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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.
By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.
According to Bishop Philip North, writing in last week’s Church Times, the poor might hear the Church’s good news (not defined) when their voice is heard by the Church and amplified in the nation. Sadly, though, the Church hasn’t been listening, and so was surprised, even appalled and embarrassed when the poor finally spoke up and expressed their frustrations and aspirations by voting for Brexit.
Working class identity and focus revolves around family, place and work, says the Bishop. The educated middle classes who make up most of the C of E’s leadership take work for granted, are embarrassed by patriotism, and individualistic rather than family or community-oriented. The Church’s obsession with the sexuality debate is not the agenda of the poor. The solution is for the Church to re-engage with the neglected sectors of society, by setting up and revitalising churches on council estates with “the best leaders”, and put listening to the urban poor at the centre of its mission strategy.
Before I comment on this analysis, I ought to mention something of my own background otherwise I might be accused of pontificating about a subject of which I know very little [some would say that hasn’t stopped you before! – ed.]. I come from a relatively privileged background but have spent most of my ministry working among the less privileged, in South Africa and in England. In South Africa my wife and I walked with leaders of small churches in villages and townships as they sought to enable their congregations to be salt and light in contexts that would make anyone hesitate before talking about ‘poverty’ in Britain. In Northampton I was vicar on a small outer estate regarded as dismal and rough by the rest of the town. It’s for others and for God to judge success and failure in these ministries, but I can say that what Philip North is talking about from his own experience, I have also experienced.
I believe he is right in urging the Church once again to put into practice what David Sheppard in a previous generation called ‘bias to the poor’, with a concern for social justice not just in speeches and articles but in downward immersion, ‘incarnation’, ensuring that Christians are in the unattractive areas in their worship, witness, pastoral care and just being with people. It is a challenge to the more comfortable suburban churches to regard the poor not as a problem to be solved by someone in government, or worse still ‘out of sight out of mind’, but as people who need salvation in Christ and the basics of life. The under-resourcing and lack of encouragement for churches trying to survive and grow in these areas is an issue.
It is also true, as Bishop North says, that there are unfashionable values associated with what he calls the ‘working class’, which could provide a bridge for the Gospel.
But there are some points where his narrative about “the Church hearing the voice of the poor” needs to be challenged. First, there seems to be an assumption that “the Church” is the Bishops, and/or the central institution. It is only they, he seems to suggest, who can make sure the nation hears, or perhaps speak to the middle classes about what the poor are saying. This conjures up an image of Bishops sitting earnestly in focus groups on council estates hearing the locals moan, then going off to make a statement to the media and talking to local and national government about financial investment. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, is it addressing the real problems, including the spiritual malaise at the heart of our nation? Is there a danger of selective listening, and seeing the solution in research and funding? Is that not in itself a very secular and middle class approach?
Second, the strengthening of parishes in areas of urban deprivation, and planting of new congregations, can’t just be a centralised project. A Bishop can’t just look at a map and ‘deploy’ a few ‘good’ vicars to troubled areas. To put it in the language of the missionary heroes of the past, it only works when God (often miraculously) calls individuals with humility, faith and resilience to a place and a community, and when there is a network of local support. Of course a Diocese can facilitate this process, but a wise Bishop takes no credit if things go well, and doesn’t apportion blame if things go badly (just as a vicar having a hard time in a parish should avoid the easy option of blaming the Diocese, as I confess I have done in the past).
Thirdly, Bishop North is wrong to say that the sexuality debate is irrelevant and a distraction from the priority of mission to the urban poor. Casual sexual promiscuity, family breakdown and toxic relationships on council estates are not hidden by the veneer of sophistication found in middle class communities. Poor educational achievement and low self esteem cannot forever be blamed on Mrs Thatcher, but are partly a product of fatherlessness and lack of wholesome role models. The Church can send a positive message that faithful man-woman marriage, and singleness with sexual self control, is good for families and children. Any change to the Church’s teaching and practice on sexuality and marriage will undermine this.
So I believe that Philip North’s appeals to the Church to remember the urban underclass is an important corrective to the idea that we should just focus on evangelism in university towns with an eye on future leaders and funding. We need to encourage and nurture sacrificial ministry in rough areas, with humility, compassion and listening.
But what is the good news? It is not that my sinful, unregenerate voice is being heard by others. While there must be justice and equality for all, and while politicians in particular need to accurately understand the needs of their constituents, there is no special grace or wisdom in certain feelings being expressed, whether the educated with better access to power or those ‘at the bottom of society’ per se. The Gospel is not that I can have a say, but rather that God wants to speak to me! That I am valued enough to be able to access his friendship despite my sin and failure. So the Church’s main role is not primarily to get the voice of the urban poor to the nation, but to get the voice of God to the poor.
If this is the case, then as a predominantly middle class church we are floundering. If we see the poverty in our nation as only the visible and material manifestation, this tends to lead to mission with a theologically liberal, social justice agenda, focussing on raising money for projects rather than evangelism and disciple-making. If we see the solution to spiritual poverty as church-planting with the right techniques, this can to the few evangelicals who attempt ministry in these areas often feeling frustrated and with a sense of failure. Rather, it would be better to look at the problem the other way round: the struggle of both churches and social services to make a transformational impact in the British urban estates is a result not a cause of ingrained spiritual malaise. We need help from those experienced in ministry among the poor, the oppressed, the persecuted, the forgotten, the hungry at a much lower level than anything we find in Britain. Where can we find such wisdom? Outside our shores, perhaps?
See also: The church must reconnect with the poor and deprived: a Bishop’s swing and a miss, by Stephen Kneale
by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.
Mission through the local church.
At our local village church we are preparing for an evangelistic mission which will take place next year. We don’t call it that, because some of the more traditional members who attend the 9am Communion service, and many of our friends and neighbours in the village who we are seeking to reach with the Gospel, might find talk of ‘mission’ a bit threatening. So it’s going to feature a familiar week of social activities, events with talks, and worship, but it will be called a ‘Festival’.
As part of the preparation we have had a sermon series about prayer, and we’ve been trying to get more people involved in consciously drawing close to God and praying for the community during the week. Christmas gives us an opportunity to intentionally remind churchgoers – regular and occasional – of the message about Christ and how to share it, which will continue into the New Year. A number of prayer meetings have started up.
Occasionally on a Sunday evening we have an informal time of praise and prayer – an opportunity to worship using some new songs which haven’t yet made it into the repertoire of the morning services, and to spend some unhurried time with the Lord and interceding for world, village, church and one another. Last Sunday, the first of Advent, we spent some time reflecting on Simeon and Anna who waited on the Lord and for the revelation of his Messiah. He comes in a way that is not expected; those who miss his coming are the comfortable, the powerful, even the religious leaders; those who receive him are the patient, the humble, the outsiders.
To me it’s a great strength of the Church of England that a small village church can host a service of Holy Communion with sung responses in the morning, and then an informal time of worship and intercession in the evening (even followed by a short prayer walk!) attended by many of the same people, with the exposition of Scripture pointing to Christ at the centre of both.
Rural congregations, as we all know, are under threat; there are debates about whether to rationalise and reorganise, reducing numbers of clergy and services, or whether resources should be taken from central Diocesan funds to subsidise the ministry because of the heritage value and community symbolism of the old buildings, even though services are increasingly poorly attended. But are all rural parishes the same? My experience is that a few are thriving, others, like mine, are small in numbers but with prayer, planning and basic Gospel ministry are seeking to grow and reach out, despite the competition of larger, better resourced urban churches within ten miles. Sadly, we all know that many are struggling.
Rural Church of England ministry will continue as long as people turn up for services and are able to contribute some funds towards the building and the parish share. While that is the brutal economic truth, I would want to argue for a more positive, evangelical vision for local church: people who gather to pray and worship and study the Bible in their locality, with a vision for the Kingdom of God where they live, and a longing for their neighbours to come to Christ. At present, as my church is demonstrating, it’s still possible to carry out this vision in an Anglican village church.
Mission in other parts of the global church
At this time of year when the frantic purchasing of goods obscures the real meaning of the Advent season, many churches want to consciously set aside time, thought and resources for the less fortunate in other parts of the world, and have an appeal for a special project which they support. Readers might like to consider making a contribution towards an excellent scheme which Anglican Mainstream has been assisting over the past 18 months. The Youth Drop-In Centre in Athi River, Kenya, is a ministry of the Anglican Diocese of Machakos. Over £10,000 has been raised so far, and used to purchase equipment for the centre and contribute to the salary and expenses of a full-time youth worker. In one aspect of the ministry, young men suffering from serious trauma resulting from extreme poverty, sexual abuse and drug use receive shelter and counselling, and in conjunction with local churches have the opportunity to rebuild their lives. If you would like to know more, please read this information leaflet here: machakos-youth-centre
A divided Church. Come, Lord Jesus.
We began this piece with an example of how it is still possible to carry out orthodox Christian ministry in the Church of England. But for how long will this be the case?
