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.

English Anglican evangelicals: five areas of disagreement

Posted by on Jan 14, 2020 in Church of England, Editorial Blog, Evangelicalism | Comments Off on English Anglican evangelicals: five areas of disagreement

English Anglican evangelicals: five areas of disagreement

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

Evangelicals share the same core theological beliefs, often expressed in a Confession or Basis of Faith statement (eg here). But evangelicals have historically been divided on a number of issues. In the past, these included: whether evangelistic speakers should call listeners to publicly indicate a decision for Christ; whether genuine believers should smoke, drink or go to the cinema, whether tongues, prayers for healing and other expectation of supernatural phenomena was appropriate for worship; whether women should hold leadership positions and preach. These and similar issues are certainly not trivial. They elicit strong feelings, cause ‘tribes’ to form as associations are made with those of similar convictions. Sometimes relations are strained, even broken; but convictions around shared understandings of the gospel always creates fellowship even if there are major disagreements.

What about today? While differences over the ministry of women, and style and emphasis on the charismatic scale still exist, there are other issues which dominate in the current context, sometimes causing division, always showing the breadth of evangelical opinion which often is spread on a spectrum between two (or even three) poles. Here are five questions which illustrate this diversity among Anglican evangelicals in England in 2020:

  1. Church of England: hope or despair?

At one end of the spectrum, some will point to the tremendous opportunities for evangelicals: the resources being released for church planting, the numbers of Bishops who self-define as evangelical, new initiatives such as ‘Thy Kingdom Come’, the historic advantages of the parish system and the theologically orthodox formularies. Others are much more pessimistic. They see the parish system as a straitjacket and a breeding ground for nominal Christianity. Entrenched liberal theological education means more and more clergy and Bishops don’t believe the theology of the original English reformers. Cathedrals have become centres for entertainment and heresy. Evangelical Bishops do not defend orthodoxy and even vote against it in Synod; clergy with conservative doctrinal and ethical convictions find it more difficult to get posts, while laity with similar views are no longer bound by loyalty to their local parish church, and increasingly look elsewhere for worship, teaching and fellowship.

 

2. Church of England: leave or remain?

The large majority of clergy are committed to staying in for the foreseeable future, even those who take the pessimistic view of the C of E’s current state and future trajectory. The advantages of the denomination outlined in 1. are still true, while loyalty to the institution and more importantly to the local flock, together with the practical realities of a need for employment and housing, do battle in the conscience and in social media debates with a temptation to consider ministry outside the C of E. Every time another story of the progress of revisionist theology hits the headlines, the potentially purer air of AMiE, the Free Church of England, perhaps a new Anglican group linked to Gafcon, or even independent evangelical churches might seem alluring to some, while for others there are no “red lines” which if crossed, would cause them to consider leaving the C of E.

But of course the liberal drift of the C of E leadership is not happening in a vacuum. It reflects the values of secular society. The differing views of evangelicals towards their church follows on from a spectrum of understandings about the culture in which we live.

 

3. The church and culture: victory, exile, or not relevant?

  • “Yes it’s true that there are some problems in our country which need sorting out. But I believe we’re on the cusp of seeing God doing something amazing in the land. People are so open to the gospel – if only the church can show love, communicate better, and pray, revival is just around the corner!”
  • “Secularism, cultural Marxism, LGBT ideology, idolatry of money, Islam – these are now dominating our culture. The church isn’t making an impact – it’s now too small and compromised. Christians need to ‘strengthen what remains’ and prepare for increased persecution.”
  • “We shouldn’t be surprised or alarmed at what happens in the world outside the church. It has always been like that. We have no business trying to influence secular society – we should focus on planting churches and making disciples based around the local church.”

These three approaches are sometimes linked to temperament, ministry preference and perhaps even ‘gifting’ in terms of prophet, evangelist or pastor-teacher. The three are not necessarily always mutually exclusive, but it may be that objective assessment of which one reflects a more accurate of the situation is tempered by considerations of what ‘sells’ best to a congregation or conference audience.

 

4. The renewed church: English or global?

A feature of evangelical churches is connection with the global church through supporting mission partners in other countries, giving financially to projects, and praying for churches around the world in contexts of poverty, persecution and paganism. But evangelicals are divided on the extent to which we in England can learn from the church in the global south, and even be led by them.

