Sunday, 26 October 2008

Christ Church, Virginia Water Pass Resolutions on the Jerusalem Declaration

On 21st October 2008, Christ Church Council, Virginia Water, passed three resolutions in solidarity with GAFCON, the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and the Jerusalem Declaration.

  1. “We stand in solidarity with our clergy in their commitment to maintain a gospel witness in the Church of England, grounded in the Holy Scriptures and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal” (Canon A5). 15 for : 0 against.
  2. “Recognising that the Jerusalem Declaration is consistent with the doctrine of the Church of England as stated in Canon A5, we stand in solidarity with the 14 statements contained in the Jerusalem Declaration” 16 for : 1 against.
  3. "Recognising that the Jerusalem Declaration is consistent with the doctrine of the Church of England as stated in Canon A5, we stand in solidarity with the Jerusalem Declaration and Statement on the Global Anglican Future." 11 for : 3 against.
To read the Jerusalem Declaration see here

Friday, 24 October 2008

Christian Leaders Conduct International Dialogue on Middle East Church Crisis

AMMAN, JORDAN - In a strategic gathering of Middle Eastern, European and American Christian leaders, westerners were given an inside view of the Middle Eastern Church’s struggle in a war-torn land.

Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding’s (EMEU) Sounds of Hope II conference was held in Amman, Jordan on Oct. 15-18. It was a time for over 70 select individuals from various ministries to hear from 11 speakers with experience in the Middle East Church.

According to Dr. Ray Bakke, EMEU chair, the conference was held out of a concern that ignorance in the West was negatively influencing the worldwide Church. “We had people who are evangelical who thought that every Arab was a terrorist or a fat oil sheik,” he said.

Read more here
See photos here

Is Dawkins Deluded?

Writing in the Spectator this week, Melanie Phillips reports on a debate between John Lennox and Richard Dawkins held at the Oxford Natural History Museum. I am a fan of John's writing and I commend his book God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God?

Here is a taster for the article by Melanie Phillips

Is Richard Dawkins still evolving?

By Melanie Phillips, Spectator

On Tuesday evening I attended the debate between Richard Dawkins and John Lennox at Oxford’s Natural History Museum. This was the second public encounter between the two men, but it turned out to be very different from the first. Lennox is the Oxford mathematiRichard Dawkinscs professor whose book, God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? is to my mind an excoriating demolition of Dawkins’s overreach from biology into religion as expressed in his book The God Delusion — all the more devastating because Lennox attacks him on the basis of science itself. In the first debate, which can be seen on video on this website, Dawkins was badly caught off-balance by Lennox’s argument precisely because, possibly for the first time, he was being challenged on his own chosen scientific ground.

This week’s debate, however, was different because from the off Dawkins moved it onto safer territory– and at the very beginning made a most startling admission. He said:

A serious case could be made for a deistic God.

This was surely remarkable. Here was the arch-apostle of atheism, whose whole case is based on the assertion that believing in a creator of the universe is no different from believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden, saying that a serious case can be made for the idea that the universe was brought into being by some kind of purposeful force. A creator. True, he was not saying he was now a deist; on the contrary, he still didn’t believe in such a purposeful founding intelligence, and he was certainly still saying that belief in the personal God of the Bible was just like believing in fairies. Nevertheless, to acknowledge that ‘a serious case could be made for a deistic god’ is to undermine his previous categorical assertion that

…all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all ‘design’ anywhere in the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection…Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.

In Oxford on Tuesday night, however, virtually the first thing he said was that a serious case could be made for believing that it could.

Read more here

Thursday, 23 October 2008

Israel in the Last Days

Rosebank Union Church, Sandton, Johannesburg

The response of many Christians to events in the Middle East is conditioned by their understanding of prophecy. We invite you to deliberate with us over doctrines that have shaped the worldview of many Christians, impacting both foreign relations and recent history.

Our four speakers will examine some of the popular teachings on the end times, ranging from the controversial subjects of who is Israel and who are the rightful heirs to the Promised Land to the speculations surrounding the tribulation and the millennium.

We realize that these are controversial subjects on which Christians are divided. Our intention is to stimulate debate on these issues which have also affected the way in which the gospel is presented to both Jews and Muslims.

Follow these links for the Programme, Bookings and information on our Speakers.

Hollow Men, Lambeth 2008. What Happened and Why: George Conger


We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass

This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but a whimper.

T.S. Eliot The Hollow Men (1925)

Special Report/Analysis By George Conger Chief correspondent for The Church of England Newspaper

“MORALITY, LIKE ART, means drawing a line someplace,” Oscar Wilde once observed. Anglican bishops historically wield the pen, drawing the line between error and truth, between right and wrong doctrine.

Yet at some point in the mid-20th century, the bishops of the church began to abdicate this responsibility - even before the American Church reformed its ordinal in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, removing the injunction to bishops that they “banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word.”

Where once the church celebrated Anglican comprehensiveness, it now celebrated diversity. Confessionalism morphed into conversation, as those charged with guarding the faith suffered a loss of nerve. The church, like the universities, the arts, literature and other repositories of high culture in the West, was trampled underfoot by the long march of the left through the institutions.

THE 2008 LAMBETH CONFERENCE of Anglican bishops in Canterbury July 16-August 3 was a milestone in this march of relativism. While nothing extraordinary happened - no fist fights or beatific visions - a number of prelates came away from Lambeth realizing the Anglican Communion no longer worked. Its structures were not a place for holy men, but for hollow men: bishops who knew in their hollow hearts they were stuffed with straw, trapped in a purposeless whirl of apathy and spiritual torpor called “dialogue.” The Anglican Communion had finally broken, coming to an end “not with a bang but a whimper.”

Read the rest of this article here

The Revd George Conger is chief correspondent for The Church of England Newspaper, and over the past ten years has written widely for a variety of newspapers, magazines and journals on the Anglican Communion and religious and political affairs. Educated at Duke, Yale and Oxford Universities, he is an honorary canon of St. Matthews Cathedral in Dallas, and chaplain to Treasure Coast Hospice in Fort Pierce, Florida.

Tuesday, 21 October 2008

Serve Afghanistan: Gayle Williams



At 0800 on Monday 20 October in Kabul Afghanistan, Gayle Williams, 34 years old, one of the women workers of the SERVE Afghanistan team, a joint South African UK national, was
walking to work. Gayle was shot and killed shortly before she was due to arrive at the office. Reports say that two men on a motorcycle shot her and then fled the scene. She died
almost immediately. She was a person who always loved the Afghans and was dedicated to serving those who are disabled

Gayle was not a woman who thought of herself. Her time and energy were always spent on behalf of others. She spent many years caring one to one for severely special needs students, but in the last few years she made the brave decision to offer her skills and time to care for the many disabled and disadvantaged in Afghanistan as a volunteer. Gayle worked for nearly two years in Kandahar and Kabul directing projects to integrate the disabled into mainstream education and provide them with opportunities for a better life. She never spoke of the rigours and privations of aid work in Kandahar, one of the most difficult places for a young woman to work in the world, but she kept a smile on her face and always had a good humoured chuckle at the difficulties she must have endured.

As a British South African Gayle had the plucky adventurous spirit of the country she loved so much. Accustomed to the risks of South Africa today, the dangers of the Afghan warzone did not phase her, but she pressed on. A highly trained fitness instructor, Gayle was never happier than climbing a mountain, playing sports or going for a run.

Gayle was a loving daughter and sister and a devoted friend to many. She was always so fun to be with and laughter and jokes came easily as we would sit having coffee. People were so important to Gayle; she cared deeply for her friends and family and would always go out of her way to help and support her loved ones.

Gayle will be remembered as one of the inspiring people of the world who truly put others before herself. She was killed violently while caring for the most forgotten people in the world; the poor and the disabled. She herself would not regret taking the risk of working in Afghanistan. She was where she wanted to be – holding out a helping hand to those in need.

For more information on Serve Afghanistan

Saturday, 18 October 2008

Victoria Clark Reviews Zion's Christian Soldiers


No one in Christian circles this side of the Atlantic has done more than Stephen Sizer to raise alarm bells about a ‘formidable and dangerous movement’ called Christian Zionism whose geopolitical peril he locates in the core conviction that ‘God blesses those nations that stand with Israel and curses those who don’t.’

