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.

Editorial blog retrospective

Posted by on Dec 6, 2022 in 1-Sticky posts, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Editorial blog retrospective

Editorial blog retrospective

ANDREW SYMES TO STEP DOWN FROM ANGLICAN MAINSTREAM AFTER NEARLY A DECADE

Press Release includes a message from Anglican Mainstream’s Chair of Trustees, and details of how readers can make a comment.

Andrew Symes says: This is the end of my editorial blog for Anglican Mainstream. We hope this ministry has helped readers to track not only key events in national and global Anglicanism, but also linking them to the steady and relentless advance of an ideological secular revolution in Western culture, which has profoundly affected the way people think and act in all areas of life. The blog will remain as an archive.

When I started this work in 2013, Justin Welby had just become Archbishop of Canterbury, and Parliament had just given its approval for the change in the definition of marriage. The second Gafcon gathering coincided with the release of the Church of England Pilling Report on sexual ethics, which advocated a gradual liberalisation of Christian sexual morality and how it should be reflected in church teaching, appointments and liturgies.

We have seen this policy play itself out, as 2022 ends with bishops publicly calling for a major change in how the church understands sex and marriage, while significantly, at the same time, the results of the 2021 census show further rapid decline in nominal Christian affiliation in the United Kingdom, although regular total church attendance (counting all denominations together) seems to be holding steady.

Here is a selection of  blog posts from over the years (more than 200 in total), commenting on the transition occurring in the soul of Western culture, and its effects on the church and Anglicanism in particular.

 

2022

Why is a new Anglican jurisdiction necessary? The consecration of new bishops for the Anglican Network in Europe is more than just a new mission initiative.

What are the main problems with contemporary secular culture, and why? A brief summary of Carl Trueman’s book ‘Strange New World,’, and some implications for the faithful church.

Bishop sides with Pride against orthodox clergy . Bishop of Dorchester Gavin Collins supports a ban on ‘conversion therapy’, and would therefore support the future criminalisation of his own clergy if they teach the biblical view of marriage, or by counselling someone who wants to manage same sex desires in a faith-directed way.

Psalm 103 – four dimensions of reality. Turning back to the ancient wisdom of the Scriptures ensures that the church critiques false ideology, and then offers a saving and wholesome way of thinking about self, based on truth and humility.

 

2021

The authentic church: witness to the reality of the spiritual. An initial reflection on Michael Nazir-Ali’s departure to Roman Catholicism, concluding that what matters is not the church label, but the extent to which the church is restating the truth and refuting error, and prioritising a spiritual, not just organisational and tactical focus.

Australian and English evangelicals show different approaches to Anglican institutional revisionism. Unlike CEEC’s more gentle advocacy of “no change” to doctrine and practice from a place of good relationships with the institution, Gafcon Australia takes a more robust line, taking a first step in providing an Anglican home for those who in conscience cannot remain in the denomination.

Power today: using the energy of how people feel to control how we should think. If we want to understand what is behind some of the theological and ethical confusion in society and the church, Brendan O’Neill’s blog ‘The tyranny of ‘lived experience’ is worth reading.

Increase in LGBT identity in the West, “herd mentality”, and the church’s response. We are now no longer a pluralist society, where different views and independence of thought are valued, but one based on a monoculture of ‘woke’ values increasingly enforced by law. How does affect the church’s mission strategy?

 

2020

The Church of England’s guide to hearing God’s voice through the bible, according to LLF. The main textbook for Living in Love and Faith purports to lay out different views of Scripture and how key passages on sex and marriage should be interpreted. But in fact it is based from start to finish on revisionist theological method, an attempt to adapt Christianity to secularism and neo-paganism.

Should evangelicals stay in the C of E? These reasons aren’t good enough! We must question the assumption that only in friendly dialogue and “walking together” with heresy will evangelicals avoid drifting into obscurity and irrelevance.

Repenting of privilege, signalling virtue, following the crowd. Does the new fashion for white people from an affluent background ‘repenting of privilege’ come from the Holy Spirit, or from Robespierre, Marx and Mao? How should Christians from such backgrounds think and act?

Kenny’s stages of rebellion, and the church’s response. A case study to illustrate how the debate around sex and marriage is not just about individual desires and behaviours, and how we interpret the bible. It is about a sense of identity, and how we respond to a new ideology driving societal change.

 

2019

The whole gospel addresses the world’s wrong thinking, not just the church’s comfort. According to a former Archbishop of Sydney, some evangelical preaching narrows down the word of God to a message of personal salvation, rather than expanding on the major social implications of the gospel. There should not be an escapist, pietistic separation of “world” and “church”, but a wider commendation of a God-given vision for human flourishing.

Cathedral gimmicks illustrate spiritually blind Britain and mute Church. The Church of England is the custodian of a magnificent heritage, but when it’s failing to explain the meaning of the buildings, and permits light entertainment and even different messages with opposing spiritualities, it’s no longer promoting the beauty of God and his reality, but spiritual confusion.

‘Churchianity’ challenge to evangelical complacency. A booklet by Joe Boot points out the flaws in liberal Christianity, where the Kingdom of God is associated with secular ‘progressive’ values, and in evangelical pietism which avoids controversial clashes with society’s leaders and agendas, because it associates God’s kingdom entirely with the church.

Why we need the global Church. The church in the West needs to admit weakness, and turn to the church in the global south for inspirational lessons, help and prayer.

 

2018

Anglicans and Transgender: A series of reflections from 2015-2018

Did we witness social action / evangelism ‘holy grail’ on BBC documentary? Amid church-wide discussions on how best to engage with urban poverty, a profile on the charity Christians Against Poverty showed broken-and-mended servants giving life changing practical assistance to downtrodden individuals, and also starting the walk of faith with them

Three paradoxes of Christian faith: reflections on Ephesians. Grace and work; love for and critique of the world; serenity and struggle.

Gafcon’s “Letter to the Churches” encapsulates authentic Christianity with clarity, firmness and grace.  A report and reflection on the Gafcon Jerusalem conference of June 2018.

 

2017

England’s orthodox Anglicans: agreed on Synod’s implications, divided on what to do. General Synod of July 2017 saw a decisive move away from Christian orthodoxy in the Church of England. But among those wanting to remain faithful to Scripture, there is a wide spectrum of views on what to do.

Bishop of Chelmsford calls for “prayers of thanksgiving” for same sex relationships. Stephen Cottrell [now Archbishop of York] called for prayers of thanksgiving for same sex relationships as part of “radical new Christian inclusion”.

Local church and global mission. A couple return from long term service in Africa to teach their new English congregation about mission (fictional account, based on true stories).

Reading the Bible upside down. The global fellowship of Gafcon provides affluent Anglicans with an opportunity to look with fresh eyes at Scripture, still as God’s word, but from the perspective of the poor.

 

2016

‘Our bodies proclaim the Gospel’ – Christopher West’s insightful biblical theology of sex and marriage. [Reports on the Conference in January 2016].

Journeys in, or moving away from, grace and truth? A review of a book of essays by bishops, clergy and senior lay people, advocating change to the Church of England’s teaching and practice, edited by Jayne Ozanne.

Sowing in tears on the hard ground of the West. Biblical Christianity gives a compelling, coherent, hopeful view of ‘life, the universe and everything’. So why do people not believe? Is the church to blame for failing to get the Christian message out? Has the Gospel ‘lost’ in the battle of ideas?

 

2015

Bark at the cat, not the blackbird. When authentic Christian faith is under pressure from social media attacks, ‘moderate’ evangelicals often attack the easy target of their more conservative brethren, rather than the real enemy.

 

2014

The weekend when Britain changed. 29th March was when same sex couples married for the first time. Where was the church?

