contrary to what some panentheists
may claim, that this shows that God is in all things. Rather it tells us
that the origin of all life comes from God. In context this passage shows
that God is not in idols made by human hands, for God does not make His
home in "shrines made by human hands." Clearly God is not in all things,
otherwise in some way God would be dependent on what "human hands" could
do for him. (Acts 17:25).
In the few instances where God or Christ are portrayed
as being "all in all", it is the idea of God's absolute preeminence over
all of creation (1 Cor.15:28), or the fact that Christ breaks down all
barriers of race, class and culture which stand between human beings, which
is being conveyed. No where is there any indication that Christ's individual
personality literally indwells all things.
In contrast to the mistaken belief that the Bible
teaches that God is literally in all things, the scriptures clearly
do teach that God is in some things. Namely, God is said to indwell the
bodies of believers. Paul writes for instance, that believers are "God's
temple" having been redeemed by God and filled with the Holy Spirit [1
Corinthians 6:19] and that Christ in believers is the "hope of glory" [Colossians
1:27]. The United Church's Articles on Doctrine in the Basis of Union unambiguously
state that Jesus abides in the hearts of believers as the indwelling Christ
(Article 7] and that the Holy Spirit "abides with the Church, dwelling
in every believer as the spirit of truth, of power, of holiness, of comfort,
and of love" (Article 8).13 In addition,
speaking specifically about the body of believers, the letter of Ephesians
states that God who is Father of all, is also over all, through all, and
in all [Ephesians 4:6].
Unfortunately, the unique relationship of "indwelling"
between God and the Church is distorted by Mending the World insofar
as it claims that "God calls the Church ... to discern and celebrate God's
Spirit in people of other religions and ideologies."14
While the uniqueness of this relationship between God and the Christian
Church does not impose limits on God's presence or God's working among
and through people outside the Christian Church, it does suggest that God's
redemptive work in Christ has brought an intimacy, direction and vocation
which is unparalleled within other religions and ideologies. By postulating
that "God calls the Church ... to discern and celebrate God's Spirit in
people of other religions and ideologies," the groundwork has been laid
to accept a later proposal set forth by Mending the World as one
option among three, namely that "all authentic religions can mediate salvation
... (and that) just as a parent's love is not exhausted on a first child,
but can extend equally but differently to all the children that follow,
so too God is able to have a specific covenant with Jews, another with
Christians, another with Hindus, and so on."15
Clearly this contradicts the Biblical witness which states in the words
of Jesus: "if you love me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask
the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever
- the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither
sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will
be in you." (John 14:15-17)
Is it possible that the United Church could adopt
panentheism over and against the Biblical witness? I believe the answer
is an unqualified yes!
Feminist theologian Sallie McFague, in her highly
acclaimed book Models of God, proposes that the scriptural language
that has been used to speak about God should be discarded in favour of
employing an alternate "metaphor" for God, namely God as a mother. Stephen
Smith summarises McFague's proposal against Biblical language as follows:
She sees most biblical language for God as "patriarchal
as well as imperialistic, triumphalistic metaphors," that are "not only
idolatrous and irrelevant" but "opposed to life." The monarchical language
of God as King, Ruler, Lord, and Father is the main
target of Models of God. It "is dangerous for our time" because
"it supports attitudes of either domination of the world or passivity towards
it." Thus such language, "regardless of its credentials in Scripture, liturgy
and creedal statements . . . must be discarded."16 In
light of the age in which we live, an age which is characterised by "the
threat of ecological disaster and nuclear war", McFague writes that:
The principle insight of liberation theologies - that redemption
is not the rescue of certain individuals for eternal life in another world
but the fulfilment of all humanity in the political and social realities
of this world- must be privatized to include the well-being of all life.
This is the case not only because unless we adopt an ecological perspective
recognising human dependence on its environment, we may well not survive,
but also, of equal theological if not pragmatic importance, because such
a perspective is the dominant paradigm of our time and theology that is
not done in conversation with this paradigm is not theology for our time.17
In the spirit of postmodernism, McFague contends that
we "need metaphors because all renderings of reality are metaphorical (that
is, none is literal), but in our novel constructions we offer new possibilities
in place of others. In this sense we create the reality in which we live."18
In order to meet this crisis, McFague proposes several new "metaphors"
for God, namely God as a mother, as a lover and as a friend. While acknowledging
some of the limitations of these metaphors, McFague is unequivocal in her
belief that they represent better alternatives than the traditional language
employed to speak of God. Of the three images she suggests the dominant
seems to be that of God as mother. She writes:
But what if we were to understand the resurrection and ascension
not as the bodily translation of some individuals to another world - a
mythology that is no longer credible to us - but as the promise of God
to be permanently present, "bodily" present to us, in all places and times
in our world? In what ways would we think of the relationship between God
and the world were we to experiment with the metaphor of the universe as
God's "body," God's palpable presence in all space and time? If what is
needed in our ecological, nuclear age is an imaginative vision of the relationship
between God and the world that underscores their interdependence and mutuality,
empowering a sensibility of care and responsibility toward all life, how
would it help to see the world as the body of God?19
I doubt that Sallie McFague's book Models of God
is a blueprint for Mending the World . Nevertheless the affinities
between McFague's proposal and the Mending the World are inescapable.
the World names "the search for justice for God's creatures and healing
for God's creation as the church's first priority ... ."20In
the spirit of McFague's book, traditional Trinitarian language is not to
be found in Mending the World. The transcendent element of God's
character is almost totally absent within the United Church's report. Both
documents propose panentheism as a means to inspire this "earth healing."
Indeed, the primary mission of the Church has been redefined from
"making disciples" (Matt. 28:19), to "earth healing."
Problems With Panentheism
I would contend that to accept panentheism is to
reject theism. Matthew Fox in his description of panentheism quotes Meister
Eckhart who states that "'ignorant people falsely imagine that God created
all things', in such a way as to say that they are outside divinity. For
'God is in all things. The more divinity is in things the more divinity
is outside things.'"21 By accepting panentheism
the traditional theistic distinction between the Divine and the created
order is dissolved.
Thus a few of the many risks of adopting a panentheistic
position would include: the conceptualisation of Christ as an impersonal
force (for how is the personality of Jesus Christ contained in all aspects
of creation?), the elimination of any conceptualisation of the resurrection
of the dead which includes judgment or hell, (for if Christ is in all how
can Christ be the judge of himself or continually be present in hell?),
the repudiation of the belief that Christ died to save sinners (cf. Rom.
5:8,9 - for if Christ is in all how did Christ's life end on the cross?),
as well as trying to hold contradictory claims that God is good when evil
is acknowledged to be present within creation and Christ is said to be
in all things.
With respect to this latter point, Craig S.Hawkins
points out that in a panentheistic universe, ontologically evil emanates
or flows naturally and necessarily from the very nature of the ultimate
Life Force.22 If Christ is "in all" then
does not evil flow from Christ? And what assurance do we have that God
would desire to defeat evil at all within the world if Christ and the world
are one? If we were to accept panentheism how could we as a Church affirm
that nothing in "all creation will be able to separate us from the love
of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom. 8:39b), if Christ is a part of that
very evil which opposes us?
Perhaps these problems were unforeseen by the Inter
Church - Inter Faith committee. For the Mending the World
document, rather than addressing them, takes a different approach. Namely
it speaks of "wholeness that has been lost" and of "mending the world."
Thus evil is seen more as a shortcoming to be made up than as a force to
be fought against. Mending the World mentions evil in this latter
sense only once. "The 'Christus victor' tradition" it states, "sees Jesus'
suffering as a necessary prelude to triumph over evil." It goes on to say
that, "In his victory is the promise and guarantee of our own. Our suffering
is to be considered temporary."23 Yet this
interpretation of the Christus Victor tradition fails to capture
the understanding which was elucidated by Gustav Aulen in his book Christus
Victor. Aulen summarises this position succinctly: "its central theme
is the idea of the Atonement as a Divine Conflict and victory; Christ-Christus
Victor - fights against and triumphs over the evil powers of the world,
the 'tyrants' under which mankind is in bondage and suffering, and in Him
God reconciles the world to Himself."24
That unbelievers are in bondage and in need of deliverance as brought about
by the atoning work of Jesus Christ, that "evil powers" exist in opposition
to God, that there is a "sin nature", as distinct from acts of sin, are
all themes which are ignored by Mending the World. Their absence
is consistent with the report's broad panentheistic approach.
The Impact on Mission
Panentheism also has a predictable impact on our
understanding of Christian mission. Mending the World calls on the
United Church to set as its first priority "the search for justice for
God's creatures and healing for God's creation."25
Logically if its starting point had been the premise that human beings
are in bondage to evil, and that all of creation was impacted by the sin
of human beings, it would have followed that the Church's first priority
should have been to point to the One who is able to transform not only
creation, but also the human heart in a redemptive way. This shift is reflected
in the report's interpretation of God's reconciling work in relation to
The document tells us that "Jesus is the one affirmed
as God's child, the one through whom the world has been reconciled to God
(2 Cor. 5:19)", and that "the Church is united in its affirmation that
God has reconciled the world."26 Yet even
these statements are in themselves incomplete and as a result mislead the
reader. 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 reads as follows:
Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself
through Christ, and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that
God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting
their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation.
It is most important to note that, contrary to what
the Mending the World Document suggests by it use of the past tense
"has been reconciled" and "has reconciled" this work of reconciliation
is ongoing in the sense that it must be accepted in order to be efficacious.
In its entry under reconciliation the Theological Dictionary
of the New Testament, edited by Kittel and Friedrich states that:
God is not reconciled, nor does he reconcile
himself, but he himself reconciles us or the world to himself (2 Cor. 5:18-19),
while we are reconciled to God (Rom. 5:10) or reconcile ourselves to him
(2 Cor. 5:20). katallassein denotes a transformation of the state
between God and us and therewith of our own state, for by it we become
new creatures (2 Cor. 5:18), no longer ungodly or sinners, but justified,
with God's love shed abroad in our hearts (Rom. 5:6ff.). God has not changed;
the change is in our relation to him and consequently in our whole lives.27
It must be said that the world, in the sense of unredeemed
humanity, has not been reconciled to God and that one of the primary and
unique roles the Church has been given by God is to be "ambassadors for
Christ" (2 Cor. 5:20) of this "word of reconciliation" (2 Cor. 5:19). By
suggesting that Christ's work of reconciliation is already an accomplished
fact, a half truth since it is true that the work accomplished by Christ
is sufficient for reconciliation, Mending the World undermines the
second half of the truth by not stating it: the world must accept Christ's
work of reconciliation in order for that reconciliation to occur. At this
point, the report comes perilously close to Universalism which holds that
all are saved irrespective of faith. This is in direct contrast to the
Biblical witness which states that faith is necessary in order to please
God (Hebrews 11:6). True reconciliation to God, as well as the transformational
character of the Gospel, is predicated upon the acceptance of the Gospel.
This is why Paul states: "be reconciled to God" (2 Cor. 5:20).
Mending the World not only misses the mark
with respect to the saving nature of Christ's reconciling work, it also
uses a broad, albeit selective definition of "reconciliation", which encompasses
the idea of being reconciled to God's will. Thus it appears that God reconciles
the world as my wife reconciles our cheque book with our bank statements
at the end of the month. Namely by balancing the figures of what is (our
cheque book) with what should be (our bank statements). The report affirms
that God was incarnate in Jesus Christ "overcoming alienation" (what is)
"and bring(s) about the reconciliation of the world to the divine love
and purpose" (what should be). Taking it a step further the document states
that "out of this reconciliation comes the world's hope for redemption,
and its restoration to the order and beauty intended by God."28
This shift has significant implications. While not arguing against the
belief that we should be "reconciled to God's will" it must be made clear
that God's will is first and foremost that we should be reconciled to His
person, and not that creation should be reconciled to what we might consider
the ideal for creation. Jesus Christ stands at the centre of Christian
missionary endeavours, not the quest for the healing of the earth.
The enormity of this shift is underscored by the
Very Rev. Robert Smith who is Chairperson of the Inter-church- Interfaith
committee which was responsible for the production of Mending the World.In
an article in the March 1997 issue of "The Observer" in a paragraph devoted
to how the report has an impact on our understanding of mission we read,
"Our mission is working with God to heal the world, but the church may
not be the one that does it. Certainly not by itself."29
Smith indicated that, "if the General Council accepts this document - we
will have a 'much lower doctrine of church.' This particular branch of
Christendom will abandon the contention that God works primarily through
The impetus of Mending the World is to shift
the United Church's approach to ecumenism from being "church centred" to
"world centred". Yet so doing, the effect is to undermine the Church's
witness to the redemptive work of Christ who reconciles humanity to God.
The unique commission given by God to the Christian Church is to share
the Good News of the reconciling work of Christ whose death and resurrection
bring the hope of eternal life to believers. The claim that God does not
work primarily through the Christian Church is valid only if we abandon
this task and reorder the Church's priorities. This is precisely what Mending
the World proposes we do.
In conclusion, the Mending the World document
is flawed. It is flawed not because Christians should not work with people
of other religions or those with no faith at all in order to address the
very real and pressing ecological crises and the grave human injustices
of our time. We should and we must. Rather the report is flawed because
its approach undermines the absolute nature of Christianity's truth claims,
and compromises the Church's witness of Christ to the world by accepting
panentheism as a point of departure. Therefore this report should be rejected.
So what did the 36th General Council do with Mending
the World? As was the case with most of the other business, a great
portion of the sessional committee's recommendations had to be referred
to the Executive of General Council because of time constraints. Nevertheless
the General Council was able to debate, and eventually support the following:
Therefore be it resolved that the 36th General Council:
1. Express its deep gratitude to the Inter-Church
and Inter-Faith Committee (ICIF) for its persistent commitment over 10
years to help the Church discern within its life and witness a new understanding
2. Affirm the Mending the World report: a) as the
fruit of faithfully pursuing the ICIF mandate to "challenge the Church
to a vision of ecumenism which includes the whole inhabited world." (Record
of Proceedings, 1988 GC, p.315); and b) for clearly linking the UCC's
historic and ongoing commitment to be both a united and uniting church
with "God's work of healing, sharing the good news of the Gospel of Jesus
Christ, and making common cause with all people of good will, whether they
be of faith or not, for the creation of a world that is just, participatory
and sustainable."; and c) as a lens through which the work of the
Church can be reviewed and assessed in terms of the whole world understanding
It is important to note what the General Council
did not do. It did not endorse all of the theology contained within the
report. Neither, it must be added, did it repudiate it. Rather, the 36th
General Council and the further recommendations of the sessional committee
which will be going to the General Council Executive, speak of using the
report as a "lens" through which the mission of the Church may be viewed
and prioritised. Thus, the impact of this report upon the life of the United
Church will, to a great extent, depend on the degree to which it is embraced
Undoubtably Mending the World will have a
major impact on the agenda of the United Church with respect to ecumenism.
However, the extent to which the report's theology is promoted in and reflected
by the United Church remains to be seen. Given the report's theological
underpinnings, particularly with respect to its Christology as it pertains
to panentheism, there is good reason for concern.
Panentheism is often monistic by nature. Namely,
it holds that there is essentially one reality, and that all other beings
are but attributes or modes of that reality. Given this pairing, further
clarification would be helpful as to what the authors of Mending the
World intend when they state that "... everything that exists here
has evolved in a closed environment, and has, consequently, been built
with the same basic building blocks of life (and) ... in addition to the
linkages we expect to find developing and existing in a closed system,
we also affirm a connection within the creation that has its origin in
God."31 [Italics mine]. From a theistic
position one would expect that the origin of creation came not in
God but from God. If the report intends to propose monism along
with panentheism, then this would suggest that Christ at very least, and
possibly even the first and third persons of the Trinity, are dependent
on and perhaps even captive to matter. As such, from this panentheistic
frame of reference, one could ask if there is any sense in which the United
Church holds that God is transcendent over creation. Did God create
ex nihilo or has God always been a part and had a part in an eternally
Several other important questions emerge. For instance,
if we abandon any claim to absolute truth for the sake of dialogue, is
there really anything unique or substantive we have to offer with respect
to Jesus Christ's commission to evangelism? Are we "ambassadors" for Christ,
or merely talkers about human traditions and beliefs? Can we faithfully
speak about the justice and healing work of God without any reference to
(or in some circles belief in) life beyond the grave?
Further, given the impact of postmodernism, will
we be able as a Church to distinguish between what we accept as revelation
from God, and what is simply a projection of our own imaginations upon
God? Given the prominence of the concepts of the New Age movement, (many
of which are espoused by Matthew Fox), will we as a denomination be able
to clearly distinguish between the Creator and Creation thereby rejecting
the "divinization" of the world? Could our relationships with other religions
lead us unwittingly to worship and serve that which has been created instead
of the Creator?
