The Wedding, the Sermon and the Reaction – Article on Christian Today

Before I go on to share the article I wrote for Christian Today I have to share from a really heavy heart.  This has turned out to be far more significant than I thought.  I listened to a man who denies the Gospel,  preach a Gospel that was no gospel at all and wrote an article about it.  As a result I received a barrage of comments – many positive and many negative.  As an example of the latter take these from my fellow evangelical Christians.

“Rancid envy – David is full of testosterone and harshness is his middle name- the gospel was there your standards of expository perfection were not – nitpicking – you are setting yourself up as the Pope of the evangelical church – moaning – carping – hurt and disappointed – Mean-spirited tortuous drivel! I think you should repent and ask God to forgive you for being so mean-spirited and encouraging dissension – 

It has been a really strong reaction and I am struggling to understand why. Steve Timmis wrote me and offered his explanation:

“The endorsement of evangelicals of that sermon is remarkable & disturbing. I think it reveals something about our desire to be mainstream. We feel safer now because so many applauded him. His personal warmth and enthusiasm gave permission for us to disregard his doctrine & read into what he said.”

I am glad that Steve has allowed me to quote him publicly because to be honest there are those who agree with what I have said but would prefer to keep it private.  The silence of those in my own denomination is deafening!

Here are some other comments  that need to be dealt with:

  1. Bishop Curry is very for the Gospel of Christ.  It’s a great evangelistic message.  Its pure biblical orthodoxy. “The lack of discernment in these comments is deeply worrying.
  2. God can use it”. Of course God can use it.  God can and does use many things that are not good.  God can use cancer, a donkey, a pagan king and destruction of the temple to help spread the word.  I don’t doubt that the fuss about this sermon will provide many opportunities and we should take them.  But we must be careful to make sure that we communicate the Gospel of Jesus, not the gospel of Bishop Curry.
  3.  “You shouldn’t have said it”. Or at least you shouldn’t have said it now.  I was even criticised for making my criticism of the sermon public.  The irony is that this criticism of me was not sent to me privately but made in public!  People seem to think that I should critique a heretic preaching a false gospel in private; whereas they feel free to critique me publicly for pointing out heresy!  As for the timing – I’m afraid I don’t agree.  I believe that Bishop Curry teaches a false Gospel and that he is being used to undermine faithful brothers and sisters in the Anglican communion.  He is suing those who stand for biblical faith and seeking to take away their property from them (is this how ‘love’ shows itself?).   I believe that there is an enormous danger that the evangelical church (including my own denomination) is being tempted to accommodate with the world and adopt a more ‘broadly evangelical’ approach.  I regard that as fatal to the cause of the Gospel – and because I love the Lord and love his Gospel, I will continue to oppose that view.  I realise that there are others who love the Lord and his Gospel who disagree.  Let each be fully persuaded.  As for me…Time is short….I really can do no other.

A completely unforeseen way is that the Lord is using this to show up fault lines within evangelicalism.  Within Independents, Charismatics,  Sydney Anglicans, the Free Church and  the PCA 

It’s the Anglicans I feel especially sorry for- as David Ould explains – the appointment of Bishop Curry as the wedding preacher was a real blow to those Anglicans who are seeking to uphold the Bible and keep the Anglican communion together.  Several of them have been in touch to express thanks – as they are the ones who are especially under attack.

If you doubt that this fault line has been exposed just go to the Christian Today website where, as I write, the most read article is “The Royal Wedding: How it preached the Gospel to the whole world”.  The second most read is “The Royal Wedding: How it distorted the Gospel to the whole world” 

The text for this is below: 

It was a great occasion. One of those public spectacles that the British seem to do so well. Such joy. Good weather. Great music. An interesting sermon. Two people in love. What’s not to like?

Even here in Australia the Royal wedding hysteria was palpable. TV stations sent over full crews to London, parties were held in restaurants and even the Christian conference at which I was speaking had a late night session where people could watch the joyful event.

Curry
ReutersHarry and Meghan listen to Michael Curry preaching.

Back in the UK churches from Stornoway to Southampton helped host screenings and parties. It seemed that, apart from a few curmudgeonly old-style republicans, everyone was on board.

The wedding itself was in many ways wonderful. My colleague Mark Woods has written an excellent and positive Christian perspective on the nuptials. There was much that was good and joyful about the whole occasion. Perhaps for me I was most moved by Prince Harry’s face and the memory of him as a 12-year-old boy walking behind his mother’s coffin. After what The Sun called ‘a VERY modern service’ and what they called an ‘eccentric’ sermon from Bishop Michael Curry, many Christians were pretty excited as what they saw as a great gospel opportunity, if not occasion.

