The Elephants and the Mouse

ken_baileyThe eminent theologian, Ken Bailey, has reflected here on the recent decision of the Presbyterian Church in the USA (PCUSA) to adjust its ordination vows to allow practising homosexuals to hold leadership positions in the church.

He helps us to see how the relationship between the Western churches and other Christians in the world is affected negatively by decisions taken by PCUSA and, we might add, the trajectory currently being followed by the Church of Scotland. By trying to reflect the spirit of the age rather than basing their decisions on God’s will revealed in Scripture, these denominations cut themselves off from other Christians and seriously inhibit the cause of world mission. I’ve included the full text of Professor Bailey’s remarks.

Once a small mouse was playing around the feet of a family of elephants.  The mouse suddenly decided to run down the hill away from the elephants.  The elephants did not follow the mouse.

The Presbyterian Church (USA) in 2011 is just over one half of one percent of the population of America and America is approximately 5% of the population of the world.  We are a very small blip on the radar screen of world Christianity.  Sixty percent of the world’s Christians are now in the Global South which is comprised of South America, Africa, and Asia.  Paul wrote to the churches of his day and affirmed, “You (plural) are the body of Christ.”  He also said, “You (plural) are the holy temple.” In our day the interconnectedness of each part of the larger body of Christ is more profoundly a reality than at any time since the earliest beginnings of the Church in the middle of the first century.  What can be said about Presbyterian world mission and 10-A?

From 1955 to 1995 it was my privilege to serve as a missionary academic, teaching New Testament in Egypt, Lebanon, Jerusalem, and Cyprus.  For the last sixteen years I have continued in full-time ministry teaching New Testament in this country, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.  I lecture primarily for Presbyterians, Lutherans, Anglicans, Episcopalians, Roman Catholics, the Armenian Protestants, and the Armenian Orthodox.  For the last 13 years I have been honored to serve (as a Presbyterian) as the Canon theologian of the Anglican Diocese of Pittsburgh.  The air I breathe is that of the larger body of Christ which is the world Church.  It is out of this background that I offer these brief remarks. Continue reading “The Elephants and the Mouse”

Gay Pride sermon

faith-pride-logo-11I see that this year’s Gay Pride celebrations in Belfast includes a service in All Souls’ Church, Elmwood Avenue, where the preacher, Andrew McFarland will look at “compelling reasons” to believe that David and Jonathan were in a same-sex relationship. The spurious arguments used to arrive at this conclusion are well-known and have been answered convincingly by scholars like Robert Gagnon, Associate Professor of New Testament at Pittsburg Theological Seminary.

In an article published a few years ago, Gagnon successfully answers the various attempts to make the Bible say the opposite of what the plain reading of Scripture teaches with regard to homosexual practices. The whole article is worth a read, but here is the section on the relationship between David and Jonathan.

Homosexualist interpretations of David and Jonathan mistake non-erotic covenant/kinship language for erotic intimacy. For example:

The statement that “the soul of Jonathan was bound to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (1 Samuel 18:1) can be compared to the non-erotic kinship language in Genesis 44:31 (“[Jacob’s] soul is bound up with [his son Benjamin’s] soul”) and Leviticus 19:18 (“You shall love your neighbor as yourself”). It can also be compared to formulaic treaty language in the ancient Near East, such as the address of the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal to his vassals (“You must love [me] as yourselves”) and the reference in 1 Kings 5:1 to King Hiram of Tyre as David’s “lover.”

Similarly, the remark in 1 Samuel 19:1 that Jonathan “delighted very much” in David can be compared to the non-erotic references in 1 Samuel 18:22 (“The king [Saul] is delighted with you [David], and all his servants love you; now then, become the king’s son-in-law”) and 2 Samuel 20:11 (“Whoever delights in Joab, and whoever is for David, [let him follow] after Joab”).

When David had to flee from Saul, David and Jonathan had a farewell meeting, in which David “bowed three times [to Jonathan], and they kissed each other, and wept with each other” (1 Sam 20:41-42). The bowing suggests political, rather than sexual, overtones. As for the kissing, only three out of twenty-seven occurrences of the Hebrew verb “to kiss” have an erotic dimension; most refer to kissing between father and son or between brothers.

In 1 Samuel 20:30-34, Saul screams at Jonathan: “You son of a perverse, rebellious woman! Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse [David] to your own shame and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?” Here Saul is not accusing his son of playing the passive-receptive role in man-male intercourse with David (cf. 2 Sam 19:5-6). Rather, he charges Jonathan with bringing shame on the mother who bore him by acquiescing to David’s claim on Saul’s throne.

