Editorial Blog

Andrew Symes is the Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream. Having accepted Christ as a teenager he has always been concerned for the church maintaining right belief and practice as the foundation of its mission in the world. He is ordained and has wide experience of English Anglican churches, including serving for seven years in a church plant in Northampton. From 1994-2006 he worked in South Africa in pastoral ministry, grassroots theological education and community development. He is married with two children.

Strong, clear Christian witness at March for Life

Posted by on May 8, 2018 in Editorial Blog, pro-life/abortion | Comments Off on Strong, clear Christian witness at March for Life

Strong, clear Christian witness at March for Life

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Saturday’s (5th May) rally in London in support of unborn children and their mothers concluded in a sunny Parliament Square, with a large crowd standing quietly, heads bowed, as Bishop Michael Nazir Ali read some well-known Scriptures as evidence for the sanctity of human life in the womb from conception, and then led a prayer and a blessing. It was a great encouragement to be part of such a large group in agreement together as God’s word was declared with calm authority in front of the nation’s seat of government.

The colourfully-dressed and banner-waving group of many hundreds had walked from a venue in Holborn, where most attended morning seminars and speeches, to Westminster, where they briefly had to move past a much smaller but vociferous contingent of pro-abortion activists.

Though drawn from different movements, the participants in the March for Life were united behind the simple slogans such as “Life from conception – no exception”, “every life deserves love”, and “pro-life=pro-woman”. It was clear that peacefully and publicly walking through the capital’s streets, and standing together outside Parliament for the rights of the unborn can be a powerful symbol for lawmakers and public alike.

Some differences in approach were in evidence at the pre-rally seminars held at a Holborn hotel. I listened to Christian Hacking from Abort 67 argue from historical examples that social change never comes from gaining respect from the ruling classes for being nice and reasonable. Just as the anti-slavery campaigners upset polite society by using shocking images of packed bodies in slave ships, and suffragettes chained themselves to railings, so a more aggressive approach is necessary to change public opinion and national policy on abortion, for example by displaying graphic pictures of aborted foetuses. Others disagreed, saying that the culture should be changed “one conversation at a time”, using existing friendly relationships to push the pro-life case.

For some, the aim of campaigning should be to make the ending of a child’s life in the womb socially and legally unacceptable. Others are taking a more pragmatic approach, hoping realistically for a significant reduction in the number of abortions being carried out. A number of speakers focussed on the need for proper compassionate and informative counselling to be more available for women considering abortions (who often feel that it is the only ‘choice’ open to them), and help, healing and the mediation of God’s forgiveness for those suffering from the guilt and trauma of having gone through with the procedure. The speaker from the Rachel’s Vineyard ministry was particularly moving and impressive, relating how God had used her own traumatic experience of crushing guilt after abortion to help other women. The decision of Ealing Council to create “buffer zones”, preventing such ministry being advertised and even preventing prayer within a specified distance of an abortion clinic, was decried as especially pernicious (see also here).

Anthony McCarthy of SPUC argued that a strong stand needs to be taken against further liberalisation of the abortion laws. Leaders of professional bodies such as the Royal College of Midwives and even the BMA have recently given public support to the idea that abortion should be completely decriminalised and unrestricted – that there should be no legal limits to the age of the foetus being aborted (baby being killed), and no social stigma for the woman who has made that choice. Senior midwives have decided that their profession is no longer about bringing babies into the world, but about facilitating the choices of adults, even if that means destroying a little life.

This new class of medical professional see unwanted pregnancy as a pathology, restricting women in their ideal state of “unencumbered autonomous human”, and abortion completely on demand as a form of liberation. According to McCarthy, this is not only deeply misogynistic (women must be “like men”); and it involves a corruption and politicization of medical ethics, a hollowing-out of the Hippocratic Oath, which will certainly have dangerous consequences when applied to other areas of life.

In a plenary session before the main March, short powerful speeches made further important points. Charlotte Fien, a young woman with Down’s Syndrome who has spoken at the U.N., and Christie Spurling, given up for adoption, delinquent teenager, and now running a respected youth ministry as an adult, shared how in both cases their lives were nearly ended in the womb. Delegates from Ireland gave updates on the campaign to protect the unborn child’s right to life in view of the forthcoming Referendum. Scottish Catholic Bishop John Keegan gave a passionate call to prayer, saying that the nation needs not just better laws but God’s forgiveness and grace. Aisling Hubert, who bravely highlighted the commonplace practice of doctors signing off abortions because the baby is female, in an assured speech urged women to take a stand against the lie that children are somehow the enemy.

There was a strong Roman Catholic presence among the majority of participants in the seminars, march and rally, although evangelical group Christian Concern was responsible for much of the organizing. While Bishop Michael ensured an Anglican voice, I didn’t see a single other Anglican known to me, lay or ordained. There are many Anglican evangelical supporters of the pro-life cause who are quiet, perhaps because of seeing the issue as “right-wing” (although there was nothing party-political in any of the messages), too controversial, or the preserve of Catholics. It would be wonderful if more could attend the event next year.

Unstable C of E shows need for Gafcon vision

Posted by on May 1, 2018 in 2-Important Posts, Anglican Communion, Church of England, Editorial Blog, Evangelicalism, Same-sex blessings | Comments Off on Unstable C of E shows need for Gafcon vision

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Are evangelicals in the ascendancy, and liberals in retreat in the Church of England? Recent headlines would certainly suggest that. Firstly a letter written by the Secretary General to the Archbishop’s Council, William Nye, to TEC in October last year (scroll to bottom of document) has come to light, provoking fury from English revisionists.

The letter (a response to TEC’s Communion-wide request for feedback on their proposals) made clear that in the view of the Church of England, a ‘gender-neutral’ understanding of marriage “breaks with the inherited meaning of marriage across many cultures and over many centuries…and is very hard to reconcile with the Christian churches’ teaching on marriage.” It warned of “stringent consequences” if TEC goes ahead with its plans to make same sex marriage in church available to all US Episcopalians, not just those whose Bishops agree to allow an alternative liturgy as at present. Such a move would have “divisive implications” for the Anglican Communion, and within TEC itself.

In short, the letter appears to be defending the biblical understanding of marriage against the new, secular one. Letters in the Church Times have now been written, and petitions signed, opposing this position. Is Canterbury standing firm for orthodox Christian teaching against the liberals?

Secondly, an article by Angela Tilby in the same Church Times, arguing that the C of E is facing an “evangelical takeover” has received a lot of coverage and comment. She singles out the Thy Kingdom Come Pentecost prayer initiative being promoted by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, which she describes as “transatlantic evangelicalism filtered through the public-school system” [translation for the transatlantic: England’s privileged private schools!] in which hurting people looking for spiritual solace are “patronized by the saved and the certain”. Liberal catholics in Oxbridge Colleges and Diocesan offices cheer as they read this; ordinary evangelicals cheer Justin Welby and prepare for a wave of charismatic praise and worship and fervent intercessory prayer beginning on Ascension Day next week. Is this evidence that the light of the true Gospel is winning out over the error of liberalism in the C of E?

