Editorial Blog

Andrew Symes is the Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream. Having accepted Christ as a teenager he has always been concerned for the church maintaining right belief and practice as the foundation of its mission in the world. He is ordained and has wide experience of English Anglican churches, including serving for seven years in a church plant in Northampton. From 1994-2006 he worked in South Africa in pastoral ministry, grassroots theological education and community development. He is married with two children.

Early church, Reformation and Anglican realignment: making some connections

Posted by on Oct 31, 2017 in Anglican Network in Canada, Canada, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Early church, Reformation and Anglican realignment: making some connections

Early church, Reformation and Anglican realignment: making some connections

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

I have recently returned from Canada where I attended the tenth Synod of the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC), which was held in Burlington, near Toronto. It was a great experience over four days, with bible exposition, Eucharistic worship and band-led praise, seminar-style teaching on the primacy of grace in clergy self-care (day one), and the ‘solas’ of the Reformation (day two); fervent prayer for evangelism, testimonies about local mission initiatives – and some administrative business – all in the context of warm fellowship based on shared understanding of faith. ANiC is an important part of the slow but inexorable global Anglican realignment. As the historic ‘control centres’ of the denomination in the West lose confidence in the foundational elements of the Christian faith, and look to align with powerful forces of secularism, so new centres of decision making, new church groupings and missional movements have emerged, based on remarkable church growth in the global South, and courageous counter-cultural witness in north America.

In some cases the realignment takes the form of actual separation and the forming of new, confessing, Anglican ecclesial bodies. Even then, the process has been slow. For example, the Diocese of New Westminster (British Columbia) voted to provide services of blessing for same sex couples in 2002. But despite the immediate protest by faithful congregations and clergy, impaired communion and lawsuits, ANiC was not formally constituted as a separate body until 5 years later, and that with only two congregations which had formally separated from the Anglican Church of Canada and come under the oversight of Archbishop Venables of Southern Cone. Today there are around 70 congregations of Anglicans in Canada who form a Diocese as part of Anglican Church of North America, which is a member of Gafcon.

Earlier this year it became clear that the Scottish Episcopal Church was intent on changing its canons on marriage, in opposition to the clear teaching of Scripture and in violation of agreements made by the Anglican Communion. Gafcon decided to respond by consecrating a ‘missionary Bishop’ to minister to faithful Anglicans in Scotland. The consecration of Andy Lines took place in Wheaton Illinois in June, under the auspices of ACNA, after +Andy, the Mission Director of Crosslinks who lives in London, had been received as ‘canonically resident’ in Canada as part of ANiC. I was able to represent Gafcon UK at the ANiC Synod, and bring greetings from Britain. The Canadian Bishops told me that just as faithful Anglican leaders from overseas had reached out to them in their hour of need, providing oversight when their own Bishops had decided to pursue a different ‘gospel’, so they were delighted now to be able to provide the same service, to assist the emerging realignment in Britain.

In other cases, the realignment takes the form of informal broken fellowship within the official structures, for example, Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda not being represented at the recent Primates’ Meeting, or in England, a number of parishes operating semi-independently from their Dioceses, which they regard as convenient centres of administration but not providers of spiritual oversight. New ecclesial structures in England are at the moment embryonic but growing. Anglican Mission in England, Free Church of England and others are taking new initiatives, but so far appear unattractive for various reasons to the majority of biblically faithful Anglicans concerned about the direction of the C of E. There is much debate on whether this may change as more ‘rubicons’ are crossed. What strategies for staying in and being faithful might be sustainable? How many might be tempted to follow the path of compromise, like one large evangelical church I heard of in Canada which stayed in ACoC (the Canterbury-aligned denomination) to ‘witness from within’, and then earlier this year agreed to host the consecration of the new same sex-partnered Bishop.

The ANiC clergy I met had been unable to live with the dissonance of being part of a church which speaks positively about people with diverse views coming together in unity, when in practice this means accepting the dominance of theological revisionism. A woman in her 60’s, now ordained and looking after two small congregations, left ACoC after she heard her Bishop say in a packed Cathedral service that all religions lead to God. One Rector in his early 50’s had convinced himself that he could keep his head down in the ACoC, focusing on his local church. In 2016 the Diocesan Synod voted on same sex marriage, did not quite manage to obtain the two thirds majority, but the Bishop said he would permit it anyway as a ‘prophetic act’. For this clergyman and his congregation, that was the last straw: most followed him as he left his ‘living’ and the building, and began a new ANiC congregation.

But ANiC is also being joined by a new generation who have been attracted by the history, biblically-based liturgy and polity and global fellowship that Anglicanism offers. Young leaders from ‘Via Apostolica’, a small group of (originally) independent charismatic churches who have taken on elements of worship style that we might call ‘high Anglican’, were at the ANiC Synod. Meanwhile there is a real commitment within ANiC, spearheaded by the growing number of young clergy from an East Asian heritage, to reach out to the growing immigrant populations, and reflect racial and cultural diversity within theological unity (but not uniformity).

In his parable of the new wineskins, Jesus warned that the fermenting, fizzing juice of the Gospel can’t be contained in the dry and cracked containers of religious structures which have become self-serving and human-centred. He demonstrated this visibly by cleansing the temple, having shown his followers on Palm Sunday that there was no need to collude with the values of secular authority because its sovereignty is temporary and limited compared to the Kingship of Jesus himself. But still, for many years after his death, resurrection and ascension, after the explosion of church growth among the Gentiles, some believers from Jewish backgrounds in Jerusalem and elsewhere remained tied to the temple structures, unwilling to associate with the new Gentile congregations, and seemingly turning away from Paul after his arrest and imprisonment (Acts 21-26; 2 Timothy 4:16-17), but spreading the Good News of Jesus among Jewish communities.

Similarly, in the early days of the Reformation, many across Europe would have been convinced of the truth of the Gospel of salvation by grace through faith, but remained in churches loyal to Rome rather than associating with the new ‘toxic’, ‘divisive’ and ‘political’ movement of Protestantism. It took some years – in England, perhaps not until after the persecution and burning of martyrs by Queen Mary in the 1550’s and the terrifying fleet of the Spanish Armada sailing up the channel in 1588 – before many bible-believing Christians felt comfortable in the new Protestant Church of England (remembering that in those days, “to protest” meant “to hold forth and confess a truth”, as Fred Sanders reminds us in this excellent article about how reformed Christians should be more ‘catholic’).

The early church and the Reformation teach us that realignment among the people of God is necessary at key times in history to preserve faithfulness to the truth, and to release Gospel workers for mission in new contexts. The ‘early adopters’ may need patience and wisdom, while those naturally cautious need courage and vision.

Albion leaders walking a tightrope

Posted by on Oct 26, 2017 in Anglican Communion, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Albion leaders walking a tightrope

Albion leaders walking a tightrope

By Andrew Symes, Church of England Newspaper.

The Principal and Governing Body of Albion Middle School were walking a tightrope. Seeing themselves as reconcilers and peacemakers, they found themselves in an impossible position, trying to find a via media between radically different views.

Albion was a large school franchise in England, but it also had major international interests, and still chaired the growing Albion Academy Federation, an international body of educational establishments who still looked to Albion as the ‘mother school’.

But there was now major conflict. Albion’s philosophy had always been: no conditions for entry to school (motto: ‘by grace alone’), but then education involves teaching children essential knowledge and skills. In recent years, however, some schools in the affluent north, influenced by new liberal philosophies, had changed to ‘self-actualization centres’, with the priority being on student ‘wellbeing’, based on facilitating young people to have good self-esteem.

At the 2016 meeting of global Academy Principals, it was agreed that the United States branch of Albion Academy should face ‘consequences’ for violating basic common understandings of education, and in particular for their decision to make academic work optional. Commentators had noted that these measures, intended to boost student numbers by making scholarship easier, was actually having the opposite effect. In fact a new body, the Albion Real Education Federation of North America, had formed in 2009 and was recognized by a number of schools in the global south as their preferred partner.

