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.

Five books from 2020: prophetic messages for 2021

Posted by on Jan 5, 2021 in 2-Important Posts, Book Reviews, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Five books from 2020: prophetic messages for 2021

Five books from 2020: prophetic messages for 2021

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

In one sense, 2021 will be no different to any other year. Going right back to the time when Christ ascended, the task of Christians has been the same: to worship God and live in relationship with him, to participate in and support the church’s outreach and ministry of word and sacrament, to humbly serve in a needy world. In one sense, while kingdoms and empires and fashions come and go; while the church experiences periods of success and failure, power and persecution, the key facts remain the same: the need of sinful human beings for salvation; the unchanging truth of the gospel, the certain future of heaven and hell.

In one sense, things don’t really change, and we just need to keep the main thing the main thing. But in another sense, there is a dynamism to our individual lives, to the world with its rapid changes, and to God’s activity. God’s love for his people is the same throughout biblical history, yet after centuries of faithful, patient and perhaps frustrated prayer through times of great social change by ordinary saints, God suddenly intervenes with the arrival of the Son of God incarnate. Sometimes God appears to be distant; at other times he answers prayer miraculously and persistently. While on one hand the way of salvation is the same for everyone, no-one comes to the Father except through the Son, yet on the other, God relates to each person, not through a one-size-fits-all formula, but in relationship, individually, as human parents relate uniquely to each of their children through their change and development. And while the principles of Christian living in the world are laid down for all time in Scripture, God gives special applied wisdom at certain key times to his chosen leaders.

So, 2021 will be the same as any other year, but also, 2021 a unique year in human history. A year of working out how to respond to a vicious pandemic and its social, psychological and spiritual effects (not just medical and economic). While some familiar problems will continue: planet degradation, materialism, the desperate condition of the poor and those in conflict zones, we need to find ways of facing issues specific to our age: secularisation, sex and gender radicalism, ramping up of hostility against the Christian faith. It should be a year of carrying on the same old routines of worship, work, disciple making within a framework of joy and thankfulness, but also maybe something new: a year of soul searching and repentance, asking, for example:

  • why has the Lord allowed Covid deaths, lockdowns and an epidemic of gender confusion, abortion and marriage breakdown?
  • what specifically is he trying to teach us and what do we need to do?
  • how do we connect the message about Jesus with people where they are (a different place from where they were)?
  • when should we urgently make changes to our familiar patterns?

Five books published in the second half of 2020 are currently sitting on my desk, and answer these and other key questions. All five authors honour the bible as God’s unchanging word, yet all of them offer a specific application of the message for our time. They all exercise the spiritual gifts (Ephesians 4:11) of pastoring and teaching (and in some cases, evangelism), yet crucially all display the mark of apostle (visionary leadership on a scale wider than the local church), and prophet – interpreting the signs of the times and bringing God’s specific word to a situation. These first two gifts mentioned by Paul in his five-fold list have historically been celebrated, and it’s fair to say sometimes exaggerated and abused by charismatics, and in reaction, downplayed or even denied by conservative evangelicals. In these books they are properly and powerfully exercised for the building up and maturity of the church.

In “Beyond the Pandemic: Is there any word from the Lord?”, veteran writer and speaker Clifford Hill begins with the response to Covid in the nation and the church. Is what we are facing just ‘one of those things’, and we should just keep calm and carry on with human solidarity and the hope of the gospel? Rather, Hill insists, God is speaking: he has permitted the pandemic, and the less than perfect response of governments and church leaders. Church closures, he says, are a symptom of a national spiritual malaise and part of God’s judgement. The message to both church and nation should not be ‘the Lord bless you’ but ‘repent’. He bases his observations of today’s crisis and his understanding of God’s specific message to us not on a personal hunch, but on detailed exploration of the biblical prophets especially Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

Hill identifies specific sins from which Western culture needs to turn away, including abortion, the racist legacy of slavery, materialism and sexual immorality. Another book is needed to explore the philosophical and sociological background to secularism, the sex and gender revolution and the modern concept of self which is the fruit, at individual level, of a group acceptance that there is no God, and I am the master of my fate and captain of my soul. Carl Trueman’s masterful treatment is “The rise and triumph of the modern self: Cultural amnesia, expressive individualism and the road to sexual revolution”. He explains that the problem is much worse than individual sexual morality. When, for example, large numbers of teenage girls rush to erase their God-given womanhood, and businesses and employees are punished for not celebrating the Pride agenda, culture has reached a dark and dangerous moment. The background is in the teachings of Rousseau, Nietszsche, Marx, Freud and other prophets of humanist individualism and rebellion against the created order, whose ideas now dominate and which need to be understood and countered by the church, not accommodated and accepted as in liberal theology. Trueman provides a lucid and comprehensive guide to something which seems so powerful and complex that many Christians won’t face it.

But in the past, Christians did face apparently victorious evil in culture, and turn things around resulting in the rapid growth of the church and the prosperity of the nation. The most recent example was the early 19th century. The previous decades were marked with spiritual apathy and low church attendance, massive social injustice, and the proto-communism of the French revolution (1793) whose ideas initially attracted many in Britain, but then repelled as the true extent of violence, immorality and godlessness became apparent. By 1860 in Britain slavery had been abolished, laws were being passed to outlaw child labour and establish the foundations of workers’ rights and universal welfare, the nation under Queen Victoria was the richest and most powerful on earth, and 40% of the population went to church, much of which was evangelical. In his second volume of “The Nation’s Gospel”, London lawyer Jeremy Thomas continues his detailed history of evangelism in Britain since the Reformation, and here he explains what the Christian revival of the 19th century looked like, and what principles helped bring it about – while not in any way suggesting that it was a perfect golden age. It’s challenging and inspiring as we face seemingly insurmountable challenges today.

There is a big difference between now and then, however. While Christian beliefs and practice in 1800 may have been nominal, and clergy were often lazy and self serving, at least there were resources available for the church, there was a generally accepted framework of theism, and there was not active persecution of believers, at least not in the established church. What happens when, as in 2021, the memory of even the basic tenets of faith are lost in society, when ordinary Christian teachings are seen as not just dissenting from the norm but harmful, and a shrinking church struggles to pay its existing costs let alone dream of building big new enterprises? Rod Dreher, who wrote the foreword to Carl Trueman’s book, has in his hard-hitting style followed up “The Benedict Option”, and written an account of the church on the margins. To prepare for the “soft totalitarianism” of which church lockdowns, counselling bans and job losses for Christians are a foretaste, Dreher shows how we can learn from the pre-1990 Eastern European church on how to maintain authentic Christian faith and witness in the face of strong and subtle pressures to conform to secularism. His book is called “Live not by lies”, a title taken from a lecture given by courageous Soviet dissident Alexandr Solzhenitsyn.

The fifth book on the list is about Christian leadership. It does not focus on a time of crisis such as we are facing. although Covid lockdown-induced stress and church leadership which has lost confidence in the truth of Scripture is mentioned. Rico Tice’s “Faithful leaders, and the things that matter most” is a call to pastors, to re-commit to biblical orthodoxy, to kindness, to accountability, to repentance from and avoidance of secret sins, to humble service based on gratitude, to a vision of heaven motivating evangelism. While the recent fall and muddied reputation of high profile leaders is not mentioned specifically, this comes to the reader’s mind as Rico warns against using gospel ministry for self-promotion and the control of others for selfish purposes. Of all five books this is the least overtly ‘contextual’, but its message is relevant as a part of the necessary practical response to the new context we are facing.

 

See also:

Live not by Lies: a summary in twelve quotes, by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream

Live not by Lies: a review by Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

 

Reviews of The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution, by Carl Trueman, 

From Christianity Today

From The Gospel Coalition

From Martin Davie

Anglican Mission in England celebrates new status and opportunities

Posted by on Dec 18, 2020 in Anglican Mission in England, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Anglican Mission in England celebrates new status and opportunities

Anglican Mission in England celebrates new status and opportunities

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

The Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) is not a new organisation. Its origin was in the early 2000’s, when new congregations started to appear in England which identified as Anglican, but were outside the Church of England. In some cases they left because they were no longer able to accept the authority of, and fellowship with a liberal Bishop. In other cases the C of E Bishop initially granted a “mission order” to plant a new church, only to rescind it following pressure from local parishes – and the plant had decided to go ahead anyway. In those early years informal oversight and networking for these congregations was provided by the evangelical global mission agency Crosslinks, led at the time by Andy Lines, a former missionary in South America.

