The Sermon!

By Jonathunder -
Own work, GFDL 1.2,
The royal wedding has occurred and the sermon by Michael Curry has been preached. It seemed to me that most of the guests and the British audience didn't quite know what to make of it. I wonder if they were nervous to criticise a black bishop preaching in a somewhat Pentecostal style (by which we mean with a bit of passion) and referencing Martin Luther King! But on the whole, he got a very positive write-up. Many Christians went to social media to declare how good it was, including many evangelicals

Conservative Christian commentators, especially Anglican were, on the whole rather more critical. Is this simply a case of "haters gonna hate" to quote the well-known theologian Taylor Swift. I think I'd suggest three reasons why not.

1. Knowledge Affects Understanding

I guess most reporters and for that matter most Christians were coming to the sermon pretty cold. They probably didn't know a great deal about Michael Curry, nor the church of which he is the presiding bishop. Engaged Anglicans know rather more.

Michael Curry is the presiding bishop of TEC, the original episcopal church in America. This is one of the most aggressively liberal parts of the Anglican communion which has been going its own way, especially obviously on issues around sexuality and gender. In so doing it has been progressively ripping up the Anglican Communion.

This has a couple of consequences. First, when you know that, although Michael Curry may appear somewhat evangelical in style, he is actually theologically extremely liberal, you listen quite carefully to what he actually says. For what it's worth, Anglicans in particular are used to this. Our "leaders" have for some time been masters of saying things that will please all stripes of those within the church. You can almost play spot the theology Bingo!

Second, when the presiding bishop of a church speaks passionately about the need for love to change the world, and you feel you have experienced (or at least observed) the full force of that church against biblically orthodox faith, well let's say it's not a surprise to have seen the word "hypocrite" floating around on social media.

2. Careful Listening Affects Understanding

Amidst many wonderful sounding words, those who listen carefully noticed that a full-orbed gospel seemed to be missing. In fact, a careful listening suggested a dressed up liberal gospel. Much has and will be written about this (see for example Gavin Ashenden, Michael Jensen and David Robertson).

My short comment was that Curry did not clearly connect sacrificial love to the sacrificial sin-bearing death of Jesus. In particular, he did not really deal with our failure to love God and neighbour (our sin) and the need for salvation. Jesus' death was example rather than substitution for Curry. Now at this point, I suspect critics would point to certain phrases and so forth which are perfectly patient of a solid theological reading. The problem is, they are also perfectly patient of a thoroughly liberal reading. Note what I said above above the great skill of Anglican leaders being to be all things to all people. Also, it might be pointed out that he had limited time and couldn't say everything. Quite right, but given an audience of several million, I think it is reasonable to ask a Christian preacher to be precise and clear as to what the gospel is. Having referred to 1 John 4, perhaps he could have spent a minute in 1 John 4:10:

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:10 NIV)
A number have noted the weakness of evangelicalism, when we hear a sermon without the cross clearly preached, and many laud it as a fine example of gospel preaching.

3. Consequences

For many conservative Anglican hearers, the fact that Curry was invited to speak provoked horror in itself. Following the moves of TEC, against the will of the primates of the Anglican Communion, there were supposed to be consequences for TEC. There was supposed to be a sense in which there was distance and discipline.

Instead, the Archbishop of Canterbury decides to suggest that the presiding Bishop of TEC speaks at the most watched Anglican service of the year (and for that matter for many years to come).

For many this bodes ill for the Church of England and for the communion. Justin Welby has, if you like, made his position clear with this decision. The faithful in the Church of England mourn at that. The faithful in the communion mourn at that.

Because there have been no consequences for TEC, there will be consequences for the faithful Anglicans at home and abroad.

So if you ask me what I thought of that sermon, then I think it is a hard one to answer without reflecting on the background, exactly what was said and exactly who said it. When I do that, I can be nothing but very sad.


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