Editorial Blog

Andrew Symes is the Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream, and Senior Editor of this website. These articles are mostly concerned with authentic, biblically orthodox Christian faith and its interaction with the Anglican Church, especially the Church of England, and the wider culture. Please press the ‘Refresh’ or “reload’ button to ensure you see the latest blog post at the top of this column.

“The Tory Party at prayer”?

Posted by on Dec 3, 2019 in Church of England, Editorial Blog, Politics | Comments Off on “The Tory Party at prayer”?

“The Tory Party at prayer”?

If so, the C of E reflects the new ‘conservatism’ of the secular progressive elites, not tried and tested values.

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

As the General Election campaign enters its frantic last few days, church leaders have made a number of interventions which tread a fine line between the pastoral and the political. Interestingly these have not always been, as one might expect based on past form, offering strong hints of support towards parties on the left (as in this Bishop’s recent piece). The joint message from the Archbishops of York and Canterbury sets out a vision for the nation which does not explicitly advocate a greater role for a high-spending State, but rather a more ‘conservative’ approach of freedom for individual enterprise while maintaining a strong safety net for the disadvantaged (“open and encouraging to aspiration and ambition; supportive of those who struggle”).

Very soon after the Chief Rabbi’s unprecedented criticism of the Labour Party leadership’s perceived failure to deal with unregenerate stereotyping and hatred of Jews among some of its members, the Archbishop of Canterbury offered immediate support, warning of the “deep sense of insecurity and fear” experienced by many British Jews, and called for more action against antisemitism. Advisers would have no doubt spent time discussing whether the Archbishop’s obligation to speak out on this issue outweighed the potential risk of appearing to criticise one of the two major political parties at election time.

Perhaps even more unusual has been the media briefing from the Church of England website in response to a letter to Bishops signed by hundreds of clergy and lay peopleThe letter warns about how Labour and the Liberal Democrats plan to “decriminalise” abortion, essentially abolishing all the current restrictions nominally in place and allowing terminations at any time in the pregnancy, on demand. The official response from Church House reiterates the C of E’s “principled opposition” to abortion, combined with pastoral sensitivity and realism, and commits to “vigorously challenge any attempt to extent abortion provision beyond the current 24 week limit”.

Editorials on this website have in the past (eg hereasked the question why in contrast to Roman Catholic colleagues, Church of England Bishops (with the exception of former Bishop of Rochester Michael Nazir Ali) have not spoken out for the unborn child. Their silence in the summer on the undemocratic forcing through of liberal abortion law revision in Northern Ireland, claiming convention of not presuming to speak on issues outside the jurisdiction of England, was especially shameful.

No doubt there are very different views on the subject among the Bishops themselves. So it is very good that this statement from the Church has been made, moderate in tone but nevertheless opposing the plans of the progressive parties on abortion, even though it risks accusations of ‘political bias’ and probably risks division in the House of Bishops. Is the Church of England reverting to it’s former role as “the Conservative Party at prayer”?!

As usual though, sadly, complete clarity on the Church’s position on abortion was avoided after the Archbishop of Canterbury, in a radio interviewappeared to offer support for the draconian “buffer zones” imposed around abortion clinics, imposed to deter any kind of protest against the killing of unborn children. His comment that we need to care for the woman in distress as well as the child shows how his main concern is the potential ‘harassment’ of women seeking abortion, rather than maintaining liberty for principled and appropriate Christian presence and witness. The recent arrest and detention of a man in a wheelchair praying across the road from a clinic in Ealing has highlighted again questions about increasing restrictions around freedom of expression (including religious freedom) when it involves any challenge to the hegemony of the sexual progressives.

While the Church’s official statement about abortion is welcome, it’s at odds with the general trend of Bishops following politicians of all parties in either being unwilling to endorse bible-based Judaeo-Christian ethics around life, gender, sex, marriage and family, or much worse, actively promoting the views of the cultural Marxists and sexual revolutionaries, that ‘traditional, conservative’ ideas on these topics are somehow repressive and discriminatory. The Conservative Party may offer slightly more protection for the unborn child (in its latter stages) than other parties and the Church of England leadership appears to support this, but none of these institutions inspire any confidence in the possibility of slowing the relentless advance of the sex and gender ‘liberation’ agenda more generally.

It is the Conservative Party which introduced the change in the definition of marriage; which has overseen and facilitated the exponential rise in ‘gender transition’, and is now pushing through the new Relationships and Sex Education programmes in schools. Rather than oppose this, or at least equip faithful Christians to understand the rapid cultural change and live distinctively in relation to it, the C of E has taken the side of the sex and gender radicals. This website has tracked many examples of this, but just in the area of education: following on from the release of Valuing All God’s Children, the C of E’s LGBT-affirming guidance on ‘homophobic and transphobic bullying’ co-written with Stonewall was released two years ago; Church of England primary schools are using the transgender lobby group Mermaids to ‘train’ staff and governors and backed by Diocesan education departments in doing so, and now senior leaders have expressed approval for the new RSE programme in this document released last week.

The C of E leadership appears to be ignoring the groundswell of concern about the way the new RSE is being introduced and its lack of safeguards against being used for ideological indoctrination against the wishes of parents.

A number of criticisms of their approach have been written in recent days by Anglicans:

“…there is no commitment to advocating any particular approach to morality, The idea seems to be that children and young people should be offered a smorgasbord of different approaches to sex and relationships and then left to make up their own minds…If Church of England schools are simply going to echo the variety of voices in contemporary society rather than clearly and confidently declaring Christian truth to the next generation, then there is very little point in their existence.” Martin Davie, former theological advisor to the House of Bishops

“[The Church of England’s] new Charter for Relationships, Sex and Health Education fails to protect teachers, governors and children who wish to state and uphold the Church’s own teaching on marriage and family. It also represents a missed opportunity to bring the good news of God’s purposes and pattern for human relationships to the confused and toxic environment in which the one million children they are responsible for are having to grow up.”     Andrea Williams, Christian Concern and General Synod

“This Charter is another reminder that the Church of England appears to have lost all confidence in its own biblical teaching, exchanging it for the thin gruel of progressive relativism where the highest goal is muddling along together. We all deserve better than this from our established church.” Will Jones, Anglican blogger

No doubt many Bishops see RSE as a done deal and not worth risking the relationship between church and government; some see the new regulations as merely a way of teaching children to be positive about difference and kind to others, without understanding the anti-Christian philosophy behind the LGBT agenda. But this ideology like a virus has proved adaptable: previously attaching itself only to the political left and secular atheism, it has morphed to be find a home also among Conservative politicians and church leaders. The long march through the institutions is almost complete.

Church attended by John Stott now offers yoga and mindfulness

Posted by on Nov 19, 2019 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Church attended by John Stott now offers yoga and mindfulness

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

St Paul’s Church in Cambridge is a large red brick building situated on Hills Road on the way to the train station if you’re travelling from the town centre. Its architecture is typical of a number of churches built in the second half of the 19th century as part of a renewed commitment from the Church of England to urban mission in the context of rapidly expanding populations at the time. Many of these buildings were home to an evangelical ministry: St James in Northampton, for example, began a rugby club before the first world war as an evangelistic outreach to boys and young men, the ancestor of today’s Northampton Saints rugby team, currently at the top of the English professional league.