What this conviction has meant, especially ominously since 9/11 2001 when the ensuing War (or Crusade) on Terror added copious grist to the Christian Zionist mill, is that the entire Muslim world is ‘cursed’, while Israel and her western allies are blessed. For a Christian Zionist there can never be an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel and nor must Israel ever be forced to abandon her illegal settlements in the West Bank, let alone her claim to Jerusalem as her indivisible capital. Christian Zionists expect no peace in the Middle East until Jesus Second Coming, so all efforts to obtain a peace there are pre-doomed to failure. That some important aspects of thus Christian Zionist worldview have neatly dovetailed with that of the Neo-conservatives in charge of US foreign policy in the Middle East since 2000 is well known, as is the fact that the evangelical Christian vote was vital to Bush’s victory in 2004.

But why should the faith-based worldview of around a third of American evangelical Christians so closely resemble the guiding political ideology of the Jewish state? Anyone unversed in the biblical rationale for Christian Zionism will be tempted to explain it out of existence by listing other reasons for American’s support for Israel: emotive Hollywood Holocaust movies have done their job; Israel advertises itself as the only democracy in the Middle East; Israel was a pioneering society like America. But there is a great deal more to Christian Zionism than that. In a nutshell, we are up against the word of God in the Jewish Old Testament as opposed to the word of his son Jesus, also God of course, in the Christian New Testament.

Dr Sizer’s Zion’s Christian Soldiers: The Bible, Israel and the Church does an excellent job demonstrating the extent to which the age-old problem of discerning a clear and consistent message in both books of the Bible has led to Christian Zionists over-weighting on the side of the Jewish Old Testament, at the expense of Jesus’ universal and inclusive mission, at the expense, Sizer points out-though without putting it quite so starkly-of Christianity itself: ‘Did the coming of Jesus, his death and resurrection and the founding of the church, fulfil or postpone the biblical prophecies concerning Israel? Is the church central to God’s purposes on earth, or a temporary sideshow? If you believe the former to be the case then you are a covenantalist, if the latter, then you’re a Dispensationalist. If you are a Dispensationalist then you are almost de facto a Christian Zionist.

Dr Sizer is a theologian, so his overriding concern is with painstakingly demonstrating-with the aid of useful diagrams and charts as well as detailed argument-that the Dispensationalist view of God’s purposes are rooted in an inadequate, sometimes hilarious but also dangerously mistaken understanding of bible prophecy. He argues for a contextual rather than an ultra-literal reading of prophecy. The Dispensationalists’ ultra-literalism, he says, leads to a plethora of pitfalls, or rather pratfalls: Transient Literalism (confidently identifying one of Israel’s prophesied enemies as Russia in the 1970s, but adjusting that to the ‘Russian-Syrian-Iranian axis’ to match the reality of the 2000s, for example); Speculative Literalism (suggesting that one of the apostles forecast a nuclear war but had to explain it in terms intelligible to his age, as a volcano of fire and brimstone); Contradictory Literalism (no two ultra-literalist exegetes think alike on the meaning of any given prophecy); Enhanced Literalism (adding words to the original meaning here and there, to assist understanding); Arbitrary Literalism (mention of an eagle in the Bible, for example, is taken as mention of the US because the bald-headed eagle is America’s national symbol.

Sizer’s book is not aimed at the lay reader. With its clear lay-out and helpful study hints at the end of each chapter, it is clearly intended for the bible student or clergyperson seeking to understand the theological method of Christian Zionism and/or looking for some ammunition to effectively combat the ideology. To that extent it is an ideally practical tool, an important weapon in any covenantalist’s arsenal. However, as a non-theologian writer of Christian Zionism, past and present, as someone who is as alarmed as Sizer by its political implications, I would say that he may be underestimating the degree to which its growing popularity depends on factors that will prove impervious to his cogent argument.

Anyone who has attended a bible ‘prophecy conference’ at which a leading Christian Zionist has declared, after reading Isaiah 17:1 to an audience of 4,000, ‘An oracle concerning Damascus. Behold Damascus will cease to be a city,’ that he wished ‘the US would obliterate Syria and not leave it to Israel’ will have some idea of the intellectual weight of popular Christian Zionism. With its focus on war and Armageddon, Christian Zionism’s appeal can best be likened to that of a disaster movie; this is Christianity recast as a thriller. Anyone who has listened to an aeronautical engineer cum Bible prophecy expert like Chuck Missler will note how natural it is for a scientifically-trained evangelical Christian to read the Bible ultra-literally, as one would a computer manual or a code to be ingeniously deciphered. An encounter with San Antonio’s Pastor John Hagee, probably the most important Christian Zionist in America today, showed me that Christian Zionism is a reassuringly macho, gun-loving, super-confident and impatient for action as its counterpart, Islamic fundamentalism. Just as Moslem fundamentalism appeals to trained doctors and engineers, so Christian Zionism has a strong appeal for scientists and intelligence operatives, and to readers of thrillers and science fiction. Pastor Hagee writes Bible prophecy thrillers with titles like ‘Jerusalem Countdown: A Warning to the World.’

Like any religious fundamentalism, Christian Zionism has to do with Zeitgeist, with insecurity caused by change occurring at the pace it has since the end of the Cold War, with mass psychology. Travelling around Texas I discovered how rooted it is in emotion rather than reason. Time and again I encountered an appalling fear that America is falling out of favour with God in its adherents, a gut-level pessimism that has precious little to do with Bible-reading. In October 2006 a salegirl in the tourist office in Waco burst into tears when I asked her the reason for her overwhelming ‘heart for israel’: ‘I’m just so scared that if we get the Democrats again they won’t defend Israel so well, and that’s going to bring suffering on America,’ she sobbed, ‘We have to go on blessing the Jews!’

Victoria Clark, author of Allies for Armageddon, Holy Fire & Why Angels Fall.
Living Stones Magazine 32

Former Pittsburgh bishop warns Church of England traditionalists against ‘complacency’

Bishop Bob DuncanFrom Episcopal Life Online

[Episcopal News Service] Former Pittsburgh Bishop Robert Duncan, who was deposed from the episcopate last month, has warned traditionalists in the Church of England that, in his view, what happened to him could happen to them.

Duncan spoke to journalists at a press conference on October 17 at All Souls Church, Langham Place, London, chaired by Canon Chris Sugden of Anglican Mainstream. Duncan was deposed on September 19 by Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori with the consent of the House of Bishops of the Episcopal Church. Duncan was charged with "abandonment of communion" for his actions in openly planning to remove his diocese from the Episcopal Church to align with the South America-based Province of the Southern Cone.

Duncan told traditionalists in the Church of England that they should not be complacent. Noting that "what begins as a liberal initiative quickly becomes illiberal", he cited the July General Synod’s debate on legislation for women bishops as an example of how what had happened to him could also happen in England.

"Don’t assume the progressive party will behave any differently over here" he said.

He cited as further examples of "illiberalism" the way Lambeth Conference 2008 organizers had sought to control the press, and the change of style from the 1998 conference, when many primates had also had places on the podium. In 2008, Duncan said, the Archbishop of Canterbury alone dominated the formal proceedings.

Concerning the work of the Windsor Continuation Group, Duncan said that the proposal made during the Lambeth Conference for a "holding tank" was published without any consultation with those directly affected, and was for all of them "a bridge too far." While continuing to work with WCG and other such groups, he was "not prepared to commit all my trust to them."

Discussing the unfolding situation in Pittsburgh, Duncan confirmed that he expected "around 20" parishes would remain with TEC and not participate in the Southern Cone re-alignment. The reduced income would inevitably lead to diocesan budget cuts. "We will suffer," Duncan said. Asked about the potential confusion caused by retention of the word "Episcopal" in the name of both the reorganised TEC diocese and the Southern Cone aligned diocese, insisted there was no question of changing the name of the latter to "Anglican," as happened in the case of San Joaquin, a diocese in California that also voted to join the Southern Cone and changed its name to the Anglican Diocese of San Joaquin. The continuing diocese in communion with the Episcopal Church uses the name "Episcopal Diocese of San Joaquin."

"TEC has no lockup on the name Episcopal," Duncan said.

Concerning his own status, Duncan said that he expects to be re-elected as diocesan bishop at the 7 November special convention. Meanwhile, he said, he was gratified by the number of Primates and English bishops, who had publicly stated that they did not accept TEC’s deposition of him as valid. Six English diocesan bishops (those of Blackburn, Chester, Chichester, Exeter, Rochester, and Winchester) have signed a public letter, saying "We declare that we continue to believe that Bishop Bob is a bishop in the Church of God and a bishop in good standing in the Anglican Communion".

Duncan said that Primates who attended the Global Anglican Futures Conference (GAFCON), a June meeting in Jordan of Anglican bishops and others who disapprove of such innovations as the blessing of same-sex unions and the ordination of gay clergy, have also refused to recognize his deposition. Mouneer Anis, Presiding Bishop of Jerusalem and the Middle East, and Archbishop John Chew of South East Asia had both expressed support, he added. Duncan noted that Anis had compared him to "St. Athanasius, who as Bishop of Alexandria, was deposed and exiled from his see."

