“But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them – bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.”
2 Peter 2:1-2 NIVUK
The reaction to Bishop Michael Curry’s exuberant sermon at the Royal Wedding has demonstrated a great deal about our own culture and even more about the state of the evangelical church in the West today. Even more shockingly for me, it has shown up a fault line in my own orthodox denomination. I have written a more general piece for Christian Today that will hopefully be online today, but in this article I want to carefully consider the sermon and the reaction to it from my own tribe (evangelicals) and my own particular subset within it – the Free Church of Scotland. I am genuinely traumatised at what has emerged over the past couple of days and have been lying awake trying to process it. The verse at the head of this article was in my McCheyne reading this morning and has prompted me to write.
Bishop Curry was a superb communicator. He was connected, joyful, enthusiastic, jovial, learned and amusing. An angel of light.
First let me being with the general evangelical reaction. I wrote the following for Christian Today: “In one sense the sermon was wonderful. Bishop Curry was passionate, articulate, humorous and he even mentioned Jesus, the Bible and the love of God (55 times!). And people loved it. Piers Morgan tweeted: “Wow. Still reeling from Rev Curry. What a moment. What a guy!” Ed Miliband – “Rev Michael Curry could almost make me a believer”. As predicted on Christian Today it seems as though the British really did fall in love with the loveable bishop. And it wasn’t just the public, nor the liberal Christians and LGBT activists who loved him. Those of a more conservative bent were quick to join in. The conservative blogger Cranmer tweeted: “When the Church is liberated from staid sermons and formulaic motions to spontaneous expressions of joy and heart-bursting love, the world sits up and listens. God bless you, @BishopCurry, for proclaiming the love of Christ so passionately to two billion people.” Many other conservative evangelicals from Krish Kandiah to Amy Orr-Ewing, from Scottish Free Church Presbyterians to Sydney Anglicans were equally commendatory. It was, and is, as many pointed out, an opportunity to talk about Jesus and to share the Gospel.”
Archbishop Welby was ecstatic. “The use of language to communicate the Gospel of Christ just blew the place open. You could see people get caught up and excited about it” This was preaching the Gospel.
There were many other reactions but for the sake of space let me deal with just three. The Australian Anglicans, the Free Church Presbyterians and later on in the week we will respond to the English blogger Cranmer.
It’s been fascinating watching the reaction over here. As well as being with Chinese Presbyterians at the weekend, today I have just completed a lecture and Q and A on the subject with Moore College Anglicans. So many of them do get and grasp what was wrong; like their colleague in England – The Queens former chaplain Gavin Ashendon who wrote this excellent review – https://ashenden.org/2018/05/19/michael-curry-the-royal-wedding-a-star-turn-offers-the-world-christianity-lite/ But others are a bit more confused.
One Sydney evangelical has written of his bemusement about ‘reformed’ people not getting the sermon. Another has a piece in todays Sydney Morning Herald in which he lauds the’wonderful’ sermon (although admitting it did lack something). It was this latter piece that struck me most. “We heard from Curry a message that is simplicity itself: love, the love that comes from God in Christ, is the only way. If people were shocked by that, perhaps that’s not a bad thing”. I’m more shocked by that statement than I am by the sermon. It shows how out of touch we are with the surrounding culture. Is there anyone in the world who is shocked that a bishop mentions love at a wedding?! What would have been shocking is if he had given any biblical meaning to the word!
Another wrote; “the context was pure biblical orthodoxy”. It appears post-modernism is alive and well in the modern church!
The Free Church
I came across this interesting and informative post from our friend, Sam Logan:
“I had the great privilege of preaching twice today for the Free Church of Scotland congregation of Uig/Staffin on the Isle of Skye. After the service tonight, there was a “Fellowship Time” at which members of the congregation and Susan and I talked about “things.” One of those things, a subject raised by a leader of that congregation, was the sermon from yesterday’s royal wedding. I mentioned the divergent opinions I have seen regarding that sermon posted by Free Church ministers. Overall, I would say that the majority opinion expressed tonight was strongly positive. I find it VERY educational to listen to and to be educated by committed evangelical Reformed Christians from cultural contexts different from my own.”
