Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Theology of Joseph Prince: A Distortion of the Law

Fr. Dale Matson

A book was recommended to me. I ordered and read the book “Destined to Reign” by Joseph Prince. I always write the most important points of a book that resonate with me on the inside cover of the book. They are as follows:
1. Unveiling Jesus
2. Preaching the Goodness of God
3. Paul’s Gospel is the Gospel of grace, forgiveness and no more condemnation.

I believe there is a point however where Prince begins to distort things to make his case for what he claims is sound teaching at odds with the traditional church. It concerns me especially since he later states that “Wrong doctrine is worse than wrong behavior” (p.258) He states that repentance is simply “changing your mind” (p.233) and has nothing to do with contrition and confession. That is not the way the church fathers have traditionally understood repentance. It concerns me that Prince is so willing to dismiss the Law and to say that mixing the Law with grace is not balancing but perverting the Gospel of Christ. For example Lutherans have traditionally understood Scripture through the lens of both Law and Gospel.

This is what Luther’s Small Catechism has to say.
“1. Do you believe that you are a sinner?
Yes, I believe it. I am a sinner.
2. How do you know this? I know from the Ten Commandments, which I have not kept.
3. Are you sorry for your sins? Yes, I am sorry that I have sinned against God.
4. What have you deserved from God because of your sins? I deserve His wrath and displeasure, temporal death, and eternal damnation. See Rom. 6:21, 23. 5.
Do you hope to be saved? Yes, that is my hope.
6. In whom then do you trust? I hope in my dear Lord Jesus Christ.”

Prince tells us to “Feed on the letters of Apostle Paul” (p.94) in order to discover the Gospel of Grace. His emphasis on this is at the expense of a proper understanding of the Law. “Commandments Kill” (p.120) St. Paul also referred to the Law as a "schoolmaster" (Gal. 3:24). It would be useful for Prince to review Psalm 119 where the Law is mentioned 25 times and sounds a lot like the Gospel. Prince advocates for Grace and excludes the Law which he leaves behind on the journey of Sanctification because it is part of an obsolete covenant. “There is no more consciousness of sin” (Chapter 14) and “there is power to sin no more” (p.167) while “victorious living is effortless” (P.243) which leaves the normal Christian wondering what is wrong if his or her life is in the toilet. He talks about the “not yet” as if it were the “is now”. This is not the voice of faith. It is the voice of presupposition. His assurances create more doubts than they dissolve. It reminds me of Kenneth Hagin who took the faith of the Scriptures a bridge too far in the 1970’s. Hagin and the Faith Movement were taken to task in the book “From the Pinnacle of the Temple” by Charles Farah Jr. for similar reasons. Prince noted that he had connections to Hagin.

Finally, in his chapter on “Unearthing the deepest root", Prince claimed that the deepest root is condemnation. I would say that an even deeper root would be original sin but “wrong doctrine” is below ground somewhere around there too. I believe that attempting to elevate Grace at the expense of the Law is a disservice to both the Law and Grace.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Aerobic Meditation

Fr. Dale Matson
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.” (Psalm 19:14, NASB).

As someone who completed two 100 mile runs people often ask me what I thought about during the time that I was running. My response is that I thought about everything and I thought about nothing. There is something about prolonged aerobic activity that not only produces endorphins, a naturally produced narcotic; it also produces a connection with nature and God. It provides a peaceful and righteous fatigue. As an ultra-runner, I would sometimes run, singing in the Spirit while moving along the trails. Trail running is part of the religious experience of the Tarahumara Indians of Northern Mexico. I don’t want to single out running however, as the only aerobic meditation. Open water swimming, climbing a steady grade on a bicycle and cross country skiing are other ways that I have experienced this. There is a fundamental goodness about prolonged rhythmic movement.

You too may have been immersed in one of these activities in the context of a group as a form of social interplay where personal defenses were dropped and people discussed parts of their lives not shared with others at any other time. There is a healthy and playful vulnerability. It is similar to what is termed “Free Association” in therapy. There is a similar transference and bonding. It reminds me of the experience of community at the communion rail during the Eucharist.

