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.

Bishop-elect’s radio interview struggle reveals Church’s unresolved dilemmas

Posted by on Dec 19, 2017 in Church of England, Editorial Blog, Women Bishops | Comments Off on Bishop-elect’s radio interview struggle reveals Church’s unresolved dilemmas

Bishop-elect’s radio interview struggle reveals Church’s unresolved dilemmas

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

She would have known that it would come. She would have prepared for it, rehearsing her lines, perhaps with coaches, wanting to appear wise, generous, compassionate, authoritative. It came, finally, at the end of the interview; the dreaded “Tim Farron question” – “do you think homosexual relationships are sinful?”

Like an England batsman in the nets in Australia she had practiced for this moment (apologies to American and mainland European readers at this point – please see here for background). Like the player who finds himself out in the middle, in a hostile environment, with the pressure on, the ball when it comes is no different from hundreds he has faced in training. But mentally, the batsman is not the same. Less relaxed, more tense, his feet , head and hands don’t move as they should. In practice, he’s confident. Now, he can be caught out at any time, with a nasty crowd ready to laugh and jeer as he trudges back to the dressing room. In practice he hits sweetly; now facing the real thing, he pokes and prods nervously.

I’ve been in that situation (with a radio interview, not playing cricket – I don’t think my stint in the Diocesan clergy team games brought quite the same pressure as The Ashes). And of course on the issue of homosexuality Bishop Sarah Mullally is going to cause disappointment and anger to one or even both sides, in the church and the country as a whole, whatever she says. So I’m loathe to criticize her for her performance on Radio 4 at breakfast time the day after her announcement as Bishop of London. I felt for her as she attempted to answer the inevitable question, and she flannelled and waffled, a combination of the cringeworthy and the hilarious (see transcript below).

Many will be relieved that at least she had previously re-stated the church’s teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman. Unlike other male Bishops in the frame for this high office, such as Stephen Cottrell of Chelmsford, she had not used her position to publicly advocate for a change in the Church’s teaching. She didn’t answer the question like Theresa May (“no of course it’s not a sin”), or like Tim Farron (initially “I’m not here to discuss theology”; later “no of course it’s not a sin”). But Sarah Mullally can’t sit on the fence forever, “managing difference”. And should that be the Bishop’s job anyway? We will see eventually what her theological and ethical views actually are, on this and other key questions of Christian orthodoxy.

The new Bishop of London is such a high profile and civic position, and the British establishment so converted to the new illiberal social liberalism (or cultural Marxism), that taking a position seen as anti-LGBT would be simply unacceptable and impossible, as Tim Farron showed. Those biblically faithful Anglicans who are determined to stay in the Church of England without conditions will have to face up to this reality, that even theologically orthodox Bishops are constrained in what they can publicly teach in this area. But at the very least it’s disappointing that Rt Revd Mullally was not able to deflect the focus on to the Gospel; to say something like: “I know you’re interested in my views on sex, but I don’t want to talk about that now. I want to talk about the good news of Jesus Christ which we all remember this Christmas”.

 

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For some in the C of E, the appointment of a woman to the Bishopric of London will have already crossed a line. But the majority of conservatives who believe in male ‘headship’ have already decided, it seems, not to complain about Dame Sarah’s gender, to trust in the idea of ‘mutual flourishing’, perhaps recognizing the administrative authority of the new Bishop but turning to others for spiritual oversight.

Anglican Mainstream, like Gafcon, has always seen the issue of women clergy and Bishops to be secondary to the more serious issues of what constitutes sin that separates us from God and neighbour, and how we can be reconciled to God through Christ. Questions such as “is it OK for a woman to be the Bishop of London?”, or to highlight a debate from last week, “does an Anglican have to be recognized as such by Canterbury?” are pressing, but not of primary importance. Committed young Christians from Anglican backgrounds, or those finding faith for the first time, looking for a spiritual home at university or in their new workplace, are by and large not interested in the arguments about who is really an Anglican, or who the Bishop of London is. They want to know rather, are Anglicans Christians? Is the local Anglican congregation part of the one holy catholic and apostolic church, and do their leaders rightly believe and preach the word and rightly administer the sacraments; are they open to the Holy Spirit?

