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.

Easter is a message of hope for the penitent, not for those who pronounce themselves innocent

Posted by on Apr 16, 2019 in Divorce, Easter, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Easter is a message of hope for the penitent, not for those who pronounce themselves innocent

Easter is a message of hope for the penitent, not for those who pronounce themselves innocent

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

There is something about the idea of “no-fault divorce” which goes beyond the issue of how to regulate marriage and family in the 21st century. It can also be seen as an illustration of psychological and spiritual self-management in a post Christian culture.

The argument which has won the day goes like this: few people nowadays believe that marriages should last forever; in reality relationships have a life span which when ended should allow people to separate with a minimum of hassle and cost. Currently, laws are in place to ensure that a divorce needs to have a reason such as adultery, abandonment or unreasonable behaviour; this leads to acrimonious legal bickering and dragging up past actions, when the best thing is surely to let bygones be bygones, separate, divide assets, move on with life.

The changes in law have come in for a lot of criticism from conservative commentators (for example here). They point out that making marriage like a temporary contract will be harmful on several levels. While those in favour of the new ‘no-fault’ system argue that children prefer their parents to be separate and happy than under the same roof and unhappy, this is not born out by the evidence, which suggests that ‘broken homes’, far from being a stigmatising and out of date concept for normal variations in family structure, in fact actually do harm child development. ‘No-fault’ provides no incentive for faithfulness or working through problems in a relationship. As one woman said when interviewed on the BBC recently, it will lead to the creation of a fiction, where everyone pretends that the husband (for example) who has had a series of affairs hasn’t done anything wrong, and the suffering party has no way of publicly expressing or recording her point of view. And is it really true that more people might get married if they can see a wide open exit door? More likely marriage is seen as increasingly irrelevant.

But beyond these specific issues, the concept of a ruling elite taking on themselves the right and power to declare ‘no-fault’, to absolve selfish adults from guilt, can be seen as a profoundly spiritual act with wider ramifications, especially in the Easter season.

My daily bible reading recently took me into the early chapters of Leviticus. These ancient writings offer a window into an alien culture, where a nation of tribes consisting of tight-knit communities were encouraged to live in awe of almighty God, in thanksgiving for his past rescue and daily provision, and in constant awareness of his all-seeing eye, his holiness, and the default alienation caused by human sin. Leviticus 5 shows how in various ways, people can become defiled unintentionally; chapter 6 gives examples of intentional wrongdoing. In both cases, because of God’s love for his people and faithfulness to his promises, provision is made for ritual atonement made through sacrifice (a mark of repentance), so that the sin can be forgiven and the guilt removed.

These systems carried with them potential for corruption.They could fill peoples’ lives with increasingly detailed and petty regulations, as with the teachers and Pharisees of Jesus’ day, who lost sight of the life in all its fulness through relationship provided by a loving and gracious God. They could create a massive religious machine which enslaves and impoverishes the faithful, and enriches the providers of religious power – as in some examples of medieval church leadership, and contemporary animism or Christian prosperity teaching especially in parts of the global South. But at least these errors were, are, based on understanding the truth of the reality of the holiness and power of God, his judgement against sin, the need for atonement through sacrifice.

The approach of the secular West today is different. Where previous systems have tried to control the instruments of religion and ritual associated with dealing with sin and guilt, today’s high priests of the culture have not done away with the concept, but have taken on themselves the authority to redefine it. If there is no God (unless perhaps a God of pure “love”), then the idea of violating his standards of holiness is ruled as imaginary and pre-modern. So the writings of ancient Israel have no bearing on our lives today: the bible may say we have done wrong, but we can declare ourselves to be “not guilty” – as in no-fault divorce. But then, other categories of behaviour (for example publicly expressing the belief in the reality of hell awaiting unrepentant sinners, or questioning whether Primary school children should be encouraged to see themselves as gender-fluid), are seen as sins violating our own self-designed community standards for which there can be no atonement or forgiveness, just punishment – as famous rugby players and ordinary schoolteachers are discovering.

Who decides what is right and wrong, whether someone is guilty or not, whether there will be forgiveness or punishment? To which authority in the universe should we give our allegiance? Much of the final week of Jesus’ ministry in Jerusalem is focussed on these questions. Jesus is proclaimed King on Palm Sunday. He is specifically asked by what authority he performed the symbolic acts riding the donkey and rearranging the moneychangers stalls in the temple (Matt 21:23f). His parables (the tenants, the wedding banquet) are about a King and those who refuse his authority. Matthew records Jesus’ polemic against the religious leaders (Matt 23), who like the secular cultural leaders of today, “shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to”. Matthew 24 and 25 show God as the cosmic judge, with the power to decide the eternal future of every creature.

But then the narrative focuses on one man and his tiny band of followers: “After Jesus had finished saying all these things [about the sovereign power of God the judge], he said to his disciples…the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified”. And so begin the dramatic events culminating in Calvary, and then the empty tomb. Why? Because we are alienated from God by our rebellion, and in desperate danger of judgement.

Absolving ourselves of responsibility and sin by declaring “no-fault” to one another, is a fiction which leaves us guilty and facing the hostility of the King. But, amazingly, gloriously, the death of the Saviour opens the curtain – all who acknowledge their sin, say sorry and believe are forgiven and restored, even those who deny him and run away in his hour of need. “No-fault” can never be said of human beings or broken relationships. Struggling marriages and the human psyche in general need the Easter gospel, not secular make-believe.

Bonhoeffer: the prophet against the culture-controlled church

Posted by on Apr 9, 2019 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Martyrs | Comments Off on Bonhoeffer: the prophet against the culture-controlled church

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Today (April 9th) is the 74th anniversary of the execution of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Nazi guards in Flossenburg camp, just a month before the end of the war. A doctor witnessing the hanging later said “I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God”.

Eric Metaxas’ masterful account of Bonhoeffer’s life shows clearly how he was formed by insights gained during the early years of his ministry. The brilliantly talented young theologian-pastor-musician completed his doctorate on the sociology of the Church in only 18 months while maintaining a full social and cultural life; by age 24 he was qualified as a university lecturer and was spending the second of his years abroad (the first was in Barcelona). But while he knew how to master his profession and enjoy life, Bonhoeffer was consumed, hemmed-in perhaps, by a desire to see Christ glorified, to see the church operating as it should with devoted disciples of Christ living seriously for him, and for the gospel to confront evil in the world and change it for the better.

Interestingly, his prophetic concerns about the lukewarm church, liberal theology and social injustice which were to drive his ministry in Germany in the last third of his life did not originate there, but in America, where he was based at the famous Union Seminary in New York. While Bonhoeffer had often taken issue with the famous German liberal theologians back home, at least they were concerned about truth, and used reason to come to their conclusions. Bonhoeffer felt that liberal theology in America was not using the mind in the same disciplined way: “There is no theology here”, he wrote; “they become intoxicated with humanistic phrases, laugh at the fundamentalists, and yet basically are not up to their level”. Students did not seem interested in the biblical themes of sin and salvation, only the latest political and psychological theories. They entered the pastorate with a secular mindset, with the result that “the sermon has been reduced to parenthetical remarks about newspaper events”.

If wealthy, white, mainline Protestantism was being gutted by revisionist theology in 1930, proper gospel preaching and serious discipleship could be found in the black churches. Bonhoeffer was thrilled at the biblically-based and Christ-centred preaching in the Baptist church he often attended in Harlem, and was also influenced by the music, completely different to the stuffy hymns of his own tradition. A few years later this would bear fruit as trainee pastors in the Confessing Church movement would listen to Bonhoeffer’s gospel music record collection and be urged to worship God in a similar way!