‘Sexuality and holiness’ – a review

Posted by on Nov 1, 2022 in 2-Important Posts, Christianity, Editorial Blog, Sexuality | Comments Off on ‘Sexuality and holiness’ – a review

‘Sexuality and holiness’ – a review

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

An excellent new resource on a faithful Christian response to sexuality and gender controversies courageously goes further than many standard evangelical treatments of this challenging topic. ‘Sexuality and holiness: Remaining loving and biblically grounded in a rapidly shifting culture’ is written by Mike Williams, the senior minister of Reigate Baptist church, and it is rooted in a pastoral heart, as well as clear biblical understanding and also unusual spiritual and prophetic insight.

It has become almost a cliché to speak of the necessity for those with a conservative view of the Christian faith and sexuality, to use a “winsome” tone. Williams certainly does that. From the first page, he gives us an insight into his own personality and life in his family home – he is a real person with feelings, struggles and genuine empathy, not just a voice with an argument. The style of the book is informal, with short sentences and rhetorical questions. He covers a lot of ground and deals with a significant amount of theological material in a non-academic way, for the thoughtful church member not just the clergy.

There is a repeated emphasis on the need for those coming from a traditional position to show love and compassion, and avoid judgmentalism and hypocrisy. But Williams does not shy away from repeatedly questioning the assumptions and conclusions of the liberal view in a punchy way.

The ‘meat’ of the book is a survey of what the bible teaches on the subject of gender and sexuality. He begins further back, looking to convince the reader of the reliability and authority of Scripture, the character of God, the reality and seriousness of human sin in general. Then he answers some commonly asked questions: is the Old Testament law still relevant for New Testament Christians? What do Paul and the other writers of the epistles teach on sexuality? Does Jesus mention the subject, and if so is he in agreement with Paul and the Old Testament? The author ends this section with looking at male and female in the creation narrative, and lastly the Sodom and Gomorrah story.

Williams deals with all this giving enough examples to show the weight of the scriptural witness overwhelmingly pointing to a “sacred, ordained order for creation” (p80) where sexual relations between one man and one women in marriage are celebrated as a great good. But he does not get bogged down in exegetical detail. His concern is always to answer real viewpoints, questions and objections; using what Scripture clearly says to point to God and what he wants of his creatures and his church.

He moves on to write about the implications of following God’s blueprint for humanity – the cost of discipleship. The church is in danger of silence or compromise on something which is clearly taught in God’s word, because of a desire to win people, and a fear of censure and persecution. But Christians should always choose the values of the Kingdom of God over those of culture. A new emphasis on “taking up the cross” needs to be communicated for today’s generation of Christians. Each chapter in the book ends with “a note of encouragement”, and here a story about a drug dealer receiving supernatural help to give up the addiction and the lifestyle is used to answer the objection that what the bible teaches about sexuality is too costly for people with same sex attraction.

The book ends with a helpful chapter of suggestions on how to share the gospel with those with same sex desires and the LGBT community. The focus here is on one to one pastoring, with an emphasis on love – but Williams is very aware of, and saddened by, possible accusations of “conversion therapy”.

There are many evangelical resources on this topic which broadly contain similar biblical and pastoral material, and stop there. Williams goes further by addressing the rapidly changing culture. The relentless promotion of LGBT, he suggests, is not just a new awareness of compassion for a previously persecuted minority group, but “marketing a new alternative to God’s created order” (p113). There is “an agenda to convert” to a new ideology, identity and lifestyle; there are more and more examples of clamping down on any public dissent from the universal endorsement of LGBT lifestyle and values. He gives the example of feminist academic Kathleen Stock who was hounded out of her job for being critical of transgender. This amounts to a dangerous removal of freedom of expression which is bewildering, and contributes to churches losing their confidence in teaching the bible.

But what is behind this? The sexual revolution (Williams doesn’t use this term, but effectively describes it) could be a spiritual deception, where satan and demonic forces are operating to oppose God’s good plan for humanity. Williams is aware of being misunderstood here, and qualifies his suggestion by emphasising he is not talking about individuals with particular desires being worse than others, but the agenda and values of a godless movement. There is a need for spiritual discernment, and prophetic speaking and action on the part of faithful Christians. The massive increase in LGBT identity and affiliation to the cause of ‘diversity and inclusion’ has coincided with the decline of the church in the West. Could this be the judgement of God, as the dynamic of Romans 1:24 (“God gave them over…”) is worked out?

There is a need for widespread repentance – again, for all sin not just homosexuality – as we recognise the right of God to send tribulation. Will faithful women and men stand in the gap, in intercession, pleading for God’s mercy on the nation and the church, hoping for revival? Williams urges his readers to preach the gospel with added urgency and deep compassion.

It is these last two sections, dealing with the oppressiveness of the normalisation of LGBT in the culture, and the spiritual implications, which mark this book out from some other popular evangelical treatments. Williams concludes: “It is time for the Church to stand on the Word of God, in the Spirit of God, lovingly but without compromise.” His book is an excellent resource to assist those who say “Amen”.

 

For those wanting to follow on from Williams’ book, I’d like to suggest four other areas for further study, reflection and prayer:

  • The philosophical roots of the LGBT ideology, and secular humanism more broadly. Carl Trueman has been a tremendous help here.
  • The possibility (note the caution…) of change in desires, sometimes through careful, voluntarily sought counselling, sometimes spontaneously through the work of the Holy Spirit. In some evangelical treatments there is an assumption that same sex attraction is innate and permanent. See the testimonies from X Out Loud.
  • The way that male-female marriage (separate, different, coming together) points to the relationship between God and humanity / Christ and the church. Christopher West provides a good introduction to the ‘theology of the body’.
  • The global realignment of the denominations, as faithful Christians in the West are having to sadly distance themselves from those in the same denomination with very different views, and yet finding help from the churches of the global south (eg here and here).

Why is a new Anglican jurisdiction necessary?

Posted by on Oct 24, 2022 in Anglican Network in Europe, Culture, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Why is a new Anglican jurisdiction necessary?

Why is a new Anglican jurisdiction necessary?

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

It’s very encouraging to read Andrew Atherstone’s report on the Psephizo site on the consecration of three new bishops for the Anglican Network in Europe in Hull last week (more here…). Andrew is a respected academic church historian with many years experience in the teaching, administration and pastoral care involved in forming future clergy at Wycliffe Hall. He has written for the wider market as well: a biography of Justin Welby and more recently, an account and evaluation of the Alpha Course phenomenon. A member of General Synod and of wider Anglican councils both in England and overseas, yet known for his clear conservative evangelical convictions, he is well placed to offer an assessment of Gafcon and the emergence in Britain and continental Europe of a Gafcon-authorised jurisdiction outside the Church of England.

Andrew’s account of the ANiE consecration by “a wonderful global array” of Archbishops and bishops is positive. He explains clearly and succinctly what many have found difficult to understand: the ecclesial structure of the new “proto-province”; the shared commitment to core theological essentials while allowing for diversity on secondary issues; the fact that “ANiE is not the conservative Reform movement reborn outside the Church of England, but a remarkably broad community.” He outlines some of the history behind the Network with its two convocations. He addresses issues of potential future conflict, but concludes that “missional urgency”, and the new movement’s obvious commitment to church growth especially through church planting, should be applauded and encouraged, rather than being ignored, belittled and attacked as is the default attitude of the Church of England hierarchy to Gafcon and ANiE.

Speaking as a clergyman who has left the Church of England and is now involved in a small AMiE church plant, I find it very encouraging that a respected Church of England insider like Andrew Atherstone should attend such an event (it was good to see him there!) and report on it so thoughtfully and positively. But I’d like to add more. There is nothing in Andrew’s article which is patronising, but there is a danger of this in how other evangelicals remaining in the Church of England view the new movement, unless other crucial aspects are mentioned.

 

Foremost of which, is to ask the question: why? Why has it been necessary to form ANiE and consecrate new bishops? Why were some Archbishops from overseas Provinces prepared to flout conventions and, as hinted by Atherstone, risk legal threats, to support a relatively tiny church movement? Why has it been necessary for some C of E, Church in Wales and Scottish Episcopal Church clergy to surrender their licences and walk out into an uncertain and insecure future, leaving salaries, pensions and buildings of a stable and secure institution for something embryonic and fragile?

