“But that’s fundamentalist teaching! That is what causes so much trouble,” protested Bishop Stephen Lowe. In religious as well as atheist speak ‘fundamentalists’ who read the Bible literally, (as opposed to literalistic), are trouble-makers and the bishop was obviously very uncomfortable with his theist ally in the theist/atheist debate. The Adventist pastor had become too descriptive of the Second Coming of Jesus. OK in a congregational setting but not appropriate for The Big Questions with a professional line-up of atheists sitting opposite.
“But isn’t it in Thessalonians and in Revelation replied the presenter,” Nicky Campbell. “But we don’t read the Bible that way anymore,” protested Bishop Lowe. “We read the Bible with a more modern interpretation.” “But,” insisted Nicky Campbell, “it is in Thessalonians and in Revelation, isn’t it?” I think Campbell was relying on info he got from the Adventist Pastor. “But the Bible is written in poetry, and allegory and parables and we have to . . .” Not exact quotes but the gist of it. The bishop wasn’t allowed to finish before the attack came from the other side as well as someone trying to get a word in edgeways on the theist side. For Nicky Campbell the ‘end of the world’ stuff was reminiscent of the old-time preacher’s with their sandwich boards calling for the world to repent.
The bishop is right, of course. The Bible does contain poetry, parables and allegory, and much more in the way of literary devices. The Old Testament is said to be composed of 40% poetry. But because the prophets of the Old Testament couched their messages in poetic form doesn’t mean that those messages were not presented clearly or not understood; the same for allegory and parables and other literary devices used in the Bible. So what do Anglicans believe about the Bible when it speaks of the Second Coming of Jesus and the end of the world as we know it? Does Bishop Lowe speak on behalf of all Anglicans?
Before his retirement and present appointment Bishop Stephen Lowe was suffragan bishop to Manchester’s Bishop, Nigel McCulloch. As you can read, Bishop McCulloch is a ‘media bishop’ and “has also been a regular religious columnist for The Times.” If Bishop Lowe doesn’t believe in ‘the end of time’ as described in the Bible, then he may not be in sync with Bishop McCulloch. Keeping in mind Bishop McCulloch is said have ‘been a regular religious columnist for The Times, that seems to answer my question, who wrote the religious editorial for The Times, dated 28th November 1999.
Coming up to the end of the old millennium to enter the new there was a lot of hype in the media with speculation on what disaster/s may befall the world. One was the concern for the Millennium Bug, which for some could be the instrument of global devastation and the end of civilisation.
Whatever the hype and whatever the source, by 2 January 2000 it had all fallen flat, nothing spectacular or dramatic happened. 9/11 and 7/7 and subsequent atrocities had not yet taken place. 1 January 2000 came and went. There was no Second Coming. There was no end of the world. We are still here.
But back to the Bishop of Manchester, Bishop McCulloch. On Saturday, 28 November 1999, the editorial provided a Christian message. The text used was from 1 Corinthians 15:24 from the A.V., “Then Cometh the End.” In the N.I.V. It reads, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power” (NIV).
“Then cometh the end . . .” That King James version of the text seemed to me at the time to share the very ominous and very apocalyptic tones of more sensational warnings being spread about the end of the world. Whenever “End-Time” language is used in newspapers it is often associated with the extreme side of the religious spectrum, as Bishop Lowe was suggesting on The Big Questions show – the fundamentalist view of Scripture only creates trouble! But this was the editorial section of The Times!
While commercialism focussed on Christmas, “there are other and starker advent themes – the end of time, the day of Judgement, the Christian longing for the Second Coming of Jesus Christ – a tension between the ‘already’ and the ‘not yet’, the urgent notes to ‘watch’ and ‘wake up’ and pray that God will not delay.” If that editorial was indeed by Bishop McCulloch he certainly had my full attention.
There was the longing for God to fulfil His promises to bring deliverance from all that is wrong in our world! There was “a longing for an end that makes sense of it all.” I was hooked on that last sentence, that “longing for an end that makes sense of it all.”
It was Bishop Lowe’s protests that sent me back to the archives, to this 12 year-old message. Not all Anglicans would agree with Bishop Lowe’s views on the re-interpretation of Scripture. This “End Time” message was an editorial in The Times! That is what made me sit up and take note at the time. We see this wonderful hope being expressed by the writers in the New Testament, but I had not expected to read it in The Times newspaper! But that is what is best in Christian belief. The Christian has a hope beyond what is. It is based on the resurrection of Jesus Christ, that is the basis of Christian belief. Because he was raised we will be raised too! It was from the context of 1 Corinthians 15:45-57 that the text for the editorial was taken.
The Genesis account of the ‘Fall’ of our first parents explains the need of Christ’s First Advent. As the Apostle Paul puts it in this passage of 1 Corinthians Bishop McCulloch uses, in verse 22, “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive”. It is more fully expounded by the Apostle Paul in Romans 5:12-21. After the birth of Jesus, the New Testament writers focussed on the Second Advent. Without the Second Advent the first would be incomplete.
The author of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us in chapter 9:28 that, “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”
Throughout the New Testament that is the expressed longing of the disciples of Jesus, to see Him come again to reign in power and glory as “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19:16).
Nearer to Christmas, 18 December 1999, Nigel McCulloch shared his Christmas thoughts with readers of The Times in ’Credo’. He encouraged the church to “guide people in the way of the risen Jesus to love God and our neighbours.”
“In many places churches are, by God’s grace, doing that job well. If people choose not to respond, then, instead of going into defensive mode, the church must have the courage of the Old Testament prophets. . . . The sobering message of this Advent season”, said McCulloch, “is that Christ will return – as judge of the living and the dead. On that day each one of us will be called to account. That,” he said, “would be a more appropriate message for the church to be making.”
He may have very strong convictions that others might not share, but Bishop Lowe appears he might be generous enough to recognise that his theist Adventist ally on The Big Questions of 8th January relates more closely to Bishop McCulloch on the theme of the Second Advent than he does himself.
I’ll post another Second Advent ‘End Time’ message from an Anglican in the next post.