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Gloriavale and a More Forgiving God?

Gloriavale Christian Community is a small evangelical Christian group based at Haupiri on the West Coast of the South Island in New Zealand. Its population is estimated to be 550–600…Those who leave the community are shunned and denied contact with family members still remaining at Gloriavale.”

Gloriavale is again in the news (for non-NZ readers here, it is pretty regularly in the news). This time, it is for someone being kicked out of the community. John Ready altered his view on God, was kicked out, and his wife and nine children are still inside – and he cannot see them. For those with further interest, any online search will lead you to a number of news stories and videos.

The biggest part of the story is “religious contraband” material that is being smuggled into Gloriavale (by outside Christians) that changed John Ready’s view (there are now further parts as the story continues – including use of taxpayer money, taxation consequences with its religious/charitable status, employment law,…). If you follow Patrick Gower’s story (in the tweet above), you will see the contraband focuses on the booklet The Gospel of Jesus Christ by Paul Washer. I appreciated Patrick Gower’s point that people of goodwill in Gloriavale are better helped by “religion and theology” than by bringing in the police and other authorities. Patrick Gower (as you can see if you follow the link) sees Paul Washer’s Gospel as presenting a more loving and forgiving God.

So, dear reader, I purchased a copy of Paul Washer’s Gospel of Jesus Christ (all for you, dear reader – no: Washer’s Gospel is not free, not even the digital version – in fact the digital version costs more than the printed one!). I purchased this to see how this God might be more loving and forgiving than Gloriavale’s.

The pamphlet follows pretty much what you would expect from “an American Protestant Christian evangelist with a Calvinist theology affiliated with the Southern Baptist Convention.” It follows a juridical approach to God’s relationship with us. Let me summarise Washer’s “gospel” for you (so you don’t have to buy the booklet). God is righteous; we humans – God’s creation – are morally corrupt. We deserve to be penalised. God requires satisfaction. Christ took the penalty that we deserved. Jesus satisfies the justice that God rightly demands by offering Himself in our place. The cross, Washer’s booklet explains, is the cruelest mechanism of torture ever devised. “The physical suffering and death that Christ endured on the cross were absolutely necessary… On the cross Christ suffered the judgment of God! God’s justice demanded satisfaction for our sins, and His wrath was kindled against us. To satisfy God’s justice and appease His wrath, it was necessary that Christ suffer the judgment we deserved.”

For Washer, “Christ was forsaken by God in our place.” God should have forsaken us. God did forsake us. And now God forsakes Christ instead! “Christ took the cup of God’s wrath that we deserve and drank down every drop until it was completely depleted and the justice of God against us was fully satisfied.” And “The Resurrection is proof that God accepted Christ’s death as full payment for our sins.” We need to repent – including from relying on the good we do – and have “saving faith” which “especially consists of trust that Christ is our saviour”.

There’s no prizes for realising that I don’t think like this for a minute! If this God is more loving and forgiving than Gloriavale’s version – heaven help those in Gloriavale! The God I believe in IS love. The Good News for me is nothing like God dumping all his wrath on Christ so that there’s no wrath left to dump it on us! The juridical model is not the only model. God’s love being so deep that he does NOT forsake us even when we stray would be my image of God, rather than Washer’s opposite one.

*****

The style of Washer’s booklet is commenting on pasting together Bible verses – a verse from here with another from a completely different genre elsewhere in the biblical literature, with another from a disparate section, with another, and so forth. Washer gives the impression that the Bible is poor at presenting the Gospel coherently – it must be cut up by him into verse-sized pieces, and then he picks up some verses from this shredding and pastes them together into a new message.

*****

And when it comes, then, to Washer’s “How then shall we live?” he makes no mention of justice, attitudes to money and possessions, care for the environment, care for ourselves,… Baptism is mentioned almost incidentally in the last tenth of the booklet (unlike its centrality in the New Testament). And there is no mention of Holy Communion.

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11 Responses to Gloriavale and a More Forgiving God?