A number of key evangelical leaders within the Church of England saw the need for a new organisation for these churches to belong to, with an Anglican identity, and connected to the wider evangelical constituency in the C of E. AMiE was formed in 2011, with a particular character and focus: reformed evangelical theology, informal worship style, and strong commitment to evangelism and church planting. In 2013 AMiE was recognised as an Anglican mission initiative by Gafcon. 2017 saw the consecration of Andy Lines by the Anglican Church in North America, and his appointment by Gafcon as ‘Missionary Bishop for Europe’ – his immediate task was to provide oversight for those congregations which had left the Scottish Episcopal Church after their change of marriage canons and liturgy in that year. Bishop Andy continued his relationship with the AMiE churches on an informal basis while discussions took place about the shape of a new jurisdiction which could include AMiE, the faithful Scottish Episcopalians, and any other Anglican congregations in Britain or continental Europe in need of a home.

In the first few months of 2020, Bishop Andy, with the encouragement of Gafcon worked with representatives from the two main groups and other consultants to negotiate the development of a new ecclesial structure. In June it was confirmed that this would take the form of two distinct ‘Convocations’, each with its own character, canons and constitution, but both part of the Anglican Network in Europe (ANiE), of which Andy Lines would be the Bishop. Since then, AMiE has had to adjust its own constitution and develop canons, and the Anglican Convocation in Europe, geographically and in terms of churchmanship slightly broader than AMiE, has constituted itself from scratch in less than six months. ANiE has done the same in forming the overarching body – a remarkable achievement. On December 9th the Gafcon Primates confirmed their recognition of ANiE as an authentically Anglican jurisdiction, similar to the Extra Provincial Diocese of New Zealand, and the Provinces in Brazil and North America.

The result is that AMiE is no longer a loose affiliation of evangelical congregations with an Anglican heritage, but an authentically Anglican proto-diocese of a proto-Province, with a Bishop and strong connections with global orthodox Anglicanism. While it retains its own convictions on issues such as complementarian ministry, its partnership with ACE under ANiE ensures that it is part of a biblically orthodox church which reflects the diversity of Gafcon. As it seeks to grow through planting new churches, AMiE, together with ACE, can also provide a genuinely Anglican home for existing congregations currently in other jurisdictions who want to be part of a faithful global fellowship rather than another expression of Anglicanism with declining commitment to biblical authority.

This was the background to the celebration of the new stage and status of AMiE which took place on December 14th in an online event hosted by Bishop Andy Lines, and Lee McMunn, Rector of Trinity Church (AMiE) in Scarborough. As the nearly 250 participants arrived on the Zoom call,  they heard a number of pre-recorded messages of goodwill and praise for this missionary enterprise, from among others, Peter Jensen, Michael Nazir Ali, William Taylor, and Martin Mills the Chair of Gafcon UK and a member of the Church of England, who said:

You have grown from a church planting movement to a new Anglican jurisdiction, a Convocation of the Anglican Network in Europe under Bishop Andy’s oversight, authenticated by the leaders of the majority Anglican world. I’m committed to ensuring that through Gafcon UK you continue to feel part of the Gafcon family, owning the vision and praying for our brothers and sisters around the world as they pray for you. And also that you continue to have fellowship with many like me who share the same faith and desire to see God’s kingdom come. There are different contexts, different strategies, but we’re united in Christ and part of a global family together.

Bishop Andy then welcomed those present, and gave a brief history of AMiE and his involvement. He emphasised the primary reasons for this new structure: a home for existing congregations outside an official system to belong to, and the great mission need in Britain and the continent of Europe. After this, the format switched to a pre-recorded video of a service of thanksgiving and commissioning led by Lee McMunn.

There were songs, prayers and readings. Robert Tong, a canon lawyer from Sydney who has spent countless hours over the past six months assisting with the development of canons and constitutions, was interviewed, and explained he was giving his time partly in gratitude for the initiative by English Christians (especially Wilberforce and Newton) who ensured that faithful ministers of the gospel were a key part of the foundation of the colony of Australia. Archbishop Foley Beach gave warm greetings from the Gafcon Primates and the ACNA. Tim Davies, minister of Christ Church Central (AMiE) in Sheffield, led a prayer of dedication in which different sections were read by all of the ministers of the founding AMiE churches.

Bishop Andy’s sermon was based on 1 Thessalonians 5, and emphasised the reality of the return of Christ as a motivation for our love for and another and our evangelistic mission to the world. After concluding prayers, we returned to the multiple faces of Zoom, and were sent into small groups for sharing of our concerns, and prayer for one another and for AMiE. Most of the participants on the evening were clergy and lay members from AMiE churches, but there were a number of others supporting from the Church of England and from around the world.

Four key things to note about this event, which perhaps serve to correct misunderstandings. Firstly, it showed that AMiE is genuinely Anglican and episcopal although of course not part of the Church of England or in communion with Canterbury. Secondly, it looks to Gafcon for inspiration and oversight, and embraces other groups in fellowship which share the same gospel vision, rather than being a federation of independent churches. Thirdly, it is not seeking to attack the Church of England and to actively recruit from it, although of course robust debate will continue between individuals in various jurisdictions on whether bible believing Anglicans should remain in the C of E. Lastly, AMiE and its parent body ANiE are small but appear to have put structures in place for growth – much prayer and work is still needed. The ACE convocation will launch officially in January 2021..

See Anglican TV interview with Bishop Andy Lines here

and with Lee McMunn and Philip de Grey-Warter here

Love and faith, Advent, and the two Johns

Posted by on Dec 8, 2020 in 2-Important Posts, Christmas, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Love and faith, Advent, and the two Johns

Love and faith, Advent, and the two Johns

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

Last week, sitting on the sofa and surfing through the channels, I came across a documentary on the Beatles. It was a serious analysis, linking the development of the band and their art with the cultural history of 1960’s Britain, and Western society more generally. The clean, jangly guitars, the simple, catchy pop tunes, vocal harmonies and lyrics about innocent boy and girl relationships of 1962-64 morphed into something different as the decade progressed. Sitars and distorted guitar riffs, a more complex rock sound influenced by the American West coast, and a change in subject matter. First, “I wanna hold your hand”; then “Tomorrow never knows” and “Let it be”.

The programme was especially interested in how John Lennon went in a few years from cheeky Liverpudlian working class folk singer to drug-inspired poet, atheist philosopher and transatlantic peace campaigner. “All you need is love”, and then in his post Beatles era, “Give peace a chance” and “Imagine there’s no heaven…imagine all the people living life in peace”. At a time of profound disillusion with, and rebellion against the established order, which had overseen the Vietnam war and the shadow of nuclear holocaust, these songs became anthems of hope for which there is no equivalent today. They articulate a yearning, but a philosophy of love and peace which had kicked away any foundations in Christian faith was bound to result in bitter disappointment. The ‘summer of love’ gave way to a decade of cultural decline, reaching its nadir in the ‘winter of discontent’. Then, Lennon was assassinated in 1980, exactly 40 years ago today.

During Lennon’s heyday, no-one was singing “Imagine there is a heaven”, except in church, rapidly declining in numbers and influence. But actually that’s not strictly true. Firstly, while the gods of stage and screen and idols of money appeared to be much “bigger than Jesus” (Lennon’s phrase about the Beatles) in the West, in China, Africa and Latin America the church was experiencing massive growth. But secondly, even in Britain there remained a popular medium by which the Christian message was consistently expressed in song. Year after year, as the Beatles were followed by glam rock, prog rock, punk rock, electronic pop and hiphop, something unchanging remained: Christmas carols.

