Editorial Blog

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

The authentic church: witness to the reality of the spiritual

Posted by on Oct 23, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on The authentic church: witness to the reality of the spiritual

The authentic church: witness to the reality of the spiritual

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

“No church is perfect”, admitted Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, explaining why he was leaving the Church of England to be admitted into the Roman Catholic Church – despite the recent record on child abuse and subsequent mismanagement, and despite historic theological question marks for those from a reformed Protestant background. He is answering his critics, and that discussion goes on.

But “no church is perfect”. Every local expression and every denomination is flawed, made up as it is of sinful human beings. In fact we should be amazed and thankful that the church in its various forms exists at all, given the widespread indifference, misunderstanding and hostility that Christians regularly encounter from those outside the church, and given the low levels of virtue among those inside it (including ourselves first). It is a miracle when one person comes to Christ and when another is still going as a faithful disciple after many years, and yet somehow the worldwide church is full of millions of such miracles!

“No church is perfect” – “by schisms rent asunder, by heresies distressed” – and yet, somehow, at the end, this fallen woman in the gutter will be a radiant, flawless bride, brought into full union with the perfect Bridegroom. “No church is perfect”, because the denominations, while being part of God’s mysterious purpose to broadcast his purpose and plan to all that is, visible and invisible (Eph 3:10), are also human institutions, subject to the same structural weaknesses, forces of group psychology, and spiritual powers (or ‘angels’, Rev 2-3) as other secular organisations.

“No church is perfect”, and yet that can’t mean we just shrug our shoulders and say “they’re all as bad as each other (an attitude which often leads to drifting away from Christian community and regular worship). Nor can it mean complacency, “they’re all as good as each other”, meaning that no discernment is needed about what different churches believe, teach and practice, and all that matters is love and unity.

For Bishop Michael, the problem appears to be not just the Church of England, but Protestantism, otherwise he could have joined a ‘continuing’ Anglican entity, a newly authorised Gafcon jurisdiction, or an independent evangelical church. The Bishop has drawn attention to a deficit of catholicity (small c) – a sense of one universal church believing and doing the same thing with authority to enforce it – which is lacking in Protestantism. Perhaps it is an inherent Lutheran individualism (“here I stand…”) which is at the root of tendency to break away and do our own thing.

See more articles on Dr Nazir-Ali’s pivot to Roman Catholicism, here.

Responding to Bishop Michael’s choice in a gracious and friendly spirit, Phil Ashey of ACNA points to the development (frustratingly slow for some) of a ‘conciliar’ approach within Gafcon and the Global South. Here a genuine attempt is being made to create an authentic Anglicanism which is genuinely catholic (global, rooted in history, mutually accountable), evangelical (based on the authority of Scripture and affirming the necessity of personal repentance and faith), and charismatic (Spirit-led before institutional/managerial).

In the post-Christian West, being part of a church is a choice. It is no longer “default”, an accident of birth or geography. Some may disagree, pointing to baptism, and the significance of this as a sacrament of incorporation into the church should not be minimised. But unless we are universalists, we must always affirm the importance of personal faith and active participation in the life of the local fellowship and the global body of Christ. And this is under increasing threat in our current context. As Gafcon GBE reminded us in their statement following Bishop Michael’s move, “the pressures of secularism in the West are causing many faithful Christians to re-evaluate their relationship with historic denominations, and different decisions will be made about which spiritual home can offer safety and the best opportunities for witness.”

“No church is perfect”, but some spiritual homes can offer more “safety” than others. This is not just about protection, for example from false teaching, abusive leadership, internal division, attacks from outside, financial mismanagement. Many churches in the global south have these problems, often much worse than those in the West, but in the minds of many, they are “safer”. It’s not that they are necessarily more committed to orthodoxy, but perhaps the threats to the church’s very existence are worse in a secular culture even than in places where there is extreme violence, poverty and corruption. At least there, people believe in God and the spiritual realm.

Rod Dreher addresses these problems of the threat of secularism to the church in his latest piece about the ‘Benedict Option’ idea. Drawing on the insights of an Eastern Orthodox theologian and also quoting from a Protestant one, Dreher shows that secularism does not just obscure the spiritual aspects of reality while affirming the material and psychological aspects. Ultimately secularism has allowed people to define reality by their own feelings and desires, which then undermines even the truth of objectively observable, physical reality. Conversely, the fullness of reality can only be apprehended by an appreciation of the spiritual realm. He says authentic Christians “believe that all of reality is undergirded, and founded, in a sacred order of which we are a part. We can’t make it up as we go along; we must instead be open to divine revelation, and organize our lives from what has been revealed from God, because it tells us what is really Real.”

The challenge provided by respected thinkers such as Nazir Ali and Dreher for faithful, biblically orthodox Anglicans and independent evangelicals in the West, is not just how to communicate theological truth better, to organise ourselves more efficiently, or care for others more compassionately (all compatible with a secular worldview). Rather, whichever church we’re in (because none is perfect), we also need that other dimension of reality that comes from “the sacred”; encounter with the Holy Trinity: “That is the Benedict Option: to recognize that the force of chaos of the world in the present moment is so overwhelming that in order to avoid being torn apart by it, Christians need to step back somewhat to strengthen ourselves spiritually — so that when we enter the world, we will be steady icons of light and order, bringing God’s cosmos to the chaos.”

So, while I myself remain convinced about the benefits of an evangelical and global Anglicanism, the important thing is not the label on the denomination, but the extent to which a network of the faithful can promote the gospel while understanding secularism’s threat and intentionally withstanding it.

 

Calling colours by their real names

Posted by on Sep 28, 2021 in Editorial Blog, Gender ideology | Comments Off on Calling colours by their real names

Calling colours by their real names

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

[Editor’s note: this allegory was first posted on this website in September 2015, but was inadvertently deleted as the site was undergoing malware cleaning. We thought it would be relevant to post again, in the light of Sir Keir Starmer’s insistence that it’s not right to say that only women have a cervix.]

As little Johnny stood in the crowd, holding tight to his mother’s hand, waiting for the emperor to arrive, he reflected on how confusing things were nowadays. When he had started in reception at Primary School, he had gone over the names of the colours with the other children. The houses that they painted were simple: a red square box with windows and a door, green grass, blue sky, yellow sun.

But then things changed in his second year. The teachers started talking about people who saw things differently. For them, grass is blue and the sky is green and the sun is purple. Even though Johnny and his classmates had never met anyone who believed this, they were told solemnly never to make fun of such people. In fact even though some children got bullied mercilessly for having ginger hair, unfashionable trainers or being slightly overweight, the teachers seemed to ignore that, but were always on the look out for comments about colour awareness.