Back in Cambridge, St Paul’s was the preferred church for evangelical students during the 1930’s and 40’s: a young John Stott attended there during his student days. The strong Reformed tradition continued with the ministry of Herbert Carson who left the Church of England over a crisis of conscience about baptism and other doctrinal issues in the 1960’s. Michael Farrer who had been a curate at St Ebbe’s and was a colleague of Alec Motyer on the staff of a theological college in Bristol, was vicar from 1978-1992, and I attended the church for three years during this time. By then it was definitely a ‘town’ rather than ‘gown’ congregation, less ‘puritan’ than in the days of Carson and Gwyn Thomas, but still bible-based and theologically orthodox. Stott preached at Farrer’s retirement service in 1992.

I passed the church while on a visit to Cambridge last week. Just a quick look at the main board on the wall showed how things have changed. “Weekly wellbeing workshops; Meditation, open yoga and mindfulness” are the headline services being offered. Had the church closed, and the building been taken over by a New Age group? No, it’s still very much a Church of England church, with Sunday Holy Communion, and a strapline “We are an inclusive & informal community who seek to make connections within ourselves, with other people & with God.” The website speaks of an aim “to live authentically as we seek to respond to the love of God, who has already reached out to us in Christ” which might be fine if there was evidence of grounding in the Scriptures rather than yoga and meditation.

The church where John Stott brought friends to hear the gospel and be converted, a flagship evangelical centre in the mid 20th century, where I myself in the 1980’s took some of my first faltering steps in ministry, is now offering a very different message and worldview, a syncretistic religion seemingly based on fragments of Christian ritual, Eastern mysticism and Jungian psychology.

What might be some lessons from this? Firstly, just as one local church can slide in a human lifetime from being a large strategic centre of evangelical ministry to a small, revisionist entity on the periphery, so the Church of England can move from providing witness to Christ at the centre of national life to an institution increasingly ignored even as it tries to adapt its core message to what it thinks society wants. Secondly, such a slide isn’t inevitable – there are many good C of E and other churches continuing to preach the gospel in Cambridge, and there are many examples of churches being turned around the other way, as evangelical vicars exercise faithful ministry over many years in churches which previously had no clear message or even hostility to the biblical gospel.

But thirdly, there are pressures on the Church of England which make it more likely that we will see more local churches decline as St Paul’s has done, and fewer being turned around. Most committed evangelical believers understandably gather in established and trusted centres known for bible teaching and lively, Spirit-directed worship, leaving diminishing numbers remaining (if possible) to influence the smaller churches; some leave the C of E for other less theologically diverse denominations; theological education undermines the faith-foundations of clergy.

Meanwhile the culture becomes more hostile to certain aspects of Christian truth such as the uniqueness of Christ and the nature of gender and marriage, and lay people are influenced by this; secularism crumbles, mental health problems increase and people turn to alternative spiritualities and self-help philosophies, and clergy who attempt to point to Jesus over against cultural trends are not supported by their leaders or their PCC’s.

The picture of a local church moving away from a fellowship centred around Christ and a message of repentance and faith, to one centred around its own ‘wellbeing and mindfulness’ is closely aligned with the image of General Synod member and prominent LGBT campaigner Jayne Ozanne presenting her book ‘Just Love’ to Pope Francis, and petitioning him to join in the campaign to ban so-called “conversion therapy” (ie taking away the right of clients to choose their own therapeutic goals in the area of sexual orientation, as contributors have discussed on this website ad nauseam).

It occurs to me that these new theologies represent an inversion of the core of Christian faith. The gospel invites us first to recognise the wrong thinking and rebellion against God in the depths of our psyche despite God’s loving creating and sustaining of each of us as individuals. The message of mindfulness and yoga is rather an attempt to justify, be at peace with and celebrate our interior world as the ultimate reality, rather than something which needs to change in response to the true Ultimate Reality.

Then, we ought to orient our lives away from self and towards God, praising him, then confessing “I have sinned against you…”. The message of Jayne Ozanne, furious that even the C of E does not yet officially endorse her desires, by contrast turns it around to self: “the church has sinned against me…” For her to address this message to the Pope is extraordinary. His apparently encouraging but in fact non-committal response, “pray for me as I pray for you”, shows his skilful diplomacy. Commentator Jules Gomes has pointed out that it could only have been Archbishop Justin Welby, who was with the Pope the day before leading an Anglican delegation, who could have organised the audience for Jayne Ozanne.

This facilitation of an anti-gospel message from the senior leadership of the denomination is perhaps the most serious reason why at the local level C of E churches will continue to drift away from recognisably biblical Christianity, and turning things around will prove increasingly difficult.

More on ‘Just Love’ by Jayne Ozanne (from after it’s publication in 2018):

As many reviewers have shown, ‘Just Love’ is an apologia for why, in Jayne’s view, churches should be encouraged, then compelled, to end opposition to same sex relationships and contemporary radical theories about gender. In other words, as Martin Davie points out, it’s not really about ‘love’ at all.

Then, apart from talk about ‘love’ in a general sense, this book is very light on theology, i.e. stuff about God; rather it is about Jayne, as a GP concludes in a scathing review.

See also: This review from David Robertson.

Editor’s note: A reader has responded to this article: “I don’t think the offer of “Weekly wellbeing workshops; Meditation, open yoga and mindfulness” at St. Paul’s is sufficient as a ground on which to base what is said about ‘a local church moving away from a fellowship centred around Christ and a message of repentance and faith’.

The St Paul’s Family News for 10 November seems to me to reflect a sensible and well-grounded Christian ministry.” (https://uploads.strikinglycdn.com/files/26f1d8b7-ecd1-4ebc-ad25-3ee2f08e7b43/2019%20November%2010th%20email.pdf).

Yours faithfully,

Paul McKechnie

The whole gospel addresses the world’s wrong thinking, not just the church’s comfort

Posted by on Nov 12, 2019 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on The whole gospel addresses the world’s wrong thinking, not just the church’s comfort

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

Is there a crisis in the nation, with a desperate need for radical change in government policies concerning the environment, health and social care, law and order, education, and our relationship with the EU? Or is there more a sense of ennui, of weariness with a stalemated political process, a disappointment with leadership, a longing to be “godly and quietly governed”? As we approach a general election which may potentially result in a continuation of the same rather than resolution, can the church (the faithful people of God, not necessarily the institution) offer any positive contribution? Should it do so, or should it avoid trying to be merely another group trying to shape the polis, and focus instead on ‘the gospel’ and communities gathered in spiritual fellowship?

In a recent editorial for Churchman, former theological college Principal, Archbishop of Sydney and Gafcon General Secretary Peter Jensen appears at first sight to argue the latter point. he’s looking specifically at the task of preaching and teaching in the local church – which he calls “the hardest job of all”. Acknowledging the many demands on a full-time pastor, Jensen sees the preparing and delivering a message based on exposition of the biblical text as central to all ministry, whereby “the people off God submit to the word of God, so that the Lord may truly rule his church.” 

I have questions in my mind which are not immediately addressed here: Is there any connection between this understanding of the church as community oriented towards Christ, and the godlessness and confusion in the wider world? Is there a danger that a focus on a local group gathered around the bible is not only irrelevant, with no power to influence the nation and society as a whole – it actually makes a virtue of this, creating a spiritual retreat or escape from a secular and even hostile world? Does the gospel of Jesus in the life of the church address our personal, economic, political, moral problems in society that are being brought into sharp focus during the endless election-oriented debates? Or is emphasising the centrality of word ministry the way in which we can get away from the ‘worldly’ concerns?