Some decide to leave the Anglican church because its alignment with historic apostolic Christian faith appears to be muted or unclear, and Bishop-elect Sarah in her radio interview is by no means the first or only senior leader in the C of E to give that impression. But thanks to God’s grace, and the vision and courage of great leaders around the world in the Gafcon movement, it is possible to be genuinely Anglican and biblically Christian, whether part of the official structures or not, united by shared understanding and experience of faith in Christ, respectful of history, tradition and polity, even of Canterbury, but not primarily defined by these things.

 

Transcript excerpt: Interview of the Bishop of London-elect, Dame Sarah Mullally, by BBC’s Mishal Husain, Radio 4 Today Programme, Tuesday 19th December, 7.54am:

MH: How would you vote when Synod debates blessings for same sex relationships?

SM: Well, at that point I won’t be in Synod, so I won’t have a vote. But what we haveto remember is…

MH: How would you vote?

SM: What we have to remember is that this is about people, and, um, the church seeks to demonstrate love to all, because it reflects the God of love, who loves everybody, and obviously this issue isn’t just an issue for London, not just for us in the Church of England, but also the Anglican Community, um and at the moment the church is taking a period to reflect, there is work that is going on, er, and I’m involved in that, and, er, for me that is important that we take a time of reflection, whilst, you know, standing on the traditions of the Church of England…

MH: Would you bless a same sex marriage?

SM: At the moment there is no provision to do that

MH: Would you like there to be that provision?

SM: As I said there is a period of reflection that is going on at the moment, and I am part of that…

MH: Have you not decided how you feel about blessing a same sex marriage?

SM: I think that, what we have to recognize is a real diversity within the Church of England, and if we are going to take seriously the wish of the two Archbishops to take a period of reflection, then we need to allow that process to go ahead, and I have been very encouraged by those who wish to work with us on that. And at the same time we do have to recognize that this is a challenge for all people, and we do this as we have always done it in the past, we manage difference…

MH: [Interrupts] I recognize that this is difficult…a sensitive issue…[continues, then mentions] St Helen’s Bishopsgate where the vicar has said he is looking to the new Bishop to condemn homosexual relationships as sinful, otherwise there will be some kind of break. [Deep breath]. Do you think homosexual relationships are sinful?

SM: Er, well, the comment came across in the press, and one the things I’m doing is meeting those people that reflect the whole diversity across the Church of England. And in a sense it’s not avoiding the subject but it’s recognizing that there is a difference, that the Church of England, um, is taking a period of reflection, and recognizing that it does involve people, so there is a sense in which you have to compassionately, um, deal with these issues, and, er, I am forever encouraged that the church across London is undertaking a whole series of things in communities, to be, er, welcoming to that diversity. And one of the wonderful things yesterday was being out in Hackney, and seeing, er, a church that is welcoming people…

Interviewer interrupts and asks about the possibility of a female Archbishop in her lifetime.

SM replies about focusing on the job in hand.

Interview ends. Programme moves to the weather forecast.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09jbs55

1.54.10

Anglican realignment moves forward as AMiE conducts first ordinations

Posted by on Dec 11, 2017 in Anglican Mission in England, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Anglican realignment moves forward as AMiE conducts first ordinations

Anglican realignment moves forward as AMiE conducts first ordinations

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

The focus for the first ordination service conducted by Gafcon missionary Bishop Andy Lines on 7th December was on the universal scope of Christ’s authority, and his commission to make disciples across national and cultural barriers. Taking Matthew 28:16-20 as his text, guest preacher Rico Tice reminded the ordinands and congregation of how Jesus’ victory deriving from his cross and resurrection, and his authority over the nations, derives from his identity: divine Son and co-creator of the universe. The command to those who believe in him remains the same as it was to his first followers: to go, communicate the good news and make Jesus known. This is difficult and involves suffering, partly because many of those who hear refuse to repent and believe, but Jesus promises an eternal close relationship: “I will be with you always”.

In the lead-up to the ordination of 8 deacons and one presbyter for ministry in congregations of the Anglican Mission in England, Bishop Andy Lines and AMiE Mission Director Lee McMunn had stressed that contrary to some earlier headlines, the core identity of this emerging ministry is found not in opposition to certain cultural trends or schism from the Church of England. Rather it’s a way of providing local Episcopal oversight from ministry which already exists and is growing, wants to be Anglican but is not part of ‘official’ structures. And the motivation is the need for new patterns of mission, given the spiritual situation in Britain, where only a tiny percentage know Jesus and worship in church regularly.