Duncan stressed that arrangements with the Province of the Southern Cone were not intended to be permanent, and he strongly advocated the establishment of a second Anglican province in North America. This, he said, would be an improvement over the current situation, as it would lead to the cessation of all current "interprovincial" interventions in both the USA and Canada. He accepted that the formation of such a province would require the approval of the Anglican Consultative Council, and as moderator of Common Cause he said he was happy to work with the various structures of the Anglican Communion to achieve this.

Noting that the GAFCON primates planned to meet again before the end of 2008, Duncan said that the Common Cause Partnership, which he said now includes 30 bishops, 800 clergy, 700 parishes and about 100,000 regular Sunday worshippers, would submit a proposal for such a province to them. The official meeting of Primates (a title given leading archbishops or presiding bishops of the Anglican Communion’s provinces) will be held early in 2009. The Anglican Consultative Council, which consists of lay and clergy representatives of the provinces, will meet in May 2009.

–Simon Sarmiento is websexton for the Church of England’s Diocese in Europe, and is United Kingdom/Europe editor of Anglicans Online.

Persecution of Christians in India: Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali



The real cause of the violence against Christians in Orissa, and now elsewhere in India, is the fear among extremist Hindu movements that many “untouchable” and “tribal” people will turn to the Christian faith because of the appalling treatment they receive from their caste-ridden communities and the love and care they are shown by Christian humanitarian organisations. Some of those who receive such care, but by no means all, become Christians of their own free will. Is this so unacceptable in secular and democratic India?

Scores of Christians have been murdered. Their homes, churches, presbyteries, convents and charitable institutions have been destroyed, allegedly in retaliation for the murder of a Hindu swami and some of his followers, probably by Maoist insurgents. During this time, it seems that the state authorities have not allowed Christians from other parts of India, let alone elsewhere, even to bring relief to fellow believers. The Federal Government also appears to have been paralysed and ineffective.

There is an outcry when a single Hindu is killed, and Christian leaders have strongly condemned any such incident. Christians in Orissa are, however, rapidly running out of cheeks to turn. Extremist Hindus are accusing Christians of deception and murder. This would be risible if it were not tragic: the disenfranchised Christians of Orissa are in no position to force anyone to convert. Such accusations must be taken as threats of further violence.

I have already suggested that a fact-finding mission by an international delegation of religious, political and civic leaders. I hope that this happens quickly so that the world can know the truth.

In the meantime, the Government of India has a solemn responsibility to prevent violence against Muslims and Christians by extremist Hindu groups. Christians in Orissa should be allowed to return to their lands, under armed protection if necessary.

source: Anglican Mainstream

Friday, 17 October 2008

Fellowship Broken: Statement made at City of London Deanery Synod

From Reform London

Joint Statement from the City of London Deanery Synod representatives from St Helen Bishopsgate, St Peter-upon-Cornhill, and St Botolph-without-Aldersgate, made at the Deanery Synod on 16th October 2008.

On 31 May 2008 at The Priory Church of St Bartholomew the Great the Revd Dr Martin Dudley conducted a service of blessing for the Revd Peter Cowell and the Revd Dr David Lord, subsequent to their civil partnership ceremony. We are grateful that the Bishop of London has called for an investigation, but given that our Deanery Synod meets on Thursday 16th October 2008 for fellowship and prayer we want to explain the degree to which that fellowship has been fractured.

We do not presume to have any authority over Dr Dudley or his church, but given this service took place within the Deanery and that the Deanery Synod meets with an assumption of shared fellowship, we feel the need, with great sadness, to make clear that our fellowship with Dr Dudley has been broken by his recent actions. In particular, we cannot recognise him as a teacher of the same gospel as ours.

Our worry is not procedural but pastoral and doctrinal; our concern is not about whether the service was a blessing or a marriage, nor where it broke current Church rules. By holding the service, and in his subsequent explanations and statements, Dr Dudley has clearly and publicly communicated that for him homosexual sexual acts are holy and to be celebrated.

The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures (Canon A5) and the Bible consistently affirms that heterosexual marriage is the only context in which to celebrate sexual activity. Biblical passages, such as 1 Corinthians 6v9-11, not only call homosexual practice unrighteous, but also make it clear that there are implications for people’s salvation in teaching the opposite. Homosexual practice is included in a list of practices that, without repentance, would prevent someone inheriting the kingdom of God. The list is not homophobic (it includes heterosexual adultery), nor does it elevate homosexuality above any other act the Bible condemns (for example, it includes drunkenness and greed).

All of us who sign this statement are sinners and celebrating any of our sins would have just the same serious consequences. Forgiveness is freely available in the gospel of Jesus Christ to all those who repent of their sins and seek to live a transformed life. People who feel same-sex attraction have a full, honoured and loved place in our churches but we, and they, believe the gospel call of Jesus Christ includes a call to repent of all sinful acts.

We regret that such a statement has been necessary in our local Deanery but we note that the issue here is the exact same one that has been fracturing fellowship across the global Anglican Communion. If this Synod, representing the Church of England in the City of London, remains silent about what took place, churches in the diocese and across the nation will conclude either that we see nothing wrong or that we approve of what took place.

Revd Simon Dowdy
Revd William Taylor
and
Rory Anderson (Lay Chairman)
Adrian Barrett
Debbie Buggs
Revd Paul Clarke
Yeda Clews
Simon Congdon
Sarah Finch (General Synod)
Stephen Finch
Revd Chris Fishlock
Revd Lee Gatiss
Andy Geers
Hugh Gittins
George Henning
Brian O’Donoghue
Revd Mark O’Donoghue
Revd Andrew Sach
Revd Charlie Skrine
Chris Tapp
John Telford
Liz Telford
Andrew Wales

Thursday, 16 October 2008

In Solidarity with Orthodox Vancouver Anglicans

The Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC) is an ecclesial (church) body under the jurisdiction of the Anglican Province of the Southern Cone, one of 38 jurisdictions in the worldwide Anglican Communion.

The ANiC grew out of the Anglican Church in Canada, largely (though not exclusively) because of the latter’s shift in its attitude towards same-sex relationships, away from that of previously-accepted biblical orthodoxy.

Difficulties in the Diocese of New Westminster resulted in a number of Vancouver churches aligning themselves with the ANiC. On July 10, 2008, the bishop of the Diocese of New Westminster invoked Diocesan Canon 15 against the ANiC parishes of St. Matthew’s Abbotsford and St. Matthias and St. Luke’s in Vancouver, effective as of August 25, 2008.

The bishop has purported to dismiss all the Wardens, Trustees and Parish Council members of both parishes and has ordered the clergy to leave the buildings by mid-September. Earlier letters from the diocese demanding the clergy leave the church buildings, suggested that parishioners who support their clergy should leave with them.

The bank accounts of both parishes have been frozen and cheques for staff salaries and payments to missions (among other expenses) cannot be cashed.

It is believed that the two remaining ANiC parishes in Vancouver – Good Shepherd and St. John’s, Shaughnessy – will also be acted against in the near future. (Source: http://www.stjohnsvancouver.org/commentary.php)

Revd David Short, the Rector of St John’s Shaughnessy, addressed the REFORM Conference in London on the 15 October 2008, outlining some of the problems they were experiencing.

It was subsequently proposed that a petition should be made available online for those in the Church of England who wished to express the view that the ANiC parishes in Vancouver remain part of the Anglican Communion, despite the actions being taken against them.

Petition:
We, the undersigned, as active clergy and lay members of the Church of England, stand with those parishes in Vancouver that are part of the Anglican Network in Canada, affirming that they are authentically Anglican.

Sign here

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) cites the Jerusalem Declaration to repudiate The Episcopal Church (TEC)

October 14th, 2008

The Church of England Evangelical Council issued this statement to express support for Bishop Bob Duncan and the Diocese of Pittsburgh after their meeting on October 10th.

CEEC deplores the recent deposition of Bishop Bob Duncan and expresses full support for him and sends warm greetings and prayers to him, the Diocese of Pittsburgh and their new home in the province of the Southern Cone.

We endorse the following two statements from six diocesan bishops of the Church of England and Anglican Mainstream.

"We declare that we continue to believe that Bishop Bob is a bishop in the Church of God and a bishop in good standing in the Anglican Communion."

and

"It is with great sadness that we have learned of the recent vote of TEC House of Bishops to depose the Bishop of Pittsburgh for abandonment of communion. To take such action is hardly in the spirit of the reflections at this year’s Lambeth Conference or the Archbishop of Canterbury’s final presidential address.

