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.

IFTCC launched as so-called liberal society closes off some choices and enforces others

Posted by on Oct 16, 2018 in Editorial Blog, Ex-gay movement, Gay Activism, Transgender | Comments Off on IFTCC launched as so-called liberal society closes off some choices and enforces others

IFTCC launched as so-called liberal society closes off some choices and enforces others

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

An audience in London heard on Monday how a small group of activists have succeeded in spreading a new cult across the Western world, corrupting principles of scientific research, and in particular have threatened the integrity of medical understanding and practice. Doctors are now living in fear, either hoping that the issue won’t come their way, or in some cases going against their conscience and known medical facts to carry out harmful procedures because of intimidation and threat to their livelihood.

What has happened? The ideology of ‘gender’ holds that how a person feels about their gender identity is much more important and real than their physical, biological sex. So the condition previously known as gender dysphoria, whereby someone is uncomfortable or distressed by conforming their identity to their biological sex, should, according to the new orthodoxy, always be diagnosed as an irrefutable sign that the person is ‘trans’, living in the wrong body, and so the body must be altered to conform to the person’s self-perceived gender.

Dr Quentin van Meter is an American endocrinologist who during his early training saw at first hand the work of the notorious and disgraced psychologist John Money. At the conference launching the International Federation for Therapeutic and Counselling Choice, Van Meter explained how Money, like Kinsey before him, was fascinated by the sexuality of children, and carried out ethically dubious research into the statistically rare but distressing cases of intersex conditions. It was men such as this who saw the need to bring these ancient pagan ideas about gender and sexuality from the fringes of literature and philosophy into the mainstream of science and particularly, medical practice. 40 years later their disciples have revived and popularized their ideas today, with the World Professional Association for Transgender Health now dominating the discourse, using bullying tactics to promote the trans ideology in academia and suppress more sensible, rigorous science such as the research of McHugh and more recently, Littman.

Transgender clinics are now flourishing. In the US, childrens’ hospitals are now routinely rated in terms of quality of care as to the extent of their affirmation of the trans agenda. As increasing numbers of children show confusion about their gender (discovery of new deep truth about humanity, or internet-fuelled hysteria?), in many cases medical guidelines now do not recommend careful psychological evaluations but only pro-trans indoctrination to parents, and rapid moves to assist transition. In the UK, the government appears to have caved in to trans demands for self-declared gender to trump biological sex in law (see here for how to respond to the government consultation).

Before Dr van Meter’s presentation, the conference heard a moving account of a German woman who had undergone medical procedures to enable her to live as a man after years of distressing gender dysphoria. After initial relief, her depression and intense self-hatred was not resolved, and she sought help. Amazingly, she became a Christian. Following many years of careful therapy, she was able to face the childhood traumas which had led to her wanting to erase her female identity; as part of her journey to wholeness she was able to joyfully accept her creation as female, and live as a woman. One of the psychiatrists who had originally evaluated her, diagnosed her as transgender and recommended hormone and surgical sex change, admitted later in relation to his many cases that he had never seen the drastic and mutilating procedure actually make any of his patients happy.

Dr Christl Vonholdt, who related the story, concluded that professional help and informal counselling to help people live according to their birth sex (if they so wish) is under threat as Western governments are being pressurized by LGBT lobby groups to ban any kind of ‘conversion therapy’. Another speaker, Laura Haynes PhD, explained how the new ‘orthodoxy’ says that feelings of gender dysphoria are clear signs of a ‘trans’ identity, should be affirmed, and should face no barriers in society whether it is public toilets or medical transition procedures.

In the same way, according to LGBT ideology, same sex attraction indicates that a person is ‘gay’; this should be celebrated with encouragement to be ‘out and proud’ in identity and practice. If the person experiencing these feelings wants to follow a different path, and seeks help to find possible causes of same sex attraction and explore heterosexual potential, this is seen as ‘internalized homophobia’ or ‘transphobia’. Counselling or therapy which is not LGBT affirming is seen as trying to change ‘who you really are’; this must be harmful, according to this dogma, for which there is no scientific basis.

Dr Haynes referred briefly to her participation in campaigns in the US to prevent government bans on so-called conversion therapy, most recently in California. She warned that if such a ban is applied in the UK, it would not just affect therapists (of whom very few practice any form of reparative therapy openly), but bible-believing pastors, church-based counsellors and even parents may be in danger of being criminalized. More and more research shows sexuality is not binary but fluid. New peer reviewed studies show change in sexual orientation can occur with therapy; there is little or no evidence of harm, rather the opposite, as long as the client’s aims are respected. The proposed ban is totalitarian: it makes a mockery of the UK government’s claim to be a “diverse and tolerant society”.

Dr Haynes’ presentation built on the conference’s opening paper delivered by Carys Moseley, who works as researcher in public policy for Christian Concern. Dr Moseley has written several articles critiquing the government’s proposed legislation on so-called ‘gay cure therapies’. She outlined the dangerous conflation of ‘hate speech’ and ‘counter-extremism’ legislation which seeks to control how people think and speak, punishing politically incorrect opinion by treating it as equivalent to terrorist ideology. A ban on the vague and undefined concept of ‘conversion therapy’ could violate several principles of the European Convention on Human Rights, for example freedom of speech, academic freedom (the right to pursue knowledge where research leads), freedom of association, the right to marriage and family life, and religious freedom. Enforcing such a ban would require giving authority to the police to intercept private conversations over telephone and electronic media.

The conference had opened with a welcome and introductory remarks by IFTCC’s Chairman Dr Mike Davidson, who has worked tirelessly to keep in the public domain the question of therapeutic choice for people concerned about sexuality and gender identity issues . Video clips from Core Issues Trust’s film “Voices of the Silenced”, released earlier in the year, were shown throughout the day. In one of the clips he described IFTCC as more than an organization providing an umbrella for professional therapists working in a restricted field. It can also become a movement of people holding on to Judaeo-Christian understandings of gender and sexuality, marriage and family, in a context of increasing “sexual anarchy” deriving from the normalization of secular ideologies.

Why is this of particular relevance to Anglicans? In 2017, General Synod voted for a motion calling on a ban of so-called ‘conversion therapies’, and another motion requesting that baptism liturgies be used to celebrate gender transition. ‘Valuing all God’s Children’, a document aimed at preventing bullying in schools, was written in partnership with Stonewall and opens the door to LGBT advocacy in Church of England schools. Confusingly, some of those Bishops who endorsed these moves are at the same time claiming to stand for the maintaining of traditional bible-based sexual ethics in the church.

Did we witness social action / evangelism ‘holy grail’ on BBC documentary?

Posted by on Oct 9, 2018 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Mission, Poverty | Comments Off on Did we witness social action / evangelism ‘holy grail’ on BBC documentary?