The service took place at East London Tabernacle, a Baptist church in Mile End, and was attended by friends, congregants and family of the ordinands, as well as several dozen supporters from within the Church of England, including well-known names. It followed the liturgy of the Anglican Church in North America, the Province under whose auspices Bishop Andy was consecrated in June. Bishop Trevor Walters from the Anglican Network in Canada, and Canon Dan Alger who heads the ACNA church planting initiative, were present and gave greetings and prayers, as did four Gafcon Primates via video link.

It was noticeable, and encouraging, that most of those ordained serve new churches in the north of England. All have completed theological study by various means; all are already fully involved in pastoral and evangelistic ministry, and most are helping to support themselves and their families by working part time.

This model of church planting does not involve expensive up front investment before the work has even started; nor are there concerns about parish boundaries. The groups meeting in school halls, cafes or front rooms, often not in the smartest neighbourhoods, may at first sight look independent rather than Anglican, or to use terminology from a previous generation, ‘chapel’ rather than ‘church’. But now, because of Gafcon, communities of mission-minded disciples like this can emerge under the Holy Spirit’s guidance, with the flexibility of light structures, the doctrinal stability that comes from a clear confessional basis, and yet Anglican: episcopally led and globally connected.

So while the focus at the ordination was on biblically faithful local church ministry, the implications are wider when such ministry aligns with a global movement which seeks to build fellowship around the truth of God’s word. While the primary ministry of the Bishop and the newly ordained clergy may be pastoral and evangelistic, the new alignment of which they’re a part has a clear prophetic role in giving a godly alternative to false ideologies in the broader culture.

Can biblical faith flourish in an intolerant secular society?

Posted by on Dec 5, 2017 in 2-Important Posts, Christianity, Church of England, Editorial Blog, Intolerance, Liberalism | Comments Off on Can biblical faith flourish in an intolerant secular society?

Politician (Tim Farron) and Bishop (Tim Dakin) call for new relationship between minority orthodox Christianity and dominant liberalism.

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

The main hall at the Law Society in Chancery Lane was packed. TV cameras were in attendance, and bloggers and tweeters were poised over ipads as Tim Farron was introduced as the speaker for last week’s annual Theos lecture (full text here).

Farron is a fascinating anomaly for the governing classes who dominate the establishment and the media. He is politically left-leaning and philosophically liberal; passionately anti-Brexit, in favour of more government spending on public services and benefits for the disadvantaged; critical of conservatism. Yet he is an evangelical Christian, whose faith, as he says, is more than just cultural – he is a true believer. His resignation as leader of the Liberal Democrats in June, saying that it was not possible for him to be faithful to Christ and hold that particular public office, led to a large volume of comment some of which can be found here.

My guess was that given the niche in which Theos positions itself, the number sharing Farron’s genuine evangelical faith would have been a minority in the audience including eminent academics, hard bitten journalists, politicians, theologically liberal Christian leaders and perhaps even LGBT activists. Now free of the shackles of political leadership, and aware that people are genuinely interested in what he thinks, Farron did not miss the opportunity to be absolutely clear about the key elements of his bible-based faith. He gave a testimony about how he came to personal knowledge of Christ and saw the reasonableness of a Christian world view. He spoke of his regular attendance with his family at a church where “my pastor preaches faithfully from the Bible without compromising…”. As no-one can doubt his commitment to social justice, he was able to say that the Gospel “tells us that we are not good, that our biggest need is not food, water, money, relationships, success or acceptance by society… our greatest need is forgiveness from the God who made us.” While this would have made revisionist Christians in the audience cringe, it surely also caused a thought to cross the mind of more than one listener how great it would be if certain prominent church leaders were able to speak as clearly as this!

For Farron, authentic Christian faith must be counter-cultural. He compared the “Babylon” of Revelation 17 with the godless, self-serving Western culture of today, and that as Christians put God first, they will not only turn their back on contemporary idols and false ideologies, but also be a shunned minority (although he was at pains to point out the relative freedoms which Christians still enjoy in Britain today.)