But Jensen does answer these questions by implication in his piece, with quite a sharp criticism of much evangelical preaching today. There is a tendency, he says, for a sermon to consist of two parts: the explaining of the text, which if care is not taken can sound like a lecture, followed by “application”. Because of a desire the include “the gospel” and a message of encouragement, for many evangelical preachers the application is the same whatever the passage of Scripture being expounded, along the lines of “be assured of God’s love, because Jesus died for you on the cross”. [One might add: “and make sure you tell others about the forgiveness available through Jesus’ death as well!”]

Archbishop Peter says that while of course this message is central to the good news, it fails to feed the sheep with the varied rich diet of the whole of Scripture with its many themes, narrowing down the word of God. This will have the effect of boredom in the congregation, as the faithful “come to church knowing what the vicar is going to say and how it will be said, no matter what the bible reading is”. This reinforces the picture of the church as irrelevant to the real issues that people face in a society with social tension, economic and political uncertainty, psychological stress and moral collapse.

Instead, says Jensen, because “we are faced with an ignorant and hostile context”, we must not in our preaching and shared study of the word neglect “the major ethical and apologetic implications” of the bible. He doesn’t expand on this, but the most recent history of his co-leadership of Gafcon, and his successor’s role as Archbishop of Sydney illustrate an understanding of the Lordship of Christ as relevant to the whole of life, not just the forgiveness of sins and assurance of eternal life for the individual believer. The gospel is God’s word to the whole world not just the local church.

So for example the Sydney leadership have recently publicly opposed same-sex marriage and liberalisation of abortion in Australia, and have gained worldwide coverage in the secular media for insisting on the Anglican Church uniting around single, traditional understandings of primary theological truth, rather than tolerating or celebrating a plural diversity of ‘gospels’.

If we’re not seeing evangelicals in the UK speaking out in the same way, if we’re surprised at the silence in the pulpits about, for example, the government’s introduction of relationships and sex education programmes in schools which explicitly favour secular ideology and seek to repress Judaeo-Christian morality, it’s not because the gospel itself is irrelevant to these concerns in society. It’s because of a voluntary restricting of the gospel to a private message of relationship with God. The message of the cross, instead of being seen as the core truth of God’s justice and love giving salvation, assurance and power, a basis from which Christians can confidently proclaim God’s gracious wisdom and challenging demands to the world and receive strength in the face of persecution, has somehow been twisted to justify an escapist, pietistic separation of “world” and “church” which allows us to be doctrinally ‘sound’ but avoiding having to say anything addressing the nation’s beliefs and behaviour which might upset people.

I recently preached a sermon as part of a series on the book of Ruth. One commentary I read was helpful in a number of ways, but the emphasis of the interpretation was on Ruth and Naomi’s encounter with the “kinsman redeemer”. Just as they met Boaz in their deepest need and he cleared their debts and took them into his home, so Jesus does the same for the believer today. While this is no doubt a glorious truth which must be one of the points of application of the text, the preacher must surely point out that the redemption is not just of individuals, but of Israel. The book of Ruth begins with a situation of famine, exile, death and lack of children – is it too much of a stretch to see this reflected not just in the life of an individual without Christ, but a nation that has lost its way and has embraced idols like our own? And the transformation that occurs: harvest plenty; praise and obedience towards God, marriage, intimacy, children and a future – can this not inspire vision beyond the spiritual health of the local church, into society as a whole?

The worthy commentator to whom I referred emphasised the legal aspects of Boaz the redeemer fulfilling his obligations, just as for us, the centre of the gospel is justification. For him, there is nothing ‘romantic’ in the story. I said:

I’m sorry, but there clearly is! They don’t end up getting married just out of duty… there is a whole theme in the bible of how the marriage relationship, man and woman, is a picture of God’s relationship with humanity. There is the distance – difference inherent in male and female, difference in status, wealth and class just as there is distance between us and God…God seeks out those lower than him for intimate relationship in a way that seems impossible – even more impossible than Boaz and Ruth getting together. One writer, Christopher West, claims that the gospel can be summed up in five words – God wants to marry us!…The metanarrative – the bible begins with human beings being created for dignity and flourishing, but soon there’s a massive gulf between God and human beings. The story ends with the church as the bride of Christ – once poor, in the dirt, without much to commend it, but now elevated, given respect and honour, cleaned up, united with the Lord of the Universe. It’s not difficult to see how Ruth and Boaz, a human story, is a picture of that reality.

The importance of preserving ‘heteronormativity’ in society, and of protecting and nurturing marriage and children (especially when the unborn are under threat); the wider commendation of a god-given vision for human flourishing at a time of national stagnation – these are therefore not side issues, nothing to do with ‘the gospel’, issues to be placed in the box marked ‘politics’. The gospel is contained in the church’s witness to the truth in these areas. These are important parts of the message the church should be preaching and embodying, as it listens to, obeys and communicates the whole teaching of the bible as Archbishop Jensen encourages preachers to do.

Witness which omits the inconvenient truth

Posted by on Oct 22, 2019 in Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Witness which omits the inconvenient truth

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

Religion is increasingly irrelevant for many people, but the Church still has opportunities to engage with large audiences outside its walls. Are those who speak for it making the best use of these openings?

Sociologists of religion tell us that ‘secularisation’ does not tell the whole story as far as the decline of organised religion in Western culture is concerned. Yes there is a downturn in churchgoing and belief in the Christian God, but a rise in adherence to other faiths, and in alternative religious beliefs such as new age spiritualities, angels and neo-pagan superstitions.

It’s also true that despite society’s move away from traditional Christianity, the Church of England still retains a favoured place. Bishops sit in the House of Lords and speak on Thought for the Day; church schools continue in theory to offer an opportunity for children to learn about Christian faith. Vicars still have access to thousands, perhaps millions of homes through the parish system, occasional offices and the concept of the cure of souls.

In the past couple of weeks, the presence of church groups of different denominations at the Extinction Rebellion protests, and the guidance given by Bishops over Brexit and the need for national reconciliation, have been reported by secular media. More ‘negative’ stories, such as cases of abuse and inadequate safeguarding, and divisions over different understandings of sexuality and marriage, have also been given coverage in the national press.

So despite secularisation, a significant number of people in the nation still care about what the church as a whole, and the Church of England in particular, believes and does. What an opportunity for witness!

A witness, whether in a law court, the family, the workplace or a pulpit, is more effective if known as truthful, reliable and stable. Devotees of John Grisham novels know that the first tactic of those trying to stop the truth coming out is to discredit the character of the witness. Many church leaders who get the opportunity to speak in the public square prioritise the need first to gain a respectful hearing by coming across as balanced, wise, concerned for the common good and caring for the needy.

That is part of the ‘method’ of being a good witness. But then, the main task of the witness is not to establish credentials as an end in itself, but to recount the truth, when given the opportunity. If the witness only includes aspects of the truth which are inoffensive and unremarkable, such as the need for mutual civility and to care for the disadvantaged and the planet, there is a danger of missing the controversial but unique spiritual elements of the message which lead to salvation. In short, the purpose of Christian testimony is not just to let people know that the messenger is a respectable and caring person, but to deliver the message about Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

Time and again, opportunities for speaking this message are given to church leaders in the public square because of the continued interest in what the church thinks, despite secularism. There are still open doors in the public media for relating the benefits of faith in Christ to issues of serious concern. This needs to be evangelistic: publicly commending the truth and authority of the Scriptures, the goodness and reasonableness of the Christian worldview with its benefits for mental and spiritual health; the necessity of responding to the invitation to repent and believe.