But as I have reflected on the whole occasion over the weekend, and at the risk of losing my prospective knighthood and my invitation to Lambeth palace, I want to suggest an alternative point of view.

The press: This was a worldwide media event. Many millions of people in the UK were totally absorbed by it, but many millions were not. This was a very British event, but I wonder if it were even more a world media event. I suspect there was more interest in America than in Scotland. Royal weddings are tailor-made for the ‘Hello’, 24/7 news, soundbite era.

The patronage and privilege: Although it was entitled ‘the people’s wedding’, let’s not kid ourselves; this was primarily for the privileged. The cameras focused so much on the celebrities (just how many times did we need to see Mr and Mrs Clooney?) that we didn’t really notice the other wealthy and entitled people gathering. This was royalty meeting celebrity. The Queen of the UK meets Oprah, the Queen of Media. A very modern wedding, indeed, celebrating wealth, meaningless truisms and the joy of the privileged and powerful. And if you don’t agree it was the most loving wonderful thing, you are a heretic. The symbolism of the beggars being cleared from the streets of Windsor to make way for the royal carriages is not without impact.

The patriotism and pomp: It was a patriotic occasion and no one does pomp as impressively as the British. It certainly adds to the colour and variety of our world.

The preaching: 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 Archbishop 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. So what’s the problem?

There are some people who objected to the showmanship of the whole sermon, feeling that it kind of took over and took away from the dignity of the occasion. The cameras showed the somewhat bemused contempt that some of the royals seemed to have for the message. Personally that was not my problem.

My first difficulty is that everyone loved it. It was so post-modern that everyone could take their own meaning from it. Atheist, agnostic, or Christian – it didn’t matter. You could take that sermon ‘all you need is love’ and quote it in support of your own views. So I read of those who argued that the good bishop was the LGBT champion; the Guardian saw him as the champion of ‘blackness’ (why this continual obsession with skin colour? Have we not grown out of that?); I even saw someone tweeting that this was the man who could save us from Brexit! Some just heard two young people being given advice about love and many evangelicals heard it as a clear presentation of the gospel (although I suspect no one else did). We hear what we want to hear. When the Guardian, the Daily Mail, Pink News and evangelicals are all praising you, either revival has broken out or there is something very wrong.

Mind you not all evangelicals loved it. The Queen’s former chaplain Gavin Ashenden for example was not impressed and wrote this excellent review.

It was self-contradictory. The service was wonderfully orthodox. We were told that marriage is ‘a solemn, public and life-long covenant between a man and a woman, declared and celebrated in the presence of God and before witnesses’. But Bishop Curry does not believe that. Not only does he believe in same-sex marriage, but he has led the American Episcopal Church to go against the rest of the Anglican Communion (including the archbishop of Canterbury) so that it is now in the process of removing references to procreation and husband and wife so that the marriage ceremony can be non gender-specific. This was a traditional ceremony conducted by a man who seeks to undermine the theology, liturgy and practice of that ceremony.

It was too conventional. In a fascinating interview afterwards with the archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop Curry it was stated that the sermon was ‘unconventional’. In one sense it was, in another it was the most conventional sermon you will hear in that it reflected the values and conventions of our culture. It was a little amusing to see two men dressed in the traditional garb of their powerful positions talking about being ‘unconventional’. If Michael Curry had dressed in jeans and a t-shirt and preached the gospel – that would have been unconventional!

It was not the gospel. This for me is by far the most important thing. And yet many evangelicals will be utterly puzzled at the statement that this was not the gospel. He mentioned Jesus, the cross and the love of God as the basis for everything. Is that not the gospel? No, it’s not. Because it all depends on what we mean by the words ‘love’, ‘Jesus’, ‘God’ and ‘gospel’.

Bishop Curry rightly cited 1 John 4:8, ‘God is love’. And he spoke of the power of that love. But, and this is easily done, he soon slipped into ‘love is God’ – ‘any form of love’ (again without defining what love is). Even when he mentioned Jesus’ death as a sacrifice he did so in much the way as we would mention soldiers in war ‘sacrificing’ their lives. Jesus’s death was an example of love. He did not speak of it in the way that John does – as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

John speaks a great deal about sin, the danger of false teachers (anti-Christs), that love for God is not some amorphous feeling but is rather seen in obeying his commands and the fact that the world hates Christ and his teaching. Bishop Curry ignored all of that and spoke as though the Bible was just saying all we need to do is love one another and live lives of love so that we will live in Nirvana. He didn’t mention that we can’t do this without Christ. The gospel is not that we need to follow Christ as the most perfect example of ‘love’. It’s rather that we need forgiveness for our sins and that we cannot love without Christ. If he dared to say what John says, I suspect the reaction to his message would have been somewhat different.