The threat to religious freedom, democracy and cohesion today comes from an increasingly intolerant secularism which is the result of the victory of liberalism. In Farron’s account, British liberalism emerged from the battle for religious liberty and the freedom of ideas in the 17th and 18th centuries.

But today, according to Farron, that doctrine of liberalism has become dominant, and like state-sponsored Christianity, instead of being ‘emancipationist’, has become oppressive. Liberalism has today become like the ‘established church’ of Constantinian or post-Reformation times, wanting a monopoly of power, no longer a philosophy which challenges the human tendency to lord it over others. For Farron, the foundation of liberalism is Christianity (and particularly non-conformist evangelicalism), not political correctness masquerading as a kind of self-evident ‘liberalism’. “Secularism is a totalising creed that reduces everyone down to either consumer or regulatory units”, he says, and cannot be a basis for ‘shared values’.

At the same time, Christianity must be ‘liberal’, sticking to the Bible’s teaching, but not seeking to impose this on society in such a way as to restrict freedom of thought and action within the law. Farron isn’t saying, as some evangelicals do, that Christians should just focus on the local church, and be indifferent to the lives and choices of society outside the Christian community and those being evangelised on the fringe. As he said: “God will judge…it is not unloving or judgmental for Christians to point that out”. But he warns against the kind of close association of church and state:

“That in Britain we have a church trapped as part of the furniture of the state is a waste of a church.  A boat in the water is good.  Water in the boat, is bad.  A church in the state is good, the state in the church is bad.  Really bad.  It pollutes the message of that church.  It compromises it.  Weakens its witness.”

This serious criticism of the Church of England’s basic DNA, which Tim Farron did not develop in his argument, puts a finger on a key issue for thinking about the future of Anglicanism in Britain. Bible believing Christians in the C of E have always argued that Establishment ensures a place for influence at the high table, and an open door into communities at the grassroots. But if Farron is right, and the state is no longer Christian-liberal, and instead has become increasingly secular-authoritarian, then the state church no longer influences positively for Christianity. It must conform to secularism in order to stay at the high table – and in doing so must of necessity shed much of its Christian character, and collude in the persecution of orthodox Christianity.

This problem begins to be identified and addressed in an article by Tim Dakin, ironically as Bishop of Winchester the holder of one of the most ancient positions of church-state Establishment! Writing for the Fulcrum website, Dakin argues for a ‘principled pluralism’ – a benign public square which recognises and encourages the ways that different faith communities and other groups with diverse beliefs and  values can contribute to the common good. Traditional Christian teaching need not be a threat to a liberal society or a source of tension and negativity, but can be seen as making a positive confident contribution to society.

Dakin’s piece, entitled ‘Traditional Christians contribute to society”, is clearly aimed a rebutting the view expressed not just in secular government and media but also in increasingly powerful revisionist church leadership circles, that orthodox Christian faith is to be seen as harmful. Like Farron, Dakin is concerned about this, and even gives an example from the recent Church of England document on bullying of ‘transgender’ children in schools:

“What is not explained [in the document] is the Church of England’s teaching on marriage and sexuality. Instead it’s acknowledged that there’s a range of views on marriage and gender…without the positive reiteration of the Church’s traditional teaching the implication may be drawn that this teaching is linked to bullying behaviour.”

Like Farron, Dakin believes that biblical Christianity can be accommodated in a new culture of tolerant liberalism, but unlike Farron he appears not to recognise the reason for why his own Church has capitulated to LGBT lobbyist-inspired government diktats on gender ideology, namely that it is a state church, compromised with state policy. Also, unlike Farron, Dakin seems much more diffident in commending biblical faith in Christ from the perspective of personal commitment. He prefers to say, more ‘objectively’, what traditional Christians believe, and ends up pleading for a space for these people in a plural public square because of the good they might do, rather than because of the truth of the message. Again, as a C of E Bishop, he has to do this, mindful of the way his role has morphed from defender of the faith to being a kind of mediator of “a vision for social responsibility, for collaborating across differences….tolerance… respect for others, an appreciation of difference…social cohesion…to create the conditions for a flourishing society.”