Santa Claus and his elves, the absurd commercialisation of the present-buying season, Slade, Mariah and Bublé, even CoVid lockdowns have failed to displace the ongoing popularity of these old songs about the birth of Christ. Men and women who never normally sing, and those more familiar with “Swing low sweet chariot” or “When the Spurs go marching in”, can be heard belting out “God rest you merry, gentlemen” or “Silent night”. People are quite happy with carols on TV and radio even if they never go to church. Even Richard Dawkins famously said he liked them.

The peace on earth spoken about in carols has a more solid foundation than John Lennon’s wish – it originates in an event in history, and its celebration is part of the deep memory of generations. And carols speak about love, not the emotion temporarily generated in human hearts, but “God imparts to human hearts…”, in profound commitment to the human race which originates in God’s heart and, despite our unloveliness, came down at Christmas. Christians should be concerned about the spiritual darkness, the ongoing erasure of the cultural memory of faith, the hostility towards biblical values, but the continued sound of the public singing of carols is one of hope.

The words and the music of carols are counter-cultural, and yet they touch non-churchgoers. There is surely a lesson in that. Can the same be said for more attempts by today’s church to reach out contemporary society? There’s a lot of talk about “love” in the Church of England’s ‘Living in Love and Faith’ resources. But is it the love of Christ, the love that comes to us from above, or something described by 1960’s singer-songwriters? At the beginning of the LLF book, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York say:

“Our vision must be that which Jesus prays in Johns 17:21, ‘that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me’. Being one is not in the sense of being the same, but being one in love and obedience and holiness…”

Most of us would say ‘Amen’ to that. But the whole purpose of LLF is not to establish how we should act with our bodies and emotions, so we can be obedient and holy to an external, unchanging standard. Rather, the way the words are used, ‘obedience’ and ‘holiness’ are about conformity to an understanding of ‘love’ which means horizontal, peaceful human relationships. So, for the Archbishop of York writing in Radio Times this week, the nativity scene is not a picture of the mystery of the incarnation, speaking of transcendence, human sin, the lengths God has gone to bridge the gap, our invitation to repent and welcome the Saviour to “be born in us today”. Rather the nativity can be a focus of attention for a diverse national family, like the TV in the corner of the room, or the pub singer crooning “Hey Jude”, where we watch together, we have fun, “we discover that we belong to one another, we are one humanity”.

But of course that passage referred to, in John 17:21, is not just about unity and love. Yes these things are important, but their meaning is understood only in connection with the other things Jesus says in the previous verse:

“My prayer is not for them [the apostles] alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father…”.

Don Carson comments:

“This is not simply a ‘unity of love’. It is a unity predicated on adherence to the revelation the Father mediated to the first disciples through his Son, the revelation they accepted and then passed on…Similarly, the believers…are to be one in purpose, in love, in action, undertaken with and for one another, in joint submission to the revelation received…”

Carson goes on:

“Although the unity envisaged in this chapter is not institutional…[it] is meant to be observable. It is not achieved by hunting enthusiastically for the lowest common theological denominator, but by common adherence to the apostolic gospel, by love that is joyfully self-sacrificing, by undaunted commitment to the same goals of mission with which Jesus’ followers have been charged, by conscious dependence on God himself for life and fruitfulness”. (Don Carson, The Gospel According to John, p568).

John Lennon sang about love and common humanity, but his life was not exemplary, he died young, he is remembered but his ideas cannot save. John the Apostle recorded the words of Jesus, also talking about love and unity, but with a different meaning, one to which the church should be unashamedly bearing witness and using the opportunity of Christmas to do so. Is the Church of England’s idea of Love and Faith taking inspiration from the wrong John?

The Church of England’s guide to hearing God’s voice through the bible, according to LLF

Posted by on Nov 24, 2020 in Bible, Church of England, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on The Church of England’s guide to hearing God’s voice through the bible, according to LLF

The Church of England’s guide to hearing God’s voice through the bible, according to LLF

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

“The bible is crystal clear” on the subject of same sex relationships, says a participant in ‘The Beautiful Story’, the video commending the orthodox Christian view of sex and marriage, produced by CEEC. But is it? According to the Living in Love and Faith textbook (LLF), there are many possible, and perhaps equally valid interpretations of what the bible says on this subject. Not only this – making such a statement about the clarity of Scripture in supporting one’s position could betray unconscious use of power, to demean and oppress others with a different view, particularly oppressed groups, and it shows a lack of self-reflection and humility.

LLF (p328) suggests that certain ways of reading the bible which might seem “obvious” are in fact formed by “the experience of the privileged groups that do most to produce them. So what we take to be just ‘sound interpretation’ may in fact be white, male, middle-class, affluent and Western interpretation and theology”. Instead, we’re encouraged (p329) to consider “queer hermeneutics” which focusses on unmasking the “cisgender heterosexual perspective” behind certain assumptions about gender and sexuality.

In the chapter on ‘the bible’ (part of a comprehensive section on ‘How do we hear God?’, the traditional, conservative method of reading various passages is questioned and set against a revisionist interpretation. So for example, after lessons on how to look at the context and take into account “canonical diversity and complexity” (p280), there is a case study: can we articulate a ‘biblical’ view of marriage? The church did, we’re told, develop a consensus around an understanding of exclusive one-flesh heterosexual union, based on various texts in the Old and New Testaments. But this led to a “negative” perception of intimate relationships which are different from the norm.

LLF asks: Should “grace and mercy” be a more important principle than law? Or perhaps biblical examples were only relevant for the ancient context in which they are set? Maybe heterosexual examples are merely “illustrative” of a more general concept of covenant love, and not “morally normative”? And then, the biblical picture of God’s purpose of liberating oppressed peoples is surely more important than preserving traditional interpretations, in our current context of prejudice against LGBT people. Should we not rather learn from the experience of relationships previously regarded as immoral, but which clearly display the fruit of the Spirit? In the end, whether we follow some scholars in thinking that the bible does provide a coherent, unified witness on these ethical issues, or those who do not, can we not accept that despite our diversity, there is more that unites us than that which divides us?

The authors of LLF warn against simply appealing to Scripture. A number of key texts in the debate  are analysed (eg Genesis 19, Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13; Romans 1:26-27, 1 Cor 6:9-11, 1 Tim 1:8-11). In each case the traditional interpretation and then more revisionist approaches are summarised. The conclusion asks important questions which are left hanging:

“If we dismiss what seems to be obvious on first reading, are we saying there is no ‘plain meaning’ to Scripture and that only experts can read Scripture well? How do we give particular attention to the experience and understanding of those whose lives are most directly affected by how these texts are interpreted?” (p294).

The authors do not address how such a question (repeated in various forms many times in LLF) could have the effect of silencing anyone not seen as “directly affected”.

A long section (p283f) follows which sets out seven views on how to interpret the bible, and analyses them in turn. One one ‘extreme’ is the view that “the bible is truthful…we simply need to read it and obey it”. at the other end of the spectrum is the view that “the bible is a collection of fallible human voices”. Viewpoints 2-6 outline nuanced views ranging from more conservative to more liberal. As these views are evaluated, numbers 1 and 7 are discounted: 7 because it only sees human authorship, and the conservative view because it does not sufficiently take into account the complexities of authorial context.

It has to be said that this comes across as a blatant form of academic snobbery. In an effort to fairly represent the view of moderate conservative theologians while at the same time opening the door wide for ‘radical inclusion’ readings which use biblical interpretation to support same sex relationships, this section of LLF excludes the majority of ordinary lay Anglicans who would be closer to (1) in their understanding of the bible as God’s word. Those who read the bible devotionally, who study in groups and listen to it in church without external commentary, who fulfil the vision of Tyndale’s plough boy (the ordinary working man/woman empowered by the sacrificial work of translation and literacy), who seek to understand and apply the Scriptures in their simple profundity, who like Mark Twain say “it’s not what I don’t understand in the bible that worries me – it’s what I do understand” – these people are written off by the authors of LLF, who imply that you need a degree in theology and literary theory before you can interpret the bible, and that there is no “biblical truth” in the church, only multiple, sometimes contradictory interpretations held together by the overriding principle of ‘love’.