This a critical juncture for the United Church of
Canada. The main thrust of Mending the World was not to redefine
our Christology, but our ecumenism. Yet, in so doing, it has moved us to
consider a shift from Biblical theism to panentheism. The main thrust of
the United Church's "Reconciling and Making New: Who is Jesus for the world
today?" a document which is currently being studied in the United Church,
is our Christology. While panentheism does not dominate it, it contains
nevertheless panentheistic elements. Before adopting a panentheistic approach,
it behoves the Church to explicitly name, and closely scrutinise, the implications
of moving from Biblical theism to panentheism. I would contend that these
two theological systems are incompatible, and to try to hold both simultaneously
or shift from Biblical theism to panentheism will introduce confusion and
exacerbate the fragmentation of belief within our Church. In turn, this
would make it even more difficult to effectively share the "Good News of
the Gospel". We would do well to heed the apostle Paul's admonition to
the church of Galatia not to embrace another gospel (Galatians 1:6-9),
lest we find ourselves spiritually bankrupt and condemned.
1 Jim Fidelibus and Dennis McCallum, "Confronting
the postmodern Beast" Good News, Jan/Feb. 1997, 17.
2 Alister E. McGrath, Intellectuals
Don't Need God & Other Modern Myths (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan
Publishing House, 1993), 175.
3 Fidelibus and McCallum, 17.
4 Mending the World: An Ecumenical
Vision For Healing and Reconciliation, by Robert F. Smith, chairperson
of the Interchurch-Interfaith committee. 1997, 9.
5 Mending the World, 11.
6 ___________,"Basis of Union" in The
Manual: The United Church of Canada 1995. 30th ed., (The
United Church Publishing House), 14.
7 Mending the world, 16.
8 Van A. Harvey, A Handbook of Theological
Terms. (New York: Collier Book Macmillan Publishing Company, 1964).
9 Allan C. Anderson and Deborah G. Whitehouse,
Thought: A Practical Spirituality (New York, New York: Crossroad Publishing
Company, 1995), 89f.
10 Mending the World, 17.
12 Ibid., 18.
13 ____________ "Basis of Union," 1995,
14 Mending the World, 4.
15 Ibid., 15.
16 Stephen Smith. "God's Body or God's
Creation?" Mission and Ministry: Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry
Quarterly, 8 (Fall 1990): 13.
17 Sallie McFague, Models of God
(Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1987), 7.
18 Stephen Smith, 1990, 13.
19 Sallie McFague, 1987, 60.
20 Mending the World, 1.
21 Matthew Fox, The Coming of the Cosmic
Christ (Harper Collins Publishers: New York, N.Y., 1988), 57.
22 Craig S. Hawkins, "The Modern World
of Witchcraft: Part Two" in The Christian Research Journal, Summer
23 Mending the World, 14.
24 Gustav Aulen, Christus Victor,
25 Mending the World, 1.
26 Mending the World, 14.
27 Theological Dictionary of the New
28 Mending the World, 14.
29 Donna Sinclair. "One world, once people,
one cause," The United Church Observer, March 1997, 16-17.
30 Sinclair, 17.
31 Mending the World, 16.
United or Untied?
Philip A. Cline
During the 50th Anniversary of Church
Union celebrations in 1975, Don Harron's alter-ego Charlie Farquharson
made humorous references to the United Church of Canada as "yer Untied
Church of Canada." It was funny, at the time, and we all laughed. We haven't
laughed much in the last ten years as Old Charlie's designation of "untied"
has been too close for comfort and too accurate to find amusing.
The past decade has been one unlike our church has
known since 1925. Never before in our history have we witnessed the departure
from the church of entire congregations, or major portions thereof. Never
before have we experienced the exodus of clergy from our church, as we
did in the early 1990s. Never have we witnessed such a period of unrest,
unhappiness, of mean spiritedness and anger. Church fights, like family
quarrels, are the most bitter and long lasting and we have experienced
them, in spades! As a church we had little experience in dealing with the
quantity of animosity, suspicion and down right dirty tricks which flared
up in our church following the 1988 General Council. The intensity of it
took us by surprise at every level of the church, consequently we did not
deal with it very wisely or very well. We are still suffering and grieving
the fallout of those tumultous times. The relative peace which has been
achieved during the past several years remains very fragile, as witness
the sudden uproar over the current Moderator's comments regarding the divinity
of Christ and the Resurrection. His comments if made in earlier times while
distressing to many, would have raised little excitement and most of the
church constituency would have shrugged them off as the views of one individual,
even though Moderator, but seeing them as having little impact on their
ongoing church lives. Not so in the present climate in the church. "They've
done it to us again," exclaimed one of our steadiest clergy, when I met
him on the street the day after the Ottawa interview with the Moderator.
"What kind of a church would elect a man like that for Moderator?" a woman
screamed at me at the church door, as the congregation filed out following
Sunday worship. Fragile indeed is the fabric of our church.
While the current disease within the United Church
is usually dated from the declaration of the 32nd General Council
that "sexual orientation" should not exclude anyone from membership and
therefore from being presented as a candidate for the Order of Ministry,
the fact of the matter is that there was trouble brewing in paradise prior
to that time. The 1988 decision, along with the 1990 decision confirming
that of 1988, ignited the flame, but there had been considerable fuel heaped
up prior to that date, just waiting for a spark to set it afire.
By the early 1970s the bloom was beginning to fade
from the great church expansion era which had seen hundreds of new United
Church congregations and buildings established across the country, particularly
in the booming new suburbs. The new buildings, and old for that matter,
were filled to bursting with young families. Just open the door and they
came flooding in. Believe it, I was there! What an exciting time it was!
It did not last. Overbuilding and over-expansion together with nagging
debts and unpaid mortgages soon began to appear. For example, by the mid-1970s
two "church extension" congregations in Edmonton were in serious financial
trouble to the extent that the banks holding their mortgages were threatening
foreclosure. The children who had filled the new buildings to capacity
and beyond were growing up, leaving home, getting married and/or moving
away. Their parents, in many cases, feeling they had done their duty were
finding different ways to spend their time and money. In addition, there
was beginning to be manifested in some parts of the church an uneasiness
over the apparent absence of spiritual growth and the lack of depth in
our theological understanding. Emphasis tended to be on "how to", rather
than "why?" The appearance of organizations within the church such as the
United Church Renewal Fellowship in the late 1960s, and Church Alive in
the 1970s were manifestations of the uneasiness noted above. To others
there seemed a fixation on "doing justice" to the detriment of the other
part of Micah's declaration (Micah 6:8), that is, "to walk humbly with
your God." This concern for doing "doing justice" was reflected in successive
General Councils from 1980 onwards giving major attention to human sexuality,
French language issues, Native concerns and homo-sexuality. Each of these
sent ripples through the congregations. The ripples did not prepare us
for the tidal waves which followed the 1988 and 1990 General Councils.
What then of the past decade? While it has been
said that "there lies, damn lies, and statistics," and it is true that
statistics can be made to defend almost any position, it is necessary when
we review the past ten years to note what our national church statistics
reveal. Even the stoutest defenders of the various actions of General Councils
cannot deny that the United Church has sustained a series of major body
blows since 1988. According to the current yearbook we have 150,715 fewer
members on the roll now than we had in 1987. Average church attendance
has dropped by 94,983, or 24% in those same ten years. Monies received
by the Mission and Service Fund in 1989 amounted to $28,108,123, in 1996,
$26,586,937 was received. We have prided ourselves on being a national
church. In 1926, membership in the new United Church stood at 609,779 of
a Canadian population of approximately 9,000,000. In 1996 our membership
stood at 713,196 of a Canadian population of nearly 30,000,000. National
church? Sadly, not very.
Mary-Frances Denis, quite properly points out in
her comments on the latest church statistics, that we are in the company
of most "mainline" churches in declining numbers. She notes that ours is
an aging population, which is certainly true enough, yet it is interesting
to notice that during the past year there was in fact a decrease in the
loss of members through death. (We can't even get ahead in that category!)
Amidst all this gloom and doom, it is also noted that "many local churches
continue to exhibit health and vitality. In some cases this vitality is
due to geographic location. In others it is because of insightful and hard
working lay and ministerial leadership who are able to present the Gospel
effectively and develop programmes that meet local need." (1997 Year Book,
Volume 1, p. 4)
What of the relationship between the General Council,
that is "head office," and the membership? I had the privilege, and I did
count it as such, to work in administration for our church both at the
Conference level and as Secretary of General Council from the early 1970s
to the mid 1980s. During that time I was always impressed by the trust
which the constituency had of the leadership of our church. (I would hasten
to explain that it was a trust inherited from those who had been before
me, not just my doing!) That trust began to erode by the mid 1980s, partly
because all institutions and their leadership had come under increasing
pressure and suspicion by a restless population, but also because of a
series of actions taken by the General council and its Executive. The matter
of the petitions around the "Sexual Orientation, Lifestyles and Ministry"
report (SOLM) of the 1988 General Council and its fatherless successor,
the "Membership, Ministry and Human Sexuality" report (MMHS) at the 1990
General Council, caused great distrust and cynicism towards the church
leadership. In the case of the SOLM report, which appeared in the spring
prior to the August meeting of General Council, those who were concerned
were encouraged by the General Council Office to send in petitions. This
was done, was it ever! Up to that time most General Councils had less than
100 petitions to be considered. In 1988 approximately 2000 petitions were
presented, some 1800 or more opposed to the SOLM report. On the advice
of a sessional committee, the SOLM report was set aside and what became
know as the MMHS was presented and eventually passed in its place. Once
again the General Council Office told the church membership that they would
be consulted and the results of that consultation taken into consideration.
Again petitions were presented, approximately 1300 of them to the 1990
General Council of which a healthy majority expressed opposition to MMHS.
General Council passed a resolution reaffirming the MMHS report. That,
for many, was the moment of betrayal. Sadly many felt that their church
had left them and so they left the church. For those who expressed opposition
but did not leave, it has left a sense of either intense suspicion and
of all things official within the United Church, or a felling of vast indifference
to anything the "leadership" says or does. Many who have remained faithful
to their church do so primarily through the local congregation, with as
little reference as possible to the church at large. Among the many sorry
results of all of this had been the charge by over zealous Presbyters in
some areas of the church, that any who question or criticize the national
church are being disloyal to the cause and therefore should either by shunned
or drummed out. A sad commentary indeed on an "inclusive" church.
During the past decade the rise of several "renewal
groups" has cast an interesting ingredient in to the whole mix of church
life. The United Church Renewal Fellowship (UCRF) lost most of its leadership
following the 1990 actions of General Council. A number of its leaders
led their congregations out of the United Church, others simply left quietly
to go to other denominations. After re-forming itself, the UCRF has recently
joined with the National alliance of Covenanting Churches. The Community
of Concern, originally formed to oppose the SOLM report, has developed
into a vigorous "loyal opposition" to the church establishment and its
frequently quoted by the media as a public critic to actions of the church
leadership. Church Alive has continued as a steady theological force, putting
forward the orthodox theological emphasis of historic Christianity and
providing a thoughtful counter balance to the extreme liberalism which
sometimes emanates from "headquarters." The National Alliance of Covenanting
Churches has provided an association for congregations which wish to band
together to uphold the historic faith, and has maintained a steady opposition
to the homo-sexual lifestyle as an acceptable alternate way of life. The
Renewal Groups, while accused by some as being disloyal and obstructionist,
have provided a home for those who seek a means to express the orthodox
faith, and a fellowship of like-minded members. The Renewal Groups have
provided an outlet for many who would have left the United Church altogether,
had they not been there. Have a vivid memory of the rally held at Westway
United Church in Toronto in the fall of 1988 when nearly 1,000 people gathered
to try to decide what to do. One of those present that day told me that
he and others with him had come fully intending to support a massive departure
from the United Church. I am still convinced that had those who spoke at
the rally that day, including Bill Fritz, the late Clarke MacDonald, Graham
Scott and myself, declared for a schism, there would have taken place a
major split in the United Church in southern Ontario which could well have
spread across the country. Instead, we all encouraged those present that
day to hang in to stay with their church, to not be pushed out. The Renewal
Groups have helped many members of the United Church do just that.
It is worth noting that in more recent years, considerable
effort has been made on the part of some of the leadership of the national
church to confer with the Renewal Groups, and to invite responses to initiatives
planned by the various national Divisions. Indeed a number of "headquarters"
individuals, as well as several from the theological colleges, have actively
participated in recent Retreats sponsored by Church Alive. All of this
demonstrates that the Renewal Groups are being seen in the wider church
in a much more positive light than previously, and illustrates that they
have been, and are, an important ingredient in the life of our church at
the present time.
What then of this church of ours? Is it still the
"United" Church, or has it indeed become the "Untied" Church of Canada.
Is our church "a dying and irrelevant faction of God's church", as a recent
letter writer to Maclean's (Jan. 5) suggests, and who rather smugly continues
that "in my own evangelical church congregation, almost a third have come
from United Church background," or, is there still an important role for
this great pioneering ecumenical venture which our fathers and mothers
launched with such hope in 1925?
The United Church of Canada does indeed have a future,
but we must be prepared to address immediately those areas of our life
which are causing us to be sidetracked from the task of presenting the
Gospel. We need to resist the temptation of self inflicted wounds and the
disqualifying of those who happen to think differently than ourselves.
As a church, we really do not have to address every possible issue which
arises in our society, while at the same time we need to speak out of our
Christ-driven convictions of love for God and our neighbour. As individuals,
within the church, it is high time that we became willing to put the good
of Christ's church ahead of our personal agendas.
The greatest challenges for the church in the near
future, if not right now, remain our understanding of the authority of
scripture and our interpretation of Christology. These have been at the
heart of the Christian faith, and especially the heart of our Reformed
traditions, throughout the centuries. We need the leadership of the best
theological thinkers to assist us and to guide us in these matters. The
method of theological discovery used by our church over the past decade
or so, has been the publishing of papers put together by committees and
sent out to the church asking, "What do you think?" Theological truths
can seldom be found through voting or consensus. There is little evidence
that the theological giants of the past ever sent out a questionnaire to
discover how people felt about their beliefs! Let us hear from the best
theologians, the deepest thinkers, the most fervent evangelists for guidance
in these difficult days. Let our colleges, once more turn out theologians,
rather than professional mechanics, that the people might be fed. Above
all, let us continually remind ourselves, that we are a part of the Bod
of Christ, called out of the world to work within the world in His Name
and for His Sake.
TWENTY ARTICLES OF FAITH: A PRESENT GUIDE OR A PAST STORY?
R. George Morrison
Do you remember that simple game many of us played
as children? The one where a dozen people sat on chairs in a straight line,
while a message was given to the person on one end of the line with the
instruction that this message was to be passed along the row by whispering,
each in turn, to his/her neighbour. The fun, of course was to discover
the kind of garbled and frequently hilarious misrepresentation of the original
message that was finally reported by the player on the other end of the
line. Such was one of our earliest lessons in the perils of communication!
That game was an amusing exercise: but there is
certainly nothing amusing about letting the message with which we have
been entrusted as a Christian church to become confused and garbled in
its transmission. It is my conviction that that is the dire and potentially
disasterous danger in which we presently stand in the United Church of
Canada, and of which our present day ignoring of the Twenty Articles of
Faith is but one significant indicator.
This misrepresenting of the Christian gospel is
certainly no new phenomenon. On the contrary it is clearly a foremost concern
in the New Testament, especially, though not exclusively, in the Pastoral
and General epistles. In the second letter to Timothy, we read of "...(those)
who have swerved from the truth...(who) are upsetting the faith of some."
(II Tim. 2:18) To the Galatians, Paul sends a strongly worded warning concerning
"some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ." (Gal.
1:7) and again in second Timothy, the warning is against those who "will
not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate
for themselves teachers to suit their own likings." (II Tim. 4:3&4).
The apostles had not devised a new faith; they had
not, out of their own wisdom or spiritual insight, worked out a new understanding
of God's truth. On the contrary, they were recipients of a gift and a message.
It was something with which they had been entrusted, - a Revelation
of which they were to be faithful stewards, passing it on with accuracy
and integrity to those who would receive it: as Paul put it to the Roman
church, "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received..."
(I Cor. 15:3).