Tim Farron’s speech, as this review points out, was a great encouragement, although he was perhaps over-optimistic about the prospects of renewing liberalism in the way he outlined, and in particular did not address the hegemony of the LGBT lobby. Tim Dakin’s article, while containing some thought provoking ideas, only serves to illustrate the increasing tension facing the Church of England seeking to hold on to its role as the ‘faith’ component of a secular state. If the thinking in this article is the best that biblically faithful Christians can hope for from an evangelical Bishop, it’s not surprising that more people are either following Tim Farron into ‘nonconformist’ churches, or exploring alternative ways of being Anglican but not Church of England.

 

 

Advent: the quiet arrival of the Kingdom into the republic

Posted by on Nov 28, 2017 in 2-Important Posts, Anglican Church in North America, Editorial Blog, Scottish Episcopal Church | Comments Off on Advent: the quiet arrival of the Kingdom into the republic

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Christ is the King, as many of us remembered and celebrated this past Sunday. To quote the wonderful Psalm 2, God has installed his Son as sovereign in Zion; the nations are his inheritance, the ends of the earth his possession. That is the reality, and the powers on the earth are warned that the best way to abundant life is to “celebrate his rule” and “take refuge in Him”.

But of course they don’t: the first part of the Psalm gives a vivid picture of how arrogant human authorities “rise up… against the Lord and against his anointed”, wanting what they think is freedom from God’s “chains” and “shackles”. Christ is the King, but they – we – want independence: we want a republic.

The question asked at the beginning of the Psalm: why do human beings do this? Is not answered here, but the rest of the Bible explains. Original sin is described by Paul in Romans 1:25 as our innate tendency to exchange the truth, the reality of a universe under God’s gracious rule, for the lie of our own autonomy. We justify this either by atheism (pretending that God doesn’t exist), or psychologically re-making him in our own image, creating new gods to justify and validate our rebellion.

This Sunday we begin to celebrate God’s response to the declaring of independence, new republics in human hearts, communities and nations. As in Barcelona earlier this year, the people of the earth have voted to throw off the shackles of the Kingdom and declare a republic. The legitimate central government responds by restoring order under its rightful authority. But while we give thanks for (so far) peaceful resolution in Spain, spiritually and globally the rebellion is deeper and much more serious. The republic has set itself up over centuries, its structures and values entrenched over generations. As time passes, the authority of the true King and his Kingdom is a distant memory.

Has God given up on us and retreated to heaven? Or perhaps he has made peace with the new republic, made compromises, focused on things in common – perhaps God has even blessed the authorities of the earth and the spiritual powers behind them, as reserves his judgement for the conservatives still clinging to the outdated idea of a kingdom? Psalm 2 is clear that this is not the case, and explains what will happen in the end, as does Jesus in many of his parables. The owner of the vineyard, the master of the house, the King will return with wrath and power, to destroy evil, punish rebels, and fully re-establish his perfect rule.

That is the final, visible Advent. But before that there are others, often small, often unseen, unspectacular, even secret, seen only with the eyes of faith. Supremely, Christ is born as a baby, weak, vulnerable, as C.S.Lewis said, into “enemy-occupied territory”, like a capsule arriving from outer space and landing on the rebel-held planet. But there is also the advent of the Spirit in the life of believers, creating the Church. And the advent of the Gospel and the Church into every community around the world, as the nations become the inheritance of Christ, not by violence, but by infiltration into the republic by the secret agents of the Kingdom.

Often in human history this results in hearts renouncing allegiance to the republic and turning back to the Kingdom. This is conversion, as we receive a full pardon for our rebellion through the self-sacrificial ministry of the King himself. The results are seen not just in growing churches, but communities and even nations transformed, embracing the values of God’s rule which are reflected in laws and customs, even if not every individual acknowledges the King.

 

But sadly, it sometimes works the other way. As the Bible shows in excoriating detail with the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, human systems of government and religion set up to reflect and promote the rule of God can become corrupt, maintaining the form and language of the Kingdom but transferring spiritual allegiance to the republic. The surrounding culture just seems too powerful, its promises too alluring, its apparent prosperity too tempting, the consequences of non-compliance too uncomfortable. The result is that the leaders and the people pray with their lips “thy Kingdom come” but believe in their hearts and preach the worldviews and ideologies of those who do not acknowledge the true God and his rightful authority.