For me running has always been my drug of choice on a gently rolling trail through the woods along a lake. I hear the sound of my footfalls and breathing automatically timed by my steps. Running downhill on a single track trail elicits a rhythmic dance step to avoid rocks and roots. There are things about each of the other activities that appeal to me also. It is difficult to describe the joy of a good road bike with highly inflated tires on new asphalt and a tail wind. It brings an almost effortless ride where bike and rider become one. Cross country skiing is fast on a freshly groomed trail over new powder on a sunny day with no wind. It is wonderful to hear the squeak of poles striking cold snow. The ski strides are confident and one’s balance sure. A fresh glide wax wards off sticky transitional snow as the day warms. Swimming is an adventure in open water, raising the head occasionally to navigate to a point on another shore. From time to time there are glimpses of water birds or airplanes or even the moon in a sunny sky as the head turns to breath. Swimming is Tai Chi in the water. It is always a matter of working on the form. Swimming is the complex coordination of discreet micro movements united in a common goal of moving forward.

These moments and movements are so very basic in a body God has provided for us. It is times like this when I am reminded of St. Paul’s comments about our body being a temple of the Holy Spirit. I think about these holy acts of aerobic meditation, dedicated to God, being equal to the manual acts of a priest at the altar. For as we move, we move in Him, in whom we live and have our being. (Acts 17:28) Amen.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Lose your Job? God Has Other Plans

Fr. Dale Matson

“Six days you shall labor and do all your work” (Exodus 20:9, NASB)

The late seventies in the Midwest were a difficult period with a deep recession not experienced in other areas of the U.S. I was a journeyman plumber, heavy equipment operator and soil tester. These were skills that I presumed would always be in demand. The general contractor I worked for usually laid us off in the winter because the severe cold of Wisconsin winters sent concrete-like frost deep into the ground. We had a saying in construction. “We eat steak in the summer and soup in the winter (maybe)”. Because of the recession, residential building nearly came to a standstill and I was not called back from layoff one spring. I had my family in our Ford Fiesta parked outside while I asked my boss for any job available including working in the lumber yard. He simply said there was no work and that I should look elsewhere. I was devastated and angry. Is this what being a new Christian is about God?

I had not finished my bachelor’s degree in the sixty's because I had been drafted out of college my senior year for the Army. The past winter during my final layoff I began a degree completion program and had completed a distance learning course in developmental psychology. When we returned home after my talk with my boss, there was an envelope in the mail box with my final paper and course grade. The writing on my paper from the professor said, “This is the finest paper I have ever read by an undergraduate.” It was an Epiphany for me. God was closing one door and opening another. I believe as it states in Romans, “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (8:28, NASB). Another friend from church said to me when I informed him that I no longer had a job, “God must have other plans”.

I am not attempting to preach a prosperity gospel here but I believe that a life dedicated to God will be directed by God. At the time I believed God was quickening a past interest in psychology which was my initial major in college. It was a difficult major and I had convinced myself at the time that I did not have what it takes to become a psychologist. Following not being called back from layoff, I took a job as a psychiatric technician at the county hospital. It was an entry level position at less than one third of what I made in construction. It was starting over but so was my baptism as an adult two years earlier. There was some financial help for veterans but the GI Bill had expired for me. I set my heart on finishing what had been started and found myself to be older than many of my professors. I still had self doubts and the critical voice in my head had to be silenced with “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:13, NASB).

I eventually wound up directing a graduate training program for returning educational professionals in School Psychology and School Counseling. They too were at a crossroads in their lives. How wonderful it was to hear each story and to welcome them into preparation for a new professional life. I was now a professor at a Christian university with a graduate school mission statement which included, “We are here to extend the Kingdom of God.” As soon as the program prospects understood that God had brought them by crisis to this crossroads, they too saw the unseen hand of God opening a new door and closing an old one. Amen

Thursday, February 17, 2011

ACNA recognized by Church of England Synod

UPDATE: Apparently this post is a reprint from last year. The headline and date listed here are from Church News Ireland. The debate and clarification over the "very bad headline" can be found here at Stand Firm.

The following is an excerpt from Church News Ireland -

February 10, 2011

A spirited debate by the Church of England Synod saw the newly formed Anglican Church in North America recognized by all three houses – bishops, clergy and laity in an overwhelming vote.

The final vote was 309 in favour, 69 against and 17 recorded abstentions.

The following is the final draft of the resolution.

“That this Synod aware of the distress caused by recent divisions within the Anglican churches of the United States of America, recognize and affirm the desire of those who have formed the Anglican church in North America (ACNA) to remain within the Anglican family; acknowledge that this aspiration, in respect both of relations with the Church of England and membership of the Anglican Communion, raises issues which the relevant authorities of each need to explore further; and invite the Archbishops to report further to the Synod in 2011.”

The entire article can be read at Church News Ireland

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Anglican Communion: What Went Wrong?

