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.

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.

Gafcon’s “Letter to the Churches” encapsulates authentic Christianity with clarity, firmness and grace

Posted by on Jun 26, 2018 in Editorial Blog, Gafcon | Comments Off on Gafcon’s “Letter to the Churches” encapsulates authentic Christianity with clarity, firmness and grace

Gafcon’s “Letter to the Churches” encapsulates authentic Christianity with clarity, firmness and grace

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

The Conference in Jerusalem which has just ended was an extraordinarily rich experience. Not just the dynamic worship, outstanding teaching, and cross-cultural fellowship in small groups and one to one[1]. A huge amount of information has been presented formally from up front and informally in the form of interviews and blogs. Much of this will be lost in time; the life-changing experience of delegates may fade, but what remains is the Conference Statement. Here are some initial reflections on what I believe will be an important document, comparable to the 2008 Statement and Declaration, and the Lausanne Covenant in recent church history.

Letter to the Churches – Gafcon Assembly 201822nd June 2018

The Letter begins with a focus on the significance of the place, Jerusalem. Just the name can evoke strong reactions – either a misty-eyed reverence for Zion with visions of rebuilt temple, shofars and second coming, or an angry denunciation of Israel and the unjust oppression of the Palestinians. With the exception of the early brief slot politely given to the (Palestinian) Bishop of Jerusalem, these issues were not mentioned. Instead, for Gafcon, Jerusalem represents the geographical and historical foundation of our identity as the family of Abraham and the members of the body of the One who died and rose there. The gospel which brought us all into God’s Kingdom originated from there in the power of the Holy Spirit. While the city of Canterbury may be important to us as Anglicans, we are Christians first, and so Jerusalem takes priority as a symbol of who we are.

The numbers attending the Conference and their global representation and cultural variety are set out early in the document to directly counter the claims by some that this is a fringe meeting, a ‘ginger group’. The focus on spiritual activities of worship, prayer and biblical teaching show that the priority of the Conference was on God and the Christian life, not on church politics or administration.

An early draft of the document began with the history of Gafcon and the theological controversy that gave rise to it. One of the key revisions after the remarkably effective grassroots consultation process on Thursday was the re-ordering of the Letter to start with the positive: the central doctrines of the Gospel which unite us. Christ is the Lord of the universe and gracious Saviour of humanity. Our necessary response is repentance from sin, faith in Jesus and submission to his Lordship. There are eternal cosmic consequences to each individual’s response: salvation, restoration, transformation; or judgement and hell. For this reason the plenary sessions prioritized expositions of the trial, death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus as narrated by Luke, and the seminars included the uniqueness of Christ and the reality of hell.

This content is inconceivable in any Church of England Diocesan programme, which is why the Letter continues Gafcon’s consistent approach of setting out authentic Christian belief faithful to the teaching of the apostles, followed by its corollary: false ideologies in the world and counterfeit ‘gospels’ in the church. The Western presenting issue of capitulation to secular understandings of gender, sexuality and marriage is not a primary focus in the Letter, but set in the context of a number of influential belief systems which threaten the faithful proclamation of the gospel and authentic Christian living. These include “superstitious practices” (a phrase broad enough to include all traditional animist religions), secularism with its denial of God and his image in humanity, and ‘militant’ religions, committed to persecuting Christians, which covers aggressive forms of Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism.

Church leadership has failed to address these threats, the document continues, but then says “we repent” instead of pointing the finger at individuals or denominational structures. Rather than accuse specific leaders of failing to look after the sheep or even act as wolves, the Letter quotes Acts 20:28-30 in full, applying Paul’s warning to all of us.

The next section, ‘Reforming God’s church’, summarizes briefly what kind of church we want, and some commitments needed to achieve this. Evangelism, and the building up of church members to live thankful, holy and fruitful lives, leads to an organization which “should not mimic the ways of the world”. Genuinely conciliar governance, and maintenance of orthodox belief and practice through discipline, are by implication absent in the Communion currently, and need to be reintroduced.

How has the Communion been damaged? This is now answered by an overview of recent events, beginning with the overwhelming support for the carefully worded resolution I:10 of Lambeth 1998, which reaffirms biblical doctrine on sex and marriage. Despite, or perhaps because of, the clear signs that the large majority of faithful Anglicans now reside in the global South, some Western Anglican Provinces rejected Lambeth I:10 and the theology behind it, and the Instruments of Communion failed to resolve the resulting conflict. Gafcon was established to “restore biblical authority” in the Communion, and to provide a home for faithful Anglicans by recognizing alternative jurisdictions where ‘official’ leadership has departed from orthodox faith and practice.