But of course this was a time of severe racial discrimination and segregation in America. Bonhoeffer was appalled, and saw worse in the southern states when he visited there. The Germany he had left did not have an equivalent: there was racism and antisemitism of course, but it had not been institutionalised. How quickly would that change on his return. In fact, during his time in America, back home the extremist fringe Nazi party was already making rapid gains in winning seats in the Reichstag. The grotesque and terrifying racial purification project was yet to come – but for the moment Bonhoeffer saw in America how the human heart is the same everywhere; how the church can capitulate to culture and collude in injustice and oppression, and how, to establish the real church, disciples need to learn from “the piety of suffering people” (Bonhoeffer’s phrase) – in particular Christians of different races – in their theology and their worship.

On his return to Germany, Bonhoeffer was being drawn into more and more of an “all or nothing” Christian faith, and he was disturbed by the lack of spiritual seriousness of his fellow Lutheran churchgoers, whom he accused of  “playing church”. As the 1930’s unfolded, the young pastor/academic saw clearly that a weak, liberal theology would not be able to resist the new popular thinking which looked forward to the socio-political revival of Germany under a strong leader as a kind of secular salvation, with strong undercurrents of resurgence of ancient nordic pagan spirituality, glorifying violence.

Metaxas describes the national struggle between the Confessing Church, authentic counter-cultural disciples such as Bonhoeffer on one hand , the new ‘German Christians’ advocating racial segregation and syncretism with Nazi ideology on the other, and the majority in the middle, with sympathies on one side or the other but wanting a quiet life. In the short term, Hitler wanted the church on his side, and did not persecute it as long as it progressed towards willingly submitting to become the servant of the state’s programme. The ‘German Christian’ leaders used state power to increasingly impose regulations and restrictions affecting the church. Bonhoeffer opposed this, arguing that the church must support the state in exercise of legitimate rule, but when the state starts to set itself up as the ultimate authority without accountability, the church must question it, help its victims, and ultimately jam a stick into the spokes of its wheel.

1930’s Germany saw the creation of a new, counterfeit Christianity, which replaced the cross with the swastika, the idea of universal human sinfulness and guilt before God with the guilt of the Jew and the sinless victimhood of the post-Versailles Aryan German, and the spiritual meaning of the resurrection with the idea of the victory and dominance of the volk. This creates a crisis in the church: “the confusion that inevitably arises when the Christian faith becomes too closely related to a culture or identity”. It’s not difficult to see parallels with counterfeit faith seen in many of today’s mainline churches.

Bonhoeffer’s implacable opposition to rapid change in Germany was not based in a knee-jerk conservativism or a hankering after the past. It was a conviction about the reality of God in Christ, the truth of the bible as his word, and the necessity of applying Christ’s Lordship to the whole of life not just church. He saw the solutions firstly in being part of church councils and trying to turn things round from within. Then, as this seemed less likely, making a stand (for example the famous Barmen Declaration) and creating distance, differentiation, between the true church and the institution aligned with the world. Establishing good theological education was vital – using methods which did not try to do a form of “good disagreement’ with the liberal worldview in their state-controlled institutions, but actively countered them. He knew that pastors needed to be formed not just by study, but in a community where disciplined discipleship and celebratory worship was learned and practiced together. Ultimately, he reluctantly saw that violent action against the state may be necessary to prevent further catastrophe, but the plot to kill Hitler, in which he was remotely involved, failed.

His ministry resulted in misunderstanding, opposition, imprisonment, early death. Wouldn’t it have been better to keep his head down, survive and be there for the rebuilding after the war? Who can understand the purposes of God fully, but the bible and church history teach that the martyrdom of the prophets is never wasted. Certainly Bonhoeffer’s story and his writings became inspirational for many in the post war years. We need another like him.

‘Churchianity’ challenge to evangelical complacency

Posted by on Mar 26, 2019 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Mission, Uncategorized | Comments Off on ‘Churchianity’ challenge to evangelical complacency

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

The ongoing protest at Parkfield School in Birmingham gives an insight into the inevitable clash of values between Islam and secularism, small-c conservatism versus progressivism, but also into majority views on Christian mission among the overlapping Anglican and evangelical constituencies.

At Parkfield, well over 90% of the children are from Muslim families. The majority of parents, standing up against the attempted indoctrination of their children by LGBT activists under the guise of ‘promoting tolerance’, are not radical Islamists. They are social conservatives with a strong community spirit, and concern that the state should work in partnership with them for the education of their children, and not impose moral and religious agendas in direct conflict with the traditions of the family. Similar protests have been held by mostly Christian parents from Caribbean and West African backgrounds in South London, so this is not just an clash of Islam vs the West. As education becomes increasingly ideologically contested, what has been the response of white, middle class evangelicals and Anglicans, and why?

The Diocese of Birmingham, whose Bishop is from an evangelical background, appears to be supporting the Parkfield School leadership in their aim to teach small children the philosophy of LGBT Pride in order to promote values of ‘inclusion’ and ‘equality’. The Diocese may have wrongly understood the Equalities Act, but more seriously, they have sided with the secular worldview of the sexual revolution against the need to promote and defend orthodox Christian doctrine in the public space, and the need to witness graciously to the teachings of Scripture to those of other faiths.

What about other, more orthodox evangelical churches? A small number of individual Christians have been standing with the courageous parents in Birmingham, but have received considerable criticism. Some have accused them of engaging in an inter-faith project which waters down the distinctiveness of the gospel, or even being ‘useful idiots’ for those wanting to impose sharia law. Others have suggested that Christians shouldn’t really be getting involved in this kind of social action, as our concern should be about evangelism and the building up of the church, not issues like government education policy.

In a booklet written for Christian Concern entitled ‘Churchianity or Christianity?’ (soon to be up here), Dr Joe Boot gives some detailed analysis of two commonly-seen approaches to mission. The first, exemplified by the Diocese of Birmingham’s dismissive response to request for help from Muslim parents concerned about their children’s exposure to inappropriate Relationships and Sex Education, is explained by Boot like this:

They believe that the kingdom of God must broader than the walls of the church…[they] shift the locus of hope from the church institute to the state…the kingdom of God is increasingly identified with persons, movements and institutions pursuing…’equality’, so that a kind of politicisation of salvation occurs, with the state functioning as de-facto high priest in bringing about a secularised deliverance from oppression…God-centred inward renewal producing external transformation is replaced by external political coercion as the route to the kingdom.

This is a re-run of the missiology popularised by the World Council of Churches in the 1960’s, to which liberal Anglicanism has always been prone: the gospel is associated with a progressive utopian vision, and ‘mission’ is getting the slow and conservative church to wake up and follow a secular programme of social justice. This attitude must neglect or even deny central Christian doctrines of sin and salvation, holiness and Christ’s uniqueness, but also as we’re seeing, it takes the side of adult concerns about sexual freedom, and fear of criticism from powerful lobby groups, over against the protection of children against inappropriate sexualisation.

The main target of Boot’s criticism however is contemporary evangelical pietism which avoids controversial clashes with society’s leaders and agendas, because it associates God’s kingdom entirely with the church. In this model, believers are encouraged to focus on personal spiritual growth, investing gifts and resources in church buildings and activities, but not develop a vision for transformation of the culture – certainly not in any way that might be seen as unpopular. The society in which we live which is seen as a given – it might be benign, neutral or hostile but we can’t do anything to change it nor should we try. Boot calls this “churchianity” – a designation which a generation or two ago used to refer to nominal, formal Christian observance without heart conversion, but here is applied to born-again people restricting the miraculous life and ministry empowered by the indwelling Spirit of Christ to individual salvation and church life, rather than the whole of creation.

Well-known Washington DC-based Baptist pastor Mark Dever is given as an example of ‘churchianity’ thinking, but Boot could just as easily have taken English independent evangelical leader John Stevens’ view, as set out in his book Knowing our Times (see a very positive review here)Both pastors are highly influential; they are commended for being firm and clear in adherence to historic Christian doctrines, committed to evangelism and the growth of the church. Both recognise the increasing slide towards secularism and even paganism in the USA and Britain, and the challenges that this brings to Christians.

