Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Yes, but What Do You MEAN by That?

The Elephant Room controversy has claimed another victim, Brian Broderson of Calvary Chapel. In a blog post he has stated:

"According to the Oneness doctrine, there is no Trinity—one God in three persons; rather there is one God who expresses Himself in different modes, sometimes as Father, sometimes as Son, and sometimes as Spirit. Now this teaching is certainly contrary to the biblical doctrine of the triune nature of God and is therefore "heretical," but to say that those who hold this view are not Christians is in my opinion going too far. Granted, it is an incorrect view regarding the nature of God, but it is not like other anti-trinitarian views that deny the full deity of Christ. I personally do not think you can put those who hold the Oneness doctrine in the same category as a Jehovah's Witness or a Mormon. I might be wrong, but that's the way I see it at this point. Should we seek to correct the view of the Oneness Pentecostals? Yes we should, in the same way we would seek to correct any person or group that has fallen into theological error. What I don't think we should do is spurn them or cast a final eternal judgment on them."

Now this is, I am afraid, appallingly bad theology, and shows a huge doctrinal blind spot in Broderson's thinking; yet it is a blind spot that is increasingly common in Evangelicalism. Increasingly the tendency is to say "Well, so-and-so believes in Jesus" and leave it at that, as if that is enough. Broderson has taken this a little further and said, "Well, so-and-so believes Jesus is God, so he can't be that bad."

On the contrary, he can be; for the question is really more fundamental than "who is Jesus?" it is, "Who is God?" That brings us back to the question of the Mormons, for the Mormon says "Jesus is God." Now Mr. Broderson is still sharp enough to recognise that the Mormon god is not the same as the God of trinitarian Christianity, but seems to have compromised enough that he is willing to fudge the issue on the god of Oneness Pentecostalism.

A denial of the Trinity is fundamental, for it affects one's whole perception of God in a multitude of ways. If God is unipersonal, then what does it mean for God to be love? Love is defined in the Bible in terms of self-giving, but if God is unipersonal, to whom can that one person give himself? It means that either he is not essentially love, or that the universe is necessary to God; that God could not have done other than create beings whom he could love. It challenges the doctrine of the love of God and changes it, it also challenges the independence of God, giving us a picture of a god who needs something outside of himself and upon whom is therefore laid the necessity of creating.

And despite Mr. Broderson's naive remarks, Oneness does alter the conception of Christ. According to classical Oneness teaching Christ has two personalities, a human and a divine, and when he prayed it was the human personality praying to the divine. That creates at best a schizophrenic deity, and at worst an incarnation that is not truly an incarnation at all, where the human and divine are separated to such an extent that the divine merely indwells the human, in which case I fail to see how there is a difference of anything but degree between Jesus of Nazareth and a Christian who is indwelt by the Holy Spirit. It creates huge problems for our Theology and Christology.

Where does one draw the line? The moment you start to draw it anywhere other than where the Bible has drawn it, you are in trouble. Who is a Christian? Either we say "All those who claim the name are", which Broderson does not do, or we say "all those who believe in the Christ of the Bible." There is no middle ground.

So what is going on in Broderson's statement? What is going on all over the place; based on a personal and unwritten standard people are affirming modalists as, in some sense, brothers in Christ. Well, I am having none of it. If a fellow will not confess the Apostles' Creed I will not baptize him, and I cannot affirm as a brother in Christ a person whom I could not baptize. Nor can I share the Communion with him, and so again, he is not a brother in Christ.

That does not mean I could not call him a friend, or like him; I have never met a Unitarian I did not like, and I parted from the last Jehovah's Witness I had any interaction with on the best of terms, but we are quite clear; the Unitarians and I, the JW and I, may be friends, but we can never call one another brethren. We certainly cannot call one another Christians

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

A Note on Changed Lives

Doing some research into our Church's history, I came across this article in the magazine of the denomination we used to belong to in the 1930s. It is instructive, particularly given that the Bethel Society had Pentecostal roots.

A Note on “Changed Lives”
Can Satan Change Lives?

Practically every 'modern' movement seems able to produce 'changed lives', so that the true believer is apt to be considerable puzzled. Cults such as Christian Science and Spiritualism most certainly have men and women whose lives have been transformed into characters of beauty. Surely evil could not produce such fruits? Many think therefore that though such cults (and there are many others!) may contain plenty of error in doctrine etc., yet Christ must be dwelling in the lives of many of the adherents who are so clearly living the life of kindness, unselfishness and peace. Is it possible that Satan can change lives?

Some years ago the Sunday School Times published the testimony of a Christian woman who had been remarkably delivered in answer to prayer from the Satanic cult of Bahaism. When she first accepted the teachings of this cult, there came into her life a wonderful peace and quietness, and she had a remarkable control over her children that she had never had before. Please note that her life was 'changed' – but not by Christ. Finally she was delivered and entered into the 'fulness of the blessing of the Gospel of Christ' – and knew the meaning of the fruit of the Spirit, but not before.

