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.

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

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

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

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Observing ministry in Africa

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

Observing ministry in Africa

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gafcon events in England and USA

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

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

Gafcon and Evangelical Ministry

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

Gafcon and Evangelical Ministry

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learning from the parable of Tim Farron 

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

Learning from the parable of Tim Farron 

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After Pentecost: small miracle, big implications

Posted by on Jun 6, 2017 in Editorial Blog | Comments Off on After Pentecost: small miracle, big implications

After Pentecost: small miracle, big implications

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

A story about healing turns out to be the moment when God takes the Church outside the religious institution.

“Peter and John went to pray…” – we all know the Sunday School song, based on Acts 3:1-10. Of course no miracle, in the sense of a reversal of the laws of nature such as instantaneous healing, can be called insignificant. But while the New Testament insists that many miracles were performed by Jesus (eg Luke 7:21) and by the apostles (Acts 2:43), only a few were recorded. Of these, some are seen as theologically significant (as for example with the ‘signs’ in John), while others are vivid, demonstrating God’s power and Jesus’ compassion, life-changing for the individual who is healed and for the witnesses, but not necessarily game-changing in terms of revealing a new truth or changing the course of the narrative.

It seems at first as if this miracle occurring immediately after Pentecost in Acts 3, is in the latter category. The man himself was severely disabled from birth, unable to walk, and made his living from begging. His life changed in an encounter with the apostle Peter, who commanded him to walk in the name of Jesus; miraculously his legs were strengthened; he not only walked but jumped and danced as he praised God, and the bystanders were “filled with wonder and amazement”.

One could stop there, give thanks to God, reflect on what the man might have felt, and then park this miracle in our minds along with the many others recorded in the Gospels and Acts. We might go further and ask: does God heal today, and if so how should we pray for healing? While these are important applications, they would be consigning this miracle to the category of ‘small’ by which I mean at the level of God’s activity in the life of individuals. To leave this biblical story at verse 10 of chapter 3 would be to ignore the context, to ignore what follows, and so miss the author’s intention that we see this miracle as a turning point in the history of the world.

Writing as someone who suffers from a long term disability, the question “can God heal me?” is very important personally, and not just theoretically. But a question like “can God bring about revival in the nation?” is surely more important in the grand scheme of things. This story answers both questions: the ‘small’, of relevance to the hurting individual, and the ‘big’, concerning the salvation of humanity.

At the beginning of Acts we see the risen Jesus teaching his disciples about the coming Holy Spirit: “you will receive power…and you will be my witnesses”. This begins to be fulfilled ten days later in a house in Jerusalem, with a sound of rushing wind, visible tongues of fire and intelligible languages from around the world praising God, ie a demonstration of power, followed by Peter’s clear witness to Jesus as Saviour and Lord, and Gospel call to repentance and faith.

At the end of Acts chapter 2 we’re presented with a scene of miraculous fellowship of generosity, joy and praise, with unity around the teaching of the apostles, as they passed on what they had seen and heard from Jesus. Now, again, in chapter 3, the demonstration of the Spirit’s power in healing a lame man is followed by Peter’s witness to Jesus (3:12-26), and again, resulting in rapid growth of the new church community, now up to 5000 (4:4). Surely now nothing can stand in the way of God’s intention as the apostles had hoped for when with Jesus: the restoration of the Kingdom to Israel (1:6)?

But there is something that stands in the way of the exponential expansion of the new Jesus community and its peaceful revival of the nation: the religious institutions. As Peter and the apostles minister in the power of the Spirit and preach salvation in Christ, the religious authorities begin by permitting their initially small gatherings in and around the temple (perhaps justified by appeals to ‘diversity’ and ‘mutual flourishing’?), but then as the movement grows they respond with attempts to contain and intimidate, Acts 4:17-18. This begins to have an effect: we see in 5:13 that new believers are afraid to be seen with the apostles in central Jerusalem. But the healings and preaching continue, so the persecution intensifies, culminating with the death of Stephen in chapter 7, and the scattering of believers which follows.