Thirdly, as part of the new Renewal and Reform programme in the C of E, it was announced early in the year that a massive £24.4 million would be released by the Church Commissioners, specifically to support new church planting and ‘learning communities’ geared towards evangelism and growth. It’s clear that while the majority of this money is being set aside for charismatic evangelical initiatives, some will also be available to projects run by conservative evangelicals.

Again, questions have to be asked: is this a sign of genuine spiritual renewal and commitment to gospel ministry among the leadership? Could it be rather a strategic management decision, investing in the wing of the church with a track record of growth and most likely to reverse decline in the future? Or more cynically, is it a method of bribing biblically orthodox evangelicals onside, as the Church as a whole moves towards further accommodation with secularism? Or perhaps an element of all three?

It is certainly encouraging that William Nye on behalf of the Archbishop’s Council could express so clearly the Church of England’s current understanding of marriage as being between one man and one woman. His letter, which given the subsequent clarification was not approved by the whole Archbishops’ Council but must rather reflect the views of the Archbishop of Canterbury himself, makes clear that “those with traditional views of marriage” are authentic Anglicans and should not be forced to comply with such an innovation as same sex marriage. But then the letter appears to be saying that TEC’s current position of optional same sex marriage in church , with ‘trial’ liturgies used as part of a process of ‘reception’, is currently acceptable as part of a policy of good disagreement (implying perhaps that the C of E itself might be moving towards this position?)

At the time the letter was written, in October last year, the Archbishop of Canterbury had warmly welcomed the Presiding Bishops of TEC and the Scottish Episcopal Church to the gathering of Communion Primates, even though both churches had violated what the letter describes as universally accepted Christian teaching on marriage. Wouldn’t it have been better for the sentiments of the letter to have been expressed at the time? Of course as the spin-doctor narrative for the Communion was “walking together”, such a confrontation was avoided. And is it by chance that the letter has been made public now? Its release serves to stir up revisionists in the C of E pushing for change in time to prepare for July’s Synod, while at the same time reassuring conservatives nervously staying in the C of E for the moment, that all is well. In fact, some will reason, if the Archbishop is orthodox on marriage, why do we need Gafcon?

Similarly, it is encouraging that the Archbishops are leading a movement for prayer and mission, and have backed up the desire for making Jesus known and church growth with significant funding grants. But at the same time, the LGBT activist Bishop of Liverpool, who like the TEC leadership does not believe that rites to celebrate same sex relationships should be optional, remains chair of the Archbishop’s Task Force on evangelism, an appointment which has led to at least two leading evangelists resigning from the group. Following the debate in Synod in February last year in which the Archbishops called for a “radical inclusion”, a number of other Bishops have spoken either publicly or privately in favour of the blessing of same sex unions, and July’s General Synod, in an atmosphere hostile to conservatives, voted for a ban on therapy for those wanting to move away from homosexual desire and relationships.

Since then, the Archbishops have commended a programme for introducing the teaching of positive attitudes towards transgender ideology in schools, and Bishops have authorized clergy to use the service of reaffirmation of baptismal vows to mark a person’s gender transition. These are just a small selection of recent incidents which undermine confidence in the commitment of the C of E leadership to promoting and defending orthodox Christian doctrine.

Does the apparent drawing of a line on same sex marriage show that the Church of England still essentially conservative with a small and vociferous liberal element? Or is it on a trajectory towards more and more acceptance of encroaching secular values, cleverly keeping conservatives on board through financial incentives and by initially affirming respect for the option of biblical faithfulness? As we have expressed many times in this column, it’s not as simple as that; the answer may not be either-or / in-out but both-and; it’s not ‘binary’ but ‘fluid’, dependent as much on what is trending on social media, or how lay people change their views, or what government decides to do, as decisions of Bishops, debates in Synods, or new liturgies. What is certain is that because of what is at best a serious doctrinal instability in the Church of England, close links with a stable, orthodox global Anglican Communion committed to unchanging truth, and flexibility of long term vision with regards to institutions, buildings and stipends, are more important than ever.

Pastoral care for transgender people: does it require acceptance of LGBT ideology?

Posted by on Apr 17, 2018 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Gender ideology | Comments Off on Pastoral care for transgender people: does it require acceptance of LGBT ideology?

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

Mark Yarhouse has built a reputation as a sound and trustworthy guide in the field of gender confusion. As a Professor of Psychology at a respected American University with a strong evangelical heritage he is frequently quoted with approval by evangelical commentators as someone who combines Christian faith, scientific expertise, pastoral compassion and winsomeness. In 2015 he published a book ‘Understanding gender dysphoria: navigating transgender issues in a changing culture’. Now a much more concise treatment of the subject has arrived. Written in collaboration with one of his doctoral students, Julia Sadusky, ‘Approaching Gender Dysphoria’ has been published by Grove booklets. This received publicity recently in the Church of England Newspaper, who chose to use a direct quotation from the booklet in their headline: Transgender people ‘reflect God in a unique way’.

Really? I had just read an article by another eminent medical doctor, Michael Laidlaw, detailing the terrible consequences of hormone therapy and surgical ‘transition’ treatments, and warning about the lies of the new gender ideology now being overtly preached to children in schools. For Laidlaw, gender dysphoria is a potentially life-threatening mental illness, not something to be celebrated because it helps us understand and experience the divine. Can these two Christians, both experts in a similar field, be talking about the same thing? I ordered Yarhouse’s Grove booklet to find out.

Some children and adults experience gender dysphoria (GD). Yarhouse/Sadusky and Laidlaw agree that this is a distressing psychological condition for which those individuals who suffer deserve to be treated with compassion and respect. But while Laidlaw sees the condition as harmful, requiring therapy for alleviation and recovery of alignment between biological sex and self-perceived gender, Yarhouse is careful not to pass such value judgments.

The first chapter clarifies terms that are used. The second summarises the main approaches to GD in children. The solution advocated by Laidlaw (helping the child accept his or her biological sex) has now “come under fire”, Yarhouse says, because some transgender adults complain that this was tried on them when they were young; it failed and was ‘harmful’. So today, professionals either advocate “watchful waiting”, or are keen to intervene in medically facilitating cross-gender identity. The booklet gives examples of these interventions briefly, again without offering any value judgment.

The booklet’s third chapter attempts to clarify the complicated world of gender identity, by separating out three main strands: personal identity (those struggling with gender dysphoria, sometimes in a painful and private way), those happily adopting a public gender-fluid identity which may or may not combine with alternative sexualities or involve physical transition, and those whose transgender identity becomes more explicitly public and political. These three groups of people need “their own unique response from a thoughtful and engaged Christian community”, say Yarhouse and his co-author.

As they unpack this with a series of examples, the authors emphasise the need for Christians to show empathy, and practice listening and journeying with the transgender person, avoiding expressing shock, disapproval or rejection. In one example, a wife discovers her husband trying on her dresses, and the impression given is that somehow the wife is at fault for not being more understanding. In another case, the focus is entirely on the “angst and confusion” felt by 13 year old Kevin who wants to be a girl, and on an insensitive comment by a Bible study group leader, not on the pain felt by his mother.