The preservation of this message quickly became
a major challenge to the young church. As had been predicted, there was
no shortage of those who would amend, edit or revise the gospel as it had
been given, and the church spent a great amount of time seeking to define
that gospel. The point was not to set down narrow, tight fences: the New
Testament itself bears ample witness to the breadth of forms of expression
of the Good News. However it was necessary first of all to deliniate some
clear essentials without which the message was "no gospel", and at the
same time, to set down parameters, so that, when too eager theologians
strayed beyond them, they were no longer seen as being faithful to the
gospel, nor as being true witnesses to the faith "which was once for all
delivered to the saints." (Jude 3)
Major events in this significant task were the establishment
of the scriptural canon, -- not any old spiritual book that referred to
Jesus was given biblical status! --and the formulating of the great ecumenical
creeds, of which the Apostles' and the Nicene creeds are probably the best
known to us, being acknowledged in the introduction to the 'Basis of Union'.
Down through the whole of Christendom these have been universally recognized,
across major denominational barriers, as concise and acceptable expressions
of the main points of the Christian faith.
At this early time the church employed an interesting
word for those who digressed from the faith as it had been received. The
word was "hairesis", drawn from two Greek words which literally meant "an
alternative self-chosen view, - self chosen, that is, in contrast
to the communally affirmed, ecumenical viewpoint which maintained the apostles'
teaching. This word has come into the English language: it speaks of a
theme on which you probably haven't heard a sermon preached recently: the
word is "heresy". Heresy, writes Dr. Thomas Oden, is a subject "we avoid
like the bubonic plague...because we are programmed to affable religious
permissiveness, and the rhetoric of compliance,--what has been called the
Now there is no doubt that many devastating sins
have been committed in the name of opposing heresy. No one is going to
commend, or encourage the repetition of those harsh censorious exercises
which marked too large a period of Christian history. But their iniquity
was not that they were concerned with error, --that was an entirely New
Testament concern. Their shame lies in the fact that they had lost touch
with the spirit of Jesus Christ, --and because of that they became demonic.
Nonetheless, and in spite of these sad sagas, the mainstream of Christian
history has continued to recognize the folly of "self-chosen views", and
has affirmed the absolute necessity of proclaiming that gospel which is
in accord with "the faith once delivered to the saints." (Jude 3)
Like the writer to the Hebrews, time does not permit
me to follow all the ups and downs of Christian history between the Early
Church period and the Reformation. Suffice it to say that the Reformation
saw the appearance of a new form of Christian statement, in which the various
denominations sought to spell out their unique understanding of the gospel,
doing so "over against" one or more of the other denominational understandings.
These "Confessions of Faith" as they were known, were much more detailed
than the earlier creeds, which continued nonetheless to be a foundation
transcending the new boundaries which were arising. In the reformation
churches concern with confessional statements outweighed that for the traditional
creeds in this period, and their legacy is found in Lutheran churches with
their Augsburg Confession, and the Presbyterian churches with the Westminster
Confession of Faith.
From there we move on to 1925, and the union of
the three denominations, one of which had a clear confessional statement
(Presbyterians), one of which came out of a background which had a high
regard for the traditional creeds (Methodists), and one which had a great
deal of ambivalence about the whole idea of creeds and confessions (Congregationalists).
And so were born the "Twenty Articles of the Basis of Union".
The Twenty Articles were not a Confession in the
real meaning of the word, but they were a statement of a commonly understood
faith upon which the union was consumated: as the document itself puts
it, "We, the representatives of the Presbyterian, Methodist and Congregational
branches of the Church of Christ in Canada, do hereby set forth the substance
of the Christian faith, as commonly held among us. In doing so we build
on the foundation laid by the apostles and the prophets, Jesus Christ Himself
being the chief cornerstone." (The Basis of Union: Doctrine--Introduction.)
Even a cursory examination of this document will show that it is no end
product of a process remote from its origins, (like the childhood game
to which I referred in opening); rather it was a statement which, as it
claims, sought to express "our belief in the scriptures of the Old and
New Testaments as the primary source and ultimate standard of Christian
faith and life. (And) We knowledge the teaching of the great creeds of
the ancient church." (Ibid.)
From that point we have come a long, long way. It
is a journey taken not by the United Church alone, for all the liberal,
mainline churches have participated in it to some degree. But our church
has been clearly in the vanguard of the journey. In admittedly over-simplified
terms, it has been a journey which moved further and further away from
the "faith once delivered", and which increasingly ceased to make serious
use of the crucial safeguard of constantly checking with the great foundations
of the faith, --primarily scripture, but also the creeds and, in our instance
the Twenty Articles, --to ensure that we have got the message straight,
and are not holding forth some "self chosen alternative" which is more
concerned to be compatible with the wisdom of today, than with being faithful
to that which has been received.
The concern for telling and re-telling the old story,
has given way to the search for new and innovative ways of expressing faith,
an exercise frequently based on the current cultural assumption that there
is an intrinsic inferiority in the thinking of all who lived prior to the
18th century, while we who live in this day have a unique and
superior understanding requiring us to re-state the gospel in radically
new forms which are better attuned to the popular thinking of the late
Now let it be clearly said, I am not referring to
the re-phrasing and re-presenting of the gospel in language and phraseology
which communicates best with the modern world. That is an ongoing and essential
responsibility for the church and for its leaders. And its authenticity
is guaranteed when its advocates are seen to regularly look back "to the
rock from which you were hewn" (Is. 51:1). Only thus can we ensure that
the message which is relayed today is consistent with that which was entrusted
both to the early church and to our forebears in the United Church, and
for whose faithful transmission we today have a solemn responsibility.
Yet, while there are certainly modern expressions
of theology which clearly authenticate themselves in that manner, there
has been a near deluge of theological fads, --frequently arising in academia,
--which have almost blatantly divorced themselves from that process, and
have instead aligned themselves with various forms of secular wisdom borrowing
its assumptions, and seeking to baptize its philosophy.
So, even in the period of my own ministry, we have
had the "God is Dead" school, Existential Theology, Process Theology, Liberation
Theology, and closely following in their train have been the situational
ethicists and the sexual liberationists, all intent on keeping pace, as
someone has put it, with every new ripple on the theological river, and
re-baptizing Christianity "in the tri-une name of the nineteenth, twentieth
and twenty-first centuries." Rather than being focussed on the "faith once
delivered", it has given itself to re-tooling the message to make it more
compatible with modern thought, --a process which thrives on no small amount
of pride, with its assumptions concerning the superiority of modern wisdom.
Most significantly of all, it is a process which rejects, or at least seriously
undervalues, the essential nature of the Christian faith as REVEALED truth,
choosing instead to rely on human reason. As I recently heard it put, one
of the great temptations of modern theology is that instead of affirming
the Lordship of Jesus Christ, it bows down to the lordship of human intellect.
Now, as I have said, a great part of the leadership
of the United Church has been enamoured with these modern trends, --indeed
I believe it has become captive to them. To remain within the confines
of my own ministry, there was firstly the so-called New Creed. This writing
of creeds on a denominational basis was itself an interesting exercise,
in that, for nineteen centuries, creeds had been seen as ecumenical statements
which acted as a unifying factor for Christendom. Suddenly the traditional
creeds were found wanting in the United Church --and in several other Protestant
denominations --and something judged to be more appropriate to our way
of thinking and expressing ourselves was brought forth.
One could not claim that this creed departed from
either the Apostles' Creed or the Twenty Articles in any contradictory
manner: but it is surely hard to deny, even on cursory examination that
it is a pale anaemic watering down of the fullness of both those documents.
It was the beginning of a process which has steadily gathered momentum
since that time.
Then came the "New Hymn book", --two of them to
be exact, paying tribute to the philosophy so prevalent in our time that
new is good, newer is better, and newest is clearly best of all. Now our
denomination has effectively removed a clear enunciation of the Trinity
from its hymnody, leaving but two references out of seven hundred and nineteen
hymns, (compared with fifty-five out of five hundred six hymns in the former
book) and offering in its place a weak substitute, "Creator, Redeemer and
Sustainer", which is in no way an equivalent form of referring to what
the Twenty Articles speak of as "... the unity of the Godhead, the mystery
of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, three persons
of the same substance, equal in power and glory."
And of course, Voices United has the incredible
temerity, not only to reject politically incorrect language such as 'Lord'
and 'Father'; it takes upon itself, with what I can only call unbelieveable
arrogance, the amending of our Lord's own prayer, as though Jesus did not
quite have the spiritual insight and wisdom to get it right the first time,
--not to mention the blindness of countless Christians down through twenty
centuries. No wonder my friend referred to "worshipping the lordship of
our own intellect"!
Then there were SOLM and MMHS, --documents of profound
significance of our denomination, as they exhibited a scant regard for
scripture, and, when they did address it, did so in a most revisionary
manner which was entirely out of touch with the spirit of the Twenty Articles,
or indeed with any other major historic treatment of scripture. Not surprisingly,
one of the members of the SOLM committee was reported as expressing the
viewpoint that, "The Bible texts were meaningful in their time, but we
feel we have reached a responsible maturity, and this weakens belief in
scripture." That is surely a less than humble statement, and certainly
not one for which you will find much support in the Twenty Articles!
Next came "Toward a Renewed Understanding of Ecumenism",
a reductionist exercise which sought to view the gospel through the lenses
of ecology and justice, and in the process dethroned Jesus Christ, leaving
us with what Dr. Faris has well termed "A Kingdom without a King". It further
proceeded to lump Christianity with the other major world religions as
but one valid road on the "search" for God, summarily dismissing all scripture
which would indicate otherwise.
Now the ecological and justice concerns of this
atrocious document were not without merit: but to present them as though
they were the primary focus of the gospel, was to take position in total
opposition with the Twenty Articles, and was to be in danger of placing
the United Church entirely outside the Christian community.
Happily that disasterous document has now been withdrawn;
not so happily, it has been replaced by a successor, entitled "Mending
the World". This renewed attempt to provide an "ecumenical vision" for
the United Church, while undoubtedly an improvement on its predecessor,
still seeks to entice its readers into realms foreign to the teaching of
scripture. Unilaterally adopting its own definition of "ecumenism", it
proceeds to set out the church's first priority as something other than
that laid down in the New Testament. No doubt "the search for justice for
God's creatures and healing for God's creation" are valid and important
goals for the church: to make them its priority is quite another thing,
and a claim which is quite unsupported by scripture.
This report's further claim that the church's task
is that of "worrying about what God worries about when God gets up in the
morning", is, at best, both trite and wholly inadequate: at its worst it
trivializes the message of the gospel, and fails to understand both its
diagnosis of, and its prescription for the human condition. Here we have
another report, --now "affirmed" by General Council, --which reveals the
degree and the speed with which our denomination is moving away from its
own foundational articles.
True, no United Church court has yet formally disavowed
the Twenty Articles, but it is quite clear that those who would lead us
are determined to make that far more subtle disavowal of ignoring and bypassing
this foundational document which was critical in enabling the United Church
of Canada to come into being. That, I suggest, is a scandal in this part
of the Body of Christ, --a scandal against which we must pray, and protest
and labour until the day comes when we can say with confidence that the
message which is being passed on at our end of the line of history is faithful
to the gospel which we have received, because it has been verified and
authenticated, not alone by the Twenty Articles, but by the great ecumenical
creeds of the Church, and above all by the holy scriptures which are "the
primary source and ultimate standard of Christian faith and life."
So, by God's grace, may we not be like children
engaged in an inconsequential game, nor like "children tossed to and fro
and carried about with every wind of doctrine.... Rather let us speak the
truth in love, (let us) grow up in every way into Him who is the head,
into Christ, from whom the whole body, ....when each part is working properly,
makes bodily growth and upbuilds itself in love." (Eph. 4:14-16)
(A presentation at the Community of Concern Annual
Meeting, March 22, 1997, revised for publication in TD&O.)
THE LOWVILLE PRAYER CENTRE
Rev. Dr. Paul Miller
The past twenty years have laid bare some deep theological
and institutional rifts within the United Church of Canada. The year 1988
was the culmination of those cleavages. Ten years after, the wounds remain
open and still painful. Since that fateful year, numbers of clergy and
laypeople have left the church for other denominations or dropped out altogether,
decimating a once-vibrant evangelical community within the United Church.
Superficially, at least, the polarization that once was evident in virtually
every church court and meeting has been mitigated by their departure. Things
often appear to go "more smoothly." But we would have to say that much
of the energy has also gone out of the Church. Presbytery and Conference
meetings are tired affairs. Congregations have retreated into a survival
mode. And, recent comments by the Moderator have once again highlighted
the fragmented state of our beloved United Church.
There are plenty of reasons to be pessimistic about
the future of the United Church as a denomination. However, as we take
stock of what is happening within our church, we must also acknowledge
signs of vitality and hope. In my opinion, the Lowville Prayer Centre is
one such sign.
Rev. Wayne Irwin, one of the founders of the Lowville
Prayer Centre, says that its purpose is "to bring people together at the
place of their prayer", in spite of differences in doctrine and practice.
Prayer can become a means of creating unity in the midst of conflict.
The Prayer Centre began in the early 1980s. Flora
Litt, a member of Appleby United Church in Burlington, was involved in
leading a workshop at Five Oaks in Paris, Ontario called "Teaching Children
to Pray." It became immediately evident during this event that the participants
would have trouble fostering prayer in their children because they had
no significant prayer life of their own. In time, Lowville United Church,
near Burlington, became a place for people to gather to address this need
and to explore their spirituality. Initially, a five-week series on spirituality
was made available to folk in Hamilton Conference and, to the surprise
of the leaders, thirty people showed up. There was an obvious hunger
as well as a need for teaching on prayer.
During the mid-80s there was a convergence of desire
for deeper spirituality around the Conference. Lowville United had begun
a healing ministry. Their pastor, Wayne Irwin, was developing his own life-long
interest in prayer. A Wednesday morning study group took shape. Participants
spent time in Bible study, guided meditation and "theologizing" around
issues of spirituality. Repeatedly, people made the same comment: "I'm
afraid to talk about my spritual experiences in my own church." Ironically,
this group became a "safe" environment where people could be open about
their prayer lives -- sort of a "Pray-ers Anonymous".
After a few years the limitations of informality
became obvious. There was a need for some structure. In 1988, sixteen people
at Lowville responded to an invitation to become the first Board of Directors
for the newly-conceived Lowville Prayer Centre. Originally it was attached
to the congregation, although operating autonomously.
By 1990, Irwin found the competing demands of the
Prayer Centre and the congregation overwhelming. He put the matter in God's
hands. Out of the blue came a knock at his door. A man told Irwin that
he was looking for some advice about congregational revitalization. He
was Dwayne Ratzlaff, a teacher from a Christian Missionary Alliance Seminary.
The Prayer Centre hired him as a consultant to do a study on future possibilities.
He recommended separating the Prayer Centre from the congregation.
In 1995, the L.P.C. took over the old Director's
House at Five Oaks and has since turned it into a permanent facility for
personal retreats. Prayer Centre workshops are held at Five Oaks.
Four main concerns have marked the Prayer Centre's
First, a desire to encourage personal prayer life
for United Church members.
Second, a desire to develop prayer within congregations.
The Prayer Centre provides practical help to congregations in setting up
prayer groups and prayer chains.
Third, a concern with healing ministry. Prayer Centre
leaders are convinced that prayer is a crucial ingredient in restoring
wholeness to broken individuals and churches.
Fourth, a program called the "Week of Guided Prayer."
This is a structured event offered to churches in which individuals are
teamed up with "prayer companions", trained by the Prayer Centre. During
the week, participants commit themselves to one-half hour of Scripture-focussed
prayer and one-half hour with their companion on each of the seven days
in the week. Bruce Seebach, a retired United Church minister, guides the
program. Its genius is that it provides people with the possibility of
being "on retreat" in the midst of a busy schedule.
The Prayer Centre is driven by a firm belief in
the power and efficacy of believing prayer. Leaders highlight stories of
answered prayers, including numerous physical healings that have taken
place through their ministry. However, they never attempt to foreclose
on God's options by declaring in advance what they expect he will do. Answers
to prayer are left to the sovereign grace of God.
Those involved with the Lowville Prayer Centre have
kept the faith over many years and their dedication is being blessed by
God. The Prayer Centre is becoming a catalyst for spiritual awakening and
healing within a divided denomination and it deserves our support.
OF THE REV. DR. GRAHAM SCOTT, PRESIDENT, CHURCH ALIVE on published remarks
by Moderator Bill Phipps in October 1997
The 1925 Doctrine of the Basis of Union remains the official and constitutive
teaching of the United Church of Canada, specifically that the Bible
is given by inspiration of God, a faithful record of God's gracious revelations,
and the sure witness of Christ (II); that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son
of God and the only Mediator between God and humankind (VII); and that
Jesus rose from the dead (VII) and so will we (XIX).
