It’s a given. Christians disagree. Like pretty much everyone else, in fact. They always have. They always will. This side of the eschaton, that is.
So the issue is not whether or not we can avoid disagreement. The issue is whether or not we can disagree badly… or disagree well… This is what lay behind the recent 3-part sermon series given by Hugh Palmer at All Souls. And it deserves a wide airing in its entirety because it confronts some vital and little-appreciated issues.
Yesterday at 3.15, Uncle John died peacefully at his retirement home. We mourn his loss and rejoice with him.
It is very poignant to be writing this today, as we’re all at the Hookses, Uncle John’s retreat in Wales (see yesterday’s post). The place is full of memories of him – he restored it, oversaw its extension, wrote many of his wonderful books here and above all loved it. And so the news of his death is bitter-sweet.
The pope is arriving on these shores next week. And there are many things that make his visit controversial. There are of course even people who want to try to arrest him. I certainly don’t think that is the right way to proceed and bear him no ill-feeling necessarily. Nor does it particularly worry me that he’s visiting the country. Why shouldn’t he? And as they say, ‘some of my best friends are Catholic’.
But if one of the purposes of such visits is to raise the profile of Catholicism, then it is perfectly fair game to re-examine the reasons why many of us count ourselves Christian but not Catholic.
Some believers constantly relive past battles of spiritual ancestors as if little or nothing has changed for decades or even centuries; while others reject the need to get involved those such debates altogether (perhaps in the mistaken assumption that this makes them more contemporary). Neither path makes sense. The past is not irrelevant but nor is it a straightjacket. As I previously quoted on Q a few weeks back, Tom Wright helpfully sums it up like this:
the trick is to recover the first-century questions and try to give twenty-first century answers, rather than taking sixteenth-century questions and giving nineteenth-century answers…
Still, some past battles continue to have relevance when they concern first-century questions – and that is in large (though not entire) part what the Reformation was concerned with in its determination to get back to the sources (‘ad fontes‘) of Scripture and the early church. We might not answer the questions in exactly the same way that the likes of Luther or Calvin answered them (not least because the presenting issues are different) After all, 21st Century Catholicism is by no means identical to its 16th Century forebear. But we would be unwise to ignore what they said and why they said it, especially if there are aspects of Catholic belief that have not in fact changed that much.
This then was the thinking behind a recent, but all too brief, series preached by the boss, Hugh Palmer last month. It was a corker on the 4 ‘sola’s of the reformation, under the title TRUTHS WORTH DYING FOR. Definitely worth checking out:
In these days of uncertainty and schism, we look to our leaders for reassurance and a direction. But matters took an unexpected turn today as the Rector of All Souls caused a significant split in the church – right down the middle in fact.
We had our annual staff day out in the lovely Dulwich park today. All very jolly. But even jollier was the celebration of the Rector’s milestone birthday a month early (I shouldn’t really identify which – let’s just say that he’ll become the proud owner of a free bus pass soon – unless, that is, the coalition government gets on the case).
Anyway – thanks to the genius of Ruth & Tracey, here is his cake from the staff… and the desecreation that followed…
Well, you’ve all been waiting for this with baited breath, I can tell. After the launch of what we called London’s Biggest Survey back in November, we’ve had around 18oo responses, which is fantastic.
The indomitable Candy Leung has been crunching numbers and surveying surveys for weeks. So the results are now in. Hugh Palmer will preach on the following questions, which easily came out on top, on the following days:
- Why does God allow suffering? (28 Feb am)
- What happens when I die? (7 Mar am)
- What is the meaning of life? (14 Mar am)
So now you know.
If you want more information, the details are here:
In the run up to the series of Passion For Life events next Feb/March, we’re doing this survey at All Souls for non-churchy friends. It takes the question that Rico Tice has used for years as the launchpad for the first evening of the Christianity Explored – and we’re using it to devise the 3 sermons that the boss, Hugh Palmer will preach on the surrounding sundays:
- 28th February 09
- 7th March 09
- 14th March 09
I thought I’d join in the fun and do a Q survey of my own – have cheated slightly by second-guessing some of the answers, but there’s still a space for you to add in your own if you don’t like the suggestions…
There’s a limit to the number of votes this can receive – but click on the survey image (above) to get to the real thing…
One of the admin team actually had a spare red carpet up his sleeve (thanks, Dave) – and so this was put to good use and then wheeled out this Sunday for the latest in our Christians facing Issues series. Here is a paparazzo pic of the fab Dimity, (one of the team who slaved away to get things ready), getting into the celeb mood…
Because this time, the topic of concern was Celebrity Culture. Planned months ago, it couldn’t have been held at more appropriate time, coming at the end of the week in which Michael Jackson’s funeral took place. Regardless of how aware or consciously influenced by celebrity culture we are, it is a fact that the world of celebrities is part of the very oxygen we breathe. So there were many things today that got people thinking…
And being the BBC’s next door neighbour means that we see celebrities walking past our front door on an almost daily basis, putting us in a peculiarly good place for addressing it.