In terms of Christian ministry responses, Yarhouse and Sadusky distinguish between a ‘posture’ taken up by the minister (for example, a bible-based conviction about gender), and a ‘gesture’ (practical ways of relating). Yarhouse says that having too inflexible a posture can limit ministry. Not calling someone by their preferred name or pronoun out of principle will be interpreted as hostility. The aim must be to journey with an individual, honouring and validating them, not to tell them they’re wrong. Transgender young people are watching to see if they will be accepted and loved by Christians. Jesus reached out to the “marginalized and forgotten” and so should we.

But then, according to Yarhouse, Christians should be open to the idea that even ministry to trans people with compassion and understanding is not enough – in fact it is patronizing. Rather, it may be that God is being glorified in the story of the trans person, so the cisgendered Christian is actually the person being ministered to. “Wisdom and spiritual fruit” can emerge from such journeying alongside a trans person.

 

Overall, it has to be said, this booklet is strong on the need for Christians to be compassionate towards people with gender dysphoria and willing to learn from the phenomenon of transgender, but is unreliable in terms of helping Christians navigate the issue from a biblical perspective.

Briefly, here are some serious problems with this booklet from a conservative Christian perspective:

a) The authors appear to be saying that the problem with GD is not the misalignment of physical reality with inner psyche, or the potential mental and physical damage that come from transitioning. Rather it is the pain that trans people feel from not being accepted. Nowhere in the booklet does it say that there is anything inherently wrong with transition medication and surgery.

b) There is no mention of the possibility or desirability of change or cure for people with GD, for example through counselling, except in the negative way that this is what the trans person’s parents or Christian interlocutors would want.

c) There is a brief mention of the huge cultural push to persuade us all that gender is not related to physical sex but is in the mind, and to celebrate trans identities and ideology, but no critique is offered.

d) There is no mention of how increasingly, in certain environments (eg schools), pressure is being applied for all to accept trans dogma. The booklet ends up hinting that the conservative biblical perspective is the problem, and needs to be changed in order to allow trans people to feel comfortable with people of faith. In this, the booklet appears to align with LGBT activists.

e) The authors accept that Jesus was able to balance a conservative bible-based posture with compassionate pastoral gesture, but they don’t go on to apply this to us today. Rather, they say, taking a firm position against gender ideology is inherently inflexible and prevents empathetic journeying.

f) The conclusion strongly suggests the idea that truth is to be found, not in biblical principles, but in humbly walking alongside someone with a very different perspective to me. God is at work, according to the authors, not as Christians resist the transgender ideology and graciously help people suffering with GD back to gender wholeness, but as they listen to and learn from trans people.

Of course, all authentic Christian ministry needs sensitivity and care, but the aim is alignment with God’s purposes for the one who has (even unintentionally) departed from them. In saying that it’s conservative Christians who need to change not the gender-fluid, Yarhouse and Sadusky are echoing familiar LGBT rhetoric.

I was very interested to see, on exploring the Regent University website, that their qualifications in psychology are accredited by the liberal American Psychological Association. That explains the line that the authors take. Hopefully those who trust Professor Yarhouse as the most authoritative and reliable guide in this area will use more discernment in future.

 

Society’s dystopian trends and the church’s response

Posted by on Apr 10, 2018 in Crime, Editorial Blog, Mission | Comments Off on Society’s dystopian trends and the church’s response

Society’s dystopian trends and the church’s response

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Last week Britain was confronted with a series of headlines about out-of-control violence on the streets of London. While most of the killers and their victims are young, and knives are the weapons of choice, a drive-by shooting of a teenage girl on Easter Monday showed an escalation that needs priority attention. Reuters reported that for the first time ever, there are more murders per month in London than in New York.

The horrific killings are the tip of the iceberg as far as violent crime is concerned. Attacks using acid, and brazen theft using weapons to threaten, are on the increase. What are the causes, and what can be done about it? From the left comes the accusation that cuts to police, education and social services by the Conservative government have had a negative effect (started, most tellingly, when Teresa May was Home Secretary). But attempts to politicise the problem have been undermined by things getting considerably worse under the Labour Mayor of London. To his credit, the mayor himself has said that while more money from government to deal with the crisis would be appreciated, poverty is not an excuse for violent criminal behaviour, and other factors are at work.

If the blame can’t be laid at the door of deprivation, what about social media? Certainly it adds to the complexity of the environment; minor incidents, reprisals and the need for young men to avenge perceived slights can be immediately magnified with deadly results.

For solutions: some say it’s not necessarily about the amount of money available, but the quality of the youth and community programmes and the people delivering them. Other commentators have pointed out the huge divisions in London as affluent middle class families live in quiet streets close to rough council estates that have long been breeding grounds for crime and violence. And should police should focus on particular communities where gang violence is so endemic, such as recent immigrants from the horn of Africa, and adopt a zero tolerance approach – or is this unacceptable ‘racial profiling’ and blaming ‘the other’? Is the reality that crime and violence using weapons is now found increasingly among all racial groups? And how would a crackdown work when our prisons are already full?

Where is the church in this? While the disturbing wave of aggression has reached the headlines of most media, it doesn’t seem to be a concern of Christians: certainly by the end of last week, violence in London had not been mentioned at all on the popular websites Christian Today (where there seems to be more celebrity news from the US than comment on the UK scene), or Premier. Nor on the Church of England website, or in the Church Times, or, the Diocese of London site. And I confess that I’m only thinking about it now, as English Christianity of which I’m a part is predominantly white middle class, not affected by a scourge primarily of different ethnic groups in places where the likes of ‘us’ don’t go, let alone try to establish church communities.

 

Here are some urgent questions which need to be asked in the light of this developing social breakdown. Firstly, however we interpret these symptoms in terms of our ‘big picture’ analysis of society, do we care about the individuals who are affected? A spate of knife murders can be looked at as an issue, but each case involves pain and distress for individuals, families and friends. It was good that at our church on Sunday this was brought before the Lord in corporate prayer, and I’m sure many churches in London are not only praying, but also involved in caring for those affected.

But secondly, the big picture: what does such a rise in vicious attacks say about our country? Should the trend be separated from other recent depressing news about the rapid decline in Christian belief and the exponential increase in mental health problems and general unhappiness among young people? Or is there a link between the brave new world of relative affluence, new instant forms of mass communication; family, sex and gender chaos, and a sense of meaninglessness on one hand, and on the other, what could be the stirrings of a return to values of the dark ages, where men achieve a sense of significance through membership of gangs, and violence?

And then, an issue like this gives an opportunity for the church to define and evaluate its mission. The church may see itself as a voice for social justice in the public square, an agent of healing and community-building on the ground. In this model, church leaders articulate a vision for a better Britain, as Archbishop Justin Welby has done in his recent book, and call on the government to release more financial resources for the less well-off, while at the same time showing examples of effective pastoral ministry and community engagement carried out in parishes.

Another, very different approach is to see politics and concern about general social and moral issues in society as outside the remit of the church’s task, which is to preach the Gospel, make disciples, grow the Christian community and plant new churches. This might have a secondary effect of shining a light in the secular darkness and even turning things around if enough people are converted. But according to this view, when getting a local church to hold its own is difficult enough, critiquing trends in society and thinking about how to bring about change on a national level is unrealistic – and probably not biblical.