But not all use of the bible in LLF is dependent on academic training. We read a very subjective interpretation of John 6, attributed to the House of Bishops in their ‘invitation’ at the start of the book. Just as Jesus said to his disciples “make the people sit down” in order to receive the bread and the fish, so the Bishops hear this as a word of the Lord direct to them today: ask those with diverse views in the Church of England to “sit down…to learn, listen and pray together”. The LLF book becomes, bizarrely, the bread which Jesus will multiply for the nourishment of the church. And yet later in the book, verses such as “You shall not lie with a man as with a woman”, or “the creator made them male and female” need ten pages of discussion before concluding that God may have meant something else other than the ‘plain meaning’.

To be fair, it is possible to find some good, even profound passages of biblical interpretation in LLF which have clearly been written by some of the more conservative members of the contributing team. But on every occasion such a passage will be qualified; another point of view will be presented; we will be reminded to consider the impact on those who may feel offended; we will be reminded of our prejudices, we’ll be asked to celebrate our diversity, even disunity, and encouraged to witness to the world through the love we have for those with whom we disagree.

***

The Church of England Evangelical Council advise their members to “engage” with the LLF process. There is, I think, a genuine belief in some quarters that the “Beautiful Story” of the bible’s guide to who we are as human beings in the light of the gospel just hasn’t been communicated successfully, and here is an opportunity to win over the liberals as part of a respectful conversation. I would want to plead with anyone thinking of taking part in next year’s conversations on that basis: don’t! No matter how clearly and winsomely you communicate your view, at best it will be immediately relativised (“that’s your opinion”); you will be patronised (“haven’t you read these theologians?”);  at worst you’ll be accused of hate speech. The only justification for conservatives taking part is for those who’ve read up on all the intersectional theory and queer theology to just sit quietly, listen and take notes, seeing it as a research project on what the trajectory of the Church of England really is as illustrated by LLF: a compromise with secularism and neo-paganism. Meanwhile, energy should go into planning for differentiation within and/or separation from the institution depending on conscience and circumstance.

Living in Love and Faith: early thoughts

Posted by on Nov 11, 2020 in Church of England, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Living in Love and Faith: early thoughts

Living in Love and Faith: early thoughts

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

I have skim-read the main 480+ page document and am now ploughing through the text line by line. I’ve also watched a couple of videos and have been part of a couple of Zoom seminar discussions.

The Living in Love and Faith project depends on certain assumptions:

  1. Church teaching and practice can never be static or set in stone; they need to move with the times. This is evidenced by a number of sections in the LLF book devoted to explaining the history of ‘development’ of Church of England approaches to marriage and divorce, contraception, homosexuality and transgenderism. The implication is that change in attitudes, doctrines and canons is not just possible, it is inevitable.
  2. The Church of England needs to come to an agreement on policy with regards to sexual ethics and marriage, and especially a way of offering “radical inclusion” to LGBT people. This needs to be done in a way that does not cause schism, in order to demonstrate the possibility of reconciliation across theological and cultural divides, and so be a witness to the world.
  3. Factors preventing this unity-in-diversity are “tribal loyalties”, caused by an ignorance of the complexities of history, psychology, sociology and theology around the issue, the fear of those who are different, and the absence of warm relationships and genuine conversations across difference. Hence a large section of the LLF reading material is devoted to comprehensive outlines on current trends in society, the agreed opinions of ‘science’, and summaries of past events, all of which are presented as neutral and uncontested fact, but are not as will be mentioned later.
  4. What is needed is a journey of “love and faith”, in which those who share the same faith in Christ but with a wide variety of views on sex and marriage walk together in learning and exploration, not confronting, but learning and exploring together in an attitude of mutual caring, being “open to the Holy Spirit who may provide surprises” (this phrase was used by a member of the LLF team in a recent Q&A session).
  5. The massive expense and effort in producing the LLF materials, and then the 18 month process of more conversations at parish level, will achieve the aim of 2) above.

How are people reacting to this? On the pro-change side, while some are frustrated that the document does not go further in openly advocating change in the form of, for example, same sex marriage in church or the appointment of partnered LGBT bishops, many see the process as an opportunity to further break down resistance to what they see will inevitably happen soon. On the conservative side, while there will be disquiet at the liberal ideology underlying much of the material, there will be relief at the absence of a clear call for rapid change. Some will see an opportunity to creatively and winsomely present the historic biblical teaching in the forthcoming discussions, to win people over; others will be hoping for higher level discussions about more formal differentiation and protection for conservatives in the event of change to liturgy and canons later.

On the ground, many clergy and lay people will be bewildered: “we have to discuss this again? You’re expecting me to read all that?” Others will be fearful, especially middle of the road vicars in small parishes with a mixture of people with strong views on both sides, and conservative vicars who know that the majority of their parishioners would be in favour of change. Meanwhile a minority will conclude that a church which can produce this material cannot be trusted as a safe guide in the difficult journey of discipleship in contemporary society, and will quietly slip away to other homes.

There is a wearying sense of deja vu all over again about this. If anyone reading this is doing a PhD on the recent history of this interminable  Church of England process, here is a list of articles from March 2016 about the ‘Shared Conversations’

In the report on my experience of the Shared Conversations, I said this:

When Christians talk to one another…we should share the same worldview based on faith as defined by the Scriptures. I have experienced this many times in fellowship with Christians from different cultures and languages. However if different constructions of reality have been allowed to develop in parallel as part of the same church, then when people from these different tracks come together in conversation, not only is communication very difficult because of a lack of shared reference points, but we very quickly discover that our differences are not just about sexuality but many other theological elements of the Christian faith.

Has this changed with LLF? No. As I read the document, I see the same evidence of parallel universes, manipulative techniques, and mixture of truth and falsehoods. Some parts, particularly where there is engagement with the bible, have been written by individuals with high regard for Scripture, a love of Jesus and excitement about the gospel of salvation. Other parts, for example the sections on sociology (p65-100) and psychology (102-120), contain no Christian reflection whatsoever, and while purporting to be factual and ideologically neutral, the material they select is slanted towards a liberal, progressive viewpoint.

For example, certain controversial statements are presented as settled conclusions by experts: children are not disadvantaged at all by same sex parented households; attempts to change sexual orientation do not work and are harmful; high prevalence of mental health problems among LGBT people are caused by societal stigma. This website has for many years presented clear well-researched evidence to question these claims which are not compatible with a Christian worldview, but they will be presented as facts to be accepted as baseline by all in the discussions at parish level.

There is continued disagreement on issues of sex and marriage in the Church of England. How can Archbishop Welby’s vision of unity and reconciliation, along with inevitable “progress” in the eyes of the cultural elites outside the church, be achieved? Only through a process of smoke and mirrors, whereby the church moves away from authentic Christianity and replaces it with something else, which looks like the real thing but isn’t – and to do this in such a way that most people – conservatives in particular – don’t notice. One could say that LLF isn’t the method to achieve this – it’s evidence that it has already happened.

“Live not by lies”: a summary in twelve quotes

Posted by on Nov 9, 2020 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Religious Liberty | Comments Off on “Live not by lies”: a summary in twelve quotes

“Live not by lies”: a summary in twelve quotes

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

I have just finished reading Rod Dreher’s ‘Live not by Lies’, which has been mentioned a number of times on this site over the past couple of months (eg here, here and here). Dreher’s main thesis, taken from a 1974 essay by Alexander Solzhenitsyn, is that just as some aspects of enforced secularism in the West today mirror the 20th century Marxist totalitarianism of the East, so the models for preservation of our Christian culture can be found in the stories of anti-communist resistance in Russia and eastern Europe before 1990.

In his book Dreher explains the origins and power of the ‘woke’ ideology; its intolerance of dissent, its hatred of Christian truth and creation of its own myths, its demands for total conformity. It is likely that Living in Love and Faith, published today, will show further capitulation by the Church of England to this same spirit of the age in its failure to clearly defend the authority of Scripture and biblical teaching on marriage and family. Reviews of LLF will be featured on this site soon.