"We see this vote as further evidence that The Episcopal Church in the USA in its formal decisions and structures ‘have denied the orthodox faith.’ As the Jerusalem Declaration on behalf of 1100 Anglican church leaders around the world said: ‘We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.’

"Anglicans who adhere to the orthodox faith will continue to welcome and receive the ministry of Bishop Bob Duncan as a faithful Bishop and wish him and the people of the Diocese of Pittsburgh the Lord’s blessing in their faithful witness to the gospel."

See www.ceec.info

Ramtin Soodmand: Amnesty Prisoner of Conscience


I am currently in Jordan for the Sounds of Hope II Conference. Under the auspices of Venture International and Evangelicals for Middle East Understanding, a group of about 40 evangelical leaders from the USA and Europe have been invited to meet with leaders of churches and mission agencies working in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Israel and Palestine. We are here to listen and explore ways to build closer relationships. Living as a minority within a predominantly Muslim culture, religious freedoms vary considerably from country to country.

Last week I highlighted the plight of Christians in Iraq. This week it is Iran. Saturday’s Telegraph newspaper carried a moving article about Ramtin Soodmand, a 35-year-old Iranian Christian who was arrested on the 20th August and is presently in prison awaiting charges. Amnesty International have identified Ramtin as a prisoner of conscience. They state, “He is at risk of torture or other ill-treatment and is being held in an unknown location. He is a prisoner of conscience and should be released immediately as he has been detained solely for his religious beliefs.”

Amnesty report, “Ramtin Soodmand has not been seen since he went to the Ministry of Intelligence office in Mashhad on 20 August. Since being detained he has been able to make three short phone calls to his family. On or around 24 August, he made a phone call to his mother, who lives in Mashhad. He then made a second call to both his mother and wife on 31 August. The third call was to his wife on 6 September. On all three occasions, he did not say where he was being held. His family have visited the Ministry of Intelligence frequently but have been unable to obtain any information on his whereabouts or legal status. The Ministry of Intelligence officials claim that his case is still under investigation.”

Ramtin’s father, Reverend Hossein Soodmand, was a Muslim who converted to Christianity in the 1960s, and became a Protestant pastor in Mashhad. He was hanged on 3 December 1990 in a prison in Mashhad after being convicted of apostasy; see Iran: Arrest and execution of a Christian pastor (Index: MDE 13/030/1990). He was also featured in Amnesty International's Annual Report 1991.

The Telegraph journalist Alasdair Palmer interviewed Ramtin’s sister, Rashin, who is presently living in London. Like others, I have lobbied my contacts in Iran, on Ramtin’s behalf. Article 23 of Iran’s Constitution, “the investigation of individuals’ beliefs is forbidden, and no one may be molested or taken to task simply for holding a certain belief.”

Under Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which Iran is a party, "Everyone shall have the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. This right shall include freedom to have or to adopt a religion or belief of his choice, and freedom, either individually or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in worship, observance, practice and teaching."

Amnesty recommend the following action:

Please send appeals to arrive as quickly as possible, in English, Persian, Arabic or your own language:

- expressing concern that Ramtin Soodmand has been detained solely on account of his religious belief and is a prisoner of conscience;
- calling on the authorities to release him immediately and unconditionally, or charge him promptly with a recognizably criminal offence and give him a fair trial;
- asking why he has been arrested, what he has been charged with and where he is held;
- urging the authorities to ensure that he is not being tortured or otherwise ill-treated, and that he be provided immediate and regular access to his family, a lawyer and any medical treatment that he may require;
- reminding the authorities that freedom of religious belief is guaranteed by the Iranian Constitution, and by Article 18 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Iran is a party.

Appeal to:

Minister of Intelligence
Gholam Hossein Mohseni Ejeie
Ministry of Information
Second Negarestan Street
Pasdaran Avenue
Tehran, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: iranprobe@iranprobe.com
Salutation: Your Excellency

Head of the Judiciary
Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi Shahroudi
Howzeh Riyasat-e Qoveh Qazaiyeh / Office of the Head of the Judiciary
Pasteur St., Vali Asr Ave., south of Serah-e Jomhouri, Tehran 1316814737, Islamic Republic of Iran
Email: info@dadgostary-tehran.ir (In subject line write: FAO Ayatollah Shahroudi)
Salutation: Your Excellency

Further addresses are available here


Superficial Interfaith Dialogue

Last July King Abdullah Bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud of Saudi Arabia sponsored a World Conference on Dialogue in Madrid, Spain. During the conference I appeared on Iranian TV, to discuss with the Chief Rabbi of Vienna and an Islamic scholar in the USA the value of such conferences. In our conversation I said that most interfaith dialogue is superficial because it usually does not address the three most fundamental religious human rights – the right to express one’s faith, the right to share one’s faith and the right to change one’s faith. Both Christianity and Islam are missionary faiths. If our dialogue is to be genuine and meaningful then I believe me must respect and defend these three rights for ourselves, whether we be a minority or majority faith, but above all, for one another.

What is the best way to break this spiral of fear, mistrust and persecution? We must show solidarity with our brothers and sisters who are being persecuted, and work with those of other faiths who are also committed to international law and human rights. Brother Andrew's book Light Force gives some more ideas. Read my review here

Here is the article from Saturday’s Telegraph Hanged for being a Christian in Iran

Eighteen years ago, Rashin Soodmand's father was hanged in Iran for converting to Christianity. Now her brother is in a Mashad jail, and expects to be executed under new religious laws brought in this summer. Alasdair Palmer reports.

A month ago, the Iranian parliament voted in favour of a draft bill, entitled "Islamic Penal Code", which would codify the death penalty for any male Iranian who leaves his Islamic faith. Women would get life imprisonment. The majority in favour of the new law was overwhelming: 196 votes for, with just seven against.

Imposing the death penalty for changing religion blatantly violates one of the most fundamental of all human rights. The right to freedom of religion is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and in the European Convention of Human Rights. It is even enshrined as Article 23 of Iran's own constitution, which states that no one may be molested simply for his beliefs.

And yet few politicians or clerics in Iran see any contradiction between a law mandating the death penalty for changing religion and Iran's constitution. There has been no public protest in Iran against it.

David Miliband, Britain's Foreign Secretary, stands out as one of the few politicians from any Western country who has put on record his opposition to making apostasy a crime punishable by death. The protest from the EU has been distinctly muted; meanwhile, Germany, Iran's largest foreign trading partner, has just increased its business deals with Iran by more than half. Characteristically, the United Nations has said nothing.

It is a sign of how little interest there is in Iran's intention to launch a campaign of religious persecution that its parliamentary vote has still not been reported in the mainstream media.

For one woman living in London, however, the Iranian parliamentary vote cannot be brushed aside. Rashin Soodmand is a 29-year-old Iranian Christian. Her father, Hossein Soodmand, was the last man to be executed in Iran for apostasy, the "crime" of abandoning one's religion. He had converted from Islam to Christianity in 1960, when he was 13 years old. Thirty years later, he was hanged by the Iranian authorities for that decision.

Today, Rashin's brother, Ramtin, is also held in a prison cell in Mashad, Iran's holiest city. He was arrested on August 21. He has not been charged but he is a Christian. And Rashin fears that, just as her father was the last man to be executed for apostasy in Iran, her brother may become one of the first to be killed under Iran's new law.

Not surprisingly, Rashin is desperately worried. "I am terribly anxious about him," she explains. "Even though my brother is not an apostate, because he has never been a Muslim – my father raised us all as Christians – I don't think he is safe. They assume that if you are Iranian, you must be Muslim."

Her brother's situation has ominous echoes of her father's fate. Rashin was 14 when her father was arrested. "He was held in prison for one month," she remembers. "Then the religious police released him without explanation and without apology. We were overjoyed. We thought his ordeal was over."

But six months later, the police came back and took her father away again. This time, they offered him a choice: he could denounce his Christian faith, and the church in which he was a pastor – or he would be killed. "Of course, my father refused to give up his faith," Rashid recalls proudly. "He could not renounce his God. His belief in Christ was his life – it was his deepest conviction." So two weeks later, Hossein Soodmand was taken by guards to the prison gallows and hanged.

Life for Rashin, her siblings and her mother became extremely difficult. Some Muslims are extremely hostile to people of any other religion, never mind to those who they consider apostates: Ayatollah Khomeini declared that "non-Muslims are impure", insisting that for Muslims to wash the clothes of non-Muslims, or to eat food with non-Muslims, or even to use utensils touched by non-Muslims, would spoil their purity.