The reason for the formation of ANiE is not just a desire to get on with mission that is evangelical in theology and unencumbered by traditional administrative structures. That can be done by Bishop’s Mission Orders within the C of E. The significance of the event on 21st October is not just that another Christian movement is showing progress – “let a thousand flowers bloom” and this is one of those flowers. Rather, these consecrations are the fruit of 15 years of reflection among orthodox Anglicans all over the world, that there is a theological crisis in the Western church that can’t be resolved by renewal initiatives or successful political engagements in the Synods of Canterbury-aligned provinces by evangelicals.

The problem is “the acceptance and promotion within the provinces of the Anglican Communion of a different ‘gospel’…which is contrary to the apostolic gospel.”[1] Debates about sexuality and marriage, and behind it, different interpretations of Scripture, are symptoms of a bigger problem, the widespread acceptance by the majority of institutional leaders in Western Anglicanism of a worldview which is at odds with the way orthodox Christians in the majority of the world think, and have thought down the ages.

In 2008 Gafcon was formed recognising that this serious problem could not be rectified by endless dialogue, based on a pretence that these fundamental differences are part of legitimate diversity; nor would it help merely to make statements of orthodoxy again and again with no change resulting. While behind the scenes power-plays and money are involved, much more seriously, the eternal spiritual destiny of millions is at stake. Action is required, and sadly this involves separation, a break in fellowship from those who are promoting a false gospel, and the formation of new structures within which biblically faithful Anglicanism can flourish.

But then again, why has this happened to the church? The theological differences are a direct result of the impact of secular philosophies on Western culture in the past 150 years. The idea, for example, that people with same sex attraction, or those who feel confused about their gender, are a class of oppressed victims, requiring liberation from the conservative heteronormative hegemony, and if the church participates in this project of “diversity and inclusion” it will be demonstrating the love of God – where does this idea come from? It is not the bible, which teaches something different, coherent and hopeful about sex, gender, and oppression and liberation. Rather it comes from the likes of Marx, Freud, Gramsci, Marcuse, Foucault and Zuckerberg! As the ruling elites of the West have sneeringly abandoned their Christian roots, and imbibed the ‘progressive’ worldview, so those church leaders wanting to appear relevant and sophisticated have imbibed it as well, and re-shaped their theology around it.

Some Anglicans in the West now feel that it is increasingly difficult to fulfil the calling to be a holy people, to be a clear witness to Christ, while continuing to be institutionally tied to, and under the authority of, such secularised church leaders. The Anglican Network in Europe with its two Convocations is a home for those who are coming to this conclusion.

So ANiE as a new mission movement is another positive vehicle for gospel ministry alongside those going on in the Church of England and other denominations. But it is more than this. It has emerged out of conflict between truth and error within the church; it has been formed out of a recognition that witness within a cultural environment that is not benign and fertile requires costly distinctiveness. The existence of this fellowship of mostly small churches is in itself a prophetic statement against the “hollow and deceptive philosophies” (Colossians 2:8) of the world and the principalities and powers behind them; a warning against compromise; a lifeboat when it’s clear the big ship is sinking.

 

[1] From ‘Being Faithful: The Shape of Historic Anglicanism Today – A Commentary on the Jerusalem Declaration’, Latimer Trust, 2009

Pray for rain

Posted by on Aug 10, 2022 in Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Pray for rain

Pray for rain

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

The English have always talked about the weather. Because of our geography, weather is often changeable. This gives an opportunity to engage in smalltalk on the basis of shared experience. perhaps this convention developed over centuries as a way of building community cohesion, overcoming bitter divisions of civil wars or conflicts around religion or class.

But now, talking about the weather can reveal and entrench new tribal standoffs. “Cor, it’s hot today” can now be interpreted not as a way of initiating friendly conversation with a neighbour or stranger, but as an opening gambit to a rant about climate change getting out of control. Or, on the other hand, it might be a perfectly innocent comment about the weather, but it’s a cue for the person on the other side of the political divide to take aim at woke orthodoxies. “Can’t handle the heat? Go and live in Norway – don’t force your left wing views on me!”

The hot weather, and worse, weeks of drought in southern England, have led to a steady increase in volume of those who say that the climate is at a tipping point, and something really must be done on a massive scale. We must all lend our voice to demand change in government policy towards radical action – relentless, and if necessary sacrificially expensive, focus on zero emissions. Christians are joining this call. It is “prophetic”; it is the gospel response to “the sharpest and deepest problem facing our world”.

In response to this, there are those on the other side who see any mention of climate change, any expression of concern about pollution or excessive energy use, any suggestion that home insulation, fewer flights, low emission cars and water conservation might be a good idea, as essentially part of an evil socialist agenda.

 

What should be the faithful Christian response? On one hand, we need to say clearly that virtue-signalling our uncritical alignment with the environmental agenda, and adding our voice to that of the myriad lobbyists calling for trillions of government investment in a new green economy, should not be confused with Christian mission and can sometimes obscure the gospel. This is because the “deepest and sharpest problem” facing humanity is not drought and floods, even if these are life threatening in many parts of the world; even if it can be proved that these are increasing because of careless human stewardship of the earth. Rather the most serious problem is alienation from the creator; the inward individual and corporate bias towards self and away from God, which the bible calls ‘sin’, and of which creation’s groanings are a sign. The worst problem we have is the threat to our eternal future. There may not be a ‘planet B’, but there is certainly a heaven and a hell.

On the other hand, we must also reject the view that stewardship of the planet has nothing to do with Christian discipleship, and that economic growth in my country at all costs, and defending my rights to ensure my own personal freedom and comforts, are somehow associated with biblical Christian faith because both are seen as ‘conservative’. If there is no rain and temperatures are getting higher, to dismiss concern about this is not godly, but a sign of immature urban detachment from the physical realities of life just as much as support for transgender ideology. Where is our food going to come from if there’s no rain?

The witness of the Global South Fellowship of Anglicans at the recent Lambeth Conference is an example of a wise approach to these issues. Many of them come from contexts of food insecurity, poverty and conflict. They said in their Conference-concluding Communique:

We know very well the growing inequalities of wealth, the impact of climate change, and the need for the administration of justice and authority for all without corruption or abuse.

In other words, they did not deny climate change – they see it in front of their eyes, as lakes dry up and pastures become sandy deserts. But this does not mean that their understanding of the gospel and Christian mission should change. The spiritual realities and evangelistic priorities remain the same. So they say:

We believe that the revealed Word of God is life-changing, enabling a person to be free and whole. We are also, therefore, duty-bound in love to our fellow human being to ‘hold fast to the word of life’ (Phil. 2;19) and to hold it forth to the world God loves. That is why we are calling the whole Communion to biblical faithfulness.

Another good source of wisdom is the Book of Common Prayer.  Cranmer put together a short list of ‘Prayers and Thanksgivings upon various occasions’, covering urgent needs as a nation. The first prayer on the list is for rain.

O God our heavenly Father, who by thy Son Jesus Christ hast promised to all them that seek thy kingdom, and the righteousness thereof, all things necessary to their bodily sustenance; send us, we beseech thee, in this our necessity, such moderate rain and showers, that we may receive the fruits of the earth to our comfort, and to thy honour, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The prayer for rain comes before prayers for peace, or good health in time of pandemic, or good government. The first prayer of thanks, after the general thanksgiving, is for rain when it comes. There is also a prayer “in the time of dearth and famine”; perhaps what we would refer to today as recession and cost of living crisis.

Behold we beseech thee, the afflictions of our people, and grant that the scarcity and dearth, which we do now most justly suffer for our iniquity, may through thy goodness be mercifully turned into cheapness and plenty…

It’s a recognition that our very survival day to day is the gift of the creator; that he is good and loving and listens to our prayers. Most controversially, there may be a connection between our rebellion against God, our wrong thoughts and actions towards one another, and the disruption in the climate which causes drought and other shortages.