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Every few years the church’s ministry among the urban poor in Britain comes into renewed focus. It can take the form of church leaders in advocacy mode for social action, looking at the big picture, addressing government policy on issues such as housing and benefits, and setting up a nationwide fund to assist local development projects. This was largely the legacy of the “Faith in the City” report of 1985. Or it can look more at the local level: how to strengthen often small and struggling churches on Britain’s deprived housing estates, and how to establish new communities or worship and witness where there is much social and psychological need, but no visible Christian presence.

The Church of England has again gone on to the front foot on this issue, with Bishop Philip North receiving considerable media coverage for his championing of church investment in previously neglected urban areas. In a recent talk at a meeting of the National Estate Churches Network, Bishop North gave a very positive overview of a number of ordinands preparing for ministry in tough urban areas, and commended new church planting initiatives funded by considerable sums released by the Church Commissioners. However he remains critical of blockages in leadership development which is still dominated by a “middle class” mentality, and suggests that a paternalistic attitude will lead to the church preaching a gospel which de-churched people living on estates will not connect with.

Coincidentally, just three days after North’s talk, the conservative evangelical independent church-planting network Acts 29 held its own conference, provocatively entitled “The gospel and class”. Christians have failed to address the ‘elephant in the room’ of the connection between entrenched social class divisions in society and the failure of churches of all denominations to thrive or even survive in low cost urban housing estates, the conference heard. In a series of blog posts leading up to the conference, Mez McConnell, an experienced pastor in Edinburgh from a working class background and one of the speakers, pulled no punches in his criticisms of the at-a-distance paternalism (at best) and complete detachment at worst which characterizes the affluent church’s engagement with the poor on the other side of town. He advocates a “bottom-up” approach, where professional people move into urban estates and seek to humbly serve their communities and the (often small and poorly run) churches there, rather than offer handouts from the large well resourced church in the well-to-do area. But is this unrealistic?

During the Acts 29 conference, and in blogs and social media which followed it, there was also comment on the Anglican approach. Respect for Bishop North for getting ministry to the poor back on the agenda, and for those clergy actually prepared to live and minister in difficult areas, but warnings about liberal theologies of ‘presence’ and ‘community’ in disadvantaged areas which affirms, comes alongside and talks about justice, but does not require individual repentance and faith in Christ.


What does genuine gospel ministry among the poor look like? The quest for a perfect balance or integration of evangelism and social action has been something of a holy grail – has the BBC unwittingly provided a glimpse of it? Less than a week after the conferences on urban mission, BBC2 screened an hour long documentary entitled ‘The Debt Saviours’. The focus was the work of John Kirkby and Christians against Poverty, the Bradford-based organization he set up and whose methods are now followed around the world. I had been aware of CAP, and wrongly believed it to merely provide useful social action programmes which churches could use in their communities, with no evangelistic aspect. Instead, the BBC documentary showed clearly the roots of CAP in Kirkby’s charismatic evangelical faith, which still informs the charity’s practice.

We saw the start of the day at the CAP offices in Bradford: Kirkby gathers the staff for reading of Scripture, a short message, and then prayer in groups for the clients being helped with their debt problems. We were then taken into the bedsit homes of individuals as ‘debt coaches’ went to visit them; we heard their stories, and saw how the debt counselling and practical help is followed up with prayer, and after a relationship develops, an invitation to church.

“Being a Christian is a good way to live”, explains John Kirkby, “but we haven’t been good at explaining and showing it”. Christians Against Poverty is his answer, providing a trained lay advocate who comes alongside individuals often in desperate circumstances, assisting with accessing benefits, budgeting and repayment plans, and helping to take away debt burdens (through money raised from donations). But also giving a clear invitation to clients to explore and experience Christian faith – which includes teaching and prayer during a free weekend away.

Kirkby notes that although more than 6000 clients have professed faith in Jesus nationwide as a result of the programme, this is only a fraction of the number who have not progressed on a faith journey, but have been helped out of debt and crushing poverty. “Why introduce Christianity at all? Why not just offer practical help?” asks the interviewer. Once or twice there is a hint of a suggestion, but not unfairly so, that people in such a vulnerable position might be manipulated into professions of faith. The responses from Kirkby are guileless: “helping people in need is a good thing, whether from a faith perspective or not. But in heaven there will be no poverty or the stress of debt, and it would be selfish not to share that good news”.

No doubt there are those on the secular left who are appalled by the combination of private charity and ‘proselytism’ with help for the poor which in their view should be provided by the non-religious State. Others are critical from a theological perspective. Charismatic churches such as the one seen in the documentary showing passionate praise and worship might teach a form of prosperity theology, some say, promising that faith in God will solve all our financial problems. There was no evidence of this at all – the song with which the programme closed was about faith in the crucifixion, resurrection and coming again of Christ in the face of desperation doubt and fear.

And yet those singing it were not pietists, theorizing about spiritual poverty and praying for the poor from a distance. Nor were they social justice warriors, signalling their supposed virtue but forgetting that Jesus died because we all lack it, or even humbly doing good deeds but not knowing how to speak God’s words. Rather, while I’m sure Kirkby and his colleagues would be the first to admit their sins and flaws and over-enthusiasm and missed opportunities, they came across as broken-and-mended servants whom we had witnessed giving lifechanging practical assistance to downtrodden individuals, and also started the walk of faith with them. The holy grail of mission? Maybe not, but certainly an example of good mission practice which has impressed unbelievers as well as Christians.

See also: I was worried the BBC wouldn’t be kind to Christians Against Poverty. Thankfully I was wrong. By Tim Bechervaise, Premier


Faint praise for Gafcon offers no solutions for the C of E or the Communion

Posted by on Oct 2, 2018 in Church of England, Editorial Blog, Gafcon | Comments Off on Faint praise for Gafcon offers no solutions for the C of E or the Communion

Faint praise for Gafcon offers no solutions for the C of E or the Communion

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

In the editorials of the Church Society journal Churchman, Gerald Bray performs his customary switch from high level theological research to shrewd, sometimes whimsical, often controversial reflections on the state of the church. The latest offering, entitled ‘The Empire Strikes Back”[1], sees Gafcon as the descendant of serious-minded, energetic and evangelistic Anglicans of the 18th and 19th centuries, who went overseas and planted churches in the colonies of the British Empire. Today, the population of England has become more secular and its national Church more liberal and feeble. The new Anglicanism of the global South, now independent of the ‘Mother Church’, has grown exponentially – and still believes the message that was brought to it. The geopolitical Empire may have gone, but its spiritual descendant, Gafcon, is striking back.

Professor Bray sketches a theory whereby for decades at the height of British global expansion, the really committed and single-minded Christians went overseas, leaving behind the effete, the conformist, the ‘rakish’. This is updated to a comparison of committed global South Anglicans of today, often ministering in dangerous and needy contexts, with the secularized and lukewarm Church of England. For Bray, the C of E is now so different from Anglicanism in the majority world, in theology, culture and style of governance, as to make rapprochement almost impossible.

But some of Bray’s analysis of Gafcon is not quite right. In his summary of the events which led up to 2008, he says that after TEC refused to abide by Lambeth Resolution I:10 and no discipline was imposed, “the shock of this perceived betrayal” led to the formation of Gafcon. This implies that those who made the courageous decision to bring together this movement were somehow emotionally over-reacting in haste. The reality is that many months, even years of careful study, negotiation and soul-searching took place among the orthodox leaders in the Communion before the decision was taken to form Gafcon and later ACNA.

In another assertion, Bray says: “just as the mainstream Anglican Communion has been hijacked by TEC, so Gafcon may come under the spell of ACNA, thereby internationalizing an essentially American conflict”. This is wrong on two levels. Firstly, the leadership of Gafcon has always been genuinely international, reflecting shared understanding of faith across cultures. The full history has yet to be written, but the movement involves the remarkable partnership of godly leaders from different backgrounds and continents, working together for the sake of the gospel. While different Provinces provide their own particular contributions, there has never been any question of domination by one group.

Secondly, the conflicts within global Anglicanism are not simply an internal theological dispute, the result of issues exported from TEC. Rather they are the overspill of a global ‘culture war’ in which all Christians and people of all faiths and none are involved; a battle of ideas between the Judaeo-Christian worldview and the ideologies of secular humanism. These ideologies did not originate in revisionist American Anglicanism in the 1980’s and 1990’s, but in central Europe in the 19th and early 20th centuries: Nietzsche’s ‘death of God’, Marx’s utopian ‘equality’ through forced removal of ‘oppressive’ structures; Freud’s sexual ‘liberation’, Jung’s primacy of authentic self-fulfilment to name but four.

As these anti-Christian ideologies, providing the basis for secular humanism, have captured the ruling establishment of Britain, the establishment-aligned Church of England tries desperately to span the ever-widening gap between orthodox Christianity and the dominant worldviews of society. C of E Bishops are selected and expected to manage this tension and it is this ultimately impossible task, rather than necessarily “theological mediocrity” (Bray’s phrase), which causes them to be “timorous shepherds”.

Gerald Bray believes that because Bishops are chosen on their management skills rather than theological acuity, the character and beliefs of future leaders is a lottery: “As for the next Archbishop of Canterbury, nobody can say…what line he (or she?) will take on anything.” But in fact we know very well what line will be taken. It is already impossible for any senior public figure, including Archbishops, to publicly advocate a biblical position on marriage, the family, sexual ethics or gender identity, let alone the uniqueness of Christ or the necessity of the new birth and conversion. So hoping that the next Archbishop will somehow be more orthodox shows a misunderstanding of the grip on the culture by the new ideology: the next Archbishop will certainly be a facilitator of the secular agenda like the present one.

In his conclusion, Bray returns to the clever literary allusion with which he started. Just as (Charlotte Bronte’s) Jane Eyre chose secular Mr Rochester over pious St John Rivers, and England eventually chose nominal, undemanding Christianity over hard line Puritanism, so today’s C of E will always align with the majority English culture over what Gafcon represents. This is accepted as inevitable, and is not seen as a great cause for concern, because of the apparent underlying spiritual strength of many ordinary clergy and lay people in the parishes. Bray is totally opposed to orthodox Anglicans separating from the C of E and establishing new congregations. He thinks “dissenting Anglicanism is a contradiction in terms”, and that separation leads to “oblivion”.

But while this may have been true in the past, the situation today is very different. In the Church of England, attendance numbers are nosediving, but also nominal affiliation, once so strong, is also weakening year by year, especially among young people[2]. Meanwhile attendance at non-C of E evangelical churches is growing, and according to some estimates projected to be higher than C of E attendance within five years. Hardly “oblivion”. To add to this, in the 1950’s and 1960’s when individual dissenters left the C of E, there was no Gafcon to offer alternative Anglican oversight. Today this option is there.

Gafcon’s leaders and adherents around the world don’t see this movement in sociological terms, as an interesting expansion of a minority religious tribe in England which has somehow gone global. By seeing it as such: admirable in its way, but not offering a solution for preserving gospel witness in an increasingly hostile Western church and culture, Professor Bray damns it with faint praise. Rather, the reason for Gafcon is theological, an alliance holding firm and maintaining gospel vision in the face of an invasion by hostile ideologies. The Churchman piece ultimately disappoints because it fails to engage with this.


[1] http://churchsociety.org/blog/entry/the_empire_strikes_back/ for an excerpt, subscription required for full article.

[2] “Last year, the British Social Attitudes survey found that only 3% of adults under 24 and only 5% of 25-34 year-olds described themselves as Anglican.” (Guardian, 11 July https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/jul/11/c-of-e-to-create-100-new-churches-as-number-of-anglicans-hits-new-low


What is ministry? Two examples.

Posted by on Sep 18, 2018 in Church life, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on What is ministry? Two examples.

What is ministry? Two examples.

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

The ReNew conference, a gathering of 470 clergy and senior lay leaders at a hotel in Leeds, has just finished. The emphasis of ReNew is to encourage churches and ministers with conservative evangelical convictions, to continue working together for the evangelisation of the nation, through the ‘establishing and securing’ of existing healthy Anglican congregations, and pioneering new ones. While leaders and delegates differ in terms of the extent to which the Church of England is and will remain a good vehicle for church development in this way, there is agreement that ministry inside and outside the C of E can continue in parallel.

One of the sessions featured a review of the past five years. Statistics show how the ReNew movement has grown by nearly 30%, although large areas of the country remain with weak or non-existent representation of clearly bible-based churches. A Bishop has been consecrated for conservative evangelicals inside the C of E (Rod Thomas), and also for the emerging group of AMiE congregations outside (Andy Lines). Videos and live interviews gave a flavour of exciting initiatives in church planting and revitalisation, but also the recognition that in many ministry contexts, the work is hard and slow, sometimes visibly unimpressive, and requires much prayer, patience and faith.

For those in the C of E with a pastoral and evangelistic focus, the point was made that lay people need to be taught about wider church politics and the reality of liberal theology, as wardens and PCC’s will often be responsible for ensuring the securing of good ministry if a Rector leaves or retires. Those pioneering new Anglican congregations outside the ‘official’ system can see their work primarily as flexible and entrepreneurial evangelistic ‘rescue mission’ projects for the vast majority who don’t know Christ, but also a potential place of safety for Anglicans in broken fellowship with the Church of England now or in the future. The Gafcon movement was given prominence throughout, and especially highlighted by guest speaker Archbishop Peter Jensen.

The main theme of the 27 hour conference has been the ‘priesthood of all believers’ and ‘mobilising every–member ministry’. Archbishop Jensen, Church Society Director Lee Gatiss and Co-Mission leader Richard Coekin all warned in their addresses that clergy-and-staff-focussed church is not just the preserve of Cathedrals and Catholics. Evangelicals too can over-professionalise ministry, especially large churches with numerous apprentices and salaried ministry leaders. The laity then become consumers, an audience, rather than a royal priesthood, praising God together and being the means by which people in the world can know Christ and become transformative disciples themselves.

The purpose of Bible teaching should be to prepare every member for ministry in terms of serving in church life, and sharing the good news of Christ in the community and workplace. This involves good relationships as well as training and management, so we were reminded that while “books on business leadership can be helpful, love is essential”. An excellent plenary session on Tuesday featured a number of lay people sharing their experience of different ministries – for example evangelism, sharing expertise on national church committees, and training women and young people to lead bible studies.

According to Archbishop Jensen, ministry in church and through it to the world, including that of Bishops and clergy, should not be imposed by detached structures or delegated to professionals, but ideally should arise from among the people of God submitted to Scripture and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It will be salt and light in the culture, instead of conforming to it.

The delegates left with a renewed commitment to enabling whole-church responsibility for ministry and the vision behind it, after being reminded that if God is going to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine, we must devote more time and energy to prayer, and ask for development of Christlikeness in character as well as gifts and skills.


This understanding of the ministry of the church as comprising mainly the worship of ordinary people and their service into local communities is very different from the idea of senior ecclesiastical figures talking publicly to important people about issues of national life. A number of people, including myself, have commented on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s speech last week to the Trades Union Congress at their annual conference (see here for a collection of articles).

While some of the content and its underlying motivation can fairly be criticised, the action of a church leader speaking publicly on political issues should be commended. When every member is gifted and called to fulfil particular tasks, Justin Welby’s speech can be seen as just as much part of the ministry of God’s people, as the elderly lady who makes the tea after the Sunday service.

C of E: Rainbow revolution progresses as Bishop of Taunton announced as celebrant at Cathedral LGBT Eucharist

Posted by on Sep 11, 2018 in Church of England, Editorial Blog, Gay Activism | Comments Off on C of E: Rainbow revolution progresses as Bishop of Taunton announced as celebrant at Cathedral LGBT Eucharist

C of E: Rainbow revolution progresses as Bishop of Taunton announced as celebrant at Cathedral LGBT Eucharist

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Wells Cathedral in Somerset is the latest to show its allegiance to the cause of LGBT ‘radical inclusion’. The What’s On section of its website advertises a “Rainbow Church Eucharist”, under the banner of a stylized rainbow coloured cross:

‘Rainbow Church’ is a new grouping being established in Bath and Wells diocese, with a view to promoting greater inclusion for gay people. ‘Rainbow Church’ will launch their new initiative with a Eucharist at Wells Cathedral on Saturday 22nd September at 11 am. The Bishop of Taunton will preside, and the speaker is Jayne Ozanne, a well known author and activist. All who wish to support the growing inclusion of gay people will be very welcome indeed. This service will be held in the Quire with a packed lunch and Q&A session to follow.

Over the past few weeks there has been a definite progression in the onward march of the rainbow flag in the Church of England. It is now normal for Cathedrals to fly the flag during the ‘Pride’ season in Dioceses with openly revisionist leadership such as Liverpool and Southwark. This year it was the turn of Ely, a Diocese with a strong conservative evangelical constituency, and where the Bishop has not in the past been known for openly promoting the LGBT cause.

A number of commentators responded to the rainbow flag at Ely, pointing out the nature of flags in general, and the meaning of the rainbow in particular, with its origins in angry protests against what was perceived as the domination of society by heteronormativity and patriarchy, and the desire to remove all cultural and legal restraints on adult sexual identity and behaviour. As such, the flag is a divisive political statement (blogger Archbishop Cranmer made this point brilliantly with his spoof report on the Cathedral flying the UKIP flag).

As I summarized in an earlier postMartin Davie points out that the rainbow flag is clearly a symbol of an “LGBTI programme” which “goes against what is revealed in nature and Scripture”, and that  flying any flag (apart from national and Diocesan banners) is actually not permitted by church regulations. For Ian Paul “the cathedral was therefore signalling their rejection of the Church’s current teaching”, and asks, by implication, why Bishops who believe in this teaching are not prepared to publicly defend it. Lee Gatiss says memorably “in reality it is a white flag, signalling their [the Cathedral leadership’s] surrender of Christianity in favour of a completely different gospel, which is divisive in the church and endangering to the soul.” 

At this point the flag remained outside the Cathedrals, ‘virtue signalling’ to the world their solidarity with the world’s values. One could say this demonstrates the opposite of gospel proclamation, which is a call to repent from allegiance to the world’s values and believe the good news of Jesus. But having subverted the church’s mission, the next stage has been to subvert its worship and teaching. The flag flying outside the church building says something to the world; the flag in the sanctuary says something to those inside, those coming to meet with God.

And so we heard about an “inclusive Eucharist to celebrate Reading Pride”, which took place in the Minster church of St Mary Reading on 30th August. The details were reported last week here. Significantly, in the case of Ely, the Bishop did not take responsibility and hid behind the excuse of autonomy for the Cathedral Dean and Chapter (the Archbishop of York made a similar excuse, and defended the right of Christians to hold different views, following York Minster’s active participation in the Gay Pride festival of 2015).

But in Reading the news emerged that permission for the LGBT eucharist had been given by the Bishop of Reading, Andrew Proud, a Suffragan of Oxford due to retire in 2019. The question has to be asked: how many other ‘inclusive’ Holy Communion services are taking place, with the tacit or overt approval of the Bishop, where the rainbow flag is draped over the Communion table and God’s blessing is invoked and pronounced over what the church officially believes to be a sinful lifestyle?

And now to Wells. This time, on 22nd September, the Bishop of Taunton will preside at a service at which the symbol of pride, immorality and rebellion has been coopted to stand alongside the cross, in fact even to be the cross. By sleight of hand, the rainbow flag has been transformed from a symbol of rebellion against God’s good created order, to a symbol of God’s love and kindness, especially towards marginalised people.

The preacher will be Jayne Ozanne, a long time campaigner not just for church acceptance of same sex relationships, but the removal of biblical teaching on sex and marriage from church and society, and the elimination of prayer and counselling to help people (should they so wish) move away from same sex attraction and homosexual practice.

Where are the bible-believing evangelicals in all this?  The Bishop of Bath and Wells, Peter Hancock, is an evangelical. Should we accept that what happens in the Cathedral has nothing to do with him? Does his role as the lead Bishop in the national child abuse inquiry IICSA mean that he has been too busy to see what’s happening in his own Diocese? Or has he given permission for this eucharist to take place because of his involvement in that inquiry? There is a prevailing secular view that traditional Christian sexual ethics, rather than the sinful failure to live up to them in all sections of church and society, are somehow to blame for child abuse, so perhaps the feeling is that demonstrating solidarity with the LGBT cause will deflect some of the criticism?

To summarise, here is the progression we have seen recently:

  1. Rainbow flag flies outside cathedral. Bishop claims it’s the Dean’s decision and nothing to do with him (we don’t know if he approved privately).
  2. Rainbow flag inside a church operating as a Minster or minor Cathedral, covering communion table. Presiding Vicar says Bishop gave permission.
  3. Rainbow flag covering communion table in major Cathedral. Suffragan Bishop presides at communion.