The family was supported with financial and other help from a Christian church based in Iran. That support became even more critical as Rashin's mother began to lose her sight. Rashin herself was eventually able to leave Iran. She now lives in London, married to a fellow Christian from Iran who successfully applied for asylum in Germany.

It took year for Rashin to understand how her father could have been legally executed simply for becoming a Christian. In 1990, there was no parliamentary law mandating the death for apostates. What, then, was the legal basis for Hossein Soodmand's execution?

"After the revolution of 1979, Iran's rulers wanted to turn Iran into an Islamic state, and to abolish the secular laws of the Shah," explains Alexa Papadouris of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a human rights organisation that specialises in freedom of religion. "So the clerics instituted a mandate for judges presiding over criminal cases: if the existing penal code did not include legislation on whether a certain kind of behaviour is an offence, then the judges should refer to traditional Islamic jurisprudence." In other words: sharia law.

"That automatically created problems" says Mr Papadouris, "because Islamic jurisprudence is not codified law: it is a series of formulations developed across generations by scholars and clerics. Depending on the Islamic school or historical era, these formulations can differ and even contradict each other."

On one subject, however, sharia law is unequivocal: men who change their religion from Islam must be punished with death. So when the judge heard the case of Rashid's father, he could refer to sharia and reach a straightforward decision: the death penalty. There was no procedure for appeal.

Nevertheless, in the 18 years since Hossein Soodmand's execution, there have been no judicially sanctioned killings of apostates in Iran, although there have been many reports of disappearances and even murders. "As the number of converts from Islam grows," notes Ms Papadouris, "apostasy has again become a serious concern for the Iranian government." In addition to 10,000 Christian converts living in Iran, there are several hundred thousand Baha'is who are deemed apostates.

There is another factor: President Ahmadinejad. "The President didn't initiate the law mandating the death penalty for apostates," says Papadouris, "but he has been lobbying for it. It is an effective form of playing populist politics. The Iranian economy is doing very badly, and the country is in a mess: Ahmadinejad may be calculating that he can gain support, and deflect attention from Iran's problems, by persecuting apostates."

The new law is not yet in force in Iran: it requires another vote in parliament, and then the signature of the Ayatollah. But that could happen within a matter of weeks. "Or," says Papadouris, "it could conceivably be allowed to drop, were there a powerful enough international outcry".

Time may be running out for Rashin's brother. She believes that the new law will be applied in an arbitrary fashion, with individuals selected for death being chosen to frighten others into submission. That is why she fears for her brother. "We just don't know what will happen to him. We only know that if they want to kill him, they will."

Monday, 13 October 2008

Light Force: Brother Andrew

Reading this book may seriously put some at risk - at risk of facing latent prejudices and stereotypes caused by selective reading or biased reporting on the Middle East. I am delighted that Hodder has had the courage to publish Brother Andrew’s book Light Force in Britain, because it could not have been an easy decision. There will be many who will wish this book does not receive the wide readership it justly deserves. Elizabeth Elliott, for example, lost many ‘friends’ when she wrote her similarly controversial book, Furnace of the Lord (published in 1969 also incidentally by Hodder & Stoughton), in which she describes her empathy for the suffering of the Palestinians and her overriding concern for people rather than so called ‘prophecy’.

In his first book, God’s Smuggler, Brother Andrew describes how the Lord provided an open door through the Iron Curtain enabling Western Christians to sustain and equip the suffering Church in Eastern Europe to withstand the onslaught of atheistic Communism. Eventually, however, he became too well known, a marked man. Brother Andrew was therefore led to focus his ministry on supporting another persecuted Church, this time in the Middle East, caught between Jewish Zionism and Islamic fundamentalism.

While many have succumbed to the temptation to make an all too brief visit and write yet another superficial account of their impressions of the Arab-Israeli conflict, Brother Andrew has waited 35 years to publish his diary, revealing with great candour, his many unpublicized visits to strengthen the suffering Church.

Light Force is Brother Andrew’s very readable and highly personal journal of dawning discovery, of theological reflection and bold compassion for Christians, Jews and Muslims in the Middle East. The book chronicles Brother Andrew’s ministry to the persecuted Church, interspersed with the moving and sometimes harrowing stories of indigenous Christians, like Bishara Awad, Principal of Bethlehem Bible College, who have lost their homes and possessions, sometimes more than once in the last 50 years. They have clearly been heartened and given courage by his mission to bring hope to this volatile part of the world.

He writes: “My purpose is to encourage and strengthen the local believers to be a Light Force, an alternative to military might.”

Brother Andrew is unafraid of controversy, even from within his own organisation. While many other Christian leaders have ‘abstained’ from entanglement in the Arab-Israeli controversy, or have more typically sided uncritically with Israel, Brother Andrew has taken the lonely path or the way of the cross.

With courage and integrity, he has reached out as an ambassador of Jesus Christ even to those branded ‘terrorists’ within the Islamic community such as the leaders of Hamas and other Islamic nationalist groups in Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza. He describes, for example, his private meeting with Hamas founder, Sheikh Ahmad Yassin, in 1997 at his home in Gaza, later assassinated by the Israeli military in 2004 as well as with Yassir Arafat, chairman of the Palestinian Authority.

Wrongly accused of being anti-Israel, Brother Andrew replies, “The best way I can help Israel is by leading her enemies to Jesus Christ.” He shows that genuine dialogue is possible based on our common humanity. Should we really be surprised, he asks, to discover that so called terrorists are human beings like you and me created in the image of God?

Dr. Carl Moeller, president of Open Doors USA, summarises the importance of this unique book. “Light Force is a riveting and often provocative book. The book details Brother Andrew’s passion and compassion for the Church and bringing the Light of Jesus to one of the world’s on-going hot spots. Like God’s Smuggler, it is compelling reading. By reading the daily headlines from the Middle East, we know Light Force will be both timely and relevant.”

Light Force is subtitled “The only hope for the Middle East”. For once this is not publisher’s hype. Brother Andrew demonstrates convincingly and compellingly that the only hope for the people of the Middle East is Jesus Christ. Only Jesus can turn hearts of stone into hearts renewed, forgiven and forgiving; only Jesus can transform enemies into brothers and sisters; only Jesus can reconcile Jews and Palestinians and entrust to them a ministry of reconciliation to bring healing to both wounded people. Brother Andrew’s book introduces us to some who have begun to. May the trickle become a flood.

It was Brother Andrew’s book God’s Smuggler, that inspired me as a young Christian in the early 1970’s to serve the suffering Church in Eastern Europe. Now some 35 years later, his new book, Light Force, has re-kindled my passion to serve God’s people in Israel and Palestine also. May it do so in you also.

To read about Stephen's other books and articles click here

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Spiritual Gifts: Romans 12:3-8

"It wasn't too long after creation that the animals got together to form a school. They wanted the best school possible; one that offered each student a well-rounded curriculum of swimming, running, climbing and flying. In order to graduate the animals agreed that they would each have to take all the courses. The duck was excellent at swimming. In fact, he was better than his instructor, but he was only making passing grades at climbing and was getting a very poor grade in running. The duck was so slow in running that he had to stay after school every day to practice. Even with that, there was little improvement. His webbed feet got badly worn from running and with such worn feet he would then only be able to get half his grade in swimming. Now average was quite acceptable to everyone else, so no one worried much about it except the duck. Now the rabbit was at the top of her class in running, but after a while she developed a twitch in her leg from all the time she spent in the water trying to improve her swimming. Now the squirrel was a peak performer in climbing, but was constantly frustrated in flying class. His body became so bruised from all the hard landings that he didn't do too well in climbing and ended up being pretty poor in running. The eagle was a continual problem student. She was severely disciplined for being nonconformist...

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I am the Light of the World

“Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep…” (Genesis 1:2). That pretty much sums up the news this week doesn’t it? Formless, empty and with lots of darkness. Although we are two weeks away from the end of European Summer Time, it seems the sun went away a long time ago. The nights are drawing in and the days shorter. But its not shorter days that has made this week seem particularly dark. Robert Peston, the BBC’s business analyst summed up the decision of the government on Wednesday to invest a cool £500 billion in the UK banking sector, with the understated heading, “Armageddon Avoided”.

In his words, “there's been a co-ordinated global attempt to prop up the financial system and save individual economies from a deep dark recession.” It will take a while before we know whether we have avoided a ‘deep dark recession’ or just a short grey one. £500 billion is a lot of money. Considerably more than even the US government has provided for its own banking sector. On Wednesday, the US treasury secretary Henry Paulson warned that some US banks will still fail despite the $700bn government rescue package to shore up the financial system. Talking to some of you who work in the City, it seems there will be a few more sleepless nights ahead. What I find surprising is how few analysts predicted the global impact of the failure of the US sub-prime mortgage crisis. One might say, in the words of Genesis 1:2, “darkness was over the surface of the…” city. But the verse goes on to say, “…and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.” (Genesis 1:2-3). It was on a similarly dark day that Jesus stood up in the Temple in Jerusalem and cried out, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).

