Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Bishop Gamaliel?

Should a bishop take Gamaliel's approach when he is faced with the question of whether or not to permit individual parish churches to conduct rites of blessing same sex relationships?

Our Bishop, Andrew Waldo, discussed his much delayed but soon to be released (May 2014?) theological statement on the matter during a visit to our parish last Sunday. During the process of saying that he was not sure where God was leading, and that both sides of the argument over same sex blessings had valid points, and that parish churches will soon be able to decide for themselves whether or not to conduct a modified version of these blessings after participating in a curriculum that the Bishop's Task Force on Unity will soon release, the bishop referenced our friend Gamaliel by indicating that God would eventually sort all this out in His own time,
"And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought:
But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God."

Acts 5:38-39
So the churches of our diocese that opt to perform same sex blessings are to be pitted against the churches that don't, and God will sort it out by allowing one to come to naught. Is this leadership?
It sounds more like a trial by ordeal or a Darwinian experiment in survival of the fittest. I am reminded of one late dictator who before shooting himself 69 years ago said that because his people had failed that they "deserved to perish." Our Bishop obviously does not see this as a matter of life or death, but the redefinition of one particular sin through the approval of rites of same sex blessings will lead to the creation of a set of privileged persons in the Church who will be misled by the Church and may be judged later as unrepentant sinners boldly standing before the seat of Judgement claiming, "We did nothing wrong. We were blessed!"  This is the cruelty of the Gamaliel approach, that the people of one church may be condemned because they will never hear the same Gospel being taught in a sister church just down the road.

Is this Bishop-like or shepherd-like behavior?

What kind of shepherd divides his flock, allowing one to graze in the pasture of modern sexuality and the other to feed in the time tested pasture that scripture advises, and then sitting back waits to see which flock flourishes and which one perishes?

A shepherd like Gamaliel is probably not what the Church fathers had in mind when they listed the qualifications of a bishop or overseer.

In the course of the Bishop's visit, he was asked how we might "market" our church. This elicited a fairly standard response about greeting people and learning more about them as well as sharing what God has done for oneself. I, for one, thought back to Bishop Waldo's pledge that the
 "way forward (to unity despite same sex blessings) must be deeply rooted in the evangelical imperative..." (link here).
That made me think about what a lousy evangelist and apologist Gamaliel would have made.

Seeker: It looks like this is a welcoming church.
Gamaliel: Thank you. How about some coffee? They have regular and decaf.
Seeker: Umm... No thanks.

Gamaliel: How about some ice tea. They have sweet tea and unsweet.
Seeker: Umm... No thanks.
Gamaliel: Did you like the service?
Seeker: It was very traditional.
Gamaliel: They also have a contemporary service on Wednesdays.

Seeker: Oh, I am not into guitars and tambourines.
Gamaliel: They offer a clown Eucharist four times a year.
Seeker: Oh my.

Gamaliel: And they have special services for the Equinoxes and Solstices.
Seeker: We never had that at my old church.
Gamaliel: This one does a lot to help in your spiritual development.
Seeker: Tell me more.
Gamaliel: This one's priest guides us as we walk the labyrinth once or twice a year.
Seeker: Okayyyy.... Do they do the same things at the other Episcopal church down the road?

Gamaliel: This one is probably more progressive.

Seeker: In what way?
Gamaliel: Well, just the other day the priest conducted a baptism in which the little one being baptized had two fathers standing as his parents, one male godparent, and the only woman present was the priest.

Seeker: And the other Episcopal church wouldn't do that?

Gamaliel: No, and in fact they will not do same sex blessings either.
Seeker: And both churches claim to be Episcopal?

Gamaliel: That's right. The Episcopal church is a "big tent."
Seeker: What does being Episcopal mean then?
Gamaliel: It means that we have  a hierarchy of bishops, priests, and deacons.
Seeker: And different beliefs that COEXIST, right?
Gamaliel: Correct.

Seeker: That is a wonderful concept. I wonder why nobody ever tried that before.
Gamaliel: Actually, I was the first one who proposed it a long time ago...
Seeker: But which church is right for me and my family?
Gamaliel: Heaven knows! That is not for us to decide.

Gamaliel the Evangelist is stating some things that might convince a few liberal minded seekers to nod their heads in agreement, however this is not evangelism, nor will it work when applied to apologetics. It would appear to me that Gamaliel's lack of certainty would fail to win many converts to Christ especially when pressed with other questions such as how such "coexistence" leads to the acceptance of certain Episcopal churches that deny the atonement and entertain preachers who deny the physical resurrection of Jesus.

And how does Gamaliel answer the modern seeker when he invariably questions the exclusivity claims of Christ being the way, the truth and the claim that no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6)? Does he refer the seeker to the church down the street? Apologist Gamaliel cannot answer the question. He can only suggest to wait for God to sort things out.

After the Bishop's performance, the restroom conversation was mostly about how he seemed to be playing both sides like a politician. Alexander Whyte (1836-1921), who was quoted in the BibleGateway summary of Gamaliel, nails both the renowned Doctor of Jewish law and our bishop,
"Digging beneath Gamaliel’s able and successful performance before the Council at Jerusalem, Alexander Whyte feels that he was only a 'fluent and applauded opportunist' and warns young men against his presentation. 'He was a politician, but he was not a true churchman or statesman. He was held in repute by the people; but the people were blind, and they loved to be led by blind leaders, and Gamaliel was one of them.' With all his insight and lawyerlike ability, Gamaliel turned all things completely upside down when he sat in judgment, and gave his carefully balanced caution concerning the Son of God, comments Dr. Whyte."
"Perhaps the renowned author of Bible Characters is right when he suggests that Gamaliel made the tremendous and irreparable mistake of approaching Jesus Christ and His cause on the side of policy, handling Him as a matter open to argument and debate. But Christ is an Ambassador of Reconciliation, and we are not permitted to sit in judgment on God, and on His message of mercy to us. Without apology Dr. Whyte pronounces Gamaliel as 'a liberal long before his time.'" (From Biblegateway)


  1. Hi, I enjoy the dialogue you have here between seeker and Gamaliel, and find "cultural leveling" to be occurring in most main line churches in North America today. Interestingly the bisexuals seem to be left out of the "inclusivity" umbrella as are the transgendered, but "gay" or "same-sex orientation" is suppose to suffice apparently. The argument put forth now is the Samaritan woman encountering Jesus, John 4, is the stranger or person we regard as "on the other side of the line" and Jesus comes to us in that said personage. How is one to parent their child or grandchild these days with the emergence of genderlessness and cultural leveling. These are sins some of us wrestle with and the main liners feel much like Eve before Adam bidding him to eat of the forbidden fruit. Of course the late David Wilkersen prophesied times like this in his 1973 talk to Lutheran Charismatics in Minneapolis when making known the vision he perportedly received from the Lord. Such times we live in, come quickly Lord Yeshua!

  2. Hi David, I too worry about the effect on children and our children's children. People all too often think that they are bringing their family into a safe place when they come to a mainline church that has a nice traditional facade.