Wedding Gate continues. The sermon that divides continues to do so. Because this is such an important issue in the Western Church, and because it has revealed deep fault lines within evangelicalism, I intend to continue to look at this for the rest of the week.
Broad evangelicals have been broadly welcome of the sermon and largely unwelcoming of those who criticise it. Amongst others Ravi Zacharias now says it was an excellent sermon. “ The message preached by Bishop Michael Curry was extraordinary. Few speakers in the world can match the eloquence and passion of the African-American preacher. One is riveted to every word. I believe a wounded person and a wounded culture tells of the wounded Savior the best. The world heard the gospel that day. Thank you, Bishop Curry.” Ravi is normally very careful in his public comments but this he has got badly wrong. And it’s not just me that says so. Bishop Curry says so – because he has just helpfully explained what his version of the Gospel is:
Bishop Curry Explains His Gospel
“Asked on CNN what he (Bishop Curry) was motivated by in writing the sermon, he said: ‘if we could just harness the real power of love we could actually change and transform this world. That is was what was driving me. I’m convinced this is the case. That is really what Jesus of Nazareth was getting at and was willing to die for.’
He added: ‘At its root this love is a sacrificial way that seeks the good and wellbeing of others sometimes even over and above one’s own self interest.”
This means that Jesus did not die for our sins. Jesus did not die to save us. He died so that we could just harness the real power of love so that we could change and transform this world. And love is just seeking anothers well being over and above one’s own self interest. That is not the Good news. Jesus did not die on the cross to inspire us to love one another. He died to forgive us for our sins, so that we might have eternal life, and a new heart and spirit, SO that we CAN love one another.
Lets begin with some good news though. A couple in my own denomination have also spoken out. The Missions Director, David Meredith argued against the sermon on social media. And the Moderator, Angus Macrae, said that it was ‘unclear to him that the message preached by Michael Curry was as clear on the nature of God and love as it could have been.
Others wrote in to say that having considered what was said they had changed their mind. This is exactly what clear biblical teaching should do.
“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! “
Another pastor wrote that he despaired at the reaction of his congregation and couldn’t really put his finger on what was wrong but was going to pass on my critique of the sermon to them. Two other leaders who had initially welcomed the sermon have also come a different conclusion. It’s not always the case that people just dig down! It’s worth taking time to patiently point out what was wrong. The problem is that so many of us were caught up in the moment and need to take time to think through and reassess things. And so we continue….
Unity between Conservatives and Liberals?
Noticing the way that so many ‘conservative’ evangelicals have welcomed the sermon, the Church Mouse tweeted…”Great to see conservatives enjoying and appreciating Bishop Curry’s Royal wedding address. I hope it does something to reveal the common ground between ‘liberals’ and ‘conservatives’ and their unity in Christ, despite some theological differences”. You can of course see where this is going.
Whilst some conservative evangelicals either praise Curry or keep silent about the fact that he denies the Bible, denies the cross and the judgement of God, they seem more than happy enough to attack their fellow Christians who don’t buy into the Curry narrative. What’s worse is that they ignore the fact that Bishop Curry in his ‘room for all’ theology/church has no room for conservative evangelicals who dare to question his rewriting of marriage, the Bible and the prayer book. The Episcopal Church in the US has spent over $60 million suing its own members who want to leave because they hold to the biblical view of marriage. So we now have the bizarre situation where evangelicals are praising the man who is suing their brothers and sisters, whilst attacking those who seek to defend them.
One prominent conservative blogger is Adrian Hilton, who goes by the name ‘Cranmer’. His blog is usually brilliant although of late he has become a lot more tetchy both in his blog and tweets. None more so than on this issue. It’s worth reading what he said about those who didn’t buy into his exuberant praise of Curry’s sermon.
In a style that is becoming all too typical, he first of all sets up a straw man – this wasn’t a ‘sermon of dogmatic theological instruction’ or an ‘exhortation to corporate penitence’ as if anyone expected it to be! (Incidentally I find this style of argument from anyone, but especially Christians, disappointing. It is dishonest to set up strawmen that you can then easily knock down.)
Cranmer then goes on to tell us that this sermon touched two billion souls with the fragrance of Christ. But did it? How does he know that? What does he mean by ‘the fragrance of Christ? The bishop was enthusiastic, exuberant and a great communicator – but what did he communicate? I haven’t heard or read anyone speaking about Christ – they are all talking about the bishop.