As far as I can tell, while there is much chatter on social media about these events and the powerful symbolic message they send about the Church of England, there has been little in the way of public response from other Bishops, or leaders of evangelical networks inside the Church of England. But it’s significant that at next week’s ReNew conference, a number of clergy have already signed up for a seminar on how to establish Gafcon-aligned Anglican churches outside the Church of England.

Evaluating the new influential philosophers

Posted by on Sep 4, 2018 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Philosophy, Theology, Thought | Comments Off on Evaluating the new influential philosophers

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Many Christians have been encouraged by the popularity of Canadian academic Jordan Peterson, who while not professing personal faith, is positive about the idea of God and some aspects of biblical teaching. Reportedly he is causing numbers of previously de-churched, cynical young men in particular to reconsider the gospel message.

The increasingly guru-like status of another university professor, Yuval Noah Harari, should give more cause for concern. The Israeli historian’s first two books, Sapiens and Homo Deus, have now sold more than 12 million copies worldwide; they have been endorsed by Bill Gates and Barack Obama, and have garnered numerous enthusiastic reviews.

While Peterson’s brand of Jungian analysis, self-help philosophy and critique of lazy ‘echo-chamber’ thought is not to everyone’s taste and needs to be carefully evaluated, some of his ideas are compatible with a Christian worldview. Harari, by contrast, puts forward an ideology that is not only explicitly and contemptuously atheist, but ultimately questions the value of human beings, and even the point of our existence in the cosmos. Why has this become so popular? Perhaps, where Peterson offers a contemporary book of Proverbs, Harari attempts an alternative whole Bible, by answering big, fundamental questions about our origins, our identity and our destiny.

According to his account, as Homo Sapiens, we are apes who have achieved global supremacy through accidents of evolution, developing unrivalled capacity for thought, organization and communication. In particular, human societies have grown and held together through shared beliefs in “communal fictions” or myths. These include (as one would expect), deities, religions and heteronormativity – Harari endorses the view that a binary view of gender is a human construct. But also, more controversially, he questions the reality of abstract principles considered “self-evident” since the enlightenment: human rights, the concept of justice, the unique dignity of individual people. Even nation states, money and corporations are, for Harari, part of “imagined reality”.

Harari’s appeal also stems from the immense erudition behind his ideas, expressed simply and compellingly enough for his books to sit alongside thrillers and romances in popular bookstores. He dazzles the reader with range of historical and scientific knowledge, from speculative theories of the evolutionary psychology of prehistoric tribes, through early agrarian societies, ancient Greece and Rome, medieval Europe, 20th century global politics and contemporary economics. Azimov-like, he then issues prophecies of the future, displaying enough technical jargon about cutting edge research in artificial intelligence to intimidate the layman and bolster the plausibility of his secular eschatological vision.

For Harari, being a humanist in the sense of valuing and preserving who we are now is not good enough. While religion locates authority outside ourselves, in a spiritual realm, with commandments mediated to us through texts and traditions, humanism says we are only answerable to our individual inner being, our “hearts”. But according to the philosophy of Homo Deus (‘Man is God’), because there is no God ‘out there’ and no soul ‘in there’, and we are just cells and synapses, there is no “heart” in the sense of “authentic self”.

In the past, humanity tried to understand itself through theology, or drama and literature, and then most recently through biology and genetics. Now according to Harari, it is computer science, because all organisms are nothing more than algorithms (a philosophy he clunkily calls “dataism”.)

Technology means that we, or at least some of us, will be able to upgrade ourselves; our frail bodies through increasingly sophisticated medicines and nanobots, and our minds as well. “Once we can design and redesign our will”, says Harari, “we would no longer see it as the ultimate source of meaning and authority”.  We wouldn’t have to derive purpose and identity from our desires, or struggle against them, if we can re-shape them artificially. But what is ‘meaning’ anyway? Christianity invites us to see the universe from God’s perspective; humanism from the viewpoint of the conscious individual. Harari betrays his underlying Buddhist sympathies when he concludes that humanity is just “a ripple within the cosmic dataflow”; we are not important.

Many in Western society have rejected a theistic worldview and are increasingly becoming disillusioned with modernist humanism. Harari’s ideas are appealing and even compelling in this vacuum, with their blend of big picture historical perspective and exciting techno-futurist possibilities, deep guilt about human arrogance vis a vis the planet, and an attraction to Eastern ideas of integration with the cosmos.

Christian critics have pointed out Harari’s tendency to caricature and misrepresent other views (especially biblical faith). Others, including atheists, have questioned his view of the future of humanity. [eg A reductionist history of humankind, by John Sexton, The New Atlantis; Humanity Mark II: Why the future of humanity will be just as purposeless as the past, by John Gray, New Statesman].

On one level, Harari’s vision is absurdly optimistic. He claims at the start of Homo Deus that because fewer people die from disease, war and poverty than they did 100 years ago, we have nearly reach our goal of everlasting peace and plenty. Further exponential progress is inevitable. Humanity is one step away from solving death which he calls “a technical problem”; eternal life may be on the horizon, and those who still cry out to God instead of keeping calm and trusting in science are stupid and backward. But his is a very West-centric view, weirdly callous in its attitude to global suffering today, and questionable in its accuracy. Is it really true that more people die of being too fat than for example the 5 million deaths in the Eastern Congo over the past 20 years, let alone the more visible catastrophes in Syria, Western Myanmar and South Sudan?

On another level, Harari offers no hope: his picture of the future is curiously nihilistic rather than terrifying. We will end up with computers running everything, even our feelings; Homo Sapiens probably won’t exist any more in a few hundred years; it doesn’t matter because we have no intrinsic value anyway.

Should we be concerned? These ideas, while not yet mainstream, are gaining increasing support among our governing elites. Because of this, no doubt we will soon see some of our theologians and church leaders trying to synthesise Harari’s philosophy with forms of Christian discourse – if it’s not happening already. But it’s opposed to biblical Christianity, and need to be countered.

God does exist and is at the centre of all things; it’s not all about Me and my identity, or Big Data. God controls the future which will see the full glorification of the Son, and the full rewards for his people who have trusted in him, put his glory before their own during this earthly life. We are not the product of blind evolution but created in love, saved from self-destruction; given a back story that makes sense of who we are, and a future vision that provides a sure and certain hope for continued existence, not absorption into nothingness. We’re not supposed to look on suffering and turn our back, saying “science will sort it out”, but to get our hands dirty, serving the world in the power of the Holy Spirit.

It’s not the case that Harari’s worldview is based on fact and the Christian’s on faith – rather, both require faith to believe and act. Our story is no less plausible than his as we work out ways of telling it afresh to new generations.