Meanwhile, on the other side of the argument, the English leadership of Albion was facing increasing pressure from Parliament, educationalists and even its own teachers. The new progressive philosophies of education were now fully accepted in England. What began with schools being allowed to ditch coursework and exams, replacing Maths with mindfulness and science with scented candles – became increasingly de rigeur. Schools were encouraged to embrace the liberal methods, and soon traditional education became a permitted minority position.

Senior establishment figures had begun to question whether knowledge based study of traditional subjects should be allowed as a valid educational option, as it can be oppressive, causing low self-esteem and mental health problems. The deputy head of Albion’s Oxfordshire Academy has been particularly outspoken, recently giving an interview in The Times in which he called for an end to the concessions which allow schools to opt out of the ‘safe space’ legislation.

So Albion’s leadership has been in a bind. If they clearly side with the ‘teach and learn’ traditionalists, the majority of Albionites across the world, they would find themselves in deep trouble at home; they may even have their license to run educational establishments taken away by the government. Some conservative teachers within the Albion group are advocating this anyway, and small numbers have left or are planning to leave, and set up their own independent after-hours schools.

But siding with the progressives would also cause problems. The English Albion Academy would find itself subject to the same ‘consequences’ in terms of the global movement, perhaps having to withdraw from participation in governance of its own organization. There would be a major strain in relationships between England and the rapidly growing school movements of the global south. In the short term, the English branch of Albion could only articulate a holding position. So in answer to questions such as “does an education where you don’t actually learn anything have any value?”, they had to equivocate, saying “I haven’t made up my mind”, or “we’re having a conversation on this”.

The 2017 global meeting required a masterful balancing act facilitated by skilful diplomacy as evidenced in the final communiqué. Behind closed doors the heads of the various Albion branches around the world discussed the ‘internal’ issue of Scotland’s decision to follow USA (and, some said, Canada) in embracing a fully progressive education policy. “There are deep disagreements on this issue”, said the Statement, “but we continue to walk together as an Albion family”. It was not explained how an educational organization can coherently hold together when some of its schools believe in teaching and learning, and others do not.

The Communique spoke of the “sadness” felt by those present at the consequences imposed on the Scottish branch having to withdraw from the ‘paperclips and coffee replenishment committee’ for the next three years. This was following a similar punishment faced by the progressive Americans who were initially told they could not be selected for some global decision making bodies, only to find that there was no real power to block them from the most important committees because they come under different governance.

The progressive-dominated organizers of the global meeting have made sure that the important issue of “what is education?” is not resolved. Can Albion really keep working together in their mission to help children, despite radically different views about what they most need?

Read in CEN here

“Don’t abandon the flock” – command from the Lord, or excuse for inaction?

Posted by on Oct 17, 2017 in 2-Important Posts, Church life, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on “Don’t abandon the flock” – command from the Lord, or excuse for inaction?

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Over the past 60 years English Anglican evangelicals, who share the same commitment to the core elements of biblical faith “once delivered to the saints”, have disagreed, sometimes sharply, about very important, but ‘secondary’ issues. These include: should we expect the Holy Spirit to operate in the life of the believer and of churches in the form of (for example) physical healing, tongues, tangible experience of God’s presence? Can women be vicars? To what extent is social action part of mission? Should preaching always mainly consist of biblical exposition? How often should we use liturgy and Holy Communion? Should evangelicals focus on local church ministry, or try to influence the denominational structures at senior level? And then, a question which took shape famously during a debate between John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones in 1966: should the bible-believing Christian leave the Church of England if the denomination heads in a direction which threatens faithful witness?

Various factors have led to this latter question re-surfacing recently. The increasing acceptance of “affirming” views on same sex relationships by senior C of E leaders points to the real possibility of the denomination following the path of TEC, Anglican Church of Canada, and Scottish Episcopal Church in formally abandoning Christian orthodoxy in this and other related areas. Then, the emergence of strong united global witness for orthodox Anglicanism through Gafcon and now the partnership of Gafcon and Global South, who have validated an alternative and viable Anglican jurisdiction in North America, and made possible the idea of something similar happening in the UK. Added to this, social media has meant that people ‘think out loud’ about these and other issues much more than we used to!

The last few months have seen the consecration of Andy Lines as Gafcon missionary Bishop, while at the same time Gafcon UK held public meetings seeking to unite those committed to the biblical reform and renewal of Anglicanism both inside and outside the official structures. An open letter calling on the Church to be faithful and counter-cultural, and accusing the House of Bishops of failure to clearly uphold the Bible’s teaching in the July General Synod, received over 1800 signatures, and coincided with a number of parishes expressed ‘no confidence’ in their Bishop or Archbishop. This was interpreted by some as signaling that the time had come for a split in the C of E.

Others have responded to argue strongly against the impulse to leave the Church of England, describing this as “jumping ship” and “abandoning the sheep”. For example, Mark Pickles, writing in Church Society’s Crossway magazine, says that the two temptations in the face of attacks on orthodoxy from the world and some in the Church are either to “abandon the flock when fierce wolves come in”, or “change or compromise their message to make it more culturally acceptable”.

I am currently still in the Church of England, and my understanding is that Gafcon looks to support, and be supported by, biblically faithful Anglicans within the official structures as well as those who have left for various reasons, or are planning to in the face of overt revisionism as in Scotland. So I am not advocating either a “stay in” or “leave the C of E now” position. But having said that, it is worth looking in more detail at this new, stronger line taken by some influential voices suggesting that C of E clergy should never consider being part of an alternative jurisdiction, as if this would somehow constitute abandonment of the pastoral mandate.

Firstly, faithful clergy move from one post to another all the time. It may be that they feel they hear a call to a new challenge; that they need to be closer to ageing parents; that they have an opportunity to look after a larger and more influential congregation. This is generally accepted as part of the life of ministry: clergy who move like this do not have to face the accusation that they have abandoned their flock, as if they are expected to remain with the same group of people until retirement. So it seems inconsistent and unfair to suggest that those clergy who have left to pastor a church outside the C of E, or who are thinking of doing so, for reasons of theology and conscience, are guilty of abandoning their post.

Secondly, the biblical image of the flock and the shepherd is not the only one for the Church that we find in the New Testament. While Peter, and the Ephesian elders, are urged to feed and keep watch over the sheep, the Bible does not portray the Church as made up of helpless, docile lay people who may grow in number but cannot do anything for themselves, passively sitting in rows while a pastor feeds them, and unable to think for themselves in the face of false teaching. The church is a dynamic body, with each one carrying out a different function; the leaders’ role is to prepare the people for their works of ministry. While sound teaching and pastoral care is needed in a community of healing and learning, leadership and defending against ‘wolves’ is never seen as down to one person, but the responsibility of a plural eldership under the one Good Shepherd, part of the priesthood of all believers.

Thirdly, it is surely the context which determines whether the pastor should leave, and/or suggest to his flock that they leave the C of E sheepfold and move elsewhere, to continue the metaphor. Some clergy will feel that their congregation is a mix of mature Christians, new Christians and nominal or seeking folk. They may have decided that it would create controversy and upset to teach a clear biblical line, for example on sexuality, so best to wait until more people have grown spiritually and accept the Bible’s authority. This may be so, but of course it may happen the other way: many in the congregation are heading in the opposite direction, towards contemporary culture, so if you wait for them all to accept the Bible’s authority you never get to tell them the truth on the subject! In the meantime, some of the biblically faithful lay people may be frustrated and embarrassed by the teaching of Bishops, Synods and Diocesan staff, and have already voted with their feet. They are “sheep” with a mind of their own, who want to be in a church with less compromise. Is the pastor’s primary duty to the spiritually growing believers under his care, or those who are rebellious or even wolves in sheep’s clothing?