However both pastors are critical of attempts by churches or Christian campaigning groups to oppose bad legislation, which for example facilitate abortion or same sex marriage, damage family life or threaten freedom of speech and conscience (which have affected bakers, street preachers, Christian teachers and parents among others). John Stevens accuses such Christian cultural activism of being motivated by a nostalgic desire to return to a mythical golden age of Christendom; rather, as he repeats many times, “we should not be surprised” that the laws and values of our country do not reflect Christian values, because most people are not Christian. The answer is to evangelise and build up the church, not to try to shape the nation’s morality and laws.

This ‘churchianity’ thinking, according to Boot, is traced back to the medieval Christianisation of Greek philosophy by scholastic theologians. Accepting the idea of Plato and Aristotle that reality is composed of a higher, invisible realm of forms, ideas and spirit, and a lower material realm, they saw society, culture and the state as belonging to the latter, and the church and salvation as acting only in the spiritual part of reality. The church in the time of the enlightenment built on this dualism: state and culture are the realm of reason; church and individual spiritual life the area of faith. The result is a church in a corner, not seeing the world as its responsibility – in fact, though it believes in Christ’s universal Lordship, it has “surrendered one area after another to Christ’s enemies” (Boot, p21).

The irony, according to Boot, is that many proponents of ‘churchianity’ are theologically rooted in the Reformed tradition, but follow Lutheran rather than Calvin in attitudes to culture and mission.

How should we respond to systemic unbelief and its effect on all aspects of culture? Most evangelicals would say the aim is to build up the church, and encourage faith and obedience to God there. Boot, quoting a number of theologians with Dutch-sounding names, insists the aim should be to promote systemic and comprehensive submission to Christ in all areas of society.

Government’s secular humanist sex education policies have been driven by ideologues who know how to change culture. There is some resistance to the agenda from ordinary Muslim mums and dads, withdrawal by evangelicals, and submission by liberal Protestants. Boot’s critique of the latter two responses is challenging and should contribute to a profound rethinking of mission paradigms among faithful bible-believing Christians. The call to faithful Christians to confidently proclaim Christ’s Lordship in the whole of life rather than just the church, needs to be heard, but Boot’s vision of the solution (expanded in his major work, The Mission of God) could be seen as unrealistic. Before the church can begin to re-shape culture in the way it did in the time of King Alfred or the Reformation, it needs to unite around the truth and take a stand against what’s wrong. We need further thinking on the church’s engagement with spiritual powers of evil, in serious analysis, in disciplined intercession, in caring, creative and costly witness, in prophetic word and action.

Welsh Anglicans gather around ‘Essentials’

Posted by on Mar 19, 2019 in 2-Important Posts, Church In Wales, Editorial Blog, Orthodoxy | Comments Off on Welsh Anglicans gather around ‘Essentials’

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

“If you despise the day of small things, the Church in Wales is not for you”, said the Archdeacon of Cardigan. The comment received a loud ripple of chuckles from the 150 strong assembly of the inaugural meeting of Anglican Essentials Wales on 15th and 16th March. Anglicans in Wales are not numerous, and declining; few congregations number over 100. On one level the modesty is justified.

But at the same time, this gathering represents a significant statement. As was pointed out, an equivalent conference taking place in the Church of England, aiming to unite different constituencies of conservative evangelical, charismatic and anglo-catholic, around an agreed agenda of theological orthodoxy in the face of a revisionist hierarchy, would need to number 5000 people to reflect the same proportion of the national church as a whole.

Also, the Essentials Wales meeting signalled genuine unity in diversity: delegates were of a range of ages with a good number under 40; the worship (with distinctive Welsh singing) was consciously a mixture of traditional and contemporary; female clergy shared the compering duties with traditionalist complementarians; clear bible-based evangelical preaching took place next to candles. A reformed theological seminary was commended by one speaker, the Walsingham pilgrimage by the next!

Archdeacon Strange’s introductory talk set the scene. The Church in Wales is at a crossroads. The authority of Scripture, and the gospel of Christ based on the apostolic deposit is apparently no longer accepted by much of the Church’s leadership, who derive an understanding of God’s character and a vision of human flourishing from experience and anecdote. Christ is presented as a good option among many, illustrating God’s love rather than uniquely achieving salvation. And Bishops appear to genuinely believe that uncritically embracing tenets of progressive politics, and new ideologies of sexual liberation, is being counter-cultural rather than being subservient to the spirit of the age.

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali gave the first address, on ‘Mission and authority’, and also closed the conference by presiding at the Communion service. He reminded the gathering that Anglicanism has always been clear about Scripture having the final authority, not only over tradition and reason, but also over cultural norms and in ethical issues thrown up by contemporary science. He devoted some time with his customary clarity to setting out key principles of interpretation of Scripture. While Christianity has always been very flexible in translating itself into different culture, Anglican leaders in one culture act unilaterally should not go against the authoritative controls of orthodoxy, and create something unrecognizable by other faithful Christians. He ended by calling on Anglican Essentials Wales to become a movement for renewal and reform.

The authoritative Scriptures tell of the human condition of alienation from God through sin, and present Jesus as unique Saviour and Lord. Such a message is being undermined in the Church in Wales as in other Western Anglican Provinces, but the faithful can make a difference by preaching it with confidence. This was the theme of the second talk, by Lee Gatiss, who showed from church history going back to the early fathers, and from the Anglican formularies rooted in the Reformation, that authentic Christian mission has always been based on the understanding that faith in Christ alone is essential for salvation.

The diversity of the conference was illustrated further on day two, when the main speakers were Lorna Ashworth, a conservative evangelical formerly of General Synod and Archbishops’ Council, and Philip North. Not surprisingly, the Bishop of Burnley steered clear of comments about theological differences between the conference delegates and their Bishops. He began by affirming his adherence to evangelical understandings of Scripture and the person and work of Christ, but recognised that many in his audience would not necessarily agree with some of his focus, which was on the need for the church to take seriously the power of the sacraments to visually illustrate the message of Christ’s death, our need for conversion, the subversion of the world’s values.

Mrs Ashworth took Paul’s evangelistic principle of being “all things to all people” to explore how the faithful church can remove unnecessary obstacles to make the gospel culturally relevant, while being counter-cultural in not compromising on the essentials of the faith, trusting in the Spirit’s work. Her talk was followed by heartfelt exchanges during the question time, on some realities of practical application, including the pain and tension felt by those who want to remain faithful to Jesus and his word, when a loved one embraces the gay lifestyle.

The development of a grassroots orthodox movement is timely, given the clear signal from the Welsh Bishops that the revisionist programme will continue. The name ‘Anglican Essentials’ takes its name from a similar vision in Canada in the mid-1990’s, which eventually led to the formation of the Anglican Network, part of the Anglican Church in North America. There was no discussion at this conference of a similar secession; rather, for the moment, a determination to unite within Welsh Anglicanism around the restatement of Christian truth, and commitment to mutual encouragement and continued evangelistic mission in the face of an increasingly hostile environment in church and nation.

The Anglican Essential Wales Statement of Faith can be found on their website, which will soon feature a Communique from the conference.

 

Can British Anglicanism reinvent itself as a counter-cultural movement?

Posted by on Mar 12, 2019 in 2-Important Posts, Church of England, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Can British Anglicanism reinvent itself as a counter-cultural movement?

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

The idea of a national church, represented in every settlement, with concern for and influence in politics and culture, theologically and liturgically aligned to the worldview of the bible, apostles and early creeds, clearly ‘reformed’ ie steering clear of contra-biblical accretions of medieval Catholicism, but generous in its distinguishing between essentials of the faith and ‘adiaphora’ – this is all part of what has been described as “the genius of Anglicanism”. The English church of the 16th and 17th centuries grew out of bitter controversies of the time to become a way of doing church which has successfully taken root in many nations and cultures around the world.