Martin Davie’s review of Archbishop Welby’s book shows the limitations of the social justice approach – it ends up being not radical enough (what Davie calls ‘modest proposals’ for tinkering with the existing system), and not explicitly Christian enough. While concern for social justice, and action to help the poor motivated by compassion, is a part of authentic Christian faith, a church which prioritises alignment with mainstream liberal thought can shy away from any prophetic critique of destructive aspects of secularism. And is anyone listening? As the church faces regular headlines about its rapid numerical decline and its association with protecting paedophiles, the views of its leaders on the nation are in danger of seeming increasingly irrelevant.

The second model of church-based mission favoured by conservative evangelicals receives a strong critique from Joe Boot of Christian Concern. Boot describes the weaknesses of a pietistic ‘churchianity’, which produces “immature believers… with little or no conception of the scope and grandeur of the gospel or the transforming power of the kingdom of God for all of life.” He asks “is it really a full-orbed and robustly biblical Christianity?” suggesting that it derives from a dualistic idea of church and religion being ‘holy’ , and the things of the world being unworthy of attention.

Boot also demonstrates the weaknesses of the social justice model, where the church “becomes a handmaiden of the state and an advocate of liberal progressivism…rather than biblical righteousness”. He favours the development of a vision for a culture in which Christ is recognised as Lord, an idea which he develops more fully in his books, but which many who agree with his diagnosis of the problem might not agree is achievable.

The debate among Christians about the nature of the church’s mission, and how best to carry it out given the realities of our culture, will continue, and are brought into sharper focus the more serious our national social problems become apparent.

Easter people: celebrating liberation and new life, but living on unleavened bread

Posted by on Mar 27, 2018 in 2-Important Posts, Child abuse, Church of England, Easter, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Easter people: celebrating liberation and new life, but living on unleavened bread

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

The Church in captivity.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, as it relates to the Church of England, has focused on the failure of institutional process. Bishops and other church leaders, when presented with evidence of clergy sexually abusing children or having done so in the past, at worst appear to have colluded with the abuse by covering up the evidence and protecting the abuser; at best they didn’t know what to do, perhaps following the letter of the law and agreed procedures by passing the information on to other responsible individuals or bodies, but not taking more decisive action to ensure safety and justice.

The Pastoral Letter from the Archbishops of York and Canterbury continues the attitude of penitent admission of fault in the organisation, and reminds readers that the situation is now vastly improved compared with the dark days of the past that have been exposed so excruciatingly. However there is acknowledgement that the sense of the church being under judgment from the secular world has only just begun. IICSA will in due course produce a damning report, and from there will flow strong calls for statutory regulation of church activities, and even its theology, by government agencies.

Some commentators have pointed out that there needs to be profound spiritual analysis, and the seeking of spiritual solutions, not just legal and managerial ones. Could the crisis be linked to toleration of sexual immorality in other areas by clergy, and in Christian discipleship in general? A misplaced pastoral concern for a clergyman with a ‘weakness’, desire to protect the reputation of the church, a belief that sexual behaviour is a minor, secondary issue, not understanding the spiritual toxicity that results from unrepentant sin in this area – all of these and more have surely been factors in allowing a ‘turn a blind eye’ culture to develop in the church.

I was brought face to face with this in a safeguarding training day that I attended recently. Our table group were discussing a fictional case study of a salaried parish youth worker who was in a relationship with a girl in the youth group; she was pregnant, but they claimed that as she had recently turned 18 they were consenting adults and no wrong had been committed. My response (although I prefaced my remarks by laughingly admitting that I was “a bit hard line”), was to say that this was a clear case of gross misconduct; that the youth worker should be immediately suspended, and once lawyers had been consulted about employment contracts etc he should be removed from his post as soon as possible. A vicar on the table disagreed. His instinct was to be pastorally concerned for the couple, that this was a minor indiscretion in a loving relationship, and that my attitude would result in losing a successful youth worker and giving a bad reputation to the church.

The next day my morning bible reading was 1 Corinthians 5. Here Paul addresses a similar situation of sexual morality in the church. “A man has his father’s wife” almost certainly refers to a situation where a wealthy, elderly man takes a much younger second or third wife, who then has an affair with the son of the previous marriage. The young man is a member of the church, who pride themselves on their liberal tolerance, not judging the situation in any way. Paul says instead that they should have “gone into mourning and put out of your fellowship the man who did this” (v2). Paul’s first concern was not the young couple’s happiness, or whether people on the fringe of church might be put off by a judgmental attitude towards unconventional domestic arrangements. His first concern is for the spiritual health of the church, which is being harmed by the toleration (and even celebration) of sexual immorality in its midst.

 

Exodus and unleavened bread

What has this got to do with Easter? Paul goes on to use the image of yeast. “Get rid of the yeast”, he urges, “for Christ, the Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed for us. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth” (vv7-8).

This is a reference to the well-known practice at the Jewish Passover, when the children are sent to run around the house looking for yeast, or bread with yeast in it, so it can be put out of the house before the feast begins. The instructions from Moses had been clear and strict on this (Exodus 12:8; 14-20). Getting rid of the Egyptian yeast, going without it during the escape from Egypt, and then as a people remembering this every year, was a powerful symbol for detachment from the spiritual influence of the pagan culture from which God’s people were liberated after the slaughter of the lambs and the application of the blood.

So too, says Paul to the Corinthians, you have been set free from the power and defilement of sin by the atoning death of Christ, the Lamb of God. Now you are a new batch of dough, a new creation, ready for a fresh start, living every day as a celebratory Passover feast in memory of that great day of salvation. But in practice this means discipline – not allowing the ‘yeast’ of sinful ideologies and behaviours to infiltrate the dough again.

He goes on to say that unlike the Israelites who physically moved away from the pagan Egyptians, the Corinthians would have to keep living among those with different values, but internally, spiritually, they were to be set apart. In practice this means separation, even the harsh consequence of putting outside the fellowship someone who claims to be a believer but is living in open and unrepentant sin. While sexual immorality is not the only or worst sin (Paul lists others), it is the first on Paul’s list in 5:11. At the end of the next chapter he urges the Corinthians to “flee from sexual immorality”, and instead, honour God with their bodies (6:18-20).

Of course many would want to draw a clear distinction between sexual abuse of children, which is a crime and universally acknowledged to be something heinous, and consenting sex among adults outside marriage. The latter is seen as a sin in the apostolic biblical tradition, but other more liberal versions have historically not worried about it – indeed some revisionist Christians have even claimed that traditional, conservative ‘hang-ups’ about sex may be responsible for child abuse and its cover up. But the consistent witness of Scripture does not draw this distinction, as if all sex is OK as long as it is consensual and not exploitative. If anything, Jesus and Paul strengthen and reinforce the Old Testament teaching in this area: “flee sexual immorality” does not just refer to criminal activity, or sex where there is a power imbalance, but to any sinful sex in deed and even in thought (Matthew 5:27-28).