The seeds of this inevitable separation of the new Jesus movement from the old life-restricting religious structures can be seen in the symbolism of the events around the healing of the lame man. Peter and John are on their way to pray at the temple along with many others. It’s the place which, up till now, has been seen as the locus of God’s presence. The lame man is begging at the gate, hoping for money, which he knows people will have, because that is what religion has become for many of them: going to a building, giving some money to sustain the religious structure, giving to the poor. The apostles are not looking to overthrow the system or create a parallel one, but as they go to the temple they know the one to whom they are praying; they have met his Son and are filled with his Spirit.

As the man is healed, a crowd gathers around the word of Christ and people are converted, the locus of God’s presence and power has shifted from the temple and the religious institution, to the apostles and the new body of Christ – just as Jesus had promised. But the religious leaders still assume that they are the ones with the power, and the control of access to God, and they exercise it, persecuting the believers who in worldly terms, have neither money (“silver and gold have I none”), nor power.

This is the beginning of an irrevocable shift. Acts shows us how the new wine of the revolutionary message of Christ’s death, resurrection and ascension, and the missionary energy of the Spirit working through faithful believers, will not be restricted by unfaithful religious structures, with their compromises with secular power and their suppression of the message that the only way of salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus. It takes forty years for the remnant of Jewish Christians to finally break free from their attachment to the temple and associated structures (during the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD) but in the meantime the Gospel has gone viral and global.

Is division among the people of God always bad? Was it wrong for the apostles to say to the religious authorities “we must obey God rather than men?” Was it wrong later for Paul to insist on conflict with the Judaisers, and for all the apostles to oppose what they saw as false teaching within the church? Not according to Acts and the epistles – it’s inevitable when the Gospel is at stake, and beneficial, in fact essential for mission.

 

We remember this as we celebrate the Reformation this year. And we remember it as new expressions of Anglicanism continue to develop over the next few weeks and months in Britain – ways of doing church which are thankful for the heritage of Anglican forms of worship, but which look back to the apostolic teachings and the original formularies of the Church, and outward to the global fellowship of those united in biblical faithfulness, rather than to human religious authorities which have departed from them.

Manchester terror, the nation’s future, Thy Kingdom Come

Posted by on May 23, 2017 in Editorial Blog, Politics, Prayer, Terrorism | Comments Off on Manchester terror, the nation’s future, Thy Kingdom Come

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Britain’s security services have been on high alert for some years now, anticipating terrorist attacks on the general population. We have felt that we have got off lightly compared to France, but today (Tuesday 23rd May) there is a sombre mood in the nation after the suicide bomb went off last night in the foyer of Manchester Arena, deliberately and cynically designed to kill predominantly teenage girl fans leaving a pop concert, causing devastation, panic and fear, injury and death.

The atrocity comes immediately after well-publicised speeches by Donald Trump in Saudi Arabia, calling on the Muslim world to drive the jihadist ideology and those who carry out these acts out of communities, and indeed rid the world of it. That would appear to be coincidental, as the Manchester attack would have been planned for weeks if not more. Coincidental too that the bombing occurred just after Channel 4’s screening of historian Tom Holland’s documentary analysis of the origins of the ideology behind ISIS.

Experts have been lined up to rehearse the usual lines about security implications; how difficult it is to constantly track all the individuals and groups being watched by police. Politicians and faith leaders have been quick to offer thoughts and prayers for the victims, to praise the swift and professional response of emergency services, and the community spirit of Manchester as posh hotels opened their doors to bleeding and traumatised youngsters, and taxis gave free rides to help people get away from the scene. They have also stressed the need for national unity, saying that the motive of the bomber is to divide and create hatred (See here for report in Church Times).

It is certainly a good thing to discourage feelings of antagonism and suspicion being stirred up towards Muslim people in general, and this has been helped by the swift and unequivocal condemnation of the bombing by Muslim leaders. But the enforcement of a politically correct narrative, that the terrorist act is “extremism” (religious component not mentioned) in the same bracket as a “right wing backlash” is unhelpful: by suppressing the discussion of real issues it may actually lead to an increase of anti-immigrant feeling. Also, as we have seen in this country for some years, it has led in some cases to conservative Christianity being viewed (for example by some over-zealous school inspectors) as another ideology harmful to the common good. In contrast to whatever it was that motivated the Manchester bomber, if a young person thinks Jesus and his way is the best, it does not mean he hates and wants to kill those who believe something different – rather the opposite.