While its lack of detailed confessions of faith or a Magisterium has made it susceptible to syncretism (the mixing of Christian worship and ideas with pagan and secular influences), the same is true of other Protestant denominations, as well as Roman Catholicism itself. Anglicanism remains bible-based in its foundational documents, especially the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer and the Homilies, and so in theory it should be a good vehicle for faithful worship and mission. But in practice in recent times, a failure of leadership in the institutional church, a capitulation to theological liberalism and secular pragmatism, and relentless decline in numbers of those who attend, means that genuine questions are being asked about the future of the Church of England, even if Anglicanism in other contexts is thriving around the world.

This was the subject of the annual Jesmond Conference which took place in Newcastle on 11-12 March. The Conference format has been the same for the past five years: bible expositions, a series of four talks by veteran vicar of Jesmond Parish Church David Holloway, and opportunity for round table discussion. Holloway has long been a proponent of radical action within the C of E, testing the boundaries of the law: this has included declaring his church to be in impaired communion with the Diocesan Bishop, facilitating “irregular” ordinations under the auspices of a South African Anglican denomination, planting new churches outside Diocesan control, and even in 2017 supporting the consecration of his associate minister, Jonathan Pryke, as missionary Bishop, to symbolically kick-start an experimental new model of being the Church of England.

It was Jonathan Pryke who delivered two excellent expositions from Revelation 2, clearly setting out the apostle’s challenging and relevant prophecies, and making applications for today’s church. These talks contained an important devotional focus on the authoritative origin of the messages, the glorious risen Christ himself, the Lord of the Church. Pryke highlighted the contemporary feel of the letter to Thyatira, with its condemnation of “Jezebel” and her followers, church members who celebrate sexual immorality, and others who turn a blind eye to blatantly false teaching; the promise of judgement if there is no repentance.

But this was not just finger-pointing at others from a self-congratulatory conservative evangelical point of view. The letter to the Ephesian church warns about the loss of the “love you had at first”, where the Christian life becomes a duty-driven, joyless drudgery rather than motivated by love for the person of Jesus and excitement about the good news of salvation. I was particularly struck by the conditional promise given to those in Thyatira remaining faithful but weary and perhaps doubting whether continued contending for truth and goodness has any impact: “to the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations”. The idea of a small group of faithful believers who are a minority without much influence even in their own corrupt church having a global impact seems absurd, just as it does when we read the context of the Great Commission at the end of Matthew’s gospel. But the history of Christian mission shows it to be true. Here in Revelation 2:26 the promise of gospel influence for the church is specifically conditional on continued obedience to Christ by individuals in the small, often unseen areas of life.

David Holloway’s four talks were entitled ‘The genius of Anglicanism’, ‘The reality of the present’, ‘Law and courageous leadership, and ‘Future possibilities’; they can be accessed in full on Clayton TV. The series began with the historical origins of the C of E and Anglicanism, and then moved to the contemporary contrast between the biblically orthodox foundations (enshrined for example in Canon A5) and endemic theological liberalism, or put another way, a complete loss of confidence by much of the current leadership in the original tenets of Anglicanism. Holloway spoke from experience of decades of observation when he described liberalism as mutating to accommodate the spirit of the age, with ultimately no integrity or credibility.

The implications are serious not just for the church, but for the nation, as there is clearly a link between church decline, the breakdown of sexual morality, marriage and family life, and dangerous threats to civil order such as we are seeing in some urban areas. The responsibility rests squarely on the shoulders of Church of England Bishops, many of whom are guilty of ‘conduct unbecoming’ by overtly supporting pagan ideologies and practices such as gay pride. However the situation is not helped by an increasing tendency towards pietism among many evangelicals, who rationalize non-involvement in issues such as abortion, free speech, and sex education driven by the LGBT agenda, claiming that any attempt to influence society for good outside a narrow evangelistic focus is “Christendom thinking”. There were useful inputs from representatives of the Newcastle-based Christian Institute as well as London-based Christian Concern on this point.

Another issue of disagreement among evangelicals is whether we should be optimistic about the possibility of the reform of the Church of England for the evangelisation of the nation (Holloway’s view), or more pessimistic in view of the scale of apostasy in the church, lack of interest in the gospel in society, and hostility from government. This latter view envisages a return to faithful, often small communities preserving the faith for future generations; teaching children at home, articulating a radically counter-cultural worldview, linked to orthodox international movements. Whatever we think, it’s important to preserve unity, and also to remember Burke’s dictum that “nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little”.

Thanksgiving for the life of Michael Green

Posted by on Mar 4, 2019 in 2-Important Posts, Editorial Blog, Evangelism | Comments Off on Thanksgiving for the life of Michael Green

Anglican Mainstream report.

Andrew Symes writes:

The famous image of Christ, lantern in hand, about to knock on a door overgrown with weeds, with no discernible handle, was painted by William Holman Hunt around 1850. Posters and other copies are to be found all over the world, including a ten foot high version behind the Communion table at St Aldates, Oxford. It was appropriate that this should be the visually arresting backdrop for the funeral of evangelist, scholar and pastor Michael Green, who would have preached many times on Revelation 3:20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock”. Perhaps some of the many hundreds of those gathered to pay their respects on March 2nd had come to faith years ago because of Michael’s urgent call to “open the door to Jesus” based on that verse?

The service was introduced by the current Rector of St Aldates, Charlie Cleverley; Michael was a predecessor there from the mid 70’s to the mid 80’s before he went to teach evangelism and doctrine in Vancouver. Bishop of Oxford Steven Croft also said a few words, remembering how when a student during that time, he had studied Hebrews in Greek with Michael one-to-one: “under Michael Green, generations of ministers of the gospel were formed and shaped”. Bruce Gillingham, a former colleague of Michael’s at Wycliffe Hall, and who accompanied him on many mission trips, then led the service with his usual humour and grace, noting that Michael himself often interrupted liturgy with informality. (That reminded me of an occasion back in the mid 1980’s when Michael spoke at the University where I was studying; after his talk he invited us to “be laid back in the Lord and invite the Holy Spirit to minister to us”, which I recall annoyed some of the more buttoned-up members!)

Bruce Gillingham read a short note, “written in that familiar spidery writing”, which he had found in a book of Michael’s by his bedside as his life was drawing to a close. A mark of Christians in the face of death is to mourn, but not as those who have no hope. Jesus promised that his followers would be with him in his Father’s house. To depart and be with Christ, seeing him face to face, is far better. 2 Timothy 4:6-8: “the time for my departure is at hand…now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness”. As with airports, said Bruce, a departure means a farewell, but it is not an ending, rather a journey to a known destination.

Very moving tributes from families followed. Rosemary, Michael’s dear wife of many decades (they first got to know each other while serving together on the OICCU[1] executive committee around 1950) read Isaiah 41:10 which she said Michael had learned by heart as a teenager and which sustained him through his life. Tim, the eldest son, long-serving missionary in the East, outlined his father’s biography, mentioning his considerable gifts and achievements but also capturing a strong flavour of the man as father, friend and unique person. His impact around the world was remarkable, and his energy and passion for the gospel meant that he was still writing and preaching until just before his death at the age of 88. He was servant-hearted and generous, but notoriously frugal with himself; he loved spending time with family, and fishing when on holiday, but sometimes could not resist using some of his leave for writing the next book! (he wrote 50 in all).