This also comes in the wake of the US elections. In his previous book, The Benedict Option, and in his blogs on The American Conservative, Dreher shows his alignment with most conservatives in the US in expressing concern about the Democratic Party’s move away from moderate liberalism to a more aggressive ideological approach. Unlike many Christians advocating support for the Republican party, however, Dreher has always been sceptical of using political power to oppose this neo-Marxist movement. There is a threat to Christian integrity in seeing a manifestly flawed human leader as saviour, and in uncritically embracing capitalist consumerism. Now that the Democrats appear to have won, his book seems even more relevant.

Here is a summary of Live not by Lies, using Dreher’s own words and those he quotes from his interviewees in the former Eastern Bloc:

(from the Introduction): “I was born and raised in the Soviet Union, and I’m frankly stunned by how similar some of these developments are to the way Soviet propaganda operated”, says one professor…What is happening here? A progressive – and profoundly anti-Christian militancy – is steadily overtaking society; one described by Pope Benedict as a “worldwide dictatorship of seemingly humanistic ideologies”.

Part One: Understanding soft totalitarianism [Dreher outlines the nature of the problem]:

Kolakovic the Prophet [Lessons learned from a dissident who opposed Nazism then communism in Slovakia]: Father Kolakovic knew that the clericalism and passivity of traditional Slovak Catholicism would be no match for communism…today’s survivors of Soviet communism are, in their way, our own Kolakovices, warning us of a coming totalitarianism – a form of government that combines political authoritarianism with an ideology that seeks to control all aspects of life.

Our pre-totalitarian culture [Understanding the nature of ‘soft totalitarianism’]: Alienated individuals who share little sense of community and purpose are prime targets for totalitarian ideologies who promise solidarity and meaning…the ideology of social justice – as defined not by the church but by critical theorists in the academy, functions as a pseudoreligion.

Progressivism as religion [Unmasking the gods of the new totalitarianism]: Consider that the civil rights movement of the 1960’s was led by black preachers who articulated the plight of their people in biblical language and stories. Those days are over, and we will not be able to take the measure of the long struggle ahead if we don’t understand the essential nature of the opposition. It regards Christians as the most significant remaining obstacle, bearers of the cruel and outdated beliefs that keep the people from being free and happy.

Capitalism, woke and watchful [How powerful corporations have embraced wokeness, and now control our lives]: The embrace of social progressivism by Big Business is one of the most under appreciated stories of the last two decades. Critics call it “woke capitalism”…now the most transformative agent within the religion of social justice, because it unites progressive ideology with the most potent force in American life: consumerism and making money.

Part Two: The call to resist – How to live in truth.

Value nothing more than truth [Refusing to believe lies even if our lives are surrounded by them]: To be a Baptist in Soviet Russia was to know you were a permanent outsider. They endured it because they knew that truth was embodied in Jesus Christ, and that to live apart from him would mean living a lie. For the Baptists, to compromise with lies for the sake of a peaceful life is to bend at the knee to death.

Cultivate cultural memory [The importance of history, art and symbols which tell the truth]: The essence of modernity is to deny that there are any transcendent stories, structures, habits or beliefs to which individuals must submit and that should bind our conduct. To be modern is to be free to choose…To those who want to keep cultural memory alive…the truths carried by tradition must be lived out subjectively. That is, they must not only be studied but also embodied in shared social practices – words, certainly, but more important, deeds.

Families are resistance cells [where the truth is first preserved, articulated and passed on in love]: Under communism, the family came under direct and sustained assault by the government, which saw its sovereignty as a threat to state control of all individuals…it continues today in the form of attacks from the woke left, including law professors advocating legal structures that dismantle the traditional family as an oppressive institution…But is doesn’t only come from the left…we have built a social ecosystem in which the function of the family has been reduced to producing autonomous consumers, with no sense of connection or obligation to anything greater than fulfilling their own desires.

Religion, the bedrock of resistance [Dreher gives examples from Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Baptist pastors in the Soviet system]: A time of painful testing, even persecution, is coming. Lukewarm or shallow Christians will not come through with their faith intact. Christians today must dig deep into the bible and church tradition, and teach themselves how and why today’s post-Christian world, with its self-centredness, its quest for happiness and rejection of sacred order and transcendent values, is a rival religion to authentic Christianity.

Standing in solidarity [The importance of small groups for mutual training in discipleship in the face of oppression]: “Sixty years of terror, they were unable to get rid of the faith”, the pastor muses. “It was saved specifically in small groups. There was no literature, no organisations for teaching, and even movement was forbidden. Believers rewrote biblical texts by hand…”

The gift of suffering [Examples of holding firm in the faith and loving enemies in the face of extreme persecution]: The old totalitarianism conquered societies through fear of pain; the new one will conquer primarily through manipulating people’s love of pleasure and fear of discomfort…admirers love being associated with Jesus, but when trouble comes, they either turn on him or in some way try to put distance between themselves and their Lord…The follower recognises the cost of discipleship and is willing to pay it.

Conclusion: Live not by lies: The secular liberal ideal of freedom so popular in the West…is a lie. That is, the concept that real freedom is found by liberating the self from all binding commitments (to God, to marriage, to family), and by increasing worldly comforts – that is the road that leads to hell…now our mission is to build the underground resistance to the occupation…

One criticism of Dreher has been that he advocates pietistic, monastic withdrawal from godless society. Nothing could be further from the truth. Christian families and communities are to be ‘resistance’ in occupied territory, keeping alive the memory of the rightful King who will one day return. But the resistance is not political, using power to rule over opposing people or groups – rather it is spiritual; always against evil which comes through false ideologies which enslave.

Should evangelicals stay in the C of E? These reasons aren’t good enough!

Posted by on Oct 23, 2020 in 2-Important Posts, Church of England, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Should evangelicals stay in the C of E? These reasons aren’t good enough!

Should evangelicals stay in the C of E? These reasons aren’t good enough!

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

Should evangelicals consider leaving the Church of England? This question has been asked ever since the middle of the sixteenth century. In every generation the arguments to “stick with the ship” (Ryle’s phrase) have prevailed; most have stayed and only a few have left. More recently, John Stott and Martyn Lloyd-Jones clashed in 1966 over whether the time had come for faithful, bible-believing evangelicals to leave the mainline churches and form a new denomination. Stott’s call to ‘stay in’ again carried the day with all but a small group of Anglican evangelicals, and paved the way for more intentional evangelical involvement in the Church of England.

A direct result of this is that today, according to Joshua Penduck in a recent article in CEN (23 October)“Never before has evangelicalism been as institutionally well represented within the Church of England as now. We have an Archbishop, a multitude of Diocesan and Suffragan Bishops, a flurry of Archdeacons, burgeoning theological colleges, and key figures sprinkled like salt invarious committees and boards.” And yet the same question remains. Evangelicals in the C of E are “close to the cliff edge of schism” over how to relate to the institution of the C of E.

Penduck is a West Midlands vicar who is also the Chair of Fulcrum and a prolific blogger on recent church history – he’s currently writing a series on different evangelical ‘tribes’ in the Church of England. In this piece in CEN his arguments for evangelicals to ‘stay in’ briefly analyse the contemporary scene before turning to a historical example not well known by English evangelical Anglicans.

Global Anglicanism, he says, is now “an evangelical denomination”, defined more by the charismatics of Singapore and the reformed conservatives of Sydney than by English liberal catholics.  “Glossolalia is more likely to be encountered than incense. In Uganda, the Anglican Church presents itself as the bible-based and Protestant via media between Roman Catholicism and Pentecostalism”. But in England, debates around gender and sexuality are threatening evangelical unity. While canons and liturgy have not changed, they are blatantly ignored in some Dioceses, says Penduck without elaborating – (I hope he provides some examples if the article is posted on the Fulcrum site).

In response, some evangelicals are talking about separation from the Church of England (again, he doesn’t explore the various more popular options for differentiation from within, being considered by CEEC, for example), while “for others of the ‘open evangelical’ persuasion, there may be the mischievous thought that it is conservative forms of evangelicalism which are the dead weight” – in other words, some open evangelicals are “making peace with the new cultural paradigm” and would find this easier if the conservatives left the church.