So, there is no rain and the land bakes. There is a need to bring biblical wisdom to bear on issues of climate science, politics and economics, and this may involve taking a side in a debate, so I’m not advocating pietistic withdrawal. But, rather than jump into one tribe or the other on the left or the right in posturing and argument, should we not as Christians first be taking a lead in humbling ourselves before the creator, repenting of our sin, and praying: “Lord send the rain”, physically and spiritually?

Possible outcomes after Lambeth 2022 – how should we pray?

Posted by on Aug 2, 2022 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Lambeth Conference | Comments Off on Possible outcomes after Lambeth 2022 – how should we pray?

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

It’s a risk saying anything about this Lambeth Conference, because any “news” being reported will have almost certainly been reported somewhere else first, and comment on the latest development risks being out of date as soon as its posted. This is why we have compiled a selection of articles about Lambeth (perhaps the most comprehensive available on the web!) which is being added to daily, and is proving very popular.

But the amount of information and opinion can be overwhelming – so here is my brief summary so far:

Any hope for the peaceful and unifying conference envisioned by the planners was disrupted when the leaders of the Global South grouping (GSFA) made it clear before arriving that the question of shared commitment to bible-based orthodoxy should not be set to one side at the Conference. This strong and well-organised stand was perhaps unexpected, given that the Gafcon-aligned ‘conservative hard-liners’ of Africa were not coming. Perhaps partly as a result of this GSFA lobbying, the organisers introduced a reference to Lambeth Resolution I:10 (1998) into the section of the “Calls” document relating to ‘Human Dignity”.

The commitment to heterosexual marriage, and welcoming pastoral care for same sex attracted people agreed in 1998 was referred to as “the mind of the Communion”. An immediate, furious reaction from bishops in North America and other Western provinces led to a second version, which described different views and practices relating to Resolution I:10, and concluded: “As Bishops we remain committed to listening and walking together to the maximum possible degree, despite our deep disagreement on these issues.”

Following this, the GSFA said they would seek to bring Lambeth I:10 to the Conference for re-affirmation, and that they would not receive Holy Communion with bishops who openly deny the Resolution in actions and words. While Archbishops Welby, Cottrell and others sought to encourage the bishops to put aside the differences for the sake of addressing serious problems in the world, the GSFA said that a broken church, with leaders who are not walking together, cannot heal a broken world.

As I write, GSFA have agreed not to try to force a debate and vote on I:10 in plenary, but are organising an opportunity for delegate bishops to affirm the resolution online, in such a way that numbers and regions will be recorded but not names. Meanwhile the Archbishop of Canterbury has reiterated the sentiment of the second draft of the “Call” on human dignity: Resolution I:10 is still there and is affirmed by the majority; others have come to different conclusions in their beliefs and practices; let’s be united on the “great issues” (implying thereby that issues of sexuality, marriage and the doctrine of the human person are, in Justin Welby’s view, ‘adiaphora’).

 

It is worth asking at this point, what is the endgame? What do the various factions hope to achieve? What outcome should we pray for?

On opposite ends of the spectrum, there are those who would like their view, on marriage and sexuality, on Scripture, the nature of salvation and the mission of the church, to be adopted by the whole Anglican Communion. From the orthodox point of view, this means that a strong commitment to biblical orthodoxy, based on the foundations of Anglican doctrine, would be restored to the Communion. From the perspective of those whose understanding of Christian faith corresponds more to a progressive worldview, this means replacing Lambeth I:10 with an unambiguous commitment to the LGBT agenda: acceptance of same sex marriage and secular-gnostic-progressive readings of Scripture.  The problem  is that as in 1998 and the aftermath, positions are entrenched, and there is no mechanism for enforcing adherence to any resolutions.

Not long ago, the second of these options (ie, revisionist ‘victory’) seemed more likely in the Western provinces – it was assumed in many quarters that by now the ‘arc of history’ would have converted most people to ‘get with the programme’. Pressure from secular Western culture has made it increasingly difficult to change the revisionist trajectory of churches which are part of that culture. In fact one could argue that the Church of England’s commitment to “radical inclusion” has involved a current de facto rejection of Lambeth I:10 in many Dioceses, even if canons and liturgies have technically not changed.

But this Lambeth Conference has given hints of a new reality. The secular world is not as interested in what’s going on in the church as in the past. Where the church was previously seen as another institution to be brought under the heel of the progressive agenda, it’s now seen as irrelevant. Previously, LGBT activists outside the church would promise their support for those trying to bring about change. Now as the church isn’t even on the radar, especially for young people, changing its policies seem less important – although this theory will be tested in full if there is a major debate in general Synod next February.

 

In the middle, there are those wanting to hold the Communion together through negotiation and compromise.

 

The preferred position of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Conference organisers seems to be to attempt to sideline debates on sexuality and wider understandings of theology, to see them as evidence of legitimate diversity to be overcome through “good disagreement” or whatever the current term is. Focus should be on what unites Anglicans – belief in God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, shared identity as baptised Christians, a sense of concern and responsibility for the local community around the parish and a hope for global social justice.

This is the default situation in the Communion for many Anglicans. It can be referred to positively as a way of ensuring continued mission through preserving peace, and there is no doubt that getting bishops from all over the world in the same room to discuss serious issues facing the world as described in the ‘Lambeth Calls’ can have a positive effect. But it could also be seen as a policy of inertia, indefinitely postponing decisions on core beliefs and vision, and encouraging manipulation and compromise.

Then there is an increasing number, particularly in the Church of England, both on the liberal and conservative sides, who see that attempts either to win full ideological control of the Communion or to promote a false peace by airbrushing out irreconcilable differences will result in endless conflict and lack of progress in mission. The best solution is negotiated, organised separation. In the US, Methodists have formed two discrete denominations, one aligned with the global majority which is more conservative, and the other taking a more progressive stance. Congregations can choose which one to join. Could this be a model for Anglicans?

A proposal gathering support in the Church of England is the creation of a new non-geographical jurisdiction within the denomination. In both cases, both sides can retain their theological integrity and remain in the same denomination, without the need for conflict over buildings and other resources, and a degree of cooperation on projects of mutual interest can continue. It is institutional unity with built-in degrees of separation based around theology. In this scenario the conservatives in the Church of England would be aligned with global south conservatism, would retain control over liturgy, training for ministry, selection of bishops etc, would be free to get on with evangelism, but would also keep advantages of buildings and finances. There are obvious practical obstacles to achieving this: those committed to “total victory” and “priority of unity” in the C of E would not agree, nor would a Parliament and other influential institutions committed to LGBT rights (certainly not at present). Also, while some parishes might unanimously vote to join the new entity, in the majority of congregations such a suggestion would create more conflict and division.

 

So far we have not mentioned another option based on an emerging reality: informal re-alignment, involving a process of separation between the orthodox and the revisionists which is not sanctioned by Lambeth/Canterbury, but authorised and validated by a new centre of Anglicanism in the Global South. Already, Provinces representing a large proportion of the global Communion are not at Lambeth. Nigeria, Uganda and Rwanda, with a significant group from Kenya, feel that over the past 20 years the call for return to orthodoxy has been consistently rebuffed in favour of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s “walking together despite disagreements” approach. The Gafcon Jerusalem Declaration states: “We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word and deed.” In provinces whose leaders have consistently “denied the orthodox faith”,  Gafcon Primates, while remaining part of the Anglican Communion have recognised new jurisdictions as authentically Anglican – such as ACNA, the Anglican Church of Brazil and the Anglican Network in Europe.

 

So how should we pray? Here are some key points:

  • Increasing unity between Gafcon and GSFA and within these groupings, based around shared commitment to the biblical gospel, despite some differences over strategy.
  • Stronger relationships between the orthodox in the global south (both Gafcon and GSFA) and biblically faithful Anglicans in the global north.
  • Greater respect and cooperation between orthodox in the global north remaining in the Canterbury-aligned structures, particularly in the Church of England, and those in the new jurisdictions.
  • Within the orthodox churches of the north, a developing posture of resistance-in-humility against false ideologies in church and culture, alongside evangelistic and pastoral zeal.
  • Growth in the new Anglican jurisdictions.
  • That leaders deceived by secular and gnostic counterfeits of Christianity, would repent and recover faith in apostolic teaching.

 

Our selection of articles (usually with two our three line summaries) from a wide variety of authors about the Lambeth Conference (perhaps the most comprehensive digest available on the web!) is being added to daily, and is proving very popular.

 

Persecution reveals a church’s true character

Posted by on Jul 28, 2022 in Bible, Editorial Blog, Mission, Persecuted church | Comments Off on Persecution reveals a church’s true character

Persecution reveals a church’s true character

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

“People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”. Most of us have heard this applied to us as individuals, but it is also true of the church. The most important aspect of the Christian life and the church is not optics, but interior health.

The early church at Pentecost looked wonderful, with prayer, generosity, successful evangelism and respect in the community. But its character was yet to be tested. The book of Acts shows the early church coming under severe pressure. Its first test of character was the change in how they were viewed by the authorities, from 2.47 to 4:3.

This is very relevant to Christians in the West. 50 years ago, most MP’s, doctors, lawyers and head teachers would have professed at least a nominal Christian faith. The Church had power, influence and respectability. Now the effect of decades of secularism is that most people in power are either indifferent to faith, or hostile to it.

Other churches around the world have been on the margins for years, even centuries. But for us it’s a relatively new place to be. What will be revealed about the character of our church when it faces persecution?

Acts 4: the pressure, the response, the principles:

Acts 3 tells the story of a severely disabled man who was healed miraculously by God through Peter and John. Peter preached the gospel of Jesus to an enthusiastic crowd which gathered. The religious authorities were angry that the apostles were talking about Jesus, blaming them for his death, and that the new Christian movement was growing in number. But it was more than that. The preaching of the gospel was not just calling people to believe in something or someone in their personal lives. It was an announcement of the reality of God’s reign which would challenge all human systems. Peter was not saying: “you might find it helpful personally to believe in Jesus”, but “look what has happened! The healing of the paralysed man reveals the true nature of reality, and proves the inauguration of the rightful authority which you have been ignoring!”

The religious authorities tried to suppress the movement by arresting the leaders, interrogating them and beating them. Peter and John were not intimidated, but calmly refused to stop speaking about Jesus. However, this was a real threat to the new church. A conflict had been set up. The followers of Jesus were now enemies of the religious establishment, who only a few weeks before had successfully petitioned for the use of Roman power to put Jesus to death. This wasn’t just being unpopular – there was threat of imprisonment and possibly death.

The response of the church, and its underlying guiding principles, can be seen in Acts 4:23-31.

First, we see the whole church taking responsibility. Peter and John didn’t just get together with an inner circle of leaders to decide what to do. They reported to the whole church what had happened. There was an assumption that the church is the community of faithful people, a body, not a structure and its leadership which people attend as spectators.

Second, we see the church praying as a first response. Sadly, and I include myself here, this is not the natural reaction for many church leaders influenced by secularism. When faced with a crisis, especially opposition like this, the first response is too often to panic, alone. And then maybe to think about solving the problem – can we raise money? Can we go away to a safer place? Can we give in to the demands of those who are attacking us, to make peace? But that’s not what happened here. You don’t see a leader panicking alone and making plans. You see leaders telling the church about the problem, and then the church prays!

Third, we can learn a lot from the underlying assumptions behind the prayer. As they turn to God, they begin by recognising that he is the creator of all things, and he is in charge of the situation. It sounds obvious but it’s amazing how Christian leaders can doubt these basic facts. At the start of the Covid pandemic, a well-known theologian wrote articles published in major outlets like Time Magazine as well as Christian websites, saying that God laments with us in our suffering, but was not responsible for the pandemic and had no control over it. I think he wanted to dispel the caricature of an angry, cruel God “smiting” people – but in doing so he denied that God is in charge. But when in Acts the Christians prayed “sovereign Lord” that is the first thing they affirmed, even in the face of a major threat when doubts might come in about whether God can help us. For them, we can trust that God is in control of everything, because he made everything.

In their prayer they then turn to Scripture. In a few words they express what they believe about the bible, the ancient words written over hundreds of years which were part of their faith background. God spoke those words, by the Holy Spirit, through the human author.  Acts 4:25 is a wonderful, short clear summary of the doctrine of the authority and inspiration of Scripture. They select a (presumably memorised) text which is relevant to their need. We’ll come back to Psalm 2 later.

In their prayer they outlined the problem to God, not because he didn’t know their need, but for them to be clear in their own minds what the issue was that they were praying about.

  1. They were realistic. A common misconception among some Christians is that it’s negative to focus on the problem. But here, there is a recognition of dangerous opposition from human forces – Jewish leaders and Roman authorities – which on the face of it seems too strong. How can the church survive in the face of this?
  2. But in their analysis of the problem, they weren’t primarily concerned about threats to their own safety or to blocks on the growth of their organisation. They saw the opposition as a continuation of the terrible scandal of opposition to God and to his anointed Son Jesus. The world trying to block out Jesus instead of giving him glory was, and is, and outrage.
  3. They affirmed again that God is still in charge of the whole process – he had permitted even the crucifixion of Jesus as part of his plan.
  4. Then they brought their request. They did not pray: “Lord help us to be winsome and not get into trouble again”. Instead, they asked God to “consider their threats”. They drew attention to the persecution in an appeal for justice.
  5. Then they prayed for boldness in evangelism, and miracles in Jesus’ name.

Their prayers were based on their understanding of reality shown in Psalm 2.

The secular view is that this world is all there is. There is no spiritual realm. Human society faces problems which can be explained in human terms. Maybe it’s because of class struggle, the oppressor against the oppressed. Or maybe it’s because individuals and markets are not free enough, or taxes are not low enough! or because of ignorance, or mental health, or lack of science and technological solutions.

Here in Psalm 2 there is another explanation, a spiritual and moral one. The natural orientation of human beings is to rebel against God and his anointed Son and King Jesus, trying to throw off God’s authority and establish our own, whether as individuals or as small and large groups.

The Psalm makes it clear that God is not just the local God of Israel, but the God of the whole world. His plan is to establish Jesus as King among his people, from where his authority will extend throughout the world. “I will make the nations your inheritance”, says the Father to Jesus. The call to rebellious human beings is to turn their attitude around, to recognise God’s authority and serve him, to “kiss the Son” which means to worship Jesus.

If this is God’s ultimate vision, then it was clear to the apostles and the early church what their role was. They had just seen Jesus rise from the dead and ascend to heaven. Their role was to tell everyone about this, not in their own clever ability with communication or impressive credentials, but with God’s power that would be shown in miracles. So they prayed, simply, “God help us to do this”.

The choice for our church: compromise, pietism, or mission-in-persecution:

This “priority of evangelism” does not mean that Christians should ignore the cultural context in which they live, withdraw from the mandate to challenge false and harmful ideologies, work to change unjust structures, and offer practical relief to the suffering. It does not mean using ‘commitment to evangelism’ as an excuse to submit to and go along with lies and injustice in order to avoid persecution. It does not mean, for example, that a school with a Christian foundation should justify displays of a rainbow flag and other symbols of secular ‘progressive’ ideology, with the excuse that “evangelism” (redefined and narrowed down to a private message of personal salvation) is still taking place.

Rather it means responding to opposition by praying on the basis of what the bible teaches, asking for prayer to share the message of the cosmic Lordship of Jesus, with power, and doing it boldly. The best examples of this today are found in the global south where the church is facing severe persecution, especially in China, Iran and northern Nigeria. If the church in the West wants to move away from compromise or pietistic irrelevance, and more towards the model of the early church, it needs to learn humbly from the church in the south.

[This is an edited text of a sermon preached on 24th July in Oxford].