Then, it is unhelpful to suggest, as some have a tendency of doing, that staying in the C of E means fighting for truth, whereas being part of an alternative, faithful Anglican witness means cowardice and dereliction of duty. There are some good examples of clergy both within the C of E and who have those who have moved out of the structures, who have bravely put their heads above the parapet to oppose revisionism in church and sin in society. On the other hand, while some may have opted for a role as pastor in FIEC or AMiE for a quiet life, there are certainly many in the C of E who though orthodox, are reluctant to publicly oppose error and have even been quick to denounce those who have done so as “shrill” and “lacking winsomeness”. The concept of friendly association with revisionist leaders in order to try to bring change through ‘quiet and gentle influence’ is increasingly difficult to sustain – apart from anything it can be used to argue that conservatives are part of a process of ‘good disagreement’. Those who say publicly that they are staying in the C of E to contend for the truth, need to actually do it!

Lastly, it’s important to be honest about our motives. One vicar said to me “I’m very concerned about the trajectory of the C of E, but I could never think about leaving, because it would mean giving up my family home, my means of earning a living, and my pension”. This seems to me to be completely fair, and those who have left or are making plans to do so, who have the financial arrangements worked out, should be careful not to judge. But at the same time, it is surely wrong for those determined to remain in the C of E to criticize the (currently) relatively small number of ‘leavers’ for abandoning the flock, when they are making a considerable sacrifice by stepping outside what is certainly a secure way of life as stipendiary clergy.

Myths, misinformation or parallel realities? the thinking behind the Primates’ Communiqué

Posted by on Oct 10, 2017 in Anglican Communion, Editorial Blog, Primates Meeting | Comments Off on Myths, misinformation or parallel realities? the thinking behind the Primates’ Communiqué

Myths, misinformation or parallel realities? the thinking behind the Primates’ Communiqué

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

One of the great things about being a Christian is that you can travel anywhere in the world, find that differences in language, culture and worldview make mutual understanding and communication very difficult, and yet make an instant connection with other Christians. They are of their world in terms of history and customs, speech and thought patterns, as I am of mine, but “in Christ there is no East or West”; our shared primary allegiance to him spiritually connects us, supra-culturally.

But many people reading the recent Communiqué from the Primates’ Meeting, and setting it together with what was said at the two Canterbury press conferences of 3rd and 6th October, will feel something like the opposite of this. Instead of common faith transcending culture and language, here we have familiar English language and the topic of church life, but a disconnect and a divide in terms of meaning. We understand the words, but they refer to a different understanding of reality, a parallel universe. With my brothers and sisters in Africa or Asia, we come from very different places but end up together. Reading the Communiqué, we seem so close on the surface but its like we’re thinking different thoughts behind a glass wall.

Here are some examples.

 

“Walking together” and “consequences”. In one version of reality, the Primates meeting in January 2016 expressed a desire to walk together if agreement could be reached on key issues, but in another version this was amended to “we made a decision to walk together”. It is this version: “We are walking together!” which is carried through to the 2017 statement.

The new document states “We listened carefully to the Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) and with sadness accepted that the consequences for our relationships agreed in January 2016 would also apply to SEC after its decision on same sex marriage.” Again, from the perspective of historic Christian faith, the “sadness” would refer to our attitude to SEC’s decision. But here, there is sadness at the minor rap on the knuckles which SEC has to face. We are expected to take at face value the assertion that by asking SEC not to put their people forward for committees for three years – something that cannot be enforced anyway as was shown by TEC’s participation in Lusaka – the problem of division in the Communion has been dealt with, all will be well, liberals and conservatives will be reconciled, and there are no further grounds for complaining.

There is no attempt anywhere in the document to explain what the church believes about marriage (as the 2016 Communique did), or why the decision of SEC (and TEC in 2015) should cause a ‘distance’ in the relationships between revisionist and orthodox branches of the Anglican Communion. It’s clear that a robust defence of the orthodox biblical position was put forward during the meeting by a number of Primates, who do not believe that solemnizing same sex marriage comes within acceptable bounds of diversity of Christian opinion. This is not reflected at all in the official statement – instead, the focus is on the way those present respectfully listened to the self-justification by the SEC Primus for his church’s heretical actions.

 

“Cross border intervention”. In the parallel universe of the Anglican Communion leadership, then, the issues of same sex marriage, sexual ethics, and wider questions about basic attitudes to interpretation and authority of Scripture, must be seen as minor theological disputes on which we can agree to disagree. We’ll come back to that later. But “cross-border intervention”, not defined but presumably referring to one Anglican body operating in a geographical area under the jurisdiction of another Anglican body, is a “breach of courtesy” which “weakens our communion” and requires “repentance and renewal”. When has this happened? The document doesn’t say, but surely alludes to the actions of Gafcon and ACNA in consecrating a ‘missionary Bishop’ to Scotland, to provide oversight for faithful Anglicans unable to accept the revisionist direction of their church.

There is an inherent contradiction in accusing ACNA of cross border intervention when it has been declared “not a Province of the Anglican Communion”. If ACNA is not a real Anglican church, why is Canterbury worried about what it does? Should we expect further warnings in future against Nigerian Pentecostal churches setting up in the Diocese of London, or Vineyard speakers at New Wine conferences in the Diocese of Bath and Wells? Of course not. In the real world, ACNA exists because many orthodox Anglicans in north America, supported by millions around the world, refused to buy into the ‘walking together’ narrative; that they should be reconciled and enjoy full Christian fellowship with church leaders who are taking them to court for their properties, having abandoned historic Christian faith for a syncretistic hybrid that appears more acceptable to secular culture. But in planet Anglican Communion Office, the WalkingTogetherWorld, ACNA cannot exist at all, because it is a witness to a different reality.

 

Mission. Usually when Christians from around the world get together to discuss mission, they can do so on the basis of recognising differences in culture and language, while being united on the basis of common understanding of the Gospel. Contexts are different, but human material need is the same, human nature and sin is the same, and the solution in terms of Christ, incarnate, crucified and risen, working through a servant church by his Holy Spirit, is the same. But in the alternative reality of the Anglican Communion leadership, evangelism, telling people about Jesus can go ahead without establishing how we know he is the Saviour, ie an apostolic and Reformation understanding of Scripture. We are told we can unite in evangelism despite coming to opposite conclusions on for example the truth about God’s design for human flourishing in area of identity, sex and marriage. So the Communique states “the world has never felt the need of a Saviour more keenly”, yet has left unresolved key questions about what the Saviour has come to save us from.

There is a convergence between the two realities, a portal through the glass wall perhaps, in shared commitment to addressing some of the scourges of natural disasters, conflict, poverty and injustice, found in a list under the heading in the Communiqué of ‘external issues’. This describes some contexts of the world in which the Church is set, but there is no mention for example of the serious spiritual and social problems affecting the West despite material prosperity: aggressive secularism, calamitous decline in religious belief and church affiliation; deeply unhappy young people, and a crisis in marriage breakdown to name just three.

In WalkingTogetherWorld, human sexual self-understanding as male and female, the need to promote and defend faithful male-female marriage and the benefits of stable relationships as the best context for bringing up children, the need to protect children from sexualisation, to teach abstinence and holiness – these are seen as one valid opinion among many at best, old fashioned and oppressive at worst. But in the real world, marriage between a man and a woman is a wonderful icon of the story of salvation, whereby God seeks to be united to his people. Sexual immorality in its many forms is a constant sign of rebellion, idolatry and dysfunction, from which we need rescue and forgiveness, and empowerment to live holy lives.

In the revisionist worldview, arguments about doctrine, for example the debate on sexual ethics, or even whether salvation can be found in other faiths, should be put aside so churches can concentrate on helping the poor. And the suggestion is that those Christians concerned for correct biblical doctrine are political conservatives, and therefore not concerned about improving the lives of those suffering from poverty and injustice. This lazy insult was articulated again in the final press conference.

