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2020 Stress Test for Churches * Welby faces Double Standard on Safeguarding * Is Gender Neutrality really Neutral * Anglicans Mobilize for Life * Has Pandemic Strengthened Faith? * Archbishop Carey Has PTO Restored * Should Conversion Therapy be Banned?

2020 Stress Test for Churches * Welby faces Double Standard on Safeguarding * Is Gender Neutrality really Neutral * Anglicans Mobilize for Life * Has Pandemic Strengthened Faith? * Archbishop Carey Has PTO Restored * Should Conversion Therapy be Banned? * TEC Gays Erupt after Evangelical Pastor preaches at National Cathedral

"The uniqueness to which Christians bear witness does not refer to Christianity in any of its numerous empirical manifestations, but only to Christ. He has no peers, no rivals, no successors. And his uniqueness is most evident in relation to the incarnation, the atonement and the resurrection. He is the one and only God-man, who died for our sins and was then raised from the dead to authenticate his person and work. And it is this threefold, historical uniqueness which qualifies him to be the Saviour of the world, the only mediator between God and humankind. No-one else has these qualifications." -- John R.W. Stott

"Better to confess Christ 1000 times now and be despised by men, than be disowned by Christ before God on the day of Judgment." -- J.C. Ryle

By David W. Virtue, DD
www.virtueonline.org
February 12, 2021

2020 as we look back, was the stress test of American institutions and American democracy. It is also the stress test for the Church's ability to survive and thrive.

We hope and pray it will not be so in 2021. But who knows? As Walter Russell Mead observed, "We are still in the midst of the greatest pandemic in 100 years, the greatest economic contraction in American history, the most polarizing president, I think it's fair to say, that we've seen certainly in my lifetime, a summer of racial unrest and polarization and the sort of Black Lives Matter and the police violence and other issues. We have just ended a very, very partisan and heavily contested election, followed by the first time that a president rejected the
legitimacy of the electoral process."

In the midst of all this, the nation's churches, in an odd, enforced, ecumenical moment, agreed that they would zoom their services. It mattered not whether you were Catholic, Protestant, Independent, Jewish, Hindu or Islamic; we turned on our laptops and iPads and fumbled to meet God. Reality became virtual. We have all felt somewhat alienated in our relationship with God and with others; with ourselves we have become strained. To one degree or another we are alone, cheated by a disease that is sapping us of our strength and vigor. We are all praying for COVID to end, but has God stopped shouting to us in our pain?

Perhaps not. New strains of the virus are emerging that might keep us locked down even longer despite vaccines.

Perhaps God is screaming at us? The Tower of Siloam incident was never more relevant. Almost casually Jesus says, "But unless you repent, you too will all perish" without any thought as to whether the person was a believer or unbeliever. Rain falls on the just and the unjust, fires sweep away the homes of the godly and ungodly, planes crash with believers in them. God is not fair in who He takes and who He allows to live. The rich prosper, the poor die. It's not fair. No, it's not. And God never said it would be. Not a sparrow falls to the ground
that our heavenly Father does not see, but the sparrow still dies, he is not rescued at the last moment.

We ask, why did millions get COVID-19 and millions did not; why did many survive and two million die globally. Fairness is irrelevant. Good and bad people died, mostly old, but younger people died as well. Life is not fair. It was never meant to be.

Sin has contaminated everything starting with our first parents in the Garden and will continue till the last trump is sounded. We are to prepare the ground of our souls with repentance and faith.

By David W. Virtue, DD
www.virtueonline.org
February 11, 2021

The Church of England has warned that it may cut the number of paid clergy by up to 20 percent amid fears that a fifth of worshippers may never return after the coronavirus pandemic. Perhaps God is shouting at the Church of England, but its leaders are not listening. They are content to talk about climate change, eco-churches, pansexuality and woke-ism that converts nobody and nothing. You can read more here: https://virtueonline.org/church-england-warns-it-may-cut-number-paid-clergy-20-amid-fears-fifth-worshippers-may-never-return

There is no word on how the Coronavirus pandemic is affecting numbers in The Episcopal Church or the Anglican Church of Canada, but it can't be good. Most of the Midwest dioceses are on life support and juncturing is in the air. One shrewd observer said that the need for community might force people back to church, but who knows? However, the Episcopal Church's Executive Council has pledged to assist cash-strapped dioceses during the pandemic, including passage of a resolution responding to the pandemic's economic toll. Across the church, life and finances are hard and faithful work is exhausting. The future, financial and otherwise, is uncertain and uncharted. We witness the determined and costly efforts across our church to continue in the Way of Love, said PB Michael Curry, but love is costly and, in the end, money won't save TEC.