Scandals, flags and encouragements: news from August

Posted by on Aug 27, 2018 in Church of England, Editorial Blog, Roman Catholicism | Comments Off on Scandals, flags and encouragements: news from August

Scandals, flags and encouragements: news from August

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Churches usually scale down some activities during holiday time, such as home groups, and childrens’ activities during Sunday services. The more vibrant fellowships take on other events, like  holiday clubs for kids and the elderly (evangelistic, and providing for a real social need). Planning for a new season of ministry has taken place; hopefully clergy and active lay people have returned from their breaks refreshed. This essential worship and witness at local level, carried out faithfully by thousands of unheralded disciples, takes place within a wider context of a Church finding itself in an increasingly confusing and hostile culture, and sometimes failing to navigate it because of its own faults.

Some issues have generated a lot of comment during August, showing that journalists are still working, and some bloggers can’t put down their laptops even when on holiday. Looking at these might help to illustrate the continued challenges that the church faces, and also some signs of encouragement.

The most depressing August story is surely the growing avalanche of revelations about sexual abuse by priests in the Roman Catholic Church worldwide. Secular commentators are pointing out, correctly, that the scandals illustrate the danger of abuse of power in a large religious organization, where leaders are held in awe, and protection of reputation must be maintained at all costs. The demand for visible justice for perpetrators, massive compensation for victims and, sadly, fees for lawyers can only grow.

But other questions are being aired on the Christian websites and chat forums (see a selection here.) Firstly, theological. Has a mystical, ‘mediator’ view of priesthood, which has no basis in Scripture, led to the idea that clergy shouldn’t be subject to scrutiny by anyone other than their ecclesiastical superiors? And then ethical: many secular commentators, in talking of ‘sexual abuse’, have of course focused on abuse of power and ignored the immoral use of sex. But the problem with the reported abuse is not just that the victims may have been underage, or were  non-consenting adults, though these violations are appalling and deserving of punishment. The revelations expose a culture of sexual immorality and in particular predatory homosexual grooming in sections of the Roman Catholic Church. There are now serious allegations of institutional cover up at the highest level (see here for an excellent summary). The hypocrisy of a church which preaches sexual purity and the value of the family, unable to contain and trying to cover up this rot in its midst is embarrassing and shameful to Christians of all denominations.[1]. Can the church change, and if so how?

The solution is not for the church to abandon its opposition to same sex relationships, as if somehow by being open and relaxed about clergy lifestyles which contradict biblical norms of Christian discipleship, the keeping of secret mistresses and furtive pouncing on choirboys and seminarians will stop, a new culture of openness and healthy power dynamics will ensue, and the church will regain its spiritual authority. The Bible is clear about the need to maintain strict boundaries on our sexual behaviour and thought, for good reason. But nevertheless some politicians have publicly called for a change to the church’s teaching on sex and marriage on the eve of the Pope’s recent visit to Ireland, and campaigners continue to argue the same case within other denominations, for example the Church of England.

And so the Cathedral in the small historic town of Ely, Cambridgeshire earlier this August became the latest ancient symbol of Christian life and witness to fly the rainbow flag in support of gay pride. The Dean explained that this was to “celebrate diversity” and a “sign of inclusion”; later he claimed it was a way of “entering into the debate”. The Cathedral’s action brought a series of sharp responses, some of which can be found here.

Martin Davie points out that the rainbow flag is clearly a symbol of an “LGBTI programme” which “goes against what is revealed in nature and Scripture”, and that  flying any flag (apart from national and Diocesan banners) is actually not permitted by church regulations. For Ian Paul “the cathedral was therefore signalling their rejection of the Church’s current teaching”, and asks, by implication, why Bishops who believe in this teaching are not prepared to publicly defend it. Lee Gatiss says memorablyin reality it is a white flag, signalling their [the Cathedral leadership’s] surrender of Christianity in favour of a completely different gospel, which is divisive in the church and endangering to the soul.”

It’s encouraging that there appears to be more concern expressed across different orthodox constituencies about Cathedrals supporting Pride than in previous years, and an increasing recognition that this is evidence of a trajectory away from bible based Christianity in the institution of the C of E. But some evangelicals continue to either avoid the issue altogether, or are more concerned about building bridges with revisionists; they want to retain the right to promote “no sex outside heterosexual marriage” as a personal view and a kind of niche interest, while denying that there is a harmful LGBT agenda in the culture, and saying that the biggest need for the church is full inclusion of LGBT people and rooting out of homophobia. This attitude of positive and receptive rapprochement with the pagan culture on issues of sex in some evangelical circles in England mirrors that shown in reports of the Revoice conference in the USA in late July (a selection of articles here).

Some August good news stories to end on. Nurse Sarah Kuteh, who was disciplined and then prevented from practicing her profession because she spoke to patients about her faith, was reinstated after a campaign by Christian Concern. An article in the Church of England Newspaper reminds us of the phenomenal growth of the church in Africa. The Roman Catholic scandal reminds us that a large church is not necessarily a better church and needs to be constantly reformed by obedience to Scripture and renewed by the Holy Spirit, with mutual accountability between humble disciples, not power concentrated in a few places and groups. So news that Gafcon’s global fellowship is moving forward in the development of its ‘networks’, focusing on training of leaders and sustainable development in contexts of poverty as well as sound training for leadership, is very welcome.

[Readers can sign up for fortnightly mailings from Anglican Mainstream, featuring a selection of important news and comment from the website. The latest can be found here.]


[1] By contrast, the shocking but unique case of John Smyth and his grooming and beating of boys in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, showed poor judgement by individuals dealing with the issue at the time and subsequently, but not condoning of or turning a blind eye to Smyth’s actions, or a wider culture of abuse in the organisation of which he was a part.

Three paradoxes of Christian faith: reflections on Ephesians

Posted by on Jul 24, 2018 in 2-Important Posts, Bible, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Three paradoxes of Christian faith: reflections on Ephesians

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

A view of the Church that is widespread at the moment could be summarized like this: unity is about avoidance of conflict; mission is about affirming and including people, and Christian living is expressing the authentic self. A brief study of the Letter to the Ephesians shows us something different.

  1. Christian unity is a gift and a task.

The unity of the church is a given – “there is one body” says Paul in Ephesians 4:4; specifically, Christ’s body (1:23), also pictured as a new temple built by God himself, made up of believers worldwide (2:20-22). But at the same time, Christians have a responsibility to “keep the unity” (4:3). The threats to Christian unity, the things that divide the body, and cause the temple to become unstable, are wrong behaviour and wrong beliefs.

“Bear with one another in love”, urges Paul (4:2); “live a life of love” (5:2). There is a special emphasis on the core relationships which should consist of mutual respect and service: employer/employee, parent/child, and husband/wife (5:22-6:9). Build each other up; be kind and forgiving (5:29; 32) – these are practical guidelines on right attitudes and behaviour which contribute to unity among God’s people.

Sometimes in the history of the church, people have emphasized truth, but in a hard way, with lack of love. And it’s also true that in both doctrinally sound and environmentally and socially ethical churches, people can fall out with each other. Does this mean that unity is the same as avoidance of conflict – “all you need is love”? Ephesians 4 and 5 show how lack of clarity on what is true leads to a church more like a ship out of control on the sea rather than a stable building (4:14).

