Friday, July 25, 2008

The Mission of the Church and the MDGs

There is a lot of people who say that our diversity can be united in mission. But that begs the question - what is the mission of the Church?

The mission of the Church can be summed up in the Great Commission:
And Jesus came to them and said: "All authority in heaven and on earth has
been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations,
baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you and lo, I am with you
always, to the close of the age."

Another way to say this is that the mission of the Church is to reconcile all people with God and each other thru Jesus Christ. Any thing that detracts from this mission is bad. That which furthers the mission is good.

The MDGs are good works. They can be ways of furthering the mission of the Church, but they are not the mission of the Church. I will work with non-Christians in relieving poverty, bringing good news to prisoners, working for justice and peace and other "good works" but only if I can do them in the name of Jesus Christ and only if I can, in some way, further the mission of the Church. The Church is only the Church when she is evangelizing.

Now that does not necessarily mean that we start grabbing people by the shirt and asking if they know Jesus. It does not mean that we need to be overt in our evangelism. A great deal of evangelism is what I call "covert." Evangelism can begin with justice issues. It can begin by working the the MDGs. But at some point it needs to be plain that we are doing this because of what Jesus has done for us and what He can do for them.

The MDGs cannot be a goal of the Church. They are a byproduct of living the Great Commission. The MDGs and any other social justice work are works done because of what Jesus has first done for us. If we make them the goal, we cease to be the Church. If we put them ahead of the Great Commission, we start to worship a false god.

I fear that this is what TECUSA is doing - particularly at Lambeth now. Our church leadership is trying to convince others that theology doesn't matter and that soteriology doesn't matter and that moral living doesn't matter. Only "mission" matters. This is a lie and leads to death because it leads to a false god (see the previous post).

I can support most of the MDGs because they can be great means of brining God's word and the new life that Jesus brings to those who do not know Jesus or need to know him better (which is all of us!).

Phil Snyder

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Importance of Scripture and Theology

We’ve heard a lot about how what we believe really doesn’t matter – at least as it regards our moral behavior – so long as we can gather around the table in fellowship.

To that, I respectfully, but firmly disagree. What we believe and how we behave have great impact on our relationship with God.

As human beings, we were designed to worship. Worship is built into the human psyche. We will always find something to worship. What we worship is critically important. When we worship false gods, they lead to death because they lead us from the author of life. Worshipping a false God leads us from life into the darkness and loneliness of hell.

Now, here is the great joke and great secret. We all worship a false god. I don’t mean that we do this intentionally, but that we all have false ideas of God and we worship the God we know. Our prayer should be to know God as He truly Is, not as we perceive Him to be. But this is impossible because we lack the capacity to know God as He truly Is. We cannot comprehend God. We can only apprehend God.

Now, each of us understands God a little differently. That is why we need the community of the Church. That is why I need you and you need me. As +Rowan Williams said, only the whole Church knows the whole truth (or as much of it as can be known).

Our inability to know God as He Is is another reason why dogmatic theology or systematic theology or the study of theology is important as well as the study of Holy Scripture . The Creeds and the teaching of the Church give us a much better frame work to know God. They are record by which we know which God we are worshipping and serve as signposts that tell us to turn around (repent) and return to the God made known in Holy Scripture and in the theology of the Church – particularly the theological statements that are the Creeds.

In Holy Scripture, God’s relationship with Israel is often described in terms of a husband/wife relationship. The church is called the Bride of Christ and has been referred to by the term “Holy Mother Church.”

I have been married to my wife for over 20 years. I will never understand or fully know her. She is a mystery to me and I anticipate continued joy as I spend the rest of my life trying to understand the mystery that is my wife. But that does not give me leave to sleep with another woman based on “mistaken identity.” If I crawl into bed and there is a 5’2” blonde with blue eyes, then that is not my wife and I had better get out of bed immediately!

If we find that the God we worship is no the same as the God revealed in Holy Scripture or discovered in the creeds, then we better return to the God of Scripture immediately. If we find that our idea of God conflicts with what the Church says (and has always said) about God, then we had better reform our ideas rather than try to reform the Church.

If we worship “the ground of being” rather that God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; then we are worshipping a false God and that worship will (unless we repent) lead to our spiritual death.

