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[Grammarly is Not Functioning for Me this Morning, apologies for all spelling errors. Offer them to God and ask for patience if they exasperate you.]

Photo by Josh Applegate on Unsplash

Happy Daylight Savings Time, to all who celebrate. There were so many interesting stories of note this past week, but one that went by me without nearly enough attention was about Church of England Commissionars “warmly welcoming a report advising on its response to historic links with African chattel enslavement.” Under number 32, titled “Penitence” whoever authored the document wrote:

We call for the Church of England to apologize publicly for denying that Black Africans are made in the image of God and for seeking to destroy diverse African traditional religious belief systems. This act of repair should intentionally facilitate ongoing and new sociological, historical and theological research into spiritual traditions in Africa and the diaspora, thereby enabling a fresh dialogue between African traditional belief systems and the Gospel. This work should reach beyond theological instituions and be presented in the enslaved to discover the varied belief systems and spiritual practices of their forebears and their efficacy. We recommend the Commissionarers work with all faith-based communities to which descendants of African chattel enslavement belong.

The money bit, as you perhaps noticed because I bolded it, is that the C of E will apologize for “seeking to destroy diverse African traditional relegious belief systems,” but actually the entire paragraph is an exercise in theological, moral, and spiritual incompetence. In scrolling along, looking for relevant and insightful commentary, I came across this video:

They are mainly talking about the defacing and wrecking of war memorials, but at the 22 minute mark, they begin to talk about the church and observe, quite rightly, that it was Evangelicals in the Church of England who dealt the most serious deathblow to the slave trade–a ubiquious human activity that has existed everywhere and in every age. It’s illustrative, they point out, of the state of the church that people like Justin Welby persistently focus on events in the past that cannot possibly be solved, because all those involved are dead now, while remaining reprehensibly silent about contemporary intractable and thorny problems, including modern day slavery. The leaders of the Church, they say, ought to know at least two basic facts–everyone is made equal in the eyes of God which should preculde race baiting at all, especially now, and, a person can only be held responsible before God for his or her own sins, not other people’s. Not only do clerics seem entirely unable to observe that they are being duped at every opportunity by wokism and critical race theory, most of them don’t appear to be Christian at all.

I’m curious how one might initiate a “fresh dialogue between African traditional belief systems and the Gospel” when the Gospel part is so obviously unintelligible to the people writing these policies. Does anyone know what it is? Does anyone today in the comfortable sitting rooms of Lambeth Palace even know what African Traditional belief systems entail?

I grew up in a place steeped to the gills in African Traditional Religion, a fascinating view of the world, and one which Westerners would do well to investigate as Christianity recedes from our intellectual and cultural spaces. When I was very small, we lived neared a walled mud village that had had very little contact with Christianity or Islam. That world, for those who are playing around with this very popular word, was entirely enchanted–jinn, fetish, ancestor, each demanded blood and sacrifice. Each might perhaps be persuaded to give something you needed, for a price.

When the Gospel first came to the region, some few converts burnt their fetishes, and though they didn’t embrace Christianity in all its fullness, the economic relief of not having to offer expensive sacrifices at regular intervals transformed the whole region. In fact, as the Scriptures became available, a real “dialogue” between traditional culture and the Gospel continues apace. The Christians there have not had to become French or English or American. They are themselves, though, in essentials of faith, emminently recognizable to other Christians around the world. That’s what so amazing about the Christian Gospel. It acts as a preservation agent for culture, it transforms and renews by breaking the power of Satan and all the spiritual forces that rebel against God. I recommend, for those who are interested, one of my very favorite books, John Taylor’s The Primal Vision: Christian Presence Amid African Religion.

Of course, if the people entrusted with the deposit of faith decide not to guard or keep it, the Gospel looses its power. It has to be spoken and shared. It has to be believed. It has to be allowed to talk back to the spirits and demons of the age and to defeat them. In a real “dialogue,” both parties get to speak, and the one that has the greater power will overcome the one that is a liar and a fraud.

Ironically enough, the Church of England keeps being a living sermon illustration for the Sunday Lectionary. For, this, of course, isn’t the first time that a people who once were priviledged to treasure the repositories of God’s own self-revelation so trampled that gift that they brought about their own destruction. And yet, though everyone would forget the righteousness of God, God descends into the dark ruin of man’s estate to overturn his pride and sin. One might think this strange work would take the entire Scriptures to explain, but in our texts this morning, it amounts to a half a chapter, a mere verse, less than the reams of bad prose produced by Church of England Commissions. For God, it is barely an inconvenience to reverse the decisions of his people and, thereby, their fortunes. At least, from our angle it appears to be no trouble at all. For God, it cost everything, but he was willing to pay it from the beginning.