And the church’s message also needs to be ‘prophetic’: warning for example about consequences of abandoning belief in God and exalting human autonomy; the inability to gather around shared values; the failure to properly address social care of the elderly; the need to protect the unborn from being killed because of being seen as an inconvenience; the need to protect young children from inappropriate sexualisation and indoctrination with experimental and confusing views on sex, gender and family.

When church leaders do this it brings tremendous encouragement across the world. Archbishop Glenn Davies of Sydney has publicly spoken up against the liberalisation of abortion laws, and has challenged liberal church leaders who want to change the message of the church to appease secular culture. In another example of how the media is still interested in what the church thinks, particularly Anglicans, his recent address to his Diocesan Synod was widely reported. See our collection of articles hereOf course he and the Diocese of Sydney have been deliberately misinterpreted and vilified, but many ordinary people have celebrated a church leader who is not afraid of saying that the church should believe and act according to the Christian faith.

But sadly, in the UK, senior church leaders so often fluff their lines and omit the key message of Christ and his Lordship. Other commentators have pointed this out recently. David Baker, normally supportive of the bishops, writing in Christian Today, feels “let down and disappointed” by a Bishop’s performance on Radio 4’s Thought for the Day, which contained “no mention of Jesus”. Martin Davie in his own blog reviewed the recent statement on Brexit, and says “the Bishops have failed to address the most fundamental issue facing our nation at the moment”, which is not economics or politics or community cohesion, important as these are, but “our relationship with God”.

Despite the increasing influence of the sexual revolution, the contradiction of its godless values with Christian morality and worldview, the effect of secularism on church decline, despite the development of ‘thought coercion’ and threats to basic freedoms, we almost never hear our Church of England Bishops warning about these things, or promoting the better story of biblical teaching on sex and marriage (with notable exceptions). Instead, they prefer to speak of food banks, global warming and reconciliation across the Brexit divide, without even bringing a distinctive Christian prophetic and evangelistic edge to these important concerns.

Instead, they have backed the consultancy role of LGBT advocacy groups Stonewall and Mermaids in primary schools, voted for a ban on counselling for people wanting to move away from homosexual desire and practice, and supported the use of baptism liturgies to celebrate gender transitionThey have missed the opportunity to speak against the undemocratic imposition of new abortion laws on Northern Ireland by absenting themselves from the debate.

Perhaps they feel that to speak against secular sexual ethics, and be too up front about the gospel would be ‘preachy’, come across as too religious, even ‘extreme’, and so damage their credibility as respectable guides, mediators between different viewpoints, influencers for peace. If the gospel is no more than a secular vision of harmony, of which Christ is a mere symbol, this is understandable. But the heart of the Christian message is a transcendent God who rescues us from rebellion, selfishness and wrong thinking, and calls us to radical inclusion in his Son. If church leaders feel unable to witness to this truth outside the believing community as they are commissioned, either because they no longer believe it, or because of fear of rejection, how valuable is their respectability?

“Relationships and sex education” as a tool for mass shaping of a generation’s worldview: can it be halted?

Posted by on Oct 15, 2019 in Editorial Blog, Sex education, Uncategorized | Comments Off on “Relationships and sex education” as a tool for mass shaping of a generation’s worldview: can it be halted?

“Relationships and sex education” as a tool for mass shaping of a generation’s worldview: can it be halted?

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

Since the beginning of the year, Anglican Mainstream has posted a steady stream of articles  on the government’s overhaul of Relationships and Sex Education, particularly as the plans affect Primary Schools. The new guidelines have the effect of standardising across the nation what many schools have being putting into practice already for some years: under the guise of promoting “British values” of “tolerance” and “inclusion”, and in an effort to prevent the bullying of vulnerable minorities on account of their sexual orientation or family structure, all children should be taught positively about same sex relationships, transgenderism, “pride” culture and the questioning of heteronormativity.

Expensively-produced materials covering series of lesson plans have been piloted for some years and are being rolled out by local educational authorities. Inspection regime OFSTED has made high profile examples of small, religious-based schools which haven’t complied with sufficient enthusiasm. The Church of England leadership has largely bought into this agenda, as evidenced by the publication of “Valuing all God’s Children”, its Stonewall-influenced guidelines for “transgender children” in C of E schools published in October 2017, and other subsequent examples (eg here and here).

While in theory, parents will still have a limited right to withdraw their primary school children from sex education, in practice the effects of the new regulations will make it more difficult as LGBT themes will be increasingly embedded across the curriculum. In response to protests from small groups of Christian parents in south London and larger groups of Muslims in Birmingham, further guidelines have recently been issued portraying parents who protest against RSE as a major threat to public order; governors and teachers who question the new agenda are faced with threat of dismissal.

A group of around 80 concerned parents and representatives of advocacy groups met in north London on 12 October to hear a number of short presentations on these issues, and to discuss options for action in protecting children and preserving basic freedoms. We saw well-chosen video clips about the global drive for “Comprehensive Sexuality Education”  and the way in which this is being implemented through the now well-publicised programmes in UK schools such as “No Outsiders”.

Roger Kiska of Christian Legal Centre also spoke via video, summarising some key elements of RSE, how it is a vehicle for ideological influence which goes way beyond the statutory requirements of the Education Act, and how it undermines the rights of parents with conservative views by giving higher authority to the State in teaching ideology to their children.

Some of the talks and interviews were via live Skype link – a commendable achievement given that the local internet was down and a phone hotspot had to suffice. Mike Davidson of Core Issues Trust expressed concern that children are now being encouraged to develop identities of “gay” or “trans” at an early age, and that disapproval of any change of these identities later (for example by bans on “gay conversion therapy”) can leave people trapped. Dermot O’Callaghan shared some research to refute the narrative that “LGBT kids commit suicide because of homophobia”. Relationship breakdown and general mental health problems are a much more readily identifiable cause of self harm and suicide, and it is very alarming that the tragedy of suicide, always with complex causes, is being used as a weapon to promote an ideological agenda.

A number of speakers were present in person and shared from different perspectives. Amir Ahmed, a parent from Birmingham, gave a first hand report of the protests which began at Parkfield Primary and received worldwide attention. Behind his gentle manner is a courage and persistence which has enabled him to keep smiling and presenting the reasonable objections to the “No Outsiders” programme in the face of accusations of bigotry. He emphasised that the elites and lobby groups attempting to stamp out opposition to RSE often don’t understand why it is a form of indoctrination, and undermines parental rights and basic family values shared by millions of people, not just those with conservative religious faith. Amir shared practical tips for leafletting parents at the school gate, and this followed on from the update from Susan Mason on her “School Gate Campaign” which informs parents of what is actually being taught to children in RSE and why it is potentially damaging, gives detail on rights, and offers suggestions on how to approach school authorities for consultation, or protest if this is not heeded.

School principal Edmund Matyjazcek and SPUC’s Safe at School representative Tom Rogers gave further practical suggestions of how to engage with schools with concerns over RSE. While some schools are led by LGBT activists whose mission is to inculcate the new generation with radical progressive ideology on sex and gender, other school heads just want the minimum of fuss and are sometimes still open to polite, well-informed and continuous engagement from conservative parents, especially if they give options for lesson and assembly input which covers the bases but is not promoting an anti-Christian agenda. But this window is closing, and parents must take the lead at local level especially since most church leaders are reluctant to get involved.

Lisa Nolland, the main organiser of the conference, looked at some of the roots of the sexual revolution of which the new RSE is a fruit, referencing the pseudo-research of discredited paedophile Alfred Kinsey, for whom the sexualisation of children and the moral neutrality of all sexual expression were key values. Teaching which suggests to young children to think of themselves as ‘gay’ because they ‘love’ their best friend, promotes inappropriate sexualisation or encourages secondary children to experiment with sex without the protection of traditional boundaries, is potentially dangerous for mental and physical health.