So, the study of theology is not “academic;” it is very important. It further makes known God as He Is. But the theology we study and learn needs to be grounded in Holy Scripture first and foremost. We need to worship, not the god we know of, but God as He has revealed Himself in Holy Scripture and the teaching of the Church.

Phil Snyder

Friday, July 04, 2008

I Live in the Worst Country on Earth

Except for all the others.

Today in the Fourth of July. I would like to reflect on the things I love and the things I hate about my country. Let's start with the things I love

Freedom - We have the freedom to worship and believe and act on those beliefs. While this is messy, we probably have the most diverse views of faith and religion and religious practice in the world. We also have considerable economic freedom and in the USA almost anyone with a good idea can make it big. Finally, we have political freedom. Our Constitution does not grant rights to the people, it recognizes the rights granted by God.

Political System - while I don't like the new 24/7 political wrangling and constant campain whre every word or sentence or action of every member of the political classes is scrutanized for its impact on the next election, our electoral system is probably the best in the world. While I wish we had better people in office (vote for me, Phil Snyder, for Benevolent Dictator, 2008!), we probably have as good as any other country.

Inventiveness - The USA is responsible for the internet, for many advances in the fields of computers, physics, chemestry, etc. Since we were the place where people who didn't get along with their current governments went for so long, we got a lot of people who like to think differently. This gave us a great pool of inventors. I owe my job to the Apollo moon missions because it was the shrinking of components that was necessary to support Apollo that gave us the desktop and laptop computers.

Now, the things I don't like
Individualism - we have moved from a country where we supported each other to a country were we fight each other over small stuff. As a trivial example, consider traffic where there is a lane closure. We all hate this and we hate even more, the people who zoom along in the empty lane, waiting until the last minute to merge. This increases the bottle neck at the merge point and slows down everyone else. A couple of years ago, my wife and I went to the opening of WalMart for it's after Christmas sale. The majority of people joined the line but a handful (about 50) stood at the door and rushed it when it opened so they could get the best deals. We have forgotten our sense of community. This leads to abortion on demand (I want what's best for me and I don't care about anyone else), pornography, drug use and abuse, worship of self, and a lot of our social woes.

Consumerism - we are a nation of consumers. We are being sold to constantly and we look to things to make us happy. God created us to love people and use things, but we love things and use people (see individualism above). We spend too much time and too much money to buy too much stuff that can't fulfill us. We overspend because we want it all and we want it now. Stuff is not evil in itself, but our attraction to stuff gets in the way of our relationships with others and with God. Just about everything in life - from toothpaste to our political candidates are branded and sold to us, not offered to us to consider.

Even when I think our country can be greatly improved, I still think it is the best country on earth. May God bless us and recall us to Himself.

Phil Snyder

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Inclusive Church's statement on GAFCON - another fisking

This is such a target rich environment that it's too easy.

The "Inclusive Church" has a statement about the recent steatement from GAFCON. You can read it at the link, but here is my fisking of the statement:

The "Statement on the Global Anglican Future” released after the
GAFCON conference in Jerusalem shows once again how deeply many people
misunderstand the nature and spirit of Anglicanism. It misrepresents
loyal, orthodox, traditional Anglicans across the world who are
working and praying, in the spirit of the Gospel, to bring about the reign of
God on earth

That GAFCON was necessary is evidence of how "deeply many people misunderstand the nature and spirit of Anglicanism." But the problem is that the GAFCON delegates are the ones who do understand the nature and spirit of Anglicanism. It is the groups who are trying to change the Church from the Body of those who are being made new in Jesus Christ to a body of those who are affirmed in their deepest selves. GAFCON represents (not mis-represents) "loyal, orthodox, traditional Anglicans across the world."

Anglicanism is is a dynamic, changing, growing and living faith which takes its
authority from scripture, reason and tradition. It is unafraid to
learn and receive anew the lessons of God's unconditional love. The last
century has taught us how we must make sure that there are no barriers to the
welcome we offer to God's house. Anglican Christians in the United
States, Britain and across the world have applied those lessons and, in
accordance with scripture, opened their doors to those previously shut

This is a pretty true statement. But Inclusive Church has rejected Scripture, Tradition, and reason. (Note that "scripture" is not capitalized). The Church does need to be more open and call all people into relationship with the Holy Trinity. But that call is not a call to affirm yourself. It is a call to die to self to be raised with Jesus Christ. The only barriers to welcome in God's hourse should be within ourselves and include those sins of which we will not repent.