One shaft of spiritual light penetrated TEC this week when it was announced that the Washington National Cathedral had invited Max Lucado to preach despite the pastor's anti-LGBTQ views. Of course, there was backlash from some Episcopalians for inviting the popular author and evangelical megachurch pastor as guest preacher Feb. 7, despite Lucado's past statements against homosexuality and same-sex marriage.

His sermon title; "how God can bring calm to our chaos, and you won't want to miss it," might offer a glimmer of hope that the chaos TEC has created for itself over pansexuality will bring calm. Opponents of the decision circulated an online petition urging the cathedral to rescind its invitation over his "fearmongering and dehumanizing messages." But cathedral Dean Randy Hollerith defended the decision in the name of "inclusion". You can read more here: https://virtueonline.org/national-cathedral-criticized-inviting-max-lucado-preach-despite-pastors-anti-lgbtq-views

THE ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY has been revealed as having double standards when it comes to safeguarding. He has rigidly applied standards to the former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey and to the Bishop of Chichester George Bell, but Justin Welby appears to have failed to stand by his own safeguarding rules.

A British magazine, Private Eye, brought to light that, in 2007, when Welby was Dean of Liverpool Cathedral, a certain Canon John Roberts was busy sexually assaulting children. When it was revealed, Welby gave him a pass, with the promise from the priest that he would not do it again.

As the story goes, in the summer of 2011, a man repeatedly approached Welby complaining that Roberts had been making unwanted sexual advances to him. Welby called in Roberts, who told him the man had a history of drug abuse, and that he had been offering him pastoral care. The man continued to complain so angrily, that Welby banned him from visiting the cathedral and sent Roberts a sympathetic letter.

"For obvious reasons you are more vulnerable to unfounded accusations than others," Welby wrote, adding that "in the absence of independent evidence, and in the light of his behavior today, we accept your account."

At Liverpool Crown Court on 21 December, Canon John Roberts was sentenced to nine years for ten counts of indecent assault and sexual assault against four people. Canon Roberts had served as vicar of Woolton for 22 years from 1980. His vicarage was close to the famous Strawberry Fields children's home where some of his victims lived. You can read more here: https://virtueonline.org/hypocrisy-justin-welby-archbishop-canterbury

In a stunning reversal, the former Archbishop of Canterbury George Carey had his Permission to Officiate (PTO) restored by the Bishop of Oxford. You can read my story here: https://virtueonline.org/former-archbishop-canterbury-says-treatment-over-smyth-allegations-has-been-unjust

In other Church of England news, VOL columnist Judi Sture, writes about the latest lunacy emanating from the CofE in a piece titled, Eco-Church: just what we need to solve life's problems in Lambeth. It's about the Eco church St Mary-at-Lambeth, which is seeking a shepherd and flock.

"Yes, you did read that correctly. An old church close to the heart of our government and on the doorstep of the ArchMuppet of Canterbury, is to be 're-opened' for 'worship' after being abandoned in the 1970s."

Sture writes; "What exactly defines a 'fully dedicated "eco church"' remains to be seen. But I think I can imagine. 'Services will focus on the environment and climate change'. Well, folks, I am sure that will pack 'em in on a Sunday evening." You can read her scathing report here: https://virtueonline.org/eco-church-just-what-we-need-solve-lifes-problems-lambeth

The Living in Love and Faith (LLF) document is bringing out the worst in some people according to the Church's bishops. They are calling on Anglicans to be respectful when discussing sexuality and gender identity. In particular, a statement from the London College of Bishops stresses that bullying over theological differences is "completely unacceptable".

The statement was issued as churches continue to discuss the LLF resources on marriage, relationships, sexuality and gender identity released last year.

But what is truly at stake is less about bullying but about truth telling, and to keep conservative folk from speaking against the decidedly pro-homosexual document.