But in reality, when sexual morality breaks down in any context, it is the poor who suffer most, especially women and children. And those Christian communities in poorer areas which are most committed to taking seriously theology and personal ethics, prayer, discipleship, holiness of life, are often those whose life in Christ flows out most visibly in sacrificial service to others. For example, one of the biggest and most sacrificial responses to a refugee crisis is taking place now in Uganda, where churches with conservative views (influenced by their own culture and a bible based faith, not by American conservatives as per the narrative of WalkingTogetherWorld!) are in the forefront of caring for millions of displaced people escaping the South Sudan conflict.

We are truly in the days where people “turn their ears away from the truth, and turn aside to myths” (2 Tim 4:4), or exchange a view of the world as it is from God’s perspective, for an alternative reality. When those with power and money do this, it is very difficult to resist. But the Bible and church history tell us that God ensures that a faithful people will always bear witness to what’s really going on, visible and invisible.

Faithfulness to Christ against the odds: the Anglican Communion and the global sexual revolution

Posted by on Sep 26, 2017 in Anglican Communion, Editorial Blog, Primates Meeting | Comments Off on Faithfulness to Christ against the odds: the Anglican Communion and the global sexual revolution

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Global Anglican leaders will gather to meet in Canterbury in early October for a summit meeting. Most of them come from contexts where the Anglican church is continuing to teach and promote the biblical Gospel of repentance and faith in Christ for salvation, and the historic Christian understanding of sexuality and marriage. A few Provinces, with most of the wealth and power, are dominated by a leadership wanting to promote a different form of Christianity that is more acceptable to the secular West.

The last Primates meeting, in Canterbury January 2016, only made these divisions clearer. The majority of Primates resolved then to work together to continue the important work of the Anglican Communion, but required TEC to withdraw from full involvement, as they had violated the ‘bonds of affection’ by continuing to pursue their revisionist agenda, of which acceptance of same sex marriage was the latest example. But the TEC leadership, along with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Anglican Communion Office, interpreted things very differently. For them, Canterbury 2016 was all about resolving to “walk together”, continuing a conversation, finding unity in diversity, putting differences in doctrine to one side for the sake of common mission, etc.

There have been such scenarios many times before in the twenty-year process of separation between these two groups and their mutually incompatible visions of Christian truth. The pattern goes like this: an expensive, time-consuming meeting brings Primates together in good faith. While there is common ground on shared support for Anglican ministries of mercy, community development and peacebuilding, the majority again and again express their desire to move forward together on the basis of shared understanding of and commitment to the faith once delivered to the saints, and deep concern about departures from it. A document is produced reiterating the majority view and giving some form of censure for TEC and the revisionists. Almost immediately after the meeting the powerful minority ignore and renege on the agreements. As the majority protest, they are accused of being divisive by the officials from the Anglican Communion Office.

Two of the longest-serving Primates have experienced this pattern several times at first hand. Archbishops Nicholas Okoh and Stanley Ntagali have decided not to attend the upcoming conference, because it is clear that the result will be no different; there has been a “breakdown of trust”[1] and the failure to follow through resolutions reinforces “a pattern of behaviour which is allowing great damage to be done to global Anglican witness and unity”[2]. Why are more Primates not boycotting the meeting? Of the four others who are not attending, at least two have not publicly given a reason but are known to align with Okoh and Ntagali. Several of those attending are relatively new in post; they may have heard about the bad faith and broken promises at meetings in the past but have not experienced it themselves; some believe that it’s important to be there and defend the orthodox position. Some have been personally welcomed and persuaded by the Archbishop of Canterbury, and are mindful of not jeopardizing important connections with British and American government aid departments.

The crisis in the Anglican Communion is now worse than it was ten years ago, when it was clear the Windsor process had failed. Those censured for tearing the fabric of the Communion were invited to Lambeth as if nothing had happened, and Gafcon was formed as a response by the orthodox to restore godly order around shared biblical faith. Today things are worse because it is clear that this is no longer just a theological crisis, a deep division about what the church believes and stands for; an important but ‘in-house’ argument. Now, the church is caught up in a global culture war; the secular humanist agenda with its aggressive sexual politics is no longer just affecting the Western world, but has global ambitions, with an ideology and missionary zeal normally associated with world religions.

Today, Western governments are promoting a deeply divisive and culturally imperialistic agenda through the UN and other powerful agencies, prioritising LGBT and abortion ‘rights’ in developing countries, and deliberately discrediting African church leaders and others who oppose this ideology. Many church leaders in the West have now revised their theology to fit in with this new worldview, and are seeking to promote it, not only in their own church at home, but also across the world. Instead of supporting the church of the global South in evangelism, discipleship, provision of basic needs and community building according to its own theological and cultural understanding, they want to impose the new ‘enlightened’ views of Western culture.

The advocates of the sexual revolution have long recognized that persuasion and cooption works better than force: a society can be taught to accept a different vision for humanity through media-driven marketing of ideas and stories, now made much easier through the internet. The main barriers against the takeover of the ideas of the sexual revolution are, in different ways, traditional cultural beliefs, Islam, and biblical Christianity. The best way of weakening resistance to the LGBT philosophy is not to crush the church (this was tried by communist governments, and didn’t work), but to encourage the church to join the programme, by appealing to shared values of compassion, freedom, equality and human solidarity.

As an example of this: attention was recently drawn to the Wilton Park report[3] commissioned by the UK Foreign Office, which clearly explained the strategy to promote the LGBT agenda globally, through giving encouragement to progressive church leaders and liberal theologies, and isolating, demeaning and treating as ‘extremist’ those promoting the historic biblical teaching. This report was funded by the Arcus Foundation[4], a USA based organization with enormous resources, whose ‘social justice’ focus is specifically aimed at promoting the end of all restrictions on homosexual identity and activity, including disapproval on religious grounds. The Episcopal Diocese of Chicago has received funding from Arcus for its LGBT advocacy, showing a clear connection between Western liberal Anglicans and this influential Foundation dedicated to a vision hostile to orthodox Christianity[5].

As well as being very critical of church leaders, especially in Africa, who hold to a conservative position on sexual ethics, the Wilton Park Report commends those leaders who support the new agenda. It singles out Archbishop Justin Welby for praise, calling him a “straight ally of faith” to the LGBT movement. This highlights how deeply this new philosophy of what it means to be a human being has penetrated mainline church leadership.

The sexual revolution demands conformity to its ideology: the full acceptance of homosexual practice, transgenderism, abortion on demand, sexualising of children in society and in church. This requires church leaders to reinterpret the Bible and change its theology, or at least remain silent and accept pro-LGBT theology as valid as part of unity and ‘Good Disagreement’. To do so seems tempting, as it may bring financial resources and good relationships with Western powers, while to oppose it may bring suffering.

 

Primates from the Global South and their advisors due to attend the meeting in Canterbury should not be in any doubt that the ground has shifted since the fruitless efforts of years gone by to discipline TEC for their revisionist actions which have torn the fabric of the Communion. The question now is not “will TEC be disciplined for being unfaithful”, but “will the remainder of the Communion remain faithful?”, especially in the face of such a powerful onslaught, not just from Western church leaders but now from the whole progressive secular movement which has captured the Western political and cultural establishment.

Who has the strength for faithfulness to Christ and the truth in the face of such opposition? We give thanks for the courage of leaders from Gafcon and Global South, who have given godly leadership on these issues, but the battle has only just begun.

[1] From the 2017 Global South Communique, para 10

[2] From the September 2017 Gafcon Chairman’s letter

[3] https://www.wiltonpark.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/WP1488-Report.pdf

[4] https://www.arcusfoundation.org/what-we-support/social-justice-lgbt/

[5] The Diocese of Chicago have in turn funded TEC-based groups  “The Chicago Consultation” and “Canticle Communications” which advocate for LGBT issues around the Anglican Communion.

Statements, confessions, “here-I-stand”s; what do they achieve?

Posted by on Sep 19, 2017 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Theology | Comments Off on Statements, confessions, “here-I-stand”s; what do they achieve?

