понедельник, 20 февраля 2017 г.

Григорий Назианзин: "Мы не отделяем в Нем человека от Божества..."

"Мы не отделяем в Нем человека от Божества, но учим, что Один и Тот же - прежде не человек, но Бог и Сын единородный, предвечный, не имеющий ни.тела, ни чего-либо телесного, а потом и человек, воспринятый для нашего спасения, подлежащий страданию по плоти, бесстрастный по Божеству, ограниченный по телу, неограниченный по духу, Один и Тот же - земной и небесный, видимый и умопредставляемый, вместимый и невместимый, чтобы всецелым человеком и Богом воссоздан был всецелый человек, падший под грех... Если кто понадеялся на человека, не имеющего ума, то он действительно не имеет ума и недостоин быть всецело спасен, ибо невоспринятое не уврачевано, но что соединилось с Богом, то и спасется".

(Григорий Назианзин, письма к Кледонию, IV век)

среда, 15 февраля 2017 г.

Ursinus on the relations within the eternal Trinity and the personal properties of the Three Persons

"We may now readily perceive the difference between the Essence of God, and the Persons, subsisting in the divine essence. By the term, Essence, we are to understand, in reference to this subject, that which the eternal Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are considered, and declared to be, singly and absolutely in themselves, and which is common to the three. By the term, Person, however, we are to understand that which the three persons of the Godhead are considered and declared to be individually and relatively, or as compared with each other, and which they are according to the mode of existence peculiar to each. Or, we may define Essence as the very being of God—the very, eternal, and only Deity—whilst the term Person refers to the mode, or manner, in which the being of God, or the divine essence, subsists in each of these three. God the Father is that Being who is of himself, and not from another. The Son is that self-same Being, or essence, not of himself, but of the Father. The Holy Spirit is in like manner the self-same Being, not of himself, but from the Father and the Son. Thus the Being, or divine essence, of the there persons of the Godhead is one and the same in number. But to be of himself, or from another—from one, or from two; that is, to have this one divine essence of himself, or to have it communicated from another—from one or from two, expresses the mode of existence which is three-fold and distinct; to wit, to be of himself, to be begotten or generated, and to proceed; and hence, the three persons which are expressed by the term, Trinity."

ZACHARIAS URSINUS, The Commentary of Dr. Zacharias Ursinus on the Heidelberg Catechism, trans. G. W. Williard (Cincinnati, OH: Elm Street Printing Company, 1888), 130. (modified)

понедельник, 13 февраля 2017 г.

Which way is the Spirit blowing? (the Anglican Bishops' report on human sexuality)

I really hope that lots of my gay friends read this post. And also Christian brothers and sisters who have a different view to me on same-sex relationships and transgender issues. 

The first thing I want to say is this: love. God's love. The Father's unconditional love for the Son which reaches out to all and saves whosoever believes in him. This is not about hate. And it is not about rejecting people. If you have felt - or feel - that God or the church or individual Christians reject or hate you I am really sorry to hear that. God is love.

As I have read negative reactions to the report by the House of Bishops of the Anglican Church, I would like to share some thoughts about where I am coming from.

1. People matter to God. All sorts of people. And whoever they are, whatever they believe, whoever they love God is there for them - and the Christian church is too. That is not just lofty ideals and empty words. Yesterday was Sunday, the day when church meets. And whenever we open our doors we are waiting for whoever will come - and they do. With all their issues and baggage. And the main thing they need to hear and experience is love.

2. Anyone who has loved or been loved knows that love is not as simple as blanket acceptance and approval. I don't mean that love is something less than accepting; I mean that love is something more than accepting. When my wife loves her now overweight husband, he both accepts me as I am and stops buying me chocolate biscuits. When I love my teenage daughter, I love her just the way she is and want to help her to manage her tensions and frustrations. When God loves any one of his creatures He does so unconditionally and also reserves the right - he is God after all - to transform us into the image of his beloved Son. Yes, we were 'born this way', but God's destiny for us is to lift us from what we are we to what we can be, what we were created to be: "born not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God".

