“Love seeks the highest welfare of the people we are called to serve. Love seeks that welfare, love serves that welfare, love sacrifices for that welfare. And that seeking, serving, and sacrificing are three essential foundations of love. It was of course, to this same Corinthian Church that Paul wrote his great hymn of love in chapter 13, If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love… I am nothing. I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. That is what you are Christian if you are without love. American or not – you are nothing without love.”I’ve been this week at the conference of the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word (ACNA), led by Bishop Julian Dobbs. The bishop gave his annual address on Friday morning, and … Lord have mercy, if only ten percent of bishops and pastors talked like this man, we would be living in a different country. I present to you here the entire text (absent a personal remembrance of three recently deceased members of the diocese). Imagine a bishop talking like this! Catholics and Orthodox can scarcely wrap our minds around it. I asked the diocesan communications director to send me the text, which was so extraordinary. Here it is:In the name of God, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.As a young lad, I was forded the great privilege of attending an Anglican boys boarding school from the age of 9. This was an expensive commitment for my parents who both sacrificed significantly for me to have this opportunity. My parents believed that education, respect, formation, opportunity and a valuing of order and tradition were values they wanted to gift and impart into their young son.
It was here, at King’s School and later at King’s College that my commitment to follow Christ began to focus and my formation as an Anglican converged, setting the course for the future determined for me by God. It was here at King’s, worshiping Christ often twice on a Sunday, using the daily office from the Book of Common Prayer 1662, that I began to wrestle at age eleven, with what I come to know as a vocation to serve God in Holy Orders.
Singing in the chapel choir, enamored by the hymns of Watts and Wesley, I would often be transfixed during worship on a verse of Scripture that was inscribed on the northwestern wall of the Chapel of the Holy Child.
Stand fast in the faith, be strong. (1 Corinthians 16, verse 13). What an outstanding choice of scripture to inspire young boys. Virtus pollet – the school motto, virtue prevails, become men, be servants, be leaders, Stand fast in the faith, be strong. This is part of the formation that has shaped some of the DNA of my own episcopacy. As a disciple of Christ in any form of leadership or ministry in the church of this generation, 1 Corinthians 16, verse 13 has a notable sense of urgency, Stand fast in the faith, be strong.
In this pastoral address today, I want us to consider from Scripture what are the foundational exhortations that will enable us to stand fast in the faith in our context across the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word, in our nation and beyond our borders. You ask me, why is this important? I would say to you, as we listen and talk about the issues confronting North America and the world, it appears that the Bible is no longer in vogue. So let us go to the Bible and find out what it says for us today, in our context.
In the final chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul breaks into his final instructions and gives his final greetings with five short, staccato commands, or imperatives that would later be inscribed, in part, upon that northwestern wall of my school chapel.
Look at it again. It is a wonderful text. Be vigilant… Be watchful, that is, stand firm in your faith, be strong, be courageous. And let all that you do be done in love.
It is interesting that each of the five commands pre-supposes some problem, some difficulty, some responsibility, or temptation within the Corinthian Church which makes the commands necessary.
1. Be watchful
Keep awake is the exhortation from Paul. The implication here is that we have enemies ‘out there’ and we cannot afford to relax our vigilance. It seems today, that no believer can ever afford to disconnect, because frankly we do not know when the crisis is going to come and when we will find ourselves on the ropes. Things change, things change in states, in countries, things change in workplaces, things change in families frighteningly quickly and we can find our backs against the wall. Stand up at work for some inconvenient point about honesty or integrity and suddenly your boss says, you are not performing quite as well as you were and maybe the time has come to move on. Tell your parents you are having to make some changes as a result of a Christian commitment and suddenly there is an icy coolness that creeps into what you thought was a solid relationship.
Be watchful! There are real wars taking place today in the realm of ideas. Real wars attempting to control idea-shaping institutions, congregations, seminaries and denominations – and biblical truth—a prize far more precious than any army has ever contended for—is at stake.
At the center of this attack against Christ, his word and his faithful followers is a subtle, wicked, unscrupulous, very powerful archenemy called Satan. He is an adversary who prowls around seeking someone to devour.
He uses politicians, pastors, priests, prelates and anyone he can entice.