If unity is based on “one faith”, then deviation from that faith breaks unity. Those who “deceive with empty words” are not to be included in the body: “do not be partners with them” (5:6-7). This is not unloving or narrow-minded. Paradoxically, conflict is sometimes necessary in order to maintain unity. Part of the task of preserving unity, then, is “speaking the truth in love” (4:15), making plain the boundaries of the faith, while continuing to emphasise inclusion for all who repent and believe in Christ, in response to God’s grace. This is what Gafcon seeks to do in the Anglican Communion, restoring one-ness through reiterating the gospel, demonstrating it in cross-cultural worship, prayer and fellowship, and warning about deviations from historic Christian truth.


  1. Christian mission is for and against the world

In John’s Gospel we see this paradox. Jesus portrays the world in darkness, and under the control of the evil one. He said to his disciples “If the world hates you, remember it hated me first”. And yet at the same time, God so loved the world that he sent his Son, and Jesus prayed for his disciples to be one so that the world might believe.

Similarly, Ephesians 2:15 shows that God is positive towards the world – he has intervened to create a new humanity by reconciling different factions, Jew and Gentile. But as we go on in chapter 4:17-19, Paul draws attention to the futility, darkness and impurity of the world’s way of thinking. In chapter 6 Paul also identifies external forces – demonic spiritual power – behind opposition to Christian faith and life.

So according to the Bible, people are lost in sin, ignorance and not knowing God; he is ‘for’ them, loves them and wants to save them. But he is against the corrupt systems, wrong ideologies, enslaving habits and evil powers that keep people in darkness and make the world hostile to God. Christian mission must have the same attitude. The church is a new society, loving the world’s people and calling them to new life in Christ, but against the world’s thinking and principles.

So often today, Christians are afraid to make this distinction. We think we have to affirm people’s thinking to show we love them, because to challenge unbiblical views might be seen as hateful towards those who hold them. Some are even arguing that new ideas, for example about sex and gender, are from God, and that because God is for the world, the mission task of the church is to change itself by the renewing of its mind in alignment with the world’s thinking. Instead, a defining mark of Christian mission is to graciously oppose dead-end and destructive ideas that have taken hold in society and even some parts of the church, through prayer, speaking and action, and we do it because God loves the world and the individual people in it.


  1. Christian living is war and peace, resistance and embrace

For some Christians today, influenced by popular new teaching, human beings are essentially good; we just need to ‘find our true selves’, where struggle is negative, and permanent serenity a sign of maturity. But according to the consistent teaching of Scripture, affirmed in our Anglican liturgies, our ‘true selves’ are corrupted; we are still living with human nature in ourselves that has a tendency to rebel against God.  And yet God has done something amazing in Christ, and calls us to a life of love. So we resist “the world, the flesh and the devil”, and at the same time we need to embrace Christ, others in the church, and our fellow human beings.

Resistance to sin and evil begins with what God has done in us – the seal of the Holy Spirit (1:13) and our spiritual resurrection with Christ (2:6). But we have a responsibility too, to “put off the old self” (4:22). Empowered by the Holy Spirit, we resist temptation and sin. In the list which follows (4:25f) there is no vagueness about the characteristics and actions which need to be confronted – anger, theft, rudeness, bitterness, sexual immorality, greed, idolatry. But at the same time we embrace what is good: “live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself for us” (5:2).


We find paradox difficult. How can following Christ be about love and peace, and also struggle and conflict? If something feels right and part of my identity, why is it good to say no to it? How can hatred of evil and determination to resist it be compatible with compassion and unity? If we can’t hold together both sides of the paradox, we develop an understanding of the church, mission and the Christian life that seems ‘nice’ but whose attractiveness is an illusion: it is ultimately based on indifference to truth, and concern for personal comfort.

The C of E: money for mission, but what about method and message?

Posted by on Jul 16, 2018 in 2-Important Posts, Church of England, Editorial Blog, Mission | Comments Off on The C of E: money for mission, but what about method and message?

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

“There is no magic money tree” was a pre-election refrain employed by the UK government last year. And yet when expediency demanded it, money was found, whether for Northern Ireland in return for the political support of one of its parties, or for the NHS after years of trying to control its spending.

The Church of England, too, has suddenly found a ‘magic money tree’ for an ambitious programme of establishing new local churches, at a time when many of its Cathedrals are reported to be close to bankruptcy. “Church of England may be forced to sell some of its ancient cathedrals to cover their overwhelming debts”, reported the Mail in the week before General Synod (6th July).

Five days later, just after Synod ended, a Press Release from the C of E trumpeted an “ambitious growth programme” in which grants of £27 million would be given to various church planting and regeneration projects around the country.

Is this bold strategic investment in the future, or a last throw of the dice? News reports suggested the latter: the Guardian noted that the new investment is announced as figures show continued marked decline in regular church attendance countrywide. The Telegraph had reported the day before that regular planned giving to C of E churches has fallen for the first time in 50 years, raising questions about future sustainability once the current grants from the Church Commissioners run out.

To whom should the ‘prime the pump’ money be given? In an interview on last week’s BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Programme, Philip North, Bishop of Burnley, complained that up till now, most grants have been given to ‘resource churches’, usually large, charismatic evangelical centres in middle class and particularly studenty areas, which have a proven track record of multiplying membership. North has consistently warned that this rewards already affluent and successful churches at the expense of ministry in poorer areas. His point seems to have been taken into consideration with the new allocation of money, which will be specifically targeted at outer urban housing estates, and small coastal towns whose pockets of deprivation and lack of vibrant churches have received publicity recently.

So among the C of E leadership the debate goes on. Should central resources be used to keep open the flagship Cathedrals whatever the cost? Or should ‘market forces’ be allowed to take their course for unsustainable, moribund institutions, pass the (enormously expensive) Cathedrals on to heritage trusts if they really can’t make ends meet, and focus new investment on entrepreneurial mission, establishing new self-sustaining worshipping communities? The Archbishops have opted for the latter course, but combining proclaiming the message of Jesus with an intentional focus on deprived communities. Some like Bishop North will be critical of the bias towards evangelical churches, and the failure to address financial inequality between the Dioceses. Others will see too much influence from secular accountancy and management thinking in the Reform and Renewal programme, rather than more ‘spiritual’ concerns. But many will welcome the initiatives, not just those benefitting from the grants, but all who believe that if it means wider proclamation of the gospel and more churches, that must be a good thing.

But questions remain. Here are some which would cause me to think twice before taking a generous C of E grant:

I believe it’s a good thing to try to plant churches in areas where the church is weak, and in areas of deprivation, not just in traditionally more fruitful places. But why is the church struggling to maintain a vibrant witness, even a presence, in many English communities, especially the less affluent areas? Is it lack of resources and a particular type of leadership, or is something else going on?