The bishops called for "kindness, humility and profound grace", and said that LLF should be an opportunity for Anglicans "to love, listen to and understand each other better with our theological convictions and in the diversity of our lived experience". No talk about what the Scriptures actually say about sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman. God forbid. That ship has sailed.

This squelches any push back. Already, someone has reported one person to the thought police as a "hate crime" for daring to speak up against it. This is how truth dies. Thou shalt not oppose the woke zeitgeist. If you do, jail awaits.

IN NORTH AMERICA, Anglicans are seeking to mobilize churches to take part in "a counter-cultural, life-affirming nonviolent revolution," Anglicans for Life (AFL) Director, Deacon Georgette Forney stated at Summit 2021: Mobilizing the Church for Life which took place recently. That revolution is centered on Christian ministry, Forney said in welcoming remarks to more than 600 registrants across the U.S. and Canada -- the annual sanctity of human life summit's largest participation to date.

"We do not emphasize political strategies over the ministry ones," Forney explained about AFL's work, which she characterized as pastoral rather than political. She was joined in that message by fellow Anglican and Colson Center President John Stonestreet, who decried an increasing politicization of culture. You can read more here: https://virtueonline.org/anglicans-advocate-life-affirming-nonviolent-revolution

*****

Homosexual Episcopalians erupt over Washington National Cathedral allows evangelical pastor to preach. Cathedral dean and Washington Bishop apologize after Max Lucado preaches, even though he doesn't mention homosexuality. You can read more.
https://virtueonline.org/national-cathedral-criticized-inviting-max-lucado-preach-despite-pastors-anti-lgbtq-views

*****

Ravi Zacharias is back in the news as his personal life unfolds, and it is horrendous by all accounts. I have posted a story headlined 'Ravi Zacharias: A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing -- What will the Board and Leadership do?'

The scandal of Ravi Zacharias's multiple sins and immoral behaviors demands a full and frank confession by the RZIM board and senior leadership, and they should stop stonewalling.

VOL has been following this story since its inception. We believe that the approach by Zacharias's denomination and board leaders has been less than forthcoming with a more corporate-style damage control, rather than Christian confession.

What has resulted is a profound skepticism among the public and wider evangelical audience that followed the apologist, resulting in a toxic culture of silence along with intimidation. This allowed Ravi's personal sins to fester and grow into a full-fledged national and international scandal.

A full report prepared by Miller & Martin referred to in the RZIM statement at the end of December is expected out this week. It will acknowledge the full range of Ravi's abuse of women. It will likely be explosive. You can read more here: https://virtueonline.org/ravi-zacharias-wolf-sheeps-clothing-what-will-board-and-leadership-do

You can also read this article in the Washington Post: https://www.washingtonpost.com/religion/2021/02/09/ravi-zacharias-apologist-rzim-sexual-misconduct-lori-anne-thompson-spa/

GENDER NEUTRALITY is Not Neutral on Gender. For those who have been paying attention, the world was only very recently introduced to gender-neutral identities. The idea that someone could identify neither as male nor female, but as "other," is quite new.

The whiplash effect this has had on the everyman is quite understandable. We were only yesterday coping with the idea that some think a man can become a woman; now we are having to consider the idea of a person leaving behind manhood and womanhood altogether.

Gender neutrality went public most prominently through the overnight proliferation of non-binary pronouns and various announcements from celebrities you didn't know existed until they announced they would henceforth identify as "genderqueer."

Those who insisted on the recognition of their non-binary identities through pronouns like "they/them" or any one of the other gender-neutral varieties were indeed pushing for a change, but the change was originally presented as a non-conformist paradigm set alongside the biologically grounded reality of male-female.

Here is where we need to take note of exactly what is happening in the new House rules. In these rules, gender-neutrality is not merely reserved for those who would no longer identify as male or female. Instead -- don't miss this -- everyone is forced into the gender-neutral paradigm, regardless of their respective identities. "Spouse" is not put alongside "husband" and "wife," but it replaces them altogether. You think of yourself as a mother? Not according to the House rules, you're not. You're a parent now. You want to invite your nephew to the House ceremony? You may not. You can only invite your sibling's child. All of this is being done in the name of inclusivity. These rules are said to be "the most inclusive in history." In other words, in the name of inclusivity, "mother" and "father," "son" and "daughter" are now excluded. In the name of tolerance, "niece" and "nephew" are no longer tolerated.