If the Church continues to embrace or condone doctrinal innovations at odds with the historic understanding of the faith, at what point will it no longer be faithful to ‘the apostolic deposit’ of the unchanging Gospel? When will it have ‘crossed the Rubicon’, putting itself out of fellowship with the majority of Christians worldwide? A paper commissioned by the Officers of the Church of England Evangelical Council and published in October argued that a ‘mixed economy’ church, in which the official doctrines remain orthodox but in practice other views and practices are tolerated and encouraged, would no longer be faithful, and a negotiated schism may be necessary (see also here).
GAFCON UK has gone further, listing several well-publicised instances where the agreed teaching of the church on sex and marriage has been transgressed and not sanctioned, as evidence of the revisionist trajectory. A huge furore ensued; an official response from a Church of England spokesman played down the importance of the Lambeth I:10 resolution and appeared to open the door to a very liberal interpretation of ‘pastoral prayers’ for same sex couples in church. Others have responded to this in turn. A (regularly updated) compendium of the most important articles on this issue can be found here.
In my village church it sometimes feels as if we are far away from these global theological controversies. But then a conversation with a church member who can’t accept the doctrine of sin or the uniqueness of Christ reminds me that every human heart is a microcosm of the clash of views being played out in Dioceses, theological colleges and the Christian i-space: a war between what I want and think is best, and what God requires.
By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.
Is it really true that Jesus had no opinion about homosexual practice? Can we be sure that the children of same sex couples suffer no disadvantages from their parents’ lifestyles and ideologies? Is ‘transgender’ mainly about individuals who need compassion, or an altering of reality for all of us? Should Christians spend time analyzing and countering the effects of the sexual revolution, or does this detract from ‘Gospel ministry? These were some of the questions being asked at “The New Normal”, a conference organized by Christian Concern which took place at the Emmanuel Centre, London on 11/12 November.
The effects of the sexual revolution on children
The work and personal testimony of American academic Bobby Lopez (Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) was the central feature of the gathering. Raised by his mother and her female partner, Lopez began a promiscuous gay lifestyle in his early teens . A crisis of identity followed in his late 20’s, based on his experience of fatherlessness and dysfunction: he subsequently fell in love with and married a woman, and fully embraced faith in Christ. This story was displayed in a powerful drama on the Friday evening, entitled ‘Sunlight’.
When Lopez started to reflect on the realities of growing up with same sex caregivers in the LGB subcultures and tell his story publicly, he was immediately vilified, accused of homophobia, and suffered professional disadvantage. He began to collect testimonies of people from similar backgrounds, challenging the assumptions that parenting by same sex couples and related issues of surrogacy and adoption have no negative effect on children.
The right of people in society to have same sex relationships is not being questioned, nor the genuine love and commitment of some gay couples towards their children. However even in the best cases (as with single parent families), children in these contexts lack at least one of their biological parents, and miss close care and role modelling from one of the sexes. With same sex parenting, however, there is often pressure on children to publicly validate their parents’ lifestyle and ideology, and cases of abuse are more often overlooked for reasons of political correctness.
A UK version of collected accounts was released at the conference, entitled Jephthah’s Children: The Innocent Casualties of Same Sex Parenting (Wilberforce – soon to be here). In his preface to the book, Lopez asserts that same sex marriage, which has had the effect of providing respectability to a hasty social experiment and shielding it from proper scrutiny, is “premised on falsehoods”, and has taken “protections away from the most vulnerable people in the world…children, and empowered the most privileged people in the world, particularly but not exclusively wealthy white men”.
Brittany Klein, co-editor of Jephthah’s Children and another speaker at the conference, agreed that sexual identity politics is essentially in conflict with the rights of children. As a result of this and the wider sexual revolution, the traditional cultural pathways for enabling children to grow into adults with psychological health are being removed in our society. For Lopez, the Christian faith, which teaches sacrifice of self to others and to God’s will, is now directly set against Western consumerism, based on the immediate satisfying of desires. Only one of these worldviews offers a beneficial environment for children.
The presentations at the event, which drew about 200 delegates, used biblical exegesis, literary criticism, drama, social science and philosophy to address some of these issues which have sharp contemporary relevance.
The Bible and early Christian teaching
New Testament scholar John Nolland from Bristol, in his usual calm and reasoned style, summarized the teaching of Jesus and Paul about sexual immorality. It’s true that Jesus talks more about the Kingdom of God than he does about sex, but he talks more about sex than he does about care for the poor, for example. When he warns of the polluting effect of sexual immorality (eg Matthew 15:19), he and his hearers would have in mind all sexual acts outside of covenant marriage between a man and a woman, as clearly taught in the Old Testament. The apostle Paul, operating in a Gentile culture without the strict Jewish sexual ethic, has to be more specific about different kinds of sexual activity that transgresses God’s clear boundaries. For both Jesus and Paul, the teachers of salvation by grace, a profound concern for sexual purity comes from God’s desire to protect humanity, especially the most vulnerable.
Dr Carys Moseley, a theologian from Cardiff, gave a perspective on contemporary ideas about gender from church history. Androgyny and blurring gender distinctions is not new, but goes back to the Gnostics and further back into the cultures surrounding early Israel. The teaching of Genesis about humanity made in God’s image as binary male and female, some Old Testament references to eunuchs and cross dressing, , and writings of the early church fathers may be examples of ‘contextual theology’, countering commonly held views of the time. Just as in that era, so today when people do not have a Judaeo-Christian understanding of God and the universe, there is a collapse of boundaries around sex and gender.
Education policies based on manipulation of myth and emotion
Sex education material, increasingly explicit and designed to encourage children to think positively about same sex relationships and transgenderism, is being introduced into schools; parents and teachers who complain are branded as ‘bigots’. Researcher Brian Hadley gave a detailed overview of some of the materials being used in primary schools, from organisations such as Equalities Primary and Educate & Celebrate. Common themes include what Brian referred to as ‘love confusion’, where the lesson plans involve a dangerous blurring of romantic love, friendship, family connections and sexual arousal, and ‘gender confusion’, where young children role play the opposite gender, and are taught that being a boy or a girl is just about ‘ how you feel’.
Patricia Morgan, who has written a number of books of social research including ‘The Marriage Files‘, explained how the unquestioned narrative of bullying of LGBT youth is used to drive education policy. A certain proportion of the population is ‘gay’ from birth, probably 10%, the argument goes. The ‘heteronormativity’ of society makes this minority feel like outsiders, indeed many are bullied simply for being gay. This is the reason for low self esteem, sexual promiscuity and even suicide among gay young people. The solution is to make all schools and workplaces completely accepting of LGBT behaviours and attitudes, and to downplay and minimize traditional family structures.
But as both Hadley and Morgan showed, all of these arguments are based on myths. Sexual orientation in young people is notoriously fluid, rather than an innate characteristic like race. The 10% figure was first put forward by the ‘sex researcher’ discredited paedophile Alfred Kinsey in the 1950’s, and has consistently been refuted by more recent research. Rhetoric about ‘homophobic bullying’ being more prevalent and nasty than bullying for other reasons, is not backed up by facts. In particular, data on tragic cases of youth suicides is being falsified to claim peer disapproval about sexual orientation as a major factor, when every suicide has a much more complex background.
Morgan traced the origin of this theory to gay activists in San Francisco in the 1980’s, whose assertions about suicide were based on ideologically driven research without proper controls, but whose results are still used today. The ‘suicide’ argument is emotionally powerful and shuts down debate. But if it is actually not true that external disapproval is causing distress to young people identifying as gay (disproportionally to other forms of bullying), then it needs to be challenged. Bullying should be countered by the promotion of civility, not unreality and immorality.
Many other thoughtful presentations continued the theme of a ‘new normal’ of thinking about sex and gender affecting government, media, education and church. For example, Dan Moody (author of ‘The Flesh Made Word’) spoke on the crisis of identity and language that results when a male legally becomes a ‘she’. Mike Davidson from Core Issues Trust showed a clip of a soon to be released documentary film ‘Voices of the Silenced’, which compares our current situation with that of the first Christians in sexually anarchic Rome. Lisa Nolland gave a snapshot of what is being taught in secondary schools, and also highlighted the imposition of the LGBT agenda on developing countries, through the UN. There were opportunities for discussion in plenary and in breaks. Special appreciation was shown at the end to Andrea Williams of Christian Concern who co-organised and chaired the event.
Four reasons to care
Why should this issue matter to Christians? Firstly, truth. As with all wars, in this clash of worldviews it’s the first casualty. It’s not just the suppression of the Bible’s teaching, but deliberate denial of reality for ideological purposes. The role of the church should not be simply to create community around faith in Jesus, but establish the foundation of a counter-cultural worldview based on God’s word.
Secondly, love. Christians should care for all, especially for the most vulnerable. The ‘rights’ of adults to pursue certain sexual and family lifestyle choices are now accepted in the West, driven by compassion for those previously persecuted. But the rights of children affected by these choices appear to be ignored. True love and compassion would place the needs of the ‘little ones’ above the desires of adults.