I served as a minister in a relatively deprived outer urban estate for seven years, and so I know first hand some of the very real difficulties in engaging people with the gospel, issues that had very little to do with the resources available to the church. I have also worked in the townships of South Africa, a context of disadvantage and social problems much more severe than anything found in Britain. And yet there, as in many other similar and worse environments in Africa, churches thrive without the help of generous grants from the head offices of large denominations. As I have said before, I believe the problems of church decline in England are not caused by lack of investment or good evangelistic technique, but are primarily symptoms of a serious spiritual crisis in the West. While I’m sure money for new churches is welcome, the rhetoric accompanying it does not address the root issues of godlessness in our culture at all.

Linked to this is the question: what is the good news that the church offers? For the Archbishops of Canterbury and York as they commend the awarding of £27 million of grants, the message of Jesus is central. But which Jesus? Is it the Jesus of Paul Bayes, Bishop of Liverpool, vice-chair of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Task Force on Evangelism and also an enthusiastic supporter of the LGBT Pride movement? Is it the Jesus of the Diocese of Lichfield with its new policy encouraging ‘radical inclusion’ and transgender clergy, or the Jesus of the Province of South East Asia who have terminated their link with Lichfield because of ‘departure from orthodoxy’? Is it the Shepherd of the Scriptures, who brings life in all its fullness and who protects from the wolf, or the counterfeit version who talks of ‘love’, avoids conflict and controversy, and disapproves of those who point out what is wrong?  The C of E might speak about Jesus but if it can’t provide clarity on who Jesus is, why he came and what it means to follow him, God will raise up other churches which can.

And then, in terms of mission strategy, what will the new money be spent on? The familiar model for church planting in the Church of England is to identify an area, and then bring in a staff from outside, providing housing, salaries, building refurbishment and equipment. Other new denominations use a much lower-cost and grassroots approach. A group of lay volunteers will feel called to an area where others have already been living and praying; the members of the leadership team are self-supporting; the meeting takes place in a front room, then a rented hall; only after the congregation has grown sufficiently is consideration given to setting apart a pastor to full-time ministry. Which model is more likely to create dependence, and the sense that church is a middle-class activity? Which has principles of indigenous and self sustaining ministry built into it from the beginning, and is more likely to continue that way?


Can we learn from ancient prayer books?

Posted by on Jul 3, 2018 in Editorial Blog, Film, Worship | Comments Off on Can we learn from ancient prayer books?

Can we learn from ancient prayer books?

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Why would a 21st century evangelical be interested in liturgy? asked Mark Earngey as he began his talk at Wycliffe Hall (on 11 June). An extrovert Australian, Mark is definitely not a nerdy academic, fascinated by church history for its own sake. His time in Oxford working on a DPhil and a book (both just completed) hasn’t affected his accent, his regular use of words like “mate” and “ripper”, or his commitment to see the church reflect Christ better.

Born into a Sydney Anglican churchgoing family, as a young man Mark rebelled against the Christian faith, returned to the Lord through a Pentecostal fellowship, and then found his way back to Anglicanism. Liturgy for him used to be associated with older generations, and an inauthentic expression of faith with repetition of words by rote replacing heart worship. Like many evangelicals he believed that liturgy creates a barrier to mission, an extra layer of weirdness for newcomers. But on reflection he realized that every church develops a worship pattern or liturgy, even if it’s not written down. What matters is preparation, engagement, and worship in the Spirit, irrespective of the form of words.

Many Anglican churches in Sydney, as in England, 50 years ago were ‘low church’ in practice, but still followed Prayer Book liturgy in some form. Things changed with the introduction of more informal forms of worship and music, and in Mark’s words, many threw the “baby” of liturgical wisdom out with the “bathwater” of dry formalism. Along with a colleague, who had also rediscovered the wisdom of the Christian heritage, Mark embarked on a journey of exploring the riches of liturgies from Reformation Europe.

He discovered that most 16th century evangelical leaders did not just preach, lead congregations and carry out pastoral care, but also wrote services of morning and evening prayer, and Holy Communion. Driven by a concern for teaching orthodox doctrine, encouraging warm heartfelt devotion to Christ, and avoiding the perceived disorder of Anabaptist worship, they used familiar medieval church forms (e.g., the Latin mass) and made them intelligible and gospel-centred, believing that regular repetition would infuse truth and love into the heart. But these prayers and rubrics were also elegantly crafted, often poetically balanced and theologically precise.

In his lecture Mark took us through brief biographies and excerpts of liturgies from well-known figures such as Luther, Calvin, Cranmer, and also those I hadn’t heard of: Oecolampardius, Schwarz, Farel. While each ‘school’ had its different emphases, there were some key common themes, such as the concern to make a clear theological break from some of the ideas of contemporary Catholicism. For example, the Reformers’  liturgies of the Lord’s Supper distinguished clearly between the once-for-all atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross for the sins of the world, and the sacrifice of praise and obedience of his people today in worship (as in the Book of Common Prayer).

There was a great deal of cross-influence: much of the language of the BCP is influenced by liturgies from Cologne and Strassburg (Mark prefers to use the 16th century spelling of this Franco-German border town), Wittenberg and Geneva. In turn Cranmer’s liturgies influenced the spread of reformed worship styles elsewhere.

What principles from this rich tradition can evangelicals learn from and apply today, as we think about our worship and teaching? Mark suggested that concern for theological accuracy: the right words written and spoken to teach, should always be balanced with constant pointing to the person of Christ the incarnate Word. In the same way truth should be spoken, but also somehow made visible, as in John Hooper’s description of Communion as “a visible word…that preaches peace between God and man.” There should be elements of creeds (historic statements of what we believe); prayers (words addressed to and from God with whom we are in relationship); and encouragements to put our faith into practice.

For many evangelicals today, could worship have perhaps become too casual, even worldly? The Reformers were in awe of God’s love for his people, and wanted their communities to rejoice in praise. But they were also concerned for purity, a focus on the holy God, the removal of selfishness and idols from the individual’s heart and the church’s assembly, particularly for Holy Communion.

Why does formal use of liturgy in church often go together with an individualism and absence of community? asked a listener from a European Lutheran background. A very good question – how many churches up and down the country see one or two worshippers at the BCP service sit in a back pew, alone, and then slip out before they have to greet anyone? This reminds us that the promotion of good liturgy needs to go together with evangelical reform in other areas of church life, and not become an end in itself.

The emphasis of Mark Earngey’s talk was on liturgy as a tool for worship, pastoral care, teaching and evangelism. But there was surely a prophetic element in the prayers of the Reformers, not necessarily always eirenic, saying clearly “this is right and this is wrong”. In the 16th century many of the rubrics and prayers were given as correctives to Catholic teaching of the time which obscured justification by faith – might new liturgies be composed today which bring biblical truth to bear on current controversies and confusions? I must ask him about that before he returns to his homeland.

Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present, edited by Jonathan Gibson and Mark Earngey is published by New Growth Press.

A version of this article was published in Church of England Newspaper on 21st June.