Tim & the gang came up with a brilliant and thought-provoking time:
- 3 short in-house videos on the subject
- conversations with people who know what they’re talking about when it comes to this subject
- 3 Bible passages (1 Samuel 18:6-9, James 2:1-5 and Philippians 2:5-11) with 3 mini expositions from Hugh Palmer
- all surrounded by songs and prayers to tie in.
Colin Paterson is Entertainment Reporter for the BBC and a church member. His two worlds couldn’t be more divided – epitomised by last Tuesday, when he went from Leicester Sq covering the Harry Porter premiere, and then rushing to get to his All Souls fellowship group immediately after.
He made this fantastic short film about the history of celebrity – having had special access to film in the British Museum (and so name-checking everyone from Rameses II, Alexander the Great, Cleopatra to the stars of today)…
There were two other films – vox pops from ASLP and Oxford St – will put those up when they become available.
Am here at Haven Pwllheli (oh joys) for New Word Alive week 2. First time our kids have come to one of these sorts of things – and thankfully, despite their initial fears, they are having a ball. So that’s a relief. Here doing the Rough Guide to the Bible in the mornings – but fortunately have nothing else on – so can chill and go to what i want.
Highlight so far is Hugh Palmer’s grilling of Don Carson on his last night here. They’d done the same last week so they’d had some practice. But they were responding to loads of questions sent in – and it was fab. Of course, saying that Carson was off the cuff is not strictly accurate. He’s written books on pretty much every key issue that people ask about these days, with the result that he simply needs to locate the relevant responses from his internal hard drive of publications. But it was fun – there was a lot of healthy banter – and wide-ranging: covering topics such as:
- in a contest between him, Mark Dever, Tim Keller and John Piper who’d win (his answer was the one who is 6 ft 4 and younger and heavier than the others – if you didn’t know, that’s Dever)
- has the reformation finished?
- the federal vision
- new perspective(s) on Paul (see this month’s Q treasure map)
- advice for people thinking about ministry and what is a ‘calling’
- the recent atonement debates
- when should you leave a church that is not functioning well in the gospel
- ecstatic experiences and fainting in the spirit.
- etc etc etc
It was a masterclass. But a few things particualrly struck home and are worth repeating:
His own calling to ministry
The Bible is full of different precedents for how God calls people to ministries. So it is hard, if not actually unhelpful, to come up with a rigid template for how this should happen. Which is a relief because life just isn’t like that. From his own experience, he spoke of a number of different people and incidents that were involved in him leaving his Chemistry and Air Pollution work and getting ordained and into theology. Someone suggested he should think about it – he said no – but the seeds were sown. He heard people talk about it (quite apart from his own father – see previous post on his memoir about his father). Finally clinched by a sermon from a missionary to Haiti on Ezek 22 – who will stand in the gap? And that did it.
Preparing for Leadership
Asked how to prepare for ministry as an elder or leader in the church. He gave some great tips. All need a older mentor ideally who can lead them through study and apprenticeship. They should aim for a number of things to be thought through:
- Learn (by study and listening) how to understand and to defend the core essentials of the Christian faith and gospel
- Learn (by study and listening) how to understand and to defend the secondary issues that form the hallmarks and heritage of the particular denomination and churchmanship that you are working in.
- Learn (by study and listening) how to understand the times and particular pressures on contemporary believers (whether from the wider culture, through doctrinal challenges and social mores) and to be able to apply the word into this situation.
- Be devoted to people: ministry is not about crafting fine artistic sermons – ministry is about playing a part in God’s transforming work in people’s lives.
- Must be willing and able to give time. No good being an elder if you can’t sacrifice time and energy for the work – it’s not enough to simply have your name on the leadership roll if you never do anything about it.
This will entail reading and study – Wesley used to give a reading list of 50 basic books that all those he was preparing for ministry had to know WELL! And that was just stage one!
The upshot is that if you are not prepared for all of this – then DON’T DO IT! Very helpful indeed.
At All Souls last night, we had the latest in our occasional series of “Christians Facing Issues” – the topic this time was the Credit Crunch. It was a brilliant evening, having been devised by Tim Plyming, our workplace minister and BBC insider. He managed to get Hugh Pym and Justin Urquhart-Stewart from the Beeb to come and give us the inside info and economic background to it all – which was quite a coup. And then we had interviews with two people who had been personally affected by it all (one by redundancy, another through failed businesses). Pulling it all together, Hugh then gave 2 shorter talks (on Romans 1 & then Ephesians 1)bringing a biblical perspective to it all.
3 short films were shown during the course of the service and they are now available for all to see:
Here Tim interviews Justin U-S
Then Jane Barrett took the camera around the city and did a couple of vox pops: