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.

Church decline in Britain: what remedies?

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

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, but in the case of the church, supernatural outside assistance is required.

‘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.

England’s orthodox Anglicans: agreed on Synod’s implications, divided on what to do.

Posted by on Aug 1, 2017 in Church of England, Editorial Blog, Evangelicalism | Comments Off on England’s orthodox Anglicans: agreed on Synod’s implications, divided on what to do.

England’s orthodox Anglicans: agreed on Synod’s implications, divided on what to do.

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

General Synod was, it seems, a shock and a wake-up call to many people. The decision-making body of the Church of England has voted, unequivocally, to condemn the idea that people unhappy with their sexual attraction, lifestyle or identity can seek professional or pastoral help to move away from it. The leadership has rejected amendments to motions which commend Jesus Christ and the teaching of the Bible to the nation in a time of great difficulty for government, and it has asked the Bishops to set in motion a process leading to the liturgical celebration of gender transition. The Bishops appeared to be silent as those looking to move the teaching and practice of the Church away from Christian orthodoxy were feted as heroes, while those standing up for orthodoxy were booed in the chamber and mocked on social media.

A number of theologically orthodox members who previously would have put their faith in the political processes of Synod to prevent change in a liberal direction are now admitting that in the area of sexuality and gender the battle has been lost. While the doctrine of marriage itself may not be changed for a while (the Archbishop of Canterbury would like the Lambeth Conference of 2020 to feature at least a few non-Western faces), in practice it is clear that boundaries are becoming blurred to put it mildly. While those Bishops apparently known to be conservative and evangelical were quiet during the Synod debates and even voted for the controversial motions, other more liberal ones have publicly spoken out in favour of same sex marriage, become patrons of Gay Pride, and given permission for same sex relationships to be blessed and celebrated in Cathedrals.

Among orthodox Anglicans in Britain, lively debates, both private and public, are continuing about how to respond. They could be said to coalesce around two basic positions in ways similar to last year’s debate on membership of the European Union: ‘remain’ or ‘leave’?

There are those, mostly in senior leadership, who continue to be loyal to the institution. Although they don’t agree with some of the recent decisions, they believe that the C of E is still the best vehicle for communicating the Christian faith to the nation, and that those critical of the Church’s leadership are just as unhelpful as those driving radical change.

Among those who see the C of E heading in a one-way revisionist direction, there is a wide spectrum of views. An increasing number are losing faith in the institution and its leadership, but believe that the local church is the most important unit of ministry rather than the Diocese, and networks of likeminded local orthodox C of E churches can continue to operate bible-based ministry in ways which make use of C of E administration, buildings etc, without having to follow the latest theological fads. Some look to be on good terms with Diocesan leadership but in practice look elsewhere for spiritual guidance and oversight, for example Gafcon. A small but growing number have recently publicly criticized their Bishops and essentially broken communion with them, while remaining in the C of E.

These would be the ‘reluctant remainers’ – like those who saw many faults with the EU, that it couldn’t be reformed from within, but that it would be too difficult, complicated and costly to leave, and it would be possible for the UK to live with the great benefits of some compromises, for example being in the single market but not the single currency.

But for others, such pragmatic compromise might be an option in politics (or might have been before June 2016), but not in matters of church and faith. While one could argue that most laity at the local level aren’t interested in what Bishops say or what Synods decide, when there will be times when being part of a church institution which appears to be moving away from a historic understanding of apostolic Christianity does create problems of personal conscience and public witness. Is it worth constantly expending energy fighting doctrinal battles with national church, Diocese and Deanery, and educating one’s congregation and PCC on why our congregation should take a different approach? Some may be able to shut out the controversial issues entirely, and just talk about Jesus locally – but others see this as a form of escapism. In the view of this group, just as the apostles could not reform and bring Christ to the centre of institutional Judaism but had to move out of synagogues into homes, and just as Luther and the Reformers, and Wesley and the Methodists had to establish new ecclesial structures, so something similar is required today, it is argued. Not the forming of a new denomination, but the emergence of a new brand of faithful Anglicanism distinct and separate from the Church of England, the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Church.

And then one can nuance it further: some ‘remainers’ and ‘leavers’ are so committed to their cause that they have no time for the other side and make this clear publicly even though doctrinally they believe the same things. Others can see value in all the different views about strategy and recognize their own position as provisional.

All of this is by way of answer to the recent article in Christian Today by David Baker, asking “where is the Church of England Evangelical Council when we need it?”  Baker argues that, at this “fraught and unsettled” time in worldwide Anglicanism, CEEC should be giving a lead. He notes the various individuals and organizations which are part of the Council (of which Anglican Mainstream is one), and suggests that this group should be speaking clearly about current issues, and being a force for evangelical unity within the C of E.

But the wide variety of responses from evangelicals to events at Synod, and the spectrum of different strategies and tactics that are being expressed from different groups, shows why CEEC cannot be expected to unite all the orthodox groupings into a single body, or even speak with one voice. People look back with nostalgia to the days of John Stott and say that this happened under his leadership. But that’s a simplistic picture – there were disagreements then about charismatic gifts, the role of women and the place of social action in mission, among other issues. And also, there is no John Stott figure today. CEEC some years ago recognized this, and made a decision to be a forum of different evangelical groups, rather than an organization speaking with a particular party line. For some, the forum is not wide enough –  it won’t accept those who still refer to themselves as evangelicals though they now take a liberal position on the sexuality debate. For others, it’s too wide – it includes Bishops who voted for transgender liturgies and against ‘conversion therapies’, and it includes those who are supportive and critical of Justin Welby, and those who are pro and anti Gafcon.

So while I don’t blame David Baker for asking the question about CEEC, it will not be able to provide the clear united leadership he asks for, because it reflects the fissiparousness of English Anglican orthodox evangelicalism. What it can do is ensure that those in the C of E thinking about leaving and those committed to remaining, the loyalists and separatists, the compromisers and purists, the optimists and pessimists, reformed and charismatic, the young and old, the Jeremiahs and Obadiahs keep talking to each other on the basis of the same understanding of faith, even if their vision of the future and strategies of how to get there are very different.

Observing ministry in Africa

Posted by on Jul 17, 2017 in Editorial Blog, Kenya | Comments Off on Observing ministry in Africa

Observing ministry in Africa

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream

I’m writing this from Kenya. To be more specific, I’m hosted by the Diocese of Machakos, centred on the town of that name about 40 miles south east of Nairobi. For the past two years Anglican Mainstream has been partnering with a youth ministry project based at St Paul’s, a large church in another town called Athi River. We’ve been passing on some designated donations received mainly in the UK to the Diocesan office in Kenya, and the Diocese in turn has facilitated the formation of a body to give proper oversight to the new Centre for Compassion, Rehabilitation and Development. 

This is frontline mission in action, as the church takes the risk of reaching out beyond the safe confines of ministry to young people from the church, and in this case is looking to incorporate existing courageous but fragile ministries to those outside the church involved in harmful lifestyles. There have been some teething problems with the project, and so part of my reason for being here is to listen and observe how the godly and gifted folk here are looking to resolve the issues and move forward.

On Sunday I attended a wonderful vibrant communion service at St Paul’s, and this was followed by the formal opening of the youth outreach centre in the church grounds. Athi River is a dry and dusty town surrounded it seems by cement factories and brickworks servicing Nairobi’s burgeoning expansion, with potholed streets bordered by colourfully painted shops and market stall-type shelters. There is a constant bustle of activity, and everywhere you can see posters of politicians with their slogans as the country gears up for elections in early August.

On Monday I travelled to Nairobi with two clergy involved in youth ministry and theological education, to meet contacts from the interdenominational organisations African Enterprise and iServe Africa. Along the way we have been talking about the challenges facing Christians in Kenya and in Africa generally, and the conflicts in the Anglican Communion reflecting the wider issues of the clash between new ideologies coming from contemporary Western culture and biblical values.

Back at the guest house, after an evening meal of ugale, greens and chicken stew, I settle down to read a chapter of a fascinating book recently published by Christian Concern’s Wilberforce Institute: ‘The Nation’s Gospel’ by Jeremy Thomas of All Souls Langham Place. It’s a history of Gospel ministry in England from the time of Henry VIII onwards, but very much asking pointed questions in the light of the current decline in church attendance and the influence of Christian faith in the nation. Is secularism to blame for this, asks Thomas, or is secularism a result of a failure to evangelise as our forebears did, and as the church has been doing in Africa in recent decades?

Synod supports ban on ‘conversion therapy’ – what it means

Posted by on Jul 9, 2017 in Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Synod supports ban on ‘conversion therapy’ – what it means

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

On 8th July, General Synod of the Church of England voted to back a complete ban on ‘Conversion Therapy’, a term used by critics to describe ways in which people who want to reduce or be free of homosexual desire and practice access help in the form of therapy or counselling.

In what appears to be a misprint but looks like an unfortunate Freudian slip which reveals the true consequences of this ban, the C of E’s press report (first version) quotes Jayne Ozanne, the LGBT activist and proposer of the motion, as saying “…conversation [sic] therapy is harmful, dangerous and doesn’t work”. The Church of England’s governing body has effectively censored a whole area of conversation. If anyone comes to their vicar now and says “I have same sex attraction, I’m not happy about it and want to change – can we have a conversation about this?” the answer will from now on be “no I’m sorry we can’t discuss that, because it might cause you harm”.

It also means that if someone who is not a Christian wants to move away from a gay lifestyle and/or identity, they are being sent a message by the C of E that this is an area where Jesus doesn’t operate. They will find that the Church will not support their right to find a therapist to help them with their chosen aim (all such therapists are already unable to receive professional accreditation and supervision for their work).

Sean Doherty, a member of the Living Out group, proposed an amendment that was theologically based, sought to protect the LGBT community from coercion or manipulation, but also affirmed that ‘pastoral care, prayer ministry and professional counselling are legitimate means of supporting individuals who chose them freely’. This was rejected. The free choice of an individual to seek help, and the free discretion of a Christian minister to offer pastoral care has been restricted by Synod.

This vote at Synod clearly shows the outworking of the ‘radical inclusion’ agenda. LGBT people are now fully included in the church, but those who want to move away from gay, and those who offer to help them, are not included. Those openly in same sex relationships have a leading influence in the Church’s governing body, but those who were in such relationships, have changed as a result of help from therapists and counsellors and are now happily single and celibate or married heterosexually, are silenced.

There is now an area of incoherence in the Church of England’s doctrine that even the most radical adherents of ‘plural truth’ philosophy will not tolerate for long. Those who have same sex attraction are told they cannot change, but they also can’t get married or have their relationships blessed in church. Is it now surely a matter of time before the Church of England decides that while it can’t deny LGBT orthodoxy (sexual orientation is innate and unchangeable, trying to alter it is harmful), it can and must deny and change bible based doctrine that marriage is between a man and a woman and homosexual practice is sinful, because these teachings are ‘harmful’?

This decision on ‘conversion therapy’ was not made for reasons of Christian theology. It was made on the basis of fake science (as many of the articles here demonstrate), fear of the LGBT lobby and the dreaded “Tim Farron question”, and emotional manipulation by apostate activists within the church leadership. The governing body of the main church in the land has capitulated to powerful ideologies in secular culture, the ‘stoicheia’ of Colossians 2:8, providing no protection for those who wish to be obedient to God’s word and resist those ideologies, serving people in love and calling them to repentance and faith in Christ.

The consecration of a ‘missionary Bishop’, ministering to faithful Anglicans outside the official structures, has surely come at the right time. We will need several more .

Gafcon events in England and USA

Posted by on Jul 4, 2017 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Gafcon | Comments Off on Gafcon events in England and USA

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

The last week of June has seen a number of high profile events marking the life of Gafcon, the global movement for renewal of the Anglican Communion according to biblical orthodoxy.

29th June is Gafcon Day, the anniversary of the first unveiling of the iconic Jerusalem Declaration and Statement at the end of the first Gafcon gathering in 2008. These documents, agreed with great rejoicing by a racially and culturally diverse group of Anglican leaders united in understanding of the message and mission of the Church, remain a beacon of hope for millions, and a challenge to those who want to alter that message to be more acceptable to the dominant powers of the age.

It’s really worth reading the Jerusalem Declaration regularly. Its clear summary of historic Christian creeds, celebration of Anglican history, polity and worship, commitment to upholding New Testament standards of marriage and family, and call to heterodox leaders to repentance, remains the best basis available for genuine unity and fellowship across a diversity of cultures and variety of worship styles and understandings of secondary issues.

 

On 30th June, in Wheaton, Illinois, as part of the programme of the Assembly of the Anglican Church of North America, Canon Andy Lines, Mission Director of Crosslinks in London, was consecrated by Bishops of ACNA and a number of Primates of the Anglican Communion, as a ‘missionary Bishop’ for Europe. He will have special focus on congregrations in Scotland which have broken fellowship with the Scottish Episcopal Church over their decision to redefine marriage, and also AMiE congregations which are outside C of E structures. The official report and video of the consecration can be seen here, and an excellent personal reflection from an observer from England can be found here.

 

Meanwhile in England two meetings were held to celebrate and promote the Gafcon vision, firstly at St James, Clerkenwell in London on 28th June, and then in Hartford, Cheshire on the 30th. The London gathering, attended by around 200 clergy and laity, was introduced by Andy Lines before his journey across the Atlantic for the consecration, and the addressed firstly by Prebendary Charles Marnham, who spoke movingly on the importance of Gafcon as a global missionary movement: as an encouragement to him personally as a minister of a central London C of E church, and as a vital support to orthodox Anglicans in north America, whose courage and sacrifices are still not widely understood in Britain.

At Friday’s meeting in the north west, the opening address was given by Bishop Keith Sinclair, who spoke warmly of his experience of the Gafcon meetings in Jerusalem 2008 and Nairobi 2013, and the joint Gafcon/Global South gathering in Cairo 2016. As parts of the Anglican Communion, particularly those in the cultural ‘West’, appear to be embracing another gospel, Gafcon is vital in its role of calling the church to repent and return to the truth. The vision encourages us to find creative ways of showing how the biblical message about God, men and women, and how we are created to live, is for the benefit and flourishing of all people.

 

Both meetings featured a number of short interviews and presentations giving a flavour of the diversity of Anglican life in Britain that is connected with Gafcon. Andy Lines himself spoke briefly on the 28th June about his forthcoming role and the churches he will be ministering to. The meeting on the 30th June was able to display photos from the consecration in USA which had taken place just hours earlier, and we prayed specially for Andy and his family.

The majority of Gafcon supporters in England are still committed to contending for biblical orthodoxy within the C of E, perhaps with some form of separation from those who promote false teaching, and the meeting featured interviews with those who took this position. While the direction of the C of E is of great concern, there are still great opportunities for the ministry of the local parish church in mission and pastoral care, based on the great heritage of reformed theology which still remains at the heart of our denomination.

But other models are also emerging: we heard from gifted clergy from Nigeria with remarkable experience of church growth in that nation. With more time available it would have been great to hear more from Ven Dr Gideon Illechukwu about his involvement in the establishment of 43 new congregations in Nigeria while also training and then working as a medical doctor as well as an ordained clergyman! Gideon, now based in Manchester, spoke of how new Nigerian Anglican congregations are developing in a number of British cities. Similarly, Canon Amatu Christian-Iwuagwu, who attended the 2008 Gafcon meeting in Jerusalem and was able to speak about the strengths and weaknesses of the Church of Nigeria, is now Priest in Charge of a Parish in West London, and is involved a network of Igbo speaking congregations and chaplaincies for Nigerian Anglican students across the south of England.

Meanwhile the Free Church of England, which originated in 19th century disassociations from the C of E because of false teaching and broken fellowship, and the more recently formed Anglican Mission in England, are providing two discrete but united-in-faith models of being Anglican outside the Church of England, linked to Gafcon. In the coming months these will link up further with the new Scottish Anglican Network, and who knows – perhaps new groups in England and Wales which may emerge. These small groups are sparking renewed interest from some clergy keen to look for possible future ‘lifeboats’ should they feel that a full break with the official structures may be needed in the future.

 

The Gafcon meetings on 28th and 30th both concluded with an address by Peter Jensen, retired Archbishop of Sydney and Secretary General of Gafcon. He began by confessing that in the past he did not sufficiently value the Anglican Communion or the role of its Bishops, but over recent years he has seen the vital importance of both: the Communion as a global mission network, and good Bishops as leaders in the tasks of disciple making and relating the church to society.

The Church of England has historically been used disproportionately by God in the task of world mission, but now we face grave spiritual danger, he said. Anglicans must decide which direction to follow. The ‘strategy of compromise’ with the increasingly assertive values of society as they drift further from Christian orthodoxy, does not necessarily mean affirming a liberal position. It can be seen also in trying to adopt ‘the middle ground’, relegating key issues of sexual ethics to ‘secondary matters’, perhaps casting doubt on the clarity of the Bible’s witness. Rather, faithful believers should follow ‘the strategy of Elijah’, challenging false ideologies and calling both church and nation back to the life-giving ways of Christ, even to the point of withdrawing fellowship from those who believe a different gospel. This should be done in love, and with tears. The ‘voice of Elijah’ is not an individual, but a vision and a movement such as represented by Gafcon, whose purpose is uniting the global church around biblical truth and equipping it for mission.

 

The meetings ended with brief details about recent increases in membership of Gafcon (to join Gafcon, see here), and information about the next great conference in Jerusalem, June 2018.

 

Andrew Symes is Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream, and also on the Task Group of Gafcon UK

Gafcon and Evangelical Ministry

Posted by on Jun 27, 2017 in Church of England, Editorial Blog, Evangelicalism, Gafcon | Comments Off on Gafcon and Evangelical Ministry

Gafcon and Evangelical Ministry

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

I’m at the annual Evangelical Ministry Assembly organized by the Proclamation Trust. Around 900 men and women, mostly from Anglican, Baptist and Evangelical Free churches are here at the Barbican Centre in London; the majority are vicars, pastors and church apprentices wanting to be inspired and encouraged in their ministries. The primary conviction of the Proclamation Trust is that when the Bible is faithfully preached, God’s voice is heard, and that intentional training is needed for preaching and evangelism, as well as experiencing the thrill, balm and challenge of hearing God’s voice for our own souls.

On the opening day we have heard the first of three talks on the ministry of Paul in Ephesus – not the traditional exposition of a single passage, but a reflection from Acts 19 and several passages from Ephesians on the nature of the Gospel, the ministry of the apostle, the reality of suffering and conflict in the believer’s life, and the victory of Christ.

Some of these ideas were developed in a second lecture on Martin Luther’s theology of the cross. Luther witnessed an amazing visible work of God in the early years of the Reformation, but also experienced great disappointment, discouragement, conflict and perhaps what we would call ’depression’ today. Luther interpreted the suffering and death of Jesus as God making humanity conformable to Christ’s nature, and the trials of the disciple are part of taking up the cross and ‘dying’ daily in order to live in union with the Saviour. The pastor today then should do the opposite of comforting the comfortable – rather the role is a ‘life coach’ helping people to be shaped by their ‘anfechtung’ (trials) to become more Christ like and hence more human.

An excellent (but too short) seminar after lunch entitled ‘re-imagining mission’ featured a panel of clergy involved in various ways in evangelism to immigrants in Britain. Some were emphasizing the need to re-educate middle class white English congregations about mission, saying it is no longer ‘overseas’ but right here on our doorstep: resources need to be released for this. Others were speaking from experience of mission in practice. Steven Hanna, a vicar from Dagenham, a notoriously rough suburb on the eastern extremities of London, spoke of his patient building of relationships with local Muslim communities including Imams for the purpose of friendship and theological discussion, and his church’s role in welcoming and discipling recent converts from among the Iranian refugee community.

There hasn’t been any reference yet at the conference to increasing sense of isolation felt by those who hold to this historic understanding of the Church’s mission and message within the Church of England – perhaps because it is an interdenominational conference. But Steven Hanna is one of the clergy whose church has recently published a declaration of no confidence in his Diocesan Bishops and the Archbishops, because of the ‘radical inclusion’ commitment, and the statement by the Bishop of Chelmsford that same sex couples could receive a blessing I the context of a Holy Communion service.

As I spoke to Steven after the seminar, I heard his view that the Church of England’s increasing acceptance and even promotion of politically correct understandings of sexuality and family is disastrous in terms of witness to immigrants, most of whom are socially conservative and despite a variety of religious beliefs, share a sense of the spiritual, often want to know what God requires of them. This may mean that they are closed to the Gospel, but not always. Fortunately in Steve’s experience, while many immigrants regard the C of E as a white, secular-Western institution (in terms of culture and worldview), when relationships are built on the ground they appreciate the difference between this and real bible-based Christianity.

Tuesday evening I was at the AGM of Crosslinks, the mission organization, where Andy Lines was warmly supported in his new role as Gafcon missionary Bishop (he is due to be consecrated in Wheaton on Friday). Tomorrow (Wednesday) and then Friday we will be holding two Gafcon meetings, one in London, and another one in Northwich in Cheshire. Archbishop Peter Jensen will be speaking, along with Archbishop Foley Beach via video, and contributions from Gafcon-supporting C of E clergy, representatives from AMiE, Free Church of England, and the Church of Nigeria. As the countdown starts to next year’s Jerusalem Conference, the ministry of Gafcon will become increasingly important for faithful, orthodox believers in Anglican Churches in the British Isles, as a ‘lighthouse’ for genuine global and multicultural fellowship around the Gospel, and then as a ‘lifeboat’ for those who need to find a new Anglican home outside official structures.

Learning from the parable of Tim Farron 

Posted by on Jun 20, 2017 in Editorial Blog, Mission, Religious Liberty | Comments Off on Learning from the parable of Tim Farron 

Learning from the parable of Tim Farron 

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

The Church often seems keen to skate over or even deny what it really believes, in an effort to be taken seriously. Do we have something to learn from recent political events?