The 1940 Statement of Faith affirms this teaching.
The 1944 Catechism affirms this teaching.
The New Curriculum affirms this teaching, as, for
example, in former Moderator A.B.B. Moore's book, Jesus Christ and the
Christian Life, published in 1965. I quote the following paragraphs,
which relate to the reality of resurrection, the historicity of the Bible,
and the divinity of Jesus Christ.
The records of the first Christian century are clear. They
leave no doubt about the witness of these communities. They affirmed that
Jesus of Nazareth had been raised from the dead on the third day, and that
he had been seen by many of the brethren. This astonishing claim was the
very heart not only of their public proclamation but of their personal
experience. (P. 169)The twentieth century mind may find it difficult to
incorporate this event into its faith but neither the church nor its documents
will allow us to cut it out of the record simply because it is difficult
or inconvenient to accept. We must deal fairly with the evidence that is
in our hands. The church and its ancient documents are there and cannot
be wished out of existence. Their testimonyis plain that the resurrection
appearances occurred in times and places and to persons that are known,
and those occurrences have found a continuation in the living experience
of the church through all the ages. (P. 174)No matter what kind of fantastic
world may be emerging from the adventures of man's mind, the needs of the
human spirit will be with us still. The Christ whose redeeming influence
answered those needs in the apostolic age continues to answer them in the
nuclear age. He is the same yesterday and today and forever. And man's
only fitting response to him is the confession of faith: "My Lord and my
God!" (P. 246)
There is good news in the affirmations above. I am prepared to die for
this resurrection faith in Jesus our Lord and Saviour and god. I am called
away from the culture of death by this life-affirming Word and by the life-giving
Spirit, who bears witness to Jesus (John 15:26).
Moderator Phipps's denials, unbelief and agnosticism
are not good news. They seem to me to be an invitation to suicide. They
do not even inspire me to care for the poor. But Jesus Christ, who, though
he was rich yet for our sake became poor, does inspire me to care for the
poor, for all human beings and for the world that God loves so much (John
3:16. 2 Corinthians 8:9).
ON TEMPLES AND WILDERNESS TENTS
Kenneth S. Barker
Some time ago I read an article by a Canadian theologian
who suggested that large, cathedral-like churches were theologically inappropriate.
The values they proclaimed to the world: namely, power, wealth and respectability
were precisely the values that Jesus rejected. There was even the mean-spirited
suggestion that clergy who favoured large buildings did so because they
enjoyed ego trips.
What troubled me about the article was not the valid
reminder that we can fail to worship God aright in large churches or that
ministers can be tempted by professional pride. I was disturbed, rather,
by the simplistic assumption that all would be well if we could only do
away with large buildings; all would be well if the church had moveable
walls and a portable pulpit; if people were able to gather in a circle
or semi-circle around the communion table.
If the article didn't do anything else, it inspired
me to take another look at worship in the Bible. And that is what I invite
you to do with me now.
I'd begin by pointing out that large buildings are
not unique to Christianity. The central place of worship in ancient Israel
was the Temple in Jerusalem, rebuilt by Herod the great in cathedral-like
splendour. The question naturally arises, "How did the Old Testament evaluate
worship in Jerusalem's magnificent Temple?
In the first place it recognized that God was not
limited to the Temple. In that beautiful prayer which is contained in the
eighth chapter of I Kings we have this magnificent vision of God, "But
will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven
cannot contain you; how much less this house which I have built." God was
not limited to any earthly building, no matter how imposing it might be!
Moreover, the Old Testament clearly recognized that
worship in the Temple was no guarantee of spiritual integrity. People might
come to the Temple with unclean lips and impure hands; they might go through
the religious routine without living their faith in the everyday experiences
of life. So the prophets reminded the people that God was greater than
any building, including the Temple, and that worship had to be accompanied
by integrity of life-style.
But was it wrong or theologically inappropriate
to worship God in the awe-inspiring beauty of the Temple? Hardly! In fact
the Old Testament writings, the Psalms in particular, are filled with the
joyful expression of worship as people entered God's courts with praise.
In times of religious apathy and moral indifference
there's a tendency to think back to the good old days, to the days when
Israel lived in the wilderness and God dwelt in a tent. The prophet Hosea
could talk of God taking Israel back into the wilderness, "There she shall
answer as in the days of her youth, at the time when she came out of the
land of Egypt."
But was Hosea accurate? Had Israel really been any
more faithful in the days of her youth when people had worshipped in a
portable tent? Not if we read the whole of the Biblical witness instead
of a few select proof texts. The Israelites had failed God when they worshipped
in the splendour of the Temple, to be sure; but they had also failed God
when they worshipped in the simplicity of the wilderness tent! So a move
from Temple to tent, from large building to small building, from elaborate
ritual to simple ritual is no guarantee of spiritual or moral integrity.
But, you say, that's the Old Testament. What about
Jesus and the New Testament? Was Jesus so opposed to power, wealth and
respectability that he refused to worship in the Temple? Did he so identify
the Temple with Herodian or Roman or Jewish triumphalism that he urged
his disciples not to worship in its magnificent precints? To listen to
some present day critics, one would assume that Jesus would have had nothing
to do with the Temple.
But what was Jesus' attitude? What are the historical
facts? Jesus' attitude was essentially no different from the mature approach
of the Old Testament prophets. He recognized that God wasn't limited to
the Temple. He could be worshipped in Samaria as well as Jerusalem.
Moreover Jesus recognized that people could fail
to worship God aright in the Temple. "Two people went up to the Temple
to pray" said Jesus. "One stood and prayed, 'God, I thank you that I am
not like other people; extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this
tax collector. I fast twice a week, I give tithes of all that I get. God,
what more can you expect?'" "But the despised tax collector prayed, 'God,
be merciful to me a sinner. I've mad a mess of my life but I want to change.'"
Two people worshipped in the Temple. Who worshipped
in the proper way? The one who came in arrogance or the one who came in
penitent humility? Or were they both wrong worshipping in such a pretentious
building? Jesus didn't have to spell out the answer. But you'll notice
he didn't condemn worship in the Temple. He didn't suggest that if we could
simply do away with big buildings and meet in wilderness tents or house
churches, we could avoid a haughty spirit or ego trips. He wasn't that
The setting of the Last Supper when Jesus gathered
with his disciples to celebrate the Passover meal must surely be one of
the most intimate settings for worship one can imagine. Here the disciples
were gathered about a table in a small group. What could go wrong in such
an unpretentious setting? And yet in that simple context, the disciples
engaged in a most obnoxious ego trip. They got into a heated dispute over
who would occupy the chief place in God's kingdom. Or was it who would
control the denominational bureaucracy?
So the suggestion that all would be well in the
Church if we simply abandoned big buildings for small buildings is far
too naive. We need to be reminded that the important issue is not WHERE
we worship, but HOW we worship.
But, you say, surely there is more to the issue
than this. Doesn't the New Testament have much to say about a new Temple,
one not made of wood and stone. Didn't Jesus say that even if the Temple
in Jerusalem were destroyed, God could still be worshipped? Yes. But Jewish
prophets, particularly after the destruction of the first Temple had said
the same. And Christians can surely say the same. Even if all the cathedrals
were destroyed, even if all our churches were burned down, even if our
denomination ceased to exist, God could still be worshipped in sincerity
We can say all these things. But that doesn't mean
that we should hope for such things to happen. No more than Jesus or the
early Christians called for the deliberate destruction or abandonment of
When the early Christians talked about a new Temple
they weren't talking about wilderness tents or house churches in preference
to big buildings; they were expanding our understanding of worship. Paul
could refer to the people as a Temple, "You are a temple of the living
God. God's Spirit dwells in you." Or Paul could refer to the human body
as a temple, "Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit
within you, which you have from God. You are not your own. So glorify God
in your body."
We have a richness of thought in the New Testament.
We are to worship and serve God as much outside the building as within,
as much in the everyday duties of life as in formal worship; as much in
and with the body as with the mind and heart. But this added dimension
to worship didn't lead Jesus or the early Christians into a radical, iconoclastic
repudiation of beautiful buildings or the refusal to gather as a faith
community for communal worship.
So it isn't a question of either...or. Either worship
on Samaria's mount of Jerusalem's holy hill; either in temple or in tent;
either in cathedral or in chapel; either in large building or small church;
either in formal worship or private devotion. It's not either...or; it's
"What does the Lord require, wherever you worship,
but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?"
of the Canadian Evangelical experience: McGill-Queen's University Press,
Reviewed by Kenneth S. Barker.
When George Rawlyk of Queen's University died unexpectedly
on November 23, 1995 he had recently conducted a significant conference
on Canadian Church history. With funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts
a number of scholars from both mainline and newer denominations had been
gathered at Queen's to present papers on "Aspects of the Canadian Evangelical
The papers were published earlier this year by McGill-Queen's
University Press and I've had the opportunity to delve into them over the
summer. They are a valuable resource for anyone seeking to understand the
development of the Christian church in Canada in general and the Grey-Bruce
area in particular.
Many readers may find the term "evangelical" misleading
because like many words in the English language it has undergone some change
over the years. In the minds of many people today it is associated with
high pressured "evangelistic" tactics. However the word itself comes from
the Greek word euangelios, meaning good news. At the time of the Reformation
it was used by most Protestant churches to emphasize the conviction that
they had remained true to the basic good news of the Christian faith.
In the nineteenth century several Canadian mainline
Protestant churches such as the Baptists, Methodists and Presbyterians,
joined the Evangelical Alliance because they still considered themselves
evangelical in the basic sense of the word. When the United Church of Canada
was formed in 1925 it included in its Basis of Union the affirmation that
it was an evangelical church. And Canada's largest Lutheran denomination
is named the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Canada.
In the twentieth century, however, the term evangelical
was often used in a slightly more restricted sense by individuals and denominations
who wish to distance themselves from some of the trends within mainline
So the contemporary reader needs to realize that
the term "evangelical" embraces individuals and denominations of great
diversity. And before people in the newer denominations self-righteously
excommunicate all in the mainline churches or people in the mainline denominations
self-righteously condemn all in the new denominations, we need to use care
and courtesy in the way we examine what people actually believe.
This is what is done in this book. Some of the scholars
carefully describe the evangelical heritage of the mainline churches; others
describe the trends and convictions which have shaped the newer movements.
Since much has already been written about the older
mainline denominations, I was particularly interested in the papers on
some of the newer denominations; Bruce L. Guenther on the Mennonites; Marilyn
Fardig Whiteley on the Canadian Holiness Tradition (including the Goffites
of Grey County); Darrell R. Reid on the Christian and MissionaryAlliance,
and Ronald A.N. Kydd on Canadian Pentecostalism.
However the book also contains valuable articles
on those who have examined the heritage of the older mainline churches.
Two on the Methodists by Marguerite Van Die and Phyllis D. Airhart trace
the major shift from early revivalism to later sophistication and one by
David Plaxton on further development in the United Church of Canada since
1925. Presbyterians are described in two papers, one by Duff Crerar on
developments before 1875 and one by Barry Mack on the loss of effective
leadership in the 20th century. There are two on the Anglicans;
two on the Baptist, and one on the Lutherans.
Though there were no articles on the Roman Catholic
church presented at the conference, I noted at least one reference to Jay
P. Dolan's 1978 study, Catholic Revivalism: The American Experience, 1830-1900.
And Rawlyk in his introduction includes a fascinating comment that "the
charismatic movement and the so-called cultural wars have brought many
Roman Catholic conservatives and Protestant conservatives together" and
that "in the 1990's, one-third of all evangelicals in Canada, in an ironic
twist of past patterns, are practising Roman Catholics."
What impressed me most about the book was the fairness
of those who took part. They avoided two faults all too common in the field
of religion: one of turning all, particularly those in one's own group,
into perfect saints; the other of turning all, especially those in a rival
group, into despicable villains.
The presentations in this book attempt to get at
the issues with clarity and fairness so that people can understand why
particular denominations hold to particular convictions. They are designed
to produce light rather than heat; to encourage understanding rather than
to promote blind prejudice. The book is a fitting tribute to the contribution
George Rawlyk made to the serious study of Canadian religious life.
Christ and Creation in the Theology of John Calvin by Peter Wyatt.
Alison Park, Pennsylvania: Pickwick Publications, 1996. 172 pp.
By Paul Miller
Jesus Christ and Creation in the Theology of John
Calvin by Peter Wyatt is one a number of recent studies aimed at rehabilitating
the image of the great sixteenth century Genevan Reformer. The book is
a revision of Wyatt's Th.D. thesis.
Wyatt has done an admirable job of counteracting
the old caricature of Calvin as the bloodless systematician, the promulgator
of an icy doctrine of double predestination, and a figure whose chief and
only joy was in contemplating the damnation of the reprobate. Such a version
of Calvin has been unduly influenced by the tradition of Protestant Scholasticism
which his less gifted followers engendered and that scowling, joyless Scotch
Presbyterianism ("Calvin's Kirk" as the poet Edwin Muir called it) of which
many of us have first-hand acquaintance. The truly inhuman theology of
certain strains of "Calvinism" has obscured the magisterial sweep
of the Refomer's intellectual and spiritual achievement. Calvin articulated
a remarkable account of the sovereign God's gracious plan to redeem the
fallen world and it is this that Wyatt attempts to communicate in his book.
Wyatt and others (Willaim Bouwsma's John Calvin:
A Sixteenth Century Portrait comes to mind) have placed renewed emphasis
on Calvin's background in Renaissance humanism. Wyatt is careful to avoid
the excesses of Bouwsma's somewhat iconoclastic portrayal with a more balanced
account. One of the most dynamic features of Calvin's theology, he argues,
is a constant tension between an "evangelical" orientation which stresses
God's sovereign grace and atonement for sin, and a "sapiential" orientation
inherited from the medieval tradition which stresses the providence of
God in creation and nature. Calvin's allegiance to the evangelical doctrine
of free grace, indeed his own key role in formulating this doctrine, is
well known. What is often overlooked is his indebtedness to the very scholastic
tradition of which he was often a passionate critic. Wyatt tries to show
that Calvin was well-acquainted with the scholastics and that he drew heavily
on both Aquinas and Peter Lombard in constructing his Institutes.
Wyatt examines the inner tension in Calvin's thought
between the "evangelical" and the "sapiential" principles under several
headings. With reference to Christology proper, he explores the way in
which Calvin attempted to balance the doctrine of Christ as the creative
of God who orders existence with the notion of Christ as the incarnate
Word and the Saviour of the elect. The real balancing act is to maintain
the belief that God through His Word is responsible for and revealed in
the natural order with the conviction that true saving knowledge can only
be found through Christ.
With respect to epistemology Calvin posits two sources
of knowledge, creation and redemption. Wyatt correctly points out, however,
that the knowledge of God in creation is inaccessible to human beings apart
from redemption. Sin has blinded us to the lessons of God written in the
natural world and only when the scales have been lifted through grace are
we able to form a true picture of God the Creator. Theoretically there
are two separate sources of knowledge, but Wyatt rightly shows that for
Calvin there was in practice only one.
Regarding ethics, Wyatt examines Calvin's views
on natural law and here the verdict is much the same. Natural law does
not exist apart from God's redemptive purposes. Natural law refers to that
knowledge which is available to us in and with our creaturely existence;
but again, it cannot be rightly known or used apart from revelation and
grace. The ethical concept of freedom in Calvin's thought is not freedom
but freedom for God's law properly understood. The grace of Christ
sets us free to return to the state God intended prior to the fall.
Wyatt suggests three ways in which Calvin's thought
could be brought to bear on present issues in theology. First, he argues
that a renewed interest in Calvin's Christology would provide the basis
for a restored belief in divine transcendence. We live "in a time when
transcendence can be defined as nothing more than the transpersonal spirit
of mutual relationship", Wyatt writes. Calvin is able to bring us back
to a due sense of the majesty and sovereignty of God. Calvin can also call
us to a renewed emphasis on Christ as Deus manifestatus in carnem, God
in the flesh, over against the radical historicizing of Jesus that dominates
the present scene. With Calvin's help, we might be able once again to confess
our faith in a true Incarnation. This need is especially pressing and urgent
in view of the recent public remarks made by the Moderator of the United
Church of Canada regarding Jesus Christ.
Secondly, Wyatt argues for a new appreciation of
Calvin's "intense awareness of the beauty and revelatory character of the
natural world." Orthodox Christianity has been cast in the role of one
of the main culprits in the degradation of the environment. Calvin can
help to restore a reverence for creation that is grounded in biblical faith
rather than in neo-pagan mysticism.