The historical parallel, says Penduck, is 19th century American episcopalianism. While today’s TEC is the “foremost example of liberal high church Anglicanism”, in the mid 1800’s, before the “siren sounds of Oxford and the Tractarians began to take hold”,  perhaps two thirds of clergy and bishops were evangelical. Moderate evangelicals over time were assimilated into the liberal high church culture which developed. Conservatives were divided between those who stayed and formed “societies”, and those who left, notably to form the Reformed Episcopal Church. However neither of these groups grew or had influence; the REC fell “into fundamentalism and obscurity..because it sheltered itself from the fresh air of Anglican debate. Rather than make the case for conservative evangelical Anglicanism, it retreated into its own world and shrivelled away.”

Penduck concludes that conservative and moderate evangelical Anglicans need each other and should “stay put and stay together”. The lesson for evangelicals in the Church of England today is this: a split would lead the moderates into revisionism influenced by secular culture, and conservatives into becoming an irrelevant fundamentalist sect.

The arguments are familiar, emphasising the distinctive Fulcrum position of seeing merit in both positions and being the balancing point between liberal and conservative, providing the best of both worlds of biblical faithfulness with enriching engagement with the world. Are the arguments convincing?

Penduck’s piece shows awareness of Anglicanism as a global denomination, and even mentions “the might of Gafcon”, although without elaboration. This is certainly less ‘England-centric’ than other conservative advocates for the same “remain” position: one leader argued in 2018 that the merger between Church Society and Reform was “the most significant development in Anglican evangelicalism in 25 years”ignoring the emergence of, for example, Gafcon and Alpha. And a recent 100 page document from CEEC (so far not published) about options for evangelicals in the current dangerous situation in the Church of England does not mention Gafcon once.

But Penduck lets his own England-centrism show when he refers to global evangelical Anglican expression as “within the household” of the Church of England. Surely it’s the other way round – English Anglicanism is now a small part of the global household? And his good points about Anglican growth and influence in Uganda, Singapore and Sydney are not explained. Could it be that their strength is precisely because of strong commitment to a biblical position, and a refusal to be a ‘fulcrum’ between biblical faithfulness and liberalism as he advocates?

The parallels between the current situation and 19th century American episcopalianism are interesting, but ultimately unconvincing. Penduck doesn’t explain why the Oxford movement became so attractive so quickly to US Anglican evangelicals. Then, the turn of the 19th/20th centuries was a time of revivals and explosion of new evangelical and Pentecostal movements – these are not mentioned but surely this was more of a factor in drawing evangelicals away from ECUSA than the secession of REC?

But the most serious flaw in Penduck’s analysis is his contention that American Anglicanism today consists of TEC as a large liberal catholic denomination, and REC as a tiny, disengaged,  evangelical one. He must know about the formation of ACNA in 2009 of which REC is a founder member; that ACNA is a broad churchnot of conservative and liberal ‘evangelicals’ as per his Fulcrum ideal, but of biblically faithful reformed and charismatic evangelicals and anglo catholics; that ACNA is growing while TEC is shrinking. Many of his readers may not know this. I have to ask: is Penduck ignorant of ACNA despite his erudition in other areas of recent church history, or is he being frankly dishonest and deliberately trying to mislead his readers, ignoring key facts which don’t fit in to the Fulcrum narrative, in particular airbrushing out the development of ACNA as a significant alternative Anglican jurisdiction under Gafcon, and a possible positive model for what could happen in England and even in Europe? 

Penduck says that conservative evangelicals should not leave the C of E as REC left ECUSA, but rather “make a case for” their views within the institution which has many evangelicals among its leadership. But this is what evangelicals have been doing with energy since the famous Stott call if not before. Has it worked? If there are so many genuine ‘evangelicals’ involved in the governance of the C of E, why is the institution becoming increasingly aligned to secular culture as he admits? He assumes that the presence of conservatives will prevent progressive ‘evangelicals’ from abandoning biblical faithfulness – really? Approval by the cultural elites is surely a far greater draw than fellowship with the bigots! Penduck admits: “Moderates, despite their current evangelical passion, could drift into liberalism and revisionism, becoming indistinguishable from old-style low-church liberals.” It’s not just conservatives who would point out that this is not something which could happen, but has been happening for years among open evangelicals and is increasing, despite the presence of conservatives in the denomination.

From the perspective of orthodox Christian theology, we must question the lazy assumption that only in friendly dialogue and “walking together” with heresy will evangelicals avoid drifting into obscurity and irrelevance. Rather, it is the shrinking revisionist church, desperately trying to plead its worth to the world, which is increasingly irrelevant. If evangelicals are true to the Lordship of Christ, the foundation of Scripture and a commitment to planting churches and prophetically influencing culture among all types of people, as we see in those sections of global Anglicanism aligned to Gafcon, we will see growth of the Kingdom of God. What is clearly essential can never be “irrelevant”.

Penduck speaks warmly of “the mother church”  in a way shared by many C of E evangelicals, as if it somehow inherently corresponds to the true church. That’s perhaps why he believes that staying in it is always a virtue, of ultimate importance, even if the mother church becomes ritualistic and hostile to the gospel, as he admits TEC has done. The US Anglican story is not as he recounts it, but rather one of faithful Christians leaving a heretical national church and aligning with a global coalition of the faithful who can confer Anglican authenticity. This is better by far than evangelicals staying in but not having any impact and simply legitimising the secular drift of the organisation, as “Communion Partners” appear to do in TEC.

Many evangelicals will no doubt be relieved to read another piece by an influential evangelical, advising that all will be well if the various tribes of evangelicals commit to staying in the C of E and learn to get on with each other. His arguments fail to convince, not just because of very selective and in some cases false historical analogies, but also a superficial analysis of the complex contemporary scene, an unrealistically optimistic view of the state of the church and the culture, and a lack of faith in the simple value of taking action to stand firm for the gospel.

See also:

English Anglican evangelicals: five areas of disagreement, by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

“Don’t abandon the flock” – command from the Lord, or excuse for inaction? by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Netherlands: therapists appeal to Parliament to take seriously new allegations of ritual abuse

Posted by on Oct 7, 2020 in 2-Important Posts, Abuse, Editorial Blog, Paedophilia | Comments Off on Netherlands: therapists appeal to Parliament to take seriously new allegations of ritual abuse

Netherlands: therapists appeal to Parliament to take seriously new allegations of ritual abuse

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

A group of mental health practitioners in Holland have taken the courageous step of going public with their belief that organised networks exist within which “paedosexual ritual abuse” takes place.

Following an in-depth report by investigative journalists with the radio programme Argos, questions were asked in the Parliament of the Netherlands. The Minister of Justice and Security replied with the now standard line in most Western democracies, that ritual abuse is the product of internet-fuelled over-active imaginations and discredited “repressed memory” syndrome; that it results in false accusations beings levelled at senior figures without sufficient evidence, blighting their lives; that “only three cases of such abuse have been reported in the last seven years”, and that laws are already in place to prevent abuse.

The therapists have taken action to write a letter [PDF copy here] publicly refuting the Minister’s statements, risking their reputations and careers, because they have all encountered a number of clients whose accounts of suffering the trauma of ritual abuse contain very similar themes of horrific sexual violence combined with occultic rituals, and as respected psychiatric practitioners they are convinced that the accounts they hear are consistent with true events, not autosuggestion or some other form of group deception.

The Argos report in fact results from interviews with 140 such survivors, and can be found here. [A warning to readers: some of the experiences described are extremely disturbing.] The interviewers address the question of whether the abuse could have been imagined or vastly exaggerated. The therapists agree that a constant theme is that the victims are not believed by doctors or police, because “there’s a dominant view within society that these things don’t exist.”