Campaigning for the General Election, now only just over two weeks away, has been suspended. While the politicians should be able to resist the temptation to use the Manchester horror for overt political purposes, the main parties will major on national unity, and downplay the religion and ideology aspect. Grassroots Christians can play a part in shaping the nation going forward. Many churches and halls are used as venues for hustings, and people can use the opportunity to ask the politicians specifically about the implications of ignoring jihadist ideology, treating it as simply one of a number of ‘extremist’ beliefs, or whether it should be dealt with as a unique problem. Churches can take the lead in showing how it is possible, imperative even, to demonstrate love and welcome to one’s neighbour, especially if they hold to a different faith or no faith, and yet not brush very serious differences in worldview under the carpet for the sake of a false ‘unity’. It should be possible to address and debate these differences, not pretending we are the same, not being afraid to explain why we see the way of Christ as the best foundation for individual life and for society; understanding the beliefs that make us different, but also finding common humanity in desire for peace, security and protection of the vulnerable.

 

Before the issues of Islam and community relations have been forced onto the political agenda, the talk leading up to the election has been about the management of Brexit, and domestic issues: the funding of tertiary education, the health service and care of the elderly perhaps top of the list of priorities. The Labour Party has been written off by most of the media as ‘loony left’ and unlikely to trouble the serene march of Prime Minister Teresa May to a landslide victory. But Labour’s unashamed advocacy of a return to ‘big government’, promises to provide whatever public services are required, especially for the poorest, funded by a huge increase in borrowing and taxation of the wealthy, has begun to gain traction.

The Conservatives are historically vulnerable to accusations of putting fiscal discipline and commitment to low-tax, free market economics before care of the needy. Last week’s Church Times featured a number of letters from clergy [£] insisting that Labour’s policies align best with the teaching of Jesus, while others suggest that it is better for the Church to remain neutral on party politics. If something good can come out of the Manchester attack, perhaps it could be a shift towards a “what can I do for my country and community?” sort of attitude, with churches leading the way, as opposed to the tedious bidding war among politicians, trying to out-promise the other side on how much they can provide for us.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s call for a united initiative of worship and prayer during the season from Ascension to Pentecost was launched last year, and had already been promoted for some months in 2017 before the announcement of an important General Election. This year’s publicity has emphasised that “Thy Kingdom Come” (see also here) is not a C of E thing, but a way of encouraging as many Christians as possible to make prayer a priority, to focus on the risen and ascended Christ, to ask the Holy Spirit to renew, refresh and send out in witness.

The gatherings that will occur round the country, big and small, will take on extra significance now as people join in prayer for the outcome of the election, the new government and the issues facing the nation. The appalling scenes at the Manchester Arena could help draw more people to focus on and cry out to God rather than would-be human messiahs, and motivate repentance, spiritual warfare, and evangelism.

Transgender liturgies? Why are we even asking the question?

Posted by on May 16, 2017 in 2-Important Posts, Book Reviews, Church of England, Editorial Blog, Transgender | Comments Off on Transgender liturgies? Why are we even asking the question?

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

If a destructive, anti-Christian, revolutionary ideology is taking over society and even sections of the church, how should it be effectively countered? Whose responsibility is it to do so? Should Christians address the ideology itself and its dangers to society, or should they focus on its symptoms and effects, as encountered in people in churches? Is it counter productive to talk negatively about cultural trends at all, and should Christians instead seek to simply tell ‘a better story’ in a positive way? Will it be enough in terms of being salt and light in Western culture, for theologians to write books and essays for an audience of educated conservative Christians, by carefully and graciously explaining biblical truth and pointing out error?

Martin Davie has certainly carried out this latter task very well in his latest piece of work, a Latimer Monograph which goes beyond the title’s brief of merely answering the question “Should the Church of England develop liturgical materials to mark gender transition?” to address the subject of transgenderism much more comprehensively. In the book he outlines the arguments of the pro-transgender apologists, refutes them graciously but firmly and in detail, and provides a clear and up to date re-statement of the biblical doctrine of humanity as male and female, grounded in the creation narratives through to the teaching of Jesus and the promise of the new creation. He addresses the question of pastoral care in the church for people who present as transgender, stressing, of course, the need for welcome and compassion to individuals, but also not being afraid to talk about underlying problems connected with the Fall: disorder, sin, rebellion, and the need for repentance, faith and a new start in Christ.