3. The Christian church does not represent society - nor should it. We are supposed to be an opt-in minority, not opt-out quasi-monopoly. Back in the 4th century CE a ruler called Constantine came to some form of Christian faith and in the context of a military campaign and power struggle granted the Christian church toleration, ending centuries of persecution. Later another ruler, Theodosius, made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire. The result was that instead of 10% the church now represented 90%. And for many centuries almost everyone in 'Christendom' had some sort of church connection, even if only by virtue of being baptised in infancy. You might even consider yourself a Christian, even if you never go to church and barely know what the Bible says. However, globally speaking, we have been getting over opt-out Constantinian Christianity since the 16th century. The church is a voluntary society of believers. It is a matter of deliberate choice. We live in a secular society in which the Christian church holds beliefs and has practices that most people do not share. And that's okay.

4. It seems to me that no one is saying 'anything goes'. When I read blogs and articles advocating a radical revision of the historic Christian teaching on sexuality I read phrases such as these: "humane, spiritual capital in our relationships... a covenanted relationship between two persons before God... adult responsible men and women who are flourishing in relationships they are asking the church both to affirm and celebrate..." What about inhumane relationships? What about non-covenanted relationships? What about irresponsible men and women in relationships in which they are not flourishing? Where is the affirmation and celebration of multiple partners or abusive relationships? I assume the answer would be that, while loving and accepting the individuals involved, these relationships cannot be affirmed and celebrated. Anyone who has been involved in pastoral or counselling work has faced situations where a strongly desired relationship has to be forsaken for the good of all involved. So there are circumstances when it is okay not to affirm and celebrate? How is that response qualitatively different from the same response in respect of same-sex relationships?

5. "History tells me that I can be confident that there will come a time when LGBT relationships are fully accepted, integrated, honoured and celebrated in the sacramental and pastoral life of the church." This quotation begs at least two questions. Which history? Which church? Addressing the second question, it is frankly inconceivable that the Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox church will even contemplate revising their teaching on marriage; equal marriage can hardly qualify as that which has been believed "everywhere, always, by all" (the so-called Vincentian canon). Or indeed the Protestant churches in the Majority World. Even in semi-European Russia it is inconceivable. As for history, presumably the author is equating this issue with that or racial equality/slavery. He means history not as 'events' but as their record and interpretation in 'historiography'. Yes, there is a historiography which sees an overarching narrative of 'liberation' throughout history. However it seems to me this is again confusing the church and the world. There are all sorts of tendencies which can be observed in human society which are just as inevitable, but which can hardly be seen as progress. Interestingly the author equates such change with "the act of God's Spirit". This seems more Hegelian than Christian. God not as the immutable Creator but as the ever-evolving Weltgeist.

6. Let me also briefly address the 'Biblical' arguments. There is now a growing body of Christian scholarship which provides a theological basis for a very substantial revision of the historic teaching on marriage and sexuality (as indeed on other issues). My understanding of this New Orthodoxy is as follows. When the Bible speaks against homosexuality it is speaking against cultic or abusive same-sex relationships - so the argument goes. The Bible allegedly says nothing explicit about modern-day consensual homosexual relationships. However there is another thread in the Biblical revelation which celebrates covenantal commitment between two persons and - so it is claimed - this is not confined to male-female marriage; the classic examples are David and Jonathan and Ruth and Naomi. This thread is said to provide a Biblical basis for same-sex partnerships and marriage. It seems to me that these affectionate, covenanted relationships can be affirmed and celebrated by all believers. And they were clearly platonic/celibate; they are not marriage. Only in the imagination of Oscar Wilde was the king "after God's own heart", the author of Psalm 51, actively bisexual. The Lord Jesus Christ affirmed male-female lifelong marriage and celibacy, but in every other case his words were: "neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more". Likewise the Apostle Paul: "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband."