After his return from Canada and then the US, Michael continued teaching at Wycliffe Hall; he and Rosemary settled in Abingdon near Oxford, and became part of the Christ Church congregation, whose vicar, Keith Dunnett, paid tribute to Michael’s preaching, pastoral care of individuals including Keith and his wife, and his passion to reach the nation with the good news of Christ. 2 Timothy 4 with its call to “preach the word…do the work of an evangelist”, and Paul’s testimony “the Lord stood at my side and gave me strength, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed” was an appropriate Scripture at this point, read with the visible emotions of sadness at their loss and pride in their father’s life by Sarah, Jenny and Jonathan, Michael’s other children.

Lindsay Brown, long time leader of the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students and veteran of many university evangelistic missions with Michael, gave the main address. He began with more biographical details, then remarked that Michael’s attitude was the opposite of that of early 20th century politician Lloyd George, who saw youth as blunder, middle age as struggle and old age as regret. Instead, those present could celebrate a remarkable life of achievement and selfless service, which ended joyfully, at peace, looking forward to the future.

After noting some key points from 2 Timothy 4: the call to evangelism, the relationship with the Lord, the hope of heaven, Brown suggested we remember Michael for three particular traits. He was courageous, not afraid to challenge people with the gospel, using God’s word like a fencer (a sport at which he excelled as a young man). His ministry was always contemporary – his early evangelistic books in the 60’s had a freshness which set them apart from some of the “worthy, but dull” style of the time. Well into his 80’s he still was thinking of new ways to engage students, using music, drama, even using rap poetry!

And then he was Christ-centred. Brown concluded with a story of Michael preaching in a prison in India, where for some reason he was wearing ecclesiastical robes, perhaps at the request of the high church chaplain. Explaining what Christ has done for us, he asked a prisoner to remove his dirty rag of a shirt. Michael took off his pristine white surplice, put on the dirty shirt, and put the robe on the prisoner. “The place erupted”.

All who attended were given a copy of Michael’s most recent publication, ‘Jesus for Sceptics’, which has been translated into many languages and is the best-selling evangelistic book on European campuses today. This is typical of Michael’s enduring international impact. Before the service was concluded with the committal and a blessing from former Archbishop George Carey, we were given a challenge: who will take up the baton? The faithful church needs to encourage, nurture, resource and pray for the new generation of evangelists who will communicate the message of the One who stands at the door and knocks, in a society which has largely forgotten him, and where ‘another gospel’ (2 Tim 4:3-4) is, sadly, increasingly found in the church itself.

Andrew Symes is the Executive Secretary of Anglican Mainstream.

Chris Shell writes:
     After lunch, the proceedings resumed with over 20 ‘open microphone’ tributes. Had it ever been doubted, Michael emerged as the ‘five-talent man’, and even to some degree the ‘other Wesley, to stalk this land’, for whom his mentor Eric Nash had long ago repeatedly prayed; yet his enriching and unique character, even with all its imperfections, was more treasured still.
     Former Cabinet minister Revd Jonathan Aitken remembered Michael as ‘friend, mentor, tutor, and prayer-partner’, recounting an occasion when his unrelenting soul-winning instinct (‘it’s no good influencing the fish – you’ve got to get them in the net’) found him and the convert-to-be wandering head-in-clouds across the Oxford Playhouse stage. And ‘I did bag him for Jesus’, rejoiced Michael.That was always his ultimate joy: we also heard how at James Robson’s conversion he leapt in the air; and how to a drunken man he called that joy ‘better than making love’.
     Long-time colleague and friend Revd Andrew Wingfield Digby spoke of Michael’s never-say-die faith when Andrew’s whole cricket team were left stranded visa-less the night before their flight for an India tour that involved playing the national XI. As Andrew pounded on the vicarage door at 11pm, Michael had to cut short the casting out of an evil spirit (‘But what about the evil spirit, Michael?’ ‘Oh, I told him to wait.’). There was a further story of telling successive batting partners also to ‘Wait! Yes! No! Sorry!’ – among other warts-and-all eccentricities.
     Revd Charlie Cleverly told of how Michael led a man to Christ right in the midst of Communion being passed along a row, and then shouted ‘Bring back the bread!’ once the commitment was made.
     Evangelist J John, with his wife Killy, spoke of the mentor who pushed him hard to undertake university missions. Accordingly, he led 102 of them, though when speaking in tandem with Michael he felt like the after-dinner mint to Michael’s 3-course meal.
     We heard from former Oxford colleagues Revd John Samways (Michael’s 7 wickets for 3 runs on page 1 of The News of the World – all because he’d bagged the downhill end) and his predecessor Preb. John Woolmer (the incredible tale of the resurrection of dilapidated St Matthew’s church, as Michael cried ‘Fling wide the gates!’ after 30 minutes of ‘seeking’ prayer, and received the first convert through the open doors almost at once). Bishop Colin Buchanan spoke of army days, and of the ancient friendship triumvirate with Julian Charley: their era at the London College of Divinity / St John’s Nottingham ‘changed the nature of theological education’.
     Carl Armerding and Bill Stewart travelled from Regent College, Vancouver – where the impact of Michael and Rosemary’s brief stay (1987-92), during which both faculty and student body experienced a notable renewal, is still definitive for the current President, Dean, and board.
     Several younger UCCF workers gave their tributes, including ‘young Michael’ Ots. A bewildering succession of multiple UK and international university mission-talk programmes, even at Cambridge yet again, marked Michael’s 88th year – his ‘departure’ (in the Pauline sense) was always going to be in a blaze – and how this impacted the young co-workers and students who were with him! Even with his heart at one-third capacity, his energy and effervescence remained legendary. Daughter-in-law Rachel pleaded with him to take a holiday; inevitably he responded that there’d be plenty of time for that in heaven.
     Finally, Michael’s beloved wife Rosemary spoke movingly of her husband’s remarkable initiative and leadership gifts, and his passion for students. The institutions of LCD / St John’s (till 1975) and St Aldate’s (1975-87) were transformed. Gowns and choir-robes went out; Christian-names, shared leadership (according to giftings) and a stronger female profile came in. Michael and Rosemary were themselves the shining example of shared, complementary ministry – which they both adored. The session ended with a heartfelt ovation for Rosemary, and a recommitment by her and others to the evangelistic spirit and the eternal gospel.
     Dr Christopher Shell, a married father of 3 who attended St Aldate’s 1984-90, manages a large Christian store and is an occasional speaker at academic New Testament conferences.

 

Some earlier tributes can be found here.

 

[1] Oxford Inter-Collegiate Christian Union

Sex education compulsory; worship optional; children at risk. How should we respond?

Posted by on Feb 26, 2019 in Church of England, Editorial Blog, Sexualisation | Comments Off on Sex education compulsory; worship optional; children at risk. How should we respond?

Sex education compulsory; worship optional; children at risk. How should we respond?

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

During General Synod last week, what the organisers hoped would be a minor administrative change passing under the radar was picked up on Thursday by a number of national media outlets as a variant of: ‘Sunday services no longer compulsory in the Church of England’. It was pure coincidence, but highly symbolic, that as we posted the Guardian’s report on Anglican Mainstream, the next item on our news page would be about sex education becoming compulsory for even the youngest ages of schoolchildren.

Of itself, there is nothing controversial about the Synod announcement. Altering the canons to remove the need for every parish church still in use to hold a service every Sunday morning and evening would simply bring law into line with reality. Many churches never have evening services, and in multi-parish benefices it has long been the case that some churches in smaller villages will have a service once a month, while the vicar focuses on the churches with larger attendances. Up until now vicars or lay readers really should have been reciting Morning and Evening Prayer alone in empty churches every Sunday, or they will have been technically breaking the law – it seems sensible to make a change, and this has been discussed in previous Synods.

But despite this, the image of a church in terminal decline and essentially unimportant is not dispelled by headlines about making Sunday worship optional.

Similarly, widening Relationships and Sex Education to ensure that children learn how to protect themselves online, and get along with people from different family backgrounds, might not appear controversial. But the revamping of RSE is a move away from the historic understanding of education in partnership with parents (especially on issues of religion and morals), to one that looks increasingly like the imposition of an ideology, through the school system, which is godless and immoral.