In the third year it changed again. The teachers got them to do interesting things in class. First, they pointed to the colour which Johnny had always known was blue, and as a group they intoned “green”. They learned to call colours by words which they had always applied to other colours. And then they were told to paint pictures with blue grass, green sky and black sun, except they were still to call the colours by their original names. This, the school principal said, was all part of “diversity”.

Johnny noticed that all around him people were talking about the different colours. On TV, presenters would call colours by their wrong names – at least he thought they were, but then the presenters would laugh and say there was no right and wrong when it came to the names of colours.

On Sundays Johnny went to church with his parents and his little sister. They didn’t always have a Sunday school but Johnny found it interesting to sit with his parents and listen to the sermon. On one occasion the preacher referred to the story of the feeding of the 5000. “It says in the text that the grass that the people sat on was green”, he said, “but of course the writers at that time were very primitive and didn’t have our level of understanding. We know that the grass may well have been blue, or ‘colour-fluid’. As a church we have too often failed to listen with compassion to the views of people with diverse colour awareness. We must repent and become more inclusive. Our casual use of colour designation can cause real pain to some people.”

His family moved to a different church after that.

And now here they were waiting for the emperor to arrive. They had all been told that he would be wearing a special suit and robe of red and yellow, and a song had been composed:

Our emperor, our valiant king

Peace and prosperity you bring

Red and yellow, yellow and red

We fly our flag, by you we are led.

Many people had arrived holding red and yellow flags. But they had all been confiscated, and replaced with black and white ones. Announcements over the speaker system up and down the streets explained: we are celebrating diversity! When the Emperor comes, please hold your red and yellow flags high and sing the song together!

Twitter nearly crashed as millions of people around the country watching on TV joined with the crowds on the streets to send in pictures of a black and white flag with the hashtag “red and yellow”.

“But mum”, said Johnny, “these flags are black and white”. His mother was appalled as people standing around them looked frowning at Johnny. “Shhh” she said. At that point the music started up, and the song rang out through the streets. The cavalcade with the Emperor at the centre made its way slowly along, as people cheered, waved their flags, sang and shouted the song. Johnny was too small to see what colour suit the emperor was really wearing. Did it matter?

In the sermon that Sunday, the Vicar did refer to the issue of colour. “In this place we still refer to the colours by their traditional names”, he said, “and that may sometimes make us feel uncomfortable in the world outside. But it’s not our business to criticize those who have different views, even less to try to change them as if we could return to a golden age. We just want to talk about God and his love!”

Johnny had limited experience and understanding, but he knew that he was living in a world of adults most of whom had taken leave of reality, and those who hadn’t, even those who believed in God, were just passively compliant. What could he do? He was just a little boy. At school the next day, he and two of his friends decided that they would start a secret society called “true colours”.

The future of the Church of England: Synod, wider culture, and challenges for evangelicals

Posted by on Sep 25, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Church of England, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on The future of the Church of England: Synod, wider culture, and challenges for evangelicals

The future of the Church of England: Synod, wider culture, and challenges for evangelicals

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

Different wings of the Church of England have been mobilising to ensure sufficient representation of their distinctive points of view in the new General Synod, elections for which are currently taking place. While Synod candidates understand their responsibility for governance of the organisation in a broad sense, they are aware that if elected, their votes will affect crucial decisions to be made by the church, not just in matters of finance, administration and mission strategy, but in areas which touch on fundamental theological issues. How the specific headline question is answered: “should the church bless and celebrate same sex relationships or not?” – depends on how the church understands its own nature and purpose; God, his word to his people and the world; what we should believe and how we should behave.

The Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), and its representative Evangelical Group on General Synod (EGGS) has achieved a remarkable degree of unity and agreement on clear answers to the above questions. Its members agree that the church should not bless same sex relationships, because to do so would be in contravention of the clear teaching of Scripture, which is the word of God, provided for our instruction and guidance, for our flourishing in relationship with him. English Evangelical Anglicans agree on the content of the gospel and the importance of the task of proclaiming it, and building up disciples in faith, holiness and love. So C of E evangelicals are together on theology. But differences are apparent among evangelicals in analysis and strategy: how to interpret the current situation, and what action to take and when.

For example, some evangelical leaders are pessimistic about the immediate future, believing that  we are heading for a crisis of doctrine and pastoral practice in the Church of England, as the make-up of the new Synod may contain large majorities in favour of a progressive approach to sex and gender ethics, and could vote through major changes to follow those made by Anglican churches in the US and Canada, Scotland, Brazil, New Zealand and most recently, Wales. Others are less convinced about the ‘crisis’ analysis and believe that things are largely safe for now; the focus should be on positive engagement with the institution. Either way, most evangelicals are in favour of continuing to witness in parishes and remain in C of E structures of governance, hoping to maintain influence in the organisation.

What are the main arguments used by these ‘optimists’ and ‘pessimists’? How should they be evaluated?

  1. There is no crisis – the Church of England will never depart from Christian orthodoxy, because of its historic formularies / the bishops as guardians of the faith / the C of E’s unique position as leader of the Anglican Communion / God’s faithfulness.

Canon A5 says

“The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.” The Book of Common Prayer and its subsequent revisions are clear that marriage is between a man and a woman.

However, these seemingly simple and unchangeable formularies can be changed by episcopal leadership and synodical majority vote: Article 7 of the General Synod’s constitution requires any “provision touching doctrinal formulae or the services or ceremonies of the Church of England or the administration of the sacraments or sacred rites thereof” to be voted on at final approval in a form submitted by the House of Bishops. 

We have just seen this happen in Wales. It can happen in the C of E, hence the urgency (for some) in the forthcoming canvassing and votes for candidates for GS.

But even if General Synod is prevented from making these changes, the orthodox formularies are increasingly being ignored anyway on the ground by parishes where heterodox teaching and practice is carried out regularly while bishops turn a blind eye and in some cases, advocate for change. As the acceptance of same sex relationships, transgender and other  progressive agendas are normalised in the church it will be impossible to ‘put the genie back in the bottle’ – instead canons and liturgy will be seen as having to catch up.

     2. Talk of a crisis and planning for potentially unfavourable outcomes is negative / shows lack of faith / promotes disunity / gives evangelicals a bad image of disloyalty and extremism.

However, is a pessimistic outlook always wrong? Biblical writers were often negative in their assessment of human sin and its consequences, while remaining confident in God carrying out his sovereign purposes with justice and love. The book of Jeremiah shows a man warning about a coming disaster for God’s people. His analysis is refuted by the ‘optimists’, who accuse the prophet of negativity, stirring up disunity, and being disloyal to the official decision-makers.The optimists of Jeremiah’s day could not believe that God would allow an invasion and exile to happen – didn’t they have the temple as the sign of God’s protection? Similarly today some evangelical leaders refuse to accept a realistic analysis of the Church of England’s plight, despite mounting evidence.