Like yeast, toleration of this infuses the church, and infects each one of us individually. It cannot be dealt with by finger-pointing and self-righteousness;  by denial of the problem, or saying that sin is only committed when crimes against children are involved. The grip of spiritually and psychologically damaging habits is powerful for us all, and can only be broken by the sacrificial death of the Lamb of God, but then comes the discipline of the Christian life, which Paul explicitly links with the Passover discipline. Easter people are those who celebrate their freedom, but live carefully, on unleavened bread, putting aside hypocrisy and lies, and embracing sincerity and truth.

University missions provide signs of hope amid Anglican decline

Posted by on Mar 20, 2018 in Editorial Blog, Evangelism, Mission | Comments Off on University missions provide signs of hope amid Anglican decline

University missions provide signs of hope amid Anglican decline

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

The numbers don’t look good, nationally. Surveys tell us regularly that church attendance is going down, and those who have religious faith are now in a small minority. For example, on the faithsurvey.co.uk website, 2016 figures suggest that only 28% believe in God, while 38% are convinced there is no God – the rest don’t know or have a vague belief in spiritual power but not a personal God (although many of these appear to put ‘Christian’ and even ‘C of E’ on census forms). In the past 40 years, overall church attendance has more than halved, down to 3 million, or less than 5% of the population (here’s a new campaign that seeks to address this). Following a trend of mainline church decline, Peter Brierley’s research predicts that Anglicans will make up only 21% of all churchgoers in the UK by 2022.

So are there signs of hope? It’s not all bad news for the Kingdom: by that year more than 30% of churchgoers will be Pentecostal or independent evangelical. Amid general decline, some C of E churches are holding their own, and there are pockets of growth. Again we know from research that churches with enabling leadership, a clear vision, commitment to bible-based evangelism and with good youth and children work, among other factors, are more likely to attract already committed Christians (often at the expense of smaller churches), motivate parents to pass on their faith to their children, and even see people come to faith through focused preaching or more likely, one to one friendship, and discussion courses.

Some say that numbers don’t matter; that in a context of secularism, decline is inevitable and should be managed to ensure it’s gradual, rather than a crisis of cliff-edge collapse. But many churches reject this view: they still care about the eternal spiritual destiny of the thousands in their parish and beyond who don’t know the Lord, and are taking action to share the Gospel and make disciples. In addition, they care about the material and social lives of people here and now, contributing to the common good, giving aid to the poor and seeing that a prayerful, evangelistic presence enhances the well-being of a community whether or not people are being converted.

Many churches have times of special focus on evangelism, whether running an Alpha or Christianity Explored course, evangelistic preaching for the Christmas crowds, or mission weeks – but often these don’t reach beyond the fringe, close friends of existing church members, perhaps, who have already heard the Christian message a number of times.

While the local church has always been a primary agent of evangelism, historically it’s not the only one. As the context for mission in the nation becomes more of ‘unreached people’ rather than the nominally Christian majority that the great Billy Graham rallies encountered, we have to look perhaps to the methods used by evangelists in Africa and Asia in the 19th and early 20th century. But before that, we can observe other major evangelistic initiatives, not necessarily part of a church programme, which already happens in our midst every year in February and March, connecting with previously unchurched young people. These are the missions run by university Christian Unions.

Dozens of evangelistic programmes have been held up and down the country among students over the past few weeks. Hundreds, perhaps thousands have heard the Gospel explained clearly, often for the first time, by listening to talks, reading testimonies on social media, or reading a Gospel with a friend using the ‘Uncover’ material. And people have put their faith in Jesus, started to live the Christian life, and begun to attend church. Young Christians have begun to develop spiritual gifts and leadership skills as they move from a shy, perhaps second-hand faith learned from parents and home church, to confident witnesses, having broken the ‘pain barrier’ of asking a friend to a meeting, now bold in intercession and participating in the organization of evangelistic events.

What is the impact? How many have come to faith this past ‘mission season’? It’s quite difficult to find publicly accessible reports. The UCCF site features a few blogs, and each year I hear anecdotes, but generally this seems to be an area of mission which needs more attention from sympathetic researchers. There would certainly be a lot of material to draw on, ranging from the major events run by traditionally large CU’s at Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, Durham etc, to the stories now coming out of the smaller and newer higher education centres. The initiatives themselves are often full-on and exhausting for the CU members, who when it’s finished have to catch up on their missed academic assignments, rather than collect stats and write missiological reflections. It would be very helpful for the wider church if this work of recording could be done.

History shows that UCCF student evangelism will always have its critics from outside and inside the church – ‘the theology is too conservative, the methods too didactic and pressurizing’. But there are large numbers of church leaders and committed lay people in the C of E today who trace the beginning of their journey of faith to the persistence and prayerfulness of friends at university who led them to a place where they could hear and understand the simple Gospel.

Many Christian students of today will not end up in C of E churches, but often because of what they perceive as a lack of Gospel clarity there, increasingly gravitate to new independent evangelical fellowships. The work of the Kingdom is not being harmed by such transfer, and it could also have a positive effect on mission-minded Anglicans. So it would be counter-productive for a church to try to co-opt and domesticate this movement; rather let the Spirit do his work in refreshing the church.

The Anglican Church in Nigeria was by many accounts rather staid, before its transformation in the 70’s and 80’s into a mission powerhouse, largely as a result of contact of its members with vibrant bible-based student ministry, and the Spirit-filled worship of Pentecostal churches. So it could be that in Britain too, the growth of independent churches and the indigenous mission movement that is student evangelism could provide new impetus not just for new forms of Christian church, but also for biblically faithful Anglicans both inside and outside the national church structures.

Humanism, the collapse of faith and the need for new methods of apologetics

Posted by on Mar 13, 2018 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Evangelism, Humanism | Comments Off on Humanism, the collapse of faith and the need for new methods of apologetics

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

“I used to pray before bed, but I’ve definitely become less religious. I used to go to church every week – not any more. I hugely regret not voting for gay marriage. Faith is about love, and religion is too. I should have realized that.”

So says Nadine Dorries, Conservative MP, whose feisty character and working class roots set her apart from most of her more conventional and privately educated male colleagues, and has sometimes gained her tabloid notoriety. This quotation from an interview with Dorries in the Sunday Times magazine (March 11th) illustrates two important trends in our society. Firstly, even political conservatives have become more liberal on social issues. And secondly, this appears to be connected to decline in church attendance.

Among the governing elites in the nation, wide differences of opinion may exist on political and economic issues such as Brexit and levels of government borrowing and spending, but a liberal consensus on moral issues such as same sex marriage is such that it is extremely rare for anyone in the public eye to express a conservative view publicly (such as Jacob Rees-Mogg did last year.)

But as another Christian politician, Tim Farron, has pointed out, a liberal consensus quickly moves on to an illiberal conviction that those who don’t share the liberal view are wrong, hateful and potentially dangerous. They should be marginalized and punished, and the next generation should be educated in the politically correct view only. Many with influence, such as politicians and church leaders, have decided that given this climate, the necessity of avoiding controversy and aligning with accepted opinion means the best thing is to change one’s view, or at least not to articulate the conservative view publicly.