Christian Concern, who helped to organize a multi-faith meeting of protest and prayer outside Parliament during the debate on RSE on 25th February, have produced an excellent briefing on the implications of these changes. It is not just that influential lobby groups such as Stonewall and Educate and Celebrate have infiltrated national education, producing materials for teachers to use and proving speakers for assembles which relentlessly promote LGBT themes and ideas to children. Nor is the problem just that head teachers have been given increasing powers to direct the policy and curriculum of schools of RSE. Ideologically-driven Principals pushing policies and materials promoting the ‘inclusion’ agenda have already created clashes with parents from Muslim and Christian backgrounds, who regard this to be inappropriate or even immoral.

These things are alarming enough. Melanie Phillips writing in the Times [£] says:

The impulse to spread tolerance and protect children from harm is commendable but this is not the primary aim of this policy. It is rather to impose the doctrine of equal sexual lifestyle choice. This doctrine is not a neutral concept. As a direct attack on normative morality, it is an ideology that schools have no business imposing on pupils….many parents have already expressed great concern over the way sex education is prematurely sexualising their children…

but the bigger issue is the overarching power that the State has taken upon itself, to override the wishes of parents in their children’s education, assumptions that are guaranteed in various international accords on human rights. As Christian Concern say:

If parliament asserts a right to determine which beliefs a parent can or cannot instil in his or her own children, it infringes upon a fundamental liberty upon which the social order is established. By usurping a parents’ role as the custodians and guardians for their children’s development, parliament threatens religious liberty and the freedoms of conscience, belief, and even speech.

The contrast between General Synod, legislating to reflect the national decline in churchgoing and lack of interest in the things of God, and Parliament, legislating to ensure that no child escapes the new moralities of secularism, could not be more marked. It is certainly not a coincidence that, symbolically, worship becomes optional at a time when training in immorality becomes compulsory. This trend is found in other areas as well: the C of E’s ‘Living in Love and Faith’ project makes the historic and bible-based teaching on sex and marriage optional, while “full inclusion” of those living and promoting a different ethical position is compulsory. Abstinence for people who have same-sex desires is optional, but keeping hold of those desires is compulsory.

However, many well-meaning Christian parents and teachers, including those associated with Church of England schools, don’t seem concerned about the changes in sex education. “Surely we should support programmes in schools which teach children to be kind?” The answer of course is that good schools have always fostered an ethic of care and respect, making bullying and bigotry unacceptable, beginning with a relationship of mutual support between the head teacher and the parents, who should have ultimate responsibility for instilling morals and values according to their worldview. But now that increasingly, bullying, bigotry and even ‘extremism’ is associated with simply holding traditional views on sex and marriage, Christian parents and teachers can no longer assume that all is well. They may need to prepare for conflict if we are not to see the ‘sex-positive: all consensual sex is good’ message being taught to all children from an early age by default.

But should Christians be appalled at the sexualisation of children and the erosion of rights and freedoms of parents, or should we just shrug and accept that this is an inevitable result of secularism? Should we be actively involved in protecting children by countering misguided and even evil laws, or should we just do evangelism and discipleship within our local church, since what happens in schools is none of our business, and we can’t expect things to change unless people become Christians? Certainly this has never been the Anglican position: mission is not just getting individuals converted and into church, but also about changing society for the better. If people are speeding on my local road and children are at risk, I cannot simply fold my arms and say “we shouldn’t be surprised – the drivers are not Christians”. Nor is the ministry of practical care just a matter of helping those affected by a sinful world. To paraphrase Bonhoeffer, our job is not only to help people crushed by the wheel, but to stop the wheel itself.

The sexual revolution is getting out of control. If my church is not able to take a stand by at least clearly articulating the bible’s positive teaching on sex and the dire warnings of Christ for those who lead children into sin, should I perhaps think about going to, or even starting, another one?

Witness through trial: Paul in Acts, and the church in history

Posted by on Feb 22, 2019 in 2-Important Posts, Bible, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Witness through trial: Paul in Acts, and the church in history

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Jesus taught his disciples to pray: “Lead us not into temptation”, but the word used in the Lord’s Prayer in Matthew 6 and Luke 11 is the same as that translated as ‘trials’ in 1 Peter 1:6. Temptation, testing, trials for Jesus and for all God’s people are a regular feature of New Testament Christianity, and they come in different forms. While Christians have prayed that they would not have to face severe testing of their faith or literal trials, God has in his wisdom allowed it to happen, leading his servants into a “time of trial”; often before the court of the world, saving them through it, but also using for his glory the setting of the spotlight on his vulnerable representative.

The repeated trial scenes towards the end of Acts are fascinating, not least because Luke considers them so important that he devotes nearly 6 chapters to them. They are predicted by Paul himself in his farewell speech to the Ephesian elders at Miletus (20:23); and then by the prophet Agabus in Caesarea (21:11). The trials begin in Jerusalem because of Paul’s reputation: his gospel to the Gentiles of inclusion among God’s people through repentance and faith in Christ, not through observance of Jewish laws and customs, has been misrepresented as a message to Jews to abandon their religion and culture. There is clearly tension between Paul and the leaders of the church in Jerusalem – they find his presence an embarrassment; they arrange for him to symbolically display his Jewish piety at the temple; they are conspicuously absent in terms of providing support following his arrest, imprisonment and trials.

Paul is falsely accused of bringing Gentiles into the temple; a mob forms and a riot breaks out, with Paul in danger of being beaten to death. A strong contrast is established between the murderous ‘summary justice’ of the religious fanatics (see also 23:12), and the calm, fair secular rule of the Roman authorities. The trials begin with Paul’s first interrogation by the Roman soldiers (end of 21), his first testimony of his encounter with the risen Christ before a predominantly hostile Jewish audience on the temple steps (22:1-21), and his second questioning at the hands of the Roman military (22:22-29).

From here Paul is brought before the Sanhedrin, as Jesus, Peter and John had been before him. Paul takes the initiative by changing the subject: it’s not about whether he has violated the Law – if he has, so has everyone else (23:3), but whether there is a resurrection from the dead. This brings out the existing tensions and divisions among the leaders of God’s people, the Pharisees who believe some key tenets of the Scriptures, and the Sadduccees who have no conception of the reality of the spiritual realm. They are united in their way of operating, preserving the power and status in control of the religious institution, in the context of submission to an alien secular authority.

The trial descends into uproar and Paul is removed from the scene. He is pictured later, alone in his cell but visited by the Lord. He’s told to be courageous, not because his trials will come to an end, but that this trial in Jerusalem is the beginning of a long process ending in Rome. The apostle of Christ is to use the set-piece trials as an opportunity to testify publicly to human power, religious and secular, and by implication to the spiritual principalities and powers behind them.

The story continues: Paul’s Roman guards are warned of a plot in which some members of the Sanhedrin are involved, to assassinate Paul on his way to further questioning in Jerusalem. In response, they take him to Caesarea, where he faces more trials: before the governor Felix, (with whom Paul forms a relationship used for evangelism), and then Festus who succeeded him two years later. Paul appeals to be judged in Rome- this is his right as a citizen, but also ensures that he would not be sent back to Jerusalem as the religious leaders were demanding.

Chapter 26 narrates the final great trial scene: Paul before Festus and the vassal king Herod Agrippa in Caesarea. In the speech for his defense, Paul explains the motivation behind his ministry, and in particular, the story of his conversion as the risen Christ arrested and spoke to him. Jesus gave him a commission, to “open the eyes” of the Gentiles “so that they may receive forgiveness of sins”. This was controversial and made him and object of hatred (v21), but was in keeping with the teaching of the Old Testament (v22-23). Paul’s response to the commission was wholehearted obedience (v19-20), and he began preaching the radical message of inclusion in God’s Kingdom through repentance and faith in Christ alone.