Fr. Dale Matson
In the days following the Primates Meeting of the Anglican Communion in Dublin there seems to be an awakening to the reality of two Communions. The one Communion is led by Rowan Williams the Archbishop of Canterbury and is located in the historic center of Anglicanism in Canterbury England. The other Communion consists of a cluster of Primates from the Global South and those willing to follow them. The latter group has less Bishops and more Anglicans.

At this point it is time to break through the denial of putting Humpty Dumpty back together. There is no plan, document, dogma or covenant that can rejoin these two Communions. Strategies based on current schemes or wishful thinking will not mend this fracture. These two Communions do not share the same world view or even the same gospel.

After a divorce there is a tendency toward what is called rebound and lacking insight the cycle will be reenacted. The break in the Anglican Communion is a matter of irreconcilable differences but that is not the problem. It is a symptom of a problem. How did one Communion become two Communions? That is the question that must be addressed after the requisite numbers of leaders finally agree that there is in fact a permanent schism and no reconciliation.

There will be many opinions offered in attempting to explain what happened including original sin. Some will say Protestantism itself has within it the seeds of schism. Some will point to the enlightenment, science, individualism or humanism. Some will blame Women’s ordination, Prayer Books, undisciplined rogue Bishops and advocacy of the homosexual lifestyle in the church. Others will point to organizational structural weakness. Some will say it is a failure of the Communion to adapt to social change and others will say the reverse; that it is the Communion adapting to and adopting the culture in which it is embedded.

Any reasons advanced that attribute outside forces to the fracture of Anglicanism must also explain why this has not occurred in the Church in Rome which has remained unified in spite of internal difficulties and external pressures throughout its history.

My understanding of this schism is that one Communion continued to heed the command of the Great Commission. “Go and make disciples”. The Great Commission is ultimately no different than God’s command to Adam Eve in Genesis. “Be fruitful and multiply”. The willingness and obedience to heed this call is emboldened and empowered by God the Holy Spirit. Without the Holy Spirit, the body of Christ, the church cannot exist. Without God the Holy Spirit, we are simply fearful people, gathered together and locked in an upper room. We are called to be fruitful and multiply. We are called to win souls for Christ and to equip the saints for service and to prepare them for death so that Christ may be formed in them. This Communion is alive because the Holy Spirit dwells therein. It is a church willing to suffer. It is a church willing to be fruitful and multiply. It is a church embracing life. It is a church willing to be salt and light. It is not ashamed of Jesus the Christ and His name is as a hot coal on our lips. Amen

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Anglican Communion Institute: For Whom Do You Speak?

Fr. Dale Matson
I would like to begin by quoting portions of the ACI’s most recent response to the events in Dublin entitled “Dublin Post Mortem” which appears under multiple authors. (

We are left with a grouping—one can no longer say “communion”—of three dozen or so autonomous churches, many of whom are not in communion with others, without any effective Instruments of Communion to bind them together. This is made no less heartbreaking by being the Communion’s obvious trajectory for several years.

This is quite an accurate statement about what has transpired but the last sentence puzzles me because I do not recall before this, that the ACI has stated this “obvious trajectory” conclusion. It seems rather that, until recently they have defended the instruments of unity and the Archbishop of Canterbury steadfastly and criticized those who have not done so. There is still an unwillingness to be directly critical of the ABC for his being manipulative and untrustworthy.

But we can only proceed from where we are. The first task for those who share a Communion ecclesiology is to begin to re-constitute working Instruments of Communion. These will necessarily be provisional at first, but if the Communion is to survive they must evolve into Instruments that actually work to unite the member churches of the Communion.

This statement is confusing. Do they mean here that they would like to see the instruments of unity restored for that is what reconstituted means? Do they think Canterbury Anglicanism can be salvaged? The first task for the Communion is not agreement on ecclesiology. It is more basic than that. A communion must share a common Gospel. It is more a matter of a common faith and less an agreement on structure. We cannot remodel. The Communion must be torn down to the foundation. The cornerstone is Christ. The following statement should be a lesson learned for the Anglican Communion.

If church history, including our own recent experience, teaches anything it is that neither confessions without instruments nor instruments without common faith and order are sufficient to preserve unity.