Has this change come about naturally, through evolution, as we grow in enlightenment compared to our forebears? Increasingly people are realizing that there has been a deliberate and revolutionary re-shaping of the culture, and the minds of the populations of the Western world, by an unholy alliance of secular left and right- wing thinking.

On one hand, the proponents of neo-Marxist ideologies believe progress towards equality and mutual prosperity is hampered by the old oppressive social order of patriarchy, heteronormativity, binary gender and the nuclear family, which can be eliminated through control of key institutions, propaganda, law change and education. On the other hand, capitalist marketers have realised that getting people to buy more stuff involves removing any brake or friction in the consumer experience. Traditional moral codes and placing a high value on personal self-control would definitely act as such a brake; while a generation increasingly ‘free’ of such ‘constraints’ will be psychologically more open to marketing messages, and so create more profit for the corporations.

 

The second insight from Dorries’ remark is that in her case at least, changing her mind about a moral issue such as same sex marriage accompanies what is portrayed as a softer, more humanistic, more tolerant approach to morality in general, and from that to faith. Previously, belief in God and his word was an absolute from which could be derived essential beliefs about morals and behaviour. When we feel uncomfortable about those absolutes, perhaps because everyone around us is saying that they are unfair, repressive, creating false guilt and so on, this causes us to question what we thought we knew about God. Maybe, we conclude, faith does not start with positing a morally pure Creator and his communication to us, but with us, our emotions and relationships of love, and what we hope for as a better world. But for Dorries and many others, if religion is about love, then church and even prayer become optional at best.

It’s not difficult to see the implications if a right-wing politician’s journey from social conservative to social liberal has led to her stop going to church and praying to God. Many millions in the West are making the same journey. What does this say then about the continued trend of mainline churches in the West, to embrace social liberalism as an evangelistic strategy?

Associating God, Jesus, the church and the bible with a ‘thou shalt not’ morality, injustice towards minorities and the preservation of inequality has made the brand of Christianity toxic, the argument goes. Embracing inclusion and a message of unconditional acceptance is a ‘missiological imperative’ to get people back into church. But in fact the opposite has happened. As the message has been received by Dorries and millions of others that religion and faith are “just love”, they don’t see the need for organized worship, the receiving of the divine word and sacrament, and a discipleship of taking up the cross. Paradoxically, the focus on a liberal interpretation of “God is love” has proved more toxic to Christian faith than the idea that God might be against same sex marriage.

 

So if trying to align the message of the Gospel with contemporary social liberalism appears to be counter-productive in terms of evangelism, what approach should the church take? Many nominal Christians who used to have a basic bible knowledge, socially conservative views and go to church sometimes, now have liberal opinions and don’t go to church at all. This has not just happened naturally, but as the result of the successful propagation of ‘other gospels’ which, like the true Gospel, offer the stick and the carrot – a vision of a perfect society, and warnings of not being included for those who don’t embrace the humanist ideology.

Given such a change, simply talking about God and Jesus to those who have imbibed the contemporary worldview will result in rejection of the message at worst, and a kind of syncretism, seeing God and Jesus as metaphors for secular views of love and justice at best. Part of the essential apologetic task of the church is to show how humanistic understandings of God, humanity, love, sex, marriage, sin, justice and so on are “hollow and deceptive philosophy” (Colossians 2:8) being forcibly imposed in our culture, and then to deconstruct them with bible, spiritual warfare and the example of sacrificial discipleship.

 

‘Voices of the Silenced’ – is it best to keep it that way, or should they be heard?

Posted by on Feb 27, 2018 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Homosexuality, Testimonies | Comments Off on ‘Voices of the Silenced’ – is it best to keep it that way, or should they be heard?

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Attempts to suppress a documentary illustrate widespread ignorance, intolerance and injustice in Western sexual politics.

What makes a good society? Should there be ‘liberalism’ and ‘tolerance’ for any point of view, within a framework of law that protects against exploitation and violence? Or are certain viewpoints, voices, actually better kept away from the public space, because they cause harm by stirring up hatred, affecting people’s mental health, or simply being inconvenient? And then, who decides?

Some views generally held to be abhorrent and patently false, such as holocaust denial, are illegal in some countries but not in others, because in the liberal West we have usually taken the view that an opinion should not be censored, no matter how wrong or stupid, but rather should be open to debate and held up for scrutiny rather than being given the opportunity to breed in dark corners.

However today, loud, powerful lobby groups are capable of generating such public disapproval about certain viewpoints that they are effectively suppressed, even though, unlike holocaust denial, they are based on truth and beneficial for those who hold them. On 8th February a documentary film about a viewpoint deemed ‘incorrect’ was due to be shown at Vue Cinema in Piccadilly Circus. At the last minute the cinema bowed to pressure and cancelled the screening. With exquisite irony, the film was called ‘Voices of the Silenced’ (VoS) – see here for press reports on this ‘silencing’.

What are the main points of the film? Why were critics so keen to stop it being shown, rather than debating the viewpoints in a tolerant manner? And what was the result? The ‘voices’ that VoS allows to speak are men and women who have been involved in homosexual relationships and in some cases have identified as part of a gay or transgender community and lifestyle, who for various reasons became dissatisfied with that, sought help in the form of different types of counselling, and stopped their compulsive behaviour. In some cases, they found that heterosexual feelings developed even to the point of getting married and having children.

The immediate objection to this, which led to the cancellation of the film’s screening, is that it’s promoting the idea of ‘gay cure’, linking it to the dark days of compulsory electric shock aversion therapy in the 1950’s. Critics say “what’s wrong with being gay – why are you trying to change people from gay to straight?”, completely ignoring that the voices are from people feeling oppressed and wanting to change, and those willing to attend to them (often at great personal cost), not from any powerful group imposing their view and solution on others. The point is made in the film that change is not guaranteed, and seeking it should be entirely voluntary, but help should be available and not suppressed.

Another common objection attempts to use science: “hasn’t it been proven that some people are born gay? Won’t trying to change them cause harm?” So the documentary features a second group of voices: researchers who have analysed the debates around the science of sexual orientation, and the rapid evolution of scientific opinion on the subject. They show that medical opinion is now firmly on the side of sexual desire being influenced by postnatal factors and ‘fluid’, ie with potential for change, rather than genetically determined or fixed. The speakers in the film conclude that guidelines issued against therapy for unwanted same sex attraction by such august bodies as the Royal College of Psychiatry and the British Medical Association, laws enacted in States in the US or motions passed in Church Synods, have too often been guided not by science, but by ideology mediated by cultural pressure coming from lobby groups, illustrating the power of sexual politics, or politicization of sex, in the West.

The third group of voices in the documentary come from the ancient world. Presenter Mike Davidson from Core Issues Trust invites viewers to imagine the worldview of Jewish slaves, taken to Rome after the destruction of Jerusalem in ad70 and forced to build the Coliseum, or of Christians in Pompeii before the eruption of Vesuvius. The first century AD saw a clash between Roman and Judaeo-Christian sexual ethics: the powerful but immoral and violent civilization of Rome on one hand, Judaism and the new religion of Christianity which was emerging from it on the other. Those in control demanded conformity to their values, and there was huge pressure on Christians to compromise. But despite their voices being silenced in the early days, it was Judaeo-Christian ethics which were on the ‘right side of history’, and eventually became the foundation of our understanding of marriage, family, law and human rights which are again under threat today, as one of the voices of the documentary, Bishop Michael Nazir Ali explains.

