As is my habit, I have bracketed different and unlikely subjects, here it is “Puritans”, “conscience” and “homosexuality”, within the same blog posting, anticipating a reaction, including bemusement as to how these may be related. But as is often the case, there are many things whizzing around in my mind that do relate that I would like to share. For the purpose of this post I will go with the Wikipedia definition: “the Puritans were a group of English Reformed Protestants in the 16th and 17th centuries who sought to purify the Church of England from all Roman Catholic practices, maintaining that the Church of England was only partially reformed”, although in today’s context they might be seen as being as much anti-liberal, anti-sin and anti-compromise as anti-Catholic as well as being pro-God, pro-righteousness and pro-Bible, and being so earnestly. I also recognize there is a wide breadth of opinion within this as with most movements. I suspect the Puritans had little to say directly about homosexuality, although they were pretty strong on marriage and the family. Like most Christians of their era and up to relatively recently, they would have likely disapproved of homosexual activity.
When it comes to subjects like this, I often advise my Christian community activist friends NOT to get embroiled in controversy as it might become a distraction, but rather do what needs to be done. However, like my Puritan spiritual forefathers (and while we may disagree on points of ecclesiology and eschatology among other matters, they are likely nearer than any after the very early church where our theological perspective and practice happen to coincide) I am prepared to stick my neck out for the sake of the gospel and thereby invite being shot down in flames and, besides which, with one foot in the grave and as my prospects of losing means of livelihood etc. are minimal, I can and I must.
One of my heavy duty reading material while recently out of the country, on holiday, was “A Quest for Godliness” by J.I.Packer. Packer happens to be a particular hero of mine and it is likely more than any of recent times he has done much to inform my Christian based thinking. Another hero of mine, the late Chuck Colson, wrote as part of his endorsement: this “paints a vivid portrait of Puritans – their piety, church life, and social impulse – providing a model of passionate, holy living for today’s often complacent church”. I must admit my motivation for reading was to find out what light Puritans can shine for community activists like me, keen to preach the gospel yet engage in the market place of competing ideas we see today and address the thorny issues that show up in our culture, where Christians can play a part and often alongside those who don’t share our views. I knew, for example, that the Puritans took more seriously than groups like one I have been associated with (the Plymouth Brethren) the creation ordinance “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” and while most certainly occupied by thoughts of preparing for the world to come nevertheless saw as their God given duty to play their full part in the world of the here and now making it conform to the will of God. While there were many things Packer brought out in his book around issues like theology and godly living in an ungodly age, it was concerning the matter of exercising conscience that especially interested me. History is full of examples of Puritans like John Bunyan, the writer of Pilgrim’s Progress who was in prison for 12 years because he refused to provide an undertaking that he would give up preaching, or the Pilgrim Fathers who decided to settle in America to start a new life, free to act according to conscience. Many paid a heavy price, including being deprived of liberties and being killed, for putting duty toward God before the demands of the State.
It happened that the other day as I went through my Facebook postings, I came across a quote by one of those fascinating Puritans who merit further attention, Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661), who said among many other words of wisdom: “If ye were not strangers here, the dogs of the world would not bark at you”. One of the things Rutherford did in the latter part of his life was write a book called Lex Rex, or “the Law of the Prince (or King)”, in which he showed that only God has absolute authority, and even the King must obey the law. While notions like the Divine right of kings are no longer accepted per se these days, it does seem that rulers can and do make laws and demands that are contrary to the laws of God, with Christians bearing the brunt. Rutherford was bold and forthright enough to point out this was not right and was prepared to disobey the rulers if their demands contravened that higher calling. It is likely the disapproving authorities would have executed him based on charges of treason (they had already burnt and banned his book) if he hadn’t died by natural causes in the interim.
That quote struck me deeply because I see that is what is going on today, which is where the subject of homosexuality comes in. I note for example the attempts of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, to bring about reconciliation within the Anglican communion, deeply divided over many issues and especially this one (I wish him well despite my own reservations but that will be for another blog). I also note the story run by, among others, the Christian Institute, raising as they do deeply rooted concerns that begins: “pastors, rabbis and other religious leaders will be subject to Government training and security checks and will have to enrol in a “national register of faith leaders”, under leaked Government legislation” (I share those concerns but that also is for another blog). The story that particular got me going was from Pink News, which I often go to for alternative viewpoints. The title was “LBC host Iain Dale has demolished a ‘Christian’ preacher who ranted about homosexual ‘sodomites’”. I listened to the interview, which was decidedly hostile, with the interviewer doing an effective demolition job on the hapless preacher. While the preacher’s use of language was regrettable, his response ineffective, he did say what many Christians still believe and that is homosexual activity contravenes God’s purposes. I have a view on the subject that might be seen as somewhere between that of the interviewer and the preacher, but for that you will need to check out my writings and blogs, but this incident did seem to illustrate Rutherford’s point.
Who knows what the future will bring? We are living in dark days and when I am tempted to despair something in me says me don’t because God is in control. God’s purposes will prevail come what may and it will come right in the end. My word to my Christian brothers and sisters is to understand the days you are living in, hold your nerve, carry on doing what is right, keep loving God with your whole being and your neighbor as yourself, and study the Puritans!