Thirdly, freedom. For many decades we have taken for granted the blessing of religious liberty in this country. This freedom is increasingly under threat, as children are compelled to accept and celebrate LGBT dogmas, and registrars, bakers, prison chaplains and others are punished for expressing their Christian beliefs.
Lastly, hope. It can appear as if orthodox Christians have lost the battle, and all around us is confusion and the darkening of minds. The church does not need to capitulate to the world’s thinking, or retreat into a ghetto. Conference delegates were challenged to make our communities places of truth, and compassion for people loved by God and needing rescue and care. We can have confidence in the Gospel of transformation, standing with the majority of the world who have not conformed to the ‘new normal’ of the West.
by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.
I went through a ‘pacifist’ phase as a teenager. Wilfred Owen’s angry words summed up my feelings at the time. His familiar poem ends with a description of a soldier’s death in a mustard gas attack, and concludes that any witness to that awful scene
… would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie; Dulce et Decorum est
Pro patria mori.
Owen’s poem challenges and undermines the idea that dying for one’s country in a patriotic war is sweet and glorious. I went further – I even had doubts about my country as an entity worth fighting for or dying for. It was the era of the cold war, American nuclear weapons stationed in the heart of England, the Falklands conflict – for me at that time Remembrance Day was embarrassingly jingoistic– in fact I couldn’t see how Christianity could be in any way compatible with the military.
I was a Christian but was perhaps paying more attention to my own brilliant ideas than to the Bible and the wisdom of the ages. Looking back I realise that the suspicion of unthinking aggressive patriotism and the gut horror at violent conflict may have been godly, but my attitude to those involved in war was not. My pacifism may have owed more to ignorance, arrogance and cowardice than to noble principles. Remembering past wars does not have to be a proud praising of the nation and its military power while ignoring the plight of the poor and suffering. It can have real psychological and spiritual benefits, for humility (reminding us of how sinful human beings are, and how courageous and selfless they can be), and community (motivating us to resolve conflicts and seek peace).
But also in war there is sometimes a genuine case of right versus wrong. Assisting those desperately defending their land and homes against unprovoked aggression, and preventing the global triumph of an evil philosophy – did Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek” apply to that? Maybe its not so simple.
Jesus taught about war his sermon by the temple in Jerusalem, in the last week of his life. This is looking at Luke’s version (chapter 21).
Firstly, human beings will always fight. He said “wars and uprisings…must happen” and “nation will rise against nation” (v9-10). Perhaps he had in mind the rage of the nations of Psalm 2, as he foresaw how much of human history would involve war. At the end of the 19th century many genuinely believed that science would solve humanity’s problems and a utopia would result. Two horrific global conflicts followed, within 50 years. In 1992 commentators proclaimed ‘the end of history’ after the collapse of the Soviet empire and the apparent triumph of liberal capitalism. Less than ten years later the ‘war on terror’ began, and continues to this day. There will be war because of human sin.
Secondly, there’s a sense that war is reflecting a wider unseen conflict in the spiritual realm. Verses 10-11: There will be wars, earthquakes, famines “and great signs from heaven”. Jesus goes on to give descriptions of the persecution of the church which started soon after his death, and the destruction of Jerusalem (40 years after his death), and he sets these events next to talking about global disasters and strange things going on in the sky. The terrible evil that’s unleashed in war is part of the groaning of creation that’s a constant battleground between God patiently working out his purposes, and Satan and his invisible forces trying to disrupt them and cause as much havoc as possible.
Third, war is an outworking of God’s judgement. “There will be great distress in the land and wrath against this people” (v23). The appalling picture of pregnant women and nursing mothers “falling by the sword”, and Jerusalem being “trampled by the Gentiles” does not negate the fact that in some way that we cannot fully understand, even the worst situations are under God’s control and part of his just purposes. Unless one takes the view that violence is always wrong, most would accept that there are some circumstances when military force is necessary to defeat evil, such as fighting against Hitler or ISIS. In such cases there is collateral damage and innocent people suffer. Jesus seems to be saying that the same happens in “the time of punishment” (v22). While we may rebel against this idea of God’s wrath against evil, the alternatives are not consistent with the Bible’s descriptions of God – that he is nowhere to be seen when there’s a war, or that he is sitting with the suffering and dying but powerless to do anything about the conflict and its outcome.
But then all through this passage, where Jesus sees various kinds of conflict and suffering and natural disasters over the centuries ahead, there is good news! There will be an end to war when Jesus will return and all sin and evil will finally be removed and destroyed. In the meantime, God is going to look after his special people. Those who are faithful to Jesus will be safe even if they die physically (v16-18), and today we have constant reminders of the terror faced by Christians in many countries across the world, and are challenged and uplifted by their faith. Cataclysmic events will be a sign of the end, of redemption drawing near, a time to stand up and lift up the head (v28). The process leading to the event that brings about this salvation, the death of Christ on the cross, begins shortly after the conclusion of Jesus’ sermon.
I’ve never fought in a war. I have never had to face what soldiers on active service or civilians caught up in war have faced. For those who have fought, war must dominate their thinking for the rest of their lives. Honouring the great courage and self sacrifice of those who have fallen in war is an essential part of our humanity. But according to Jesus, its not how much we have suffered or how much courage we’ve shown in the face of war that matters ultimately. Rather it’s how we face that day of judgement, whether in the heat of battle, or in a civilian life of partying and “the anxieties of life”. The words of Jesus are sobering: “be careful” because that day will come – pray that you will escape the worst suffering, but whatever happens, make sure you can “stand before the Son of Man”. That depends on our faith in him, not on our courage on the battlefield or any other good works.
The time of Remembrance reminds us of many lessons for our discipleship: the value of putting oneself on the line in defence of others, the reality and imminence of judgement, the good news of God’s sovereignty and the promise of his complete protection for those who trust in Christ, and the need to be prayerful, spiritually like the soldier who is always “on watch”.
See also: From Remembrance to Faith and Hope (2014) by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream
by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.
Recent articles give a variety of perspectives on evangelism and the Church’s relationship with contemporary culture.
The C of E recently released the annual Statistics for Mission for 2015. The figures show continued decline in overall regular attendance at parish churches, although numbers for Christmas show a slight increase. In the view of the media, this serves as yet another reminder of the Church’s continued struggle to retain members and attract new ones.
Make evangelism the main thing
A report in the Church Times, entitled Thinking about Evangelism, includes interviews with members of Archbishop’s Task Force on evangelism, and other clergy. According to Chris Russell, a renewed and more urgent focus on evangelism should not be “motivated by anxiety about numbers” but because “people do not know Jesus Christ”. While the Archbishops of York and Canterbury have recently led high profile initiatives in prayer, witness and mission, at the local level it seems that many clergy are not giving priority to evangelism in parishes. Why is this? Its clear from the interview quotes that for some, there is an aversion to speaking about faith outside of the regular liturgy of worship and the church doing good in the community and caring for the poor; the work of priesthood is seen as ‘witness through presence’.
Among those interviewed in the report there is no clear agreement on what evangelism is, and a coyness about defining the message. One Diocesan official talks about churchgoers making friends and inviting people to “explore who you are as a spiritual being” (which might at best be described as pre-evangelism, not sharing good news about Jesus!) There is an assumption that provision of love, authenticity, family, examples of “real” alternative values (not defined) will draw people in to the faith community. An inevitable comment from sociologist Linda Woodhead concludes the piece: the church should stop being a moral judge, and offer experience of God through silence and mystery.
Do evangelism in the hard areas
There are similar vague sentiments expressed in an article by Malcolm Brown from Church House. He begins by making some good points: there needs to be more support for intentional evangelism through the local church in historically neglected areas of the country for mission: low cost housing estates. The Renewal and Reform programme wants to enable this, believing that the Church must not retreat but engage and grow in these areas, linking evangelism and “the transformation of people’s lives…building bonds of community around shared faith in Christ”. The parable of the sower teaches us that the seed of the Gospel should be sown everywhere, not just in ground we think more likely to be fruitful ie economically viable, or areas where it is easier to attract clergy to live and minister.
As someone who spent seven years as a vicar in a periurban estate I would agree with this. But in terms of the crucial questions of method and message in the toughest areas, Brown can at the moment only suggest facilitating a conversation among existing and would be practitioners. Again there is a tiptoeing around any definite statement about Christian faith (such as repentance from sin, conversion to Christ, the power of the Spirit), or about possible causes of urban deprivation and associated church struggles. The official line seems to be: we want church growth, so evangelism is necessary, but it’s up to each of us to define it according to our different theologies.
Change the church’s image and message, and the people will come
Some church leaders are prepared to come off the fence, and believe the key to mission is to make the church more attractive to the general public, specifically by being fully “welcoming” to the “LGBT community”. The now familiar method of bringing this to our attention is by commissioning a survey, interpreting the results to say what you want to say (“some people think the church is unwelcoming”), and releasing a press statement.