So Satan can change lives and apparently for the better (but the word in italics is very important!), and the true Christian has to be very wary in judging a new movement by its 'changed lives'. There are counterfeits of the Christian spiritual life which are very subtle, very deceptive and highly dangerous, They imitate certain parts of the Fruit of the Spirit. Note, in passing, that there is only one Fruit of the Spirit, although it is in a cluster of nine parts (Read Gal. 5:22, 23). Then how may we tell the real from the false? By observing whether one special part of this fruit is present or absent. One part of the fruit of the Spirit is absent from all false religions, even though other parts are simulated, and that part is Faith. No false cult brings its adherents to faith in the shed blood of the Lamb of God as the only way of Salvation. If this one part of the fruit of the Spirit is missing, you may safely assume that that other eight are likewise absent no matter how plausible the counterfeits may seem.

Anon. The Bethel Messenger December 1937

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Communion of Old Books

This morning, as I was hard at work in my study, I had occasion to take down the stout and handsome volume of Christian Dogmatics by J.J. Van Oosterzee, second edition, 1878. For the first time I saw the signature on the title page, 'R.F. Horton, Sept 1881, Dunedin, Hampstead'.

The eyes rested on the words, and I thought 'have I read them correctly? Is this really a volume from the library of the famous preacher of the early 20th century, Robert Forman Horton (see cartoon)?' The answer, after a little research, was yes, it is. His signature in 1881 is a little different from that of 1910 that appears in his autobiography, but it is the same hand. 'Dunedin' was his address at the time. I had a book from a noted man's library, complete with his underlinings to highlight passages he liked!

And that set me thinking about books in general. We own books; we ministers have many books, they are our helps in study, and good books are like old friends. Some books we allow to pass through our hands pristine and untouched, others get used. The marks of a previous owner can be seen as annoying when it is a fellow-unknown, a man who lived in the same relative obscurity we do, but when it is a man like Horton, a known, then suddenly those markings are important! Double standard, I thought, why shouldn't the markings by William L. Holder in his copy of Westcott's The Gospel According to St. John be just as valued? Or the many and varied marginal notes made by Wesleyan theological students at Richmond in the margins of the College's copy of Calvin's Commentaries on Genesis? Sheer prejudice, surely!

This is part of the joy of second-hand books; we are not their first owners, we are their stewards who hand them on to the next generation. They had owners before us, and unless the Lord comes again, or they shall be consumed in a catastrophe, they shall have owners after us. They come to us from all directions, some from great public libraries like Liverpool and Norwich, others from the libraries of theological colleges in England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland, The United States and Canada, great and small college libraries give up their stock. Yet others come from Church libraries, as the old is removed to make way for the new. But the vast majority come from private libraries, great and small. Bought and sold, the books move around, making one combination, then another. Books that belonged to men poles apart theologically come together in the library of a third man; books from Monasteries are found side-by-side with volumes from Free Church ministers. Books sent to Canada return from there to the shores from which they departed a century and more before, while other books remain within the narrow geographical limits within which they were sold.

Some books have spent all their working lives (as it were) in large libraries, and seem somehow lost in the smaller compass of a minister's study. Others bear in their bindings the marks of their previous exalted position, and seem to have come down in the world in their transition to the study, while others are in bindings so humble they look embarrassed to be found in such exalted company as Mr. Horton's copy of Van Oosterzee, which has a binding to match its background.

And by those books we hold fellowship, not only with the men who wrote them, but also in some ways with the men who read them before us. Those signatures in the front, those underlinings in the text, they all say that others have been there before us, and those others may still, by their marks and annotations, be there still to guide us, to argue with us, to held us and to annoy us. And that is the Communion of Old Books.

Monday, January 16, 2012

In Many Bookshops with Pastor Charmley: The Methodist Book Centre

For a depressed industrial city in the Midlands, Stoke on Trent is well supplied with Christian bookshops. The largest is the Methodist Book Centre (established 1945). As the name suggests, this is not a specifically Evangelical bookshop, but an ecumenical Methodist shop. It has a huge selection of books from all sorts of perspectives, so discernment is needed in shopping, but hopefully anyone who actually reads this blog realises that. There is literally something for everyone here.

Located in a quiet side-street in Hanley, at the Bethel edge of the town centre (which is a good thing). It sells books, which is becoming something for comment where Christian bookshops are concerned. It is a browser's paradise; you can spend hours here just looking around, but be sure to buy something!

The staff are helpful and willing to order books in. The shop does not just sell books, you can buy almost anything a Church might want here, from Sunday school materials to hymn-boards and communion sets. Prices are fairly reasonable, and there's even a small fair trade cafe.

But be sure to come on a Monday, Wednesday or Friday, and drop in at the Bethel Bookshop, which I won't be reviewing because I happen to buy the stock for it.