Sermon by Rev. Dr. Don Faris
North Lonsdale United Church, Vancouver
Sunday November 16, 1997

There are many members of the UCC who are deeply concerned about statements made by the current United Church Moderator.

We will deal with 12 of these statements beginning with:

1. "He is not a theologian."
Of course Moderator Bill Phipps is a theologian. Every Christian is a theologian whenever they speak of God. And Bill Phipps graduated from a theological college and puts the letters B.D. (Bachelor of Divinity) behind his name. The question is not whether he is a theologian, but whether he is a good theologian or a bad theologian. His interviews with the Ottawa Citizen, the Toronto Star and CBC Morning Side prove that he is a bad theologian. This is a serious matter in a Moderator whose job is to lead and inspire the United Church of Canada, particularly in a person who, prior to ordination, promised to teach according to Scripture and the doctrine of the church.

2. "Jesus is not God and he never claimed to be God"
These are statements that Phipps makes again and again. However when the United Church joined the World Council of Churches we had to affirm our faith that "Jesus Christ is Saviour and God." This faith statement is consistent with the Nicene Creed which is affirmed by the United Chruch and with the United Church’s own Basis of Union statement that "We believe in and confess the Lord Jesus Christ, the only Mediator between God and man, whom being the Eternal Son of God, for us and for our salvation became Truly man …" (Article VII). Throughout the New Testament Jesus’ miracles, his power to forgive sin, and his resurrection are seen as witnesses to his divinity so that from the very first generation to this day, his followers fall to their knees and honour him as "My Lord and My God." (John 20:28)

3. "Jesus was totally a human being and he believed the world was flat."
Christians have always affirmed that Jesus was both truly human and truly God. However, to use Bill Phipps’ language "Jesus never claimed to be totally human and he never claimed that the world was flat." If Bill Phippps knows that Jesus was truly human, it is on the basis of the same apostolic biblical witness that we know that Jesus is truly divine. But as for Jesus believing that the world was flat, there is no such statement, and no evidence for such a belief. It is simply Bill Phipps’ opinion and suggests the Phipps knows more about Cosmology than did Jesus. This explains Phipps’ attitude of superiority to Jesus and all of scripture, in matters of both faith and morality. What does this first century Jewish peasant know, compared to the 20th century William Phipps. B.A. B.D. L.L.B.

4. The Crucifixion happened but the resurrection did not happen
How does Phipps know that the crucifixion happened? Surely it is on the basis of the apostolic biblical witness. But this apostolic biblical witness also claimed that the bodily resurrection of Jesus happened. Both are equally presented as events in space and time. In one of his earliest letters Paul writes: "For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scripture, and that he was buried and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time…" (1 Cor. 15:3-6)

5. "Something happened to the disciples"
Apparently Bill Phipps explains away the resurrection as fact, by saying that the resurrection was ‘something that happened’ to the disciples. In other words, it was an emotional experience, a vision, a delusion, who knows what – that happened subjectively inside the heads of the disciples. Of course this sort of subjective fantasy is exactly the sort of nonsense the Apostle Paul opposed when he warned that "If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins." (1 Cor. 15:17).

6. "Paul does not speak of the empty tomb or these things"
There are many things that Paul did not speak of. It is sheer nonsense to argue that because Paul did not mention something he therefore did not believe it. This is another variation of the ‘argument from silence’ which Mr. Phipps and the advocates of the gay agenda used concerning Jesus’ silence about homosexual practice. In that case the argument is that because Jesus didn’t mention the practice he approved of it. Now, the argument is that because Paul didn’t mention the ‘empty tomb’ he disagreed. You can’t have it both ways. As a matter of history, it is clear that if Jesus approved of homosexual practice, his Jewish critics would have been shocked and would have used such an unbiblical teaching to criticize Jesus. Similarly, if Paul had not accepted the Gospel record of the empty tomb, his many enemies would have pounced on this inconsistency. We know historically that even the Jewish chief priests accepted the fact that the tomb was empty and tried to bribe the guards to say that someone had stolen the body (Matt. 28: 11-15). Bill Phipps believes less than the chief priests!

7. "The gospels can’t be trusted because they have different details about the resurrection as do the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary."
Certainly the gospels have different details about the resurrection. You would expect that of four authentic historic witnesses. They represent the four different perspectives of four individuals. If four of us were to stand on four different street corners and then report on a simple traffic accident which occurred in the middle of the intersection, wouldn’t our four witnesses all be slightly different? Of course they would. If the early church had thought that the four gospel witnesses to the resurrection were an embarrassment, they could have edited them to remove contrasting details. But there is a difference between contrasting complimentary details and contradiction. For a scholarly analysis, see John Wenham, Easter Enigma: Are the Resurrection Accounts in Conflict? (Zondervan, 1984).

As for the second or third century Gospel of Thomas and Gospel of Mary – the church rejected them because they were not first century apostolic witnesses. They were simply not reliable.

8. "The gospels are anti-Semitic – particularly the Gospel of John"
This is nonsense. Jesus was a Jew, born to Jewish parent in Bethlehem, grew up among Jews in Nazareth, ministered mainly in Galilee, was crucified, died and rose from the grave in the Jewish capital city of Jerusalem. All his first disciples were Jews, even Luke likely being a proselyte to Judaism. The apostle Paul was a Jew and for all Christians the Hebrew Old Testament is Holy Scripture along side the New Testament. The author of John’s Gospel was certainly a Jew and some scholars argue that it is the most Jewish of all the Gospels. The fact that the same Greek word can be translated ‘Jew’ or ‘Judean’ has led to some profound misunderstandings. But the fact is that anti-semitism is not rooted in the New Testament. It is rooted in the evil in the human heart. Bill Phipps should be ashamed to spread the lie that the Gospels are anti-Semitic. To be anti-semitic is to be against Jesus.