The documentary shuffles repeatedly between these three themes of personal testimony of seeking and finding ways to change unwanted thoughts and behaviour, analysis of scientific and cultural bias trying to prevent this testimony from being heard, and finding parallels with the ancient world. Some might find this confusing, but for me it’s effective in helping to communicate the three strands in layers of short clips, rather than getting bogged down in overlong explanations.

As is often the case, the voices of individuals calmly, convincingly and bravely sharing stories of changed lives are compelling, although for English-speaking viewers, testimonies in a foreign language with subtitles might strain attention spans. The visuals of sites in Rome and Pompeii, and the narrative making the parallel of clash of values in ancient and contemporary cultures, is effective in breaking up what would otherwise be a documentary consisting only of talking heads. Is the content convincing? The historical angle certainly adds weight to the idea of a minority being persecuted and silenced for their faith-based sexual ethics.

The film was due to be shown to a few dozen people at Vue. Because of the cancellation and subsequent media interest, thousands of people were alerted to the documentary, the work of Core Issues Trust, and the idea that for some at least, being ‘gay’ might not be a destiny that must be embraced, but a choice that can be refused. But perhaps this is about more than allowing a minority some freedom of choice in thought and behaviour – it’s a courageous challenge to an entire ideology of sex which dominates our culture but because of the lies on which it’s based, has to use increasingly oppressive methods to enforce conformity. Voices of the Silenced is not for entertainment, but is compellingly watchable, and deserves a wide audience.

See here for clips of the film

here for the website

Northern Ireland: The first part of the documentary Voices of the Silenced was also denied a viewing at Queens Film Theatre in the Belfast but a screening will go ahead at Ballynahinch Baptist Church on Tuesday 13th March at 7.30.

The ‘merger’ of three Anglican evangelical groups in England: some questions

Posted by on Feb 21, 2018 in 2-Important Posts, Church of England, Editorial Blog, Gafcon | Comments Off on The ‘merger’ of three Anglican evangelical groups in England: some questions

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

After a long period of discussion and, I’m certain, lots of prayer, three organizations which have had overlapping membership, leadership and aims have agreed to merge, or in reality Reform and Fellowship of Word and Spirit will cease to exist, and a new, beefed-up Church Society will be created.

Church Society has a long history dating back to the mid-19th century and itself is the result of previous mergers of voluntary Societies within the Church of England. Its focus has always been on preserving reformed, bible-based evangelical ministry within local parishes, and in doing so, maintaining the presence of this theological position in the C of E as a whole. It’s probably fair to say that in the past, Church Society sometimes has had an image of being fairly staid, old-fashioned and lacking in wider influence – this has certainly been changed by the dynamism of the current leader Lee Gatiss.

Meanwhile Reform and FWS were created more recently to reflect a less ‘churchy’ style and different strategic agenda. Reform in particular brought together conservative evangelicals in the 1990’s to campaign against theological liberalism in the C of E (rather than anglo-catholicism, the previous focus of Church Society’s opposition), to be involved in the ecclesiastical politics of Synod, and to be more creative in promoting mission.

So given that Church Society has significantly modernized under Gatiss’ leadership, and one of the key battles for Reform, namely the introduction of women Bishops, is now over with a significant concession in the form of the official C of E commitment to valuing conservative evangelical ministry through the ‘Five Guiding Principles’ and the concept of ‘mutual flourishing’, in the eyes of many it seems sensible for the organizations to merge. They now become, in effect, a Society for conservative evangelicals, similar to that offered to Anglo-Catholics, with their own Bishop, Rod Thomas; and the prospect of more in future.

Gatiss’ statement on the merger can be found here. No doubt more will be said on behalf of the new organization; much is being said on social media. For the moment I would like to offer some comments and questions in a hopefully friendly spirit.

How big is this news?

Lee Gatiss says of the merger: This is the biggest thing to happen in the Anglican Evangelical world here for 25 years.” He has at a stroke given an enormous boost to the organization he runs, and it will shortly be unrecognizable from the struggling institution he took over, so one can make allowances for a certain amount of hyperbole! But I’m sure many people, for example some of those theologically orthodox evangelical Anglicans in England who aren’t members of CS or Reform, who might take issue with him and put forward other ‘big things’ which have happened. One hopes that this overstatement doesn’t build up expectations on which the leaders can’t deliver in future.

Do different views on strategy threaten evangelical unity?

Lee also sees the new merger as a bulwark against ‘fragmentation and dispersal’. This seems to be a reference to the confusing proliferation of overlapping networks and organizations, often reflecting different views that evangelicals have on various issues. Of course unity is good, and so is leadership with clear vision. But some readers may detect here a slight danger of appearing to say that anyone who agrees with the theology of Church Society, but sees a different way forward with regard to the state of the Church of England and the various kinds of ‘differentiation’ that are being proposed and enacted in response to the trajectory of theological liberalism, is somehow guilty of ungodly division.

So it would be good to know what will be the approach of the new organization to working with other evangelicals who share the same understanding of the Gospel and the authority of Scripture, but who might differ on other secondary issues? For example, the Church of England Evangelical Council (of which Reform, FWS and Church Society are members) has recently produced a document robustly re-stating the historic biblical position on sexual ethics, saying that some kind of separation from the Church of England structures will be inevitable if changes to church teaching are enacted. In a previous CEEC document, ‘Guarding the Deposit’, a clear warning was given about the limitations of a Society operating under the auspices of the C of E to guarantee the long term future of evangelical belief and practice within the denomination. Is this kind of thinking to be viewed as damaging to evangelical unity? It would be better if the different perspectives could be discussed from a position of recognizing that unity already exists, rather than seeing diversity of opinion on strategy as a threat to fundamental unity.

How to contend for the faith?

There are also a number of references in the Press Release to ‘contending for the faith’; mentioned by Lee and in quotes from representatives from Reform and FWS. Again, many will be fully supportive of the need to challenge false ideas, and bring congregations and hopefully more of the governance of the Church as a whole under the direction of God’s word. But there needs to be further explanation on what kind of ‘contending’ will be envisaged? Is it just a familiar phrase designed to ‘rally the troops’, while in fact Church Society plans to operate very diplomatically and in peace with the C of E structures? Or are they really planning to kick up a fuss about revisionist theology, heretical Bishops and so on? By committing fully and unconditionally to remaining in the Church of England, have they perhaps given away a key bargaining chip in contending for orthodox Anglicanism in England?

What about Gafcon?

Then there is the absence of any mention of relationship with orthodox Anglicans in the global Communion. It could be argued that the development of Gafcon is in fact the ‘biggest thing’ to happen to the church in recent years! This is because, perhaps, the presence of a united, biblically faithful group of Primates around the world who have already demonstrated their willingness to act against heterodoxy in the US, has been the main factor in preventing more rapid moves towards revisionism in the C of E. Though ‘contending’ by English Anglican evangelical groups such as Reform has been strong and clear at times, Gafcon’s influence has been more significant.