Finally, I would like to offer a suggestion to the ACI about their structure. On most websites, an organization has a tab called “About Us”. Under this heading the organization usually includes some type of unifying statement of philosophy and history of the association. A philosophy serves as an organizing principle and may also include mission and goal statements. Who do you represent? To whom are you speaking? My own impressions are that the ACI is long on literature review and less so on conclusions and recommendations. There seems to be mixed signals and disagreements emerging among you. Scolding is not visioning. The responses to the ACI articles have been frequently unkind, sometimes unfair and at times accurate on moderate and conservative blogs. First, tell us who you are and who and what you represent. If you are the ACI, let's hear more about a vision for the Anglican Communion. It may be a vision that does not include TEC. Then make peace with us so that we may work together.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

God Be In My Mouth And In My Speaking*

Fr. Dale Matson
(*From “God be in my mind and in my understanding”, p. 694, The Hymnal 1982)
I am totally committed to the idea that as Christians we are both asked and empowered to speak and in so doing, change the world in which we live. I immediately want to caution that this is not a “Name it and Claim it” theology that I am advocating. Biblical abundance is having enough (give us this day our daily bread). We are asked in our Lord’s Prayer to call down the Kingdom of God (thy kingdom come). When we pray, we ask that God’s will be done on earth (thy will be done). God said through the prophet Isaiah, “So is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11). What does this mean? It means that when we pray the words God gives us, our prayers will effect change. The words have efficacy. His words will accomplish something. Prayers have no shelf life. The intercessory prayers of parents have helped their children after the death of the parents. We reach back to intercede for those who have passed on “And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear beseeching thee to grant them continual growth in thy love and service.” (Prayers of the People, p. 330, BCP).

Calling things that are not as though they were, could be considered lying but in the context of faith it is a mustard seed sown from which an impossible situation can be changed. A miracle can occur because it is what God would have us say. Chronic unresolved circumstances are awaiting the prayer, “Thy will be done”. Words have the power to help others heal. Each of us can remember something said to us that changed at a minimum the way we saw things. I can still remember my late mother saying to me in the midst of a crisis, “Son, tomorrow will be a better day”. I can remember losing a job and a Christian friend saying to me, “God must have something better in mind for you”.

As Christians we are called to be salt and light and challenged to confront a culture that hates God and yet needs God desperately. As clergy we are reminded that we speak for the church but as Christians we are all called to speak for God. In some cases this requires us to reframe a complaint or rumination into speaking or praying the desired end result. This is how our Lord Prayed. We are God’s ambassadors from His Kingdom inviting the people of this world to come there.

What I have been attempting to say is that as Christians we can change our world starting with the words we speak. Our Lord is the Word of God made flesh and Scripture is the written Word of God. We are incarnational words of God. Paul called us living letters. By living holy and virtuous live our words have the power to give life to others. Our words have the power to pull down strongholds, encourage others and change the world around us. Bit by bit we call down the Kingdom of God to those who don’t know they need God.

“God be at mine end and at my departing” (Ibid). Amen

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Unity of Spirit

Fr. Dale Matson
“Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Eph. 4:1-3, NASB).

The Anglican Communion is no longer of one Spirit. This above all, is the reason that another Anglican Communion is in formation. It is a separation of the wheat from the tares. It is the Gospel of Jesus Christ repelling another gospel. It is the Kingdom of God over against the kingdom of this world. The Communion in formation has no place to lay its head. It is a church without a roof and without walls. It is sending out new shoots while dead branches are being pruned. It is the Church of Smyrna. It is a church where Christ is at the headship and the Holy Spirit is increasing its numbers. It is a church knit together and led by the Holy Spirit. This communion lacks structure but clings to the tradition of the fathers and the faith of the saints once delivered.

This is not a Eulogy for the Anglican Communion. It is a rededication ceremony. It is a Communion born of the Word of God and unashamed of Christ and His cross. It is a Communion with a destiny to offer Christ to a world that does not know or sense a need for Him. It is a Communion engaged in spiritual warfare and willing to suffer and die. It is a Communion filled with martyrs. It is a church that does not worship God in the temple, in Canterbury but in Spirit. It is a Communion in unity of Spirit seeking fellowship with the Orthodox and Roman Churches proclaiming and believing the ancient Creeds. The Communion is new wine for the end times.

It is a Communion with an existing identity forged by the Apostles, refined by Cranmer, embracing God breathed preeminent Scripture. It is a Communion that loves and worships God and serves Christ in neighbor but loves God first. It is a Communion that accepts the Great Commission as its mission. It is a Communion with a Benedictine spirituality emerging from another book; the Book of Common Prayer. It is a Communion with a tap root in the Garden of Eden and branches in Heaven. It will be a Communion standing as an end times witness when the coming persecution arrives. It is a renewed Anglican Communion calling for a leader to come forth. God is speaking to him now.

“But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.” (2 Cor.2:14-17, NIV).