Finally, Wyatt suggests that the delicate and dynamic
balance between the evangelical and sapiential orientations which Calvin
has so deftly achieved might provide a model for the renewal of theology
in these days of fruitless polarization.
This book is a worthy treatment of an important
subject. It is quite technical and would not be suitable for someone with
no prior acquaintance with Calvin's thought. However, its publication is
a hopeful sign. Peter Wyatt is the United Church's Secretary for Theology
and Faith and this work identifies him as the strongest intellectual and
theological occupant of that post since its inception. What remains to
be seen is whether he is able or willing to bring his solid grasp of Reformed
theology to bear on the present theological chaos that reigns in the United
Church, and to be heard above the strident voices who have hijacked the
Church's theological agenda. Wyatt has an opportunity to be a strong and
creative spokesperson for classic Christian faith. Will he take up that
challenge? It remains to be seen.
A Review of:
Transformation: Congregational Mission In a Changing Canada:The
Division of Mission, The United Church of Canada (Video and Work book)
The Purpose Driven Church, Rick Warren,
Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1995
Growing Spiritual Redwoods, William
M. Easum and Thomas G. Bandy, Abingdon Press,
Transformed. This world is a different place than
it was a few years ago. Our communities are different. A transformation
has happened. One example. Today I had the Sunday off. No preaching or
worship responsibilities. Where would I go to church? Because I live in
Niagara Falls I decided to try a neighbouring city, St. Catharines. The
service time was 11:00 am. At 10:36 I passed "The Beer Store". Cars were
in the parking lot. A red neon sign said "Open". At 10:40 I passed an adult
video store. Cars were in the parking lot. A red neon sign said "Open".
At 10:45 I pulled into the church driveway. Cars were in the parking lot.
I knew it was open even without the red neon sign.
We can't turn the clock back to an earlier era. In
1998, on a Sunday morning, as some people are going into church, others
are picking up a case of beer or an adult video. Welcome to the 21st century.
But how does the church deal with a changing culture?
The Division of Mission in the United Church has
produced a resource Embracing Transformation: Congregational
Mission in a Changing Canada. The resource contains a 45 minute video
showing "six very different congregations that are seeking to follow God
in mission in the changing circumstances of their communities." With the
video comes a workbook with six theme chapters followed by an 11-part small
group process for discussing the material. Here's my bias in writing this
Part of my personal professional growth has been
to study transforming congregations - usually in the United States. So
a decade ago I went to hear Terry Fullam at St. Paul's Episcopal in Darien,
Connecticut. More recently I've heard Bill Hybels at Willow Creek, Robert
Schuller at the Crystal Cathedral, Rick Warren at Saddleback Valley and
others. My immediate response on seeing the cover was "What does the United
Church's Division of Mission know? Can anything good come out of Nazareth?"
The answer is yes. Yes! This is a very good resource as a starting point
for a congregation wanting to talk about the process of transformation.
The opening video segment is captivating. Riveting.
Foothills United Church in Calgary is "a rural church overtaken by change."
The video clip shows the congregation at worship, fellowship and play.
Brief comments are given by a variety of members. (Names of participants
at the bottom of the screen would have been helpful but that's a small
point.) A man who works as a gas station attendant is interviewed. In part,
this is his testimony:
"My life has changed 100%. I was sitting on a couch with a loaded handgun.
I wanted to die but was too afraid to kill myself. I went to Foothills
where I married my wife. It was like divine intervention. I just sat there
at the altar. Then I got the message "Get your butt to A. A. and get your
life cleaned up." When I first started discovering what Jesus Christ is
all about, the humanity of Jesus spoke to me."
That's a powerful testimony to Jesus presence. At
Foothills if someone missed two or three Sundays, they receive a phone
call asking "How are you?" That's effective pastoral care. Two women who
had been in the church for some years chat about the 1988 sexuality debate.
They talk of the need to learn to get along in a family. Of some people
leaving. Some coming back. It's a poignant moment. I found myself thinking
that if I was in Calgary looking for a church I would give Foothills United
The next three segments feature churches in unique
situations. Marion Harper Memorial Circle in Winnipeg is a new Native congregation.
It's a congregation that blends aboriginal symbols (traditional medicines)
with Christian symbols (the Bible and the Cross). Communaute Chretienne
de Bethel in Montreal is a congregation of new immigrants, primarily black,
who joined the United Church in 1994. The video showed a clip of their
dynamic, exuberant indigenous worship - clapping, waving hands and dancing.
Westminster United is possibly the most ethnically
diverse congregation in the United Church. No wonder, it is in the heart
of Mississauga. A rainbow of people is shown. Forty seven different nationalities
or ethnic groups comprise the congregation. This congregation endeavours
to make its building available to the wider community. Interesting idea.
They have a telephone connector who keeps in touch with all the congregation.
Seeing these three different congregations in a consecutive
sequence on the video reminds the viewer of the broad diversity of the
United Church. One concern is that as an overall picture it is not a proportionate
representation of united Church congregations. That too needs to be remembered.
The fifth segment tells the story of Three Rivers
Pastoral Charge in rural Nova Scotia. This is a congregation creatively
reaching out to a community in decline due to the closing of a nearby military
base. The congregation sponsored a community wide trade fair to help counter
the problem of unemployment.
The final segment is of Ryerson United in Vancouver,
a city church that has experienced congregational renewal through the use
of contemporary music and the development of spiritual cell groups.
The accompanying workbook, Embracing Transformation,
is well laid out and should lead to some fascinating discussions by participants.
For example, here's one question for reflection in the small group process:
One minister said: "When I used to visit in homes,
I noticed the books in the bookcase. Now I marvel at the CD collections."
What does this imply for the ministry and witness of our congregation today?
To this reviewer, that is a question worth asking
The work book includes a section on "Resources for
Transformation" which is generally quite good. However, they neglected
the two most influential books of the 90's on church transformation. Rick
The Purpose Driven Church and Lee Strobel's Inside The
Mind of Unchurched Harry and Mary have by far out-sold every item on
the resource list. Unfortunately they are not included. But they are worth
On the plus side, permission is given to photocopy
whatever is needed from the workbook. That is helpful. Thank you. Almost
all United Church congregations could only benefit from using the video
and work book Embracing Transformation. While Embracing Transformation
is a starting point, it's not the final word. Readers of Theological Digest
need to grapple with the principles and theology behind congregational
transformation. To further one's thinking two key books should supplement
Embracing Transformation. Neither are listed in the resources. One
through neglect, as mentioned above, the other had not yet been published.
The books are Rick Warren's The Purpose Driven Church, and Bill
Easum and Tom Bandy's Growing Spiritual Redwoods. In 1995, Lyle
Schaller said "The Purpose Driven Church is the best book I've ever
read on how to do church in today's world." In 1997, Lyle Schaller said
of Easum and Bandy, "This may be the most significant study book for congregational
leaders published in this century." If that is Lyle Schaller's assessment,
I for one am listening.
Starting in 1980 and continuing till today a remarkable
work of God has been happening at a new church started in Southern California.
Saddleback Valley Community Church is a Southern Baptist congregation that
now has over 12,000 attending its weekend worship. That's nearly as many
people as all the United Churches in Toronto combined! Part of the reason
is that Rick Warren thinks differently than many other church leaders.
For example Warren says that "many churches begin with the wrong question.
They ask, "What will make our church grow?" The question we need to ask
instead is, "What is keeping our church from growing? What obstacles and
hindrances are preventing growth from happening? All living things grow
- you don't have to make them grow." (p. 15)
The Purpose Driven Church is about church
health, not church growth. Warren acknowledges that no one could or should
try to clone Saddleback. As he put it "Read this book like you'd eat fish.
Pick out the meat and throw away the bones." (p. 71) Purpose-driven. The
title tells the theme. Some churches are driven by tradition, "We've always
done it this way." Some are driven by personality - the strong-willed leader.
Or by finances, programs, buildings, events/activities. Warren reports
that in a major survey on the question "Why does the church exist?" nearly
90% said "The church's purpose is to take care of my family's and my needs."
Only about 10% said "The purpose of the church is to win the world for
Jesus Christ." (p. 82) Healthy churches will have a clearly stated purpose
in line with Biblical truth. Saddleback's purpose is based on two statements
by Jesus, The Great Commandment (Matthew 22: 37-40) and The Great Commission
(Matthew 25: 19 - 20)
Two chapters then focus on "Organizing Around Your
Purposes" and "Applying Your Purposes". Warren uses Saddleback as the basis
for his descriptions. Particularly helpful is his description of the 5
circles of commitment. He draws a picture of five concentric circles people
keep moving from the outside to the centre: using his penchant for alliteration.
Warren describes his aim to move people from the community to the crowd
to the congregation to the committed to the core. Warren then moves to
discuss targeting certain people types because no single church can possibly
reach everyone. We try too hard to be all things to all people. Read the
Observer ads for ministers. Many churches want someone who is effective
with youth, seniors, children, likes visiting, is a dynamic preacher and
can repair the lawn mower when it is broken!
In a chapter on "Knowing Whom You Can Best Reach"
Warren claims "You will attract who you are, not who you want." (p. 177)
We need to recognize spiritual receptivity, "Growing churches focus on
reaching receptive people. Non-growing churches focus on re-enlisting inactive
people." (p. 183)
In the section on "Bringing in A Crowd" Warren shows
his penchant for posing the right questions. Example: "Instead of asking
"What shall I preach on this Sunday?" pastors should be asking "To whom
will I be preaching?" (p. 227) If we took what Warren says seriously much
of the time we would throw away the lectionary. Warren gives lots of attention
to designing seeker-sensitive worship. Example: "At Saddleback we summarize
the mood we want with the word celebrations. Each Sunday is Easter at Saddleback,
so we are fanatical about creating a light, bright, cheerful environment."
(p. 264) Musically, Warren recommends speeding up the tempo and updating
In the final section Warren describes how to intentionally
develop spiritually mature members and then turn those members into lay
There are many great practical ideas in The Purpose
Driven Church. Warren explains clearly the teaching program, Class
101, 201 and 301 to develop membership, maturity and ministry. The book
is both simple and profound. Of course not everything is transferable to
a Canadian context. Sometimes, one has to look past Rick's Southern Baptist
bent. Still it ought to be on every seminary's reading list.
I agree with Lyle Schaller. The Purpose Driven
Church is the best book I've ever read on how to do church in today's
At least, it was until I read Bill Easum and Tom
Bandy's Developing Spiritual Redwoods. Those names should be familiar
to most of us in the United Church. Tom is Program Officer of Congregational
Mission and Evangelism. With Bill Easum he has criss-crossed the county
holding workshops on building thriving, effective congregations. Easum's
books continually make the best-seller list in the United Church Book Room.
I came to the book with a bias thinking "This will be good." No surprise.
The opening page is worth the price of the book.
Then it gets better. Easum and Bandy together have asked countless congregations
a single question. "How would you describe your spiritual journey?" They
then describe how members of declining churches respond and how participants
in thriving churches respond. This is only a review. You'll have to buy
the book to read the response. It's worth it.
A few years ago Tom preached his message "Only The
Gospel Matters" to the congregation I serve. Tom said that if it helped
to advance the gospel he would throw a brick through our stained glass
windows. Scared the heck out of some of our people. He is still beating
on that drum. In the introductory chapter he claims, "The body of Christ
will sacrifice anything and everything - property, offices, financial security,
traditional music, familiar heritage - for the sake of Jesus and the Gospel."
The metaphor of the redwood in the forest is used
with some success in describing the differences between life in the twentieth
century and the uncharted territory of the twenty-first century. The book
is organized into 8 vistas (chapters). Vista three describes the growing
cultural interest in Jesus and spirituality. "The key question for ministry
in the twenty-first century: What is it about our experience with Jesus
that this community cannot live without?.... Jesus, and our relationship
with Jesus is the very root and foundation of the church which aspires
to grow into a Spiritual Redwood." (p. 50)
Vista Four, Spiritual Redwoods at worship is an important
supplement to Embracing Transformation. Easum and Bandy understand
that the worship in mainline churches is cerebral rather than celebrative
but are not content to leave us there. There are nuggets of gold on each
page. One example: "It is becoming increasingly clear that differentiating
worship form and style by generation no longer fits our cultural experience.
A new generation emerges every three years - not every thirty years. The
eighteen year old who once could inform the Worship Committee about the
preferences of a fourteen-year-old now shrugs his or her shoulders in dismay.
How on earth should he or she know what a fourteen-year-old would like"
(p. 70) Worship in the new century will be: "Visual! Printed material will
be cut back or entirely eliminated. Words, songs, pictures, images and
symbols will be projected in colour throughout the sermon.
Surround sound! Sound systems will be state-of-the-art,
amplified and surround worship participants. Music and sound will form
a continuous background to worship. Technology supported! Computers, video
cameras and monitors, sound mixers, electronic keyboards and synthesizers
will be used by trained volunteer technical support teams." (p. 71)
Three basic tracks of worship are described. Churches
will need a traditional service, a praise service, then the newest track,
the sensory worship service. "Worship must compete with MTV and Much Music
for the souls of the modern public." (p. 96) How you respond to that statement
will colour your response to this book. But Bandy and Easum chart a clear
path through the forest for those who want to investigate new directions.
Vista Five looks at church organization, the core
vision, values, beliefs and mission that shape a congregation. This vista
is a call to move from a committee structure to a church organized around
people's spiritual gifts. Vista Six looks at the need to develop lay pastors,
small groups, and team ministries. Vista Seven describes leadership. "People
need to experience God, not be told about God. Spiritual Redwoods require
leaders who are spiritual giants. These are not leaders in the traditional
ways of Christendom. They do not control the work, manage the work, or
even do the work of the church. They are visionaries, synthesizers, and
motivators. Spirituality is more important then credentials. No one cares
whether or not the clergy are entitled to use the word "Reverend", wear
preaching stoles or place abbreviations for "Masters" or "Doctoral" degrees
after their names. What matters is that leaders truly live their faith
and can readily and joyfully speak out of their own life struggles and
spiritual victories." (p. 179) In their blunt, pithy way Easum and Bandy
shock us with statements like, "Leaders who work harder, longer and smarter
in the same old way kill the church even faster." (p. 181) The metaphor
Easum and Bandy use for the leaders of the twenty-first century is that
of midwives. "Spiritual midwives will have a Bible in one hand and a pom-pom
in the other." (p. 192) This book is challenging but not intimidating.
Easum and Bandy have written a pivotal book for those
of us in mainline churches who want our congregations to be vital and strong.
Lyle Schaller is right, "This may be the most significant study book for
congregational leaders published in this century."
THE PHIPPS' PHENOMENON
Moderator Bill Phipps has lived up to his promise to
put the United Church in the news. Many are questioning if he has lived
up to his ordination vows.
After all, the newspaper headline quotation, "I
don't believe Jesus was God", attributed accurately to Phipps, is obviously
in conflict with the United Church's Basis of Union Doctrine. No less contrary
to the Basis of Union is Phipps' denial of Jesus' objective resurrection.
Granted that Phipps acknowledges that after his
burial Jesus began to live in the minds of his disciples and friends, this
is obviously a subjective event and equally obviously at variance with
St Paul's insistence that the resurrection is a real event.
Phipps seems to have focussed on only one word of
1 Corinthians 15--the word "spiritual" in the phrase "spiritual body" (verse
44). We simply note that Paul also uses the word "body" and that the context
of 1 Corinthians 15 makes it crystal clear that he insists that Jesus rose
from the dead in a real way.
The Gospels preserve the mystery of the event by
their references to the empty tomb. But they also provide witness to Jesus'
objective appearances, just as Paul did. And both Luke and John underline
the church's conviction that Jesus is not merely a spirit (Luke 24:39.
Now Mr Phipps admits that he is no theologian. Why
then would he deny Jesus Christ's divinity and physical resurrection? There
is a difference between remaining silent before a mystery which one does
not understand and denying faith statements that have been affirmed by
virtually all Christians of all times in all places. It is one thing for
him to attempt to articulate his faith in Jesus and quite another for him
to deny historic and universal faith statements. We are compelled
to deny his denials.
Moreover we are reminded of Emmanuel Principal Earl
Lautenschlager's insistence years ago that ministers should preach what
they believe, not what they don't or cannot yet believe. What we may not
believe will not likely help spread the Gospel. But what we do manage to
believe can be used by God to build up the faith in our congregations and
Probably the first confession of faith ever to speak
appreciately of doubt was Living Faith, approved by the Presbyterian
Church in Canada in 1984. In Chapter Six we read: "Questioning may be a
sign of growth. It may also be disobedience: we must be honest with ourselves.