I want to finish by talking about some people who are very dear to me. I could refer to two of them as S and H. They are dear brothers and sisters in Christ. They are gay; they experience an attraction to people of the same sex and in many ways can identify with the experience of many others. They see their calling in the light of Jesus' words about eunuchs in Matthew 19:12. Like their Lord they are also celibate. They are wronged whenever someone speaks disparagingly of LGBT people or whenever their very personal, intimate feelings are trampled on in culture wars in defence of marriage. But they are also wronged when it is assumed that to be gay and to be Christian is to be sexually active outside heterosexual marriage, to have 'gotten over' old-fashioned morals moving with the times and that of course everyone needs to be in a relationship to be fulfilled. These are precious souls and under the Chief-Shepherd it is my calling to be their pastor.  

среда, 8 февраля 2017 г.

Reinventing the bicycle (Baptist associations and districts)

In Russian the saying, "reinventing the wheel" is translated as "reinventing the bicycle". Incidentally, it would be interesting to research the historical/anthropological question as to whether the wheel was in fact 'invented' in one place or in several.
History, of course, is not just about the past. It is also about understanding the present and coming up with solutions for the future. "Reinventing the wheel" in this case is about how the church can organise at a level above the local church

It is an interesting observation that the historic episcopal (bishop-based) model of a hierarchy of priests-bishops-archbishops (metropolitans)-patriarchs was adapted both by presbyterian church courts (kirk session-presbytery/synod-general assembly-general council), and also by independent/Baptist polity (local church-association-general assembly-world assembly). In other words an episcopal diocese is equivalent to a presbyterian presbytery and a Baptist association - not only geographically, but also in function. This shows not only how church government reflects secular government, but also how particular problems naturally beg a given solution - regardless of other, even theological considerations. 

Within the episcopal polity a diocese is subdivided into deaneries (Roman Catholic and Anglican). This same phenomenon is also referred to as a provostry (Lutheran) or blagochinie/protopopiat (Orthodox). This is the intermediate level between diocese and parish. A deanery is headed up by a dean or suffragan bishop. 

My question was whether this had also been the practice in a Baptist set-up, particularly as the need had arisen in our own context for such an arrangement. It turns out that it has. I have it on good authority that in the British context Baptist associations have been subdivided into districts (a Baptist deanery). In various contemporary contexts this same arrangement is also termed an area (Lairawn Baptist Association, Myanmar) or network (South Eastern Baptist Association, UK). A possible Russian translation might be округ.

понедельник, 6 февраля 2017 г.

"... душа и тело бунтуют против их суровости..." (о правилах и законах)

"Правила и законы существуют не для тех минут, когда нет искушения, они как раз для таких, как сейчас, когда душа и тело бунтуют против их суровости; но как они ни тяжелы, я не нарушу их. Если бы я для своего удобства нарушала их, какая была бы им цена? А между тем их значение непреходяще, - я в это верила всегда, и если не верю сейчас, то оттого, что я безумна, совсем безумна: в моих жилах течет огонь, и мое сердце неистово бьется. В этот час я могу опереться только на ранее сложившиеся убеждения, только на решения, принятые давно, - и на них я опираюсь".

(Шарлотта Бронте, Джейн Эйр) 

“Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation; they are for such moments as this, when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour; stringent are they; inviolate they shall be. If at my individual convenience I might break them, what would be their worth? … Preconceived opinions, foregone determinations, are all I have at this hour to stand by; there I plant my foot.”

(Charlotte Brontë, Jane Eyre)

"What about the stars?" (a response to Ricky Gervais on the Comedy Central show)

Confession: I am a huge fan of "The Office." In that series - the UK version - Ricky Gervais mastered the character David Brent. "The Office" isn't just hilariously funny; in my view it shows penetrating insight into individual and social psychology, issues such as the nature of leadership, the roles people assume in society, coping with change, responding to right and wrong and male-female relationships. The culmination of the series is when David Brent and his colleague, Tim, find and are united with their soul-mates.