  1. Here in UK the Church of England appears to be in disarray. They condemn a revered bishop because, long after he died, someone accuses him of inappropriate behaviour. We lay people should not be in this BEWILDERING position – the Church should ignore personalities and examine what was claimed and how we should react to such behaviour. Concentrate on the supposed sin, not the sinner. Our anchor is Jesus Christ Himself – LOVE GOD, LOVE YOURNEIGHBOUR. LOVE.

  2. A remarkable story. I wonder how such sects are able to flourish in this day and age. But the pamphlet you describe, sounds more like a passport to Purgatory than Heaven.

  3. ‘I wonder how such sects are able to flourish in this day and age.’ ( Ernie Feasey )
    me too, and in such massive numbers! Accountability comes out of wider knowledge and acceptance, indoctrination fosters compliance and what outwardly looks peaceable and harmonious…

    ‘We need to repent- including from relying on the good we do’. I’ll never understand this assertion in a christian religion; did people tear Matthew 25 out of their bibles?

    And even where ‘God is love’ is preached it still has to be practised.

  4. “pasting together Bible verses – a verse from here with another … from this shredding and pastes them together into a new message” That approach has been a problem in all sorts of situations. There are risks taking a single verse out of context, and great temptations to make a message that wasn’t there out of a selection of words cut from random places in the Bible. But that is where the Church as a whole comes in. When a community shuns the wider church it is probably because it doesn’t want bad theology exposed to the light of day.

    I think there is a parallel with science and the full set of hurdles of peer review and testing results by others; there are plenty of claims that are said to be scientific, and I have seen some very shoddy theories “peer reviewed” by a selection of like-minded biased people, but that doesn’t make it scientific. In the same way there is a need for Christians as a whole to get up and say “these people are not speaking for us, and what they are saying is way off base”. Which brings up the question of modern creeds.

    I did a bit of research recently into modern creeds (mainly because some old ones, nice as they are, were obviously aimed at what was debated at the time and now we have a whole new set of debates). I did find a really nice 4-line Methodist Affirmation from 1965, but what I wonder mainly is how best can the Church debate with sects and the whole spectrum of strange ideas? That is, how can the debate be effective and not cause more trouble (as so many religious debates have in the past)? And with acknowledging we all have imperfect ideas, yet not using that as an excuse to keep quiet and seemingly condone the vile and hurtful?

    • Yes – all very good points and questions, Mark. The Washer booklet had the problem at the other end of the spectrum. It used no early church creeds, giving the impression that true Christianity only began with the Calvinist Reformation! Easter Season Blessings.

  5. If I were to write a gospel tract, I would not put emphasis the way Washer apparently does on Christ’s physical sufferings on the cross. (I have not read his booklet, “The Gospel of Jesus Christ”, so I am depending on your summary of parts of it.) Nevertheless, I expect that the booklet contains a sufficient picture of the love of God for that to be what captured John Ready’s heart, and in that respect Patrick Gower is right.

    I do wonder whether your post, with its rightful emphasis that God is love, may leave some readers with the impression that you discount the magnitude and importance of the sufferings of Christ. I know you don’t, but my train of thought led me to ask what might also be said to, as it were, balance the record.

    Of course, I’m writing as an avowed evangelical with an Anselmian view of the atonement, but I would be interested to know how much of the following musings you agree with.

    It was the event of the death of the Son of God that sprinkled blood on the mercy seat and so made atonement. The extremity of his sufferings did not add to that outcome. If he had not been scourged, atonement would still have been made. If there had been no crown of thorns, atonement would still have been made—and so on.

    That Christ’s sufferings were so extreme was to prepare lessons for us who have believed, rather than to serve as a plank for evangelism. First of all, it underscores how extraordinary was the exchange when he who knew no sin was made sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21). Paul doesn’t refer specifically there to the extremity of our Lord’s suffering, but I don’t think you have to be an evangelical for your mind to fly there in response to Paul’s words. In the words of the thief on the cross, “we deserve to be here”, and that leads to feelings such as these:

    What language shall I borrow
    to thank Thee, dearest Friend,
    for this, Thy dying sorrow,
    Thy pity without end?
    O make me Thine forever!
    And should I fainting be,
    Lord, let me never, never,
    outlive my love for Thee.

