And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God - Romans 12:2
This year sees the celebration of 400 years since the King James Bible was authorised by King James I. Certainly this translation was a remarkable achievement and represents a rare moment in history where the rulers of Britain took so seriously the need to have an accurate translation of God's Word. Having said this, one must remember that all was not rosy in this period of English history. The reason behind the translation of the King James Bible was to try and provide a bridge between the Puritans on the one hand, many of whom wanted a division between church and state, and the high churchmen on the other, who were upholders of the establishment with the King at its head.
Archbishop Richard Bancroft was appointed overseer of the translation and Lancelot Andrewes was his right hand man as chair of the project and head of the company responsible for translating Genesis through to 2 Kings. Yet both of these men had actively engaged in persecuting Puritans. For example in March 1590 Andrewes, under the instruction of Bancroft, interrogated Henry Barrow, a leading separatist who had been arrested in 1587 and kept in the Fleet prison. The purpose of the visiting churchmen was in Barrow's quaint medieval English, "to fish from [him] som matter, wheruppon they might accuse them to the holy fathers the bishops." Barrow was executed on 5th April 1593 at Tyburn because he denied the holiness of the English Church and its liturgy and the Queen's authority as its head.
Bancroft and Andrewes were not alone in their persecuting endeavours: Hadrian … Saravia, a major propagandist of the Divine Right of Kings interrogated a separatist called Daniel Studley (also in the Fleet) and Thomas Sparkes tried to convince Roger Waters of his sins as he hung in chains in Newgate gaol (known as the Limbo).
The purpose of this article is to show that, in some ways, little has changed over the 400 years since the translation of this great work. Establishment religion has generally been opposed to biblical faithfulness. Men like Bancroft and Andrewes were intimately acquainted with the Word of God and, in its translation, did an invaluable service to Christendom. It is a translation used today by many evangelicals including myself.
Yet these men denied its message in their persecution of the true Church of Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus warned his disciples of the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy (Luke 12:1) and even more pointedly that there would come a time when "whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service" (John 16:2).
The 21st Century Legal World
On 12th May 2011 the Christian Broadcasting Council held a symposium at the House of Lords to celebrate Britain and the Bible. Amongst the contributors was Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss who was the President of the Family Division of the High Court between 1999 and 2005. She said this about the Bible:
The Bible had a great effect on me as a judge and in my private life and still does. I was very much aware that I would one day be judged as I was doing.
In these days of moral pluralism, the celebration of the King James Bible in this year may encourage more people to read it and to benefit from it.
It is hard to understand this endorsement of God's Word, when on 3rd April 2003, Baroness Butler-Sloss called for the law to recognise homosexual partnerships so they could have protection for their partnerships and the resulting family structure. At the same time she called for the law to recognise the right of transsexuals to marry in an assumed gender. Before that in 1999 she said that she supported the adoption of children by gay couples.
It is difficult to appreciate how Baroness Butler-Sloss could take seriously the impending and terrible judgment of God, when she is calling for the very things that are themselves evidence of God's Wrath against mankind, to be endorsed by the nation's laws (Romans 1:26-27):
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.
The end of Romans 1 carries a warning not only for those who do these things but also for those who may not participate themselves but in the words of the English Standard Version, give approval to those who practise them (v32). And that is not even to mention Sodom and Gomorrah (see Jude 7).
Baroness Butler-Sloss's successor as President of the Family Division, Sir Mark Potter, at least upheld the distinction between heterosexual marriage and homosexual partnerships when refusing the challenge of a lesbian couple against the refusal to have their Canadian marriage recognised in this country:
It is apparent that the majority of people, or at least of governments, not only in England but Europe-wide, regard marriage as an age-old institution, valued and valuable, respectable and respected, as a means not only of encouraging monogamy but also the procreation of children and their development and nurture in a family unit (or "nuclear family") in which both maternal and paternal influences are available in respect of their nurture and upbringing .
Sadly, in the legal world, it is difficult to find Christian judges who will stand up for biblical teaching in their judgments.
It fell to a non-legally qualified justice of the peace, Andrew McClintock, to make a stand over homosexual adoptions. When the Civil Partnerships Act 2004 came into force in December 2005, granting same-sex partners equal rights to married couples for adoption, he asked to be recused from sitting on cases where civil partners were candidates for the adoption of children. The Legal Director of the South Yorkshire District and the Chairman of the Lord Chancellor's Advisory Committee for the local Bench informed him that he was not entitled to recuse himself from such cases and so he resigned his position. He said in January 2007:
In the 15 years I have sat with colleagues on the Family Bench, I can say with total conviction that I have always acted in the very best interests of every child over whom I have been asked to make an order Acting in the best interest of the child I believe I therefore have no choice than not to make an order to place a child in the care of a same-sex couple.
He went on to lose the case he brought against the Lord Chancellor in the Employment Tribunal.
Andrew McClintock is, sadly a lonely Christian voice within legal circles. By contrast, on 13th May 2010, Mr Justice Hedley, a committed Christian and lay-reader in the Church of England, made an adoption order in favour of a lesbian couple to bring up a child who had been adopted in Nicaragua by one of the two women thus recognising not only the legitimacy of a lesbian couple as a family unit but also that the child's welfare was best served by her being brought up within this unbiblical framework.