Luke uses the courtroom drama as writers have done in many traditions including contemporary film – a compelling set-piece where arguments for and against can be set out, and where interest is focused on an individual facing justice – either to elicit sympathy for the innocent, or condemnation for the guilty. There are parallels between Paul and his Lord as they stand accused of fomenting discord and being a threat to civil order, but while Jesus speaks few words in his defense, Paul is given opportunity to tell his story and speak publicly of the death, resurrection and universal Lordship of Christ.

Most of Luke’s readers would have been familiar with the Greek dramas which often incorporated trial scenes. Is Acts a kind of tragedy then, where an innocent man remains in prison, and as we know how the story ends, goes to further trials in Rome where he is executed? We see a powerless man bravely testifying in court before hostile powers who will crush him in the end. But on a cosmic level the trial dynamic is reversed – in fact, it is the world, and the rebellious spiritual powers, who are on trial before almighty God and judged by him. Psalm 82 and Isaiah 41 are just two Old Testament passages which show this clearly. So in using the form of the courtroom scene to show Paul’s trials, Luke hints at a dramatic irony: his accusers are the ones really on trial; Paul will be vindicated, and the ‘heavenly vision’ (Acts 26:19) of multi-tribal fellowship, worship and mission in God’s service is realised.

But there’s another lesson. The man of God, and by extension the church which bravely testifies publicly to the authorities of all nations and races, speaking truth to power, may face persecution, even death, but the result is much more fruitful than for those who keep their heads down, speaking to their own people only, looking to compromise with religious and secular authorities in order to avoid conflict. Anglican representatives from countries where Christians suffer persecution, who must sometimes feel like they are on trial every day, are preparing to gather soon for a special Gafcon meeting. If Luke was writing an ‘Acts’ for today, perhaps he would be telling their story for us to learn from?

Pressure on orthodox Christian views politely and gently increased in nation and church

Posted by on Feb 5, 2019 in 2-Important Posts, Church of England, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on Pressure on orthodox Christian views politely and gently increased in nation and church

House of Lords debates same sex marriage in the C of E; Pastoral Guidance steers towards unity in diversity.

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

The day when the secular government seeks to compel the Church of England to conform fully to ‘equality legislation’ draws ever closer. An amendment to end the C of E’s exemption from the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act of 2013 was tabled in the House of Lords on Friday 1st February, and debated. Although it was withdrawn after a number of significant speeches, it’s sure to come back again and again, and as support for it grows within the Church, may eventually succeed, perhaps as a condition for continued Establishment.

The Parliamentary debate took place during the passage of a Bill which extends Civil Partnerships to heterosexual couples. The Hansard report can be read in full here.

If the reader scrolls down through technical legal issues about government powers, and the discussion about whether Civil Partnerships should be extended to siblings, the moving of amendment 2 by Lord Faulkner of Worcester can be found: “The Secretary of State must make regulations to amend the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 to remove the exemption for members of the clergy to solemnize the marriage of a same sex couple.” Faulkner went on to urge the Church of England to “follow the lead set by the Anglican Churches in Scotland, the United States, Canada and other countries and permit same-sex couples to marry in church”.

He was immediately backed up by Lord Cashman, who first emphasised that the amendment wants to make the change optional not compulsory, but then went on to complain of how “religious belief has been used to deny people basic equality”.

Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Scriven continued in the same vein, describing how he was not able to marry his same sex partner in church: “when we talk about same-sex marriage, it is not equal in law at the moment because of the provision concerning the Church. How do you think that makes me feel?”

The Bishop of Chelmsford, Stephen Cottrell, then responded for the Church. He spoke of the balance between LGBT rights and freedom of religion, and quoted the European Convention on Human Rights, Article 9, which warns against state interference in religious doctrine. Explaining the long-running process within the C of E of debating issues of sexuality and marriage up to the current Living in Love and Faith project, the Bishop in effect asked the Lords to have patience; the amendment, if passed, would be seen as forcing the hand of Synod and creating legal difficulties. Clearly feeling himself to be in a hostile environment, pressed by a number of Lords with strong pro-LGBT views, he appeared sympathetic to the call for change, even mentioning the consultancy help that Stonewall are giving the C of E, but returned to the warning about state interference and compulsion.

In his summing up, and just before he withdrew his amendment, Lord Faulkner said:

“This is the first time since the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013 was passed, more than five years ago, that we have had an opportunity to talk about the attitude of the Church of England…to same-sex marriage in church…the Church is moving—at glacial speed, I am afraid to say…and I think there is a genuine move for us to give the Church a little push in the right direction.”

There is no doubt that a campaign within Parliament to pressurise the Church in this way will grow, suggesting that the ability to retain biblical Christian sexual ethics in the C of E depends less on our blogs and books, petitions and debates in Synods , and more on the extent to which LGBT rights activists pursue their cause within Parliament and the law of the land.

 

Living In Love and Faith: progress report to General Synod

Another area of concern is the way that the Living in Love and Faith project (LLF) is taking shape. One of the many agenda papers prepared in advance of General Synod (which begins on 20th February) is a briefing from LLF, which can be found here.

The first section of the briefing summarises the scope and content of what will be a major piece of work on Christian approaches to anthropology in the context of rapid shifts in cultural understandings, and gives some names of contributors.

The second part introduces and sets out ‘Pastoral Principles’ to guide attitudes and actions of church members who disagree theologically, and to ensure a warm welcome for all. It is assumed that these Principles are not contentious in themselves, and have already been decided as applying to all without discussion. However, this is far from being the case; in fact this document will be of great concern to orthodox Anglicans around the world, as if implemented, it will create a crisis of conscience for those committed to a biblically faithful ministry.

It appears as if the first part has been written by academics, and the second by political activists.  Its first stated aim, that people would be “inspired” by the biblical vision of God’s purpose for humanity, is rather different from the New Testament insistence that “God commands all people everywhere to repent”, and so not an accurate description of how the gospel works in confessional Christianity. Other expected outcomes are: that church communities would have a deeper understanding of both the ‘inherited teaching’ on sexuality, and ‘emergent views’, and that they would, by critiquing “different hermeneutical understandings”, see how “different theological perspectives give rise to different patterns of discipleship”. This neutral, academic approach, which reads like the curriculum for an undergraduate theology course, appears already in danger of being incoherent in terms of practical Christian living. Why and how should I “deny myself” and go against my (what I believe to be) sinful desires, if giving in to and celebrating those desires is simply labeled as an equally or even more authentic pattern of discipleship?

A suite of resources are promised which include films and online learning material, a book which “combines the characteristics of a pedagogically well-crafted textbook with the aesthetics of a coffee-table book”, and a series of scholarly papers. The expense involved in this exercise of helping people to appreciate a variety of different views, a bit like multi-faith RE at school, is not mentioned, but is obviously considerable.

Having established that the purpose of the project is a comprehensive exercise in mutual learning and understanding about different perspectives on sexuality within the Christian community in its broadest sense, the second half of the document goes on to outline six ‘Pastoral Principles for living well together’.

Principle One asserts that “we will receive our differences as a gift”, and “explore our own prejudices”. We will “welcome people as they are” with “unconditional positive regard without judgement or question”, while avoiding “subliminal actions or language” which might cause hurt.

Principle Two commits the Church to be a place of welcome, acceptance, challenge and hospitality. What might prevent this is “a culture of silence’ and “abuses of power” which make vulnerable minorities who are “different” feel unwelcome.

Principle 4 speaks of the dynamic of fear which corrupts relationships. Care must be taken to include all, given different views on what constitutes sin and holiness. Reference is made to excluding people from leadership, and “coercive or abusive” pastoral practice.