    Secondly, it provides encouragement for us when we face suffering: “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or faint-hearted. In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood” (Hebrews 12:3-4).

    It is someone who already laments his/her sin who is ready for those lessons. The gospel joyfully received opens the way to them; those lessons do not open the way to the gospel.

    • Thanks, Trevor.

      Yes – I am agreeing (with Patrick Gower and you) that good theology and healthy spirituality and religion is what we humans need – including those in Gloriavale. Washer’s Gospel may very well present an improvement on what is offered in Gloriavale – but my fear is that for the rest of us, outside Gloriavale, it presents a less healthy lens on the Gospel.

      There is nothing in your comment that I cannot affirm. There is nothing in my post that discounts the magnitude and importance of the sufferings of Christ. I simply do not see it through the lens of an “Anselmian view of the atonement”.

      To summarise, for readers following here: Anselm (C11) saw my sin as insulting God’s infinite honour, and so he produced a commercial theory of atonement that Christ’s incarnation and painful death makes restitution to God to restore that honour. Trevor’s mention of being, as well, “an avowed evangelical” I take to point beyond Anselm’s commercial theory to its juridical development in the penal substitution theory: for Anselm, satisfaction is an alternative to punishment, “The honour taken away must be repaid, or punishment must follow.” In the penal substitution theory, Christ bore the penalty for sin, in place of those sinners united to him by faith.

      Let me say, importantly, what people are often confused about: we are not saved by holding the correct theory of salvation. We are saved by Christ. The lens, however, with which one reads the scriptures, the Gospel, the understanding of God, and of life – this is not unimportant. If you, Trevor, are avowedly committed to the lens of Anselm and the penal substitution theory, I respect that. But please respect that I am avowedly opposed to this.

      For Anselm, the motivation for God shifts from love for humanity and creation to concern about satisfying God’s insulted honour. God and Jesus appear to be not on the same side. Jesus saves humanity from God. As has been manifested in the movements that follow these theories, the logic of indebtedness is inherently individualistic and moralistic. Ecclesial, community, and sacramental dimensions of inherited Christianity end up being tacked on, rather than integral. We saw that in Washer’s Gospel. The lens is similar to, and probably related to, our Western-dominated inability to provide structural, shared solutions to our issues around ecology, racism, poverty, and so forth.

      Easter Season Blessings.

  6. Thanks, Bosco. A great (underlined) answer that will lead to some lens polishing and perhaps regrinding. And I agree 100% that we are not saved by holding a correct theory of atonement but by Christ. How I wish this were obvious to all in his badly divided earthly body!

  7. Jesus said “No Greater love has any man than to lay down His Life for His Friends – You are my friends”.

    The Bible also states:
    Romans 5:8
    “Christ shows His love for us that while we were yet sinners (unable to perfect ourselves or earn our salvation or in any way impress God one little bit) Christ died for us”

    Funnily it makes no mention of liturgies, sacraments,rituals,the pope, rites, Mary, statues or other dead/sleeping Saints answering our prayers or in any way being able to save us.

    According to The Bible “We are Saved by Grace through Faith in Christ’s great loving atoning death on the cross, not by Works that any man should Boast”

    A passport stamped by the Presence of The Holy Spirit living in us and knowing us and us Christ through Him.

    We walk humbly in His service.

    Dave

    • Thanks for your comment, Dave. I’m not sure if you are supporting or opposing Gloriavale, Washer, another commenter here, or what I have written – or just making a comment…

      Certainly, I don’t see anyone here arguing against what the Bible teaches.

      Funnily enough, some of us here do read the Bible widely enough to see mention of baptism, holy communion, rites, Mary, interceding for each other, and so forth.

      Easter Season Blessings.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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