One politician recently said in a speech to our nation which advocated for and unreservedly supported and advanced transgenderism, that parents of transgender children should be encouraged to affirm their child’s identity as one of the most powerful things they can do to keep them safe and healthy. How could such advocacy be safe and healthy when 82% of transgender individuals have considered killing themselves and 40% have attempted suicide.
Transgender individuals are not the enemy. They are loved by Christ. But be watchful, for we are wrestling against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. People of God, there are real wars taking place today for the control of our minds and our bodies. And if politicians are vulnerable – Satan will attack there. If priests and bishops depart the faith once for all entrusted to the saints – Satan will attack there.
Jesus speaks of Satan as a wolf in the clothing or the disguise of a sheep. And he creeps up unnoticed when leaders are at their most vulnerable, when their guard is down.
Be watchful – be vigilant. That is the exhortation from Paul in these verses. For when we lose ground to Satan, it is a tough fight to reverse the trend and bring about the required course correction.
In their 2021 statement to the Church, the bishops of the Anglican Church in North America reminded the faithful that, ‘while questions pertaining to human identity are ancient, a certain vividness around personal identity has been introduced into our current cultural conversation.
Our society has collapsed into a sexual world view which attempts to redefine the image of God in humanity as predominantly one of sexual orientation and behavior.
In the liturgy of the Consecration of Bishops, a bishop commits himself, with all faithful diligence to banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s Word and both privately and publicly to call upon others and encourage them to do the same?
Therefore, I believe that it is my responsibility as your diocesan bishop to provide direction and speak clearly as the Church navigates these crucial and important matters.
The Bible is clear on matters of sexual identity. God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.10 Therefore, any confusion of the sexes is a distortion of God’s created order. Some Christians have great difficulty with these biblical foundations. They will often point you to the experience of a much loved family member and tell you how they have been significantly influenced by someone who identifies him or her self in a way that is inconsistent with their biological sex.
While all Christians should show compassion and empathy when possible to the personal experiences of others, the Anglican Diocese of the Living Word cannot and will not recognize personal experience as revelatory. We believe that our identity must be grounded in the truth about creation which is revealed in the Scriptures and in God’s Son, our Savior Jesus Christ.
This biblical truth is under attack today within our culture and from within the evangelical church. As a result, I have appointed a task force in the diocese, chaired by The Rev. Matthew Kennedy, to help us wrestle with what it means to be created male and female in the image of God. I have asked the task force to prepare guidelines to assist us in our ministry with individuals who are already in our congregations or come to the diocese in the future and are wrestling with sexual identity.
In their report, which the clergy will receive tomorrow, the task force says this, ‘God is the author of all good things. The world that He has made includes men and women and our Lord said that from the beginning God made human beings “male and female” (Matthew 19:4). Yet this is a cultural moment when there is increasing confusion about the significance of this order and about whether Christians should think about being male or female as something that is given and fixed, or as something that is to a substantial degree malleable and self-chosen.’
Thank you Matt and the members of your task force, for your focused work.
Let me tell you why this is so important. The Holy Scriptures have been given to us by God and as a result, the word of God written is extraordinarily precious. The bible tells the world what it does not wish to hear. We should not expect to be embraced by those whose thoughts and deeds contradict the truths of our faith. Nor should we seek to make our faith more palatable, lest the salt lose its savor. As Dr. Carl Trueman has written, ‘Accommodating the world’s demands is a fool’s errand.’
I urge you to establish a framework of discipline in your life that has regular and robust biblical study and reflection. We build our beliefs and ethics, not from the loudest or the most appealing voices in the public square, academia or the corridors of power; we build our beliefs and ethics from a robust engagement with Scripture.
This is why I urge you to participate in a weekly bible study group in your congregation to study the Bible and build accountable relationships with other Christians. We need faithful friends!
Friends who will love us. Friends who will encourage us. Friends who will pray regularly for us and friends who will bark loudly like watch dogs when they perceive in us the first glimmerings of compromise. People of God, be watchful!
2. Stand firm in the faith.
Staying awake, keeping our guard, maintaining our vigilance – yes, indeed! Paul adds (vs.13) Stand firm in the faith. Stand firmly planted against all the pressures to conform. Stability is a much desired quality in almost every sphere of our lives.