What can be seen from this and the rest of the document is that these so-called Principles are not easy to understand – they appear to be speaking in code, using language about analysis of power structures, the promotion of diversity and inclusion mixed with recognizably Christian themes. On the surface some of this is uncontroversial (eg a call to love and respect one another), but it assumes the primacy of the unity of the Church despite major differences on theology, ethics and lifestyles. In fact such differences must be celebrated as a “gift”.

On closer reading, this pastoral guidance appears slanted towards an implication that conservative Christians are prone to prejudice, creating a culture of fear and silence, excluding those who differ from the norm, putting up barriers between people. For me, the way this has been done is highly manipulative. It raises the question whether, however carefully and lovingly the historic, bible-based teachings of the church about sex and marriage are presented, they will be seen to contravene these Principles.

Neither Parliament, nor the church leadership, are saying, yet, that the C of E has to make an imminent decision officially to permit practice which would put it at odds with Scripture, tradition and global Christian opinion. But the debate in the Lords and the slant of the LLF briefing seem part of a strategy to gently soften opinion, so that such a major change becomes less unthinkable in the near future.

A bible-based, evangelical approach to Christian faith and sexuality: new book sets out CEEC view

Posted by on Jan 29, 2019 in 2-Important Posts, Church of England, Editorial Blog, Evangelicalism | Comments Off on A bible-based, evangelical approach to Christian faith and sexuality: new book sets out CEEC view

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

Another excellent resource from Anglican evangelical theologian Martin Davie has been published, this time in collaboration with colleagues associated with the Church of England Evangelical Council.  ‘Glorify God in your Body: Human identity and flourishing in marriage, singleness and friendship’ at well over 200 pages is intended as a major submission from a conservative perspective to the ongoing ‘Living in love and faith’ project of the Church of England[1] and also as a handbook for the local church and personal study.

The foreword makes clear that its method does not follow the popular contemporary approach of working out from personal biographical narrative to what the church should believe and do with regard to LGBT people. Rather, Davie’s book begins with “a robust exploration of an apostolic understanding of Scripture” as a basis for the church’s theology and ethics: how Christian communities should care for all people concerning “key life issues”. Unlike the Church of England’s apparently neutral or even positive approach to “a society in which understandings and practices of gender, sexuality and marriage continue to change” (LLF), CEEC judges this society to have “lost its historic and Christian ethical moorings”, hence a need for a clear re-statement of these foundations.

The title ‘Glorify God in your body’ of course is taken from Corinthians 6:12-20, one of a number of key New Testament passages dealing specifically with sexual morality. In his book, Davie waits until chapters 7 and 8 to specifically address the radical differences between biblical standards, and the norms of most cultures (especially our own) in this area. The apostle Paul insists that how we view our bodies and use them sexually is of profound importance spiritually, not least because it affects our relationship with God and our eternal destiny. In these chapters Davie explains how this applies to how we view contemporary issues such as prostitution, pornography, masturbation, sexual surrogacy and cohabitation, as well as transgenderism and same sex relationships.

So the answer to the burning questions: “should the church bless the sexual union of same sex couples, and celebrate transgender identities” are set in the context of other areas of sexual behaviour. This comes after a number of other chapters showing the philosophical and biblical groundwork underlying an overarching evangelical theology of being human, in which sexual ethics are set. It’s an effective way of showing that evangelicals are not fixated on opposition to gay sex or worse, LGBT people, but have developed a reasoned approach which is consistent with an overall ethical framework, and has compassionate and realistic pastoral application at local church level.

In his introduction, Davie provides a brief survey of the contemporary sexual revolution, which he believes originates mainly in consumerist individualism, the rejection of externally imposed moral boundaries, and the search for authentic identity of the self. While the Christian faith shares with this philosophy the value of each individual and the goal of flourishing in this life, it offers a radically different diagnosis of the problem (internal sin rather than just external restrictions), and the solution (conformity to God’s will).

The first two chapters build on this, explaining “why ethics needs God”, using at first arguments from natural law rather than the bible. If human beings are created beings with spiritual as well as physical components, then the Creator is the source of moral authority. Knowing what God wants of us is not straightforward, as our reason is clouded by sin, and our hearts incline towards idols rather than God. Revelation is necessary for us to know who God is and what our need is, in order that we can be saved, flourish and do good according to his principles.

Having established these foundations of reason and Scripture for how we know God and how to establish what’s right and wrong, Davie continues in the next two chapters to explain, from principles of biology and Scripture, what makes us human beings, male and female. He explores the purpose of sex and sexual difference, and the meaning of marriage according to Jesus’ teaching. Interestingly, he devotes a chapter to life in the world to come, highlighting biblical teaching that we will retain our identities as male and female, but without sexual activity and marriage.

Two chapters follow on “marriage, singleness and friendship”. Continuing the theme of eternal life, Davie courageously asserts the reality of heaven and hell, and the destiny of every person being dependent on our earthly decision to be intimately connected to God in Christ, or focussed on self. Equally uncompromising is the setting out of principles of marriage according to Scripture, which rule out any idea of same sex marriage, and mirror the divine-human, Christ-church relationship in sacrificial care, headship and submission. The usual objections to this teaching are acknowledged and answered. There is then a full treatment of the subject of singleness, abstinence and celibacy, beginning with the early church’s positive view of virginity. Whether married or single, all Christians are called to be friends to others, and the church can take practical steps to promote this.

So by the time Davie addresses contemporary challenges to the historic Christian approach on issues such as intersex and transgender, sex outside marriage, divorce, and birth control, he has established a strong and reasoned method of arriving at ethical decisions, and a positive biblical anthropology. The book ends with some useful appendices and a sort of short catechism summarising some of the key points in question and answer form.

I would definitely commend this book for group study, reference for preaching, and personal growth. While I don’t take issue with any of what the book says, I hope I can tentatively suggest some omissions which perhaps need to be addressed in another book or a supplement to this one.

Firstly, just a small technical thing which is presumably to do with editing and not the author: a bibliographical list showing in one place the wide range of authors consulted and shown in the footnotes, would be very helpful.

As to the content, there is no mention of abortion, apart from a brief reference to certain types of ‘morning after’ pill. One third of tiny human bodies are destroyed before birth in Britain, without being given the opportunity to ‘flourish’ or ‘glorify God’ in any way. The omission of this topic mirrors a general pattern of disengagement from beginning and end of life concerns by English Anglican evangelicals (compare with what is happening in the US, for example). It would be good for CEEC to discuss this in future.

Then, while I understand the aim to set the issue of same sex relationships within the wider framework and not to focus on it, I thought the explanation of why the wider Christian tradition has always considered them to be immoral could have been more detailed, or at least with the addition of more references to other good resources on the subject. There could have been more on the consequences of sexual promiscuity for physical and mental health, and also a mention of how counselling and prayer can help to break patterns of wrong desires and addictive behaviour, especially since General Synod’s controversial support for a ban on this important aspect of pastoral care.

Lastly, while I agree that the affluent, capitalist West has given rise to a culture of consumerism and individualism, the power of the sexual revolution can’t be attributed to this alone. It does not explain why those who hold to the orthodox Christian teaching summarised so well by Davie and CEEC are increasingly not just ignored, but accused of bigotry and hate, even threatened with the force of law. Gabrielle Kuby’s ‘The Global Sexual Revolution’, detailing the influence of cultural Marxism on radical gender theory and the rise of LGBT political power, is mentioned in a footnote and would benefit from being summarised. Our attitudes to sexual morality do not only concern debates in Synods and pastoral care in our churches, or even our individual relationship with God, vitally important though these are. Our views on sex may in future be increasingly connected with the extent to which we are free to practice and propagate biblical faith in a secular nation.

[1] The question of whether it is a worthwhile exercise for biblically faithful Anglicans to engage in this project , and the wider issue of how to maintain a witness in a heterodox denomination, require another article…

See also: Elephants and penguins: one view of gay marriage. Review from Church Times.