Setting aside statistical detail of this recent poll (leave that to Peter Ould) and the totally un-newsworthy, ‘Pope-is-Catholic’ revelation that Jayne Ozanne, Martyn Percy and Alan Wilson want the church to change its teaching on sexual ethics, it is worth making the point that their ostensible reason for doing so is evangelism. The Church’s continued ‘injustice’ against gay people “will continue to impede all efforts to evangelise future generations”, says Percy.
The assumption seems to be that the Church should change its views to align with how a particular group of non-believers think, in order to be seen as “there for everyone”. It is difficult to imagine a philosophy further removed from the teaching about mission in the NT, and bizarre that some people persist in the line of thinking when all the evidence shows that it is theologically orthodox parish churches which are most committed to, and effective in evangelism.
Inspire, pray, unite, accentuate the positive
Other influential leaders want to turn the tables and give a different narrative altogether from the continual focus on church decline and the need to reverse it. This view says: let’s be positive not negative. Don’t bemoan decline but get excited about pockets of growth. Don’t pander to the media cliche of old C of E church buildings with a handful of elderly worshippers – rather tell stories of new church plants, young people worshipping and praying, and initiatives by non Anglican denominations. Look at the growth in London, and in Cathedrals. Not “a generation away from extinction” but “on the cusp of revival’. Focus on unity across denominations in prayer and worship as a sign of the Kingdom.
Pete Greig, founder of the 24/7 Prayer initiative, author and inspiring charismatic speaker with strong connections to Holy Trinity Brompton and Archbishop Justin Welby, sets out his vision for mission along these lines. He concludes his ‘Letter to the UK church’ by suggesting the Nicene Creed as the basis for Christian unity, and insisting that differences of opinion on such issues as Israel, spiritual gifts, church governance, marriage and sexuality are secondary – they should not “define orthodoxy or divide the Church” as we recommit to making disciples throughout the land.
Don’t compromise on the authentic message
A very different view is taken by the authors of the recent document ‘Guarding the Deposit’ released on 25th October by the Church of England Evangelical Council. It argues that the basis for evangelism must be a church based on “apostolic norms”, with doctrinal and ethical teaching going back to the Lord Jesus himself. The original apostles, and their successors as leaders of the church, should “not only preach the gospel message about him [Jesus] but have authority to shape the life of the congregations that were formed within the surrounding pagan culture as a result of their preaching”. The document goes on to state clearly that if the Church of England were to capitulate to cultural pressure and either relegate key issues of doctrine and ethics to “things indifferent” (as Pete Greig suggests above) or to actually deny the apostles teaching and promote the opposite, it would no longer “retain apostolic continuity”.
‘Guarding the deposit’ rejects the idea that fence-sitting, accommodation and compromise over sexuality would make the church more successful in its evangelism. It would mean “a return to the pagan patterns of sexual conduct from which Christ came to redeem us”. It would lead to a serious break with the vibrant churches of the Global South who are far more successful in evangelism than we are, and from whom we need to learn about how to share faith and grow the church. It would result in “a new church – a non-apostolic version of Anglicanism” from which orthodox believers in England would be justified in seeking an alternative and more faithful ecclesial jurisdiction (the document goes on to outline various options for “visible differentiation” in the event of a decision to abandon apostolic norms).
Niebuhr revisited: Christ and culture
These different understandings of evangelism illustrate different perceptions of the Church’s relationship to the surrounding society, and how Christians view Jesus in relation to culture. Reinhold Niebuhr’s classic of missiology from the 1950’s, portraying the pros and cons of five different perspectives, has often been referenced in this discussion. A helpful recent summary by Trevin Wax can be found here.
The approach of those who want to mould the church to fit society’s values aligns with Neibuhr’s ‘Christ of culture’ model. Wax comments:
Despite the appeal of this position to the elite and powerful groups within a civilization, Niebuhr sees it as inadequate… allowing loyalty to culture trump loyalty to Christ, to the point the New Testament Jesus gets replaced with an idol that shares his name.
The viewpoint outlined above by Pete Greig would be described by Niehbuhr as ‘Christ and culture in synthesis’. Focussing on the differences between the ways of thinking and behaving in secular society, and the faithful church, is negative and judgemental. Rather, Christians should always look for points of contact between church and culture, always affirming the good, so that the world views the church favourably. However, an over-emphasis on the positives downplays clear Scriptural themes and can end up obscuring truth, for example on sin and judgement. A merely optimistic analysis may be inspiring in the short term but does not provide a foundation for resilience during periods of discouragement and difficulty in evangelism, or for how to interpret negative news and current cultural trends with honesty and godly understanding.
‘Christ and culture in tension’ is a view that observes culture somewhat dispassionately as if from a distance, as we seek to be faithful to Christ. We acknowledge differences between culture and the Christian community, but do not criticize it or seek to change it. Rather the concern is on preventing unchristian elements from the culture from infiltrating the church (note the regular New Testament warnings about ‘false teaching’). Evangelism and discipleship will involve offering people a clear choice between the way of Christ and the way of the world; the resulting church will be counter-cultural, but not seeking to criticize or change culture outside the walls of the church.
But another view would say that some aspects of culture cannot be observed dispassionately or treated as background wallpaper to our lives. Non-Christian society cannot simply be seen as an open door for the Gospel, as if evangelism is easy, and failure to grow the church is only due to fear or lack of winsomeness in presentation. While humanity is made in the image of God and made up of redeemable individuals whom Christ came to save, there are ugly and hostile aspects of culture, consisting of powers actively seeking to destroy the church. These must be named, described and faced by believers, through prophetic analysis (pointing out what is wrong in the culture from a Christian point of view), and spiritual warfare as a basis for preaching of the Gospel. This ‘Christ against culture’ thinking has usually avoided by the Church of England with its ‘gospel of niceness’, but in other parts of the world Anglicans have employed it with godly courage, standing up to oppression, injustice, corruption and error in government and society.
Such is the crisis of confidence that declining attendances and divisions over doctrine have caused in the C of E, that there are few people arguing in the style of Niehbuhr’s fifth model, ‘Christ the transformer of culture’. The idea of the church shaping the values and policies of government, law, education, media seems for many people too close to a ‘Christendom’ model. But there are good examples of this working in history, as Joe Boot argues in this article.
According to this view, evangelism is not just about leading individuals to Christ, and church growth. Nor can it be content to speak against the destructive powers and protect the church from false teaching, important though this is. The vision that Jesus gave in the ‘Great Commission’ is to disciple nations, to lead communities and societies out of wrong thinking and practice, so there is closer alignment in society with right belief, worship and behaviour. Is it possible for the redeemed people God to provide cultural leadership even to those who have not yet accepted Christ? That is another debate.
By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.
Our thinking about sex and gender is being shaped, not by philosophical discussions, descriptions of a way of thinking, abstract point-by-point reasoning. Rather, we’re being presented with stories about people, whether it’s fictional characters on a soap opera who we come to admire and identify with, or real individuals, like the woman I heard being interviewed on the radio some weeks ago. Megan, from Brighton, was talking about Alice, her daughter. Alice was born with male accoutrements and so was originally, ‘mistakenly’, called “Adam”, but as she grew up she showed a preference for a female persona. “When she said she wanted to be a girl, I was delighted”, gushes Megan, “and we’re now beginning the process of transitioning, so eventually Alice’s body conforms more to who she really is. I know the risks: she’ll have a higher chance of mental health problems later, but that’s because of stigma in society against trans people”.
The interviewer asks gently: “and how are friends and family responding?”
“Everyone is completely supportive. We’ve had so many ‘likes’ on social media. In the school, Alice is Alice, she plays with the girls and uses their toilets, and all the children are being taught that we are all free to be who we want to be. A couple of parents did question it but I’m glad to say they’ve been firmly put in their place and told that bigotry will not be tolerated”.
A story closer to home has reached the national media this week. A fourteen year old girl has decided she’s a boy. Her parents will not let her begin the process of transition, believing that they are responsible for her welfare, and that their daughter has been influenced in this direction by others including a social worker. The girl has complained to the local authority, who are backing her wishes against those of the parents, and are threatening to take the girl away from her family so she can be free to pursue the search for her gender identity. The parents, we are told, are committed Christians, and are being supported in their legal case by Christian Legal Centre.
There are several important questions that need to be asked when confronted with the new social reality that has nurtured the transgender phenomenon. Depending on our personality, our life experience, our understanding of Christian faith, some questions may resonate more than others:
- how should I, and the Church, respond to transgender people?
- What does the Bible say about sex and gender, and about suffering, sin and salvation?
- What does ‘gender theory’ (the idea that our gender identity is in our mind, not our body) mean for all of us when it is promoted in society and enforced in law?
- Where has this new thinking come from?
- What will happen to freedom to believe and practice orthodox Christian faith in the West?
- What should we do?