It is this heterodoxy which has created schism, insists the Gafcon Letter, not Gafcon itself. The answer, in a sentence that comes closest to directly criticizing the Archbishop of Canterbury, is not to be found in seeing gospel faithfulness and revisionist false teaching as equally valid points of view representing competing interest groups, to be managed by “good disagreement” and appeals to “walking together”. But nor should there be a full split, with a separate, alternative Anglican Communion. Rather, a failure of leadership by the minority can be overcome by reform of the global denomination, led by a majority committed to upholding the orthodox and biblical teachings of the Anglican heritage[2]. This means, where necessary, breaking fellowship with revisionist Provinces (this is the reason for the call to decline invitations to attend the 2020 Lambeth Conference), and recognizing new authentically Anglican movements in those areas (such as ACNA and the Anglican Church in Brazil).

Having dealt with topics of organizational values and governance, the Letter concludes by returning to focus on the church’s mission. The need of a lost world is desperate; the command of Christ is clear. Gafcon member churches need to repent of insularity and failure to work cross-culturally. Nine new networks have been established to further the cause of global Anglican mission (see here for reports on the ACC’s angry comments on this, and the Gafcon General Secretary’s reply).

It should be seen as significant that Sustainable Development is one of these priorities – and a challenge to those on both sides of the theological divide who think that such ministry is incompatible with the evangelical theology of the movement.

From the perspective of the complicated situation in England, the help of the Intercessors group is especially needed.

[1] and (in my case) the behind the scenes beavering with Gafcon Communications, and late-night conversations with other British delegates with their variety of views.

[2] Those who talk of ‘reforming’ the Church of England in the same way have a much more difficult task, because biblically faithful Anglicans aligned to the Gafcon vision are in a small minority in the C of E.

“I’ve been here – it’s God’s idea!”

Posted by on Jun 23, 2018 in Editorial Blog, Gafcon | Comments Off on “I’ve been here – it’s God’s idea!”

“I’ve been here – it’s God’s idea!”

Report on the final day by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Archbishop Stanley Ntagali began his sermon during the final Holy Communion service by paying tribute to the ‘fathers’ of Gafcon, the previous generation of Archbishops who courageously led the formation of the movement ten years ago. Like that time, this meeting together is a significant moment, so we can say together: “I’ve been here – it’s God’s idea”!

Taking Ephesians 2 as his text, he reminded us of the gospel and its implications: we are sinners, but saved by grace for good works; because of our reconciliation with God at the cross we can be reconciled with each other across cultures in a hostile and conflict-ridden world. Jesus is our peace, so there should be no racism in our fellowship; also “we value the ministry of women”. The gospel teaches humility: “Some clergy say ‘my church’ but we are only servants – it’s the church of Jesus”.

The service, visually striking with over 300 Bishops in their white, black and red robes sitting in the front rows, was a fitting climax to the week. It was a wonderful way of celebrating and giving thanks to God for the reading of the Conference Statement which had met with unanimous approval, cheers and applause just beforehand, including from those who had been concerned about some aspects of the initial draft. This reflects a genuinely consultative process of wise and humble listening, which contrasts markedly with some other church gatherings where the statement is written beforehand by bureaucrats and presented to the leaders to sign at the end without discussion.

The day had begun with the now familiar joyful praise led by a ‘scratch’ group of international musicians following the early departure of the brilliant Nigerian band and choir. After Morning Prayer, our biblical exposition on Luke’s account of Jesus’ ascension was delivered superbly by Bishop Rennis Ponniah from Singapore (pictured).

“Would you give everything to God and serve him for nothing?”, he began. Of course such an attitude is impossible unless we understand the significance of Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, and experience the living presence of his Spirit in our hearts.

Our common faith, based on the Scriptures, means that we can and must proclaim the victory of God with certainty and authenticity. Bishop Rennis gave an example from Nepal, where missionaries brought practical care and the gospel following the devastating earthquake. In a context of great suffering many turned to the Lord and a number of  Anglican churches were planted – “they knew they needed a risen Saviour”.

Evangelism is very difficult and can be discouraging in a world where people’s thoughts have been taken captive by false ideologies. Mere knowledge of the Scriptures is not enough – we need to take time to “make sacred space” to hear God’s voice and experience the filling of the Spirit. Christ’s ascension demonstrates his Lordship and sovereignty over the powers of the world – he’s in control. But also, the ascension guarantees our glorious future with him when creation is renewed.