As one atheist tweeted:

‘I admired his enthusiasm but, humans are perfectly capable of expressing this level of emotion and love without any of the 100’s of gods invented over the years.’

And that is precisely the message that the world took from it. You don’t need God. All you need is love. And you are perfectly capable of love. The redemptive power of love in his message was not about the redemptive power of the cross, but rather the redemptive power of any love. Equating my love for my wife, children, friends, society, self with the redemptive love of Christ, takes away from the power of the cross. We preach salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, through the cross of Christ. We don’t preach salvation through our own redemptive love copying that of Christ.

I don’t deny that God could use this sermon to reach people. A sovereign God, who has used a donkey and a pagan king in the past, can surely use even the smatterings of his word that were part of the bishop’s sermon. But we need to be realistic. Nobody heard the gospel – except those who already knew it. Nobody (except evangelicals) is talking about Christ – they are all talking about Bishop Michael Curry and Meghan’s dress. The evangelical response in grasping at the crumbs from the bishop’s table shows how desperate we have become – and how wedded we are to our own culture. We are not walking on the water of our culture. We are drowning in it. Little wonder that we are so wet and ineffective.

 Victoria-Beckham-sober-and-elegant-at-royal-wedding-2-620x375Let me stress the importance of this another way. The cameras lingered a lot on the Clooneys, Oprah and the Beckhams. What struck me was the haunted, sad and lonely look on Victoria Beckham’s face. I have no idea what was going on – but I know this. Whatever the problem, the cure is the good news of Jesus Christ. It’s such a shame that she did not hear it.

Bishop Michael Curry’s Sermon – A Distorted Gospel Divides the Church

Right Royal Preaching

 

 

 

 

32 thoughts on “The Wedding, the Sermon and the Reaction – Article on Christian Today

  1. Thank you, David, for your clear and considered thoughts on Bishop Curry’s sermon. It’s sad to see the deception that has infiltrated so much of the Church today, and we are in dire need people to stand up for the truth. Jesus preached a radical Gospel and it’s good to hear it being upheld rather than diluted in a race to the bottom, in an effort to be inoffensive and inclusive.

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  2. Thank you again David for these articles you are writing. We were interested too in something Stephen Kneale said in his Building Jerusalem blog,

    “If this achieves anything at all, let it be a wake-up call to those of us buoyant about the current state of British Evangelicalism. Many of our people are not as discerning, knowledgeable or understanding of what the gospel actually is than we often give them credit for. It means we should assume nothing in our own preaching. Worse, it seems, many of our leaders seem to be largely the same.”

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  3. Thanks David. The truth of the Gospel is not so difficult to say – you did that quite straightforwardly in your piece. It’s only difficult if you are yourself trying to hide from it. I guess Bishop Curry has his own agenda to pursue rather than the Gospel. So houbris in the guise of service, having drunk of the doctrine of Utopia?

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  4. There is nothing “unconventional” about jeans and a T shirt – it’s increasingly normal if not de rigeur in Evangelical churches, to the point where any pushy stranger could walk up to the front and claim to be an authorised speaker. If you really wanted a shocker, consider the two religious Sisters who quietly appeared at the last Royal wedding, took their usual seats in their own “home” Church, prayed and said nothing at all – yet were nevertheless an object of at best curiosity, and at worst suspicion.
    Between the atheists on my timeline offended that a Christian, even in a Church, was allowed to speak at all and Christians like yourself calling him a “donkey” and a “cancer”, I do hope the Holy Spirit has, in spite of all, managed to get a word in somewhere. Heaven knows it’s a better popular take-away from the service than last time’s “bridesmaid’s behind”!

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    1. It would have been unconventional in a royal wedding! Which is what was being spoken about. I did not call Curry a donkey nor did I call him a cancer. Again please try to stick to the truth…

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      1. It would have been not “unconventional” but deliberately rude, given that (as I hear) a formal written dress code was in place for everybody else. A better-known Scripture on “love” tells us it is not that.
        And your point 2 directly compares the “God can use him” claim to the fact God can use some *very* evil things – which means you consider him at least as much a challenge to God’s graceful repurposing as they are. I will believe you if you say this is not what you meant to imply, rather than calling you a liar as you have me.
        I look forward to hearing your “what I would have done instead” version (I think you’ve said further down you are planning one?) – it will be the first I’ve seen, from the many people piling in on this one. And illustration is always more helpful than criticism: thank you in advance.