There were a couple of presentations on transgenderism, including a testimony from a former ‘trans woman’ now living again as a man after prayer and counselling from Christians, and a detailed survey of the huge increase in referrals for transitioning among children from Lynda Rose of Voice for Justice. Perhaps the most powerful testimony of the day was by Dave Bratt, a parent of young children from Warrington, who has battled with his school over LGBT indoctrination. His attempts at reasonable engagement have been rebuffed; his church would not give him and his wife support. However he suggested that his lonely protest was having an effect: the rainbow flags and LGBT-affirming storybooks seem less in evidence than previously.

This was an excellent conference covering a lot of ground: what are the new RSE regulations; what is actually being taught and why is it harmful; where do these ideas come from and what’s the aim of those who promote it; how parents can overcome fear and practically influence schools even at this late stage when to do so requires courage, winsome persuasiveness, and the willingness to be bloody-minded and irritating if necessary. There would be differences among the participants on Saturday between those who believe the whole progressive agenda can be resisted and put to flight by a new political movement, and others who think that for the moment, any ‘victories’ will be local, temporary and unable to affect the wider progress of secular totalitarianism and the sexual revolution. But that’s a topic for another time.

‘The gospel in the public square’ – what does it look like?

Posted by on Oct 1, 2019 in 2-Important Posts, Bible, Editorial Blog, Witness | Comments Off on ‘The gospel in the public square’ – what does it look like?

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

I’ve written before about my fascination with the last few chapters of Acts, which portray the apostle Paul on trial again and again. Here are some more reflections.

While there are great differences between the early church and contemporary Christianity in the West, Luke was writing to an audience of Christians in a context in some ways similar to our own. The Christian faith was not banned; it was possible for churches to exist and even to flourish in local communities, whether Jewish or gentile. The message of the deity of a crucified working class man was sometimes ridiculed but on the whole, especially among the gentiles, took its place among a myriad of religious beliefs. In most cases the church would have grown quietly and steadily through friendship evangelism. Some would have argued that there was no need to antagonise the authorities by public declarations of Jesus’ supreme lordship, or the non-divinity of temple idols.

Paul himself was commissioned to preach the gospel first to the Jews, and then the gentiles. He could have done it quietly, through local fellowships which he planted, avoiding controversy, focussing on small groups and one-to-one. But he didn’t. It seems everywhere he went, he clashed with the authorities as his gospel was shared in the public square, and as he testified boldly to the authorities. There’s no doubt that this would have caused embarrassment to local believers. “We agree with Paul’s beliefs”, some would have said, “but can’t he be more winsome? He’s picking fights; he’s antagonising people with his tone; he’s drawing the attention of the powers that be to the fragile church.”

In the last of Paul’s defence speeches, in the trial before Agrippa in Acts 26, Paul sets out his message and his motives in a comprehensive way. His understanding of the gospel can’t be seen just as a set of beliefs which can be assented to by individuals as they are incorporated into an unobtrusive local community. Here are ten key elements of the apostolic gospel:

1. It’s about the reality of the spiritual realm, God’s miraculous intervention in the physical world demonstrated by Jesus’ resurrection (26:8) and his appearance to the apostles of whom Paul was the last (26:14-15).

2. It’s about forgiveness of sins through Christ, deliverance from the power of evil, and the formation of a new community (26:18). Evangelicals have traditionally majored on the first of these only!

3. It’s about light in the darkness. Paul mentions this three times in his defence (26:13; 18; 23).

4. It’s about a saving and eternal relationship with God, received and activated by repentance and faith (26:20). Repentance involves a radical change of worldview, as God’s word becomes the authority; faith means that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me”: an end to identities based on the enthronement of self.

5. It’s worked out in practice with a changed life (26:20). It’s impossible to sustain the view commonly promoted today, that some kind of positive regard for Jesus, and belief in his love, can go together with a blatant disregard for the bible’s clear moral teaching.

6. It’s controversial. It should challenge both those outside and inside the Kingdom; it will lead to indifference, ridicule and furious opposition, as Paul said he himself felt in his former life (26:9). If it’s always received positively it’s probably not the whole gospel (Luke 6:26).

7. It’s for people of all races and nationalities. While the focus of much of the evangelical church is on local mission along natural lines of shared background, Acts shows a constant intentionality to go beyond the barriers of social groups (26:17-18; 209; 23).

8. It’s public truth. Paul assumes that even the secular rulers know the story about Jesus, because “it was not done in a corner” (26:26). There is no sense from Paul that given the opportunity to speak truth to power, he should talk in generalities about doing good and living well, and avoid mention of Jesus and his call (compare with contemporary church spokesmen here and here).

9. It’s for the powers, human and spiritual, as well as ordinary people. Paul was called to “testify to small and great alike” (26:22). It’s certainly for family and friends, it’s good news for the poor and effort needs to be made to bring the message to the disadvantaged. But also it is for rulers, because it has global, multinational relevance. Paul takes the opportunity to evangelise the king while defending himself! (26:27-28).

10. It’s embodied in the suffering and vindication of the Saviour, of the apostle, and hence of the church. Paul has been unjustly imprisoned for two years in Palestine, and will face further incarceration and then death in Rome. But he has a chance to testify at the highest level, and is essentially declared innocent by his judges (26:31). In this he follows the pattern of Jesus’ life, but in his earlier anti-Christian days he was responsible for creating the same pattern for Christians in Judaea and Damascus (26:10-11).                            

It’s worth saying more about this last point. The gospel is not just a message to be believed, but a pattern of life to be experienced. Jesus suffered, died and was raised to life. Paul in this trial scene is in dire straits humanly speaking but is experiencing God’s powerful action through him for the good of the gospel in the public square. When Christians suffer today for their faith (either because of persecution, or the more common daily experiences of resisting internal sin or coping with difficult situations), the gospel is not just a message of personal salvation and justification, but actually taking up our cross; an experience of God with us in the “dying” and “being raised up” by him.

If the church treats the gospel not as public truth but as an internal blessing for the church and ‘fringe’ only, it loses the powerful testimony to the rulers, and can easily become pietistic and inward-looking. If it sees the gospel as a positive theological message but neglects the dimension of death-and-resurrection experience through being “in Christ” in suffering, it’s prone to a human-centred faith, managing life to avoid hardship, rather than following the Spirit’s leading as Paul did.

Book review: ‘Michael Green, by his friends’

Posted by on Sep 24, 2019 in 2-Important Posts, Church of England, Editorial Blog, Evangelism | Comments Off on Book review: ‘Michael Green, by his friends’

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

This collection of tributes, just released by IVP, paints a detailed picture of evangelist, pastor, scholar and mission activist Michael Green who died early in 2019. The different but dovetailing perspectives of more than 30 contributors are excellently marshalled and edited by Julia Cameron. This is no detached, merely factual biography, but a series of warm, affectionate reminiscences mixed with a clear overarching account of the life and various ministries in which Michael was involved and in most cases, led. The reader learns about an amazing man, and also a snapshot of the history of English Anglican evangelicalism from around 1950 to the present – a history in which perhaps only John Stott played a more influential role than Michael Green.

The book is organised chronologically, but not in a strict way – this allows some degree of overview of the decades when dealing with the various themes of Michael’s life. A timeline after J.John’s foreword and Julia Cameron’s brief introduction is very helpful in setting the key stages of Michael’s life against important events in the nation’s history.