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

We’re approaching the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s famous action which lit the fuse for the social, political, cultural and religious revolution later known as the Reformation. The milestone has led over the past few months to a number of commemorative events, books, and new statements about faith. The latest of these is “A Reforming Catholic Confession” (RCC), drafted by a committee of theologians mostly from the USA, and signed by hundreds of academics and pastors from around the world.

The Confession aims to refute the idea increasingly taking hold in some quarters that the Reformation was based on unsound principles, harmful and to be regretted. Some (for example here ) claim that by rejecting the authority of pope and institutional church, the new Protestant movements have allowed the primacy of individual interpretation to lead to endless fragmentation and division. But according to the drafters of the Reformed Catholic Confession,  the competing denominations of Protestantism and sometimes aggressive sectarianism are not a result of the basic principles of the Reformation – a return to apostolic Christianity – but “their imperfect application due to human finitude, fallibility, and the vagaries of historical and political circumstance”.

The problem with Protestantism, according to the drafters, has not been lack of centralised human authority (the Roman Catholic critique), or prioritising one’s own opinions about religion over love and civility (the liberal Protestant critique). Rather its has been the failure to recognise often enough the essential unity that comes from shared beliefs in the same basic doctrines.

This Confession states what these doctrines are in a familiar form, similar to many an evangelical ‘basis of faith’: a short summary of orthodox doctrine about God, Scripture, humanity, fallenness, Jesus and his work, the message of the Gospel, the Holy Spirit, the Church, Sacraments, discipleship (called ‘holy living’), and the last things. Statements like this are truly ‘catholic’: they are not inventing a new religion, but are expressions of the faith of the universal church down the ages. They are a means of recognising existing unity, trying to be as broad as possible so that for example, Arminians and Calvinists, Baptists and Anglicans, charismatic egalitarians and reformed complementarians, evangelicals from the political left and right can sign in agreement with primary issues while leaving others secondary or ‘adiaphora’.

Unity is a good thing, prayed for by our Lord and commanded elsewhere in Scripture. To what extent are Statements of faith like this one helpful in encouraging Christian unity and inter-denominational cooperation and witness? There can be no doubt that the process of senior leaders sitting round a table and/or emailing draft after corrected draft of documents with deeply thoughtful and highly educated people from different backgrounds of denomination and church culture is very good in itself for relationship building as well as teasing out theological agreement and disagreement. As to the final document, it is always inspiring to read summaries of our faith, elegantly and concisely expressed, which the majority of Protestants across the world can affirm, even though some may say “I would express that clause differently…”. The RCC no doubt fulfils its somewhat limited aim of showing the amount of unity there is amid the diversity of thousands of denominations.

But at the same time, the reaction of some to this new credal statement, which has obviously taken a lot of time from a lot of clever people, is one of thinking “yes, and so what?” Precisely because it aims to be so uncontroversial and not say anything new, it is perhaps in danger of being redundant. This becomes especially apparent when it’s compared with other similar confessions of faith. The best ones have been produced at a kairos moment, often a time of crisis in church history, so they have a clear context into which they are speaking. The Nicene Creed was drawn up specifically to counter the Arian heresy, and to establish clearly the divinity of Christ. Martin Luther’s 95 Theses were not cool and polite general statements on ecclesiology, but a furious protest against specific serious errors in the doctrines and practices of the medieval church and its leadership. Likewise the Anglican 39 Articles address particular problems of wrong belief in the church at the time, as well as setting out a summary of basic biblical doctrines.

So the best creeds have addressed the wrong ideas threatening to destroy the church as well as setting out what Christians should believe: the nature of Christ in the 4th century, the means of reconciliation with God in the 16th – in the 21st it’s the nature of humanity as male and female, sexual morality and holiness. The recent Nashville Statement focuses on this issue alone and makes its affirmations by means of contrast and antithesis: “we believe this; we don’t believe that” (I personally find this helpful). The Church of England Evangelical Council recently added two clauses to its basis of faith to clearly delineate orthodoxy on marriage and sexuality. The Gafcon Jerusalem Statement and Declaration contains the same insistence on biblical anthropology as a first order issue, and as well as articulating key aspects of orthodox faith, the Declaration says that those leaders who have abandoned this faith have forfeited their spiritual authority (Clause 13).

But because the authors of the RCC were keen to promote Protestant unity rather than get involved in controversies of Gospel vs culture, they have deliberately avoided mentioning the main issues on which the church is divided and on which orthodox Christianity is most under pressure in the secular West. So while the document is a useful summary of what Christians believe, it doesn’t address the ‘elephant in the room’. The authors may argue that a biblical doctrine of sexuality is not central to credal orthodoxy, but many leaders of mainline Protestant denominations, trying to hold together conservatives and liberals through ‘good disagreement’, would agree wholeheartedly.

Another criticism of ‘statements of faith’ is that they can be dry documents, consisting of propositions to which we are asked to intellectually assent. Many have pointed out that the Bible and the Christian life are not like that: while we are called to “believe the Gospel” cognitively about Jesus Christ we are also called to turn away from sin and enter a relationship of trust with a Person. This summary (link here) of a recently produced suggested theological system incorporates the emotional, relational and dynamic as well as the intellectual. Any ‘creed’ is in effect a systematic theology, articulating doctrine based on Scripture, but Scripture itself is not a system but a story, a drama about God’s redeeming love for frail and wayward humanity from creation to consummation. Flowing out of grasping truth about God should come worship: enjoying his presence and honouring his person; and discipleship: living as pilgrims in obedience to him and in service to neighbour. So the best creeds are not just statements of truth. They should correct error, and help us to live life in all its fullness.

Church decline in Britain: what remedies?

Posted by on Sep 5, 2017 in 2-Important Posts, Church life, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Church decline in Britain: what remedies?

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Two very different articles about church decline catch my eye this week. First, Ruth Gledhill in Christian Today interprets the latest figures from the British Social Attitudes survey. Headlining with “massive collapse in numbers of Anglicans”, Gledhill highlights the main finding of the survey, that 53% of Brits now describe themselves as having no religion – the highest such figure ever – while only 15% describe themselves as Anglican or C of E, down from 30% in 2000. All of the other figures she selects are quite simply apocalyptic, for example 70% of 18-24 year olds have no religion. Bishop Paul Bayes of Liverpool is quoted being as positive as he can, suggesting that ‘no religion’ might mean a continued openness to God rather than a decision for atheism, and that the church can show the relevance of faith by making “a bigger difference” in society. The humanists of course are delighted, seeing the figures as evidence that state partnership with churches – for example in education – should be ended.

At the start of her piece Ruth Gledhill bizarrely attempts to link the decline in C of E numbers with “conservative evangelicalism currently in the ascendancy…resolutely committed to an interpretation of the Bible opposed to same-sex marriage.” Presumably she is referring to the Archbishops, who despite being as yet unconvinced about redefining marriage, have nevertheless given a strong lead towards LGBT “maximum freedom” and “radical inclusion”, banning “conversion therapy” and affirming gender transition. During the tenure of this and the previous Archbishop, the leadership of the C of E has become increasingly LGBT affirming, and more excluding of those with orthodox biblical views, as this website has continually recorded. So the real analysis is precisely the opposite of what Ruth Gledhill says: as the C of E has been moving in a more liberal direction in the past 15 years, numbers have sharply declined.

One could make a case for arguing that the Church has lost members because it hasn’t liberalised as quickly as society, until we look at the actual figures from the BSA survey, here.

While the decline of the C of E has been very severe, other denominations have held up reasonably well, especially those following traditional, conservative teachings. Gledhill mentions Roman Catholics maintaining a steady 9% of the population since 1990, but she fails to notice that in the ‘other Christian’ column, ie denominations that are not Anglican or Catholic, the percentage of the population has remained at around 17% for the past 35 years. And those who say they are from Baptist, independent Evangelical and Pentecostal churches are more likely to actually attend church than most Anglicans. So while the C of E is still the biggest church, it now contains a minority of the total number of Christians.