9. "We should look to modern scholarship such as that of the Jesus Seminar"
We certainly should look to modern scholarship. If Bill Phipps, who claims he is no theologian – was a good theologian, he would know that the Jesus Seminar is considered to be a bad joke in the scholarly world. It is a self-selected group of Unitarians and ultra-liberals who vote on the texts of the gospels to give their opinion of whether Jesus really said it or not. [See Richard B. Hay, The Corrected Jesus, First Things, May 1994].
They have thrown out all of John’s gospel and 80% of the synoptic gospels. Why do they do this? Is it because they have better sources than anyone else? No – their decisions are made simply on the basis of their unexamined prejudices. For example, they claim the Gospel of Thomas is an early document while 99% of the scholarly world would date it in the second or third century! They deny that Jesus would use eschatological language despite the fact that recent scholarship on the Dead Sea Scrolls proves that this language was very current in Jesus’ time. This is simply one more example of Bill Phipps showing not that he is ‘not a theologian,’ but that he is a bad theologian.

10. "Jesus tells us simply that when we feed the poor, clothe the naked, etc. we do it to him."
Here Bill Phipps is quoting part of Jesus’ parable in Matthew’s Gospel, chapter 25, verses 31 – 46. Bill quotes verses 35-36. But what is the content of these quotations? It is that Jesus, the Son of man, comes with all his angels and sits upon the throne of Glory. Jesus is the King upon the throne of Glory – and it is because he is the King – he is God – that he can be in the sick, the poor and the hungry. No mere mortal could do that. And even more than that, the parable ends with Jesus saying that some people’s decisions have assigned them to eternal punishment and other people’s decisions have assigned them to eternal life. They are the very ‘hell’ and ‘eternal life’ realities which Bill Phipps elsewhere tells us are not important! But the ironic part of the Moderator’s telling us to consult the alleged scholarship of the Jesus Seminar is that this group of Unitarians voted that Jesus did not say one word of Matthew 25:31-46. So on the basis of the authority of the Jesus Seminar, Bill Phipps should stop telling us that Jesus said to feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick, etc. It is only those who believe in the eternal Son of God, and trust his words in the Bible who can, and do, take these words seriously. It was the simple biblical faith that motivated Mother Theresa, and the United Church’s J.R. Mutchmore, and all those who truly love the Lord Jesus Christ.

11. "He’ll have to ‘look up whether or not there is one thing you have to believe to belong to the United Church of Canada." This of course is a shocking thing for the Moderator of the United Church to say. And what is even more shocking is that it is entirely consistent with the current ‘inclusivity’ ideology, which dominates the courts of the United Church. This ‘inclusivity’ has been used to approve of any sexual behaviour, no matter how unbiblical or unhealthy – and now apparently extends to any belief or unbelief no matter how unbiblical or unhealthy. The pagansim of the Roman Empire was inclusive of immorality and the many gods and goddesses condemned by Scripture. Real Christians have always followed the guidance of Scripture in regard to what they believe and how they live. This is true of the United Church of Canada’s Basis of Union – there we find the affirmation that Jesus is the eternal Son of God, the only mediator between God and man (Article VII), the divine Lord and Saviour (article XI), who rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven (article VII). We also believe that there shall be a resurrection of the dead and that the finally inpenitent shall go away into eternal punishment and the righteous into life eternal (article XIX). And we believe that ‘faith in Christ is a saving grace whereby we receive Him, trust in Him and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered to us in the Gospel, and that this saving faith is always accompanied by repentance, wherein we confess and forsake our sins with a new obedience to God (article X). Bill Phipps or anyone else is welcome to be a United Church member if they share these beliefs. If they do not share these beliefs, then they are freely choosing to exclude themselves from the faith of the Church.

12. Meanwhile, Bill Phipps assures us that people are coming back to the United Church ‘one by one’
Sadly, this is not the case. The United Church has been in steady decline since 1965. Other liberal dominated denominations have also declined while evangelical denominations have grown in both membership and attendance. Recently, the rate of decline in the United Church dramatically increased as the homosexual agenda was forced on the church over the objection of most congregations. In fact, from 1985 to 1995, average Sunday School attendance has declined nearly 25% from 400,000 to 300,000. It is this decline which has resulted in the financial crisis in the denomination. All of these facts are available in the 1996 United Church Yearbook.

It is one thing to be outspoken. It is quite another thing to be honest and faithful to Jesus Christ. The Original Vision of the United Church of Canada was glorious. It was to unite orthodox Christians of many traditions around the great central beliefs of the Christian faith. Ministers and Moderators of the United Church should both personally believe and joyfully proclaim the great acts of God in the incarnation and resurrection. The majority of United Church members hold these beliefs. The fact that the Moderator, many ministers and most Theological professors in United Church Colleges do not, is a cause for shame, not celebration. [See Bibby, Unitrends, (United Church, 1994)].

Pray for our suffering church Pray for the Moderator
Pray for ourselves, that we may be faithful!!!