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  5. Dear David,

    I would like to thank you for your excellent critique of the Curry sermon and for your stand on the teachings of the Bible. I was determined not to watch the wedding but (sadly) got drawn in! It was a beautiful, spectacular production. The Prince is quite clearly besotted about his bride and one prays that they will have a happy marriage. However, when Bishop Curry started to speak, we silenced him (one is very aware of what has been happening in the Episcopal Church for years now). Actually I cringed to watch him – he looked as if he was acting. And as you said, if the media etc. etc. are delighted with him and his sermon , so we should watch out!

    We too are amazed at the ‘evangelical’ people who could see nothing wrong with the content of his message. They seem to lack discernment. I have to say, I am really shocked to see the PCA are lauding the bishop. I thought they were rock-solid in their beliefs, having been using the excellent material available on Coventry Seminar’s website for a long time. I think this shocks me more than when the Church of Scotland caved in to the ways of the world! Of course, to be Evangelical no longer means what it once did – the word has been hi-jacked as have so many other ‘Christian’ words!

    You are a light in this very dark world – don’t be put off by any negative, vile or hurtful comments you receive (these only reflect the unhappy mind-set of the person who made them ) You are being brave and courageous, a true follower of our Lord Jesus Christ and I’m sure there are thousands of people like me who are so grateful for your insightful postings. I like to remember Psalm 32:1-2.

    God is Sovereign over each of us, and we know He will right all wrongs one day.

    Enjoy the rest of your time in Australia.

    May God bless you and your wife.

    Gloria Rea

    PS: A dear friend sent me a little leaflet a few days ago – you may already have seen it, but I found it comforting! Here’s the link – https://www.preciousseed.org/article_detail.cfm?articleID=2363 (I Cannot Understand)

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  6. WHile I agree absolutely on the failings of the content, I can’t help but think that some Evanglicals were amaxed by someone speaking with obvious passion. Given we have the most urgent message in the world to proclaim, it is astonishing how many evangelical preachers display no passion whatsoever – and almost wear that as badge of honour. We seem to have fallen into a pattern of Gospel presentation that makes it sound as relevant as the latest Croquet scores. While this is not the case with all preachers, I don’t think anyone could deny the reality that much preaching entirely fails to seem important.

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    1. Yep the gospel needs passionate people not dull and boring because it is a passionate story and I guess that what bishop Curry was alluding to is that if all royalty and people in government and places of power and privilege could be as passionate and loving towards their citizens or subjects as Christ was to all of us then that would be truly transformational and a gospel to shout about

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  7. I heartily agree with you….. totally. And at the same time I wonder what the alternative would’ve / could’ve been given the context? Should a “repent” sermon been given in the situation? God in his amazing graciousness blesses even non-believers with the common grace of love and marriage. So, in this instance, given the opportunity, what message would a gospel preacher who wanted to preach the truth and still honor the grace given to even non-believers to have a loving, joyful wedding ceremony have brought? What would you have preached? I don’t mean this question in a snarky way, at all; I’m looking to honestly understand the alternative.

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  8. While you posted some of my initial thoughts on your first blog entry here are some further thoughts since then: I didn’t watch the delivery, but I’m still not minded to listen to it again, or read it, as it would be too easy to fall into captious comments, nit-picking.
    1 Style – while it may be uncommon in the CoE it is not uncommon in other streams of Christianity. It certainly wasn’t a theological lecture, thankfully. Yes, it did have a bounce to it. Or as someone said; life.
    2 Content – Jesus is not merely the Supreme Exemplar of sacrificial love – though the emphasis on the sacrificial aspect was speedily swamped by the imaginings of what followed. And, actually, Jesus did get something from it (Curry said Jesus didn’t)-glory, joy, us – people for himself, sharing His inheritance, an ascended Kingdom to bring his bride to a consummated marriage. with Him.
    3 These are comments on (or rather tests for) false teaching from D Martyn Lloyd Jones (emphasis is mine and apologies for capitals as I don’t know ):
    3.1 adding to the truth, addition to Christ
    3.2 emphasising one thing in particular and giving great prominence to it
    3.2 teaching is to be tested by the teaching of the New Testament, NOT by feelings, not by experience, not by results, not by what other people are saying and doing. Here the test is the New Testament teaching.
    3.3 always take the trouble to read about their (teachings) origins
    3.3 ALWAYS BE CAREFUL TO WORK OUT THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE TEACHING.
    (these are notes from MLJ written sermon False Teaching -1965, yes as long ago as that)
    This is from MLJ who said that preaching is “logic on fire”.
    4 Who or what are people talking about? Who is getting the glory?