For the majority, whether optimistic or pessimistic about church and culture, leadership and future solutions to problems must be found in England. Some evangelicals in the Church of England are embarrassed by what they see as Gafcon’s history of confrontation with the Archbishop of Canterbury and its portrayal in the media as anti-LGBT. Others appreciate the existence of Gafcon, its spiritual life and its courage in standing for biblical truth, but do not envisage it as playing a role in giving assistance or even leadership to the well-educated and well-resourced churches of the global north.

A small but growing minority see Christianity in England as it is statistically and spiritually: a remnant surviving on the fringe, even a backwater, while the centre of God’s work has moved to the vibrant and numerically strong Anglican churches of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Some Anglicans, losing confidence in the Church of England, are beginning to look to Gafcon not just for inspiration and vision, but for oversight, just as small groups have done in Scotland, New Zealand and Brazil, and much larger groups, in fact a whole new Province in North America.

 

5. The renewed church: who’s in charge?

While optimistic evangelicals have been happy in the inherited system, others have always struggled with the idea of episcopacy if the theological orthodoxy of Bishops can’t be guaranteed. They have even come up with theories which assign temporal administrative authority to a Bishop, and spiritual authority elsewhere. Leaders of large churches and networks may inspire more confidence than Bishops and find themselves with more influence as calls for ‘differentiation’ increase, but a question presents itself: who are they accountable to, and is such an an ecclesiology Anglican? Again, as fellow evangelicals take differing views, tension and disunity can occur.

Can a solution be found in encouraging all evangelicals to follow the same strategy, or would this involve an enforced uniformity, requiring subscription to one approved position on all five of the issues highlighted above? Such an approach will just cause further division: respecting different Anglican evangelical groups finding their own solutions might be better.

An inspiring response to our biggest problem

Posted by on Jan 7, 2020 in Book Reviews, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on An inspiring response to our biggest problem

An inspiring response to our biggest problem

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream

(First published in Church of England Newspaper):

“A moving and hopeful book” says one reviewer, and yet the subject of this slim publication is living with incurable cancer, and facing the inevitable prospect of death. How can this be “hopeful”, and why might it be appropriate for the shared time of optimism that is New Year?

Jeremy Marshall is an able and successful financier, married with three children, who at the age of 49 was diagnosed with a rare type of sarcoma in 2012, apparently recovered, and then in 2015 rapidly developed tumours related to different form of cancer. He was told he has less than 18 months to live, but is still very much alive; sometimes looking tired and pale, but full of enthusiasm and determination to do what he can (as those who know him can testify, in a variety of ways) to help others in the time he has left.

Jeremy tells his story in ‘Beyond the Big C’ (10 of Those, 2019). The first few pages narrate the lead up to the first and second diagnosis, the emotional response including shock and fear, and the tedious rounds of treatment. The account is brief, clear and unadorned, regularly lightening the mood with humour, capturing but not dwelling on the awful inner turmoil – because, as Jeremy says more that once, “it’s not about me”.

While not minimising his own suffering, he refers to others whose pain in physical illness, associated psychological trauma and treatment is much worse. Whenever a bad diagnosis is delivered, the mind is inevitably focussed on the prospect of death, which is very frightening even for Christians, but for the majority who are not, something we are not equipped to deal with. As (former General Synod House of Laity Chair) Philip Giddings says in the book he co-wrote on the same subject, “We expect that governments and the medical professions will be able to extend life expectancy…in consequence we do not think or talk about dying” (‘Talking about dying’, Wilberforce, 2017, p65).

For Jeremy Marshall, the purpose of telling his story and about cancer is not to reflect on suffering for it’s own sake, but to use his experience to bring the reader to the point of asking:

“What have I found to be the answer to my fear? I don’t see any answer…if I look at the world around me. Nor do I find one if I look within”.

From his own experience and drawing on other writers, Jeremy concludes that fear emanates from a feeling of loss of control of one’s own circumstances, the prospect of life ending – and then, existentially, the possibility that no-one is in control. As he introduces the Christian teaching that God is sovereign, that Jesus understands our suffering and reconciles us to our creator, he emphasises that this is not theological theory for the religious, but a necessary-for-all relationship of trust which extends beyond the grave.

So a personal account of living with cancer becomes a door into reflecting on the meaning of life and pointing to the gospel. I found it inspiring, and hope the book will be widely used in evangelism, which is what Jeremy would hope for. But also I found this perspective refreshing, reading it at a time before Christmas when everything, especially health care and even death has been politicised. When a nation has forgotten God but still its inhabitants have to face the realities of mortality, the fear leads quickly to anger that “more should be done”, the blaming of the ‘other’ group, the hubristic assumption that given the technology and resources we can fix the problem.