Many of these questions will be addressed at the Conference led by Christian Concern on 11-12 November in London.
Two recent books explore some of the questions in more detail. Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe’s Church, Oxford, takes on the issue of Transgender as part of the new ‘Talking Points’ series from the Good Book Company. His main concerns are summarized by the first two questions on the above list. Some people suffer from ‘gender dysphoria’; the science is unclear why; these are suffering individuals coping with interior stresses rather than actively representing an agenda or ideology. They are not just people ‘out there’ like the media stories at the start of this piece. Adam/Alice may be in our church or our workplace or family.
Christians should not respond with disgust, “yuk”, but nor can we simply endorse with a “yes” the worldview of someone who has rejected their body’s sex and is creating a new gender identity. Vaughan then takes the reader through an overview of biblical theology of personhood from creation to revelation. Sin has brought about sickness and disorder; human thinking is corrupted (there is a clear exposition of Romans 1:18ff), but the good news is about God’s rescue plan through Christ. Unlike contemporary thinking which locates me as the centre of the universe, and authenticity coming from affirming my desires, Scripture tells us that Jesus is the hero and the centre, my identity comes from union with him, and by conforming my desires to God’s will.
While Vaughan’s book does mention the need for some Christians to contend for public truth in these areas, the main emphasis of the book is pastoral and evangelistic. Writer Daniel Moody is more interested in the impact on all of society when a man legally takes the identity of a woman, and vice versa.
Daniel’s book uses simple analogies to explain and deconstruct what is going on. If the law declares that a man (physically) is in fact a woman because he feels a woman (mentally), then reality has been changed for all of us. The law now recognizes me as a man, not because of my physical sex, but because that’s who I have declared myself to be. If taken to an extreme, if transgender is normal, then using the physical body to determine identity is taken away, and all we are left with to define humanity and navigate reality is mind, and words with changed meanings (see also here). Hence the title of the book ‘The Flesh made Word’, alluding to a reversal of the Gospel message.
Daniel’s book has a unique style and subject matter that is not always easy to read. I found myself skipping over bits I didn’t quite follow or even disagreed with, but then would find passages that stopped me short, startling me with the implications of what is happening in society. Apart from the title there is almost nothing explicitly Christian in the book except at the very end (for that reason Christians who want to find reasoning that does not only depend on Scripture may find it helpful). The ‘hiding’ of the physical body in the new doctrine of gender, is compared to Adam and Eve hiding from God in the garden. Finding ourselves as human beings requires looking at God again.
In today’s environment Christians are finding it harder to hold together the personal and the philosophical, the evangelistic and the prophetic. Is a transgendered person just an individual going through psychological anguish? Or is he/she also a symptom of a wider problem, what Isaiah describes in 59:14: “justice is driven back…truth has stumbled in the streets. Honesty cannot enter.” When the fear of hurting the feelings of an individual prevent the church from warning about a lie which is changing the basic understanding of reality of more and more people, is that ‘compassion’, or avoidance of spiritual conflict with contemporary ‘strongholds’? It may be that some Christians have a particular calling to focus on evangelism and pastoral care within churches, but this cannot be seen as the only valid Christian response to Transgender, as if the stumbling of truth in the streets is not our concern. To speak prophetically to society about wrong thinking, and to care compassionately for individuals caught up in it, is not a contradiction, but two vital aspects of the church’s ministry.
 The names in this section have been changed; the story is as I heard it.
See also: Legal sex: exchanging the truth about sex for the lie of gender, by Daniel Moody, The Public Discourse
By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.
On Wednesday 12th October a letter was sent to the College of Bishops, signed by nearly a hundred evangelical leaders, making it clear that “further changes to practice or doctrine” on sexual ethics would result in serious damage to the Church of England. The letter isn’t titled. There was no sophisticated media strategy involved in getting it out, other than asking signatories to make it more widely known. There was initially some confusion about whether it was meant to be kept ‘in house’ among the evangelical constituency, or publicised in the wider media. The organisers, led by John Dunnett of CPAS and some of the committee of the Evangelical Group on General Synod, then let it be known that it is a public letter. The issue is considered to be of sufficient urgency that it can’t just be a private communication with Bishops, but must also be a signal to the wider church. The main points of the letter were reported in the Church press on Thursday and Friday. The text of the letter follows here, with my numbering of paragraphs, and commentary.
The Church of England is at a crossroads in her calling to bring hope and transformation to our nation. The presenting issue is that of human sexuality, in particular whether or not the Church is able to affirm sexual relationships beyond opposite sex marriage. But the tectonic issues beneath, and driving, this specific question include what it means to be faithful to our apostolic inheritance, the Church’s relationship with wider culture, and the nature of the biblical call to holiness in the 21st Century.
This first paragraph sets out clearly the key issues. The debates about sexuality are the ‘tip of the iceberg’; the positions taken on this issue reveal the undergirding worldviews based on how we interpret Scripture, how we see the Church’s missionary task in a rapidly changing society, and how we understand personal discipleship in relationship with Christ.
As culture and attitudes continue to change, the Church faces a range of new social realities. These include the rise in cohabitation and the wide scale acceptance of divorce with its negative impact on children, the explosion of diverse types of family relationships, the emergence of gender fluidity and bisexuality, and the recognition of same-sex unions. These far-reaching social changes raise questions and – in some quarters – undermine confidence in our inherited teaching.
The signatories agree that there is now a big disconnect between historic Christian teaching, and what is now acceptable and celebrated in the culture. New attitudes to sex are having a clear negative impact especially on children; they increasingly undermine Christian discipleship as historically understood. In saying this, the signatories are distancing themselves from other self-styled ‘evangelicals’ who do not want to address sexual issues (or even support liberalisation) for fear of being thought old fashioned, bigoted or ‘anti’ society. The letter does not attempt to analyse the origins of the “new realities, for example whether this is a sexual evolution (a natural consequence of the enlightenment and postmodernism) or revolution ( deliberately driven by a powerful LGBT lobby), but nor does it say we should simply accept these realities, as some voices in the Church are suggesting.
3. The Church has not always navigated these social realities well. We recognise the damage caused by judgmental attitudes. We have sometimes failed to recognise acts of great kindness and humanity. We have elevated some sins above others. We have ignored the plank in our own eye. There is much work ahead, not least in ensuring that our communities offer sacrificial hospitality and service to all, regardless of background, family structure or sexuality.
This paragraph conveys an important note of humility: awareness of failures from within the evangelical community, and commitment to continually improving pastoral care.
4. At the same time, we remain convinced of the essential goodness of the Christian moral vision. The Bible is clear that God has given the marriage of one man with one woman as the only context in which physical expression is to be given to our sexuality. We believe that we flourish, whether single or married, as our lives are brought into harmony with God’s intended design.
The phrase “Christian moral vision” is repeated twice in the letter, asserting that biblical sexual morality (defined as sex within man-woman marriage only) is vital part of this moral vision and a key component of holiness. Many will no doubt be critical of this assumption, and will ask for example why care for the poor is not top of the list in defining Christian moral vision. The answer to this would be that care for the poor remains integral to Christian moral vision, but is not the ‘presenting issue’ in the current divisive debate.
Any change in the Church’s teaching or practice – such as the introduction of provisions that celebrate or bless sexual relationships outside of a marriage between one man and one woman – would represent a significant departure from our apostolic inheritance and the authority of the Bible in matters of faith and doctrine. It would also, inevitably, be a further step on a trajectory towards the full acceptance of same-sex sexual partnerships as equivalent to male-female marriage.
Here we see the drawing up of a clear ‘red line’. The same ‘Rubicon’, in fact, that was identified by Bishop Keith Sinclair in his dissenting statement to the Pilling Report three years ago, and which is outlined in Lambeth Resolution 1:10 from 1998 (especially point e: “This conference…cannot advise the legitimising or blessing of same sex unions”), and reiterates a similar statement made by the Church of England Bishops as recently as February 2014.
There are substantive issues at stake here about the Christian understanding of what it means to be human. We do not believe that God has left us alone in the confusion and uncertainty of constructing our own identity. The gift of male and female sexual differentiation, and its unique and fundamental mutuality, is part of God’s good creation and a mirror to His own nature, and the boundaries it brings are for our flourishing and preservation.
Again, this makes it clear that the issue is about foundational Christian anthropology, rather than a minor theological debate within the church. There is the historic Christian understanding of humanity created by God to flourish within a given reality, set against another understanding that we are radically free to “construct our own identity”. So this is not just about what the Church should currently believe and teach, but what Western society will look like for our children.
We do not believe therefore that it is within our gift to consider human sexual relationships and what constitutes and enables our flourishing as sexual beings to be of ‘secondary importance’. What is at stake goes far beyond the immediate pastoral challenges of human bisexual and same-sex sexual behaviour: it is a choice between alternative and radically different visions of what it means to be human, to honour God in our bodies, and to order our lives in line with God’s holy will.