Since we are to love God with our minds, as well as our hearts, the working
through of doubt is part of our growth in faith. The church includes many
who struggle with doubt. Jesus accepted the man who prayed: 'Lord, I believe.
Help my unbelief.'" (6.2.2)
But the father of the epileptic boy whom Jesus healed
was not a teacher. He was not commissioned to preach the good news. Of
teachers James says: "Let not many of you become teachers, knowing that
we shall receive a stricter judgment" (3:1). Bill Phipps is not only a
teacher, being an ordained Minister of the Word and Sacraments, but he
is also Moderator. It is no wonder that he is receiving a stricter judgment.
In cases of abuse those holding positions of trust and power are also judged
more strictly. Mr Phipps needs to say more than that he is sorry if he
hurt anyone. He needs to repent of his arrogance in denying the universal
faith that Jesus the human is God and he needs to commit himself fully
and wholly to Jesus as he is (not as Phipps might imagine him to be or
want him to be).
POSSIBILITY OF DIALOGUE
It would be strange that we should have nothing
to affirm about Mr Phipps. And in fact we can affirm some of his concerns
that he mentioned in the very first part of his interview with the Ottawa
Citizen's editorial board. For instance, he says and we agree with him
that we Canadians have lost our moral centre over the past fifteen years,
and that evidence of this loss is the shift in language. "I have now been
transformed from a student to a consumer of education, a consumer of health
care, a consumer of social services. Our language over the past ten or
fifteen years has been single-mindedly changed into a market-economy language.
I think ...the primary value that we seem to have adopted in the past ten
or fifteen years...is the market. Let the market decide. The market, the
bottom line, profit and loss, winners and losers, have been the language
of not only economic debate but all the other debates as well."
With this kind of concern we have at last some common
ground with Mr Phipps. He might be surprised that he can resonate with
us on such matters. But in our opinion he cuts off the very branch on which
he sits when he denies major articles of the universal faith. We cannot
dialogue with his denials. We may be able to dialogue with his reductionist
faith statements. We can surely share his concern that Canadian society--indeed
western civilization itself--has lost its moral centre.
This loss is at least in part attributable to the
influence of Marxism in our universities and on our elites; the Marxist
dismissal of God and its tunnel-vision focus on economics can be seen in
the practising atheism and amoral mindset even of the champions of the
market economy such as the Harris Government. The irony is that Marxism's
emphasis on this world and on economics has left its mark not only on some
liberation theologians but also on social gospellers of the Bill Phipps'
stripe. Just as Platonism and Aristotelianism have provided Christian faith
with useful tools for articulation, so can Marxism. And yet philosophy
like fire is a good servant and a terrible master.
DIVERSITY OF GIFTS
In 1 Corinthians 12 Paul deals with a favourite
theme of the Moderator and his supporters, namely, diversity. In this chapter
Paul is referring to diversity of gifts and vocations. Most Christians
are given a particular gift, just as parts of the human body are given
specific functions. "Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?
Are all workers of miracles? Do all have the gifts of healings? Do all
speak with tongues? Do all interpret?" (12:29-30) The answer again and
again is obviously No. And as it was then, so it is now. We have a diversity
of gifts. The Executive of General Council was sensitive to Bill Phipps'
gifts of communication and social concern. Are they and he as sensitive
to the renewal groups' gifts of evangelical witness and theological competence?
We would hesitate long to judge Mr Phipps' commitment
to Jesus as he understands him. Human beings cannot know the human heart,
not even one's own. Over time we have come to the conclusion that many
United Church leaders and people articulate their faith best by actions
on the one hand and by hymn-singing on the other.
Action witness should never be underestimated. Matthew
tells the parable of the man with two sons. The first was told to work
in the vineyard and refused, but later relented and obeyed. The second
was also told to work in the vineyard and agreed, but never followed up
his words with action. It was the first son who did his father's will.
(Mt 21:28-31) Similarly the actions of the people on the king's right hand
in Matthew 25 and the lack of action of those on his left. Even Paul, who
so emphasizes the primacy of faith, states that God "will render to each
one according to his deeds" (Romans 2:6, quoting Ps. 62:12; Prov. 24:12).
Christians like Bill Phipps may very well be expressing genuine faith through
their actions, and this possibility must be recognized. But when actions
are coupled with denials of the faith, we think that the witness of the
action is being drowned out by the noise of the denials.
We would ask of Mr Phipps that he let his good works
speak for themselves and not to drown out their message with front-page
denials of the faith. Perhaps his gift is to lead in doing good and in
calling Canada to social justice. Clearly his gift is not that of theology
or of apologetics or of evangelism. Yet some do have these gifts. Why then
are they marginalized by Bill Phipps and his friends? Why are Victor Shepherd,
Allen Churchill, Don Faris and Andrew Stirling not teaching in a United
Church theological college? Why is it that they very likely never will?
Or why is not one of them in a responsible position in our national or
Mr Phipps and the Executive of General Council speak
of diversity in the United Church, but the national and conference staff
positions are almost 100% filled by one type of Christian--Mr Phipps's
type. It seems to us that those who control the levers of power in the
United Church are committed not to diversity but to uniformity--the uniformity
of denying or doubting the universal faith as articulated by virtually
all Christians of all times in all places.
We therefore suggest that Mr Phipps and his friends
consider the limitations of their gifts--specifically that they are not
theological. We suggest that they think twice before issuing denials of
the universal faith, which others, such as renewal group leaders, may be
better able to articulate, explain and defend. We suggest that Mr Phipps
and his friends seriously consider the theological and other gifts of those
evangelical ministers and laypersons whom they have marginalized for so
THE WIDER CHURCH
Finally we would urge all United Church people to
consider the contribution to the life of faith which the wider Church can
make. Three particular resources suggest themselves to us at once.
First, because the United Church has become oriented
so much to social justice concerns, we might all benefit from the ecumenical
and indeed inter-faith journal First Things, edited by Richard John
Neuhaus. This monthly journal brings faith to the public square with wisdom,
breadth and even humour. 1-800-783-4903.
Second, because the United Church is being asked
to study the Theology and Faith resource Reconciling & Making New:
Who is Jesus for the world today?, we might well benefit from reading
some comprehensive but manageable theology such as St John of Damascus'
Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith; Thomas Oden's three volume
Theology (Harper Collins, 1987-1992); and/or Catechism of the Catholic
Church, ET 1994. Each of these comprehensive resources will bring us
something of the depth and breadth which will enable believers to grasp
an authentic and credible faith.
Third, because the United Church has always been
sensitive to living the Christian faith, we would do well to ponder and
to aspire to the vision of Archimandrite Vasileios of Mount Athos:
"This life which is in Christ, and the expression
of it, constitutes the true theology which is the one truth, because it
speaks of and brings us to the one eternal life. Thus we realize that we
cannot create theology by taking a piece of paper and writing down our
ideas, which may very well be correct, theologically pertinent (as to their
terminology) or socially useful. The material offered to each person to
struggle with, to write theology with, and to speak about to the Church,
is none other than his own self, his very being, hidden and unknown" (Hymn
of Entry, Crestwood, NY: St Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1984, p. 33).
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
Keep up the good work. I have been a member of the
United Church since 1925 and an ordained minister of the United Church
for 55 years but cannot stomach the politics of Marian Best and Bill Phipps.
Sidney R. Vincent
Medicine Hat, AB
More power to you, friend, in your vital, courageous
thrust in the Church's life. I can't say that I see a bright light ahead
as I preach around the province. Bill Phipps gives no hope for us in terms
of the next 3 years. He is on record as saying that "Jesus is a window
into God--one of the best." How enchanted must be the King of Kings and
Lord of Lords to have that endorsement!
(Rev.) Gervis Black
I thank you for your complimentary issue of Theological
Digest and Outlook. I appreciate the articles appearing in this issue.
However, I am not sure that you have all the facts clear about the
presentation on Coronation Presbytery. I have been a staff member of Alberta
Conference for many years, and after retirement, served as the Treasurer
of Alberta and North West Conference. I object to the statement "Conference
should order these officers to take a course in the United Church Manual".
I do know that staff and officers of this Conference are well versed in
the United Church Manual (Rev. Dr. Phillip Cline can attest to this) and
a remark like this is uncalled for and demands an apology by the person
who wrote this.
Fred G. Holberton, D.D.
Editor's Note: If the Coronation Presbytery officers do know the Manual,
then in our opinion they stand convicted of disregarding it.
Bearing Faithful Witness
I have been wanting to know what position conservative
United Church people might take vis-a-vis the paper, Bearing
Faithful Witness: United Church - Jewish Relations Today. I am sorry
to see it listed in Theological Digest & Outlook (Sept. 1997)
amongst the causes for tears emerging from General Council.
I do not see the paper as a "sell-out" at all, and
can only speculate on why you see it this way. The paper leads from Scripture.
It explores the meaning of Jesus' Jewishness. It tries to discern the first
century relationship between emerging Christianity and Judaism. It asks
how faithfulness to Jesus Christ as Christ is known from Scripture can
influence our relations with Jews today. The investigation is not prestructured
by dogmatic positions adopted by the Church in later centuries. For some
this may seem to be an abdication of Christian confessional responsibility,
but the approach taken potentially allows for understanding of traditional
dogmatic concepts in a richer way. The paper does not reject traditional
dogmatic positions, nor does it do the work of Reconciling & Making
New, our Church's current Christological study; it does examine material
that is basic for a Christological study that aspires to Scriptural integrity.
The paper may be mistaken in some or all of its Scriptural interpretations.
If so, that needs to be pointed out item by item; the issues are important
enough to warrant that. It would not be "faithful witness" to dismiss the
paper out of hand because of dogmatic presuppositions. It would not respect
the authority of Scripture of our Reformed heritage. It would not respect
God's covenanting with Jews and with Christians.
I think there is good reason for conservative United
Church people to welcome this paper and to enter into its explorations.
Digest & Outlook will do its readers a disservice if it predisposes
them to read the paper with dogmatic suspicions and confessional fear.
Instead, I hope you will encourage your readers to read the paper with
open minds and with prayer, together with their Bibles, and to make their
(Rev.) Clint Mooney
Editor's Note: We will review Bearing Faithful Witness in the
September 1998 issue.
Palms & Scorpions
I want, especially, to thank you for the excellence
of Volume Twelve, Number Two. They are always good, but this one seemed
to me to be especially so. As usual, I read it from beginning to end at
almost one sitting. I guess the Neuhaus article caught my attention most
of all--likely because of my own experiences.
I was surprised to read the negative statement about
PALMS and SCORPIONS, CHEERS and TEARS. For what it is worth, I am glad
you do that feature. St. Paul often advises us to admonish, and that, it
seems to me, is what you are doing with this space. Somebody really has
to do it. I think that all parts of the Church have slipped into the current
mode of letting everything go unchallenged. So I hope you will stay with
God bless you,
Fr. Daniel Matheson
Thanks, but no thanks
Enclosed please find the complimentary copy of Theological
Digest & Outlook that you recently sent to me. As I glanced through
it, I found that so much of what your contributing writers had to say was
so exclusive and arrogantly self-righteous that I was left feeling sad
and depressed. I'm afraid I didn't find much at all that reflected "Christian
maturity", only a pressing need to be "right" and share your version
of the truth. I wonder what Jesus thinks about your version of the truth?
Please do not send this magazine to me in future.
It only brings me sadness and dismay.
Yours in Christ,
Linda C. Hunter
The moderator has done it again so it is a good thing
there is positive print available for the people.
(Rev.) Robert Rumball
North York, ON
The Great Tradition
Thanks for your review of "Reclaiming the Great Tradition"
- it saved a book-greedy Christian reader the cost of adding another book
to her library containing many more books than she can read. Reading intensively,
rather than extensively, this leads her to writing, working out her growing
understanding of Scripture and the Christian life.
In retirement, and a "church orphan" now that I'm
physically limited and unable to be actively involved in church life, my
days are devoted to further "thinking through the Bible" and related issues,
sorting out my understanding by writing.
This is an extension of three years of bible study,
page by page, Genesis to Revelation, one hour every school morning, under
the teaching of Dr. John McNicol, an excellent bible scholar and teacher,
then eighty years old. This was at Toronto Bible College (now OBC/OTS),
graduating in 1950. I continue to refer to his four-volume "Thinking Through
The Bible" material in my ongoing Bible study.
I've come to see something of the confusion among
evangelical leaders regarding the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit in
our personal life and in the churches, and the place of the Bible. Various
items in the current TD&O indicate what I mean. George Rawlyk pinpoints
this question: "The subjects of the seventeen in-depth interviews were
remarkably inarticulate when attempting to describe the Trinity..or the
authority of the Bible." But even in his own four key beliefs, he (like
J.I. Packer) gives "biblicism" top billing as the "ultimate religious authority"
- a common evangelical mistake.
For the past six years, after meeting sexism firsthand
in an evangelical denomination, I've been studying the issue, and have
sought to learn why such error prevails in many of the evangelical churches.
It arises in a literal approach to the Bible - bibliolatry, I call it.
Meanwhile, there is a marked absence of understanding
that ultimate authority rests with God alone, as revealed in Christ and
his teachings (particularly in John's Gospel), who was to continue His
ministry in and with us, individually, and collectively in church bodies,
in the presence and power of his Holy Spirit. He personally continues
to hold supreme authority in our lives - not a book, not even the Bible!
When this becomes the spiritual reality in our churches,
then and only then, the universal Church will have "reclaimed the great
tradition" - the original creative and redemptive purpose of God, the life
of the Spirit. Only then can the Church truly reflect something of the
kingdom of God in a world that so needs to see Christ and His Spirit in
Prayer the key
Your theological digest is the best reading of its
type that I have seen. Keep up the good work. When I think of the state
of the 'church' today, it occurs to me that possibly my fundamentalist
father was right in his view of what he referred to as "the world". We
have imagined that we lived in a Christian land for the past hundred years
or so, but possibly we were mistaken.
Last evening my wife and I spent a couple of hours
with one of our sons, who professes to be very hostile to Christianity
as being the cause of much of the trouble in the world today. He also said
how much he had suffered for years because he had been told that if he
was not a true believer he would to hell. We can not remember having ever
told him the latter. Be that as it may, his line of reasoning seems to
be that of a great many young people today, and some not so young.
My experience has been that in respect to metaphysical
beliefs, people seem to believe what they want to believe and proceed from
there to marshall arguments to support their position. I think it is because
of this tendency that it is so difficult to find the key that will open
a person's mind to the Christian message. Against this background I find
myself wondering if prayer may be our most effective means, since maybe
God alone possesses that key.
J. Stanley Wilkinson
An editorial feature:
PALMS & SCORPIONS
CHEERS & TEARS
Fallible and sinful as we are, we continue to award
token of praise or of disapproval to those who, in our opinion, have said
or done things of which Scripture and/or Tradition would approve or disapprove.
Palms celebrate primarily faithful acts. Scorpions call for repentance.
Tears indicate our dismay and our hope for repentance. Cheers usually indicate
approval for primarily decent or courageous acts, although occasionally
irony may be discernible.
We expect to make mistakes in the course of this
editorial feature. We will publish letters demonstrating a mistake and/or
unjustifiable cries of outrage. To date we have not been made aware of
any serious mistakes. We expect to miss many worthies and we know we have;
their reward is in heaven or hell, as the case may be. It is because we
believe that there is a hell--Jesus is said to have preached more about
hell than any other biblical figure--that we call those apparently heading
there to repentance and to reconciliation with the God who does not want
anyone to perish. We try to check our sources to ensure accuracy.
We invite readers to submit nominations with stories
and sources. Please write us. See page 2 column 1 for the current editorial
[PALM] Those who drafted and who signed the Christmas 1997 Confession
of Faith in response to the current debate in the United Church and society
at large regarding the divinity of Jesus Christ and the historical nature
of his resurrection from the dead. This Confession is printed elsewhere
in this issue. The concluding confession of faith is that "We 'accept our
Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour' and take our stand on this truth."
This formula that Jesus is God and Saviour comes from the basis of the
World Council of Churches (1938).
A partial list of the drafters are: Rev. David
Chesney, Susann Bodkin, Rev. Joe Burke, Rev. Shawn Ketcheson, Dr Allen
Churchill, Rev. Jim Crighton, Rev. Mark Fearnall, Rev. William E. McDowell,
David Patterson, Rev. John Robertson, Dr Andrew Stirling, and Rev. Brian
Wilkie. The Christmas Confession was produced independently of any
existing organization inside or outside The United Church of Canada.