Jeremy’s account shows real appreciation for medical science and the care shown by doctors. He is open to the possibility of healing, either miraculously, or via some new treatment. But ultimately he says, because we all die in the end, our main need is for hope in the face of death in the form of restored relationship with God, and certainty of life beyond death.

Short reflections on bible passages, simply and elegantly presented from the perspective of a layman and “fellow-sufferer” rather than a theologian, are interspersed with reflections on the gospel message illustrated by vignettes from his own life. Aware of the danger of offering glib answers to the philosophical and practical problem of suffering, Jeremy is not afraid to own feelings of loneliness, terror and “why me”. He nevertheless gently and persistently points out the dead ends of pagan and secular approaches, and shows Jesus as the great physician, even “oncologist of death”.

This is an excellent little book to give family and friends – not just in response to cancer or other tragedy. It deserves to be widely read and acted upon.

Additional note – the editor just received this from Jeremy:

“You maybe amused to learn that my football team Watford FC published an article about it [the book] in their programme and interviewed me at half time about it, I was able to share the gospel with 22000 people!”

Post-Election 2019: the state of the nation

Posted by on Dec 17, 2019 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Politics | Comments Off on Post-Election 2019: the state of the nation

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

Last week’s election result was a significant moment for our country. While the Conservatives won with a huge majority, large numbers of people either didn’t vote at all (some on principle), or ‘held their nose’ and voted Tory because the other options looked worse, not because of enthusiasm for and complete faith in Boris and his programme. The analysis of the election continues in the media (including Christian blogsand the political parties , and will continue in families around Christmas dinner tables. In some quarters there is disappointment, even fury at the result, but probably overall much more relief, even from those skeptical about Brexit and the ability to deliver on some of the more ‘unicorn’ promises, that at last after what seems like several years we have a government which can actually govern.

It has been said a number of times that the scale of the Conservative victory means that this will be seen as historic, a generational shift, in the same way as Margaret Thatcher’s 1979 sweep to power, or Tony Blair’s ‘new Labour’ project beginning in 1997. What kind of country do we have now? Here are, briefly, eight observations:

 

The UK will leave the EU in some shape or form. Boris Johnson promised, again and again, to ‘get Brexit done’, and his majority will ensure that the first stage will be completed by January 31st. Of course then there is the small matter of the trade deal negotiations, which some commentators are already writing off as impossible. What does the future hold? Prosperity as we continue good relationships with Europe without being in the federal project, and build new links with other countries? Or debt-burdened recession as we have to pay tariffs to trade with anyone? We don’t know!

 

The people of the UK are more unashamedly patriotic than before. The English and Welsh working class rejected the modern left’s fashionable embarrassment with Queen and country, and have seen continued support for Brexit as a way of expressing pride in national, rather than class identity. The Scots essentially voted for independence and pressure to formalise this will grow in coming years. The Northern Irish voted in greater numbers than before for progressive parties which advocate a united Ireland, which perhaps shows a growing Irish rather than British identity even among those with protestant heritage.

 

The people of England rejected the rhetoric of the left. Tired old trade union tropes about the right to a four day working week, fostering grievance about ‘austerity’ and exploitation by cruel Tory bosses; new liberal ‘woke’ race and gender identity politics; Marxist demonisation of Jews and America with visions of a state-controlled utopia — these narratives did not work in getting the majority of people to support Labour or the Liberal Democrats. The almost messianic promises of unlimited funding to ensure that “no-one should have to struggle” were viewed with skepticism by people who nevertheless want effective government assistance for the disadvantaged as well as a strong charity sector.

 

But, paradoxically, the political landscape of the UK has moved to the left. While there are some superficial similarities between Boris Johnson and Donald Trump, the new UK Government is more like that of Tony Blair in effecting a move to the centre ground. Much more Keynsian in economic policy than under Mr Cameron and Mrs May, socially liberal, in the forefront of the global LGBT agenda under a Prime Minister who is in a cohabiting arrangement, determined to invest in the historically disadvantaged areas of the country, intentionally appointing ethnic minority MP’s to the Cabinet, happy to at least pay lip service to environmental issues –  this is not “right wing” in any sense of the word. At the time of writing, the opposition seems determined to remain much further to the left.