The Gafcon leadership have repeatedly expressed concern about the state of the Church of England. They accept that there are many theologically conservative folk remaining in the C of E and carrying out gospel ministry through its structures, and want to support them. But because of the secularization in the culture and the general theological slide in the Western church as a whole, they have acted to consecrate a missionary Bishop to provide oversight for some British Anglicans outside the official structures now, and in preparation for what may be needed in the future. It is not inconceivable that at some stage in the near future, Gafcon Primates could declare themselves in impaired communion with the mother Church. Again, where would this leave members of an evangelical society within that church who have not given themselves flexibility in terms of future strategy?

Meanwhile, membership of Gafcon, enjoying fellowship with the multicultural global mission movement based around shared understanding of faith as expressed in the Jerusalem Declaration, does not require signing up to any particular ‘stay’ or ‘leave’ strategy. I hope that the new Church Society will not see a contradiction between commitment to operating within the Church of England for the moment, while at the same time being part of Gafcon, and supporting other expressions of Anglicanism outside the C of E such as the Anglican Mission in England and Free Church of England.

Read also:  Why should Reform spell disunity? by Julian Mann, VOL

Securing a future or stockpiling whitewash? By Peter Sanlon, Anglican Mainstream

Anglican Unscripted: Ashenden and Kallsen comment

 

 

Reflection for Lent: Resisting temptation and the cosmic struggle against evil

Posted by on Feb 13, 2018 in Editorial Blog, Lent, Theology | Comments Off on Reflection for Lent: Resisting temptation and the cosmic struggle against evil

Reflection for Lent: Resisting temptation and the cosmic struggle against evil

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

During Lent, we’re reminded of how Jesus was tempted in the wilderness. This was God’s way of ensuring that Jesus’ humanity was mastered, working in perfect harmony with his divinity; that he was prepared for the ministry where popularity would tempt him to pride, and humiliation to despair. Jesus resisted the devil’s schemes, and so later was able to remain humble amid the adulation; hopeful and trusting in God’s sovereignty as he was being crushed.

Jesus went without food; faced and conquered head on the desires for power and prosperity natural to his human nature, so that he would be able, when the time came, to go to the cross and take the sins of the world on himself. He went through temptation in the desert, so that he could later endure torture and death. He did it for us, so that our salvation does not depend on how well we pass our tests, but on the grace that he demonstrated to us.

The Bible does not try to cover up how difficult this was for Jesus. He is not portrayed as detached and otherworldly, as if somehow because of “the joy set before him” he was oblivious to pain. His disciples saw his physical and psychological agony. He succeeded, knowing what he was doing, with immense courage and constant trust in God – in contrast to the disciples themselves, who are portrayed as seeking after human power, failing to grasp God’s plan, cowardly and fearful. Their salvation could only be by faith, not by their own efforts. And yet throughout his ministry Jesus taught that as his followers, they too would be tested and tempted, and that through their practice in resisting temptation, putting self to death and Jesus and his Kingdom first, the church would grow and spread.

So Lent calls us first to look at Christ, how he took on satan at great personal cost and won; how he prepared for his unique sin-bearing role which alone could bring us forgiveness and peace with God. The Gospel is primarily about us looking at his victory and sharing in it. But then, this season also focuses on the next stage of discipleship: to look at ourselves, to imitate Christ in our own battles with temptation to sin. The church has often struggled to maintain this balance, either emphasising our effort and turning faith into a daily grind or self-help philosophy, or so emphasising God’s grace and love that our need to resist temptation, live holy lives and be counter-cultural is lost.

 

There is a powerful illustration for the necessity of resisting temptation in the Lord of the Rings. For those who haven’t read the book or seen the films (I met someone in this category the other day), it can be summarised like this – Frodo Baggins has to destroy an extremely dangerous and powerful ring with a little help from his friends. (That’s inadequate, a bit like summarizing the story of Pride and Prejudice as “girl finds a husband”, or the Die Hard movies as “tough guy gets his vest dirty”, but it will have to do).

Frodo is an ordinary ‘Hobbit’, a harmless, insignificant creature wanting to live a quiet life. In a scene near the beginning of the first film, the ring comes into his possession, which means that his life is changed forever. He is aware of a new cosmic reality, of forces of evil which will take over if he does nothing. When he and his companions know what the ring is, he must destroy it, and there is a constant temptation to misuse it, and so part of what they have to do is to remain focussed, to constantly choose good and reject evil. If Frodo refuses to go on the journey to destroy the ring, or if he yields to its power, then its not just him that will die, but the whole world he loves.

Frodo’s immediate response is to offer the ring to Gandalf, the wise wizard, who responds “don’t tempt me” in a way reminiscent of Jesus refusing Peter’s suggestion that he does not need to go to the cross. But for both Frodo and Gandalf, for the ordinary person and the eminent influential figure, the call is to deny self and put to death the thing that seems to offer freedom and comfort, but in fact calls them to the service of evil.

In the same way, before someone becomes a Christian, they see their desires, and fulfilling or not fulfilling them, simply as part of being a human being. But once someone has understood that God is real; that Jesus really is alive; that the devil is trying to derail our lives and wreck the world, life totally changes. The choice facing every person, whether low or high in status, to go God’s way or my own, has implications in the spiritual realm not just for the eternal destiny of the individual, but much wider. So resisting temptation is not being a killjoy, or denying a valid part of your humanity as some may say – it is a statement that you are taking part in the cosmic struggle against evil.

In Romans 8:5-7, Paul speaks of two types of person: those who live according to their sinful nature, and those who live according to the Spirit. Temptation is the desire to indulge the sinful nature inside us. The verses following tell us a bit more about what it means to be controlled by our sinful nature – it is “death”, an absence of true life; it shows a mind hostile to God and refusing, even unable to obey his laws.

But there are crucial aspects of the Christian faith which aren’t reflected in the Rings story: the cross of Christ, and the giving of the Holy Spirit. In the Lord of the Rings, destroying the ring, a symbol for the sinful nature, is up to Frodo and his friends. At the end, when he’s on his own, there’s nothing to sustain him but his own courage and inner strength. If he fails, then all is lost.

In Romans 8:3-4 Paul makes three extraordinary statements that tell us something different about our struggle. First, “the law was powerless” meaning that knowing what’s right and wrong is not enough to stop us giving in to temptation, or to prevent the global advance of evil. But second, God’s Son died in my place as a sin offering, so that “the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us”. This is justification: God declaring us acceptable to him despite our failure, because of Jesus’ success, rather than because of our success in resisting temptation. And then thirdly, he makes it possible for us to live in a new way: “according to the Spirit” rather than constantly being dragged down by sinful nature.

This is expanded in vv12-13. Like Frodo, we have an obligation to go on a journey to destroy the precious thing which leads to sin – otherwise the result is death. But unlike Frodo, we are walking with One who has already done it for us, and we can can claim the help of the Spirit of God himself as we turn away from evil and live for Christ.