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Iraqi Archbishop: Christians Face ‘Liquidation’

From The Christian Post

The most senior Catholic cleric in Iraq warned that Christians in his country face “liquidation” if the Iraqi government and the U.S. military do not step-up protection for religious minorities in Iraq. “We are the target of a campaign of liquidation, a campaign of violence,” said Chaldean Archbishop Louis Sako, reported Agence France-Presse on Friday.

“The objective is political.” Sako’s comment comes after police reported earlier this week that seven Christians have been killed in separate attacks this month. Police found bullet-riddled bodies of seven Christians in October, with the latest body of a Christian day laborer found on Wednesday. Since the U.S.-led Iraq war in 2003, more than 200 Christians have been killed, dozens of churches bombed, and more than half the Iraqi Christian population have left the country, according to the archbishop.

He called on Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki’s Shiite Muslim-led government to act on repeated promises to protect Iraq’s minorities. “We have heard many words from Prime Minister Maliki, but unfortunately this has not translated into reality,” he said. “We continue to be targeted. We want solutions, not promises.”

Iraqi Christians, who have no powerful tribes or militias, are completely defenseless and entirely dependent on the government and the U.S. military for protection against extremists, he said. “We believe it is the responsibility of Americans who occupy our country to protect Iraqis,” Sako said. He noted that six Christians had recently been killed in less than a week in the northern city of Mosul, including three Christian men who were killed within 24 hours. “These attacks are not the first,” the senior cleric said. “Unfortunately, they will not be the last.” Sako, based in the northern city of Kirkuk, has overseen the Christian community in Mosul since the death of Archbishop Paulos Faraj Rahho in March.

Rahho, the second most senior Catholic cleric in Iraq, was kidnapped by gunmen after Mass and found dead by the roadside in Mosul two weeks later. “Those who carry out the attacks want to either push Christians out of the country or force them to ally with some political projects,” Sako said. But he called on Christians to not lose faith in the country, and stated that “Christians are true sons of Iraq.” Christians make up a disproportionate number of those fleeing Iraq as refugees to neighboring countries.

Although Christians make up only three percent of Iraq’s population, they account for nearly half of the refugees leaving the country, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees. Christian leaders in Iraq and in the United States are currently urging the Iraqi parliament to reinstate a law that would reserve a quota of seats for minorities in provincial council elections. The Iraqi Parliament had recently dropped the clause in its new provincial election law, causing human rights groups and the U.N. special representative Staffan de Mistura to criticize the decision and demand lawmakers to reinstate Article 50.

Iraqi Christians flee killings

Hundreds of Iraqi Christians have reportedly fled the northern Iraqi city of Mosul over the past week, following a wave of killings aimed against them.

Local officials say a dozen Christians have been killed in the past two weeks, triggering hundreds of fearful families to take refuge in outlying villages. The provincial governor has accused extremist al-Qaeda elements of staging a campaign against Christians.

He has called on the Iraqi government and US forces to help. Mosul, like other major Iraqi cities, has witnessed big security operations aimed at displacing insurgents and imposing law and order.

Our correspondent in Baghdad, Jim Muir, says the operations have improved security in cities like Baghdad and Basra, but the situation in Mosul - Iraq's third-largest city - seems to be worsening.

Killing campaign

He says Mosul's Christians, whose ancestors have lived there for centuries, have never been spared from violence and extortion. Their archbishop was abducted and murdered in March.
But now, they seem to be falling prey to a campaign of killings aimed specifically at them, our correspondent adds.

The provincial governor says about 1,000 families have fled the city to hide in villages to the north and east of the city. The governor and church leaders have called on the Iraqi government, and US forces, to do more to bolster security in Mosul, and to help protect Christians.

There were estimated to be around 800,000 Christians in Iraq in 2003, when coalition forces invaded. Over the years, there were waves of attacks on them, and many churches were bombed, both in Mosul and Baghdad. At least one-third of the community is believed to have fled abroad.

Source: BBC News

Saturday, 11 October 2008

The Jerusalem Declaration: Why Anglican Churches should endorse it

The Jerusalem Declaration was endorsed by the 1200 Archbishops, Bishops, clergy and laity attending the GAFCON pilgrimage to Jerusalem in June. While it is simply a restatement of Anglican orthodoxy, it is nevertheless probably the most important document to be formulated by Anglicans since the Reformation. In a couple of weeks our own Church Council, like many others, will be considering whether it can endorse the following resolution:

"Recognising that the Jerusalem Declaration is consistent with the doctrine of the Church of England as stated in Canon A5, we stand in solidarity with the Jerusalem Declaration and Statement on the Global Anglican Future."

Here are five reasons why I believe every indivdual Anglican and every Anglican Church Council should do so:

1. This act of solidarity will encourage those especially of the Anglican Communion in the USA and Canada who are being deposed and persecuted for their gospel stand and commitment to the Scriptures. It is lamentable that so few evangelical Anglican Bishops, for example, have shown solidarity with Bishop Duncan of Pittsburgh recently deposed.

2. This act of solidarity will strengthen Anglicans in the Global South in countries such as Nigeria and Sudan who are being persecuted by Muslims because they are wrongly identified with the schismatic and immoral stance of The Episcopal Church in the USA and Canada.

3. Endorsing the Declaration in no way prejudices relationships with our Bishop, Diocese and the Church of England. Just the reverse – it is a restatement of the official teaching of the Church of England and demonstrates our fidelity.

4. Endorsing the Declaration demonstrates that we remain fully committed to the Church of England. We are not leaving, being schismatic or divisive. We are going to reform the Church of England from within. Endorsing the Declaration is a way of declaring our intent.

5. Expressing our solidarity with the Jerusalem Declaration does not commit us to any other decision or course of action. The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans is precisely that - a fellowship of like-minded believers. We invite you to be a part of this growing fellowship.

"We stand in solidarity with the Jerusalem Declaration and Statement on the Global Anglican Future."

Visit Anglican Mainstream to endorse the declaration as individuals and as Parochial Church Councils There is a separate petition for non-Anglicans

The full text of the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration

Friday, 10 October 2008

Annapolis: Optimism vs. Pessimism

“Do you know the definition of a pessimist?” asks Afif Safieh, head of the PLO Delegation to the USA. He answers with a bitter smile: “an optimist with information.” In an interview with Akiva Eldar published in Ha`aretz back in September 2007, Afif said, “My message to the American society as a Palestinian diplomat is not `give up a friend` but `add a friend.` I don`t have a problem with the commitment to Israel`s existence; I`m just asking my American friends if you are also committed to Israel`s territorial expansion? Do your interests include the Israeli occupation in the territories? For this is it worth it for you to fight with the entire Arab world? I`m saying to my American friends that the U.S. is a wonderful society, pluralistic, and a nation of nations. It absorbed eight million Muslims, of them four million who are Arabs and 400,000 Palestinians… Public opinion polls show that 60 percent of Americans would like to see a more balanced policy toward us… and 70 percent support a solution of two states.”

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Published in Sojourners Magazine, January 2008

Assessing Western and Christian Stands on the Islamic Republic of Iran

A presentation made at the Gulf Cultural Club, London, January 2008.

There are essentially three approaches being taken by the West toward Iran’s nuclear programme at the moment: isolation, confrontation and mediation. Economic isolation through UN sanctions. Military confrontation from the US and Israel. And diplomatic mediation largely from non-aligned states. This evening I want to concentrate on the second. I want to help explain from a religious perspective why the US is heading for yet another military confrontation in the Middle East.

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Zion's Christian Soldiers? The Bible, Israel and the Church


"Thank God, here comes at last a book that challenges the pseudo-theology which, by giving precedence to the Old Covenant over the New, relegates the Church to the status of concubine in order to make Israel the Bride of Christ. In clear and measured terms, the author demonstrates from Scripture that God's purposes for history are not driven by a narrowly selective racist obsession but rather by his eternal design to create the Church, the new community dearly secured through the cross for all Christ-followers, both Jews and Gentiles.” Professor Gilbert Bilezikian, Professor Emeritus, Wheaton College and a founding leader of Willow Creek Community Church, South Barrington, Illinois.

Free downloads of six talks (text and audio) taken from the book.