Yet in June 2004 Mr Justice Hedley wrote an emailed thought for the week to Christian lawyers in which he commented on Abraham's petitions to the Lord about the destruction of Sodom and the effect of fifty righteous people (Genesis 18:26-7) and the call in Revelation 18:2,4 for God's People to separate themselves from the fallen city, Babylon. This is what he wrote:
From the earliest days of Abraham until the last moment before the judgement falls, God's people are to be found side by side with the evil of the Earth. We are there not to share in its sin, but for two quite different reasons.
First, we are to be the salt of the Earth and if salt is to be effective as a preservative and seasoner, it must be a sprinkling in a mouldering mass.
Secondly, God's people are to be where the Earth hurts most, which is usually where Sin's effect is at its most powerful. Many Christian lawyers have a special place in this aspect of God's work and we should not fear the forces around us as we have to deal with violence, dishonesty, betrayal and the abuse of others - the general lot of Family and Criminal lawyers as well as others.
It is difficult to see what kind of salt Mr Justice Hedley's decision is in this case. The only possible justification that Mr Justice Hedley could give is that there was no alternative prospective parent for the child, but that does not excuse a Christian endorsing a family unit based solely on sexual sin, not to mention the effect on the child of being brought up in this unnatural and immoral environment, however well-intentioned the judge might be.
Mr Justice Hedley was in the news in May 2011 over a number of his decisions to retrospectively recognise commercial surrogacy arrangements, entered into abroad, which he admitted during a BBC Radio 4 interview. During that interview he said this:
Commercial surrogacy is a highly controversial matter ethically and at the end of the day, by the time the case gets to me, the best I can do is focus on the welfare of the child
The whole issue of surrogacy warrants an article of its own. In short it involves implanting an embryo (whose source is sperm/eggs from either anonymous donors or putative parents) into a third party female who carries the embryo through to birth. In the case of commercial surrogacy, which is illegal in the UK, the only way a judge can order an adoption after birth is to retrospectively authorise the paying of unreasonable expenses to the surrogate mother which the judge admitted doing in the cases that he was involved in.
The Bible condemns this approach to child-birth for a number of reasons: (1) it usually involves procreation (whether by sexual intercourse or artificial insemination) with partners other than the adoptive parents and (2) even more fundamentally it involves the destruction of unwanted embryos (that is fertilised eggs and therefore human life) that are not placed within the surrogate mother's womb.
In the two reported cases that Mr Justice Hedley presided over , the child was conceived using an anonymous donor egg and the sperm from the putative father. The fertilised egg was then implanted into the surrogate mother's womb.
It is hard to conclude other than that Mr Justice Hedley has, by retrospectively authorising the payment of the funds to the surrogate mother, and ordering the adoption, endorsed a practice that is forbidden by the Bible. What does a Christian do in such circumstances? At the end of the day he must do whatever is required to avoid endorsing conduct that breaks God's law which may simply mean passing the case to another judge. However, as Andrew McClintock's example shows, it might have more regrettable consequences to a person's career.
The title of this article poses the question: "When in Rome, do as the Romans?" It is so easy in the 21st Century, to go along with the prevailing ethos of the world and often with the best of motives. I have no doubt that Mr Justice Hedley and Dame Elizabeth Butler-Sloss both considered that their comments and decisions relating homosexual adoption, same-sex couples and surrogate children were being charitable to those concerned.
However true charity comes only in the context of God's Law. The summary of the Ten Commandments is to love the Lord our God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and to love our neighbour as ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). Love is not possible outside the commands of God and our allegiance as Christians must be to God first.
In the days of Bancroft and Andrewes it was the King of England who took their first allegiance and led to the disastrous result that they persecuted God's children, despite being the organising minds behind what is one of the finest translations of the Bible in existence. Today there is a real danger of Christians in professional and public life calling themselves Christians and professing to love that same Bible, yet in the words of Paul in Titus 1:12:-
They profess to know God; but in works they deny Him
Tempting as it is to be conformed to the standards of this world, we must remember that it is the Word of God that should inform and transform our thinking. It may not be easy but it is the requirement of every Christian who must not only believe in the Lord but also do His Will as the Lord said in Matthew 7:21:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.
Let us all take heed.
The way to the King James Bible was paved by the blood of the martyrs starting with Tyndale, whose translation is said to have made up 90% of the King James version. Consider the words of Latimer to Ridley, both Marian martyrs, when the stood bound together outside Balliol College, Oxford, waiting to be burned:
Play the man, Master Ridley; we shall this day light such a candle, by God's grace, in England, as I trust shall never be put out.
The King James Bible was founded by the unswerving devotion of Christ's servants who were willing to pay the ultimate price which allegiance to God's Kingdom may ultimately require. May we not be found wanting when our hour of trial arrives and remember those precious words of Paul to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1:7-8:
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, nor of me his prisoner: but be thou partaker of the afflictions of the gospel according to the power of God
About the author
Mark Mullins is a practising barrister at the Bar of England and Wales. He is also an elder at Stroud Green Christian Assembly (a traditional Pentecostal church started out of a Smith Wigglesworth crusade in the 1920s). The Assembly has had links with CWM since CWM was formed (www.sgca-online.org).
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