 

The people of England are more united than before. Again, this seems to contradict a commonly heard message that we are all at each others throats, with hate crimes on the increase etc. But in fact, while social divisions continue, there is no longer a clear political divide between north and south, rich and poor, black and white. There is unanimous agreement in the need for government to preserve the NHS in its current form, and to provide other well functioning public services. While most people (including many immigrants) appear to favour some kind of restriction on immigration rather than ‘free movement’ within the EU, those with dangerous views on race and religious supremacy/segregation remain in a small minority.

 

And yet, the very nature of the United Kingdom is threatened, as nationalist sentiment in Northern Ireland and Scotland indicates a desire to pull away from political union with England. While there is an increasing feeling in England that if that’s what a large majority in Scotland want to do, let them – to their own massive disadvantage – there is no way of knowing what serious negative effects the breakup of the Union may have on our economy and psychology.

 

Conservative government and Brexit will not in itself bring Christian revival. Secularism, paganism and increasing Islamic influence do not come from Europe but are deeply embedded in Britain and embraced by the new government. If the Conservative Party (perhaps now a misnomer) is now economically centrist and socially liberal, successfully reflecting the sentiment of the nation, it will remain very difficult for the church in the public square to proclaim a counter cultural message especially the holiness and sovereignty of God, the uniqueness of Christ, the sanctity of life and the importance of families based on monogamous heterosexual marriage.

 

Evidence of the electorate moving away from inherited ways of thinking provides hope for Christian mission. Boris Johnson’s victory speech recognised how for many former Labour voters in the north, the hand would have wavered before putting a cross in the Conservative box, as imagined ancestors would be whispering “vote Labour – that’s what our tribe does”. But thousands ignored this voice and voted Tory for the first time. Does this means, perhaps, that a new generation who have grown up with other inherited messages, that God doesn’t exist, that church is what you go to for a funeral, that Christianity is boring/irrelevant/untrue/bigoted – they might be prepared to apply bold, independent thinking to metaphysical as well as political issues?

 

Might a new realism that politics and government spending can’t solve all our problems, especially breakdown of community, relationships and mental health – lead to a new openness to the gospel? Might a renewed sense of national identity lead to a search for historical and spiritual values underpinning it? Might a new, indigenous form of church grow in the areas where educated southerners have struggled to plant and nurture? Times ahead might be difficult. But it’s Christmas time, when we remember God doing an unusual thing. Who knows?

The four Sundays of Advent

Posted by on Dec 10, 2019 in Advent, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on The four Sundays of Advent

The four Sundays of Advent

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

I’ve worshipped in Anglican churches which don’t use the lectionary, and those which do. While there are advantages in not being tied to a set list of readings, and particularly in preaching chronologically through a book, the lectionary also has great assets. It has a long tradition – many of the patterns of readings date back to the early church. Our godly forbears thought long and hard about the effect readings, and their themes, have on the hearer even before preaching. And of course they undergird the telling of the gospel story, as through the cycle of the church’s year the whole counsel of God can be explained (even the more challenging parts) without the danger of accusations of “the vicar being on his hobby horse” if he selects his favourite passages.

As I’m due to preach the next two Sundays in different churches, I thought it would be a good exercise not just to look at the set passages for each day, but to look at all four Gospel readings for the Advent season, from Matthew this year (Year A). Some of them are not obviously ‘Christmassy’ but they provide a profound, rich and often quite sombre background to the usual more joyful Carol Service readings, and are worth a look as a whole. Here are my brief notes:

First Sunday in Advent: Matthew 24:36-44

“Therefore keep watch, for the Son of Man will come at an hour when you don’t expect him” v42

Some comments:

The passage begins with Jesus warning about “that day”, referring to the final winding up of human history by God’s judgement.  It concludes a chapter where Jesus refers to various outpourings of judgement through history: the destruction of Jerusalem, the rise and fall of kingdoms, an increase of evil, the preaching of the gospel to all nations, the final visible appearance of Christ. The latter event will come suddenly with no warning. It will involve separation of the righteous and unrighteous.

Faithful Israelites before Christ waited expectantly with longing for Messiah’s coming, with worship, prayer and counter-cultural living. So should those who follow the Lord today. Advent, the special season for remembering Messiah’s first coming, leads us to remember the future second, cosmic revelation of Christ’s universal rule. This gives us a correct perspective on history in our own time of political upheaval. It reminds us that the gospel of God’s love in Christ only makes sense in context of God’s just judgement of the world. We need to be prepared and watchful, not with a false optimism about our world today, or despairing pessimism about the future.

Second Sunday in Advent: Matthew 3:1-12

“I baptise you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who…will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” v11.