When David learns of the deaths of Saul and Jonathan he states of Jonathan “you were very dear to me; your love to me was more wonderful to me than the love of women” (2 Sam 1:26). The Hebrew verb for “were very dear to” is used in a sexual sense in the Old Testament only two out of twenty-six occurrences and a related form is used just three verses earlier when David refers to Saul as “lovely,” obviously in a non-erotic sense. Jonathan’s giving up his place as royal heir and risking his life for David surpassed anything David had known from a committed erotic relationship with a woman; but there was nothing sexual in the act. As Proverbs 18:24 notes (in a non-sexual context): “There is a lover/friend who sticks closer than a brother.”

The narrator’s (narrators’) willingness to speak of David’s vigorous heterosexual life (compare the relationship with Bathsheba) puts in stark relief his (their) complete silence about any sexual activity between David and Jonathan. Put simply, homosexualist interpretations of the relationship between David and Jonathan misunderstand the political overtones of the Succession Narrative in 1 Samuel 16:14 – 2 Samuel 5:10. Jonathan’s handing over his robe, armor, sword, bow, and belt were acts of political investiture, transferring the office of heir apparent to David (1 Samuel 18:4). The point of emphasizing the close relationship between David and Jonathan was to stress the view that David was not a rogue usurper to Saul’s throne. Rather, he was adopted by Jonathan into his father’s “house” (family, dynasty) as though he were Jonathan’s older brother. Neither the narrator(s) of the Succession Narrative nor the author(s) of the Deuteronomistic History show any concern about homosexual scandal, because, in the context of ancient Near Eastern conventions, nothing in the narrative raised suspicions about a homosexual relationship. (For further discussion, see Gagnon, The Bible and Homosexual Practice, 146-54; Markus Zehnder,“Observations on the Relationship between David and Jonathan and the Debate on Homosexuality,” Westminster Theological Journal 69.1 [2007]: 127-74).

Everyday Church

ec_1a669943a2532db37ebf7a13ee30767d1This week I’ve been reading the latest offering from Tim Chester and Steve Timmis called Everyday Church. It’s an interesting and stimulating read which is a follow-up to Total Church and deals with the practical realities about churches being gospel-centred communities.  They start with the vital question of how we reach the 40 million people in the UK who are not open to attending church as it is. That is certainly a question which the wider Christian church should be asking. There are a number of helpful and thought-provoking comments. Here’s one:

One of the common assumptions when people fail to turn up to church is that we need to improve the experience of church gatherings, the “product”. We need better music, more relevant sermons, multimedia presentations, engaging dramas. Or we need to relocate to pubs, cafes, art centres. We need cool venues with cool people and cool music. The problem with this approach is the assumption that people will come to church if the product is better. But remember that 70% of the UK population have no intention of attending a church service, and these figures are even higher among young people….Sunday morning in church is the one place where evangelism cannot take place in our generation because the lost are not there – not until we go out to connect with them where they are, where they feel comfortable, on their territory. We need to do church and mission in the context of everyday life. We must think of church as a community of people who share life, ordinary life. Continue reading “Everyday Church”

Why be a pastor?

geoffrey-thomasAt Westminster Theological Seminary’s graduation ceremony this year an honorary doctorate was awarded to Geoff Thomas, pastor of Alfred Place Baptist Church in Aberystwyth. Geoff graduated from Westminster Seminary in 1964, and for over 40 years has pastored the same congregation.

In his address to the students, he outlined the blessings and privileges of pastoral ministry, a word that encourages all of us who labour in that calling.

There is no greater privilege than to be a pastor-preacher. In the para-church there is extraordinary fascination and vitality (but also there can be self-promotion), and you may well be drawn into some of its ministries, but consider the rich diversity and satisfaction of the work of the local minister. He teaches the Bible to all ages and states of men and women, boys and girls. He lives on to see the fruit of his ministry in their lives. He evangelizes, visits the dying, counsels, writes, organizes, goes to people’s homes, inspires, rebukes, stirs things up and cools things down, involves himself with the affairs of his congregation and denomination, attends conferences, assemblies and serves on committees. There is no richer or happier life. Its foundation is the donation of the ascended, reigning Lord who gives some pastors and teachers. Its boundaries and priorities are defined by the apostolic conviction, “We will give ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” Its sustenance is the divine river of grace. God never puts us where he is not present and where his grace cannot keep us. God never gives graces that he does not intend to be used for his glory and the good of his people. There is a need everywhere for sensible, caring, sound and holy ministers of the new covenant. God is their all sufficiency. May you be satisfied with him and be kept by him for long, enriching lives of Christian service. Prepare for the blessedness of such a vocation by daily appropriating your great High Priest.