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.

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.

A crisis of authority?

Posted by on Jan 15, 2019 in Church of England, Editorial Blog | Comments Off on A crisis of authority?

A crisis of authority?

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

At the time of writing, MP’s in the UK Parliament have just rejected, by a huge margin, the deal that Prime Minister Theresa May has negotiated for leaving the European Union. Leading up to the vote at 7pm, a debate took place in a half empty chamber as most MP’s had already made up their mind. Meanwhile according to the BBC “noisy, colourful, chaotic protests” filled Parliament Square, as passionate supporters of Brexit and Remain competed for media attention with placards, chants and gimmicks, so far thankfully without violence.

The crushing defeat for the Government leaves more uncertainty about the nation’s future. The Archbishop of Canterbury has seen fit to warn against a hard Brexit. Many churches and Christian groups have issued calls for prayer, seeing this as a potentially transformative moment, for good or ill. Some have pointed out that political change in itself cannot mask underlying problems caused by turning away from God.

If a government is unable to carry out its intended legislation because so many members of its own party are voting against it, this indicates a crisis of authority. Politicians are putting adherence to a supra-political vision or ideology above loyalty to party leadership. It could be said that the same phenomenon is being witnessed in the Church of England.

In recent months, Bishops have in various ways moved towards implementing the Archbishop of Canterbury’s policies of “good disagreement” on the issue of sexuality, and “radical inclusion” for gay people in the church. This involves  treating the issue of same sex relationships and gender identity as ‘second order’, on which Christians may legitimately differ without undermining the gospel. And also, finding ways of eliminating any barriers to participation in church sacraments and leadership for those who identify as LGBT, and signalling support for the cause of ‘diversity and equality’ generally, without changing the church’s official teaching or liturgy in the short term.

The Ad Clerum from the Bishops of Oxford, released on 31st October 2018, was a textbook example of this, a “case study” in fact. While using gentle language, the Bishops were nevertheless using their authority to give a clear steer in a certain direction. Initially, a few commentators responded publicly, and a few clergy sent private letters to the Bishops. Many were watching to see if there would be a wider expression of public opposition.

Early in the new year it came, as the Oxford Diocesan Evangelical Fellowship published what amounted to a rejection of the Bishops’ pastoral guidance, signed by over 100 clergy and a significant number of senior lay people. Behind the scenes careful bridge-building had been going on between the various evangelical sub-constituencies, whose leaders all had a hand in the drafting and re-drafting of the ODEF document, and in encouraging people to sign.

The Bishop has in turn responded to the protestors, insisting that his “inclusion” proposals do not mean a change in theology or exclusion for those who hold to the church’s historic teaching. While its not certain how events will unfold in the months to come, what is clear is that the Bishops of Oxford Diocese have declared themselves in favour of a revisionist trajectory, and many clergy, normally loyal to the institution or at least certainly not given to public protest, have made it known that they do not agree and will not follow those in authority over them on this and related issues. Our comprehensive list of articles on this can be found here.

There is a similar mood of polite but firm unwillingness to cooperate with the Church of England’s leadership’s recent Guidance on how to liturgically mark someone’s gender transition, as part of a gesture of welcome and inclusion for those who identify as transgender. Initially, leading evangelical Julian Henderson, Bishop of Blackburn and President of the theologically conservative Church of England Evangelical Council, in his role as Chair of the House of Bishops’ Delegation Committee, out of loyalty to the Archbishops and the principle of Episcopal collegiality, did sign off and even commend the Guidance, which had been developed largely by transgender activist clergy. But after complaints from his own constituency, Bishop Henderson soon afterwards signed another document from CEEC critiquing the ‘gender transition services’. This led to confusion and even ridicule in some quarters.

Following the CEEC meeting in early January, Bishop Julian in a statement clarified that he regretted his role in commending the liturgy, and made it clear that he stood by the CEEC position in calling for it to be withdrawn. I was at the meeting, and there was unanimous agreement among the delegates that not only were the Bishops commending liturgy with faulty theology, but the governance processes which gave rise to the Guidance did not inspire confidence. Again, various news and comment pieces can be found here.

Meanwhile that same week I took part in a series of online conference discussions with a total of around 90 clergy and laity, organized by Gafcon UK, to hear the various objections to the proposed liturgy, and to talk about possible future action plans in the face of what is generally perceived to be Church of England leadership which is now following a vision and a programme at odds with historic biblical faith. There are a variety of different views on what action should be taken, but all agreed that clergy should do more to teach lay people at parish level what a bible-based approach to sex and gender should be, how to do appropriate pastoral care and welcome within these parameters, and why the church senior leadership’s apparent alignment with new ideologies and lobby groups rather than Christian teaching needs to be resisted.

Is there a crisis of authority? It seems that in society and the church, there is much more willingness to question and even contradict leaders, following principle rather than obedience to hierarchies. In politics there is not necessarily a clear-cut right and wrong answer, so there’s a danger of “everyone doing what is right in his own eyes”. But in the church, there’s evidence that among evangelicals in the C of E, there is still a strong commitment to the authority of Scripture and the idea of faithfulness to the apostolic deposit, and that as Anglicans we want to come under the authority of Bishops who share this understanding.

Why we need the global Church

Posted by on Jan 8, 2019 in 2-Important Posts, Christianity, Editorial Blog, Global South | Comments Off on Why we need the global Church

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.

“Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” said Nathanael to Philip. Do we have anything to gain from associating with those like Jesus from an insignificant backwater? Can we learn anything from disadvantaged people like his mother?

Nathanael’s perhaps jesting but dismissive question is recorded by John. In Luke’s Gospel, we see that God has answered it even before Jesus appears. According to Mary’s prophetic word, God brings down the proud, but lifts up the humble and hungry.

It is extraordinary that at a time when churchgoing numbers are in rapid decline in this country, and even the most successful churches struggle to reach more than handfuls of people with the gospel; when spiritual life is often lukewarm, and our national church is divided, we still tend to believe that we only have expertise and resources to give, and nothing to receive from the global church. And yet it is well known that it is in the ‘global south’, particularly the places where there is poverty, persecution and conflict, that the church not only survives but most remarkably, thrives. What is their secret?

If we take a tour round three nations with huge populations, we see seemingly intractable problems, but also remarkable faith and courageous action.

I visited the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2014, and have kept in touch with Anglican leaders there. Just before Christmas they were due to hold a general election (result not confirmed at the time of writing). There were a number of incidents of serious violence leading up to the poll between supporters of rival political parties, but this was just an addition to the ongoing murderous conflicts between government and various rebel factions in the north-east of the vast country.

A Bishop who attended Gafcon told me that in some parts of his Diocese there is not even the basic security required to plant and harvest crops and carry out normal business; clergy are sometimes ministering to transient congregations as they have fled their villages. But this year, according to the Provincial Secretary, the Anglican Church in the Congo has taken a number of initiatives for prayer and pastoral ministry,  and in training clergy and lay leaders in peace-building. They need our financial help, but we can surely learn from their courage and persistence in a dangerous situation?

Then, what about China, which has seen huge growth in the number of Christians over the past 40 years? The week before Christmas I saw an article posted on The Gospel Coalition website, about a pastor called Wang Yi who faces 15 years in jail for “subversion of state power”, a charge often handed to those associated with unregistered churches. While this is not surprising, Wang Yi has received international attention because of a powerful and moving “Declaration of Faithful Disobedience”, published by his church after his arrest.

In language reminiscent of Bonhoeffer in 1930’s Germany, Pastor Wang reflects on the legitimacy of the Chinese government under God; when Christians have a duty to obey and to disobey. The purpose of the Church, he says, is to testify to the Lordship of Christ, to his call to repent and receive forgiveness of sins, to the reality of heaven and hell. But as part of this calling, the wickedness of the Communist regime’s persecution of God’s people, and its idolatrous ideology, must be denounced openly, yet with love and “the olive branch of peace”. This is not to be seen as “fighting for rights” as if changing the political system is the goal, but rather “to testify about another world”.

This is a profound challenge to Christian leaders in the West, who are tempted to compromise with the secular powers for the sake of short term comfort or personal gain, or who may think that social and political change is the gospel.

A third Christian community to learn from is Pakistan. As an impoverished female labourer unfairly imprisoned for her faith but whose case has made world headline news, Asia Bibi is another contemporary example of how God speaks through those oppressed and silenced by the powerful. While we still wait for news of her situation following release from prison, we can praise God for the amazing courage of the Pakistani Church. Following Asia’s acquittal, furious gangs were terrorizing Christians, and yet during that time the church has continued with its worship and ministry, even hosting conferences on evangelism.

In the West we have got used to affluence and worldly measures of success, and so fear of getting on the wrong side of secular authorities and lobby groups can prevent the church from fulfilling its calling. At some point we need to admit our weakness, and turn to the church in the global south for inspirational lessons, help and prayer.

2018 Editorial Blogs

Posted by on Dec 27, 2018 in Editorial Blog | Comments Off on 2018 Editorial Blogs

2018 Editorial Blogs

2018 has seen further evidence of a revisionist trajectory in the Church of England, but mission is still continuing at local level. Gafcon and the vision of global orthodox Anglicanism continues to provide hope and security. Anglican Mainstream intends to continue to provide regular news and comment on the critical issues facing the church in 2019.

Selection of Editorial Blog Posts 2018, by Andrew Symes


C of E and the debates on sexuality and marriage

Synod debates about liturgy open up new questions of truth and religious freedom

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

When public opposition is necessary

Fluid families good, nuclear families bad?

C of E: Rainbow revolution progresses as Bishop of Taunton announced as celebrant at Cathedral LGBT Eucharist

Diocese of Oxford: a case study in radical inclusion

Sex and the new generation: education and the gospel in a secular society

The secular, postmodern re-shaping of church and society

More rubicons crossed, more anxiety about the future

Also: Anglicans and Transgender A series of reflections from 2015-2018


Church of England and mission

Society’s dystopian trends and the church’s response

University missions provide signs of hope amid Anglican decline

A house divided

The C of E: money for mission, but what about method and message?

Did we witness social action/evangelism ‘holy grail’ on BBC documentary?

A pastoral fantasy – or could it happen?


Gafcon and global orthodox Anglicanism

Evangelicals, differentiation and the global church

Unstable C of E shows need for Gafcon vision

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

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

Faint praise for Gafcon offers no solutions for the C of E or the Communion

The visit of Archbishop Foley Beach: ACNA, Gafcon and lessons for the UK church


Miscellaneous topics

Understanding more about Israel

Strong, clear Christian witness at March for Life

Can we learn from ancient prayer books?

Evaluating the new influential philosophers

Brexit – now what?

Herald-angels, other spiritual beings, and the church