“Our ecclesial communion is a prophetic sign to the world that God has organized all things around the One at his right hand” said Bishop Rennis, “so our evangelism has cosmic significance… The ascended Lord pours out his gifts and his blessing for the church’s mission. So we must set the exalted Lord always before us.”

 

Authentic Anglicanism: global with boundaries, or ‘inclusive’ and Western?

Posted by on Jun 12, 2018 in Editorial Blog, Gafcon | Comments Off on Authentic Anglicanism: global with boundaries, or ‘inclusive’ and Western?

Authentic Anglicanism: global with boundaries, or ‘inclusive’ and Western?

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Fifteen years ago an event occurred which, in a memorable phrase, “tore the fabric” of the Anglican Communion. A man who had divorced his wife and was in a same sex relationship was elected Bishop of the Diocese of New Hampshire in the Province of the Episcopal Church, USA. Although the focus of the world’s media was on the Bishop, Gene Robinson, he himself was not the main problem.

There have always been church leaders who in their lifestyle and teaching have deviated from the clear standards of Scripture. Bishops all over the world have been guilty of gross corruption and greed, sexual abuse of children, outright heresy and racism – in fact it was only five years before Robinson’s consecration that Bishop Jack Spong, notorious for his publicly expressed disbelief in the historic Christian creeds, had dismissed African opposition to liberal sexual ethics as coming from a lack of education and sophistication.

Spong’s views were never endorsed by his church in an official change of doctrine and liturgy. But in 2003 the Anglican Churches in USA and Canada approved the blessing of same sex relationships. This was not just giving approval to a lifestyle which the Christian church down the ages had always seen as immoral, but because it was based on a revisionist, critical attitude to the bible and tradition, it enshrined heterodox teaching as the governing principle in the church’s life.

The fabric of the life of a church, or communion of churches, is formed of many strands which the members share. Among them are important human ties: the history of the denomination and more recent, local history; methods of administration, governance and worship styles that participants are used to; friendships and other links. But there are also spiritual strands: a shared understanding of what the Christian faith is, and recognition of authority, which overlaps with but is not the same as governance.

It was these strands which were broken by events in 2003, as it became clear that for some Anglicans, understanding of the ‘first order’ elements of Christian faith is not fixed in the past but malleable, and authority is vested in ecclesiastical positions, determined by alignment to a secular worldview, and legally enforceable in the courts if necessary. For others, the gospel is unchanging, and spiritual authority derives from conformity to apostolic authority, which itself is not vested in a human office but from God’s word. The question of authority: who is ultimately in charge; whose church is it – are the same questions that were behind the Reformation.

This history, and understanding of church life, needs to be re-stated, because as preparations are finalized for the third Gafcon gathering in Jerusalem, some people are still saying that the movement which began as a response to the events of 2003 is divisive and schismatic. It is not. When Gafcon states “We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word and deed. We pray for them and call on them to repent and return to the Lord.” (Clause 13, Jerusalem Declaration), it is, from the basis of the apostolic authority of Scripture and tradition, responding to those human authorities in the church who have deviated from the truth and caused schism, not creating division themselves.

 

Any true Christian denomination is aligned with apostolic faith in its formularies and official practice, but will always have individuals and movements within it that deviate from these norms because of sin. If a majority of leaders change the formularies, officially reject apostolic authority, and bring in new and heretical teachings and practices, they create a schism not just in their local church but worldwide.

There are three ways to respond. One is to fully agree with those who are putting forward a revisionist form of Christian faith, and to see mission primarily as changing the church locally and worldwide to take on the new ideas (as these church leaders are saying). Another is to say that there is no definitive universal expression of the Christian faith, only local, contextual ones. As long as we believe in God, honour Jesus and practice love of neighbour, we can remain united within the church even with those whose theology and practice is incompatible. In fact maintaining such institutional unity, respecting the duly elected leaders of a church, and accepting different views with ‘good disagreement’ is, according to this view, the most important thing we can do as a witness to a loving God (see here for a recent expression of this view).

A third view says that with the gospel, a miracle occurs, whereby those from different cultures, alienated by sin from God and one another find forgiveness and reconciliation through Christ’s death on the cross. God makes a new humanity out of the many cultures, who are united through shared understanding and experience of salvation. Christian unity is not an end in itself, but a result of Christ working through his saved people to produce growth and maturity, thereby displaying God’s wisdom to the world. Church unity is shown in shared belief in the same basic truths, and shared rejection of the former, sinful ways of life to which we are all naturally inclined and from which we are being delivered. Church renewal and reform comes from recovery of shared commitment to God’s truth in the face of pressures from other worldviews, not by compromise with them.