I found it VERY educational as well. I was really disappointed that our own people did not show the same discernment of the Chinese Presbyterians in assessing the sermon. But then when I consider that several Free Church leaders tweeted their support and appreciation for the sermon I am not that surprised.
“I’m grateful for Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon today. There was plenty in it to point people to Jesus, and I pray that many people who watched that sermon will discover Jesus for themselves as they read or listen to the Bible as a result of the sermon.”
“Having read the sermon I couldn’t find anything of deism in it or any other heterodoxy, and there were plenty of pointers to God’s redeeming love in the life and death of Jesus. There is no better way to bring people to faith than to woo their hearts by telling them, reminding them and re-reminding them of the amazing love of God in Christ.”
Others have commented that it was such a powerful message and it should get people to reading the bible. Still others that even if it wasn’t spot on we should take the Philippians 1:18 attitude “But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached.” – But that is the key question – was Christ preached? Was the love of Christ preached?
1) Firstly if it had been it would have been the first time that the preaching of Christ met with worldwide commendation! Everyone loved it – from the atheist Ed Miliband, to the LGBT activist Vicky Beeching. Liberal and Evangelical alike sang its praises. It was such a post-modern meaningless sermon that anyone could take any meaning they liked. Listen to what Jesus says: “Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” (Luke 6:26)
2) It was hypocritical. Bishop Curry was at a wedding that upheld the traditional Cranmer prayer book (and biblical) view of marriage as being between a man and a woman – and which expressly said so. Yet he does not believe that – and has been active in getting the reference to procreation and to man and woman removed from the prayer book in his church. Incidentally his province is meant to be under the discipline of the whole Anglican Church, yet the Archbishop of Canterbury not only invited him but also enthusiastically endorsed him. Biblical Evangelicals within the Church of England have been well and truly shafted! It is important to grasp that Liberals like Curry use words in different ways – we need to ask what does he mean by Jesus, love and the cross. We may be hearing one thing when he is saying another.
3) It was unbiblical – The sermon cited 1 John 4:8 out of context. I know that he did not have time to do all of this, but there is no way that the little he did say is reflective of the letter he took it from. Just to mention a few things.
a) Sin – John sets the whole of the Cross-against the background of sin. Bishop Curry did not mention sin once. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us (1:8).
b) The Atonement – John tells us that Jesus died on the cross for our sins. That forgiveness for sins comes from that. Jesus is the atoning sacrifice (the propitiation, turning aside the just wrath of God against sin) for our sins, and not only ours but the sin of the whole world” (2:2). This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters (3:16). This is love not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as the atoning sacrifice for our sins (4:10). When Curry spoke of the cross, it spoke of it as sacrificial, as exemplary, not as THE atoning sacrifice. We too can be sacrificial and it is that sacrificial love that is redemptive and changes the world. Can you see what he is doing? He is turning the cross from being THE redemptive work, to it being an example of redemptive love that we can all show. He is teaching us that we can save ourselves and indeed save the world by just having the kind of love that Christ had and following his example. That is not the Gospel. It is the antithesis of the Gospel.
c) Obedience – Obedience was left out of the marriage vows. It was also left out of the sermon. Which given that it was a sermon about love and love is defined as obedience in his text is a big miss! We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands (2:3). If anyone obeys his word, God’s love is truly made complete in them. (2:5). But the Bishop said nothing about obeying the commands of God. Imagine if he had said this – “This is love for God, to keep his commands” (5:3). Do you think for a moment he would have had such a positive response?
