Watch Where You Sit
Like the other Stand Firm writers I’m at a loss to explain quite what is going on in the decision of Truro Church to open up a relationship with the Bishop of Virginia in such a way as to affirm his position and status as a minister of Christ.
Others are beginning to point out the inconsistencies in what has happened, and never one to avoid being tarred with the same brush I wanted to add my voice to the mix in one of the areas that particularly concerns me - the preaching of the Word of God.
Truro’s Rector, Dr Tory Baucum, released the script of his sermon (11 March 2011) which set out some of the reasoning behind their decision. He begins with one of the Beatitudes,
Matt. 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied
and rightly notes, as many before him have done, that this draws upon Psalm 1,
Psalm 1:1-3, 6 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the way of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers.
But his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers . . . .
For the Lord knows the way of the righteous but the way of the wicked will perish.
It’s a striking Psalm, opening up the Psalter with the call to a righteous life and the promise of blessings for the man who pursues it. Of course, it is not simple moralism that is being held out to us, for only one Psalm later we see the true source of that blessing.
Psalm 2:12 ...Blessed are all those who take refuge in [the Son].
And so the Psalter launches into its many a varied psalms, each of which in their own way call us to a righteous life and to trust in the Son, the Christ, by holding Him out to us as the only one to ever truly fulfil those opening words of Psalm 1.
Baucum’s description of Psalm 1 is also very helpful,
The blessed life is the unassimilated life. It does not meld with the ungodly.
Indeed, and that life does not necessarily mean avoiding the ungodly as Baucum goes on to explain,
It is the differentiated but connected life. One can choose to not assimilate into an ungodly life but still engage it.
And we would all still agree, I trust. As he goes on to note, Jesus was criticised by some for hanging out with sinners. But here, I fear, is where the logic of the sermon begins to unravel for it fails to engage with the force of what is being described in Psalm 1.
Jesus could walk, stand, sit and even eat with sinners, because he first delighted to walk, stand, sit and eat with his heavenly Father who loved them so.
But is that what Psalm 1 is talking about? Not really. The dynamic movement of walk, stand, sit is not simply about spending time with someone. It’s more than that. The foolish man begins walking with them, an entirely relational activity. But he then finds himself stopping his walk and standing with them. And then, before he knows it, he has sat down. In the seat of the mockers. Those that mock God. The idiot (for that is what he must surely be shown to be) is now indistinguishable from them. Who would you expect to find when you came to that seat? Well; it’s original owner, the mocker. But instead we have our anti-hero who has allowed himself to, in Baucum’s words, become assimilated. He is now a mocker himself, and it began because he wasn’t wise enough to not go on that walk in the first place, didn’t have the sense to listen to someone else’s advice. Instead he lapped up the drivel that the wicked and sinners fed to him. And now look at where he parks his backside. It certainly isn’t righteousness he will be feeding on tonight.
Now, it is certainly true to affirm (as Baucum helpfully does) that Jesus was not subject to this weakness of will. He fraternised with the enemy out of love for them. But then He was Jesus, that’s what He did. But it’s simply not accurate to state that Jesus walked, stood and sat with them, at least in the sense that Psalm 1 speaks. This is simple logic - for the Psalmist says that the righteous man simply should not do such a thing and, as we have noted, the paradigm for that righteous man is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
I’m not sure why Baucum goes this way with his sermon. The cynical man might argue that he needed some justification for what he was about to announce, that he himself had chosen to “walk, stand and sit” with Bishop Shannon as he leads Truro Church in their own quest for righteousness - I couldn’t state that with any certainty since none of us can see inside his heart. But what I want to state with some degree of assurance is that it simply doesn’t make sense!
- Baucum states, “I have treated Bishop Shannon as a bishop of the Anglican Communion and with the respect that is due a fellow Christian.”
- If Baucum (as representative of Truro Church) is the one who will walk, stand and sit with Bishop Shannon then Bishop Shannon must be a “wicked, sinning scoffer” (to quote Psalm 1). And yet Baucum does not identify Shannon in this way, at least he treats him nothing like it.
- Even if that were the case, the Psalm tells him to do no such thing! He should not walk, stand or sit with him!
- However, if Baucum (as representative of Truro Church) is the one who will walk, stand and sit with Bishop Shannon as Jesus did with many sinners, then Bishop Shannon is to identified as a sinner in need of repentance and forgiveness. This is a remarkable identification for a bishop in the church of Jesus Christ and certainly not “a fellow Christian”.
- If Bishop Shannon is to be identified as the “wicked sinning scoffer” of Psalm 1 or the “sinners” of Jesus’ day then he simply could not be affirmed as a bishop in the church of Jesus. The very notion is ludicrous.
Of course, at this point, I want to point out that I have absolutely no qualms with identifying Shannon in such a way. His single-minded pursuit of TEC’s liberalising agenda puts him firmly in that category. But this is not how Baucum identifies him. In fact, Shannon is worse than that, he is no pagan idolater that King David is describing, or 1st Century Jewish publican - he is a senior pastor in the church of Jesus who will be judged most severely for what he has done, not least to Truro Church itself. Even if Jesus spent time with sinners, as He certainly did, then the closest contemporary equivalent for Shannon is not the publican called to repentance but the teacher of the law in the temple who Jesus blasted for misleading the people of God and Jesus’ dealings with them was of a marked contrast to the publican. Very marked indeed.
But if that is not who Shannon is, if he is indeed a godly bishop, then Truro faces a real crisis for they are continuing to pursue division with a man they should willingly submit to. We had no qualms at Stand Firm in pointing out the error on the part of many in AMiA in pursuing such a course of action. So we ought to do it again now.
If Bishop Shannon is still a good and godly bishop, and not teaching blatant untruth, then Truro’s continued pursuit of separation is rebellious treason. But if he is such a thing, a wolf of the worst kind, then why are they walking, standing and sitting with him, and encouraging others to do the same?
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