[CHEERS] Those who drafted the official statement by the Executive of
General Council issued on or after November 24, 1997 in response to issues
raised by the interview of the Moderator, the Right Rev. Bill Phipps, with
the "Ottawa Citizen." The Executive acknowledged "that there is pain in
the body of Christ." The Executive held up three words to help clarify
doctrinal standards in the United Church, namely, continuity, context and
Continuity involves the Basis of Union doctrine
of 1925, the Statement of Faith of 1940, and the new creed of 1968, all
authorized by General Councils; the Reformation heritage and the teaching
of the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds; and the World Council of Churches'
confession of "the Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the
Context means that "No single statement or creed
can capture all that may be required of the church to make the good confession
in a new context."
Diversity means that creeds and confessions of faith
are subordinate to Scripture; that membership is based on a profession
of faith and not on a creedal subscription or test; and that faithfulness
does not consist in assenting to particular statements. "Rarely, if ever,
do we use doctrinal standards to exclude anyone from the circle of belonging.
Rather we lift up Jesus Christ and his way, saying to all who seek God's
grace and service, 'Come and see.'"
Despite some reservations we find ourselves encouraged
by this and other parts of the Executive's statement. Certainly some clarification
of the role of the Moderator was needed and to this end the Executive stated
in part: "We affirm that, as a conciliar church, official statements regarding
the faith and order of the Church are made by the courts of the church.
No individual, including officers of the court, can usurp this role of
the community in the articulation of the faith. We affirm that the Moderator
does not exercise an episcopal role but is chosen by the community to exercise
his or her particular gifts on behalf of the community."
Specifically the Executive stated: "We affirm that
officers of the courts of the Church, including the Moderator, have the
same right as other members of the church to express personal points of
view. At the same time, we acknowledge that, by virtue of their role as
spokespersons for the Church, this freedom to express personal views must
be tempered by the need for congruence with stated policies and statements
of The United church of Canada."
[TEARS] That the Executive did not address the Moderator's denials.
It is one thing for him to express his personal beliefs; it is quite another
thing to deny beliefs that are written into the Basis of Union doctrine,
such as the divinity of Jesus Christ, his resurrection involving an empty
tomb, and the trustworthiness of Scripture.
[CHEERS] Doug Koop, editor of Christian Week, for courage in
saying some things that needed to be said about the Phipps' affair, particularly
that the Executive of General Council actually blew their big chance to
dispel some of the stereotypes about the United Church. Koop perceives
three major stereotypes: that the United Church is actually untied rather
than united; that it is the NDP at prayer; and that it is really the Agnostic
Church of Canada.
Koop faults the Executive not for affirming the
historic creeds but for trying "to insist that the moderator's remarks
are congruent with them." He asked of the Executive's "circle of belonging,"
belonging to what?
Koop noted that Phipps told the Ottawa Citizen that
what really matters is mending the world. And yet salvation is fundamentally
a spiritual transformation. The Executive were too content to remain on
the temporal level. Hence the United Church as the NDP at prayer.
As for the United Church being the Agnostic Church,
Koop noted that Phipps' denials suggest that the church has gone beyond
agnosticism. Koops concludes, "His inability to affirm Christianity's core
beliefs as articulated in, say, the Apostles' Creed, puts him outside the
historic parameters of the Christian faith." "And the failure of his denomination's
leaders to censure his statements makes them complicit in this departure
from Christian norms."
"Many have accused the UCC of abdicating its very
raison d'etre in an effort to be inclusive. Phipps's sentiments will undoubtedly
be popular both within the church and beyond. But this is because they
have more in common with a mindset that values alternatives over truth."
[SCORPION] W. Peter Scott and Celia Orth, Executive Secretary
and President of London Conference respectively, for writing an open letter
accusing of heresy anyone who said that Jesus was God. In effect Peter
Scott and Celia Orth have labelled as heretics all members of the World
Council of Churches and of the Roman Catholic Church, all of whom say that
Jesus is God. Included in this number of heretics would be the Executive
of General Council, for they affirmed the WCC basis that Jesus Christ is
God and Saviour. Evidently everyone is wrong except Peter Scott and Celia
They went on to state the obvious, that for centuries
the church has insisted that Jesus was fully divine and fully human. "To
deny either his divinity or his humanity would be unfaithful to the orthodox
faith of the church." So far so good. But then: "To suggest that he was
God only would deny his humanity." Here lies the fallacy. Calling Jesus
by name is stating that he was a human being, that he was an historical
person, that he was fully human. The humanity of Jesus has not been in
question for centuries, if not a millenium and more.
The question is whether or not this man is also
fully divine. The question in other words is whether or not Jesus is God.
The Moderator denied that Jesus is God, that is, that he is fully divine.
And in subsequent statements the Moderator made it clear that he in no
way regards Jesus as fully divine. For Mr Phipps, a self-confessed "no
theologian," Jesus had as much of God as a human being could contain.
Scott and Orth went on to where angels fear to tread,
stating that the church said "that Christ was only one person of the Trinity.
To equate Jesus with God is to deny two-thirds of the Trinity..." It is
news to us and presumably to the church universal that the Trinity can
be divided into thirds. One of the most common adjectives describing the
Trinity in Eastern Orthodox worship is "indivisible." That word "indivisible"
shows precisely why the incarnation of the Son of God means that Jesus
is God. We suggest that Peter Scott and Celia Orth--and the many others
who have spoken as they have--read St Augustine's The Trinity before
they issue another open letter accusing the universal church of heresy.
[CHEERS] Rev. Dr. Don Faris, of North Lonsdale United Church,
North Vancouver, for preaching on the topic, "Is Jesus God?" In his hard-hitting
sermon Faris took the Moderator to task for saying that we should look
to modern scholarship such as that of the Jesus Seminar. This is what Faris
"We certainly should look to modern scholarship.
If Bill Phipps, who claims he is no theologian, was a good theologian,
he would know that the Jesus Seminar is considered to be a bad joke in
the scholarly world. It is a self-selected group of Unitarians and ultra-liberals
who vote on the texts of the gospels to give their opinion of whether Jesus
really said it or not. (See Richard B. Hays, "The Corrected Jesus," in
Things, May 1994.)
"They have thrown out all of John's gospel and 80%
of the synoptic gospels. Why do they do this? Is it because they have better
sources of information than anyone else? No--their decisions are made simply
on the basis of their unexamined prejudices. For example, they claim the
Gospel of Thomas is an early document while 99% of the scholarly world
would date it in the second or third century! They deny that Jesus would
use eschatological language despite the fact that recent scholarship on
the Dead Sea Scrolls proves that this language was very current in Jesus'
"... the ironic part of the Moderator's telling
us to consult the alleged scholarship of the Jesus Seminar is that this
group of Unitarians voted that Jesus did not say one word of Matthew 25:31-46.
So, on the basis of the authority of the Jesus Seminar, Bill Phipps should
stop telling us that Jesus said to feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit
the sick, etc.
"It is only those who believe in the eternal Son
of God, and trust his words in the Bible, who can and do take these words
seriously. It was the simple biblical faith that motivated Mother Theresa
and the United Church's J.R. Mutchmor and all those who truly love the
Lord Jesus Christ."
For a copy of Dr Faris' sermon, phone his office
at 604-985-4911 or write to him at North Lonsdale Church, 3380 Lonsdale
Ave., North Vancouver, BC V7N 3K2.
[TEARS] That a Professor of Church and Society could compare Moderator
Bill Phipps to Salem Bland of Queen's, to Bishop (later Archbishop) William
Temple and to the Confessing Church's Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Yet Christopher
Lind of St Andrew's College, Saskatoon, did so in a letter to the Globe
and Mail, published December 8, 1997. Apart from compromising Bill Phipps'
modesty, such a comparison raises serious questions.
We do not have any books by the CCF's Salem Bland,
although we remember his Group of Seven portrait in the Art Gallery of
Ontario. We do, however, have a text by an even more eminent social gospeller,
namely, Washington Gladden, author of the hymn, "O Master, let me walk
with thee." In 1902 Gladden wrote that he did not "expect to see any radical
or permanent cure discovered for poverty...or debauchery or crime, except
as men's minds and hearts are opened to receive the truths of the spiritual
world; except as they are brought into conscious and vital relations with
things unseen and eternal." Does Mr Phipps preach this?
In 1921 then Bishop William Temple wrote, "The one
thing we are bound to require...is that men shall say that this Christ
is very God... We cannot ever have truce with the suggestion that Jesus
of Nazareth was divinely inspired as others have been divinely inspired,
and that God appears in certain aspects of his being in him and in certain
other aspects elsewhere; the moment that line is taken, you destroy conviction
at the central point." Does Mr Phipps agree with this?
In 1933 Dietrich Bonhoeffer is recorded as saying,
"The starting point is the fact that the man Jesus is the Christ,
God." Does Mr Phipps believe this?
[CHEERS] David Harris, for acute editorializing in the December
issue of the Anglican Journal. Noting that Bishop Michael Ingham of Vancouver
had his controversial ideas about other ways to salvation overshadowed
by the Moderator's "frank admission that he doesn't believe Jesus was divine
or that his body rose from the dead", Harris went on to make these comments:
"It's somewhat peculiar that people who focus their
theology on social justice, who treat religion as principally about ethics
and morals, are often the ones who reject the bodily resurrection. Their
theology essentially focuses on the body, on the human condition from a
flesh-and-blood perspective, yet they reject the orthodox doctrine that
says the body is so important that it will be transformed and preserved
in the next life. It's a puzzling contradiction.
"As for Bill Phipps' comments, they're rather tired.
They belong to the 70's and 80's, not the late 90's. John Hick, Don Cupitt
and former bishop of Durham David Jenkins have been down this road before.
It didn't sell then. Why should it now? ...
"While one has to agree that simply repeating the
doctrinal formulas of centuries ago doesn't help people much in understanding
or developing their faith, neither does wholesale rejection of the creeds
and conciliar statements.
"What's needed is a major effort to understand why
the councils said what they did about the nature of God and Christ and
then try to find a meaningful way to communicate those same principles
to contemporary ears.
"All the interest in spirituality in the world doesn't
point to a need to drop the idea that Jesus was divine. What is required
is discussion around what being divine and transcendant means and why,
ultimately, a God-man had to enter history.
"Perhaps our bishops will have a go at some theological
"Moderators might take note."
[CHEERS] Margaret Wente, writing in the Globe and Mail, exposed
the pseudosociological insight, "Marriage makes men happier, but not women"
for the half-truth that it is. She writes, "In fact, the most credible
studies of family life have one consistent finding: Marriage benefits both
men and women, in about equal measure, for pretty much the same reasons."
So where did the myth of the miserable wife come from? From a book written
aout 25 years ago, The Future of Marriage by sociologist Jessie
Bernard, who found from surveys that married men were much happier than
single men and who concluded that marriage benefits men. But Wente noted
that the surveys showed almost identical findings for women. Bernard, however,
explained that married women only say they are happy because society expects
them to say so.
Wente's source for her expose is the new report
by the Institute for American Values entitled Closed Hearts, Closed
Minds: The textbook story of marriage. It calls Bernard's and disciples'
marriage texts "a national embarrassment" marred by shoddy research, bad
writing, intellectual dishonesty and major omissions. Contact Margaret
Wente by E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
[CHEERS] Mayor Dianne Haskett of London, Ontario, for refusing
to proclaim a Gay Pride weekend on the basis of her Christian convictions.
The Ontario Human Rights Commission fined her $5,000 for taking her stand.
When the penalty was announced, Haskett was campaigning for re-election
as mayor. Her opponent, the deputy mayor, campaigned on his support for
a Gay Pride weekend. The media called Haskett intolerant, bigoted and a
disgrace to the city. Haskett was so dumbfounded by the Commission's decision
that she quit campaigning. She made no public appearances in the last three
weeks of the election race. But when the citizens of London went to the
polls they re-elected Haskett by a two-to-one majority.
We note once again that the Ontario Human Rights
Commission is trampling on religious conviction, specifically on Christian
faith and morality. There is still a right in the Charter for freedom of
conscience and religion. Whatever good the Human Rights Commission may
have done in the past, on the issue of homosexuality it has insisted that
Christianity hide in a closet and it has punished anyone who dared say
no to gay pride days. We believe that the Ontario Human Rights Commission
has become a kangaroo court which acts against freedom of conscience and
religion and which flies in the face of democratic elections. It should
be abolished now.
"The wicked prowl on every side, When vileness is
exalted among the sons of men" (Psalm 12:8).
[SCORPION] Prime Minister Jean Chretien & the RCMP for suspending
civil liberties at the University of British Columbia campus in November
1997 during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference. Craig
Jones was arrested for holding a sign that said "Free Speech" well back
from the three-metre fence separating him from the APEC leaders' motocade.
Students were pepper-sprayed by the RCMP. The Prime Minister joked about
[SCORPION] The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) for blasphemy
and expressing hatred of Christianity. On November 23, 1997, CBC Radio
Two's "Brave New Waves" program broadcast the words "Christianity is stupid"
repeated many times, as well as phrases such as "Christianity is triggering
the murders." (Christian Week, Jan. 6, 1998). On December 15 CBC Television
broadcast "Mike MacDonald's Politically Correct Canadian Christmas," including
the scene of an actor, dressed like the suffering Christ on the cross,
wearing a crown of thorns, and talking about his leather fetish, "I'm into
leather, man." (Western Report, Jan. 12, 1998). Apparently Michael Enright
has many fellow-travellers in the CBC. Apparently the CRTC rules against
hate don't apply to Christianity. And apparently the TV sponsors Shopper's
Drug Mart, Russell Stover Chocolates, Business Depot and others don't care
about showing contempt for Christ.
[SCORPION] Colombia, a country terrorized by drug-related crime
and a guerrilla movement that just might overthrow the government, a country
that has the highest murder rates in the world, now has legalized euthanasia,
thanks to a 6-3 decision of the Constitutional Court of Colombia. The court
ruled that "no person can be held criminally responsible for taking the
life of a terminally ill patient who has given clear authorization to do
so." (First Things, January 1998) We expect that the carefully limited
terms will soon be the key that unlocks the door to wide-open euthanasia
without the patient's consent, as in the Netherlands.
"Shall the throne of iniquity, which devises evil
by law, Have fellowship with You?" (Psalm 94:20)
[CHEERS] Last spring, a Toronto teacher asked her grade-school students
how many of them were "pro-choice". All the hands shot up, except for one
little girl's. "Why are you not pro-choice?" the obviously unbiased teacher
asked the seven-year-old, who replied, "Because I'm pro-life." The teacher
continued her interrogation, "And why are you pro-life?" The girl answered,
"Because Mommy and Daddy are pro-life."
Asked the teacher, "And what if your parents were
morons?" Said the little girl, "Then I'd be pro-choice."
The seven-year-old in question was Lucy Coren, daughter
of author and broadcaster Michael Coren. "Out of the mouth of babes and
nursing infants You have ordained strength, Because of Your enemies, That
You may silence the enemy and the avenger" (Psalm 8:2).
A Confession of Faith
(produced by United Church of Canada members, independent of anyexisting
organization inside or outside the United Church of Canada.)
Christmas Eve, 1997
In response to the current debate in the United
Church of Canada and society at large regarding the divinity of Jesus Christ
and the historical nature of His resurrection from the dead, we recognize,
Confessing with those who have gone before us, and in
accordance with the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, and the world
Council of Churches:
The United church of Canada has been brought to a crisis in which we must
answer again the question Jesus asked of His disciples: "Who do you say
that I am?"(1)
The only faithful answer we can give is that Jesus is Lord and Saviour(2),
which means we confess that:
Jesus, being fully human(3), is the Son of the Living God(4)
Jesus is God(5)
Jesus Christ, through his death and bodily(6) resurrection, is the one
foundation(7) for forgiveness of sin(8), life eternal(9) and redemption
for individuals(10) and the whole of creation(11)
This faithful answer is revealed through the power of the Holy Spirit(12),
who leads us into all truth(13)
The United Church of Canada can only be faithful and strengthened to serve
others and resist evil whenever it corporately confesses that Jesus Christ
is Lord and Saviour.(14)
We "accept our Lord Jesus Christ as God and Saviour"(15)
and take our stand on this truth.
Therefore, we invite all persons within the United
Church of Canada to join in this confession.