It’s difficult enough to live in a ‘republic’ society while being inwardly loyal to the Kingdom. When leaders of what is supposed to be the Kingdom community gradually shift their allegiance to the republic, what are the options for the faithful other than intercession to the King himself? Writing letters to rebel Bishops, penning carefully argued books – even blogs! – will not work as a way of persuading them to come back under the authority to which they originally pledged themselves, because they have decided to “throw off the chains”, and that the new republic is their kingdom. When the human structures of the church go the way of the world, embracing the ideology of rebellion and republic, God acts in the way he always has, the Advent way: the quiet and small-scale establishment of a new Kingdom bridgehead.

This is why the story of Christ Church, Harris is so significant. A tiny congregation is prepared to say to a Bishop: “the Scottish Episcopal Church has made itself its own republic…it is now therefore outside the Kingdom”. The Harris congregation remains Anglican, but are now under the oversight of Bishop Andy Lines, ACNA and Gafcon rather than SEC. Those loyal to the King cannot compromise, perhaps negotiating, finding ways of ensuring minimal discomfort and retention of assets, keeping a seat at the table. This congregation has rather opted for “full Kingdom”, rather than something that exists by permission of a church which no longer considers allegiance to the King and his word as of first importance. They have fully differentiated, separated, even to the point of giving up their building.

This small group of people taking action on a remote island may not seem like much, but it bears powerful witness to spiritual realities. It’s an example of faith and courage which will reverberate out of all proportion to its apparent insignificance in terms of numbers and location. We could see it as part of a new quiet advent of Kingdom Anglicanism in the British Isles.

 

Acknowledgement: The idea of an apostate church becoming a republic, or part of the republic, is not the author’s but comes entirely from the Reverend Daniel Davies, priest-in-charge of Christ Church, Harris, and his statement to the Bishop of Argyll and the Isles.

C of E’s new gender policy backs up ‘heresy’ claim

Posted by on Nov 14, 2017 in Church of England, Editorial Blog, Transgender | Comments Off on C of E’s new gender policy backs up ‘heresy’ claim

C of E’s new gender policy backs up ‘heresy’ claim

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

In late 2013, there were a number of reports in the media about failures in RE in schools leaving many children ignorant about the basic facts of the Christian faith. In November of that year, a senior Bishop speaking at General Synod celebrated the high academic standards and good OFSTED reports of many C of E schools, but said that children are not being educated fully unless they are cared for pastorally and “begin to explore a relationship with Jesus Christ” (see here, p106). This commitment to enabling children to have a foundational exposure to the Gospel through schools for which the Church has responsibility was reiterated the following year by the Archbishop of York.

But this seems to have changed. It’s true that at local level, many C of E schools have good relationships with local churches, and ensure that the Bible is opened and children learn what orthodox Christianity is as part of their education, in assemblies and RE classes. However, increasingly, this cannot be guaranteed. Sometimes C of E schools appoint Principals who are experienced heads but with no personal faith or even who are antagonistic towards Christianity.

Other schools face lobbying from groups of parents who object to favourable and clear portrayals of Christianity. Recently a primary school in Tunbridge Wells capitulated to such pressure, agreeing to stop assemblies provided by the Christian Youth ministry Crossteach. The Diocese of Rochester, rather than insisting that parents accept the Christian element of the curriculum because it is a church school, backed the head in implementing a dumbed-down faith and religion policy in which the distinctive elements of the Gospel are removed to avoid ‘offense’.

The Diocese of Oxford has just brought out a Guidance Paper on Chaplaincy in Church Schools (not yet on its website). Surely here there should be some reference to the Archbishop of York’s call for children to know Jesus Christ in the role of a chaplain? But no – the 17 page document does not mention Christ or the Bible. It specifically warns against any kind of ‘proselytisation’ in the activities of the chaplain. It describes mission in the following terms:

“The concept of Missio Dei – God’s Mission – recognizes God is at work in the world, seeking to bring life in all its fullness (e.g. reconciliation, good relationships, wholeness and human flourishing).”

It suggests that some of the spiritual ministry of the chaplain could include “creation of opportunities to reflect upon and consider life choices and behaviours”, and to “support faith development”:

“This extends even to ‘faith in no faith’, it cannot be said that some adherents of atheist humanism or secularism do not show great faith in their endeavours.”

This is a document supposedly encouraging Church schools to consider appointing chaplains, and encouraging clergy, or youth workers, to apply for such roles. But because it will be read by secular government education officials, any genuine Christian element is not just watered down – it has been excised completely. One has to ask, if this is the price of being allowed to continue to manage schools, what is the point of pouring resources and expertise into the church schools structure? And what has happened to enabling children to know Jesus?