This third model, a summary of what is described in Ephesians 2-4, is reflected in the work of Gafcon. Close to 2000 delegates from UK and Europe, North and South America, Africa, Asia and Australasia will meet in Jerusalem from June 17-22 to celebrate God’s goodness in sending his Son to die and rise again, in sending his Spirit to create the church, and in ensuring the faithful passing on of his word through the apostles. We will meet to worship God and hear teaching together, and to discuss in carefully arranged multinational small groups. The focus will not be on false teaching in the Anglican churches of the West (although of course the continued crisis, and its wider implications in terms of secularism, will provide background); rather the focus will be on mission, and genuine partnership in proclaiming Christ faithfully to the nations. There will not be a plan to establish an alternative Anglican Communion. The future strategies of the movement and of local branches have not all been decided in advance, because there will be space to genuinely hear from the Lord as we meet together.

Of course the vision of Gafcon will be opposed by those who want to completely redefine the Christian faith, and by those who want the church to be inclusive of everyone who calls themselves an Anglican, no matter what they believe and do. And it will be seen as unnecessary by some whose churches permit a variety of different beliefs and practices on the ground but have not yet officially departed from orthodoxy in their official formularies. Recent history (Scotland, New Zealand, Brazil) has shown how easily that can change.

‘Fluid’ families good, ‘nuclear’ families bad?

Posted by on Jun 5, 2018 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Marriage | Comments Off on ‘Fluid’ families good, ‘nuclear’ families bad?

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

In December 2013, at a point in history mid-way between Parliamentary approval for same sex marriage and the enactment of a new law changing marriage’s definition, a senior judge was disciplined for expressing conservative views on marriage and family.

Sir Paul Coleridge had started the Marriage Foundation, not from conviction about biblical Christian ethics, but because as a High Court judge in the Family Division, he was increasingly appalled by the scale of family breakdown in Britain, and the resulting waste of human and financial resources, let alone the nastiness and misery flooding the nation. He resigned from the Bench and devoted himself full time to the organization which publishes research on the benefits of stable marriage as the basis for family life and healthy communities, and which warns policymakers of the dangers of the current trajectory.

Meanwhile, the current President of the Family Division, Sir James Munby, has made no secret of his contempt for the ideal of the stable, nuclear family, but has not faced any censure from the establishment. In a recent speech the judge celebrated the “infinite variety” of forms of the family, including single parents, temporary cohabitation, same sex and polyamorous arrangements, and said this is “a reality which we should welcome and applaud.”

A number of commentators have, in different ways, pointed out the ideologically-driven arrogance of Munby, the stubborn refusal of his ilk to believe and act on the clear statistical evidence of the benefits for children and society of stable marriages, and the culpable celebration of short term adult ‘freedom’ over the values of commitment and responsibility. But what does the Church of England think?

Archbishop Justin Welby has made several high profile speeches in recent months which touch on the issue of family life. He thinks we should accept the reality of the fluid family, rather than trying to promote one model. To the Mother’s Union he said:

“By family I also mean something close to household, and include where appropriate extended families, because the shape and nature of family life has varied enormously through history and continues to vary in different social contexts today.”

As he goes on to describe the different family structures, he sees their value not in their shape, but in whether they are oppressive or liberating. He says nothing of Scriptural passages, the basis of the Anglican marriage service, which celebrate faithful heterosexual monogamy as a God-given union from which children are born and nurtured, forming a family which is the primary building block of society. The Mother’s Union should focus on comforting the hurting, recognizing the complexity of family structures, rather than to promote one model of family which may be “idealized” and “a myth”.

He returned to this theme in a speech to leaders of Orthodox churches in Moscow in November 2017, and again when launching his book ‘Reimagining Britain’:

“I am not talking about a romantic ideal of the perfect family, or some nostalgic approach to what family life was like in the past, because it wasn’t…I am talking about benefits to remaining in relationship with each other even among the changing patterns of what it is to be a household…”

While Archbishop Welby is not ‘celebrating’ the proliferation of same-sex, lone parent, cohabiting, divorced-and-remarried family arrangements as Lord Chief Justice Munby is doing, he is certainly not criticising this trend or seeing it as a problem in itself, and he is specifically rejecting Sir Paul Coleridge’s solution of focussing on stable man-woman marriage as a key to social well-being.

For some years this attitude has been widespread in C of E leadership. In 2013, on the eve of the Parliamentary vote on same sex marriage, I heard one Bishop tell a packed gathering of the Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship that his main concern was not the redefinition of marriage or the breakdown of the family, but the conservative church’s focus on the nuclear family and ‘exclusion’ of other groupings. In a Radio 4 Thought for the Day just before Christmas last year, a senior clergyman attacked the use of the nativity to promote “the idol of the nuclear family”.

