Saturday, February 23, 2008

Is Peter Jensen Really a Protestant?

These days I rarely visit the Sydney Anglicans site. Since being excommunicated over eighteen months ago, I haven't really seen the point. But I was bored tonight, so I ventured back there just for a little look around. One of the first things I saw was an article by Margaret Rodgers entitled "The Problem with Pell". It's good to see that things haven't changed over there - it would seem like the journalists at Anglican Media Sydney still have to engage in a spot of Catholic bashing at least once a week to satisfy their quota.

In discussing the issue of stem-cell research, Rodgers compares the allegedly Catholic and Protestant perspectives to Ministers of Parliament allowing their conscience to determine their vote. Presenting her disagreement with the Catholic perspective, Rodgers writes:

Where Protestant Christians, including Sydney Anglicans, would disagree with Cardinal Pell is his view that Roman Catholic MPS are obligated to follow the teaching of their Church when voting. He later told the ABC that he was saying that as a Catholic, if you violate Catholic moral principles, it has consequences for your relationship with God and the church. Those consequences follow inevitably in the heart and soul of the person who takes actions.
The Cardinal did not say that Catholics MPs voting ‘Yes’ to the Bill would be denied Holy Communion.

This is contrasted with the allegedly Protestant view:

But compare that understanding of obedience to the Church’s teaching to the comments of our own Archbishop. In expressing his profound regret about the affirmative vote for the Bill in the NSW Lower House, Dr Jensen repeated some words he spoke to the meeting of the NSW Anglican Provincial Synod.

He stressed Protestant views on the Biblically informed Christian conscience.

“The Christian in politics has a duty,” he said. “it is the same duty that we all have. It is the duty to obey God as he reveals himself to us. Our conscience must be shaped by the word of God. From time to time such a conscience may find itself at odds with the current teaching of the church on a particular subject. The choice must be made in the knowledge that neither church nor conscience is infallible.

Jensen continues by saying:

“If I understand the technology correctly, embryonic stem cell research involves both the destruction of embryos and the cloning of human beings. This is a step too far for us to take. I am aware that many of our politicians agonised over this matter and sought advice. If the decision to support this research was made in good conscience, I can only honour them for it, admitting readily that I may be wrong and that in the end it is to God that we give account.”

Rodgers likens Jensen's affirmation of the primacy of the conscience and statement that each individual has to give an account to God alone as something entirely consistent with Luther. And indeed, to that extent she is right. But surely the question must be asked: are Jensen's wider actions consistent with his own statement? I think even the most cursory glance at the evidence would suggest not. Jensen is being entirely dismissive of his colleagues in ECUSA who with good conscience come to the conclusion that there is nothing intrinsically sinful about homosexuality, even to the extent that he is quite actively taking steps to undermine the Anglican Communion as we speak. Nor has he even taken time to try to converse productively with those who hold a different perspective to him on this issue, in flagrant disregard of a motion passed at the last Lambeth. No deference is being given to the primacy of the conscience here. Jensen's somewhat selective Protestantism makes me question what principles he actually holds, if any. Does Jensen really affirm the primacy of the conscience, or is he speaking from a more pragmatic perspective, being extremely careful not to get prominent Sydney Anglican member's noses out of joint?


Bill said...

David, I haven’t worked out yet whether your comments on this (like your comments about music that we exchanged views on a few weeks ago) are genuine, but lacking information – OR, due to lack of ‘ears to hear’.

If the latter then I don’t wish to bother you, but if the former then careful study of Romans 14-15:6 with the help of the Holy Spirit may answer the questions you raised:

“… are Jensen's wider actions consistent with his own statement? I think even the most cursory glance at the evidence would suggest not. Jensen is being entirely dismissive of his colleagues in ECUSA who with good conscience come to the conclusion that there is nothing intrinsically sinful about homosexuality, even to the extent that he is quite actively taking steps to undermine the Anglican Communion as we speak”

This is a complex issue, and there is much biblical revelation to consider so I’m not attempting to put a full argument but an important part is contained in the Romans text and the gist of it is in this text:

Rom 14:20-23

20 Don’t tear apart the work of God over what you eat. Remember, all foods are acceptable, but it is wrong to eat something if it makes another person stumble. 21 It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else if it might cause another believer to stumble. 22 You may believe there’s nothing wrong with what you are doing, but keep it between yourself and God. Blessed are those who don’t feel guilty for doing something they have decided is right. 23 But if you have doubts about whether or not you should eat something, you are sinning if you go ahead and do it. For you are not following your convictions. If you do anything you believe is not right, you are sinning.