 

What of those with a more pessimistic view, which sees the Church of England as inexorably heading towards revisionist theology and practice? Often this pessimism about the present is combined with hope about the future:

3. A “win-win” solution will be found to protect the orthodox, with the formation of an officially recognised system of differentiation, such as a ‘third province’.

This is based on confidence that a united evangelical voice has sufficient numbers and power to push this solution through. However, if the majority of leadership of the Church of England believe, as the bishops, senior clergy and laity believe in the Church in Wales, that the current teaching of the C of E on sex and marriage, along with other doctrines, are outdated and unsustainable, why would they want to give a ‘win’ to conservatives trying to hold on to these teachings? Only if they fear that the orthodox would all leave en bloc, causing a split. They now know that this would never happen: the majority of conservatives have shown in the face of incremental change, that even mild protest is kept to a minimum.

A ‘third province’ would need to be approved by Parliament. Why would this body, committed to LGBT rights, about to discuss possible legal restrictions on pastoral counselling and even prayer, approve the creation of what would be seen as an official ‘homophobic enclave’ in the national church? Even if such a thing could happen, negotiations should have begun at least ten years ago. The best the orthodox can hope for, following institutional and liturgical approval of same sex blessings, will be delegated and limited episcopal oversight, which depends on good relations and compromises with the liberal Diocesan bishop in order to be permitted a fig leaf of an orthodox Bishop coming in for ceremonial occasions.

4. The situation looks bad, but it can be turned around.

Some “middle ground” churches are not engaging with the battle, and even embracing liberal teaching, the argument goes, because of failure in communication and/or compassion from orthodox conservatives. A programme of clear and winsome bible teaching, together with a posture of humility and contrition, e.g. for our complicity in homophobia and abuse, will win over the majority.

This analysis tends to come from a pastoral focus on the church, and a lack of awareness of the power and influence of the wider Western culture in which the church is set. A broader view understands that the crisis evangelicals face is worse than a temporary ascendancy of liberal theology and embrace of wokeness in the church. These are symptoms of deeper malaise – with the advance of secularism, and the triumph of the identity and needs of the self as the ultimate centre of truth and reality, we live in a society in the process of tearing up of roots which make human existence meaningful. This can’t be turned around by tweaks in internal communication strategy by some C of E evangelicals.

 

The church in the wider cultural context

Paul in Romans 1 identified sex and gender dysfunction not just as a problem of breaking of biblical injunctions among the people of God, but as a symptom of a wider context – the whole of humanity’s rebellion against our created identity and purpose – embracing idolatry and narcissism instead of orientation towards God. Homosexual acts, along with other sins mentioned in Rom 1:29-31, are a result of God “giving over” godless human culture to what it wants to do. But, Paul goes on to say immediately, this cannot lead to any complacency or sense of superiority among those who acknowledge the bible’s verdict on these sins, because all have sinned, fallen short and deserve wrath, from which we are delivered only by the sacrificial death and imparted righteousness of the Saviour. This is why C of E evangelicals are right to stress humility and recognition of their own sins. We advocate this challenging and in today’s world, offensive interpretation of God’s word about issues such as sexuality from ‘below’ rather than ‘above’, not as a marketing ploy, as a way of getting people to like us, but out of the truth of the gospel.

The problem, then, is much worse than potential change of liturgies in the C of E. It is the Christian church in the West abandoning its mandate and joining the world in its rebellion against God. So the solution cannot just be one of survival of the evangelical brand, electing Synod reps and political negotiations to create orthodox enclaves in a revisionist church. It must be stepping out of that church and recovering the true purpose of church as counter-cultural witness, nurturing rooted and worshipping communities which are prepared for marginalisation. This should be the aim of evangelical bible teaching.

For the majority, the essential ‘differentiation’ will be internal, psychological and spiritual while remaining in the institution of the C of E – but questions remain about the feasibility of defending and promoting orthodoxy in the wider sense of witness to the culture, in a church where the leadership has a contrary agenda. A small but growing number have already come to the conclusion that the Church of England has “crossed the line”, citing recent incidents such as Synod’s rejection of moderate statements affirming the traditional view of marriage (GS2055, 2017); Synod’s affirmation of a call to ban ‘conversion therapy’ (2017), Bishops’ approval of liturgies and school policies affirming transgender ideology (2018), and bishops’ regular virtue-signalling over woke causes at the expense of giving clear teaching of the gospel. The formation of the Anglican Network in Europe, under the auspices of Gafcon in 2020-21, has provided a home for those who want to remain Anglican but not in the Canterbury/York- aligned structures of Britain and the continent.

 

See also: Australian and English evangelicals show different approaches to Anglican institutional revisionismBy Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream: 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.

Australian and English evangelicals show different approaches to Anglican institutional revisionism

Posted by on Jul 30, 2021 in CEEC, Church of England, Editorial Blog, Uncategorized | Comments Off on Australian and English evangelicals show different approaches to Anglican institutional revisionism

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

On the same day (19th July) that Gafcon Australia publicly unveiled their plans to establish an alternative Anglican jurisdiction in response to the trajectory of revisionism in the Church of Australia, the Church of England Evangelical Council issued a statement about the Bishop of Liverpool’s address to the MOSAIC campaign group, in which he called for same sex marriage in the Church of England. The difference in the two statements is symptomatic of more general differences between the way that orthodox Anglicans are engaging with the national church in both countries.

The CEEC statement begins with an appreciation of  Bishop Bayes’ subsequent apology for his attack on those who believe the historic teaching of the church on sex and marriage, and says that humility and forgiveness on both sides of the debate are important “as we engage…during the LLF process”. The statement goes on to question the substance of Bishop Bayes’ remarks. To call for a change to the teaching of the church in the context of ordinations is at odds with the Bishop’s role as a teacher of the faith. The LLF guidance shows the Bishops calling for unity: Bishop Bayes risks undermining that unity.

CEEC, which is made up of representatives from a number of evangelical organisations in the C of E as well as elected members from the Dioceses, is within itself not in agreement about how to respond to LLF. The majority position, as espoused by those who were part of the LLF drafting process, and by evangelical Bishops on CEEC, is to encourage evangelicals to engage winsomely with LLF, putting forward the historic biblical position as articulated in the video The Beautiful Story, but with gentleness, respect and humbly listening to other points of view.