1. For the Love of Zion: The Bible tells them so

2. Israel and the Church: Who are God's chosen people?

3. The Promised Land: From the Nile to the Euphrates?

4. Battle for Jerusalem: The Eternal Capital of the Jews?

5. The Coming Last Day's Temple: Ready to Rebuild?

6. Overture to Armageddon: Want to be left behind?

Thursday, 9 October 2008

Justice in the Eyes of Jesus

The Concept of Justice in the New Testament
“Justice in Evangelical Christian and Islamic Thought”

“Jesus went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. And he stood up to read. The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, 21 and he began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4:17-21)

In this paper I want us to examine the concept of justice in the eyes of Jesus. How did Jesus understand, teach and deliver justice? I want us to consider this question under five headings and see that biblical justice is relational; is creative; is liberating; vindicates; and restores. [1]

1. Biblical Justice is Relational
“Justice in the Bible is pre-eminently a relational bond which links persons together in a community of mutual responsibility and mutual rights.”[2] Specifically, biblical justice defines and creates a relationship between a holy God and his people and with one another in a community of faith. Biblical justice is then, first and foremost, relational. It is founded on God's gracious initiative.

The dilemma we face is this. How can we who are unholy, relate to a holy and righteous God? Christians believe that divine justice was fully personified in the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus said of himself, without a trace of arrogance, “By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.” (John 5:30)

Citing the Hebrew scriptures, Paul summarises our condition before a holy just God in this way: “As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10-12)

On the basis of God’s holy nature, he continues, “every mouth will be silenced, and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” (Romans 3:19-20).

How then can we be made right with a just and holy God? Paul goes on to explain that Jesus died in our place to take upon himself the judgement we deserve, so that we can be justified and made right with God. This is the basis for our relationship with God.

“There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood… he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:22-26)

Jesus died to bring us back into a right relationship with God. This is the basis for our relationship with God. It is also the same basis for our relationships with one another. “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” (Ephesians 4:32)

Matthew uses similar imagery to describe Jesus as God’s chosen servant. He quotes from Isaiah 42 to describe Jesus’ unique role in bringing forth justice and establishing justice on earth: “Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight;I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations. He will not shout or cry out,or raise his voice in the streets. A bruised reed he will not break,and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.In faithfulness he will bring forth justice; he will not falter or be discouraged till he establishes justice on earth. In his law the islands will put their hope.” (Isaiah 42:1-4, see Matthew 12:15-21)

Justice is therefore God’s initiative and our hope. Living under, and by, the justice of God, is an act of faith and fidelity. Jesus specifically rebukes the Pharisees of his day for their hypocrisy and disregard for justice because it was a sign of their disregard for God. “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God.” (Luke 11:42)

Notice Jesus links justice with love. If we love God, we will desire to become like him in our values, in our priorities and actions. Biblical justice is therefore a quality of ‘mutual bondedness’ - the foundation of our individual, as well as shared, covenant relationship with God. This is why Jesus insists with great authority that our heart attitude toward God and our motives toward others are more revealing, and more critical, than our ability to keep to the letter of the law. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus explains God’s attitude to such things as murder, adultery, divorce and right to retaliation. In doing so he calls us to a higher ethic.

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment… You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart…” (Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28)

Ultimately we will be judged on the basis of how we have treated others. Not because we are saved by good works, but rather because our actions demonstrate our heart attitude, our faith and trust in God’s justice. Our actions reveal our trust in Jesus, who has reconciled us to God. Jesus says how we treat others ultimately demonstrates how we treat God. “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:34-40)

So, in a society that prizes personal freedom and affluence, “both the rugged individualism of the free-enterprise capitalist and the narcissistic individualism of the ‘me generation’”,[3] biblical justice holds us accountable to God, calls us back to a right relationship with him, builds faith and strengthens community. First and foremost then, biblical justice is relational.

2. Biblical Justice is Creative
God has initiated a covenant relationship with his people based on his character. This is why the apostle Peter cites Leviticus 19:2 to show why we must be holy. Because God is holy.

“Therefore, prepare your minds for action; be self-controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed. 14 As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” 17 Since you call on a Father who judges each man’s work impartially, live your lives as strangers here in reverent fear.” (1 Peter 1:13-17)

Therefore because of this new covenant relationship, God is also calling his people to be a new community to demonstrate it.

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.” (1 Peter 2:9-12)

Biblical justice is therefore creative. God’s initiative creates a people who once were no people. Hollenbach says, “It is a justice which ever seeks new and deeper levels of mutual relatedness, not simply the preservation of those familiar bonds which already exist. Thus it goes beyond a quid pro quo fairness in social interaction and economic exchanges.”[4]

This new creation community is one that draws all - especially the stranger and the alien into the neighbourhood. If genuine, it will be infectious. It will be evangelistic - eager to share the good news - eager to welcome others into the community. Jesus told the Parable of the Good Samaritan to define our responsibility to build community. He was asked a question “who is my neighbour?” The lawyer wanted Jesus to define the limit of his neighbourly responsibility - those living within a mile? Two miles? Five miles? Jesus turned the question around and asked What kind of neighbour are you?

“On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered: “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’’” 28 “You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:25-37)

Jesus, very cleverly, creates a dilemma. The person at the centre of the story is left naked and unconscious. Therefore no one traveling along the road could tell from his clothing or accent whether he was one of their tribe or not. The man is reduced to stripped to his bare humanity. The Samaritan, an enemy of the Jews is the only one who stops. The only one who acts as a neighbour. The Parable of the Good Samaritan, illustrates our responsibility toward who ever we meet. In these divine encounters we are called to be creative, inclusive and compassionate toward those in need - who ever they are because they are created in the image of God. In this regard, Jesus explicitly denies us the right to retaliation.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48)

Jesus insists that we break the spiral of violence and create an environment in which even our enemy can be reconciled and drawn into our community. Biblical justice is therefore not only relational, it is also creative in transcending the boundaries of race, politics or religion. Biblical justice is relational and creative.

3. Biblical Justice is Liberating
The Hebrew scriptures trace the liberation of God’s people from slavery. In the Exodus we see the people of God emerge from bondage. Their liberty is assured only as they obey God’s leading and relate to him and one another in the ways he proscribes. The Law given at Mount Sinai was intended to liberate God’s people - to protect them and provide for their future. Notice the way in which their liberation is intended to shape the way they treat others.

“For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt. 20 Fear the LORD your God and serve him.” (Deuteronomy 10:17-20)

The Law, which defined the rights and responsibilities of God’s people, included the idea of the Sabbath - a weekly day of rest, but also the Sabbath year - every seventh year the land was given rest. And after every seven sevens - after 49 years, there was to be a year of Jubilee. “Consecrate the fiftieth year and proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants.” (Leviticus 25:10)

The Year of Jubilee injunctions ensured that every 50 years, slaves were freed, debts were cancelled, and ancestral property was returned. The intention was that, whatever their circumstances in the intervening years, broad equality among God’s people was maintained. God warns, “Do not take advantage of each other, but fear your God.” (Leviticus 25:17). Later, Isaiah predicted that God would send the Messiah to inaugurate a spiritual year of Jubilee (Isaiah 61:1-3). And it is with these words that Jesus begins his first recorded message delivered in the synagogue of Nazareth,

“The scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written, ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’ Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him, and he began by saying to them, ‘Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.’” (Luke 4:17-21)

Jesus came to proclaim the good news of liberation, freedom, recovery, release, the season of God’s favour especially to the poor, to prisoners, to the blind and to those who were oppressed. To these people, in particular, Jesus brought hope, justice and liberation. Biblical justice is relational, it is creative and liberating.

4. Biblical Justice Vindicates
Biblical justice vindicates - as it liberates. Stephen Mott observes: "Often people think of justice in the Bible only in the … sense as God's wrath on evil. This aspect of justice indeed is present… [but] Justice in the Bible very frequently also deals with benefits. Cultures differ widely in determining the basis by which the benefits are to be justly distributed. For some it is by birth and nobility. For others the basis is might or ability or merit. Or it might simply be whatever is the law or whatever has been established by contracts. The Bible takes another possibility. Benefits are distributed according to need. Justice then is very close to love and grace. God “executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and… loves the strangers, providing them food and clothing” Deuteronomy 10:18)… To oppress is to use power for one's own advantage in depriving others of their basic rights in the community (see Mark 12:40). To do justice is to correct that abuse and to meet those needs (Isaiah 1:17). [5]

When Jesus read from the prophecy in Isaiah 61 in the synagogue of Nazareth, he claimed it was being fulfilled as he spoke the words.