Sometimes it is difficult to tell them apart: the actor/comedian Ricky Gervais and his most famous character, David Brent. Particularly when Ricky Gervais is ambitiously casting for a role to which he is far less suited: that of an evangelist for Dawkins-style new atheism.

Ricky Gervais is neither a philosopher nor a natural scientist and it tells. He also has an axe to grind in respect of his former church connection and an eat-drink-and-be-merry philosophy of life to justify ("I don't want to give up drinking and eating - what's the point?"). But since he is popular for his comedy he is guaranteed a hearing - most recently on US late night show, Comedy Central, hosted by Roman Catholic, Stephen Corbert.

In their brief 'debate' on atheism, Ricky Gervais' strongest line was as follows:

"… Science is constantly proved all the time. You see, if we take something like any fiction, any holy book… and destroyed it, in a thousand years’ time, that wouldn’t come back just as it was. Whereas if we took every science book, and every fact, and destroyed them all, in a thousand years they’d all be back, because all the same tests would [produce] the same result."

These are clearly the statements of a non-scientist. The overstatement of the scientific endeavour and its achievements ("proved... all the time... same result") give away that Ricky Gervais is not himself engaged in scientific experiment or its analysis.

Leaving that aside, what can we make of his central assertion? 

The contrast it seeks to set up is between evidence-based scientific tests and their results on the one hand and non-evidence-based holy books on the other. In his worldview the former are objective and repeatable, while the latter represent fiction and are therefore unrepeatable.

So where do those holy books come from? What, if any, is their source?

Ricky Gervais would say they are fiction, the product of imagination. I would say they are a subjective response to something objective, which I would identify as revelation. 

To answer this qustion we need to distinguish between General Revelation (there is a God who created everything) and Special Revelation (God has been involved in human history - supremely in the person of Jesus Christ).

Let us consider the first, General Revelation. This is what God has revealed about himself to all people, regardless of whether or not they have access to the Bible. The fact that there is something, rather than nothing (the Kalam or Cosmological argument). The design apparent in the natural world and in our own bodies. Our conscience which gives us a sense of right and wrong - which cannot be reduced to Darwinian survival instincts. This evidence is very much repeatable. It does not rely on a print run - and is unassailable even in the event of a mass book-burning or internet shut-down. Responding to this objective evidence we believe that there is a God who created all things. 

Now the second aspect is Special Revelation. This is what God has revealed in human history over time and supremely in Jesus Christ - as recorded in the Bible. These historical events - and records of them - are the basis for our belief in the Christian God, the God who not only is, but also acts in history. So the question is: is it possible to obliterate historical events by destroying all records of them happening? It should of course be pointed out that destroying records of events doesn't mean the events in themselves didn't happen. Historical events are, of course, unrepeatable. But the events of the past continue to be accessible to us in a whole host of ways and we are able to study the past by means of historical research - just as we are able to study the natural world by means of experiment. In respect of the particular events of special significance for Christian faith, supremely the life of Jesus Christ, Christians would add that God has and will ensure that those records do make it to us - and they have in the form of the Christian Scriptures. Responding to this objective evidence we believe in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

So my answer to Ricky Gervais would be that his hypothetical mass destruction of all religious literature - presumably along the lines of 1792 or 1917 - is not the knock-down argument it might appear to be. The Holy Book of the Christian faith, the Bible, is not a work of fiction, but a record and a response to objective evidence in respect of the universe (not dissimilar to the empirical evidence on which science is based) and to objective historical evidence (which is accessible to historical enquiry). These don't necessitate religious faith; you are free not to believe. But they do provide an objective basis for believing. And the reflective atheist would do well to interact with that evidence rather than suggesting that only their worldview has any objective basis.  

I am reminded of a conversation said to have taken place in the wake of the Terror following the French revolution. Someone was allegedly boasting, "We will destroy every single religious symbol in France." A wise contemporary retorted, "What about the stars?"