There is further explanation in J I Packer’s November 2007 paper “Who We Are and Where We Stand” at

David Castor said...

Hi Bill,

I can tell you in good faith that my comments are genuine and I hope you take me at my word. I can understand how the Romans 14 passage relates to the issue of conscience and the "weaker brother", but I'm not sure that it gets to the root of my question, which is simply: why the inconsistency, what makes one's position of stem-cell research an issue of conscience (and potentially it would appear we are talking about life here), while one may never be able to exercise one's conscience when it comes to the issue of homosexuality? What separates these two issues?

Bill said...

David, I hope you’ll excuse my purposefully oblique response, and that I haven't taken the time to make it much briefer.

I have no reason to doubt the genuineness of your comments, so taking you at your word I’ll assume that you hold the following to be true, otherwise what follows may make no sense at all and may even seem offensive:

And when you believed in Christ, he identified you as his own by giving you the Holy Spirit, whom he promised long ago. 14 The Spirit is God’s guarantee that he will give us the inheritance he promised and that he has purchased us to be his own people. He did this so we would praise and glorify him.
Eph 1:13, 14

Paul is telling us that the purpose of our redemption is to glorify God – not ourselves, or any or any other idol that as fallen man we naturally prefer. Some make lifestyle, power, wealth or sex the alter on which they fruitlessly sacrifice their lives. Others place careers, good works, adrenaline pumping adventure, or families ahead of Christ. We don’t need the Holy Spirit for those things.

The challenge we face in our carnal nature can be deadly if we are endowed with special gifts of talent and circumstance. It is so natural to use these gifts to satisfy our own desires; and pride convinces us that we truly deserve the fruits of our talent. Without ‘eyes to see’ we fail to recognise their source and purpose.

10 God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another. 11 Do you have the gift of speaking? Then speak as though God himself were speaking through you. Do you have the gift of helping others? Do it with all the strength and energy that God supplies. Then everything you do will bring glory to God through Jesus Christ.
1 Peter 4:10, 11

Peter is consistent with Paul in telling us that our gifts are for the purpose of glorifying God, in this case by helping others. With natural gifts we help ourselves for our own glory, but with gifts of the Spirit we help others for God’s glory.

For those with incisive minds and training in argument and debate it is natural, but not Godly, to criticise the errors of others, or interpret scripture, according to our own will rather than God’s. We have to be quite clever not to take this text at face value:

9 Don’t you realize that those who do wrong will not inherit the Kingdom of God? Don’t fool yourselves. Those who indulge in sexual sin, or who worship idols, or commit adultery, or are male prostitutes, or practice homosexuality, 10 or are thieves, or greedy people, or drunkards, or are abusive, or cheat people–none of these will inherit the Kingdom of God.
1 Corinthians 6:9

Rowan Williams is super smart and he managed.

The Pharisees were men of keen intellect and well trained in debate. They failed to understand the true meaning of scripture because they loved all the advantages of their position more than they loved God. So when Christ appeared they didn’t ‘have eyes to see’ nor ‘ears to hear’. We depend on the mercy of God save us from being like the Pharisees.

When it comes to stem cell research we don’t have texts that are explicit, so we must rely on the condition of our ‘heart’. We rely on texts like:

26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.
Ezekiel 36:26, 27

There are some issues on which men of God can, in good conscience, reach opposing views. In some respects this was relevant in the Romans 14 text I mentioned in my earlier post. God’s inspired apostle Paul explains how God views these situations. So I have no difficulty with Peter Jensen’s position. He holds a view about stem-cell research on which he is not able to be categorical, but on homosexuality, thieving, greediness, drunkenness, abusiveness, and cheating he can.

This may all seem a bit theoretical if we’re decent, Christian people, but what if God happened to provide us with an opportunity to glorify His name, that involved turning our back on our striving for status and wealth that our talents place within reach? Are our hearts able to place God's will first, or will we do what Israel did and prefer the idols? Will we interpret be tempted to twist or ignore Matthew 6:21 “Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” If we get this wrong, we like those who ignore 1 Cor 6:9 (above) may find Christ saying to us along with the others who twist and ignore Holy Scripture as he did in Matthew 7:23 “But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.”

Let us not waste our talents defending the wicked; let us rather win them for Christ.

Alcibiades said...

Bill: Wow. Oh dear, but wow.

DavidThanks for an insightful comment on a great blog. I'll be back!