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 19to proclaim the year of the LORD'S favour.” (Luke 4:18-19)

However, significantly, Jesus does not complete the sentence. Isaiah 61:2 goes on to say:

“The Spirit of the Sovereign LORD is on me, because the LORD has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 2 to proclaim the year of the LORD'S favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, 3 and provide for those who grieve in Zion—to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” (Isaiah 61:1-3)

In his first coming Jesus did not come to judge. It was not yet “the day of vengeance of our God”. The first time Jesus came to save. We believe he will return to fulfil the second half of this prophecy.

Ruth Foster observes,

“Recalling the themes of Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55, Jesus revealed His upside-down kingdom as a radical reversal of normal human values. The focus then of His coming was on the poor, the enslaved, the blind, and the downtrodden, a focus that embodied God’s nature as defender of the weak. Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament teaching concerning justice for the needy and helpless in his teaching (Luke 4:l6ff) and in his attention to the physical as well as the spiritual needs of people. If any doubt exists about how Jesus understood his mission, his reply to John the Baptist’s poignant question from prison, “Are You the Coming One, or shall we look for someone else?”, clarifies for us his thinking. Jesus sent John the answer that “the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them” (Matt. 11:5).

The church then becomes the stage on which Jesus’ radical way of living is acted out. Brueggemann argues that the church “as a wedge of newness, as a foretaste of what is coming, as home for the odd ones, is the work of God’s originary mercy.”[6] These peculiar people that Brueggemann calls “that odd community” are those who question what the content of “neighbor justice’’ is and who consistently seek to act out the answers.”[7]

Jesus promises vindication for the poor, the outcasts, the marginalised, the abused and the oppressed. That is why his message is good news. Knowing that vindication and vengeance will come on the day of judgement, should temper the way we treat others. In his letter to the Romans, Paul insists:

“Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Do not repay evil for evil… Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. 20 On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:14-21)

It is God’s role to avenge, not ours. Jesus told another parable to illustrate this and to motivate his followers not to get despair.

“He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared about men. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ 4 “For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don’t fear God or care about men, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually wear me out with her coming!’ ” 6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:2-8)

Hollenbach observes, “The complete fulfillment of this vindication will occur only on the eschatological day of judgment. But the resurrection of Jesus is the down payment on its complete realization, and the Spirit of God has been given to a groaning world as the first fruits of the harvest in which vindication and judgment will be complete. Christians who seek to remain faithful to the Spirit which has been given them are both called and enabled to act in the task of bringing vindication to all who are poor and oppressed. Such action is central in the biblical understanding of the Christian's participation in the justice of God.”[8] In this sense, as Stephen Mott points out, biblical “Justice delivers; it does not merely relieve the immediate needs of those in dire straits… In the act of restoration, those who were victims of justice receive benefits while their exploiters are punished.”[9]So, to summarise - we have seen that biblical justice, in the eyes of Jesus is first relational, second creative, third liberating and fourth, vindicating. Finally…

5. Biblical Justice is Restorative
God’s intention is that people be reconciled to himself and to one another in community. As we have seen, it is specifically those who are vulnerable, the poor, the weak, the widow and orphan and the stranger who are the focus of God’s compassion and protection, so that they can survive and remain in the community. In this sense maintaining justice for them is a central demand on God’s people.

“He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)

The apostle James summarises the meaning of religion in this way:

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)

God’s intention is therefore that justice be restorative. Naim Ateek points out, “To talk about the righteousness of God, therefore, means to talk about God’s compassion and mercy. In fact, God’s concern for justice grows out of compassion and mercy. Injustice is condemned biblically not because the law has been broken, but because a merciful God is flouted and people are hurt.”[10]

Jesus demonstrated this in the encounter with an adulterous woman.

“At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.” (John 8:2-11)

Jesus did not condone her sin. But he would not condemn either. Ruth Foster observes, “The woman had committed a crime. Jesus did not condone or excuse her crime. Rather, he illustrated his trust in the power of redemptive love by forgiving the woman of her sin. With mercy and compassion he told her, “Go and sin no more.” At the same time he focused attention on the hypocrisy of her accusers: “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone.” Many Christians have found in this story an insight into the core of the Christian gospel.”[11]

In another encounter Jesus is having a meal at the home of a Pharisee when a prostitute enters and anoints his feet with perfume, wets them with her tears and dries them with her hair. The Pharisee is appalled that Jesus is allowing her to touch him. Jesus responds with a story about two men who each owed money. One owed a little and the other owed a great deal. The money lender cancelled the debts of both. Jesus asks which will love the money lender the most. The Pharisee replies, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt cancelled.” Jesus then applies the principle.

“Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” 49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:44-50)

Another group of people in society specifically mentioned in need of compassion and restoration are prisoners. In Matthew 25 we find proof that God intends us to be involved with restorative justice.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’… Then the righteous will answer… When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:34-40)

Our attitude toward prisoners is indicative of our attitude toward the Lord. “Consider this also, the first saint in Heaven was a thief--the thief who cried out to Jesus from the cross "Remember me when you enter to your kingdom". Jesus did not just remember him, he took him along. "Today you will be with me in paradise." God’s actions on our behalf on the cross have to do with justice. The cross is, in fact, God’s plan for justice that restores.”[12]

In this sense we should all be able to identify with the thief. For we all fall short of the glory of God; we do not live up to God’s expectations; we all deserve God’s judgement. The good news is that when we are honest and confess our guilt we can all experience the restorative aspect of God’s justice.

“if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. 8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:7-9)

God is just. We deserve condemnation. But because Jesus died in our place, God can justly forgive and restore us. And that is why we must seek justice and restoration for others also.

Conclusions
We have seen that justice, in the eyes of Jesus, is first relational, second creative, third liberating, fourth vindicating and fifth, restorative. Each is complimentary and inseparable. Hollenbach again.

“There can be no vindication of the oppressed apart from a creative restructuring of the conditions of exchange and interaction in economic and political life. There can be no liberation which is not simultaneously a movement into a relationship of truly mutual relatedness. The biblical vision acknowledges the reality of injustice and deep conflict in history. Thus it sees the fullness of justice as an eschatological hope.

Injustice is the conflict-ridden exclusion of persons or groups from participation in the richness of social relationship. It leads to oppression and poverty. The remedy for injustice is the struggle to overcome this exclusion and domination, a struggle that is often filled with conflict. But the conflicts of injustice as biblically portrayed are most definitely not conflicts between freedom and social solidarity or between personal faithfulness and corporate responsibility. These are inseparable both in a fully just community and in the process of moving toward such a community.

It must also be noted that the biblical vision of justice will sometimes call Christian citizens to question and challenge the presuppositions which underlie current movements in the political process… A justice which is integrally relational, creative, liberating, [and] vindicating of the poor [and restorative] cuts against some of the bias and self-interests of nearly all political movements and ideologies to be found on the political scene. So though Christians need to employ reason and persuasion fully in their civil pursuit of justice, they also need to recognize its tendency to become infected with what Niebuhr called ideological taint. The defense against this danger is not retreat into an uncritical fundamentalism. The pathway of such a retreat is closed off by the fact that the Bible does not contain the concepts or analyses that can fully illuminate real policy choices. The strongest secular warrant for the biblical vision of justice is its appositeness for a pluralist and conflicted world. Mutual relatedness, creative restructuring, liberating inclusiveness, and a forthright commitment to the vindication of the poor and oppressed are simultaneously the conditions of religious faithfulness and public civility today... The civil task of the public church is to help nurture them and act on them in both the religious and political domains. Failure to do so would be both unbiblical and uncivil.”[13]

Ruth Foster concludes:

“The waters of justice and righteousness are dangerous to those of us who have promised to follow Christ and to live in covenant with His people. God’s justice is dangerous because:
  • to ignore it reveals we are not truly his;
  • to misunderstand it can lead to depersonalizing and compartmentalizing those made in God’s image;
  • to rationalize away its demands hardens our hearts to God;
  • to seek to live out the demands of God’s justice is risky and goes against the grain of normal behavior and cultural norms;
  • to pray for God’s justice calls us into involvement with those who need justice.
Are we courageous disciples? Are we brave enough to be God’s light and justice to those in the shadows? If we are to know God fully through his Son Jesus Christ, we must live justly. If the world is to know Jesus Christ through us, we must risk entering into the dangerous waters of God’s justice and righteousness.”[14]

Alan Storkey also offers this closing challenge:

“our relation to God's justice is unavoidable. It delineates our lives and shapes our history. Moreover, both in the Scriptures and in two thousand years of Christian history, we have the greatest formative tradition of justice in world history. When we walk out of the ghetto, we already know the city, have a good map and have access to its ruler. Surely it is time so to do.” [15]

Paper delivered at a conference sponsored by the World Islamic Call Society,
Sheraton Tower and Hotel, Chicago, 2-4th November, 2006.

For version with footnotes - see here