Davie writes with his customary clarity and logic, and does not fall into the trap catching some theologians, of being so keen to be fair to opposing arguments that they end up sitting on the fence or being overly complex and nuanced. As an introduction to the topic, and as a handbook for clergy, those involved in pastoral care and interested lay people, this book has to be highly recommended.

Returning to the questions we asked at the beginning, we might say that Davie has more than fulfilled the task given to him, and it’s not his job to do more than help orthodox Christians, and particularly Anglicans, take a stand on a clear biblical position on sex and gender identity as the church begins to debate the issue alongside that of sexual relationships. ‘Transgender Liturgies’ certainly hints at philosophical and even political currents affecting wider society that oppose the orthodox Christian worldview. Davie quotes (p40-47) from online articles which suggests a sinister change in the way new sex and gender theories are being taught as facts in schools, ‘transitioning’ is being encouraged, and information about the mental health consequences are being suppressed. He gives space to the major 2016 study by Meyer and McHugh published in the New Atlantis, casting doubt on all claims of a biological basis for gender dysphoria.

Davie uses these points to strengthen his case against the arguments of those proposing changes in the Church’s teaching and liturgy. He does not explore the implications of what they mean for society as a whole, how they illustrate the power and reach of the ‘sexual revolution’ (for example he doesn’t mention that the New Atlantis study mentioned above has resulted in the authors being vilified), or what the origins and main aims of this revolution are. That may not be his brief – but where are other senior Anglican leaders carrying out this prophetic task of cultural critique?

One way of doing this, perhaps, would be to ask a different question. In addition to: ‘Should the Church develop liturgical materials to mark gender transition?’, it would be good to ask ‘why are people in the Church even asking this question?’ What changes have happened in wider society which have meant that the historic Christian position outlined by Martin Davie, though true and clearly presented, is simply dismissed and rejected by increasing numbers of people? Given the recent incidents involving politicians and LGBT ‘orthodoxy’, is it possible any more for anyone holding public office to oppose the ‘popular’ view? These questions force us to look beyond theological debates and policies within the church, to the way people are thinking in the culture, and its implications not just for the church but for the world as a whole.

So while it’s important to get clear in our minds how the church might care for transgender people from a biblical and pastoral perspective, it’s surely right to go further than this; to be concerned about the ideology of ‘gender in the mind’ and the rejection of binary male/female norms that is being promoted in the media and education, and is slipping into law. For example, what are the implications if, as is being proposed, people can be legally recognized as a different sex simply by filling in a form? How can we support those who speak out against the sex and gender revolution in public? Should we take more seriously in our intercession the dark and demonic aspects of this idolatry which is keeping people in bondage, and is part of a package of secular and neo-gnostic thought which, as it takes hold in peoples’ minds, will make the preaching of the Gospel more difficult? Can we more effectively form counter-cultural Christian communities of rebels against this new ‘empire’, drawing especially on young people, some of whom see through the lies and deceit and bullying of LGBT ideology.

Many people in our culture have either completely rejected biblical Christianity and embraced a new vision of what it means to be human, or they have attempted to synthesise this new vision with aspects of Christianity. The phenomenon of transgender and the distressing and painful experiences of ‘trans’ people are merely a symptom of a wholesale conversion to this vision, in the same way as the presence of churches and Christians and biblical principals embedded in laws and customs is a result of earlier generations being converted to whole life discipleship.

One of the features of this new vision is the determination of those who follow it to enforce it with soft and hard power: providing teacher training and books in schools, portraying heroic transgender characters in TV soap operas, and getting churches to adopt transitioning liturgies is one way; bringing the force of the law against teachers who won’t use this material, or people who refuse to bake cakes, or who deny ‘trans women’ entry to toilets, is another.

So thank you, Martin Davie, for an excellent book – please can it be followed up by “Part 2” – perhaps entitled: ‘Transgender Liturgies: what they tell us about the sexual revolution, its threat to our society and the Church in the West, and what we can do about it”?

See also

Church of England faces calls to condemn gay cure and hold transgender renaming ceremonies, by Harry Farley, Christian Today