The Paradox of Experience: The Pilling Report

 

The “Pilling Report” for the Church of England, published on November 28, basically opens the door for public services blessing same-sex unions. There is an attempt at a fine parsing of situations, with an attempt to separate same-sex blessings from same-sex marriages, approving the former, and not approving the latter. The distinction, however, is one without a difference. All the Church does in a marriage is pronounce blessing. The couple actually ministers the Sacrament to each other––they marry each other. The priest can only pronounce a blessing over a marriage when the Biblical circumstances are faithfully fulfilled.

The Church is not authorized to pronounce a blessing over things that do not line up with Scripture. A cleric may speak words of blessing, but they are void of spiritual power when Scripture is being violated.

Perhaps the most disturbing part of the Pilling Report is the language that implies that Scripture is inadequate to set the parameters of our life and faith.

Why is it that Bishops, priests, deacons, and lay Christians in Africa, Asia, and South America accept the boundaries as they are laid out in Scripture yet, increasingly, some leaders in the West reject them?

Oddly, one of the reasons has to do with Westerners experience of the Kingdom of God. This is particularly complex because the Church in the West has argued for the acceptance of same-sex intimacy because of their experience. The problem with their perspective of relying on experience is that they dont have enough of it. They are looking at the world with blinders limiting their view. For example, liberals refuse to accept any information about or from those who report that they have changed their sexual orientation. To date, there is no scientifically sound, peer-reviewed data to support the supposition that sexual orientation is fixed and immutable. Even if it were more settled with the scientific community, there is no compelling reason to say that behavior must be approved. There is a great deal of information that alcoholism, for example, is genetically impacted. Even so, those who come from alcoholic family backgrounds do not have license to drink and drive. Those who call themselves liberal also often refuse to examine any information about health consequences of same-sex behavior, despite the chilling data that are available.

The world-view of liberals can be limited to what is actually a secular rational or pagan one: they have no paradigm for God intervening supernaturally in human life. Scripture, then, is just another human expression of history. For many committed liberals, Scripture cant speak with authority because there is no way that the god of their understanding could have shaped it. Such people prefer a more explicable answer: That God was not active in the writing, preserving, and contemporary voice of Scripture.

It is different in other cultures. Those who have experienced God through Power Encounters see God as one who can and does intervene, and also as one who “knows the full story” and as a result can act rightly. It is common in agricultural societies to realize dependence on the mercy of God to shape weather. Of course, in a Western liberal world-view, that is dismissed as superstition.

A Scriptural world-view realizes that God sees things that we do not see. A God-less world-view, sees the challenges of Scripture as incredible.

In an East African Mosque, the Imam leading Jum'ah, (in Arabic: صلاة الجمعة), Friday afternoon prayers, was not expecting anything unusual, but on this Friday as people gathered for the duhur prayers, it was entirely different. This time, right in the middle of the prayers, he saw Jesus. Much like the experience of Isaiah (Is 6), he saw Him “high and lifted up.” Turning to the others attending the prayer service, he said, “I have seen Isa (Arabic for Jesus). He is the Lord.”

The people who had gathered immediately turned on him, and he had to flee for his life. Today, he is an evangelist in the Anglican Church.  This Anglican evangelist has no difficulty accepting that Scripture is supernaturally inspired. He experienced it.

Those who have not seen Gods intervention can be convinced (albeit wrongly) that He cant intervene. They also may not believe that He reveals truth because in their experience, He cannot and has not.

Instead of trusting God who has created, intervened in history, and shaped the Scriptures, those who have not experienced God supernaturally would quite naturally tend to rely on their soul and intellect for decision-making. In 1 Cor 3:1 St. Paul describes this  situation this way: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual people but as to carnal, as to babes in Christ.”  The word he uses for “carnal” is sarkinois or “fleshly.” They are not able to trust revelation, which is spiritually manifest, revealed, and understood.

The point is that we should never water Scripture down to the level of our limited experience. What we should do instead is ask God to bring out experience in line with the witness of Scripture. That will set the stage for God to show us new things and raise our horizons.

Perhaps the most amazing miracle that happens in peoples lives is transformation and new spiritual birth when they come to faith in Christ. The East African revival wonderfully shows the fruit of repentance as people share the sins from which they repent and how God has moved in their lives since. It is thrilling to see.

Yesterday, I was speaking with someone who had been on a trip to one of the most remote regions of Kenya. In visiting one of the homes in the area, the family they were meeting with took the visitors to a bedroom. One of their relatives was chained to the bed and frothing at the mouth. They said, “If you can heal our brother, our whole family will all accept Jesus.”

Obviously this was way outside the visitors' comfort zone, but they decided to pray for the person to be healed and set free. Following the Biblical patterns that they had read about, they prayed, “Be loosed, healed, and set free in the Name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth!”

I can well imagine that it was terrifying for the visitors, but when they prayed, the person who had been so terribly tormented, was set free. Now, the whole clan has come to faith in Christ and are followers of Him in the Church.

There are countless examples available of ways that God intervenes, bringing healing and transformation in the world. . When we open our lives to Him and the possibilities of the Kingdom, thats what He does. After experiences of transformation like this, it is not difficult to believe that God could take everything into account that needs to be considered and deliver Scripture to us that we need.

When people serve in senior leadership positions, their decisions impact large numbers of people. Sometimes even millions. In the case of those who formed the majority position on the Pilling Report, the impact will touch the lives of countless millions. Who is the god of their understanding? Is he the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob? Is he the one who opens blind eyes and sets the captives free? Of course He is, but do they know that?

When people see and hear testimonies of the radical change that God brings to lives, their world-view changes. It is not hard to see how God who changed the life of “Uncle Harry” or “Aunt Rebecca” could also work to shape the Scriptures to deliver to us exactly what He wants us to have. That God and those Scriptures are not hard to trust. Some people need to get out more.