A minority position, as put forward by theologian Martin Davie and as represented by Anglican Mainstream (eg here and here) , is that LLF is a flawed project, in which erroneous teaching, deriving from the sexual revolution and its malign philosophical roots, is put on equal footing with historic Christianity. The weight of the cultural zeitgeist, the privileging of experience over doctrine and of liberal academic theology over universally agreed plain readings of Scripture, the constant threat that even to utter conservative views on sexuality may be harmful and should be suppressed like racism, makes the LLF discussion process potentially biased and therefore to be avoided; there is an increasing feeling that the results are predetermined anyway in the form of planned changes to church teaching and practice in this area.

Some position papers on the CEEC website (never formally endorsed as policy by its membership) have pointed to a crisis in doctrine and order in the C of E, requiring decisions about options for ‘differentiation’, or separation of orthodox Anglicans from a revisionist institution. The statement about Paul Bayes appears to row back from this, preferring to see the problem in terms of one rogue Bishop threatening unity by ‘jumping the gun’ before the church has been through a proper process of discussion and reflection.

Meanwhile, CEEC’s energies are centred on ensuring good representation of conservative candidates in the forthcoming General Synod elections. But there does not appear to be any plan for what to do if, for example, the Bishops issue some kind of pastoral guidance permitting blessing of same sex relationships, by-passing Synod (as happened with the ‘transgender baptism’ guidance), or if Synod itself approves major changes, which many evangelicals would find unacceptable, at some point in the next quinquennium.

The statement by Gafcon Australia, on the surface, comes from a very similar place theologically to CEEC. While Gafcon is broader in the sense that it includes those from the anglo catholic and Prayer Book traditions who would not call themselves evangelical but nevertheless share the orthodox convictions expressed in the Jerusalem Declaration, its Australian membership and leadership would be predominantly evangelical, and many have a long history of close relationships with English Anglican evangelicals.

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. They explicitly refuse to accept church authority which contradicts the bible (for example, the Appellate Tribunal’s official ruling on same sex blessing services 2020). They are taking a first step in providing an Anglican home for those who in conscience cannot remain in the denomination, and in so doing, create an option to leave the denomination in future. The way they have done this is not only to align fully with the global Gafcon movement, but to recognise the authority of the Gafcon Primates to step in and provide oversight in situations where local Anglican leaders no longer accept basic teachings and practice of the Christian faith (as per clause 13 of the Jerusalem Declaration). By contrast CEEC has not questioned the spiritual authority of the Bishop of Liverpool or any other revisionist leader in the Church of England, has not made any moves to provide oversight for faithful Anglicans out of fellowship with their Dioceses, and seems reluctant to recognise the importance of Gafcon in its role of contending for orthodox Anglican belief.

Gafcon Australia’s plan to create an extra-Provincial Diocese is being endorsed and carried out by senior leaders currently in the ACA, such as the bishop of Tasmania and Archbishop of Sydney. They have appointed as the Executive Officer of the new entity a clergyman who has previously served as the head of Freedom for Faith, a think tank on religious freedom similar to Christian Institute and Christian Concern in the UK. This is a sign that Australian evangelicals involved in this project see understanding of the broader cultural context as a vital component of leadership of such an initiative. By contrast, when Gafcon authorised the formation of the Anglican Network in Europe, a similar initiative, the significant leadership, pastoral and administrative work involved was carried out almost entirely without the help of any evangelical leadership in the Church of England. Meanwhile advocates for more awareness and critique of the broader cultural context remain as outliers in English Anglican evangelicalism, in contrast with the situation in Australia.

There have been times in the last few years when evangelical leaders in the Church of England could have taken a more proactive stance, for example by developing closer relationships with Gafcon leadership around the world, by actively supporting Anglicans alienated from the denomination, by being involved in the development of an alternative Anglican jurisdiction. This could have happened in 2017, when Synod voted not to ‘take note’ of a report advocating retaining the historic teaching on marriage, Archbishop Welby called for ‘radical inclusion’ and Synod voted for a ban on ‘conversion therapy’. Or it could have happened in 2018 when around 150 evangelical C of E leaders attended Gafcon in Jerusalem, or later that year when the Bishops endorsed transgender ‘baptism’ services and a number of clergy and congregations expressed interest in a more secure Anglican home.

But these opportunities were missed. There were some letters of complaint, some private meetings in Bishops’ offices, some papers written. Then, after some time, evangelical policy seems to have switched to support for LLF, and re-commitment to the dysfunctional processes of a church whose Bishops see their role not as teaching the faith, but at best as trying to keep the peace between people who believe completely different things, and at worst publicly contradicting that faith. 

The good news is that Gafcon Great Britain and Europe (formerly Gafcon UK) exists, as a fellowship and source of information for all in our region who align with the Gafcon vision. As with Gafcon Australia, Gafcon GBE is not calling for all orthodox to leave the liberal-leaning historic denomination. However, there must be support and provision, both for those faithful individuals and congregations who wish to stay in to promote authentic Christianity in its classical Anglican expression but not to engage in friendly dialogue with the revisionist trajectory, and for those who feel it is necessary to leave and remain Anglican. So, the Anglican Network in Europe has been formed for Anglicans outside historic structures: small beginnings but new congregations will be established in the coming months.

It’s not too late for CEEC to develop better links with Gafcon, and more intentionally focus on the vision of “proclaiming Christ faithfully to the nations” rather than expending energy on endless negotiating with those in the shared space with a different agenda.

Church in Wales Bishops endorse ban on “gay conversion therapy in all its forms”

Posted by on Jul 29, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Church In Wales, Editorial Blog, Gay activism | Comments Off on Church in Wales Bishops endorse ban on “gay conversion therapy in all its forms”

Church in Wales Bishops endorse ban on “gay conversion therapy in all its forms”

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

The Bishops of the Church in Wales have made it clear that any Christian teaching, counselling or prayer which implies preference towards “heterosexual norms”, or which is not positive towards homosexual practice and gay or transgender identity, should be included in a legal ban. The UK government has already committed to “ban conversion therapy”; the definitions of the practice and the scope of the ban is due for public consultation in September and debate in Parliament soon after that.

In a letter responding to a query from the Chair of the Evangelical Fellowship of the Church in Wales about their original statement, the Bishops deny that they are “affirming all and any expressions of sexuality”, but they suggest the “traditional reading of Scripture” on sexuality and marriage held by the church for centuries is unsustainable, and “needs to be revisited”. They go on to say that discussion, prayer and exploration of biblical teaching around sexuality from a “predefined” standpoint can be used to “disguise practices” which are coercive and abusive towards “LGBTQIA persons”.

This statement by the CiW bishops follows on from similar sentiments expressed by the Bishop of Manchester, of whom an Anglican Mainstream editorial recently said: “It’s one thing for the Bishop to disagree with the sexual ethics of the Christian church down the ages. He is going much further than that – he is campaigning for the criminalisation of many of his own faithful clergy who hold to the traditional view.” 