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  9. I for one found it a truly passionate sermon that conveyed the message of Jesus. Whilst it may not have mentioned ‘sin’, it would have been hard to unpack the meaning of sin to a non believing audience in such a short time. I applaud his bravery and feel sure that preaching like this would draw people to enquire more. Clearly a man of God.

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      1. I think not all of those present looked like they were hearing what they wanted I think he was brave in not delivering some comfortable unchallenging message but chose to deliver and communicate some of the passion of trying to understand love and how that translates into providing hope and building people up
        Is the gospel not just an amazing thing that has love at its core, that the “bigness” of god became close and not distant, and was felt
        Yep the gospel needs passionate people not dull and boring because it is a passionate story and I guess that what bishop Curry was alluding to is that if all royalty and people in government and places of power and privilege could be as passionate and loving towards their citizens or subjects as Christ was to all of us then that would be truly transformational and a gospel to shout about

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      2. Dear David,
        I felt his engagement with the issue of slavery in the face of a British monarchy with a history of being complicit in the slave trade was brave, especially at such an occasion.
        We do not know what people wanted to hear, only the Spirit knows that, but in an audience of the powerful and wealthy, the use of the ‘love thy neighbour’ was possibly not a message that would have sat comfortably.
        He is clearly a man of God as he is ordained by God to office. This, coupled with his clear support of a creation and redemption narrative, are the words of somebody who is driven by the God of the Judeo Christian tradition.
        The gospel he preached was Love God, neighbour and self, on which all the prophets and law, the same one that Jesus preached.

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      3. Not every one who is ordained to office is ‘a man of God’. Every single sermon that everyone in that church has heard would include love your neighbour. I think it was a very comfortable sermon for them to hear (apart from the style!). It just reflected the supposed values of our culture and establishment.

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      4. Are you saying the supposed values of our culture and establishment demonstrate love for the neighbor, I think not but perhaps you could provide examples of how the government and royalty love us , their neighbours

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  10. Once again David we owe you a debt of gratitude we cannot ever hope to repay. Your very adroitly pinpoint the issues that the church need to observe & respond to. Having listened to the Royal wedding sermon I share your observations and concerns.
    Barber jibes aimed at you with comments like “Rancid envy” & “David is full of testosterone and harshness is his middle name” reveal more about that author than they do about you David. Professor John MacIntosh in his retiral address to the Students at Edinburgh Theological Seminary noted a distinct lack or inability among people today of critical analysis. Your observations and comments on the aforementioned sermon were all biblically correct. Keep in mind that you have had the privilege of a wonderful theological education that is sadly not available to everyone. Having had such an education, your eyes are now opened to nuances to which you were once oblivious.

    Your willingness & bravery to call a spade a spade, in a world which is making laws to control what people can & can’t say, is an inspiration to us all who profess Jesus Christ as Lord. Holy Boldness is what we all need more of & you are example is to be emulated.
    By way of encouragement might I implore you to be patient & continue to extend the good grace to others that we ourselves have received. As 2 Tim 2:24-26 says, “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome (Don’t hear what I’m not saying, there is no suggestion of you being quarrelsome in my mind 🙂 but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (ESVUK)

    Please, keep doing what you are doing David. Someone has to lead the way & take off the bushel & let The Light of Truth Shine Forth.
    Gratefully,
    Ray.

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  11. Dear David Prior to the Royal Wedding, I had never heard of Bishop Michael Curry.  I was one who got caught up in the enthusiasm of his sermon.  I really appreciate your courage and clarity in speaking about the many errors of his sermon and the lost opportunity… but then given the things he stands for, there was never going to be an opportunity for the hope we have in Jesus to be made known.  For me, realising how easily I was hoodwinked has been cause for some sober thinking, so thank you! It is only recently that I have come across your blog, it has been wonderful to read.  Keep up the good work and be encouraged! Kind regards Kate Ralton Mount GambierSouth Australia

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  12. David,
    Thank you for expressing thoughts that this old Aussie is yearning to hear from Australian churchmen.
    The “love” that has become popular, even from our Prime Minister, is an amorphous thing floating around like a thought bubble.

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  13. Thanks very much for putting into words the increasing unease I have felt concerning the “sermon” The bishop will have to face God one day
    Let’s pray he will have repented before then.

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  14. This was very well written, David. I did not get to hear Curry’s sermon, but I doubt it would have shocked me. These issues you raise are poisoning the church all over the world, making us weak and less effective. Glorifying love as god (instead of glorifying the God who embodies true love) is essentially modern idolatry. Humanity thinks it gets ever-smarter, yet falls prey to the same traps time and time again.

    Thank you for having the courage to stand up against a watered-down gospel.

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