This is a strong rebuke to those Church leaders who want to relegate the issue of sexuality to the level of ‘adiaphora’ while focussing on institutional conformity. It is also a call to integrate our understanding of sexuality into a wider, positive vision of living as the people of God, rather than seeing it as just a pastoral issue for a minority.
At this crucial juncture, as our bishops pray and discern together regarding how the Church of England should walk forward at this time, we urge them not to depart from the apostolic inheritance with which they have been entrusted.
Of course, it could be argued that some Bishops have already departed from this inheritance! But the letter wisely does not refer to this.
Any further changes to practice or doctrine in these important areas will set the Church on a path of fundamental disunity. It would cause a break not only with the majority of the Anglican Communion, but with the consistent mind of the worldwide Church down many centuries. It will trigger a process of division and fragmentation among faithful Anglicans in England. Responses would vary, but the consequences for the life and mission of the Church will be far-reaching, both nationally and globally.
A serious warning which will no doubt be seen as a threat to schism. It’s significant that this letter came out just a few days after similar clear statements from the Global South and GAFCON. But it’s not saying to the Bishops “if you change, we will split”, but rather “if you change you have created a split”. There is no attempt at trying to reconcile the different views, or calls for further talks. This appears to be acknowledging that the Pilling/ Shared Conversations project, with its idea that different views and practices on sexuality can coexist in a united Church, has not succeeded.
“Responses will vary” is a reference to the fact that there are differences of opinion among orthodox evangelicals on strategy in the event of the Church affirming same sex relationships.
We ask our bishops to commit to a renewed vision of a welcoming Church in which all hear the good news of the Gospel, all are invited to repent and receive the grace of God, and all are called as followers of Jesus to live out the Christian moral vision– in lives of self-sacrifice and mutual care – for the common good.
The letter closes with an attractive, positive vision of Christian faith and church life, avoiding any sense of smugness, emphasising humility, grace and looking after one another. [A further collection of articles on sexuality and renewed vision, selected by the committee of the Evangelical Group on General Synod (EGGS), can be found here.] I take the final phrase (“for the common good”) to refer not just to all members of the C of E but to the nation as a whole, and perhaps the world, since Anglicanism at its best has always had an impact beyond the local parish, “to the ends of the earth”.
Those signing below do so in a purely personal capacity. They are evangelical leaders from a variety of backgrounds, churches and organisations and indicative of the breadth and depth of support for this letter. Some could be labelled as LGBTI but are living in conformity with the historic teachings of the church.
The list of signatories includes a breadth of evangelical opinion: charismatic and reformed; those who have been vocal on this issue and those who have preferred to be quiet and conciliatory; the ‘prophets’ and the ‘pastors’. I’m not sure I would have used the “LGBTI” reference but that is a minor point in an otherwise excellent letter which I was happy to sign, and which hopefully will be used as a resource to build orthodox Anglican unity around “The Christian moral vision”.
Revd Canon Dr Peter Ackroyd, Vicar, St Marys Wootton, Chair St Albans Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Sam Allberry, Trustee and co-founder of Living Out, apologist for the Zacharias Trust, editor for The Gospel Coalition.
Revd Steve Allen, Chair of CPAS Patronage Trustees.
Mrs Lorna Ashworth, member of Archbishops’ Council.
Revd Dr Andrew Atherstone, Wycliffe Hall and General Synod.
Revd Simon Austen, Rector, St. Leonard’s Exeter.
Revd David Banting, Vicar, St Peter’s Harold Wood, Trustee of Reform, and General Synod.
Revd Mark Burkill, Chair of Reform and Chair Latimer Trust.
Revd Nathan Buttery, Associate Vicar, St Andrew the Great, Cambridge.
Revd Tim Chapman, Minister, Christ Church South Cambs, Sawston.
Revd Charlie Cleverly, Rector, St Aldates, Oxford.
Revd John Coles, Missional Community Leader, London.
Canon Andrew Cornes, Sussex Gospel Partnership and General Synod.
Revd Alyson Davie, Chair of the House of Clergy for Rochester Diocese.
Revd C J Davis, Rector, St Nicholas, Tooting.
Revd Joe Dent, Rector, Minster Church of St Andrew, Plymouth.
Revd Dr Sean Doherty, St Mellitus College, member of the Living Out team and General Synod.
Revd Will Donaldson, Director of Pastoral Care at St Aldates, Oxford and Area Dean of Oxford.
Revd James Dudley-Smith, Rector and Rural Dean of Yeovil, Member of General Synod.
Revd John Dunnett, Chair of Evangelical Group General Synod (EGGS).
Revd Jonny Elvin, Vicar, Trinity Church, Exeter and Chair of Exeter Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Anthony Everett, Chair of Canterbury Diocese Evangelical Network, Vicar, Christ Church and St Andrew’s Herne Bay.
Revd Lee Gatiss, Director, Church Society.
Dr Philip Giddings, former Chair, General Synod House of Laity and member of Archbishops’ Council.
Revd Dr Andrew Goddard, Fulcrum leadership team.
Revd Lis Goddard, Vicar St James the Less, Pimlico and Chair of Awesome.
Revd Chris Green, Vicar, St James, Muswell Hill.
Revd Tim Grew, Acting Lead Pastor, Trinity Cheltenham.
Revd Paul Harcourt, Vicar, All Saints Woodford Wells.
Prof Glynn Harrison, formerly General Synod and Crown Nominations Commission.
Revd Canon Clive Hawkins, Rector, St Mary’s Basingstoke, formerly General Synod.
Revd Dr David Hilborn, Principal, St John’s School of Mission, Nottingham
Mr Stephen Hofmeyr, QC, Secretary Church England Evangelical Council.
Revd David Holloway, Vicar, Jesmond, Newcastle upon Tyne, Chair of Anglican International Development.
Mr Carl Hughes, General Synod and EGGS Committee.
Revd Dr Emma Ineson, Trinity College, Bristol and General Synod
Revd Steve James, Rector, Holy Trinity, Platt, Manchester.
Revd Henry Kendal, Vicar, St Barnabas, Woodside Park.
Revd Paul Langham, Vicar, Christ Church Clifton, Bristol and General Synod.
Mrs Susie Leafe, Director, Reform.
Mr James Lee, House of Laity, General Synod and EGGS Committee.
Revd Canon Andy Lines, Mission Director of Crosslinks, General Secretary of AMiE, Chairman of GAFCON UK Task Force.
Revd Chris Lowe, Mission Initiative Leader, St John’s Orchard Park, Cambridge.
Revd Angus MacLeay, Rector, St Nicholas, Sevenoaks, Reform Trustee, General Synod.
Revd Preb Charles Marnham, Vicar, St Michael’s, Chester Square, London.
Revd Rachel Marszalek, General Secretary of Fulcrum.
Revd John McGinley, Vicar, Holy Trinity, Leicester.
Revd Jane Morris, Vicar St Gabriel’s, Cricklewood.
Revd Barry Morrison, Chair of Peterborough DEF.
Revd Justin Mote, Chair of AMiE exec, and Chair of North West Gospel Partnership.
Revd Rob Munro, Chair Fellowship of Word and Spirit, Chair of House of Clergy for Chester Diocese.
Revd Dr Mike Ovey, Principal, Oak Hill College, London
Revd James Paice, Vicar, St Luke’s Wimbledon Park and Trustee of GAFCON and Trustee of Southwark Good Stewards Trust.
Revd Alasdair Paine, Vicar, St Andrew the Great Church, Cambridge.
Revd Hugh Palmer, Rector All Souls Langham Place, Chair of Church of England Evangelical Council.
Revd Canon Ian Parkinson, Leadership Specialist, CPAS.
Miss Jane Patterson, General Synod and Crown Nominations Commission.
Revd Dr Ian Paul, member of Archbishops’ Council.
Revd Paul Perkin, Vicar, St Mark’s Battersea Rise.
Revd Canon Andrew Perry, Vicar, St Mary’s Longfleet, Poole.
Revd David Phillips, Vicar, St James, Chorley, Chair of Blackburn Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Simon Ponsonby, Pastor of Theology, St Aldates, Oxford.
Revd Matthew Porter, Vicar, St Michael le Belfrey, York.
Revd Frank Price, Vicar, St Matthew’s Cambridge and Chair of Ely Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Esther Prior, Chair, Guildford Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Jonathan Pryke, Jesmond Parish Church.
Revd Martin Reakes-Williams, Leipzig English Church.
Revd Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe’s, Oxford.
Revd David Rowe, Priest in Charge, Christ Church, Winchester.
Revd Canon Roger Salisbury, Secretary of the Peache Trustees.
Revd John Samways, Trustee Church Patronage Trust.
Revd Dr. Peter Sanlon, Vicar, St. Mark’s, Tunbridge Wells.
Mr Ed Shaw, Trustee of Living Out, Pastor, Emmanuel City Centre, Bristol & General Synod.
Revd Charlie Skrine, Associate Rector, St Helen’s Bishopsgate, London and EGGS Committee.