Welsh bishops and some senior English bishops now feel secure and unopposed enough to articulate their position clearly, in which they side with progressive secularists to lobby lawmakers against their own conservative clergy and parishioners. This will further weaken confidence in the ability of the national Anglican churches of Britain to defend and promote historic Christianity. The Scottish Episcopal Church permitted same sex marriage in 2017.

The Governing Body of the Church in Wales meets in early September, and it is believed that a vote will be taken on whether to introduce rites for the marriage of two people of the same sex in church. Meanwhile many senior figures in the Church of England who might not be in favour of such a move in either national church, appear unwilling to speak out while the Living in Love and Faith process is not yet completed.

The text of the letter from the CiW bishops to EFCW is below:

Thank you for your letter of July 2021 concerning gay conversion therapy. We are glad that EFCW joins us in recognising that coercive and abusive practices associated with gay conversion therapy are wrong. We cannot accept, however, that by describing human sexuality as a gift from God to be cherished and honoured this necessarily opens the gate to affirming all and any expressions of sexuality, as you posit interpreting our words. The statement says what is plainly and explicitly articulated, and does not go beyond that.

You ask what we mean by opposing gay conversion therapy in all its forms. Again, we believe this to be straightforward and plain – any supposed therapy which purports or claims to convert a person’s sexuality is, in our opinion, abusive and should be banned. You ask whether “open discussion and grace-filled prayer with someone who wants to explore biblical teaching on the issue of sexuality” should, in the opinion of the bishops, fall under such a ban. Sadly, this positive sounding phrase leaves far too much to individual interpretation.

In the first place, biblical teaching on sexuality is precisely what is being debated in the current discussions around sexuality and Christian faith. As bishops, we freely admit that the traditional reading of Scripture sees it as condemning all sexual conduct outside a man and a woman’s committed lifelong and single heterosexual marriage. It is the sustainability of that traditional reading that we believe needs to be revisited.

If you are asking whether open discussion – that is, without a predefined answer – and grace-filled prayer – that is without implying knowledge of how God might answer that prayer, and without it being oriented necessarily towards a conversion of sexuality but graciously open, affirming and hospitable – with someone who wants to explore – which implies that they are uncertain and again that there is no predefined outcome – biblical teaching on the issue of sexuality – then that would seem to be the sort of open ended discernment upon which the Church in Wales is currently embarked.

Unfortunately, these seemingly innocuous words can be used to disguise practices in which pressure is brought upon vulnerable LGBTQIA persons to submit to efforts aimed at the conversion of their sexuality, attempted exorcisms and worse. Such practices can be designed – consciously or unconsciously – to play on people’s sense of shame or anxiety, and signal that unless they conform to heterosexual norms they can neither be true disciples of Jesus, nor accepted members of the congregation with which they wish to become associated. A toxic mixture of motivation – to avoid embarrassment, to please a revered spiritual leader, to assuage long-standing guilt and shame – can be triggered which we, as bishops, believe would be abusive.

Our advice to members of EFCW is that they ought to avoid any practice which comes close to being capable of being interpreted as abusive in this way. Indeed, given the deep psychology of human sexuality, we believe that it should be left to the specialist to intervene, if indeed that is necessary. The Church’s role is to offer welcome, acceptance and friendship and, if requested, prayer that God’s grace can be operative in the situation and that a person would know God’s guidance and blessing – with no defined outcome.

We affirm and stand by a simple and plain reading of our statement as originally drafted.

Yours in Christ,

+Andrew Bangor

+Gregory Llanelwy

+June Landav

+Cherry Mynwy

Post-evangelical theologian reveals humanistic roots of LLF

Posted by on Jun 25, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Church of England, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Post-evangelical theologian reveals humanistic roots of LLF

Post-evangelical theologian reveals humanistic roots of LLF

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

Many theories begin as a corrective to other dominant ideas. This tendency to challenge existing generally accepted narratives is important, as it can lead to positive progress. From a Christian point of view it is an important trait in our human make-up – while Christianity is often seen as on the side of conservatism, its founder figures, Abraham, Moses, Paul and the other apostles, and supremely Jesus himself, often questioned and led people away from prevailing worldviews and introduced thinking which appeared revolutionary (although it was a re-newal of what had always been true). Without this ability to interrogate existing thinking, to offer an alternative vision, and to change, there would be no repentance and conversion, and no new initiatives in mission.

But not all change is good; discernment and wisdom, informed by the Scriptures, need to be applied, often to tease out what is beneficial and what is potentially erroneous and harmful in a theory of change. So for example, socialism began by questioning why most of a nation’s resources end up in the hands of a small elite. “How can more equitable distribution be achieved; how can poverty be reduced” are questions which can be found in the Scriptures (eg some of the social laws in the Pentateuch); this had led to developments such as Western-style democracy, fair systems of taxation, financial support for the disadvantaged, free services such as health and education. But the French revolutionaries, Marx , Lenin and Mao went much further, devising a fully orbed system of class antagonism and revolution, and state control, which explicitly denied God, removed personal freedoms, and unleashed violence and cruelty.

In education too, there were always those who questioned the reliance on ‘teacher tell’ methods of imparting information to students. Rote learning of notes and regurgitating information in exams may be easier to mark by judging memory retention, but this does not encourage creative thought and cooperation, or take into account different learning styles of students; it may foster unhealthy dependence on authority figures, who might abuse their position of power. Christians would agree, and point to Jesus’ methods of using parables and actions (such as healing), as ways of encouraging discipleship based on relationship, discovery, personal reflection and response, rather than just repeating ‘right’ answers and lists of facts.

But, many ‘humanistic’ theories of education which developed in the twentieth century, associated with thinkers such as Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers went much further. They denied the need to teach at all, believing that as human beings are essentially good, if their basic needs are met they will co-operate harmoniously and discover the information they need for themselves. The humanists rejected the ‘behaviourist’ theories of using reward and punishment to motivate learning and behaviour beneficial for society, and opposed any idea of authority from above telling us what to believe, with religious ‘dogma’ seen as the worst form of this kind of ‘oppression’.

It’s not difficult to see how these theories have influenced contemporary education. But increasingly they have taken hold in the church. It is surely positive to find creative, learner-centred methods of enabling the faith to be passed on and for people to hear God’s word in every generation, even in preaching. But theologians and other church leaders are going way beyond this, saying the content of the faith and the meaning of the Word itself should be changed, not just the methods of passing it on and learning it. Following 20th century theorists in other politics, education and other disciplines, they deny that there is any fixed ‘truth’ to be passed on, that doctrine has a core component of information deriving from an authoritative source from the past, acting as a guide rail for discipleship, worship and church life. Instead, for them, the content of Christian doctrine is something to be decided by the innately good human self.