See also: How to Pray in Opposition – Acts 4: A Model Prayer for Facing Persecution, by Kees Van Kralingen, The Gospel Coalition

Lambeth Conference: “Human Dignity” call to be revised

Posted by on Jul 26, 2022 in Anglican Communion, Church of England, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Lambeth Conference: “Human Dignity” call to be revised

Lambeth Conference: “Human Dignity” call to be revised

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

The Study Guide for the Lambeth Conference sets out the ten areas for discussion and the draft “calls” which the bishops are being asked to endorse.  Following its publication, many bishops from the global north and other supporters of a more progressive interpretation of Christian faith, have made their objections clear.

The ‘Human Dignity’ section includes this paragraph:

“Prejudice on the basis of gender or sexuality threatens human dignity. Given Anglican polity, and especially the autonomy of Provinces, there is disagreement and a plurality of views on the relationship between human dignity and human sexuality. Yet, we experience the safeguarding of dignity in deepening dialogue. It is the mind of the Anglican Communion as a whole that same gender marriage is not permissible. Lambeth Resolution I.10 (1998) states that the “legitimizing or blessing of same sex unions” cannot be advised. It is the mind of the Communion to uphold “faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union” (I.10, 1998). It is also the mind of the Communion that “all baptized, believing and faithful persons, regardless of sexual orientation are full members of the Body of Christ” and to be welcomed, cared for, and treated with respect (I.10, 1998).”

The offending sentences (highlighted in italics above) were initially defended by Lambeth spokesmen as simply stating fact, that a resolution was passed which while not being legally enforceable, nevertheless indicates the view of the overwhelming majority of the Communion. However, those objecting (a selection can be found here) clearly view Resolution I:10 as a dead letter, which according to C of E bishops is now on the negotiating table in the Living in Love and Faith discussion process, and according to Welsh, Scottish and north American bishops, is an example of “prejudice that continues to threaten human dignity”. They argue that Lambeth I:10 is an embarrassing legacy of past history and should simply not be referred to at all, in the interests of “reconciliation”.

In a message to his Diocese, the Bishop of Oxford says:

“It will be an immense privilege to be present at the conference and to hear so many different stories. We are aware as we travel to Lambeth of the pain and hurt of many LGBTQI+ people and their families in advance of the conference, and the painful divisions in the Communion around issues of human sexuality. We welcome the announcement yesterday (see below) that there will be changes made to the draft Call on Human Dignity. We pray that every interaction around these issues will be marked by grace and love.”

He says that the Lambeth Conference is “An opportunity to listen to one another as Christians, sometimes across deeply-held differences”, and explains: “The ten Lambeth Calls were published for the first time on 20 July. The bishops leading the Living in Love and Faith ‘next steps’ group spotted an immediate challenge.

He goes on to quote:

“The Church of England is just one voice among 41 member churches of the Anglican Communion. However, it has within it some of the conflicts and disagreements surrounding questions of identity and sexuality that influence the Communion’s discussions and deliberations about these matters and which the Human Dignity Call acknowledges.

That is why, in the Church of England, the Call’s affirmation of the Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (1988), that same sex unions cannot be legitimised or blessed, will be deeply troubling and painful for some whilst offering welcome reassurance to others. It is important, therefore, that the Call also affirms the safeguarding of human dignity through deepening dialogue about profound disagreements.

 It is within this spirit – of respecting the dignity of every human being by creating space for dialogue – that Living in Love and Faith (LLF) continues its path towards discernment and decision-making regarding questions of identity, sexuality and marriage.”

Bishop Steven concludes:

“The group in charge of co-ordinating the Lambeth Calls met ++Justin yesterday to discuss the many concerns that had been raised, and it has been confirmed that the drafting group for the Call on Human Dignity will make some revisions and that the new text will be released as soon as it is available. 

In October 2018, the bishops of the Diocese of Oxford issued Clothe Yourselves with Love, a pastoral letter that set clear expectations of inclusion and respect towards LGBTI+ people, their families and friends. Underpinning their letter was the foundational principle that all people are welcome in God’s Church; everyone has a place at the table.

We pray that the Lambeth Conference will be a time for deep engagement and movement on each of the ten Calls. Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love.”

 

 

Editorial comment:

The document Clothe Yourselves with Love, referred to above, led to nearly 100 clergy and lay leaders in Oxford Diocese signing a letter of complaint to the bishop, and set at least three clergy on the path to leaving the Church of England.

Anglican Mainstream commentary warned at the time that while the Oxford bishops were not openly advocating a change to the official teaching of the church, they were suggesting that it should be kept in the background as it is hurtful to LGBT people, to whose “full inclusion” the bishops are committed. In other words, treat ethical Christian teaching as a dead letter to be ignored when it conflicts with the embrace of the contemporary zeitgeist.

Those drawing up the text of the Lambeth Calls would have given it a great deal of careful consideration. One of the factors would have been the desire to listen to the majority world, the global south bishops who are attending and who want Lambeth Resolution I:10 affirmed; another would have been making a clear statement about the dignity and inclusion of those who identify as LGBT. It looks like the organisers will bow to pressure from the progressive  lobby straight away, and remove any reference to Lambeth I:10 and the biblical, historic understanding of sex and marriage from the final document. If tweets from the powerful can have this much effect now, what will be the chance of any reference to a conservative view of sex and marriage being part of any official statements and policy following the conclusion of the LLF process in the Church of England, to be brought before General Synod next year?

 

See also: Our full collection of news and comment on the Lambeth Conference 

Canterbury rebuke to African Primates reveals theological difference and personal animosity

Posted by on Jun 7, 2022 in 2-Important Posts, Anglican Communion, Archbishop Of Canterbury, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Canterbury rebuke to African Primates reveals theological difference and personal animosity

Canterbury rebuke to African Primates reveals theological difference and personal animosity

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

The public slap-down of the Primates of Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda by the Archbishop of Canterbury (press release here, open letter here ) will not do anything to heal the long-running rift or promote the kind of unity that the final paragraph of the letter calls for. It will be viewed by the African leaders as another example of imperialism. The letter from Justin Welby attempts to correct what it sees as false claims while criticising those who say they will not attend the Lambeth Conference, but in doing so only reveals the gulf of worldview between the two sides. Some of the points that are made need further scrutiny.

Comparing the current long running debate on sexuality to the apostolic conference, reported in Acts 15, on admission of gentiles to the church, is specious for a number of reasons. First, that conference came to a united decision, and did not allow the formation of two opposing views in the church as Anglicans have done with sexuality issues. The pro- and anti-gentile factions did not agree to “walk together” with differences on this key topic unresolved. Second, the answer to the problem in Acts 15 was decided by Scripture and agreement on its interpretation – here the Archbishop of Canterbury appeals to Scripture but does not address the fact that its teaching is being blatantly disregarded by leaders in the Western church. Third, one of the conclusions of Acts 15 was that gentile Christians should abstain from sexual immorality -(the parameters of which every Jew and proselyte would have understood clearly) – whereas the Western church appears to see this as unimportant or open to different interpretations.

Archbishop Welby’s letter mentions Lambeth I:10, and says it has not been rescinded. But the implication is that this resolution is of merely academic and historic interest, not morally binding in any way. This is why Provinces which have disregarded its teaching on sex and marriage still take part in the Anglican Communion as if nothing has happened. The disunity in the Communion, the “torn fabric”, has been caused by this arrogant refusal by Western Provinces to obey the mind of the Communion since 1998, not by the current boycott of Lambeth by African Provinces which is its consequence.

There is also a pointed reference to the clause urging compassion for “homosexual people”. The African Anglicans have not done very well on this aspect of Lambeth I:10, the letter implies, so they should not criticise those who are liberal on sexuality and marriage. Is Archbishop Welby suggesting a tit-for-tat, where the Western church is free to officially and liturgically bless gay marriage as long as some African Anglicans are unkind to gay people? Is this how the church should operate, where I justify my own sin and disobedience on the basis of another’s faults being as bad as mine?