Tim Farron, former leader of the Liberal Democrats, has been seen by most people as a decent chap, intelligent, compassionate, giving a difficult job his best shot. During the election campaign, he wanted to talk about politics,  and to suggest distinctive new approaches to government. But he was constantly dogged by attacks on his Christian faith. Journalists had dug up comments he had made years earlier, and kept pressing him on these issues, not satisfied when he tried to turn the criticisms aside by referring to his voting record in the Commons and his proven commitment to liberalism generally. He denied that being gay is a sin, and tried to turn the conversation away from his theological views; when pressed more specifically on whether gay sex and abortion is sinful he finally was forced to say “no”.

Whether he lied about his real convictions for the sake of his career, or whether he had genuinely changed his mind, it has not been enough; we learned a week after the election that he had stood down as leader of his Party. The reason he gave was that it was not possible to be faithful to Christ and hold that particular public office.

Did Farron have a guilty conscience that he had lied about his beliefs on sexual ethics, and repented? Or perhaps it broader than that – no matter how much he tried to appease the secular humanist liberals in his party, it would never be enough – they just didn’t like his Christian faith.

There has been a lot of comment on this story, and what it means for Christians in public life, especially Christians who take their faith seriously like Tim Farron. But this issue also serves as a parable for the Church and its mission. Many church leaders have taken the view, like the former LibDem leader, that if only we can get Christians talking about positive things which will resonate with he public, and simply not answer controversial questions about sex, or even about theology (eg why does God allow tragedies to happen?), our mission will succeed. But just as with Tim Farron, society isn’t satisfied, knows that there must be something distinctive about Christians, and keeps pressing us on what we really believe. So the church leaders begin to do what Tim Farron did when pressed – they deny central tenets of their faith as a way, they think, of focusing more on what they have in common with people of goodwill in society who are not Christians.  Although the triune God is sovereign and not elected, the church somehow thinks that like a politician it is in a popularity contest.

So this year we have seen an Archepiscopal call for ‘radical inclusion’ in the C of E. The commendable Thy Kingdom Come campaign is promoted by the leader of an Anglican Province (TEC) which has torn the fabric of the Communion with its arrogant and cavalier disregard for Christian orthodoxy.  The decision by the Scottish Episcopal Church to change its canons on marriage is, we’re told by our leaders, “a matter for Scotland”, while Gafcon’s decision to send a missionary Bishop to care for faithful Episcopalians there is strongly criticised. General Synod next month will be asked to provide liturgies to mark gender transition, and to distance itself from ministries which help people live according to the teaching of the bible and the church in the area of sexuality.  The evidence is strong that the Church of England leadership, under pressure from a hostile culture, is saying, first, that there is ‘plural truth’ on these issues, and then, when pressed, that they no longer want to apply the word ‘sin’ to certain sexual behaviours.

But if we heed the parable of Tim Farron, we know the outcome of this approach. First, the world says “why be a Christian then? You’re just the same as us”. This could partly explain the continued decline in numbers attending church. Why bother, if being a Christian is just the same as being, well, a Liberal Democrat? In the end, though, after giving up our distinctiveness and integrity, we find that they still don’t like us. After all that, they just “don’t do God”.

It may be true that the sort of Christian in public life who is not too enthusiastic about personal faith, not too into the Bible and evangelism, “moderate C of E” in the eyes of the opinion formers, does not have such a hard time from the media as a born-again non-conformist. But in the eyes of an influential section of society, anyone who believes in the “sky fairy”, and who admits to praying to him, is suspect – hence the continued call to remove even the most liberal Bishops from the House of Lords, and abolish even those faith schools which have moved away from any kind of confessional ethos.

Now that Tim Farron has movingly and publicly stated that he is putting discipleship of Jesus first, there is a final reminder for us: Christians should be true to what the Bible believes and what Christ commands, and not try to water these things down to try to be more popular. Otherwise, first we will be telling lies about God and his word, and second it won’t work – rather than help our mission it will make no difference to it, because people have already decided that we are irrelevant at best and dangerous at worst.

This is not a call to be obnoxious, but to be faithful. Many have interpreted the parable of Tim Farron as being about individual Christians in public roles, but it is just as much about the Church’s position in society, and the message and method of church leaders among their own members. While there is no guarantee that those who are disliked, even persecuted for holding to the truth will see  church growth, the bible and mission history shows that there will certainly be blessing, and probably growth, because this is how God normally works.