d) Loving the World was commended, not condemned – Do not love the world, or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them (2:15). See what great love the Father has lavished on us that we should be called the children of God! And this is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him (3:1). Bishop Curry made no distinction at all between Jesus and the world. So the world loved his message. If he had preached Christ, the world would have hated it. As it is the world loved his message, because it pushed all their buttons.
e) Beware False Teachers – Many antichrists have come (2:18). Do not let anyone lead you astray. The one who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. The one who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devils work (3:7-8). Do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world. False teaching, false spirits, the devil being at work. Again none of that was mentioned. The whole concept of evil and the devils work was not part of the picture at all. But our battle is not against flesh and blood. Nor against Donald Trump. It is against sin, self and Satan.
f) There is a great division between those who know God and those who don’t. Whoever does not love, does not know God, because God is love (4:8). Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God (5:1). If you don’t know Jesus you are not born of God. And if you are not born of the God who is love, you cannot love in the way that John is speaking about.
Imagine if Bishop Curry had said to the young couple – “it’s great to see your love, but there is a greater love, and you really need to know that love. You need to know the God who is love. You need to trust and accept his atoning work of sacrifice. You need to show your love by obeying his commands (including being faithful to each other). You need to watch out for the evil in your own heart, and that from the devil. Always look to Christ “ But he didn’t (even though the Cranmer’s Anglican liturgy recognizes all those things); and he couldn’t because he does not believe that. He disobeys Gods word, denies his atoning sacrifice and does not teach the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
So what does the fact that so many good Christians and pastors accepted this as a ‘gospel sermon’ tell us?
It teaches us that the world has had a far deeper impact on our general thinking than we realize. We just seem to accept its premises.
It teaches us that we should not use the world’s methodology. I know that there are some who think that just because Jesus is mentioned and the bible quoted, this is a great thing, and even if he was not especially orthodox, we can use this as a kind of marketing tool. Whilst I agree that we should use every opportunity we can get – we should not justify or accept false teaching, just because it can be turned for good. It is very dangerous to say to our people that a sermon which gave a false view of the cross, a wrong view of salvation and was preached by a man who denies the Bible as the word of God, is somehow to be celebrated as something that points people to Jesus. Which Jesus?
It teaches us that we need to be on our guard. The false teachers that Peter mentions were not people who were open in their heresy. They “secretly introduce destructive heresies”. Paul warned the Ephesian elders “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. “ (Acts 5:29-31). The devil is subtle. Most churches gradually decline – they don’t usually make one big jump. We need to walk the straight line – never deviating one iota from the Word of God – whether to legalism on the one hand, or liberalism on the other.
We should not be surprised. Remember what Jesus said: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? (Matthew 7:15-16).
The lesson of the churches in Revelation is that even faithful churches with hard working people can be deceived.
“To the angel of the church in Pergamum write: These are the words of him who has the sharp, double-edged sword.
13 I know where you live—where Satan has his throne. Yet you remain true to my name. You did not renounce your faith in me, not even in the days of Antipas, my faithful witness, and who was put to death in your city—where Satan lives. Nevertheless, I have a few things against you: There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality.
15 Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.
A teacher who calls sexual immorality ‘love’ is following the teaching of Balaam, not Christ.
I would appeal to my fellow evangelicals, especially those who are in church leadership. Don’t be deceived. I know I can be deceived – I have been in the past and I pray that the Lord would deliver me from that in the future. And don’t let the flock which God has entrusted you with be deceived. Stick to the word, discern the spirits, and be bold and courageous in standing up against those who come either as roaring lions or as angels of light – and preach to us another Gospel and a different Jesus.
Finally – I don’t believe that 2 billion people heard the Gospel in this sermon. The only people who heard the Gospel in it were Christians who already know Gospel. Instead of rejoicing in the crumbs we get from heretics, we should be seeking to learn more of Christ ourselves and get out there and tell the world about the real Jesus – one person at a time!
Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
PS. there was one other error in the sermon that at first I thought was minor – but now realise was major…will get to that later as well.