David Runcorn’s latest article, versions of which have recently appeared in Church Times and on Via Media, is an example of this thinking. 

In LLF: Building the bridge as we cross it, He commends Living in Love and Faith as a successful model of education for the church, where laity and clergy together “discern faith, doctrine and discipleship”. This is not done by grasping afresh ancient truths, which he sees as dependent on people seeing themselves as powerless and that truth can only be mediated through so-called “great leaders”. Instead, truth is found by “abandoning the familiar ways of speaking of and defining what is going on”, and then liberating “God’s people to imagine themselves in radically new and adventurous ways.” The role of leaders, according Runcorn, is specifically not one of “guarding received understandings, or telling people what the truth is”, but to journey with people as they discover their version of the mind of God, and flourish and grow as a result. He claims that God in the bible does not issue commands which he expects us to obey, but encouragement to listen and take “responsibility”. When he says that the aim of LLF is to produce “biblically discerning” Christians, he does not mean those who, from a worldview based on the bible and Christian tradition, discern right and wrong in the world around us and in our own character and psyche; rather he seems to advocate discerning what is right and wrong in the bible based on the ‘truth’ of our own perspective.

And in saying this, he is correctly identifying the method of LLF. The collection of videos, fat book and study guides which constitute the LLF ‘suite of resources’ are in fact an example of ‘humanist’ educational theory and method, rather than Christian teaching. They do not encourage participants to evaluate traditional and contemporary views of relationships, sex, gender and marriage from the perspective of an ‘authoritative’  Christian worldview as agreed by the church down the ages and the worldwide church today. Rather, they put forward different ways of questioning the historic doctrine from the standpoint of new ‘authorities’- personal experience and theories emanating from the world. It is here that ‘truth’ can emerge. And this is not just in the view of Dr Runcorn, but according to the authors of LLF and hence the leadership of the Church of England.

Evangelicals in the Church of England are being encouraged to take part in local discussions of LLF. The rationale appears to be, that this will demonstrate the winsome and friendly nature of a group often maligned for inflexibility and bigotry, and that participation provides opportunities to communicate the truth of God’s word to those who have not heard it properly. But as Runcorn’s piece shows, the game has moved on. LLF is not a level playing field, where different views can be expressed politely on the common ground of shared worldview. Instead, a different, humanistic philosophical and educational method, now dominant in Western society, is being employed which doesn’t recognise the assumptions of the authentically Christian understandings about how we know what is real. So at best, there can be no real communication; at worst, evangelicals will soon realise that to play the game, they will have to play by the rules of the new referees, give up the idea of objective ‘biblical truth’, and accept that their view, apostolic, historic Christianity, is no more than a minority opinion which hopefully will be still permitted in the church.

Bishop of Manchester threatens orthodox Anglicans

Posted by on Jun 11, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Church of England, Editorial Blog, Gay activism | Comments Off on Bishop of Manchester threatens orthodox Anglicans

Bishop of Manchester threatens orthodox Anglicans

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

“If I was to stand up on a soapbox and start spewing hate speech, the fact that I might begin by saying ‘Dear God’, and end by saying ‘Amen’ wouldn’t protect me…” But what the Bishop of Manchester goes on to say in this interview in the Guardian, and the context of his comments, lay him open to the charge of doing what he condemns – using a position of influence to promote a divisive ideology, relying on emotion and appeals to groupthink rather than reason, giving it a veneer of religious respectability.

He continues in the comment just quoted, that “hate speech” should receive “the full force of the law”. What is this “hate speech”? Perhaps he is referring to words which incite violence, or which are gratuitously insulting? Maybe it’s radical jihadists he hopes will face prosecution, or nutters who threaten to kill female MP’s on social media? No – he is referring to any Christian who says, or prays something to which an LGBT person takes offense.

Bishop David Walker sets out his view supporting a hard line interpretation of the proposed ban on ‘conversion therapy’ in an article on the Jayne Ozanne blog viamedia.news   . 

He argues for a ‘victim-centred’ approach, whereby if anyone claims to have experienced ‘harm’ through prayer, counselling or other “attempts to change sexuality”, they automatically are deemed to have suffered abuse, and that abuser must be punished.  To buttress this ideological position which obviously could lead to unjust persecution of some orthodox Christian pastoral ministry, the bishop quotes the Magnificat and refers to the Gospel of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Is this not remarkably similar to the behaviour he so condemns – that of using a position of power as a ‘soapbox’ to promote views that call for punishment of those he doesn’t agree with (aka ‘hate speech’?), and using religious language in so doing?

Bishop David begins his article with what might be described as a humility deficit. After successfully (in his estimation) chairing the 2017 General Synod debate on ‘conversion therapy’ [has anyone asked whether it was appropriate to give this task to someone so obviously biased?], the bishop “could hardly move for members wanting to thank me for having managed the debate with pace, clarity and good humour.” Now at last, he implies, Parliament has caught up: “I took the opportunity to remind Parliament of the Synod vote and was delighted when the government minister responding to the debate, Baroness Susan Williams, endorsed my comments.”

He moves on to complain that the proposed government consultation process is “foot-dragging”. Nor should time be wasted, in his view, establishing clearly in law the difference between bullying and abuse on the grounds of sexual orientation, which is already proscribed, and prayer and/or counselling carried out in response to request for help by those choosing to follow a path in accordance with their beliefs. While in the Guardian interview he does appear to draw such a distinction, in his Via Media piece he says let’s just “get on with it” in terms of a blanket ban; let’s leave it up to judges to decide whether certain types of prayer have broken the law; we can always tweak the law later.

The Bishop uses an analogy to compare Christians involved in such pastoral care, with privileged male abusers of young teenage girls in the 19th century. Those arguing for a nuanced approach to government legislation are, he says, like those arguing against the raising of the age of consent to 16 years.

It is almost unbelievable that a bishop in the Church of England can make these statements. He must surely realise that although he says in his Guardian interview that he couldn’t “guarantee that nothing inappropriate ever happens in the diocese of Manchester”, there are many clergy and lay ministers in his Diocese who believe and teach that marriage between a man and a woman is the only context authorised by God for sexual expression. These folk would in a pastoral situation not simply affirm LGBT identity and behaviour; they might refer same sex attracted church members to organisations providing support and encouragement for celibacy, they might pray and/or offer counselling in response to expressed hope for change in behaviour or desires. It’s one thing for the Bishop to disagree with the sexual ethics of the Christian church down the ages. He is going much further than that – he is campaigning for the criminalisation of many of his own faithful clergy who hold to the traditional view.