The stats become even more interesting by age. While 71% of all 18-24 year olds have no religion, only 3% of this age group are Anglican, compared to 14% of the population who affiliate to other Protestant churches. A visit to any recently formed independent evangelical or Pentecostal church will bear this out: the young Christians are there, not in the Anglican churches (with the exception of evangelical congregations in student centres). Anecdotal evidence appears to suggest that committed Christian young people are leaving Anglican churches in Britain and gravitating towards congregations and ministries which offer vibrant worship, clear biblical teaching that equips them to stand firm against immorality and godlessness in society, and create opportunities for leadership, evangelism and social action based on agreed biblical foundations.

So a crumb of comfort can be taken from the fact that while Anglican affiliation is rapidly declining, other denominations, especially those clearly adhering to apostolic Christianity, are holding their own. But this doesn’t obscure the underlying seriousness of the problem of rapid secularisation. Peter Kerridge promotes his new book with the speculative title “If entrepreneurs ran the church”, in a fascinating article on the Premier site.

He begins:

With UK Church attendance in steady decline, is it time for Christian leaders to take advice from people with a track record of running successful organisations?,

and then features excerpts from three interviews with such people, all of whom offer views which are honest, challenging but ultimately don’t really get us any closer to the ‘silver bullet’ of reversing overall church decline and promoting growth.

One really refreshing and entertaining aspect of the interviews is the way the three entrepreneurs are not afraid to take on sensitive issues. For example, Joanna Bicknell says bluntly that too many people tasked with presenting the Gospel up front in churches are simply not up to the job:

If I am presenting a range of products to Walmart… I’m not going to send a junior accounts person in my business to make a critical presentation. In Church, because we’re all Christian and because we want to be nice to people, we let well-meaning people do the wrong jobs.

She also advocates taking church out into the community, but in doing so betrays a view of mission which is difficult to reconcile with some of the things Jesus said about popularity not necessarily being the best indicator of faithfulness:

I think if we’re to have any hope of being liked for God [sic], we have to be doing things in our communities.

Many churches are, of course, and are liked, but without seeing the growth they long for.

Lord Edmiston identifies a serious problem of increasing numbers of the population with zero knowledge of Scripture, to the extent that the nation is no longer ‘post-Christian’ but ‘pre-Christian’. He says that if only church leaders could listen more closely to the ‘unseen CEO’, put aside personal ambition, and get all churches to work together, things would improve. But despite the church’s problems, God has managed to achieve what no human business has done – keep a product on the market for 2000 years!

Stationery magnate Ray George has fairly standard advice which many churches are trying to follow:

We have to make the inside of the church warm, friendly, with coffee areas, places for young people to come and just be themselves.

But his take on what to do with large numbers of small struggling congregations would really infuriate the liberal Catholic critics of the current C of E Renewal and Reform programme. First, prioritise vision over tradition, and second:

if you’ve got five churches, perhaps we should pick the strongest one, shut the other four and minister to that one…central church which meets the needs of a particular area. Somehow Christian leaders have got to come together and agree how to develop each area for mission and outreach.

When thinking strategically about mission in a very difficult context, such as we have in Britain, its important that such ideas should be on the table, even if we can think of reasons why we might not agree with them. Kerridge’s article shows why we need the insights of entrepreneurs to help the church in its mission, but ultimately none of the suggestions address what are the real problems: confusion about the nature of the product that the church offers, and more and more of the general public deciding that they don’t want that product anyway. Sales techniques and image improvements can only go so far. The entrepreneur sees the solution to turning around a company in human ingenuity and hard work. “We don’t know what to do; we need help” is not in the vocabulary of most successful entrepreneurs. In the case of the church, supernatural outside assistance is required, so we need to pray, as well as doing the faithful work of teaching the truth, rebuking error and making disciples.

See also: British pass another milestone on the journey away from faith, by Madeleine Davies, Church Times

Germany: the rise of Islam, by Guilio Meotti, Gatestone Institute (article begins with figures showing “free fall of German Christianity”)

 

‘Prophetic’ and ‘transformational’ ministries: two examples

Posted by on Aug 29, 2017 in 2-Important Posts, Culture, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on ‘Prophetic’ and ‘transformational’ ministries: two examples

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

How should Christians respond to rapid changes in the surrounding culture? Two different approaches can be found in recent publications from the Evangelical Alliance, and the Barnabas Fund.

The EA are promoting a “Movement Day’ conference in early October, which seeks to bring together leaders from church and community, business, government, arts and media etc to “engage in a conversation as we imagine a better future for our places”. Taking inspiration from Jeremiah’s encouragement (29:7) to the people of Israel to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city…if it prospers, you too will prosper”, the conference organizers envisage creative engagement and cooperation between Christian and secular leaders, working together for the common good. There will be input from “theologians and practitioners who are grappling with what it means to be demonstrating his Kingdom” in various spheres, and special attention paid to equipping Christians working in secular roles.

Also promoting the ‘Movement Day’ are Tani and Modupe Omideyi, leaders of Love and Joy Ministries, a church in Liverpool. An interview with them is featured on the EA website, where they describe their vision for reaching the city for Christ using a number of facilities including an arts centre and school as well as a church. They believe that as well as sharing the Gospel, Christians can be influential in being used as agents of city-wide transformation in relationships, attitudes and social justice. This involves helping the church to become more outward looking, ethnically diverse and intentionally cross-cultural. Currently those outside the church view it negatively: “they know what we don’t like”; we’re seen as divided and fearful. What’s needed is a model for unity in our nation.

The latest magazine from the Barnabas Fund demonstrates another evangelical approach to culture which has some similarities to that of the Evangelical Alliance. The BF publication features good news about how communities around the world are being helped towards transformation, with thumbnail sketches of projects funded by BF including examples of literacy, child care, agriculture and training of church planters. Readers are shown how donors’ money is making a difference in practical ways to the lives of Christians locally, where they are a suffering minority. Both BF and EA believe that where the church is having an impact outside its walls as well as among Christians, Christ is exalted.

The difference with BF is that , as they say in their mission statement at the beginning of the magazine, they are not just focusing on the ‘positives’. They see their role as pointing out some of the very serious problems facing Christians in much of the world, and the root causes of these problems. The persecuted church in the global south needs a voice, advocate and fundraiser in the more wealthy countries. But as well as awareness of suffering, Christians in the more affluent and comfortable West need to understand why their brothers and sisters are under pressure. Like poverty, persecution is not just ‘one of those things’ to which we can respond with compassion – it will have causes in human sin, false religions and ideologies, and spiritual powers and principalities.

So BF seeks to “inform and enable Christians in the West to respond to the growing challenge of Islam” by intercession and advocacy, and also “address both religious and secular ideologies that deny full religious liberty to Christian minorities”. The magazine’s opening editorial compares the challenges faced by Luther 500 years ago – a spiritually moribund church, and a resurgent Islamic empire looking to invade Europe – with today, and adds a third danger, “the secular humanism that is reshaping society and has eroded, if not destroyed, the Judaeo-Christian foundations…gradually eroding religious liberty”.

Two approaches to Gospel, culture and mission. Both are evangelical; they take Scripture as their authority and are convinced of the necessity of each individual to hear the Gospel of Christ and respond in repentance and faith. Both agree that the Lord works through local churches and Christians not just to bring people to faith, gather and teach them in church, but also to influence culture and change wider society for the better. Both are motivated by love and compassion, committed to serve people of all races and classes.

So what are the differences? The first approach either sees the world as essentially benign, or that it is counter-productive to point out the underlying faults publicly. The church’s role is to be united and demonstrate to the world that it wants to make a positive contribution by partnering with people of good will from all faiths and none, to making lives and communities better, which is “kingdom transformation”. It does this through “prayerful presence and influence”.