Cranmer then goes even further. He complains and carps that those who criticised the bishop’s sermon were complaining and carping. He then suggests that they would have done exactly the same to Christ. In other words he condemns those of us who were not enamoured with bishop Michael’s sermons as being guilty of opposing the work of Christ (its an extremely serious charge – is that not the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit?). He says of Jesus at the wedding in Cana “he gives them instead gallons upon gallons of wine and a distorted messianic message”. “What a feeble excuse is that for not denouncing adultery, drunkenness, greed or gays.” Again note the dripping sarcasm and ‘loving’ cynicism from Cranmer. As well as the setting up of yet more strawmen – who was complaining about Bishop Michael not denouncing adultery or gays? It seems that when you are on a crusade, truth and honesty should never get in the way of an angry soundbite!
Cranmer then boasts that no one has answered his point. So let me help him. Saying he didn’t denounce adultery, drunkenness, greed or gays’ is setting up a double false argument – Nobody was arguing that he should, furthermore we don’t know what Jesus said at the wedding in Cana because the Bible doesn’t tell us. Jesus was not invited to give the sermon at the wedding. We should also point out that Bishop Curry is not the Messiah and he did not turn water into wine at the Royal wedding – with 16,000 glasses of champagne available he did not need to! Jesus Christ was at the wedding in Cana to reveal his own glory. Bishop Curry was at the Royal Wedding, or should have been there to reveal the glory of Christ, not his own glory.
But Cranmer is not done. Jesus on the Mount of Olives preached, “It’s the social-justice gospel of endless beatitude and boundless inclusion… Honestly, anyone would think the Kingdom of Heaven were open to the world and his dog with all this pap about spiritual happiness and compassionate love. It was a gospel of infinite mercy which missed the reality of judgment.” Again more strawmen….who is arguing that the Gospel is not for everyone? The problem is what is the gospel?
Cranmer then tries to defend the bishop by saying that “for what its worth he did speak about sin and salvation”. That’s a classic case of hearing what you want to hear. The bishop never mentioned sin (other than in the quote from there is a balm in Gilead). He did not speak about ‘the imperative of the Cross’. He gave a distorted view of the Cross.
Don’t Read – Feel!
Cranmer then tells us that we shouldn’t read the sermon – we really need to experience it…to feel it. Never mind what it really says, the medium is the message! And he can’t resist having another dig at his strawmen. “It needs to be watched and heard, for the medium is the inspirational message. And those who have ears to hear will do so, and they will understand the essence of the mission. Others will carp and carve it up, and then they’ll condemn and criticise it because it doesn’t quite conform to every jot and tittle of their own theology or soteriology. It is all about faith, hope, and love, but the greatest of these is not expository dogmatism.”
Where is the Love?
Cranmer’s commentary is such a bitter commentary that one has to ask ‘where is the love?’. Adrian needs to have the charity to take what we are saying at face value and not make things up. Neither I nor anyone else is arguing for expository dogmatism (that’s a cheap shot) – I am arguing for the love of Christ and the love of God – which is actually very clearly defined in the book that Bishop Curry used – 1 John. Loving God is to obey his commands, accept his atoning sacrifice, reject false Christ’s and love your brothers and sisters. Bishop Curry rejects the first three of those and it is questionable whether he follows the last – given his actions in suing his brothers and sisters.
Even when people pointed out where they thought Cranmer was wrong he just dug deeper: “ Dear critics of Bishop Curry’s sermon – Jesus said the world will hate you because of Him; not the hatred of the world is a sure sign of your upright Christian character and certain evidence of your sound exegesis. You might just be naturally unpleasant.” Notice again the unpleasantness of Cranmer assuming that those who critique the sermon are sure of their upright Christian character and certain evidence of our sound exegesis.
The Book of Common Prayer is the real Cranmer’s most wonderful legacy to the Christian church. It contains some of the most sublime language ever used in the English language – including its beautiful marriage services. The irony is that the blogger who takes the name of Cranmer is angrily defending a heretical bishop who is in the process of changing that liturgy by removing the references to procreation and ‘man and woman’ so that they can fit his new doctrine of humanity; and who is leading the charge to attack those who want to uphold the doctrine and teaching of the church. Cranmer would be spinning in his grave!
Note: In an additional blog today Cranmer adds: “We ought perhaps to remind ourselves that at Pentecost, too, there were stiff-necked observers who could only see negativity and ascribed the extraordinary of the divine to everyday drunkenness. Happily, the majority then and now are more interested in the big picture rather than any individual score to be settled.” – This time equating those who disagree with the sermon as opposing the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Speaking of which he then goes on to describe the Holy Spirit as “hat free and indiscriminate Spirit of Pentecost, to whom we should all be faithful.” Except the Holy Spirit is not ‘indiscriminate’ (what does that even mean?). He is Holy. End of.