The reigning cultural values of inclusion and tolerance are the most exclusive and intolerant yet. That is why inclusion and tolerance can never be aims unto themselves. To be sure, they have never been included in the list of cardinal virtues. A virtue is grounded in truth and goodness and beauty, which is grounded in reality. Including an unreality alongside reality on the sole basis of being inclusive, ends up denying reality altogether and destroying the very structures of coherence.

Christians should not buy into any of this nonsense. "Male and female created He them." Nothing in history or science can change that.

A recent survey from Pew Research which spanned adults across 14 developed countries has shown that only one in 10 Brits believe the pandemic has made their personal faith stronger. Indeed, there is not one country where the majority feel their religious faith has been strengthened during the current pandemic.

However, nearly 30% of adults in the U.S. say they strengthened their religious faith in 2020, according to a study. Of those same people, 40% say that the pandemic and quarantine has strengthened their family bonds.

Three in ten, or 28% of Americans, have cited the pandemic as a powerful force bringing them back to their faith.

The survey aimed to understand how people in countries with developed economies were experiencing their relationship with faith and family during the summer of the pandemic, from June to August. Pew interviewed 14,276 adults over the phone from 14 different countries: The United States, Canada, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan and South Korea.

You can read more here: https://virtueonline.org/nearly-third-americans-say-covid-19-has-strengthened-their-faith

WHY SUFFERING MIGHT BE GOOD FOR THE AMERICAN CHURCH. It is axiomatic that no one wants to suffer...either for their faith or anything else. The problem of pain is not something Americans like to dwell on. It is an intrusion into our lives, bent as we are on the good life with all that it offers. 'Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness' is our general mantra.

These last many months, pain has intruded into our lives as never before. Nearly half a million Americans have died of a disease they had never heard of a year ago. Families and friends have been torn apart over the musings of a president; church doors have closed in the face of a pandemic ripping the nation apart.

Suffering is all around us. Theologians tell us we cannot blame God, or China or the disease. We should 'lament', we should repent for our many sins and perhaps God in His mercy will deliver us. So far, God has not done that despite the anguished cries of prophetic soothsayers. We are told to listen to the scientists, and we will get over this faster. They are right, but still, it does not absolve us of our behavior as the disease bears relentlessly down on us all day in and day out, killing family, friends and neighbors. You can read more here: https://virtueonline.org/why-suffering-might-be-good-american-church

*****

Biden embraces Augustine, but would Augustine embrace Biden? You can read my take here:
https://virtueonline.org/biden-embraces-augustine-would-augustine-embrace-biden

*****

Conversion Therapy' -- Should we ban it? No, we should not ban it, says Dr. Peter May. "For counsellors to ban such therapy is a denial of their 'raison d'être', the very purpose of their existence. Yet many therapists are now prohibited from helping clients troubled by their sexual orientation. Whether there is a legal ban or not, therapists will be struck off their professional registers if they offer it.

"It is the therapist's task to stand where their client stands. It is not the therapist's role to introduce his own agenda and values into the counselling relationship. Ironically, the transgender debate highlights the importance of counselling for those who wish to change their sexual identity. This campaign to ban talking therapies for those who are troubled by their sexual orientation and request counselling should be vigorously opposed."

You can his argumentation here: https://virtueonline.org/conversion-therapy-should-we-ban-it

*****

The fastest-growing evangelical movement in the world today is occurring in the unlikeliest of places -- IRAN. Yes, Iran, according to a report in the Gospel Coalition.

While official reports still claim that 99.4 percent of Iranians practice Islam, a 2020 survey found that just 40 percent actually identify as Muslim. An even larger number--about 47 percent--said they were "nones," atheists, spiritual, agnostic, or humanist. Another 8 percent claim Zoroastrianism, an ancient Persian religion.

And a small sliver--1.5 percent--said they were Christians. About 20 years ago, the number of Christian converts from a Muslim background was between 5,000 and 10,000 people, today that's between 800,000 to 1 million people. That's massive growth. According to Operation World, Iran has the fastest-growing evangelical movement in the world. Pray for this country and its people.

All blessings,

David.

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