We welcome the response of the Archbishop of Canterbury to the GAFCON
statement. The arbitrary creation of a "Primates' Council” without
legitimacy or authority cuts directly across the Anglican Instruments of
Communion - the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference,
the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primates Meeting. The Statement
represents, in sum and despite its denials, a schismatic document which
seeks to re-form Anglicanism in a way which is without justification
historically and ecclesiologically.

The audacity of this statement is almost beyond belief. Having rejected the authority of the Primates Council, Lambeth, the ACC, and the Archbishop of Canterbury, how can they question anyone who works both inside and outside these structures. GAFCON is not attempting to replace either Lambeth, the ACC, the Primates Council or the ABC. GAFCON is asking for a primates group to steer the GAFCON church within a church. This is actually better than the Inclusive Church or the Integrity way of acting schimatically by telling the rest of the Church that they are wrong and shouldn't be listened to.

We regret the stumbling blocks which are created by the insistence on a
narrow understanding of scriptural authority, especially for members of Anglican
Churches in provinces whose leaders support the ideas of GAFCON. And
those who break away from the Anglican Communion will still have the challenge
of celebrating the diversity in God's universe, and acknowledging the divine
gifts bestowed on people who may be marginalised in some provinces - especially
women and lesbian and gay people.

Chesterton once said "The purpose of an open mind is the same as an open mouth - to close it upon something." It seems that Inclusive Church wants to have scripture (for them it has no capital) to be so open as to avoid all meaning. There are many ways to interpret scripture in its plain sense. The problem comes when you interpret Holy Scripture to say what it manifestly does not say. When you insist on ways of interpreting Scripture that the Church has never used or has used and found wanting. No one is denying that God gives gifts to homosexuals or to women. We do deny that God blesses homosexual sex in any fashion.

We are reminded of Matthew 11.16 - "To what shall I compare this
generation? It is like children sitting in the market places and calling
to one another, "We played the flute for you and you did not dance; we
wailed and you did not mourn.”

I am reminded of Gal 1:8 "But even if we, or an angel from heaven, should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we preached to you, let him be accursed." No one is asking people not to dance nor not to mourn. What we are asking for is simple compliance with the united voice of the Anglican Communion in recognizing sin as sin and refusing to bless it.

Above all we give thanks that the Spirit which leads us into all truth continues
to inspire and refresh the Anglican Communion. We all have much to learn
from each other, and we look forward to the Lambeth Conference. We pray
that in humility and openness those who attend will grow in their understanding
of the Gospel, of the Communion and of one another so that we can all be
newly equipped to serve the God who calls each of us into God's immeasurable

I share this prayer and I pray that the Holy Spirit comes with great power upon the bishops assembled at Lambeth. I pray that the stiff necked people who will not submit to the will of God as it is made plain in Holy Scripture and the teaching of the Church will bend their necks, lower their hearts and bend their knews and surrender to God's grace and love.

Phil Snyder

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

A Logical Fallacy

Many on the progressive Church will claim that we cannot with certainty know God's mind. And they are right. We lack the ability to know God as He is in His essence. We have the same ability to understand God that a single cell organism has to understand a person. This lack of ability to understand is one of the reasons that God reveals Himself to us. Without God's self-revelation, we would be utterly fallen and utterly without recourse.

But what the progressives follow the truth (we can't understand God and can't know Him with certainty) with is very false. They propose that, because we can't be certain about God because we can't fully understand and know God, we should allow that God desires us to do new things or to try new directions contrary to what the Church has said that God revealed in Holy Scripture.

This is a way to void the authority of Holy Scripture and replace it with the authority of the individual. Since we can't be certain of what God wants, we can't know that God doesn't want me to (get divorced, eat too much, cheat on my taxes, spend more than I make, waste resources, have sex outside of marriage, redefine marriage, take your pick). If we can't be certain of what God wants and doesn't want, then isn't almost everything adiaphora - non-essential?

The Truth (with a Capital "T") is this. We can't know God. We can't understand God. Therefore, we are bound by what God has choosen to reveal about Himself. The record of God's Self-revelation is found in Holy Scripture as interpreted by the Tradition of the Church.

Since we can't know God we must restrict ourselves to what God has shown us.

Phil Snyder