Again, the hypocrisy is breathtaking. He quotes Scripture to remind us that God is on the side of the poor and oppressed, and believes that he is taking a stand on behalf of powerless victims against a shadowy majority of abusers with power. But he is the one with power; the elites who share his view are about to use their power to get what they want. Meanwhile this so-called powerful conspiracy of abusive conversion therapists against whom the bishop is so bravely and prophetically taking a stand and seeking to punish and eliminate, in fact consist of a few Christians seeking to follow Christ in helping others, with no influence at all.

He claims there is a “massive pile of evidence” to show the prevalence of Christian ‘conversion therapy’ and its “harm”, in the form of “harrowing stories”. While it would be a mistake to minimise the psychological damage which can happen in any situation of coercive control, bullying and manipulation, or to call into question the authenticity of the testimonies on the Via Media site, it would be disastrous to base potentially unjust new laws on such testimonies, without weighing up other evidence.

We regularly hear through all forms of media how people have found happiness after embracing an LGBT identity. Have the legislators heard testimonies from those who have had a different experience, who have moved away from same sex attraction, relationships or identity which did not bring contentment, and have found a new wholeness as a result? Is it not possible that in the current cultural climate, it is these people, who number perhaps in the thousands, those who are no longer LGBT following freely chosen prayer and/or therapy, who are the silenced, the oppressed, the not valued, and the tiny number of those who help them and are punished for doing so, who are the true victims?

The bishop, rather than upholding the wonderful biblical doctrines of sex and marriage which remains the Church of England’s official teaching, is campaigning for the agenda of Stonewall (increasingly discredited), and the Ozanne Foundation. In conjunction with politicians, lawyers, media and other powerful forces living in their own echo chambers, he is threatening ordinary Christians, while using biblical language to claim that he is advocating for the oppressed.

One could take the view that this is just one bad apple in an otherwise sound institution. On the other hand, is his prominent position in the church and in the national discourse in fact symptomatic of its trajectory, and it is faithful and concerned members of that institution, rather than the bishop, who should ‘consider their position’?

See also: Thinking about harm, by Martin Davie: “We simply cannot say that the evidence shows that conversion therapy in relation to sexual orientation is necessarily harmful.”

 

 

Symbols of a new era

Posted by on May 19, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Culture, Editorial Blog, Religious Liberty | Comments Off on Symbols of a new era

Symbols of a new era

From American Anglican Council’s ‘Anglican Perspective’:

Canon Phil Ashey interviews writer and reporter, Rev. Andrew Symes, of Anglican Mainstream and the Anglican Network in Europe. This follows on from the blogs by Ashey and Symes setting the US Equality Act in the context of today’s cultural issues in the Western world, pitting the Church against a standard secular orthodoxy of the day. What is going on, and how is the Church to respond in this new era?

Click here for podcast of the interview

See also:

The Equality Act And The Future Of Religious Freedom, By Phil Ashey, AAC

The Equality Act, other symbols of a new era, and the church’s response, by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream

 

The Equality Act, other symbols of a new era, and the church’s response

Posted by on May 11, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Political Correctness, Religious Liberty | Comments Off on The Equality Act, other symbols of a new era, and the church’s response

The Equality Act, other symbols of a new era, and the church’s response

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

Phil Ashey of ACNA’s American Anglican Council has written with customary clarity about the implications of the Equality Act for Christian life and witness in the US. Behind the (as many see them) apparently reasonable laws to prevent egregious and unjust discrimination are assumptions contained in the Act about belief and worldview. It is not just actions which will now be policed (for example, refusing to bake a cake celebrating a same sex wedding,), but words. It seems that to express publicly a view derived from the bible about binary genders and a heterosexual norm might become “legally discriminatory”. Canon Ashey shows how the definition of “public space” has been widened specifically to include churches.

These new laws are specifically designed to trump long held concepts of freedom of religion and speech. Because of the shift in assumptions by legislators and politicians, for whom it is now axiomatic that a conservative bible-based approach is inherently bigoted and discriminatory, rational defence within the framework of the Act will be very difficult. Hence some more conservative States are passing legislation attempting to ward off the threats to freedom from national laws, which to outside observers further illustrates the reality of a nation at war with itself.

Ashey points out that the Act is a reflection, a symptom of the shift in worldview and morality in the whole Western world which has taken place over many years. Rather than a single battle, won by progressives this time but which could be turned around by similar victories by conservatives in courts or political elections, the progress of the Act towards becoming enshrined in law is, as theologian Andrew Walker says, a “symbol of the de-conversion of the West”. 

So, the hope that the removal of the dominant Christian narrative from society would result in a colourful and creative marketplace of ideas in which Christians coexist as free equals in a genuinely ‘liberal’ society, with opportunity for mission like Paul in Athens, has proved hollow. Many Christians have not yet realised this, are only just waking up to it now that freedoms are being taken away, or worse, they have themselves embraced the new woke ideology.

Taking Ashey’s analysis further, we need to ask more about how we have got here, how this is relevant to other Western countries such as the UK, and what should Christians do.

There are some who will claim that this is a matter for US society and has nothing to do with the UK. We do not have the same kind of “culture wars” associated with politics of the left and right; we do not have the same legal system: our “equality” legislation is different. Well, it is true that there is no overarching Act currently before Parliament. But there are several areas in which what is happening in the UK and other Western countries mirrors that of the US and it would be foolish not to recognise the serious danger to Christian freedom.

First, existing laws to prevent extremism, hate crime, discrimination and public disturbances already exist in the UK; some senior lawyers and politicians are arguing for them to be strengthened (some examples here, here and here).

Secondly, for some time now, a combination of these existing laws and cultural pressure have been used to promote the LGBT agenda and silence opposition. The latest alarming example is the case of Rev Bernard Randallbut these stories of chaplains, schoolteachers and other public sector workers being disciplined and even losing their jobs for expressing what Christians have always believed, are now almost commonplace. 

Thirdly, campaigners want the proposed ban on ‘gay conversion therapy’which has been included in the UK government’s proposed new legislative programme, to essentially outlaw faithful Christian pastoral care and professional therapy to people wanting to explore heteronormative responses to gender dysphoria and same sex attraction, and even put historic biblical teaching about sex and marriage in the category of proscribed speech, in churches and private conversations as well as in ‘public spaces’. 

Then, fourthly, the reasons for the underlying change in worldview, or “social imaginary”, as explained clearly by Carl Trueman, are the same in the UK as in the US: a gradual abandonment of Christian underpinnings, replaced not by a benign blank canvas, but by thinking rooted in romanticism, Marxism and “expressive individualism”; thinking determined to suppress orthodox Christianity, which has found its way out of the academy and into popular culture, law and politics.