In fact, the overturning of our judgments, the steep descent into the valley and the bright, astonishing ascent into everlasting life is the narrative logic of the redeemed cosmos. We decide to die and then discover that God always had the power to make it all come right in the end.

Observe the Chronicler’s excessively restrained account of how Jerusalem was destroyed by the Chaldeans and Judah carried away captive. All of the history of God’s people is summed up in this verse, “All the officers of the priests and the people were exceedingly unfaithful, following all the aboninations of the nations. And they polluted the house of the LORD that he had made holy in Jerusalem.” They worshipped all the gods of all the nations all around them, just like we do. Ours aren’t called Molech or Baal. Ours are Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. The names are different, but the spirits and the cost of obedience to their demands is roughly the same. Idolatry, in every age, is the human way. It’s the elite way. It’s the ovious way.

What I like, though, is the next bit. “The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent persistently to them by his messengers, because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they kept mocking the messengers of God, despising his words and scoffing at his prophets, until the wrath of the LORD rose against his people, until there was no remedy.” This is such a fresh, relevant, contemporary picture of our condition. If you try to tell any cash-bloated religious elite today anything true, you are only met with contempt, mockery, and scoffing. There is no remedy. There is no way for any helpful information to penetrate the deep, perverse cloud of willful unknowing.

Therefore, the Lord brought the Chaldeans and no one escaped and the temple and city were destroyed. Are we any different? We who have had the Scriptures in our hands for so long and yet can’t be bothered to heed them? We have to watch the things we loved destroyed and laid waste by corruption and pride because there is no other way to be taught the truth. We have to look at the pictures of a dumb dance party in Canterbury Cathedral. We have to suffer the humiliation of a “Christianity” that now includes a lashing of lies because the people at the very top have so utterly insulated themselves from the truth they will not listen to anyone.

But observe how the Lord cannot wait–though his swiftness does last just slightly less than two generations, which feels like a long time, but what are feelings, really, except for fleeting shadows–to set it all to rights. “Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia,” writes the Chronicler, which is 70 years, or all the Sabbath years the people had not kept, “that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the LORD stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation.” This seems like a good moment to jump foward several hundred years to a glorious, consoling proclamation as we endure the demise of all we love.

“And you,” explains Paul, “were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience…” Isn’t it disappointing, though, that the sons of disobedience would have to be church clerics? Oh well. “…among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.” The thing about the missionary, evangelical movement that transformed the world with the power of the Gospel, even as the British established their empire, was how it resemebled that more ancient time when Roman armies laboriously built all those cunning roads everywhere so that Saint Paul could safely carry the good news of our Lord Jesus Christ to the lost. Isn’t it strange how God is able to take human plans intended for human power and gain and evil, and yet turn them around for good? And not just any good, but the greatest and deepest good that anyone could possibly know?

I think all those missionaries risked everything to go bcause they were so grateful not to be dead in their trespasses and sins. Their lives were shaped by deep praise, by grit, by thanksgiving. They cared for the souls of people they had never met because God had spared not even his own Son to rescue them. The next bit was lodged in their minds and souls and hearts and they could not rest until the whole world knew– “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasureable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.”

Did you know that God is rich in mercy? His mercy is so rich it extends into every corner. It can be found in a child’s lunch box, in the multplying of bread for every hungry person after a long afternoon of listening to the Christ talk about who he is and what he is doing. It extended into the heart of Cyrus, into the pen of the Psalmist, and into a lot of Christians who huddle in ugly, low-slung store fronts, who have to walk past beautiful, empty buildings in order to be able to properly worship God. Did you think you were able to effect this great salvation? Paul is a little bit anxious that you might take credit and so he repeats himself, “For by grace you have been saved through faith.” Do you get it? He’s still worried, “And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not the result of works, so that no one may boast.” Of course, it would be ridiculous to boast. You can’t change the minds of all the decision makers in our world. You can’t make them understand how dumb they are being.

You can only stand around, biting your finger nails, waiting to see how God will sort it out. No wait, you can also go to Church–a good one, though, with the Gospel.

And you can check out my Substack. Have a nice day!

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