There has been a lot of talk about sexuality between conservatives and liberals over the past decades. It suits those who hold the power, who follow the views of the secular West, to accuse less powerful conservatives of not listening, of losing their opportunity to put forward their viewpoint, when in fact the conservatives have listened enough; they do not agree; their re-statement of their own view, patiently again and again has not been heard, they feel that remaining at the table leaves them open to manipulation.

Then, astonishingly, the Archbishop of Canterbury accuses the Africans of not caring enough about poverty and conflict in their own countries; he lectures them on the dangers of climate change and “matters of life and death”, as if somehow he knows more about this and cares more than them. What is going on here? It seems that the Primates of Nigeria, Rwanda and Uganda had said in an earlier letter that the upcoming Lambeth Conference programme was focussing on ‘peripheral’ issues rather than the bible and the gospel. Of course they did not mean that physical suffering is unimportant and that the church’s role is purely ‘spiritual’ – the African and biblical worldviews do not make these dualistic distinctions. They were rather warning that a gathering of church leaders to agree unanimously on something patently uncontroversial – the need to tackle poverty and the effects of climate change – would be of little value without more profound agreement on the spiritual needs of the world and the solution in repentance from sin and faith in Christ. The sexuality debate shows that there is no agreement on this, and therefore no real basis for fellowship.

Ministry to the poor and suffering, which the churches of Nigeria Rwanda and Uganda do all the time, proceeds from their belief in the biblical gospel, not as virtue-signalling to a sceptical secular world. On the day that the Archbishop of Canterbury sent his letter of rebuke, Nigerian Christians were reeling from the latest atrocity, this time an attack on a church leaving dozens dead and seriously injured.

Lastly, the Archbishop of Canterbury insists that the Church of England has not changed its teaching on marriage or the place of sexual relations. Perhaps not yet, technically and legally, in the sense of changing canons and liturgy to permit the blessing of same sex relationships in church. But as this website has recorded over a number of years, in practice the teaching has changed on the ground and is in the process of being changed officially. Archbishop Welby’s “radical inclusion” speech following GS2055 (2017), the Living in Love and Faith process (2020-2022), and various bishops’ charges and Synod resolutions, declare again and again that since there is no consensus on the theological basis of the current teaching, and because of increasing critiques of that teaching from the culture being an obstacle to mission, the teaching can and should be changed when there is sufficient consensus. Meanwhile Bishops openly advocate for change (including the current Archbishop of York), and quietly permit informal breaching of the teaching at local level. Clergy and senior administrators are appointed whose lifestyle is openly at odds with the official teaching. And most recently, Bishops have been in support of an extreme form of a ban on ‘conversion therapy’ which would effectively lead to the criminalisation of those who base their pastoral care on the church’s official teaching.

So when, some time within 24 months after Lambeth, teaching, liturgy and canons do change to accommodate to the spirit of the age, it will be another line crossed in the long process and trajectory of revisionism, not a sudden switch from orthodoxy to heresy. It will further entrench the division between the institutions of the Anglican Communion Office and Western Anglicanism on one hand, and the vibrant Christianity of the global south on the other – a division which will be expressed in the non-attendance of certain Provinces at Lambeth.

See also:

Exclusion of same-sex spouses at Lambeth Conference ‘unfortunate,’ primate says, by Matt Puddister, Anglican Journal

Global South Revolts Against Western Sexual Agenda at World Health Assembly, by Stefano Gennarini JD, C-Fam: Only 61 out of 194 countries voted in favor of a new strategy of the World Health Organization to combat HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, because it promotes the homosexual/trans agenda and sexual autonomy for children.

Pentecost: the descent of truth

Posted by on Jun 2, 2022 in Editorial Blog, Theology | Comments Off on Pentecost: the descent of truth

Pentecost: the descent of truth

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

Jesus predicted many times that the Holy Spirit would come after his death, resurrection and ascension. In John 16:13 we see one of those prophecies:

When he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth.

What did that mean? What kind of truth will the Holy Spirit guide us into? What is truth anyway?

There are several ways that truth is understood or defined today. The first says truth is objective, it can be calculated and measured, it is the realm of scientific facts, historical facts, evidence, reason, logic. Truth is not to be clouded by feelings or opinions. So, if I say 1+1=2, that is truth. If I say that these flowers are beautiful, or Jesus is Lord,  those are personal feelings and opinions. I can only be sure of facts, so what I need is more knowledge. The way to solve the world’s problems and my problems is more education, better technology.

Another approach says truth is much more subjective. We construct our own truth from our feelings and the situations we find ourselves in. How you feel about something may be more important, more relevant and therefore more “true” that a so-called “fact”. So, 1+1=2 can be truth, Buddha is Lord can be truth, “I am born in the wrong body” – if its true for you, its true! Carl Trueman and others have shown that this understanding of truth is closely connected to our sense of identity; my “lived experience’ defining who I really am, a unique individual to be constantly “expressed”.

There is a third approach, which is to discover truth democratically, ie by majority opinion, often swayed by influencers. A wise voice of truth is not heard if not trending on social media. Conversely, by this measure, believing the “wrong” truth, the idea not approved by the “Party” or the elite formers of majority opinion, may be dangerous and should be suppressed.

Which one is the truth that Jesus was speaking about when he said “the Holy Spirit will lead you into all truth”? Is he talking about truth as in scientifically proven facts? Or as in a certainty of feeling with endless options? Or “everyone is saying it – therefore it’s self-evidently true – other views are harmful and should be banned”.

It’s none of these of course. Truth originates in the trinitarian God. Jesus did not merely claim to be a teacher of truth, but he said “I am the truth”. So to know the truth is first an encounter with the source of truth, an encounter which is life-changing. But it goes deeper than that. The disciples encountered Jesus as Truth when he was on earth, but he was another person, separate from them, and he left them. At Pentecost, Truth descended: the Spirit of God returned and actually entered the lives of the disciples – a more profound experience of the truth than seeing Jesus face to face. After Pentecost, in the book of Acts, we are told of people “receiving” the Holy Spirit and indeed in the Gospel of John, it says in chapter one that those who believe in Jesus and receive him will be counted as children of God. In other words, truth is nothing less than the experience of “Christ in you, the hope of glory”.

Then there is the factual, cognitive aspect of truth. To know the truth is to be gripped with wonder about God’s character and his actions. So on the day of Pentecost when people were filled with the Spirit they “declared the wonders of God” in different languages. And afterwards, when people gathered round to see what was going on, Peter preached, beginning, “Let me explain this to you – listen carefully to what I say”. Yes there was emotion, and experience, but Peter wanted to ground it in facts that we grasp with our minds. The truth is contained in a message – the fact that human beings are sinners and rebelled against God, but God sent his Son to die and to rise again to forgive sin and to reconcile people to God, and that’s what we find in Peter’s sermon. The Holy Spirit was guiding the people into truth through the sermon of Peter as well as through the tangible experience of God in their midst.

And so thirdly, truth is right action. The Holy Spirit enabled those who received him to do God’s will. Jesus said just before his ascension “when the Spirit comes, you will be my witnesses” and so truth is not just experience and knowledge but action in the world. The Holy Spirit gave a sign of this when he enabled the believers to talk in different languages, and the people visiting Jerusalem from different parts of the world understood them, showing that God’s intention was that eventually his message would be taken to all corners of the globe. And if we follow the book of Acts, it tells us the story of the Holy Spirit guiding the apostles in their mission to Jerusalem, Samaria and the ends of the earth, promoting the growth of the Kingdom of God.

The “truth-in-action” of the Holy Spirit is also seen in the behaviour of Christians in their local communities. Just a few verses at the end of Acts 2 gives us a flavour of what was happening in the early church. Miracles, love, fellowship, prayer, sharing of resources. This is the truth that the Holy Spirit was guiding his people into – truth experienced, truth known and truth that can be seen in changed behaviour.

 

So that was the early church on the day of Pentecost. What about us?