About 6 weeks ago, I was visiting Holy Cross Anglican Church in the Historic Third Ward in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As I waited for the plane to depart on my return journey, the pilot informed the passengers that our flight was delayed in order to reconfigure and stabilize our aircraft. The plane I was on was a small aircraft and it required the crew to accurately compute the center of gravity so that the plane would appropriately level off in flight.
Some days later, I sought the wisdom and experience of U.S. Air Force pilot, Colonel Karen Love to explain the situation to me. Karen told me the center of gravity ensures the plane flies within its specified parameters. Without proper balance, the plane might be nose low or nose high upon leveling off at altitude. She said, the pilot must be cognizant of aerodynamic balance and stabilization to ensure maximum flight fuel and course efficiency.
It seemed to me that Karen was saying… the plane needs to be stable!
Paul exhorts us to be stable. Aerodynamic balance! Maximum flight fuel and course efficiency! Stand firm, stand fast in the faith. Do not deviate off course.
… Most of us admire people who have a stable character, a stable personality and stable convictions. I believe that ‘stability’ was one of the attributes that Jesus admired the most in John the Baptist. In Matthew chapter 11, Jesus speaks to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? And He gave three possibilities. A reed shaken by the wind? Did you go out to see a person who is swayed by public opinion and blown about in the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Someone living in a king’s palace? What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Somebody who lives under the authority of the word of God. In those three options you have everybody in this room. Every one of us is one or other of those three descriptions. What is it that rules your life? Is it public opinion from the outside? Is it your own pleasures and passions on the inside? Or is it the word of God from above?
The two Books of Homilies [which are a gift to us all today and are beautifully being rediscovered in the Anglican Church] are valuable in a multiplicity of ways and show how Anglican doctrine shifted during the Reformation. These homilies were intended to raise the standards of preaching by offering model sermons covering particular doctrinal and pastoral themes. I strongly commend the Books of Homilies to you.
The “Homily on The Reading of Scripture” states that, ‘…as drink is pleasant to them that be dry, and meat to them that be hungry, so is the reading, hearing, searching, and studying of Holy Scripture to them that be desirous to know God or themselves, and to do his will.’
Stand firm, do not deviate. For when the Church deviates from the word of God the consequences are catastrophic!
On October 14, last year, I received a very early text message from our Director of Communications, the Rev. Marc Steele. The information Marc sent me was personally painful and the consequence for the church was, in that moment, unfathomable! My friend and confidant, bishop and former keynote speaker at this missions conference and synod had converted to the See of Peter, the Church of Rome.
After spending his entire adult life within the Anglican Communion—including thirty-seven years as an Anglican bishop, Michael Nazir-Ali was received into the Ordinariate of the Catholic Church at Our Lady of the Assumption and St. Gregory Church in London on October 31, last year.
In Michael’s own words, this was a ‘dramatic step’.
In a recent article, Michael wrote this, ‘One problem with the Anglican Communion was its lack of unity based in apostolic continuity. Each time an “agreement” was reached on important issues and accepted by the respective communions as consonant with what they believed, some part of the Anglican Communion would take unilateral action that cast doubt on the strength of the agreement.’
Michael wrote, I had often boasted that Anglicanism, although reformed, had by divine providence retained both the sacred deposit of faith and the sacred ministry.
He cites the apparent lack of authority, the ordination of women as priests and bishops, the ordination of individuals in active homosexual relationships, the breakdown of the discipline of marriage [especially amongst clergy and bishops] and a lack of clarity concerning personhood and the protections due to it at the earliest and latest stages of life as indicators which “epitomized a tendency within Anglicanism to capitulate to the culture rather than sound a prophetic voice within it.”
‘A tendency within Anglicanism to capitulate to the culture!’ That’s interesting!
One of the many reasons why I am so sensitive to wokeness and this pattern of capitulation within the Anglican Church is because I am, and many of you are, refugees from a church that lost her way when she began to succumb to appeals for compassion, tenderness and a capitulation to culture as the justification for dismantling the faith ‘once for all entrusted to the saints’.