Revd Tim Stilwell, Vicar, St Dionis, Parsons Green, London.
Canon Dr Chris Sugden, Convenor Anglican Mainstream, and former member General Synod.
Revd Andrew Symes, Executive Secretary, Anglican Mainstream.
Revd Canon Martyn Taylor, Rector, Rector, St George’s, Stamford and General Synod.
Revd William Taylor, Rector, St Helens, Bishopsgate and Chairman of ReNew.
Canon Professor Anthony C. Thiselton, FBA, former member of Crown Nominations Commission and Doctrine Commission.
Revd Rico Tice, All Souls Church & Christianity Explored Ministries.
Revd Melvin Tinker, Vicar, St John, Newland, Hull.
Revd Andrew Towner, Vicar Houghton & Kingmoor, Carlisle and Trustee, Diocesan Board of Finance.
Revd Gary Tubbs, Chair of Carlisle Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship.
Revd Jon Tuckwell, Associate Minister, Christ Church, Cambridge.
The Revd Dr Simon Vibert, Vice Principal Wycliffe Hall & Director of the School of Preaching.
Mr Jacob Vince, General Synod
Revd Robin Weekes, Vicar, Emmanuel Church Wimbledon.
Revd Paul Williams, Vicar, Christ Church Fullwood and honorary Canon Sheffield Cathedral.
by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.
Several important meetings occurred last week, large and small, all on the theme of Anglican mission in a changing world. The meetings were by invitation only: I wasn’t present at the big ones in Cairo and Rome, but Chris Sugden and others provided daily reports from Global South which can be seen, along with the official statements and final Communique, here , while reports from Rome can be found here.
The general impression from these global gatherings is that while there is tremendous personal goodwill between the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury, centuries-old differences in doctrine remain between the churches. The Anglican meeting in Cairo, however, exceeded all expectations in terms of unity: Archbishops and Bishops representing the vast majority of the racially and culturally diverse Anglican Communion, from both Global South and GAFCON groupings, made a series of powerful statements demonstrating full agreement on essentials of the Christian faith, commitment to evangelism and mission, and warnings to the global North about capitulating to the contemporary cultural shifts in sexual morality.
Back to the grassroots: On Monday and Tuesday I hosted a small informal consultation for evangelical clergy from a variety of backgrounds: conservative and charismatic, newly ordained and of many years experience, male and female. Apart from fruitful time getting to know each other and praying for one another’s ministry, we looked at three main topics. Firstly, a study of the letter to the Ephesians in which we looked at Paul’s understanding of reality, of God and humanity, of the Church, and specifically, how the redeemed members of the new Body should think and act in relation to the surrounding culture. Secondly, our own experiences of attempting to pursue biblical priorities in parish ministry, celebrating successes, and identifying problems, including when these might be related to being part of an institution which does not always clearly support the biblical vision we share. Finally, how do we see the future, given the pressure to further liberalise official Church teaching and practice on sexual ethics?
The discussion showed that Clergy who are in complete agreement about the authority of Scripture, the nature of salvation, the message of the Gospel, the purpose of the church and Christian ethics, in other words primary issues, are often in very different places when it comes to how they perceive the current situation, and strategies to deal with it. These range from thinking about paths to alternative oversight in a spectrum of detachment from official structures, to simply recommitting to faithful parish ministry ‘within the system’ in the present.
My second meeting: Christopher West was back in London briefly last week to speak to a public meeting organized by Living Out, and also another, invitation only consultation for evangelical clergy. American Roman Catholic West is a fearless and powerful expositor of the glorious biblical doctrines of humanity as male and female, sex, marriage and singleness. Specifically he has focused on the ‘Theology of the Body’ teaching of Pope John Paul 2, distilling the key points to memorable memes and soundbites. (See my summary of West’s teaching on a previous visit, here).
The Gospel, he says, can be summarized in 5 words: “God wants to marry us”, and our physical bodies proclaim this message. In particular the physical distinctives of male and female point to our created purpose: union with ‘the other’ – the one different to us; generation of new life, and ultimately, union with Christ as part of the church. Sex is corrupted and becomes destructive and sinful when the ‘rocket launchers’ of desire are turned inward in self-gratification. Intimate relationships with the same sex or with many partners does not reflect God’s design and purpose for humanity. The true purpose of desire is to “point us to the stars” – to know Christ in intimate union, to sustain covenant love in marriage, to live a life of energetic service of others, to enjoy God forever.
The Bible begins with the marriage of Adam and Eve and ends with the marriage feast of the Lamb and his bride the Church. A subject which is so central to the Bible and to the created world cannot be reduced to a ‘second order issue’ in the church. Human sin and the world’s ideologies have corrupted sexuality, and increasingly want to compel everyone to accept and approve a distorted vision. The church’s role is not to reintroduce strict sexual ‘rules’ to a disbelieving world, but to uncrumple the marred picture of sexuality; to commend and model faithful singleness and married life, and to use the picture as an illustration of the Gospel.
The discussion which followed opened up the question about what happens when the Church is divided on the issue. When some agree with West, some strongly disagree, and others are not bothered either way? What happens when clergy and even Bishops actively teach a message in direct contradiction to what the Bible and our Christian heritage clearly teaches, and are not rebuked or disciplined in any way? Currently the Church of England at least nominally adheres to orthodox doctrine, but what happens if the Church changes its formularies to approve and accept as valid something that Scripture condemns? The discussion which followed showed the same agreement on fundamentals but varied views on the urgency of the problem and possible solutions as the smaller consultation that I hosted earlier.
The third meeting was not specifically Anglican but we did meet in a church hall, and a number of Anglicans were present as well as representatives from Christian Institute, Christian Concern and Evangelical Alliance to hear speakers from the French pro family movement La Manif Pour Tous. I have written about the positive philosophy and courageous activism of this group in previous posts, here and here.
Ludovine de la Rochere and Franck Meyer are key leaders of the movement; they have spoken at massive demonstrations, and in debates on radio and TV about marriage and family. Although they are both committed Christians and believe that we are in a spiritual battle, their main concern is not primarily the preservation of biblical sexual ethics in the church, but the future of Western civilization if it continues on the path of promoting sex and gender confusion, and undermining the natural family and the rights of children. La Manif Pour Tous has countered the progressive ideology of the Hollande government through street demonstrations (‘manifestations’ – hence ‘la manif’), and clever, sharp and winsome messaging using simple images. It is not, as its critics have wrongly said, negative and reactionary, looking to a mythical past golden age, but interested in the future, and ambitious in believing public policy can be changed.
According to Meyer, an evangelical and President of an Association of local authority leaders in France, LGBT activists have made no secret of their vision for society, and their demands, for example, the right for any adults in whatever configuration of relationship to have children; the right to create children made from more than two people; the complete deconstruction of ‘heteronormativity’ and a ‘binary’ view of gender. This is now being incorporated into government policy through changing laws on marriage, surrogacy, education and so on. But the majority of people don’t want this. LMPT have led a public debate to put forward a better vision on the meaning of being human and the future of society. Children with a mother and father, who know their fundamental identity from their family line, and who grow up with stability, and understanding of self-sacrifice and love in maintaining a permanent, faithful male-female relationship, and in caring for the next generation.
In France this debate is ongoing. Listening to the accounts of Ludovine and Franck, I was struck again by the impossibility of sitting on the fence, or thinking that both visions of society can somehow equally and peacefully coexist. Where there is a choice between good and evil, we cannot avoid conflict; we need to do more than pray and hope for the best, otherwise we become submissive to, and legitimisers of, a system that suppresses human flourishing. La Manif Pour Tous is an example of winsome but determined resistance to a progressive agenda which fatally undermines society.
The statements of Global South Anglicans also display a confident commendation of a biblical and ‘natural law’ understanding of what it means to be human, and similar note of resistance to attempted imposition of liberal ideas from the West which they see as a new colonialism. Will orthodox believers in the Church of England follow these examples, align with the Global South and GAFCON, and begin to publicly articulate a counter cultural vision for society, from the level of the local parish up to the ‘powers that be’?
by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.
How should Christians live “in a culture which often either ignores faith or aggressively opposes it? What are Christians to do in… an environment, where traditional attitudes to morality are suddenly becoming extreme and unacceptable?” These questions were asked at a recent symposium hosted by an organisation called Threads UK, part of the Evangelical Alliance. According to the report in Christian Today, the main speaker, David Kinnaman, gave some examples of a ‘new morality’ based around a cult of the Self that has taken hold in our culture. He went on to give some suggestions as to how to live effectively as Christians. Firstly, he said, don’t offer any public critique of the new morality, or try to change culture in any way that appears like the Church telling others what to do. Secondly, be a “faithful presence” (ie just be where you are as a Christian, without necessarily saying anything about your faith), and a ‘positive’ influence, offering hope instead of despair. According to the report, in the discussion which followed, this mission strategy was largely supported by those present.