There are four main parts to the book. ‘The formative years’ covers the period from Michael’s birth in 1930 in a vicarage near Banbury, through school, National Service, university at Oxford (where he was OICCU President, met Rosemary and began to gain his reputation for bold faith, a sharp mind and winsome, extrovert manner) and his curacy in Eastbourne. A number of voices from contemporaries narrate the many memorable stories and comment on the man and the development of his character and ministry.

In ‘A man of many talents’, a number of senior leaders, all influenced by Michael, are given space to write about his ministry as theological educator, church leader, author, international speaker, and evangelist to students and parish missions. A number of contributors emphasise independently that  Michael refused to accept the normal divide between academic theology (he led, or was on the staff of, four theological colleges), pastoral work (assistant at two churches and vicar of one) and evangelism. For him, the reality of Christ, the truth of the bible, the urgency of communicating the gospel message and inviting people to repent, believe and live for Jesus was all consuming. The purpose of academic theology was to better understand the word of God, not an end in itself or, as was commonly held in evangelical circles when he began teaching at London College of Divinity, something to be avoided.

We learn from Jane Holloway, who served many years as Michael’s PA and then developed her own public ministry with his encouragement, that he was at first a reluctant author, having only written in an academic style until persuaded to write down his evangelistic and apologetic talks and capture some of the racy energy – these became popular Christian classics of the 1960’s such as ‘Man Alive’ and ‘Runaway World’. Michael also made more in-depth systematic theology broadly accessible with a number of titles in the ‘I believe’ series of the 1970’s and 1980’s. He was a great help to contemporary writers such as Vaughan Roberts and Alister McGrath. Remarkably, he continued writing into his old age, and his book aimed at students, ‘Jesus for Sceptics’ (2013) is a best seller on campuses today.

Michael’s ebullient personality, powerful preaching and prayerful concern for those who don’t believe is the main theme of the book. J John speaks of Michael’s passion for the gospel, his commitment to clarity and arresting illustration in communication, and his reliance on the Holy Spirit – and these qualities are reiterated by contributors as diverse as Richard Cunningham from UCCF, Amy Orr-Ewing from OCCA, Michael Cassidy from African Enterprise, mission thinkers Vinay Samuel and Chris Sugden, Archbishops Ben Kwashi and George Carey, and pastor/evangelists Bruce Gillingham and Andrew Wingfield Digby. We learn of the rapier-like cut and thrust of his communication, the sheer energy of the work of university and parish missions, and his skill in moving from preaching to a large group, leading a smaller discussion group, and engaging one to one. A number of amusing stories are recounted, such as the time when Michael engaged with a heckler during open air evangelism; the heckler walked away to get on a bus, and Michael followed him for a personal conversation, shouting to other members of the team to continue the preaching!

Part three of the book describes Michael’s continuation of ministry after passing retirement age, and the final section is about the end of his life, the reaction which followed, and a tribute from his son Tim on behalf of his family.

Was Michael Green almost too good to be true? There is a danger of a book like this turning into a hagiography, but this is avoided. Certainly he was an inspiring figure, but there are hints of how those who worked with him could be exasperated by his ‘100 ideas per hour’ nature. Relationships were not always easy, particularly at St Aldates Oxford, although of course his time there (1975-1987) was very fruitful; described by contributor John Woolmer as “frantic, exciting, challenging, exhausting, eventful”. He could be intimidating, perhaps making others feel inadequate next to his brilliance. George Carey, who appointed him to the Springboard initiative in 1990, suggests that this was sometimes the case when Michael tried to enthuse demoralised and even cynical clergy, used to expecting decline, to focus on mission and growth. The supremely gifted evangelist with huge amounts of faith and optimism can sometimes fail to understand those individuals who have got used to feeling “we can’t”. But overall, on a national scale, according to Carey, the emphasis on evangelism by the current Archbishops is largely due to the “turnaround” that Michael and his team brought about in the early years of the 1990’s ‘Decade of Evangelism’.

This book is dedicated to “the new generation of evangelists”. Michael was unique, and this very readable account serves as an excellent memorial to his personality, talents and achievements. It also contains a number of examples of his methods and innovations which will continue to be useful for evangelists to study and try out in practice in future. Perhaps also his ministry will be remembered as appropriate to a particular time in the nation when there was more openness to the gospel, when large numbers would turn up to hear evangelistic preaching, where big names commanded more respect. Has such a time now gone? Whatever cultural challenges face the church,  and whatever mission methods that will be required in the future, we certainly need leaders and gospel preachers with the courage, boldness and energy of Michael Green.

I personally had three encounters with Michael. First, in the mid 1980’s he spoke at my university CU which its fair to say was dominated by conservative evangelicals with suspicion of anything charismatic. After Michael’s talk, he invited us to “be laid back in the Lord” and receive the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Some of the CU leaders’ faces were like thunder, but many of the rank and file appreciated what he did – no-one else would have dared! The book refers to these divisions in Anglican evangelicalism and how Michael was respected by both sides. Then, on another occasion Michael was at a Gafcon meeting in around 2012, and I thought at the time that he seemed rather quiet and out of touch, a relic from the past. I later learned that his hearing aids weren’t working that day, and he had many more years of bringing people to Christ after that! The last time was in October 2018, just three months before his death. Archbishop Foley Beach of ACNA and Gafcon was visiting the UK, and I picked Michael up from his home to take him to meet Foley in a pub just off the motorway. They knew each other well from Michael’s two years in a North Carolina ACNA church, and spent a wonderful hour together, after which I was able to glean some more wisdom from the great man on the drive home.

ReNew Conference hears call to mission in the light of the future

Posted by on Sep 17, 2019 in 2-Important Posts, AMIE, Church of England, Editorial Blog, Evangelicalism, Gafcon | Comments Off on ReNew Conference hears call to mission in the light of the future

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

The annual gathering of conservative evangelical English Anglicans addressed the uncertainties of ministry in the present, given the challenges offered by the Church of England and Western culture, and emphasised the certainty of a future under Christ’s just reign promised in Scripture.

In an amusing and challenging interview, Archbishop Ben Kwashi spoke of how within ten years of narrowly avoiding death when his house and church were burned by Islamic terrorists, he dismantled and reordered an entire Diocesan administration, oversaw the planting of more than 200 churches, and supported his wife Gloria in her ministry of caring for dozens of orphans as well as their own children. Since the late 1990’s Jos has divided into further Dioceses with hundreds more congregations established as a witness to the gospel in a place of continued poverty, tension, violence and injustice.

Asked why there had been such successful evangelism in his Diocese of Jos, Kwashi told of how he took teams of clergy to visit unchurched areas for a week after time of research and prayer. Once congregations had been established, clergy and lay people were mobilised for further mission, and the Archbishop told of how teenagers can become particularly effective evangelists if they develop a passion for Jesus before and instead of the usual negative influences.

Earlier in the Conference, Archbishop Ben had shared more of his background. His father had been brought to Christ and mentored by young missionaries from England, who made huge sacrifices by journeying to Nigeria in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Many of them died there, some within weeks of arrival; their love for the Lord and for the people made a huge impression on Kwashi senior and his son Ben who became an Archbishop and now General Secretary of Gafcon. “The gospel is the means of saving the world, and God has put it in our hands”, he said. “We must pass it on to the next generation with joy and conviction, hot and fresh”.