Lastly, as in the US, the church has been divided in its response to the increasingly hostile secular humanist cultural zeitgeist. Large sections of the church, led by pastors educated in revisionist theology and laity groomed by media in the new ideologies, have embraced ‘woke’ caricatures of Christian faith. But among those holding to orthodox teaching, there are different groupings in terms of attitudes:

Affirm – these are those who believe in the authority of Scripture and the centrality of the substitutionary atonement, but whose instinct is to be positive towards the cultural changes. It may be that they align with ‘progressive’ thinking, see the main problems we face as racial and environmental, and that issues of sexual morality, ‘life’ issues and religious freedom are only concerns for the political right. Or it may be that their commitment to mission makes them think that we must have a posture of apology for homophobia, racism etc and be seen to be on the side of social justice, i.e.  show that we are in support of much of the world’s agenda before we can gain a hearing for our message about Christ.

Ignore. This takes the view that if the world is hostile towards Christians, we shouldn’t be surprised – as 1 Peter says, we are aliens in the world, “just passin’ through”; but God is sovereign, and we should focus on preaching the gospel rather than getting involved in cultural analysis or political action.  “The gospel” means salvation through the cross for heaven; the wonderful teaching about our creation as human beings, and the threats to this by secular thinking, are ignored. This view tends to make a sacred/secular divide – our focus should be the church, not the world.

Resist. It seems that there are two main routes here

i) National political action. See the solution in strong men at the head of government, who will motivate a rising up against political correctness, and protect the freedom to promote Christian belief and ethics in the public space.

ii) Local counter-cultural empowerment. Strengthen what remains by intentional catechesis, worship, prayer and fellowship, as articulated most clearly by Rod Dreher’s Benedict Option/Live not by Lies. Closer ties with the global south to learn from those already on the margins. Unmasking the false teaching and hostile spiritual power of secularism/sexual revolution/cultural Marxism. Preparing for the future, more underground church, with implications for education and careers. 

Growing numbers are concluding that some version of ‘Resist ii)’ is the only biblically faithful, achievable and sustainable route to take for orthodox believers in the West.

Does the resurrection make a difference?

Posted by on Apr 10, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Easter, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Does the resurrection make a difference?

Does the resurrection make a difference?

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

In Matthew’s account of the resurrection, we’re given a tantalising brief description of how some Roman soldiers had an unexpected encounter with a supernatural being:

“…an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it….the guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men”.

Christ the incarnate son of God is held in the inescapable prison of death, with two powerful extra doors as ‘belt and braces’: the sealed stone, and the imperial security guards. We’re not told anything of the mechanics of how the wracked and tortured body beginning the process of decay was given new vibrant life with full divine personality restored. All the human witnesses see is the empty tomb. But death has been overcome by the energy of the resurrection; while the angel brushes aside the weight of physical matter, and the human power structures of Rome.

In the apostle John’s description of his encounter with the risen Christ in the first chapter of Revelation, there is a similar effect of the utter terror of supernatural encounter which renders people unable to stand and semi-conscious: “I fell at his feet as though dead”. But there is a difference. The soldiers are left there on the ground, humiliated before the women as they arrive at the tomb. For John, his master and friend Jesus reaches out his hand, touches him, and says “do not be afraid…I am…go and tell”. Is there an echo of Moses at the burning bush, of Isaiah in the temple? Certainly with the Old Testament prophets, the first disciples of Christ, and then with Paul and John, there is a pattern: the encounter with the risen Lord, the need to be lifted up and restored, the commissioning and empowering for mission.

The contrast could not be greater: soldiers, confident in their strength and authority; John in prison, weak and vulnerable before human power and the onset of death. Both had an encounter with the divine and fell down. The guards later slunk back to barracks, to be hushed up – who knows what happened to them? John went on to write words of divine warning and encouragement to inspire millions down the centuries.

Today, we believe that Jesus rose. Is that enough? In an extract from a recent interview reported in the Church Times,  Jordan Peterson said:

“It’s too terrifying a reality to fully believe. I don’t even know what would happen to you if you fully believed it.”

Professor Peterson noted that, when asked in the past whether he believed in God, “I’ve answered in various ways, ‘No, but I’m afraid he probably exists.’”

He continued: “There’s no limit to what would happen if you acted like God existed. . . It may be it’s not reasonable to say to believers, you aren’t sufficiently transformed for me to believe that you believe in God or that you believe the story that you’re telling me. . . the way you live isn’t sufficient testament to the truth.

“And people would certainly say that, let’s say, about the Catholic Church, or at least the way that it’s being portrayed, is that with all the sexual corruption, for example, it’s like ‘Really, really, you believe that Jesus Christ was the Son of God, and yet you act that way, and I’m supposed to buy your belief?’

“It seems to me that the Church is actually quite guilty on that account, because the attempts to clean up the mess have been rather half-hearted, in my estimation. Christians don’t manifest this — and I’m including myself, I suppose, in that description — the transformation of attitude that enables the outside observer to easily conclude that they believe.”

Of course we could argue that it’s a bit unfair to make all Christians guilty because a few have been abusers and a few have turned a blind eye. But the general point is valid, particularly, perhaps, for the church in the West: where is the evidence of transforming power, spiritual reality in those who affirm orthodox biblical belief? I can think of three areas where this is a challenge to us.

Firstly, in our ministry of the word: John was in prison for his faithfulness to the word of God even to the point of refusing to accommodate to the powers of his time. And also, he was “in the Spirit” on the Lord’s day. Are we familiar with this combination of being bible-centred, charismatic and persecuted? Have we reduced Christian faith to a set of propositions based around a text in a comfortable environment, and perhaps assume it always leads to, or is the same as a personal encounter with the risen living Lord?

Secondly, in our systems and structures of doing Christian life and church. Peterson rightly points out the disconnect between everything seeming to be well organised on the surface, while abuse of power and other sins appear to be tolerated. The last verse of Revelation chapter one shows that the church involves spiritual dynamics – stars and lamp stands – not just administration, human gifts and techniques.

Thirdly, in our attitude to the powers of the world. We can be fearful of reputation-damaging social media disapproval, of threats to our livelihood, even falling foul of the law. Just as the Roman empire appeared invincible in John’s day, and the temptation was to restrict the remit of Christ’s lordship to the church only, so today for many the idea of not gaining the approval of the controlling elites, or not having power ourselves in some way, is inconceivable. But we’re told, “don’t be afraid” – the picture of Roman soldiers lying on the ground should be demonstration enough of whom to fear.

In the next section, John writes to the angel in Ephesus, which perhaps we could say is the group psychology and controlling spiritual power of the church. The message: it has lost its first love – the relationship with Christ, that supernatural, life-transforming encounter, has gone cold. The good news is that there can be a turnaround. Jesus says: “repent and do the things you did at first”. That might apply in all sorts of ways. It certainly speaks to me.