A similar strategy appears to be supported by Archbishop Justin Welby, as shown by his recent sermon to the global Mothers Union at their 140th anniversary celebration. He acknowledged the reality of rapid cultural shifts in relation to the family, mentioning changing attitudes to same sex relationships, cohabitation and divorce. But he did not attempt to explain the reasons for these trends, critique them, or promote a biblical model for family life: a father and a mother who are committed in love to each other and who pass on their values to their children. Instead, according to the Archbishop, the Mothers’ Union should accept the reality of different types of household arrangements, and offer help and hope to them.
We’ve all heard the arguments which advocate a ‘positive’ approach to living and witnessing in contemporary Western culture: “Christians should not just be known for what they are against…create, don’t complain…don’t curse the darkness but light a candle”. The ‘be positive’ approach is partly reacting against a grumpy, ultra-conservative legalism and opposition to change, and a despairing withdrawal into a ghetto, neither of which are helpful. It focuses on some key Gospel emphases: prayer, evangelism, and compassionate community service, and is born out of a genuine desire to improve the poor image of the church which is an obstacle to mission. It is not advocating a liberal capitulation to culture, like some Anglican Bishops and theologians who say that the ideas behind the moral and sexual revolution are actually from God and should be embraced (for example, Paul Bayes, Alan Wilson, Barry Morgan, Adrian Thatcher).
But as a biblically orthodox Anglican response to living in contemporary Western culture, is this adequate? Here are some reasons why just being ‘positive’ is defective:
- It often appears to be more embarrassed by Christian righteousness than grieved by cultural ungodliness. If being ‘positive’ means saying nothing about (for example) sexual immorality, but criticizing Christians who bravely oppose it, then we are not following the Psalmist who said: “Streams of tears flow from my eyes, for your law is not obeyed” (Psalm 119:136).
- Jesus did not command his disciples to just be a ‘faithful presence’ but to “go and make disciples of all nations, teaching them to obey”. Part of the church’s reflection on its place in the community and nation involves working out how to teach obedience to the ways of Christ. Should it just be to the church members? Jesus’ words and the history of Christian mission suggests that it is more than this, and certainly the Church of England and Anglicanism around the world has always believed that its intentional teaching and discipling role extends to community and nation building, not just pastoring the gathered congregation.
- We know that many of the cultural leaders in the moral revolution have a horror of the Church being a kind of ‘moral policeman’, and secularists as a whole want to remove the influence of religion from public life altogether. Does this mean that Christians should oblige by steering clear of anything that looks like an effort to critique society’s values and try to change them for the better? Should we restrict ourselves in terms of our ‘public face’ to inoffensive social action and evangelism? The danger with this is twofold: the church fails to take a stand against evil, corruption and injustice outside its walls, and it becomes afraid to teach clearly about controversial issues to its own members. Meanwhile, Islamists and secularists are not shy about overtly trying to shape culture according to their values.
- It’s sometimes assumed that what puts people off the church is the ‘thou shalt not’ message about sex outside of marriage. All the church has to do, then, is to apologise for its treatment of gay, divorced, cohabiting people, give no moral guidance on these issues and try and steer the conversation towards God’s love, options for our spirituality, and our good works. But this is quite simply a non-Gospel. Both Jesus (eg Matthew 15:19) and Paul (eg Romans 1:21-27) use sexual immorality as perhaps the most obvious visible sign (among many others) of a heart in rebellion against God, the answer to which is repentance, faith and forgiveness. A church which downplays the seriousness of sexual and other sin is covering up the fatal problem of heart-sickness, rebellion and judgement, and so covers up God’s solution of grace in Christ, substituting it with our own.
- The simplistic ‘be positive’ message relies too much on the biblical model of Jesus in first century Palestine, and does not pay enough attention to other historical eras. Jesus appeared not to criticize the secular Roman authorities, but was constantly warning against the Pharisees with their strict moral teaching undergirded with hypocrisy and lack of love and grace. It’s very easy to apply this model today and see the evangelical cultural critics as modern day Pharisees. But while the Gospels continue to speak timelessly of the ministry of Christ to our human condition, the context of Christians in the West today is more similar to other biblical periods. For example, Judah in the late monarchy required the ministry of prophets, warning the leaders of God’s people of compromise and apostasy bringing God’s judgement. Or the time of the early church, when Paul led the apostles in working out how to take the Gospel to a pagan Gentile audience, and faced conflict from religious and civil authorities on the way. Or perhaps the exile in Babylon and the diaspora into the Roman empire – the need to form distinctive, counter-cultural communities, preserving the vision and values of God’s rule, and influencing society from below.
The church must beware of being driven by fear of journalists and loud social media voices. They love to portray a simple narrative of nasty, bigoted conservative Christians vs. nice, loving, liberal ones. Will sending the message that ‘Christians are nice’ enable the salvation of sinners or the transformation of culture? It would be good if we were known for believing what the Bible teaches, acting on it, and being ready to explain our hope, even if it’s not always popular.
See also: Revelation 4: A warning to the compromising church, by David Robertson, Christian Today
and Atheism, the State and early Christians: lessons for today, by Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch
by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:
Another week, another revisionist Church Times leader article penned by an academic heavyweight. This time a consultant psychiatrist and Professor of Theology insists that we need to allow the latest scientific findings to inform our understanding of Scripture. People used to believe that the earth was static and at the centre of the universe because of a literal interpretation of Psalm 93:1, says Christopher Cook. In the same way, today there are some people who are still like that – who actually believe, for example, Paul’s teaching in Romans 1, that “homoerotic behaviour” (his phrase) is not what the creator intended. Professor Cook patiently explains that these backward people clearly have not read the “impressive consensus” among scientists, that the homosexual lifestyle is a normal and natural variation of human experience, and that any negative consequences (for example mental and physical health problems) are “attributable to adverse social attitudes”. He is particularly worried about the harm caused by “conversion therapy” and those who pressurise people to seek it. He concludes: “we do not have to accept the judgements of St Paul’s world in preference to those of modern science”.
I’m not sure what ‘modern science’ Professor Cook is reading, but I recall a very recent major study providing compelling evidence that there are no genetic factors involved in same sex attraction, and that many people’s ‘orientation’ changes over time. In the 2013 Pilling Report, rather than following the popular but unproven theories about inbuilt and fixed sexual orientation, the authors were commendably very tentative about this and about the potential of changing patterns of sexual feelings and behaviour through voluntarily chosen therapy. It’s clear that in some cases the ‘science’ around this highly charged topic is not exact, and open to manipulation by pressure from lobby groups. As for the claim that gay people continue to be disproportionately marginalised and excluded, this simply does not line up with the realities of modern Western culture. The so-called ‘facts’ on sexuality and morality appear to be changing all the time, so as a Christian I can’t accept the authority of someone who claims that in this field ‘science’ trumps the Bible, even if he has lots of letters after his name.
The constant undermining and contradicting of the biblical and historic teaching of the church by senior figures can be depressing for orthodox believers, which is why many people rejoiced at the unveiling of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s team of Bishops selected to reflect further on sexuality issues and provide a sort of consultancy to the House of Bishops as they edge towards more decisions for the Church at the end of this year. The group appears to contain a majority of conservatives, which predictably angered those campaigning for change in the Church’s teaching, and seems to be a rare victory for the orthodox side.
A storm in a teacup arose on social media after GAFCON UK published a brief comment saying they were “puzzled” as to why such a group was needed at all, given the clear teaching of the Bible and Lambeth 1:10. This seems reasonable and consistent with GAFCON’s stance that the Church shouldn’t be working out its beliefs and practice from endless indabas and Shared Conversations, but many felt it was churlish when they should be celebrating a victory. My understanding is that the Bishop’s group is advisory so it would be premature to put too much weight on what they come up with, which will be confidential anyway. But overall this incident does reveal differences in personality and in strategy among the orthodox, with views ranging from “we can win back the Church of England” to “we need to prepare for separation and exile”.
A healthy mixture of gritty realism and hope has been the mood at the ReNew conference which has just finished in Leeds. The very serious problems in the Church of England were clearly summarised in one session, alluded to in the presentations by a number of speakers, and featured in the discussions among delegates in regional groups. But this was not the main focus – it provided strong background colour but the foreground continued to be evangelism: making Jesus known in and through churches into communities up and down the country. The conference addressed key leadership principles which enable churches to flourish: confidence in the bible as the word of God, courage to take on difficult ministries and to oppose false ideas, humility, prayer, loving people, mentoring younger leaders, perseverance. This year’s conference gave a stronger voice to (in the minds of some) previously less emphasised themes: ministry in the north of England, on council estates; the training and releasing of women in ministry.
There continue to be questions about the direction of the institution of the Church of England in terms of clarity of its message and its relationship to the culture. This gathering of hundreds of committed, biblically orthodox, mission-minded clergy (and some lay people) gave a strong impression that confessing Anglicanism at the grassroots will continue to thrive, even under pressure.
See also: 400 attend ReNew Conference in Northern Powerhouse, from Church of England Newspaper