This for Kwashi is the central driving motivation for Gafcon. In the churches of the West, theological debate about the essentials of Christianity was “watering down the gospel, destroying faith, taking the church captive”. Gafcon as a series of conferences and a global movement has re-established faithful Anglicanism and provided structures for it to continue and thrive.  Anglican groupings have emerged, clearly separated from ‘official’ structures which have embraced heresy, such as the thriving Church in North America, and now new initiatives in New Zealand, Scotland and Brazil. In Africa, those with an anti-gospel agenda “use money to play with people’s lives”, Kwashi warned, but those who identify with Gafcon “are not willing to be sold”.

The theme of the Renew Conference, attended by nearly 500 people from 270 churches, was “multiplying ministries in the light of eternity”. Certainly Ben Kwashi’s ministry in Nigeria, and his current additional responsibilities with Gafcon exemplify this. The truths of the future coming of Christ, and the destiny of all human beings, as a comfort for believers and motivation for mission were outlined in Bible expositions by other speakers. “We can cope with suffering, but not hopelessness”, said Andy Mason, reminding us from the gospel of Luke that the King has come, the King will come, it will be a shock, and we are told how to prepare. A particularly excellent systematic treatment of the subject of hell by Kendal Harmon from the ACNA Diocese of South Carolina explained why and how the loss of this uncomfortable teaching in churches has coincided with the rise of secularism in society, and how recovering a sober and biblical understanding of judgement is vital for the evangelistic project founded on love and concern for the lost.

The conference heard from a number of different voices, live and on video, giving practical examples of multiplying ministry in local churches – a wide range, from mums sharing the gospel with others befriended at the school gate, to revitalisation of churches with a history of poor ministry and low attendance, to planting of new congregations inside and outside the Church of England. One vicar presented a well-produced video featuring a number of clergy from the south west talking about their strategies for identifying, training and releasing new leaders for ministry; lay people spoke of how they had moved to part-time work in order to support their local church’s outreach.

The vexed issue was addressed of what action to take in the face of Diocesan leadership increasingly promoting agendas contrary to the bible’s teaching, and sometimes being actively hostile to gospel ministry. While the majority remain in the C of E for now, an increasing number are looking at ways to visibly “differentiate” from spiritual fellowship with Bishops. A church warden described how in his parish a research group was established, to understand and communicate to the congregation the reasons for rifts over doctrine and ethics, to support the vicar on immediate action (for example letters of protest to the Bishop), and to explore options for the future to protect gospel ministry. Of course a small but growing number have left the C of E, or are preparing to do so, while remaining Anglican, connected to Gafcon. AMiE was given some exposure here (Free Church of England was not mentioned, and should have been). 

A large group of clergy and laity such as this one will come from a variety of contexts and come up with different strategies for action, often guided by conscience. There was an emphasis on continued fellowship based on shared understanding of the gospel, and mutual support even for those embarking on different courses of action, rather than a one size fits all centralised approach. There will no doubt continue to be debate in the coming days and weeks on this. Meanwhile the work of gospel mission through the local church goes on. Archbishop Kwashi said that he was encouraged by being among such a number of ministers firmly committed to preaching Christ in the hard secular environment of the UK.

Worship and evangelism in new ‘dark ages’ mission

Posted by on Sep 10, 2019 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Mission, Worship | Comments Off on Worship and evangelism in new ‘dark ages’ mission

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

A recent piece in the Church of England Newspaper (23rd August, £) reflected on the church’s task in contemporary society. Worship, which is the attitude and activity of glorifying God by believers, should not be confused with evangelism, the explaining of the Christian message to unbelievers and invitation to repentance and faith so they can become part of the worshipping community. Rather, “When we worship, our [the Christian disciple’s] attention is on God; when we evangelise, our attention is on those we want to reach with the gospel”, says Rev Martin Down in his article.

If the lines are blurred between the two, and the distinction between the believer-in-Christ and the ‘interested outsider’ is removed, confusion and ‘lowering the bar’ can occur. The temptation is for worship and teaching to be ‘dumbed down’ to create an uplifting and positive experience in church, and evangelism reduced to inviting people to share that experience.  Or, even if the focus of the Sunday gathering is on telling newcomers the basics of the gospel, the more mature Christian disciple is left with thin gruel in terms of true worship and challenging, edifying teaching from the Scriptures.

Down mentions how the cultural context for mission has changed, and it would be good to reflect more on this. In the past, much evangelism was based on the assumption that there was a strong Christian heritage in society. Most people at least had a grasp of the basic message of the bible from church and/or school RE. We could even have a shared ‘act of worship’ in schools and national civic occasions in parish churches and cathedrals, assuming that most people believed in God. The task of the evangelist was often seen as correcting a wrong understanding of the gospel, for example that God rewards good, respectable people with answered prayer and  going to heaven when we die. The explanation of the cross and the reality of the indwelling Holy Spirit have been crucial in helping to move people from a works-based and nominal, lifeless Christianity to genuine conversion.

But today it can’t be assumed that the majority have any concept of the Christian God or of the basic teaching of the bible. Not only that, but the culture can’t be seen as neutral and benign, a blank canvas where people can be easily moved from nominal vague religiosity to understanding and acceptance of the gospel. Just as in the age of the Acts of the Apostles and the mission of the early church in the early centuries AD, the majority worldviews contradict the biblical understanding, are often hostile to it, and their adherents are actively worshipping their own gods and doing their own “evangelism”. It might be the new philosophies and ideologies such as secular humanism, ‘cultural Marxism’ with its vehicle of sexual revolution, or the nihilistic atheism of Yuval HarariOr it could be the resurfacing of old religions – a recent hour long BBC interview with writer and media personality Stephen Fry probed his fascination with ancient Greek myths telling powerful stories to explain human origins and psychology – and how in his view these are much more relevant for today than Christianity.

As the Christian culture of the West decays rapidly, these anti-Christian mindsets are finding fertile ground for their mission in the post-Christian generation. A weak church is being successfully evangelised by an idol-worshipping world! In such a situation, genuine worshipbuilding up the body, and evangelism takes on a new urgency: counter-cultural, revolutionary, potentially dangerous.

In a world where people are obsessed with their grievances and rights and identities, worship begins with “it’s not about me”, recovering reverent awe of God the creator and the judge, adoration of Christ the redeemer, renouncing idols, repenting of sin. Teaching continues the focus on Jesus, his work for and in us, and his future for us, and applies this in the difficult but rewarding experience of crucifying the sinful ego and experiencing the resurrection as the Holy Spirit enables the disciple’s putting on of the new self in all areas of life. Being part of the worldwide and historical communion of saints may involve submitting to the discipline of liturgical practices of the past rather than just contemporary music and quality coffee.

Evangelism cannot be just about numbers in a room and making people feel comfortable so they come again. It must begin with the controversial but liberating content of the evangel, repellent to some but attractive to those in whom God is at work. It’s followed up by catechesis which has an element of ‘detox’ as new disciples renounce one by one wrong assumptions and ideas taught by Netflix and social media, and replace with wholesome truth. If few buy, we hold our nerve, not cutting the price and offering cheap grace. We cannot assume that if we just get people into a ‘sacred space’, whether messy church, hipster cafe or cathedral, the Holy Spirit will do the rest. Other spirits are also in operation…

‘Witness’ then takes on the true New Testament meaning as Jesus builds his church into a learning/serving community which will suffer for challenging prevailing lies. The true worshipping and evangelising church is motivated by love and faith, but will be derided as old fashioned, judgemental, even abusive. It will not try to provide its members with a therapeutic escape from the world, or syncretistic accommodation to it, but like our courageous forbears who set up monasteries among the pagan Saxons and Vikings, real witness seeks to transform that world.