I, (print name) __________________________________________, share in
__ Member of U.C.Can.
__ Adherent of U.C.Can.
__ Ministry Personnel in U.C.Can
__ Friend of U.C.Can.
This Document is available from HTTP://WWW3.SYMPATICO.CA/CONFESSION/
Respond to: Confession of Faith (U.C.) 130-270
Bank St., Ottawa, ON K2P 2N2
(1)Mark 9:29 (2)I Corinthians 12:3 (3)Hebrews 2:14,18
(4)Matthew 16:16, Basis of Union Articles I&II (5)John 1:1-4,14 (6)We
refer here to the empty tomb and Jesus' insistence that he was not a spirit
Luke 24:37-39, John 20:24-27 (7)I Corinthians 3:11 (8)Mark 2:5,10 (9)Acts
4:12, Basis of Union Article IX (10)John 1:1-12 (11)Revelation 21:1, Romans
8:21, Basis of Union Article XX (12)I Corinthians 12:2 (13)John 16:13,
Basis of Union Article VIII (14)John 20:28 (15)World Council of Churches
BUILD UP EACH OTHER
GREATNESS IN MINISTRY
Rev. Leslie McSpadden
TEXT: Jesus said: "Among you, whoever wants to be
great must be your servant, and whoever
wants to be first must be slave of all." Mark 10:43,44
I was ordained in 1964 and I plan to retire in June,
2000. I have spent a lot of time considering how I want to spend these
last three years because I want them to be creative and productive. I have
seen too many clergy spend the last 3 or 5 or 10 years coasting into retirement.
I don't want to waste what could yet be my best years in ordained ministry.
As I have looked back over the last 33 years, I
have considered what changes would I make, what new directions do I believe
congregation and clergy need to go, were I to begin again. Out of this
pondering, I hope to share with you what might be helpful as you, Wesley
United Church, and you, Rev. Kim Wright, begin a new pastoral relationship.
Our text provides a context within which to ponder
these questions. If we are to follow Jesus Christ, as Lord and Saviour,
then we cannot avoid becoming servants, even slaves of Jesus Christ.
However, the pressures are on us to ignore Jesus'
call, just as pressures were on James and John to avoid his call to servanthood
too. Our secular world today as it did in Jesus' day, invites us to try
to lord it over others, to determine our future based on our own experiences
and wants and wilful desires.
The call to servanthood applies to each member of
Wesley United Church as much as it does to Kim Wright. Many congregations
expect their clergy to serve them, to do what they don't want to do or
even to learn to do. I hope you are not that kind of congregation because
that is the best way to "burn out" your minister.
You are both called to serve Jesus Christ in the
community even though you, the congregation, and you, the clergy, do it
differently. But a congregation and a clergy working together under Christ
cannot help but make an impact on a community.
At the same time, it is also very important to understand
what servanthood is not. Servanthood does not mean that Kim is to be your
doormat, who lets you walk all over him and vice versa is also true.
Kim has a family and personal life which needs to
be nurtured just as much as he needs to nurture this congregation. The
"Golden Rule" of counselling, which I learned many years ago in crisis
counselling, is: do for others what they can't do for themselves and no
more! Put into ministry terms, I believe this means: do the things unique
to your role as an ordained minister but don't do those things that more
suitably belong to the congregation.
What I have said so far is general background against
which I now want to say some specific things:
1) If I were to start over again, I would shift
how I saw my role away from preacher/chaplain to preacher/evangelist. A
good way to get at this would be to ask you, the congregation: what percentage
of his time should Kim serve you? Do you expect him to spend 50%, 75%,
Let me illustrate. If there is a common complaint
about clergy, it is often said: "He/she does not visit enough!" If a congregation
has 250 households, some congregations expect the clergy to visit every
home annually. Do you expect this? If there are 10 people in hospital each
week and 20 people in nursing homes on the average, do you expect the Minister
to visit each person weekly? Monthly? Yearly?
One of the best ways for a congregation to wear
out a clergyperson is to lay unrealistic expectations on him or her. Then
if the clergy accepts, as we often do, we soon find that we fall short
and then we feel guilty. We can get caught up in a cycle of guilt, more
criticism, try harder, more failure, and more guilt.
Now take all the other expectations that you have
of your clergy--worship services, funerals, weddings, emergencies, and
on and on and on--and pretty soon you end up expecting the clergy to work
90 hours a week.
I know some clergy who have tried that; I have tried
that. The only thing that saves most men from such a work-week is an early
heart attack, which is not fatal!
All these expectations are designed to fulfill the
role of preacher/chaplain; that is, the clergy is a full-time chaplain
to a congregation and that takes up all the available time and energy.
When I was ordained in 1964, this model of ministry
worked reasonably well but today it doesn't. The clergy need to be released
from being a full-time chaplain so he/she can work towards a new role--preacher/evangelist.
The preacher/chaplain role worked fairly well in 1964 because a high percentage
of our children and grandchildren chose to remain within the Church as
But from the late 60's to the present, most of our
children and grandchildren have chosen to reject the church. This means
that the average age of many congregations has moved into the 50's or the
60's or even the 70's. Such congregations are literally dying out.
When a clergyperson, in agreement with a congregation,
moves to a preacher/evangelist model, he/she can now spend more time out
in the community, away from the walls of the church building. He can spend
time where the unchurched are, learning who they are and what contact points
they have for the gospel of Jesus Christ.
This is dangerous - you may see strangers showing
up in your church, looking you over to see if they want to get involved
with you. Even more dangerous, they may even decide to be baptized and
confirmed and participate in the life of your congregation.
What is most dangerous is: will you let them in?
Will you elect them to positions of leadership, will you adopt them into
the Wesley United Church family or will you subtly freeze them out while
at the same time blaming them for not coming in?
As the clergy learn how to connect with the unchurched,
you and he together can be learning how to share the good news of Jesus
with those outside, those who rejected the church, even those who have
never heard of Jesus, of whom there are more and more.
2) I am beginning to see more and more clearly that
we have to move from all the committees we have to as few committees as
possible. We suffer from committecitis! We need to move from committee
life to small group life.
When I went to my first pastoral charge in Saskatchewan
in 1964, I tried to reproduce all the committees the Manual of The United
Church of Canada prescribed. I had almost everyone who came regularly on
at least 1 committee and if possible, on 2 or 3 or 4 or even more because
that was how the church lived and thrived--I thought!
I do not doubt that sometimes good pastoral care
is exercised on its members by a committee but I confess that I have wasted
a lot of my time and energy, and that of solid church members, on committees
that met regularly, that discussed and planned and argued and discussed
endlessly but did not do a thing of consequence. I have been on such committees
at the congregational, presbytery, conference and general council level.
I must confess that most of these committees are camels which set out to
I believe we need to reduce committees to the barest
minimum and move in the direction of small groups of 6 to 12 persons, who
focus on Bible study, prayer, sharing and projects that are time limited.
My experience is that a large number of United Church
members are skilled at running and participating in committees but don't
know how to pray or study scripture, let alone share from their heart in
a small, trusted group. There are several very good small group programmes.
Those congregations which focus much of their energy on small groups discover
Thirty years ago, you could introduce a person with
a new faith into the church by putting him or her on a committee. But today,
most people who are unchurched would probably leave the church if you assign
them to a committee.
3)Lastly, I believe that a key to a healthy ministry
as a clergy and as a member of a congregation is a vital prayer life. I
confess that this is the area where I have experienced more failures than
I came out of the 60's when I bought into the then
current idea that any clergy worth her salt was an activist, someone who
was out in the world doing things, not in a church praying. Out in the
world was where the action was and unless you were there, you had missed
I tried that for about 5 years until I was worn
out doing good; I was weary of changing society, of working for the just
society, the good society, the excellent society, the new society.
I slowly and painfully rediscovered the necessity
of prayer. In college, I had bought into sociology more than theology,
psychology more than forgiveness, action more than contemplation and then
I wore out.
Only after I regained at least a minimum level of
a daily discipline of prayer, of meditation on scripture, of occasionally
going on retreat, only then did I recover from my cynicism, from my sense
of failure, from my seeing ministry as action only.
What terrible arrogance I fell into, of thinking
I could change the world, that I was any congregation's saviour. Slowly
I began to recover a sense of God's grace in my life, of God's leading,
and of God's power.
I invite Kim to be very serious about your prayer
life but I don't want Kim's prayer life to be a substitute for the congregation's
prayer life! It is just as important that elders, stewards, members of
the Official Board, Sunday School teachers and choir members develop your
prayer life so that you will be in touch with God's grace and power.
A new pastoral relationship is a time of new beginnings;
a time to make new discoveries, to follow new directions. It's a time when
both clergy and congregation can struggle anew with such questions as:
What does it mean for each of us to be a servant
of Jesus Christ within and without the walls of Wesley United Church?
May God richly bless you as you learn afresh that
Jesus Christ, our Master and Lord, did not come to be waited on hand and
foot but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Amen.
(On the occasion of the Covenanting Service among
Niagara Presbytery, Rev. Kim Wright and Wesley United Church, Welland,
Ontario - October 19, 1997.)
AN OPEN LETTER TO
The Rt. Rev. William Phipps
1250 Bloor St. W.
I was present yesterday at the open forum in Metropolitan
Church when you were given the opportunity to speak and to respond to questions
and comments from the 600 people gathered.
I had many things I wanted to say, but time ran
out. I am grateful that your theological position was further clarified.
But I must say that I found no encouragement in what you said by way of
clarification. I came away with a heavy heart. Many of the old heresies
that have plagued the church throughout the centuries are still alive and
well in your thinking.
A few days ago I was discussing your views with
a Presbyterian minister. His comment was that if a minister of his denomination
publicly expressed such a theological position there would be a heresy
trial. My response was that this would never happen in our present-day
United Church. And the simple reason is that the current leadership of
our Church, both administrative and theological, would not recognize a
heresy if they fell over one. Once Scripture and the great creeds of the
Church are abandoned in favour of old heresies and modern ideologies, the
very concept of heresy becomes meaningless.
The theological and moral error in our United Church
can be measured by the distance we have strayed from the 20 Articles of
Faith in our United Church of Canada constitution. That excellent summary
of historic Christian faith was honoured when our denominatiA on was spiritually
healthy, united, and growing. For over 30 years now we have been drifting
away from our moorings. This has resulted in loss of spiritual and moral
vitality, disastrous loss in membership, and loss of respect from the community
at large as well as from other denominations in the world-wide Christian
I wonder how long it will be before the World Council
of Churches revokes our United Church membership. Why so? As you must know,
their basic requirement for membership is that a denomination acknowledge
"Jesus Christ as God and Saviour according to the Holy Scriptures." Admittedly,
on the basis of adherence to our 20 Articles of Faith, we would still qualify,
but on the basis of the unitarian and unbiblical theology rampant in our
church today, our membership in the World Council should indeed be revoked.
And where would that leave us?
As the Roman Catholic guest at General Council so
prophetically pointed out, our United Church, in such documents as "Mending
the World" is isolating us from Roman Catholics, the Orthodox Churches,
evangelical Churches, and even from most other mainline denominaations.
Is everyone out of step but Willie?
It is my earnest prayer that you, together with
all others in key leadership roles will be given grace to hear what the
Spirit is saying to our Church. May we all listen and repent before the
Lord of the Church gives up on us.
Yours in prayerful concern,
(Rev.) Morley Clarke
A Child Asks
CAN JESUS TELL ME WHAT TO DO?
I am nine years old and at school there is a bully
named Billy Bigsley. Billy is just about as mean as anybody can get.
Since kindergarten he has tripped me, pulled my hair, and made fun of me.
He calls me prune face and lots of other bad stuff.
I hate him, but my Mom says it's wrong to hate him
because Jesus said I have to love everybody, even people who are mean to
me. She says that Billy must be very unhappy and I should try being
nice to him. She says maybe if I try being nice to him, he might
change. She says the Jesus told us we have to love people who are
bad to us and forgive them no matter how many times they hurt us.
At Sunday school Mrs. Jenkins says that we have
to do what Jesus told us because he was really God walking around in a
human body and people who are Christians have to obey him.
But I heard my Mom and Dad talking one night and
Daddy said that you are an important man in my church and you don't believe
that Jesus was really God. Is that true? 'Cause if it's true
then I don't see why I have to do what Jesus said.
Did God tell us to love people who do bad things
to us or did just Jesus tell us that? If God didn't and Jesus isn't
God, then I guess I don't have to love Billy or forgive him. If Jesus
was just another person like me and you, then who did he think he was telling
everybody what to do?
It would be great if I don't have to obey him, 'cause
then I could hate Billy Bigsley like he deserves and one day I'll get even
with him. And I don't have to forgive him, ever. Living the
way Jesus told us is too hard and I don't want to do it anymore.
I'm glad if he can't tell me what to do.
Please tell me it's okay no to obey him.
Jennifer is a fictitious little girl. Recently,
however, in conversation with a small granddaughter who is fortunate enough
to be attending a Catholic school where some religion is being taught,
the subject of bullies and forgiveness did come up, and with it, the whole
question of the authority of Jesus.
Undoubtedly the Rt. Rev. Mr. Phipps would tell Jennifer
that she should love her enemies and forgive over and over because God
was in Jesus and Jesus was a good example for us to follow. But --
correct me if I'm wrong -- Bill Phipps, in his honesty, would have to admit
to Jennifer that he believes Jesus, in his total humanity, was not infallible.
Therefore, any commandment he gave us has to be examined in light of our
own experience and circumstances. In other words it is ultimately
up to us what we choose to obey.
Now young Jennifer is left with a faith based upon
her own conscience. As she progresses through life, her conscience,
of course, will be influenced by many imperfect human beings.
Where does that leave this child? By whose
compass will she be guided? Whose standards will she follow?
What certainty will she cling to in times of agonizing decision, or when
her life is shadowed by fear, pain and grief?
Jennifer needs to believe that Jesus is that compass
and that certainty. She needs her church to tell her that for Christians,
Jesus is the final authority. He must be obeyed, and if she trusts
and believes in Him, she will be upheld and she will be comforted.
That is the only answer there is for Christians, or we are no longer Christians,
however many good works we may perform. Somebody who is an important
man in the United Church needs to tell Jennifer that.
WORLD ALLIANCE OF REFORMED CHURCHES
Under the theme "Breaking the Chains of Injustice" (Isaiah
58:6), the 23rd General council of the World Alliance of Reformed
Churches (WARC) took place August 8-20, in Debrecan, Hungary.
Among the major actions taken by the council was
the decision to readmit the Dutch Reformed Church (NRC) as a member. WARC
had suspended the south African denomination in 1982 because of its support
of apartheid. To qualify for readmission, the NRC needed to meet three
conditions: open its doors to more non-whites, give aid to victims of apartheid,
and pass "unequivocal" resolutions assuring WARC that it rejects apartheid.
The NRC has met the first two conditions and is expected to pass the anti-apartheid
resolutions during its October 1998 general synod.
Taiwanese ecumenist Choan Seng (C.S.) Song was unanimously
elected president of the WARC. Song, the only candidate for the post, is
a member of the Presbyterian Church in Taiwan and a minister in the Reformed
Church in America.
The delegates signed a Declaration of Debrecen
as a commitment to work in their specific fields to realize the goals of
the General Council.
The Declaration of Debrecen
WE BELONG--BODY AND SOUL, IN LIFE AND IN DEATH--NOT
TO OURSELVES BUT TO OUR FAITHFUL SAVIOUR JESUS CHRIST. We confess our theological
and moral failures, our complicity in adding to the world's burdens, our
inadequate witness to God's purposes. We ask forgiveness from God and from
each other for these transgressions, and also for the injuries we have
done to one another. Claiming the new life which forgiveness makes possible,
and relying on God's promises that the chains of injustice can be broken,
WE ARE NOT OUR OWN. We belong to the living god
who made all things and declared them to be very good. We will not exploit
and destroy that creation. We will be stewards of creation for God.
WE ARE NOT OUR OWN. We believe in Jesus Christ,
who died for us and was raised for our salvation. We confess that no human
ideology or agenda holds the secret to the ultimate direction of history.
We are in all things dependent on our Redeemer.
WE ARE NOT OUR OWN. We know that in Jesus Christ
we were bought with a price. We will not patronize, exclude, or ignore
the gifts of any person, male or female, young or old. We declare our solidarity
with the poor, and with all who are suffering, oppressed, or excluded.
WE ARE NOT OUR OWN. We believe in the Holy Spirit
who will guide us into all truth. We refuse the false assumption that everything,
including human beings and their labour, is a commodity and has a price.
WE ARE NOT OUR OWN. We are called to be build into
a new community in the Spirit of God. We pledge ourselves to a simple life-style
which bears witness to God's ordering of the household life.
WE ARE NOT OUR OWN. We do not despair, for God reigns.
We will continue to struggle against injustice in this world. We look forward
to the Holy City in which God will dwell with human beings and be their
WE ARE NOT OUR OWN. With Christians of the Reformed
faith through the centuries, and with the whole people of God, we join
our voices to proclaim,
SOLI DEO GLORIA!
(Source: December 1997 Presbyterian Record)