However, the evidence is not just the obvious mental trauma suffered by those who have experienced this abuse, and the similarities in accounts of the practices done to them. There is also physical evidence, including interviews with four gynaecologists who, speaking anonymously, confirm that they have seen horrific injuries to the private parts of girls and women consistent with accounts of mutilation as part of occult ceremonies. The whole hidden practice of satanic ritual abuse appears to be connected with drugs, prostitution and internet pornography, and thrives on secrecy, fear-based control of its victims, and denial of its existence at a high level.

The official body of ‘experts’ responsible for dealing with claims of ritual abuse (LEBZ in Dutch) has consistently taken the view that ritual abuse does not exist, and so the main need is to protect those accused of being perpetrators. As the letter from the therapists to parliament says by way of illustration, this is the equivalent of a body set up to deal with the issue of car theft, starting with the presumption that such a crime never occurs, and has an in built bias in terms of assessing any evidence to the contrary. The LEBZ in turn oversees the training of police forces in relation to issues of abuse, which means that the opportunity of obtaining justice for victims of these crimes is very low.

The letter to Parliament from the therapists accuses the LEBZ, a government body, of being complicit in a “cover up” which allows the mental and physical torture of women to continue without investigation, and which even costs the lives of children, as there are reports of children being abducted and killed as part of a system of organised sexual violence and paedophilia which stretches throughout Europe and the world.

In the UK, a government sponsored report released in 1994, succeeded in squashing growing media accounts at the time, of ritual or satanic abuse. Most mainstream media accepted the view that the real problem was poverty and lack of education leading to a prevalence of physical and emotional abuse in certain sections of society; that “belief in evil cults” and attributing a ritual and dark spiritual element to the abuse shows prejudice against the marginal poor, who need more conventional social services support not investigations into “manifestations of evil”. This view, led by the secular elites, prevails to this day.

Another reason why most privileged classes in the West – including Christians – reject the idea of organised ritual abuse, is that exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims about this are common in certain circles on the internet, and especially among right-wing conspiracy theory groups such as Q-anon. This politicises the issue, saying that ritual abuse is part of a vast “deep state” agenda to overturn cherished democracy and freedoms, connected only with politically progressive politicians and their billionaire backers. This very informative piece shows the danger of such conspiracy theories, but seems to err on the side of saying that because Q-anon warns about ritual abuse, and Q-anon can’t be trusted, therefore all reports of this kind of crime are not to be taken seriously. (The author of the Q-anon article similarly discredited the idea of “cultural Marxism” in an earlier piece, suggesting that because a disturbed young man who attacked a synagogue complained about cultural Marxism on social media, all who share a similar concern about a contemporary mix of secular ideologies are inherently associated with violent fascists.)

This ‘tarnishing by association’ emphasises the courage of the Dutch therapists who have written to their Parliament and adds more evidence to the case. Which respected European professionals would risk being linked with an American far right group at this time, unless they are utterly convinced of the truth of what they are saying? We look forward with interest to hearing the outcome of this intervention.

Meanwhile, the exhaustive report into abuse of adults and especially children by those in leadership positions in the Church of England has just been published. One of the conclusions is that abusers have been able to continue their destructive activities and “hide in plain sight” because of a culture of denial. A refusal to look at the clear evidence, instead dismissing it on the basis that “this could not happen”, was one factor resulting in corrupt clergy and even Bishops abusing children and not facing justice, thankfully mostly in the days before the current stricter safeguarding procedures were introduced. It would be tragic if, as many in wider society delight in pointing the finger at the church and absolving themselves from sin, their own similar refusal to believe in the existence of organised ritual abuse results in more lives blighted and lost.

Bishop’s progressive vision: church combining humble presence with “prophetic edge”

Posted by on Sep 24, 2020 in 2-Important Posts, Church of England, Editorial Blog, Revisionism | Comments Off on Bishop’s progressive vision: church combining humble presence with “prophetic edge”

Bishop’s progressive vision: church combining humble presence with “prophetic edge”

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

What’s the best way of diagnosing the state of the Church of England? For some, we look at its canons and liturgy and conclude that if they have not changed, then nor has the church. This is a bit like judging the current effectiveness and ethical practices of a company just by reading its Articles of Association.  A much richer and more accurate picture is built up from finding out what the organisation is actually doing day to day, and what those responsible are saying, from which we can deduce what they believe and where they are likely to lead the organisation.

The recent Presidential address to virtual Diocesan Synod by the Bishop of Oxford is a typical case study. 

He begins by talking about “rebuilding and regathering” after lockdown. Of course at the time of his speech (5th September) he was not to know that infection rates would rapidly rise, leading to a return to restrictions which may yet extend again to physical church gatherings. But there is no attempt here to review the way that the C of E initially responded to the pandemic. Later in his talk Bishop Steven refers to the importance of physical meeting rather than worshipping as “disembodied minds”, but he does not question the church’s policy from late March to June of  prioritising the complete closure of churches, banning of public worship and repeating of government health and safety instructions, while obscuring the gospel message of hope in the resurrection in the face of death, and omitting any call to repentance and intercession on behalf of the nation.

So how does Bishop Steven describe the mission of the church? He says:

“We will be playing our part in sustaining villages and towns and cities across our Diocese as disciples as well as hospitals and universities and businesses and civic life.”

This understanding does not see the geographical area of Oxford Diocese as a mission field, most of whose inhabitants don’t have a relationship with God. The bishop’s focus is not on the church as distinct from the world, a worshipping and witnessing community with different ethics and worldview. Rather, the focus is on what is seen as an essentially benign society, and how the presence of Christians and the church “sustains” it.

Where does this idea come from? Reflecting on this, I remembered an essay I wrote a number of years ago for a study course, on the nature of the church. One of the theologians I looked at briefly was an American who spent many years in England. Here’s my summary:

It is instructive to consider the method of influential theologian Daniel Hardy …In Hardy’s essay “Worship and the Formation of a Holy People” [2001, pp7-23] he does not begin with biblical models for defining the church – in fact he is critical of those “employing bland conceptions of ‘knowing God’ through God’s ‘self-communication” [17]. Rather he begins with a philosophical exploration of the concept of “holiness” which God enacts in the world, and the result is the good that we see in society: law and justice, civil society, the arts, education and so on. In other writing Hardy uses language of redemption to describe this as “redeemed sociality” [eg Hardy, 1989, 21-47] in which God is working in all that is good in society, and the church is that part of society which intentionally faces the holiness of God and celebrates it in worship. Hardy does not see the missionary essence and activity of the church as over against the world or rescued/rescuing from the world, but a prototype within the world in which God is working to bring unity and harmony, or “godly sociality” among all people.

Whether or not Bishop Steven is consciously echoing the thought of Hardy, his understanding of the church and its mission is very similar.

He goes on to summarise the two problems facing the nation as he sees it: the pandemic, with risk of infection, illness and death, and the government’s response, with disruption to the economy and mental/emotional fallout. He asks:

“How then should we minister and serve our communities and God’s world in this next season, in a world in continuing crisis? How can we play our part as disciples and as citizens and play that part together as part of the Church of Jesus Christ?”

Good questions. One would hope they could be answered

  1. by pointing out that the pandemic and its effects are not the only problem facing us as human beings. We are alienated from God and neighbour, increasingly so as secularism takes hold; we need forgiveness, redirection and power to live better
  2. by reference to the good news of God’s invitation to enter his kingdom and the task given to the church to proclaim it

But because like Hardy he does not start with a biblical diagnosis and solution, but rather a humanist vision for a harmonious or “holy” society, Bishop Steven’s understanding of the church’s mission reflects this. This involves being alongside and part of society, doing good in it while facing God, but definitely not preaching to society or individuals within it, certainly not in a way which calls them to believe something different, or to change, except in certain ways defined by the world (see below).

He does bring in two biblical passages for reflection, from which he derives pointers for how the church should act:

From Isaiah 42

He will not cry or lift up his voice or make it heard in the street.