Of course none of these ideas are new. They have been articulated by others, perhaps notably American journalist Rod Dreher in his book ‘The Benedict Option’, and website blogs. Dreher outlines the spiritual and moral crisis now affecting the West, and is clear that this cannot be solved by trusting in national/global politics of left or right, or in pleasant church experiences which leave erroneous wordldviews intact. Rather, he advocates the creation of a parallel Christian society based on small churches, with members following an intentional ‘Rule’, with its own methods of internal education; socially egalitarian, creative, mustard-seed influential. For Anglicans, this sounds “nonconformist” – but perhaps a version of it is now needed?

C of E welcomes American celebrity Pastor’s attack on orthodox sexual ethics

Posted by on Aug 27, 2019 in 2-Important Posts, Church of England, Editorial Blog, Heresy | Comments Off on C of E welcomes American celebrity Pastor’s attack on orthodox sexual ethics

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

A number of clergy in Southwark Diocese have privately expressed concern to the Bishop about an event at the cathedral on London’s south bank which took place on 21st August. Nadia Bolz-Weber, a Lutheran pastor from Denver with a high profile in the secular media, spoke to an enthusiastic audience of around 500, before being one of the headline speakers at the Greenbelt festival the following weekend.

Bolz-Weber, a former stand-up comedian and recovering alcoholic is instantly recognisable with arms covered in tattoos. Her message takes aim at caricatures of conservative, ‘repressive’ Christianity, and advocates a way of relating to God free of shame, especially sexual guilt – hence the title of her book “Shameless- a sexual reformation” (see review here). Bolz-Weber’s caustic wit and fury has been particularly focussed on traditional teaching on sexual purity.

While it has always been difficult for Christian parents and church youth leaders to articulate a plausible bible-based sexual ethic for young people, in the past 50 years this has proved an increasing challenge, with campus ‘hook-up’ culture, the easy availability of contraception, abortion and STD medication, and more recently, internet pornography so-called ‘dating’ apps all increasing the allure of ‘consequence-free’ sex.

Powerful and seductive voices from within the liberal wing of the church, and latterly even among some evangelicals, have sought to downplay the rising sense of alarm, perhaps saying that an Augustinian foundation to our theology has made us too hung up about sex, that as long as its consensual and over-age then most expressions of ‘love’ are OK, that guilt is bad, that perhaps we haven’t read our bibles right, that authentic Christian disciples should be more concerned about social injustice or the environment than what people do in their bedrooms. That it’s too powerful and we couldn’t stop if if we tried, that Christians frowning about sex puts people off the gospel, etc.

As a result various movements emerged in the 1980’s and 90’s concerned to teach again the historic biblical vision of women and men, sex and marriage. Incentives were designed to help teenagers make commitments to sexual purity, such as the wearing of a cheap metal ring as a token of a pledge not to have sex until marriage. Many young people found this helpful, although some faced ridicule and worse for their courageous and costly stance – and of course some fell away because of peer pressure.

This teaching about sexual purity is a consistent and distinctive element within the Jewish and Christian Scriptures clearly related to the character of God and the true nature of love; the rejection of occult spirituality, the protection of women and children, the benefits to society of relational faithfulness with personal discipline and self control. For Bolz-Weber, though, it is not just old-fashioned and killjoy. It is profoundly harmful, preventing in her view healthy sexual development through experimentation. The purity message can even be a form of abuse, part of a system of legalistic religious control which Jesus came to abolish.

In her book Shameless, she narrates a series of testimonies where people struggled with the tension between the attitudes and behaviour they were taught in their conservative churches (no sex outside of marriage, no gay sex); they fell into what they thought was sin, felt guilty with shame reinforced by church teaching, repented for a while, sinned again – until they discovered a true ‘liberation’ in deciding that sexual expression in ways which are enjoyable and feel comfortable are not bad, but approved by God.

As a skilled operator in the field of communications, Bolz-Weber knows that its not enough to write books or blogs promoting her message. Her own personality, her irreverent humour littered with expletives, her ‘neo-punk’ appearance serves to gain followers, and also the message is reinforced by powerful visual icons such as the now notorious sculpture, made of discarded ‘purity rings’ and shaped into a symbol of female genitalia which she unveiled at a feminist conference in 2018.

It’s difficult to think of a more vicious way to ridicule biblical morality and the sincere intention of thousands of Christian girls to follow Jesus in the area of sexual purity, than to publicly destroy their symbols of discipleship and replace them with something resembling a gross pagan idol. So its not surprising to learn that Bolz-Weber also publicly advocates incorporating elements of religious practice from ancient pre-Christian Europe, in particular the idea of a feminine diving figure borrowed from Wicca whom she calls “the goddess”.

Her supporters claim that she is making Christianity more accessible to ordinary people, especially progressively-oriented women. It’s worth reading this adulatory profile of Bolz-Weber in the New Yorker which reads almost as a caricature by a conservative satirical site.

The Southwark Cathedral gig isn’t Bolz-Weber’s first with the Church of England. In 2017 we saw the Archbishops of Canterbury and York signal a new policy of “radical inclusion”. Following the Scottish Episcopal Church’s acceptance of same sex marriage, the C of E’s July Synod called for liturgies to celebrate gender transition and a ban on any pastoral care to help people leave homosexual feelings and lifestyle after bitter debates in which conservatives were heckled for quoting from the bible. Later that year, Bolz-Weber, obviously considered an expert, was invited by the Archbishop of Canterbury to conduct a day-long seminar for all the Bishops as part of an in depth discussion on sexuality.

Have her teachings had an effect, or is giving her these platforms merely symptomatic of the C of E’s rapid slide towards a form of religion unrecognisable as authentic Christianity? Certainly we now have the transgender baptism guidance (never rescinded despite apologies from the Chair of the committee which signed it off, and a petition of over 3000 people). We have more and more senior appointments of people who believe and teach a version of Bolz-Weber’s theology rather than the official doctrine of the Church. We have examples of official “pastoral guidance” towards “full inclusion” of all without questioning sexual lifestyles, while at the same time warning against the pastoral harm of publicly holding to historic sexual ethics. We have testimonies of clergy not appointed to new posts because of conservative views on sexuality (I heard of one last month, from an outstanding young man prepared to work in a difficult area – the parish in question remains vacant).

Most recently we have heard reports that in the crucial debates in the House of Lords about the undemocratic imposition of a liberalisation of the abortion law in Northern Ireland, not a single member of the 26 Bishops eligible to take part were present.

They can’t all have been on holiday – was this perhaps a three line whip from the top strategists in Lambeth Palace and/or Church House who felt that the C of E had better keep silent on such a controversial subject as the life of children in the womb? Nadia Bolz-Weber would be delighted, although she would have preferred some Bishops to turn up and support a woman’s right to choose. (If any Bishops have spoken out in support of this most vulnerable group – unborn babies –  I’d be very happy to be made aware of it).

Meanwhile in Southwark Diocese the Bishop is deflecting criticism by referring again to the autonomy of the cathedral, and the commitment of the Diocese to “mutual flourishing” (ie, the holding together in one church of mutually contradictory views, with a bias towards the heterodox). This “mutual flourishing” idea is seen by many conservatives to work for them as well, so some may consider it in their interests to prevent their more seriously spiritually-aware laity from finding out about Bolz-Weber’s visit, reflecting on its implications, rocking the boat or getting out of it altogether.