The second approach is more pessimistic about the seriousness of the problems faced by both society and church: the ideologies and structures in cultures around the world which blind unbelievers to the truth and oppress believers, and the poor spiritual state of the Western church itself. It seeks to highlight and address these problems so that Christians are better informed in prayer and practical discipleship.

Which approach is best? How do we judge? Scripture first: the Bible in its various literary forms, written at different times in the history of God’s people, often points out serious sin: false ideology, worship of idols, oppression of the poor, immorality in Gentile nations as well as in Israel. That verse in Jeremiah encouraging the faithful to seek the wellbeing of their local community was not written in a benign context, but to exiles whose predicament was directly due to their disobedience to God, and who were in danger of losing their faith and distinctiveness altogether. Much of the Bible’s message can be summed up simply: ‘this is what is wrong with the world and with us: let’s repent so God can forgive and restore us’. A ministry which does not include the analysis of spiritual powers of evil, sin, individual and corporate, and the call to repentance, is not following the biblical pattern, however well-intentioned.

However that doesn’t mean that an understanding of these issues necessarily needs to be foregrounded in the prayer and mission policies of a local church. In terms of actual methods of engagement with the community and the world, ministry focus may need to be more pastoral and generous. For example, having a realistic understanding of some of the negative aspects of secularism and Islam should not prevent Christians from engaging with secular or Muslim people with gentleness and respect. There is an essential role for those who sound the alarm when Christians are persecuted, or pressurized to conform to secularism, as well as for those who, without being naïve or in denial about serious problems in culture and church, focus on evangelism, pastoral care and social engagement.

Two more recent examples of the different approaches can be found here:

Cultural climate change, by Jonathan Sacks, Standpoint. Sacks argues for all religion to engage positively as an influence for good in the world, rather than retreating or becoming aggressively fundamentalist.

The long march through the institutions: a recent example, by Alan Williams, Kipper Central. Williams shows how anti-family LGBT ideology has not just ‘evolved’ but is part of a strategy originating in Marxist thought of the 19th century, and whose aim is to transform and dominate Western culture.

 

More recent articles on Gospel and Culture from Andrew Symes:

Gospel, Church and Nation 

Understanding the culture, preaching the whole Gospel

The ‘just be positive’ message: are we substituting God’s grace with our own?

 

Local church and global mission

Posted by on Aug 22, 2017 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Gafcon, Mission | Comments Off on Local church and global mission

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

In 1997 Mark and Lindy left England to live in Tanzania. For fifteen years they were involved in a number of ministries, mainly working with church-based programmes of basic theological education, church leadership training and community development. Before they left their home country, they travelled round a dozen churches explaining the needs in Tanzania and the work they were going to do. Every one of these English churches committed to support them with finance and prayer, because at that time they all had a strong tradition of supporting mission work overseas.

But as Mark and Lindy came home on regular visits, they noticed that a change was happening in the English church scene. Some of the congregations were declining in number, and had to decrease or even stop their financial support for the Tanzania project. Some vicars, who previously had as evangelicals taken for granted the need to support the work of the Gospel overseas, were being influenced by popular ‘post-evangelical’ writers and speakers, and were forming a different view of the basic need of humanity and the nature of the Gospel which should be preached. More than once, church leaders said to Lindy and Mark: “we like the stories about your work with womens groups and AIDS orphans – but the bible teaching stuff – that’s a bit old fashioned isn’t it?”

The most common comment they heard from English churchgoers was that ‘charity begins at home’. Political talk in the media was centred around failings in the British health service, education and social welfare systems; consensus was growing that priority for churches was to make a difference where they were. A growing feeling of resentment about immigration and foreign aid fed into an idea that support for overseas mission was a luxury, or worse, neglecting local need.

In 2012 they returned to England with their young family. There was a negative reason: funding from their support churches was no longer covering their costs. But there were great positives. Their Bishop in Tanzania said to them : “Lindy and Mark, you have done wonderful work here. We have appreciated your partnership. You have shared your lives with the people and received from them as much as you have given; you have learned and grown, you have passed on the work to those you have helped to train. Now God is calling you back to a place where memory of Him is much more faint than it was when you first came here”.

 

Today Lindy is a nurse in a hospital in the north midlands of England, and Mark is a parish vicar. They’re determined that the church which they lead becomes increasingly generous in its support of overseas mission, rather than getting cold feet about it as some of their supporting churches had done. What might be some important principles, policies and practical points of action for local churches when considering their support of mission outside their immediate area?

They began with a series of sermons on ‘the wideness of God’s mercy’, which Mark continually stressed did not mean that God lowers his standards so that he accepts our neighbours no matter what they do and think. Instead, “he does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right” (Acts 10:34), ie repents and puts faith in Jesus. That passage in Acts, where Peter’s eyes are opened to God’s vision to extend his Kingdom beyond the ‘local’ of Israel, to the global, find parallels in the Old Testament, for example a similar experience for Jonah.

Jesus’ post-resurrection command to his eleven friends to “Go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19) was grounded in his identity, now realised, as the ‘Son of Man’ with ‘all authority’ in Daniel’s vision (7:14), and also in Isaiah’s promise (49:6) that God’s miracle would not be limited to saving his special people – they in turn would become “a light to the Gentiles, that my salvation would reach to the ends of the earth”. The goal of mission is the eternal worship of God and the Lamb by a huge multicultural and multi-tribal crowd (Rev 7:9), so we should aim to get used to that now, putting away our innate tendency to be parochial, preferring only to associate with people like ourselves. Meanwhile the global church, made up of different racial groups united in Christ, is a powerful sign of God’s wisdom and his ultimate victory to the spiritual powers of darkness (Ephesians 3:10). In other words the good news of Jesus is not just global in its effects, but cosmic.

 

Lindy and Mark were very aware that among the ordinary folk of their parish, there was not much experience of life in another culture, especially one where the material comforts of life can’t be taken for granted. However the parishioners and their children were getting more used to rubbing shoulders with people of other cultures, who lived in the same town and shared the workplaces and schools. While ‘Islam’, for example, may have still been an abstraction, Muslims were becoming familiar as fellow human beings, who don’t know Jesus just as secular ‘white’ people don’t.

But having an awareness of the multicultural dimension of local mission, while important, is not the same as grasping God’s vision for global mission. Some of the suffering experienced by churches in the global south, perhaps through poverty, war or persecution, is unlike anything a Christian living in the West can imagine. While some affluent churches in the south of England may have several staff members paid and housed by the congregation, in Tanzania where Lindy and Mark were working, being a full-time pastor meant having a meagre income that was barely enough for food for the family; he would be expected to look after perhaps twenty congregations. Christian farmers dependent on erratic rainfall would know what it means to depend on God in faith, and to give with thanksgiving out of their poverty.

Poorer churches challenge us about grace in the context of suffering (2 Cor 8:1-5; 1 Thes 2:14), and by engagement with them we can learn more about what it means to live by faith. But also the raw data, the statistics about church growth in most of sub Saharan Africa and other places in the global South, challenge us about our priorities and our effectiveness in local mission. We have the streamlined systems and the finances (which they don’t have), but while we struggle to keep our own children in the household of faith let alone bring non-churchgoers to faith, it’s not uncommon to hear of Nigerian or Chinese pastors who have personally been involved in the planting of dozens of new churches.

 

So Mark and Lindy began by teaching their church council, and then the congregation, some of the history and geography and sociology of God’s Kingdom as it extends throughout the world. They made a point of ensuring that during prayers in church, prominent events mentioned in the news would be linked to focusing on the churches in that area. They asked people to repent of patronizing, racist or indifferent attitudes to Christians of other countries and races, and to be open to learning new things about faith, described in the same bible which we share, from the church of the poor and suffering. They gave money, not just to support ‘their missionaries’, but to partner in strategic work which the local church in Tanzania and other places was carrying out, sometimes with the help of Western mission partners, sometimes, and in fact increasingly, just using local staff.