Some comments:

The ministry of John the Baptist is introduced. He fulfils the prophecy of Isaiah: the one calling in the desert for preparation for the Lord’s coming. His message: repent, confess sins, be baptised. He warns of “coming wrath”, where safety is based on “fruit in keeping with repentance” not religion or status. He is just the messenger; the Messiah is coming.

As we remember the Christ who came into the world, the season reminds us again to prepare our hearts for the Lord’s coming into our lives today. Our necessary response is active – a conscious act of the will to repent, and passive; receiving a supernatural cleansing and infilling by the Holy Spirit.

Third Sunday in Advent: Matthew 11:2-11

“Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” v3.

Some comments:

John, used so mightily by God is preaching about the coming Messiah, was persecuted by the authorities, and in prison. His faithfulness has brought him up against the powers of the world. He seemed to doubt the identity of Jesus and wondered if someone else would come – maybe he expected to be rescued?

Jesus’ response is to point to his own ministry of healing, and gospel preaching to the poor, confirming his identity. Jesus honours John as the most important prophet and the greatest human being who ever lived, yet flawed, and so equal to the humblest believer in the non-hierarchical Kingdom of Heaven.

This passage is usually linked with Isaiah 35, a picture of flowers blooming in the desert, of a fearful and defeated people being rescued and vindicated, of celebration as the sick and disabled are healed, of a safe road for travellers to Zion.

Advent works best not for the complacent, but for God’s people struggling, facing godlessness around us and even persecution, frail in body and spirit, wondering whether God will come and rescue and change things for the better. We look at the baby in the manger, the first century preacher, the suffering man on a cross, and ask whether all our hopes can rest on him? Faith looks at the evidence and says ‘yes’.

Fourth Sunday in Advent: Matthew 1:18-25

“She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins”. v21.

Some comments:

Mary was pregnant, but a virgin. The reaction of disbelief and sneering condemnation from some around her would have been worse then than now. Her fiance Joseph, descended from David, would have faced censure as well. He planned to end the engagement quietly. An angel told him in a dream that the child was indeed conceived from the Holy Spirit, would be born, named ‘Jesus’, and would save people from their sins. Matthew refers to a strange prophecy in Isaiah 7: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son called Immanuel. Joseph married Mary but she remained a virgin until after she gave birth.

We’re so familiar with this story but its brevity encompasses some complex, mysterious gospel themes:

  • Jesus is conceived uniquely as a result of an intimate human-divine encounter, without sex. Luke’s account focusses more on Mary’s humble response.
  • Mary was a virgin and experienced the holy God in this way, yet suffered shame in her community.
  • Joseph also experiences God’s supernatural intervention – an angel in a dream – and was obedient to the heavenly instruction.
  • Jesus at his birth is given the titles “God saves” and “God with us”. This echoes the prophecy of Isaiah 9 where a human child descended from David is given the title “mighty God”.

Some application from the four readings:

The low-key but ever-compelling story we reflect on at this time is not like a Christmas pantomime. The main characters are not obvious human heroes or villains but a lonely prophet, a peasant girl and her carpenter fiance, a baby who grows into a preacher with a healing ministry. In a sense we are still in the story – the happy ending has not happened yet.

At a time when arguments rage about how much government spending, what international treaties and which celebrity politicians can ‘save’ us as a nation, the Advent readings remind us that the real issues are spiritual and moral: God is in charge but we have failed in our responsibilities to love him and one another. He will return in judgement; we need to humbly repent, receive his forgiveness, be filled with his Spirit and await his final coming. This season, how many churches will, like Joseph and Mary, take the tough road of obedience in the face of sneering, and like John the Baptist, risk persecution in explaining God’s amazing salvation in the context of sin and judgement, and resist the temptation just to link Christmas with a sentimentalised, secular version of ‘love’?

“The Tory Party at prayer”?

Posted by on Dec 3, 2019 in 2-Important Posts, Church of England, Editorial Blog, Politics | Comments Off on “The Tory Party at prayer”?

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

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

see also: Church of England under pressure to publicly oppose Labour and Lib Dem plans to liberalise abortion lawsby Tim Wyatt and Phoebe Southworth, Telegraph

Labour and Lib Dem manifestos threaten extreme social liberalism—but are the Tories any better? by Will Jones, Faith and Politics

Church attended by John Stott now offers yoga and mindfulness

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

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See also: This review from David Robertson.

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

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

Yours faithfully,

Paul McKechnie

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

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

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Witness which omits the inconvenient truth

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

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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