A bruised reed he will not break and a dimly burning wick he will not quench (42.3)

“This is the kind of leadership which draws alongside people, which gathers the fragments, which liberates the gifts of others, which does not overwhelm, which listens and waits patiently to see what is emerging”, he says

And from Philippians 2

…he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2.6-8)

The Bishop expounds: “The humility of Christ will be needed as we seek to rebuild together…to continue his life-giving work in the world, a gentle, tender community of grace…we continue to centre ourselves on Jesus Christ, on his character, on the pattern of the incarnation and on serving the needs of the communities around us with the gentleness and tenderness of the servant.”

He rightly draws attention to the example of Jesus’ humility and gentleness for us to imitate, but appears to ignore what the passage goes on to say about the status of Jesus: triumphant Lord before whom all must bow the knee – a vivid image which if true, surely shapes the church’s idea of mission as something more distinctive than just wordless service.

But then the Bishop goes on to say that the call to imitate Christ’s humility and submit to his Lordship must be balanced with the need to give voice to victims and resist oppression:

“Philippians 2 has sometimes been wrongly used… to suppress dissent and to resist change. This message in turn has supported the continued oppression of women or black people or the LGBTQI+ community…Embracing the humility of Christ does not mean muzzling our prophetic voice or edge.”

This isn’t unpacked in the rest of the address, so it’s open to interpretation. The Bishop appears to be saying that society is full of systems of oppression in which the church has often colluded, by advocating meekness and submission for the oppressed instead of “prophetically” advocating for justice in society. So, while in general the church should quietly serve, not confidently proclaiming a message of the Lordship of Christ and the need to submit to him and orient our lives around him, but rather live alongside people in a humble, loving and caring way, where it encounters “oppression”, it should “seek change for the sake of the kingdom”.

It’s clear that Bishop Steven’s understanding of “oppression” is defined in a politically progressive way, using the language of identity politics. He mentions certain groups as experiencing oppression but not others. Not for example, children and parents with orthodox Christian views on the family as they face compulsory ideological RSE in schools, or unborn children as DIY abortion pills are sent to hundreds of thousands of women through the post, or Christians in Muslim-majority parts of the world and even cities in the UK.

He has chosen to carefully avoid expressing an understanding of Christian mission which entails some privilege or power attributed to the church. Engagement should be tentative, based on listening, not claiming knowledge or utilising power, “tending this continuous reflection and development as the new community emerges by the grace of God”. But there is no such diffidence as he is keen to show full solidarity and support for the “LGBTQI community’’. Once again (see below for past examples just from Oxford Diocese), a senior C of E leader struggles to clearly articulate the Christian faith, while much more confidently demonstrating the alignment of his institution with contemporary secular ideology. And yet the canons have not changed – so perhaps all is well?

See also: Previous blogs about Oxford Diocese

2014: Anglican Mainstream questions Oxford’s ‘neutrality’ in Shared Conversation process

Bishop Alan Wilson: please stick to the day job!

2016: Oxford Clergywoman conducts celebration of same sex marriage 

Journeys in, or moving away from, Grace and Truth? (A review of a compilation of essays edited by Jayne Ozanne)

2018: “Clothe yourselves with love” – a response to the pastoral letter from the Bishops of Oxford Diocese

Diocese of Oxford: a case study in radical inclusion

2020: Bishop offers orthodox Anglicans hope of retaining protected minority status as Diocese takes progressive route

What might growth in “online worship” mean for the church?

Posted by on Aug 26, 2020 in 2-Important Posts, Church life, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on What might growth in “online worship” mean for the church?

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream:

What should we make of a new report, claiming that polling data shows how one in four people in the UK have engaged in some kind of “online worship” since the start of the pandemic lockdown? This went up to nearly 30% of the population in August, apparently, which of course is much higher than the number who normally attend churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship – probably less than 10%. From the report, whose findings are summarised in an article on the Premier websitewe learn that in particular, nearly half of all Londoners have participated in some form of internet-assisted religious activity, and most amazingly, “half of the country’s young people (18-34) indicated that they regularly engage in online faith-related activity, including regular prayer and regular engagement with online corporate worship”.

One of the authors of the report concludes that this data challenges the church to think of new ways of gathering and of pastoral care in the future, using technology to ensure that more people are included through a combination of physical and online meeting. But if these statistics are true, surely they mean far more than this – they indicate that there should be huge optimism about the future of the church; that there is obviously unusual openness in the population to spiritual things, and perhaps the deadening effects of secularism are already beginning to be reversed. This is now the moment, not for pessimism and defensiveness, trying to hold on to models of Christian believing and belonging from the past, but for grasping hold of exciting opportunities for evangelism and exponential church growth.

But a closer look at the article gives hints that at the very least, further questions need to be asked before concluding that the UK church is about to enter a golden age of rapid growth without any inconvenient downsides such as societal conflict and persecution which historically often accompanies such awakenings.

Firstly, the report doesn’t explain how the poll was conducted in ways which could eliminate bias. I’m not a statistician, but I’d like to know how the organisers could be certain that those members of the public, presumably chosen at random, who responded to requests for information were not disproportionately more religious than those who chose not to respond. And then, while anecdotal evidence and impressions are not always reliable, my experience, and those of young people I know, would question the idea that if half of all 18-34 year olds have done some kind of online religious activity in the past few months, the churches have seen any benefit. Just the other day I was hearing in an online prayer meeting of pastors and lay people from across the country, how many churches are struggling to keep their young people engaging with church or faith-related materials.

So what exactly was this research, from the University of Durham, measuring? We are told: “The study focused on six faith-related activities — prayer, meditation, corporate or organised worship, reflection on nature, choir and yoga…” Ah. The first three are common to all religions, and we know from previous surveys that many people pray and meditate who are not part of any church or other religious group (perhaps half the population), including a substantial number of those who don’t believe in God.

But then, “reflection on nature”. This is not explained. Would it include watching Countryfile, or Gardener’s World, or a David Attenborough documentary? By this criterion, anyone on holiday in the Lake District or walking by the sea, taking a deep breath and marvelling at a sunset, feeling an inner stirring at the magnificence of creation which could be described as almost a spiritual experience – this would presumably count, and perhaps this explains the higher August figure when people are on holiday?

The report goes on to admit that while by their broad criteria of ‘online worship’ there are 19 million religious people in the UK, nearly a third of those who normally attended church before lockdown have not engaged with online services, or presumably returned to physical gatherings. It would seem sensible – and urgent – for further research to be carried out to establish the true extent of this rapid ‘cliff-edge’ drop off in church engagement which will surely be of crisis proportions, no matter how much it can be dressed up with optimistic conclusions drawn from how many people are gardening or doing yoga during lockdown.

I have not read the full report summarised in the Premier article. But it seems to me that its conclusions largely confirm what we already know, and certainly can’t be used to support the idea that we are on the cusp of a new genuinely Christian revival. Over the past ten years, the consensus of research has shown a decline in religious faith in the West: more than half say they have no religion, and 1% of young people identify as churchgoing Christians. At the same time the public influence of religion in the West has declined, the secular humanist worldview has been increasingly assumed and promoted – a worldview which is increasingly being described as ‘religious’, as it involves faith commitments, has its own rules and rituals, and even forms of worship (this article shows how atheists are becoming ‘religious’, while Christians are becoming secular).

Meanwhile in other parts of the world, religion continues to thrive and sometimes be used as a political rallying point;. So for example historian Tom Holland explains how in two of the most rapidly modernising states with recent commitments to secularism, Turkey and India, appeals to religion by populist leadership are becoming more common.

There is also genuine church growth and sacrificial Christian discipleship in the face of persecution, despite the influence of secularism, particularly in the global south.

In short, statistics and sociological analysis can be used to show that our nation – and our world – is becoming more secular, and more religious at the same time. That may mean that more people are questioning the secular narrative, and could be more open to the gospel, but it could also lead them to alternative spiritualities hostile to Christian faith. Surveys of how many are engaging in ‘online worship’ do not prove much, especially if it is not specifically measuring those engaging with church fellowship and teaching from Scripture, genuinely worshipping in spirit and in truth according to Jesus, and growing in faith and love.

See also: Covid 19: The church in response. The results of a survey by American Anglican Council of church attendance trends since the beginning of the pandemic, seeking to measure elements of faith commitment not just online viewing.