The experience of seeing English churches getting it wrong: so prioritizing local mission that they turned their back on the global dimension, and prioritizing social action over grounding of disciples in Scripture, allowed Lindy and Mark not to reverse but to balance these priorities. They and their church have found that when you broaden your vision to learn from and give to the global church, then local ministry in your own community improves. When you prioritise (in overseas mission giving) disciple-making among the poor, you become more deeply involved in the mystery of the displaying of God’s wisdom challenging the temporary misrule of the powers and principalities.

A vision of truly global fellowship in Christ can only be sustained by a shared commitment to the same basic truths of the apostolic biblical witness, rather than vague ‘bonds of affection’ based on history and liturgy. The deep trust that comes from shared confession and agreed direction of obedience becomes a basis for genuine equality, mutual learning and humble service among people from different backgrounds and races, each with distinctive gifts to contribute to the global body. As Anglicans, Mark and Lindy and their church align with the Gafcon movement. Their hope and prayer is that Gafcon’s vital role of maintaining strong doctrinal and ethical boundaries is a foundation for something much bigger that is developing – a means of facilitating a genuine sharing of the missionary task across the world.

[Lindy and Mark are a fictional couple; their mission experience and their church are taken from a number of different true stories.]

Have C of E evangelical leaders suggested that a Rubicon has been crossed?

Posted by on Aug 15, 2017 in Church of England, Editorial Blog, Evangelicalism, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Have C of E evangelical leaders suggested that a Rubicon has been crossed?

Have C of E evangelical leaders suggested that a Rubicon has been crossed?

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

In a recent article, the Church of England Evangelical Council was asked to provide a stronger lead at this time of uncertainty in the Church’s doctrine, governance and direction following July’s General Synod. In an editorial I responded by suggesting that CEEC cannot speak with one voice, because it is not a single body but a forum for fellowship, discussion and prayer of various Anglican Evangelical groupings, who can agree on the same basis of faith, but have different interpretations of the current situation and different solutions in terms of what could and should be done. Almost immediately the senior officers of CEEC issued a public letter to members of Diocesan Evangelical Fellowships and others connected with the constituent networks. The letter goes much further than its modest stated aim to offer “update and comment” on the current situation with regard to the sexuality debate in the Church of England.

Have our articles have somehow prompted action from CEEC? Similar to the way in which a sports commentator, analyzing the game in-play, outlines some changes that a team must make in order to have more success – and sure enough the coach or captain makes the changes and the result is greater effectiveness! But of course just as the on-field decision makers can’t hear the commentators, nor are the CEEC leaders reacting to recent articles – the letter published by CEEC must have been drafted long before comments on Christian Today and Anglican Mainstream.

The document begins with an appreciation for the way the February House of Bishops Report on sexuality (GS2055) did not advocate blessing of same sex relationships or changing the canons of marriage. But then it adopts a pessimistic tone, outlining several “disappointing developments” in the Church of England. Votes in General Synod in February and July, the call of the Archbishops for “radical inclusion”, and public calls for change in the Church’s teaching by a number of Bishops, all suggest a negative “change in direction”, says the letter, but there are encouraging signs that in the face of this revisionism, orthodox theology is finding its voice again. Examples given include the consecration of Andy Lines as Gafcon missionary Bishop, the number of people prepared to be associated with the ‘renewed orthodox Anglican’ letter of 25th July, and the consensus around ‘Guarding the Deposit’, a document re-stating the orthodox position on sexuality and setting out options for the future, which was published in October 2016 (Click here to download the summary or here to view the full paper.)

The CEEC leaders go on to stress the importance for evangelicals of continuing to teach orthodox biblical sexual ethics, and say clearly that if the wider church continues to deviate from this, it will be necessary to find ways in which “visible differentiation” or formal distancing can occur between those who want to remain faithful to the apostolic deposit, and the Institution which is following a more liberal path. The paragraph on ‘visible differentiation’ helpfully gives latitude in not prescribing one particular form of distancing, but assumes that various forms of moving apart from the official structures will happen according to different circumstances and individual conscience, and calls for unity between those who make different decisions.

I have to admit that at the beginning of the year, as I attended the CEEC conference, I did not think it would be possible that a letter such as this could be produced. While all members of CEEC are in agreement about core doctrines including the sexuality questions, the January conference revealed significant differences over analysis of the current situation, and potential solutions. A number of more ‘pro-establishment’ members of CEEC may well feel that this letter does not speak for them in its pessimistic evaluation of the revisionist trajectory of the C of E, its commendation of and conscious alignment with Gafcon and the Global South, and its advocating of ‘differentiation’.

There have always been strong voices on the Council arguing that evangelicals can trust the orthodox historic formularies of the Church of England, and the current leadership, to avoid a revisionist trajectory. Many have been uncomfortable with any stance or tone appearing to be confrontational with the institution, for example appearing to be critical of the Archbishops or supportive of Gafcon, and have preferred to talk about the positive emphases which evangelicalism can offer the wider church (eg commitment to evangelism, contemporary worship, bible teaching) rather than risking being known ‘for what we are against’ – especially the potentially toxic brand of ‘anti-gay’.

The letter demonstrates that for some senior CEEC leaders at least, things have changed in the wake of the July Synod. Many clergy now view this as a ‘crossing of the Rubicon’ moment where the Church’s governing body showed clearly that it is no longer interested in following Scripture, tradition and reason. It is particularly significant that a Diocesan Bishop, Julian Henderson of Blackburn, who is President of CEEC, should put his name to this letter so soon after voting for the ‘ban conversion therapy’ motion at Synod. The near unanimous Bishops’ bloc supporting such a clearly unreasonable motion suggests some kind of Parliamentary-style whip was in force to ensure the appearance of collegiality?

All this indicates that a growing number of senior evangelicals are prepared to publicly draw a line in the sand over sexual ethics. Having said this, there are a number of areas which perhaps will require further work over the next few months.

Firstly, as was noted at the time, by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, Gafcon UK and myself,  among many evangelicals there was relief that the Bishops’ report on sexuality GS2055 did not suggest any change in teaching or practice, but an overlooking of the report’s underlying theology which appeared to have lost confidence in authoritative Scripture providing a clear guide. CEEC will need to make sure that, for example, in seeking to provide resources teaching biblical orthodoxy on marriage, gender, sexuality etc, it grounds this in a robust re-statement for a new generation of the trustworthiness and authority of the bible by which we know the will of God. As many expressions of Christian faith become more grounded in experience, and the clear witness of Scripture is rejected, other key tenets of orthodox Christianity will also be under the spotlight, for example the sinfulness of humanity and the uniqueness of Christ.

Secondly, CEEC will need to set out clearly and in much more detail some of the options for ‘visible differentiation’, including cost and benefit. Writing a private letter to the Bishop, not taking communion with a liberal colleague who carries out same sex blessings or multi faith services, or even not turning up to Diocesan events, might be a start which costs little, but what might it achieve in the way of halting revisionism or strengthening orthodoxy? Some acts of protest such as withholding of parish share or asking for orthodox Bishops to conduct confirmations are easier for some large churches than smaller ones, and there needs to be clarity on what the goal of such actions might be. Those advocating a differentiated structure within the C of E, such as a Society or a Third Province, need to begin to make clear the pros and cons. Likewise leaving the C of E altogether, for example for Free Church of England, AMiE or some new Gafcon-aligned movement, would be much more costly for full time clergy than for laity or SSM’s: what advantages would result?

Lastly, as the CEEC letter ends with an admission of the difficulty of reading ‘the signs of the times’, it would have been good for the letter to have included some recognition that the assault on apostolic Christian orthodoxy in the Church of England is not just an in-house matter, but is a direct result of changes in Western culture, notably the carefully-orchestrated promotion and acceptance of anti-Christian philosophies on what it means to be human. Evangelical churches should not think that by maintaining biblical teaching and separating themselves from liberal Anglicans, they will be protected from paying any price in the face of these ideologies, which need to be named, understood and resisted with the weapons of spiritual warfare as well as preaching, writing and the establishment of new ecclesial models.