 

Firstly, what about the truth of our experience of God? While being thrilled by grasping the facts of the gospel and understanding what God has done for us is a work of the Holy Spirit, knowledge about God, or doing good works for him, is not necessarily the same as a life-changing and ongoing encounter with him. As the church continues to be made aware of dreadful failings of those leaders respected for their head knowledge of the bible, we realise the danger of hearts puffed up with knowledge and power being hardened to the Holy Spirit, the Lord, who proceeds from the Father and the Son.

Secondly, is our experience grounded in the truth of the revealed word? One of the causes of crisis in the Anglican Communion and other mainline denominations, is that the fake “truth” of the experience of the untrammelled self is now the majority opinion, which trumps what God has clearly said, and even trumps what science clearly demonstrates in some cases. The Holy Spirit does not lead the church into “new truth”, cancelling the teaching of the prophets and apostles. Rather he convicts and applies what is eternally true, for us today. In addition, he calls the church to teach and demonstrate the truth, and resist error – not to make a virtue of trying to accommodate truth and falsehood with each other!

Thirdly, when we know the truth, the Holy Spirit reveals truth to the world through our actions. Those disciples were slow, ignorant, and fearful, but after the coming of the Holy Spirit, they were on the ball, witnessing, organising, performing miracles. And so today, the Holy Spirit brings about transformation in the same way- here and here are two recent examples of how people can be supernaturally helped to move from a false self-understanding and wrong, destructive behaviour, to life in its fullness. People find new purpose in life. As the Spirit guides his people into truth they become united, they care for each other, they have an outward focus, on mission.

 

O thou who camest from above, that pure celestial fire to impart,                                                                          Kindle a flame of purest love on the mean altar of my heart.

(Charles Wesley)

 

So Spirit come! put strength in every stride,
Give grace for every hurdle.
That we may run with faith to win the prize
Of a servant good and faithful.

(Keith Getty and Stuart Townend)

What are the main problems with contemporary secular culture, and why?

Posted by on May 20, 2022 in 2-Important Posts, Book Reviews, Culture Wars, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on What are the main problems with contemporary secular culture, and why?

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

“In late 2020, while the world was on lockdown due to Covid-19, Carl Trueman published one of the most important books of the past several decades”. So begins Ryan Anderson in his foreword to Trueman’s latest book, “Strange New World: How thinkers and activists redefined identity and sparked the sexual revolution” (Crossway). While Anderson might be guilty of slight hyperbole, it’s certainly true that Trueman’s 2020 tome “The rise and triumph of the modern self” was very quickly seen as extremely important by conservatives seeking to understand the massive recent changes in the culture and worldview of the West. My feeling when reading Trueman was overwhelmingly one of relief – that at last someone was articulating soberly and clearly what the problem is. It wasn’t so much that it was new to me, but that his thesis confirmed and put together the fragments of ideas that I and others have been struggling to explain as we surveyed and chronicled the essential ideas of ‘progressivism’ or ‘woke’, and how they impact society and the church.

“Strange New World” (SNW) is not a summary of “Rise and Triumph”, but a more concise and accessible re-statement of the same main points:

  • In the contemporary West, there has been a rapid and disruptive shift in how we see ourselves as human beings.
  • The understanding of the self has moved from a subject-object, being an individual but existing within the constraints of a divinely-ordered creation and of community obligation, to a pure subject, in which my own feelings and desires define my identity and purpose; community rules and even biology can be seen as constraints on the authentic self.
  • The self does not find authenticity in conforming, but in performing. So we have a culture of “expressive individualism”, which “holds that each person has a unique core of feeling and intuition that should unfold or be expressed if individuality is to be realised”, so therefore “authenticity is achieved by acting outwardly in accordance with one’s inward feelings” (SNW p22-23).
  • The most obvious application of this is the sexual revolution. This is not simply a loosening of boundaries of sexual morality. It is seeing the self as largely defined by sexual preference and gender identity, so that the old moral boundaries are an existential threat to the expression of the newly liberated self.
  • These new ideas did not suddenly emerge recently, but have been cooking for decades, even centuries, as Western culture has moved away from its Christian roots to a secular worldview. Delving into the history of the key ideas which have shaped this revolution helps us to understand more clearly what is happening, and what can be done about it by those who see the trajectory as hostile to Christian faith and destructive of human flourishing.
  • So, having a basic grasp of the philosophies of Rousseau, Nietzsche, Marx, Freud and Reich is not just of academic interest. It sheds light on the assumptions of the majority in contemporary society in which we live, in relation to the nature of reality and the individual, how society should be run, where power resides, the combination of sexuality and politics in driving revolutionary change.
  • Expressive individualism and Marxism have combined in a toxic mix, so that “two of the most unquestioned freedoms of Western liberal democracy, those of speech and religion, are now in serious jeopardy” (SNW p147). Anything which perpetuates the normativity of the old order must be suppressed and eliminated; this includes, of course, conservative Christianity.
  • We are in a strange new world. “The last vestiges of a social imaginary shaped by Christianity are vanishing” (p169). Churches have been complicit in adapting theology and practice to the new thinking, rather than go through the costly process of critiquing it from a biblical perspective.
  • The contemporary church needs to follow the example of the early church. Not by “warfare using the world’s rhetoric and weapons” (p177), but also not by being “passive quietists”, simply repeating messages that answer the questions of previous generations. Rather, recognising the spiritual battle, the church develops consciously Christian counter-culture of message, worship and community, offering an alternative, true vision of what it means to be human.
  • “This is not a time for hopeless despair or naïve optimism. Yes, let us lament the ravages of the fall as they play out in the distinctive ways our generation has chosen. But let [this lead to] sharpening our identity as the people of God…” (p187).

All this in 200 pages means that Trueman’s new book is excellent, accessible to a wider audience than the much longer work, and a vital addition to the growing library on Christianity and culture, alongside, for example, Melvin Tinker and Sharon James. There is still a challenge for popular communicators to translate Trueman’s material into bite-sized chunks on video, and perhaps for churches and networks to incorporate some of its key insights into teaching material and statements of faith.

Other recent reviews can be read here:

How the self transformed sex, by Shane Morris, The Gospel Coalition

The best historical explanation of our current cultural crisis, by Jim Denison, DenisonForum

Strange New World, by Tim Challies

What are some of the immediate implications for Anglicanism? Trueman has shown that the problems of the 1970’s and 1980’s – growing acceptance of previously taboo sexual behaviours by radicals within the church, has become something different: the elevation and aggressive politicisation of the ‘authentic self’ based on ‘lived experience’, particularly sex and gender identity. This agenda has been supported by bishops and the church institutions in the West (for example, much of the text and video material in Living in Love and Faith assumes it), while evangelical and other orthodox leaders have often failed to sufficiently identify, analyse and resist it.

Those who accept Trueman’s thesis can be guilty of being over-pessimistic about the possibility of preserving a strong authentic Christian witness which can influence and change culture for the better, or perhaps too quick to withdraw from cultural engagement altogether. Others see the solution in tying church support too closely to partisan political leaders and programmes. But there are many Christians who, while retaining faith in bible-based doctrine and ethics, are not aware how much their thinking and practice has been shaped by secular thinking.

As Gavin Ashenden has recently pointed out, it has taken the courage of secular ‘prophets’ (he mentions Jordan Peterson and Douglas Murray) to raise the alarm, and to cause some church leaders to wake up and listen, when previously they were not paying attention to those in their own flock who have been making the same warnings for years. It may be that Carl Trueman’s books would have remained largely unread and unnoticed in the UK, were it not for high profile people outside the church (more: JK Rowling, The Times newspaper, Rod Liddle, Brendan O’Neill of Spiked, Kathleen Stock…) essentially saying we are entering an Orwellian dystopia: “this is not a drill”.

See also:

Lessons for the Church from the current transgender debate, by Jeremy Dover, Christian Today:
…our current cultural position of accepting “I am a woman trapped in a man’s body” is not the problem but just the symptom. Trueman says the true root of the issue is a “deeper revolution in what it means to be a self”.

Is “Be True to Yourself” Good Advice? by: Brian S. Rosner, Crossway
You don’t need to look far today to notice that personal identity is a do-it-yourself project.