The Church of England’s complete capitulation to a secular government agenda was on show to the nation on the morning of Monday 13th November. Astonished viewers and listeners all over the country choked on their breakfast as the C of E’s chief education officer explained the new policy to accommodate ‘transgender’ children. (More media reports and comment can be found here).

As this website has pointed out repeatedly, schools already have robust anti-bullying policies, and already work hard to instill a culture of civility. They already teach children not to pick on those are different, whether it’s the tiny percentage of cross-dressing children who may have gender dysphoria, or the much more numerous minorities: those with ginger hair, those who are racially different, with glasses, slightly overweight, who have an unfashionable bag or shoes, etc. But this new directive from the C of E, trumpeted with a big media launch, appears to be based on the belief that some children can be identified as ‘gay’ or ‘trans’ from an early age; that if a girl wears a batman cloak or a boy wears a tiara this is to be celebrated and encouraged as part of the new exciting world of gender fluidity.

The leadership of the C of E claims that nothing has changed in terms of its doctrine, how it understands the Christian faith. That this new directive on affirming ‘trans’ children is simply a pastoral response to young people in distress. But according to the new guidelines, when a little boy comes to school wearing a dress and wanting to be called Alice, not only must other children all call him ‘Alice’ with love and welcome, with severe punishments for not complying, but all children, parents and staff must believe that this is in fact not a boy, but a trans girl, and that such gender fluidity is normal and good. Archbishop Justin Welby repeats his assertion made in the February Synod ‘radical inclusion’ speech, that there are no ‘issues or problems’, only young people loved by God. And according to the report, the imposition of gender ideology in schools is not a problem or an issue – we just need to love children and obey the new government regulations.

At a stroke, it seems, the Archbishop and the senior leadership of the Church of England have crossed out the biblical doctrine that “male and female he made them”, that the church’s mission is to introduce people to Jesus Christ so they can turn away from sin and be reconciled to God, and oppose evil and injustice. Rather, according to the new Stonewall-assisted directive, it’s all about enabling children to ‘discover who they really are’. The Gospel is reduced to “love, joy and the celebration of our humanity without exception or exclusion.” The C of E leadership have embraced a radical neo-gnostic ideology and then denied that there is such a thing; they have bought into the idea that worldviews which disagree with gender fluidity, for example biblical Christianity, are harmful and must be ‘stamped out’.

It’s not just the Christian social conservatives, the people most despised by the metropolitan elites of Lambeth palace and Church House, who think this is barmy. Increasingly, people in the secular world, including a growing number of feminists and others on the left, are very concerned about the rush to embrace the ideology of transgender, allowing extremist lobby groups to push through policies in health, education and law which have not been properly thought through. Shrill voices speak of the mental health problems caused by ‘transphobia’, but now more sane voices are daring to speak out about the permanent damage being done to teenagers who think that the drastic surgery of sex change can alleviate their mental distress, only to find that it becomes much worse. So in trying desperately to be ahead of the curve in rejoicing in the Emperor’s new clothes and making this compulsory in their schools, the Church of England leadership is not just wrong, it could find itself embarrassingly out of date, backing an ideology which many secular people regard as reckless and irresponsible.

With unfortunate timing on its part, the C of E launched its new gender fluid policy just after the resignation of Lorna Ashworth from General Synod and Archbishops’ Council. The well-respected conservative evangelical had warned of the policy of ‘good disagreement’ being a front for a slide into heresy. This was brushed off on Friday as a complete exaggeration by Bishops, and also by many evangelical clergy on social media. She does not need to say anything more. The headlines on Monday morning about ‘Valuing all God’s Children’ have proved her point.

What can be done? Many faithful clergy and lay people are governors at their local C of E schools. Will they simply apply the new guidelines uncritically, or will some quietly refuse to comply? Will there be passive acceptance, or protests and resignations? Will fear lead to silence and compliance, or will some follow Lorna’s lead?

More articles on the C of E’s policy and its implications here

More recent articles and resources on gender ideology, church and culture here.

Early church, Reformation and Anglican realignment: making some connections

Posted by on Oct 31, 2017 in 2-Important Posts, 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.