Across the theological spectrum, Anglicans seem unwilling to support marriage and family, and are even embarrassed by the issue. What is going on? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Some more reformed evangelicals are nervous about openly supporting pro-life and pro-family causes because they are suspicious that it’s ‘a bit Catholic’. There’s no doubt that Roman Catholics have been prominent in opposing abortion and promoting the mum, dad and kids view of the family. For Protestants to steer clear of the issue because of fear of association with Catholics is not biblical, but tribal, and self-defeating, like saying we’re not going to campaign for trains to run on time because that’s ‘a bit German’.
  1. Others might argue along similar lines, that concern for family breakdown is an issue of social action, therefore not a ‘gospel priority’. “Our job is to bring individuals to Christ, and once they start coming to church, then they can improve their family life as part of their discipleship.” If churches are doing this locally, that’s great, but we can’t abdicate our responsibility for concern for the wider world. For example, the local Primary School which some of our church children attend, may have an increasing number of kids from broken homes, and the school may be starting to use materials from lobby groups teaching dangerous ideologies of sex and gender. To say that this is “none of our business” is the theology of pietism and missiology of the ghetto – it is certainly not Anglican.
  1. I’ve often heard the argument from those in large evangelical churches that they are full of young families; cohabitation isn’t a thing and the young women don’t have abortions, so the church sees no threat to family life. Well it’s wonderful to be safe in a middle class Christian bubble, but from this privileged position we are surely called to be concerned, and pray for, the majority in our own nation who are without Christ and without the home securities that we take for granted. And even what appear to be the strongest Christian marriages can deteriorate from internal and external causes.
  1. At the other end of the theological spectrum, there will be those keen to be involved in social action – perhaps running a foodbank or soup kitchen from their church, and supporting development projects in Africa to alleviate poverty. For them, concern for marriages and families in society is seen as a right-wing, middle class issue, which takes attention away from the need for more government spending on benefits, education, mental health etc. This may come from a naïve belief that our message about Christ will seem more attractive to the world when outsiders see how progressive we are. But it also shows how much many of us have imbibed a ‘cultural-Marxist’ worldview, seeing the State as providing the solution to all problems, and the family as reflecting the free choices of adults at best, and an ‘oppressive bourgeois structure’ at worst.
  1. “We don’t want to upset single people/lone parents/divorced/LGBT”. But in response: Supposing a middle aged Christian couple have two children: a single daughter in her late twenties, and an unbelieving and rebellious son who lives with his girlfriend. Should the parents never winsomely commend good marriage, for fear of antagonising their children? Both need care, gospel ministry and community support in different ways; the model of their parents’ marriage and the theology behind it can only be positive and transformative, not negative.

When I was working in South Africa at the height of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, some church leaders would say that the church’s role should be restricted to showing compassionate care for victims, and lobbying government for free medicines. It would be wrong to address the causes of AIDS, especially sexual promiscuity and broken family life, they said, because this would ‘stigmatise’ sufferers.

Praise God for the sacrificial care provided by Christians during that time, and for the drugs which eventually became available.  But in the meantime church leaders often didn’t clearly articulate a positive vision for chastity and faithful family life, because they didn’t want to upset people. Hundreds of thousands died – how many could have been saved? In Britain today, how much social and spiritual carnage could be averted by promoting and celebrating marriage, family and the sanctity of life, but it’s not happening because of fear of causing offence? Authentic Christian mission is never a choice between telling the truth and being compassionate: both are necessary. Lives are literally at stake.

Promoting the nuclear family, that is to say, the family, is a gospel issue because it reflects God’s ordering of the universe, reveals human sin and selfishness, and points to redemption and growth. It’s also a social action issue, as strong families are the best protection for children and bulwark against poverty. The world doesn’t like this message, because rebellious adults don’t want their choices questioned or restricted. Will the church continue to keep quiet?

Read also: How can the top family judge not believe in the family? By Kathy Gyngell, The Conservative Woman

Hungary see abortion numbers plunge with rise of pro-family policies, by Lisa Bourne, LifeSite

Three simple ways Mrs May can make a wedding pay, by Harry Benson, The Conservative Woman

Why family life is the true key to equality, by Belinda Brown, The Conservative Woman [the author is right to speak of the social benefits of the nuclear family, but wrong to suggest that Jesus was mistaken in calling for us to put God before family!]