The end of Christianity?

The persecution of Christians worldwide has never been more severe. A few examples will give you the flavour of what’s happening…

Islamic State turned churches throughout Iraq into torture chambers for Christians. All who refused to convert to Islam suffered prolonged agonies and thousands were killed. Abu Aasi, a witness, reported: “They were blindfolded and handcuffed and IS broke all the crosses and statues of Mary.”

They turned the ancient Chaldean church of the Immaculate Conception in Mosul into a prison for Christian women. Although it alleged that IS has been defeated, prospects for Christians in Iraq have hardly improved.

The atrocities are not confined to Iraq. In Somalia Muslim terrorists have boasted that they slaughtered a group of Christians “while they were celebrating Christmas.” Sheikh Abdiasis Abu Musab, spokesman for the gunmen from Al Shabaab, gloatingly announced that they had killed “14 Christian enemies.”

In Pakistan, Elizabeth Bibi, a pregnant 28-year-old Christian mother of four children, was beaten, scorned and humiliated and made to walk naked through the streets. In the ordeal, she lost her baby.

In Tehran on Christmas Day 2018, as they celebrated Mass in a private house, nine Christians were arrested by paramilitary agents, taken to a secluded location where seven were hanged on the orders of the Iranian regime.

In Northern Nigeria, more than a hundred Muslim Fulani herdsmen slaughtered 16 Christians, including a one-year-old infant and his mother.

Last December police arrested and beat up 36 Christians from the Bahri Evangelical Church in North Khartoum. In Mandera in Kenya, gunmen from Al Shabaab launched an early morning raid on quarry workers while they were asleep in their tents. They separated the Christians from the Muslims and either shot or beheaded 36 Christians.

In so-called Christian Europe there are attacks on churches and worshippers every day. These are only a few examples of what is going on relentlessly and everywhere. I have enough material to fill a book about such murderous atrocities.

Christians are being slaughtered on a grand scale and there are other indubitable signs of their decline. Today in Britain, only seven per cent of people identify themselves as Christians: marginally more than Muslims for whom the figure is six per cent.

In what used to be known as Catholic Ireland, the Christian presence is a shadow of what it was. For example, in the diocese of Killaca there is only one priest under the age of 40 and there have been no new ordinands since 2013. Further afield, in The Netherlands 25 per cent identify as atheist and only 17 per cent as theists. In a Europe-wide poll, 63 per cent say religion “does more harm than good.” The unprecedented scale of the decline has been noticed by former Archbishop Rowan Williams who has described Britain as “a post-Christian country.”

It gets worse…

State persecution of Christians is rife in Britain and particularly in our schools.

I have friends who teach in state schools and they have all told me that they are not allowed to teach even the elements of Christianity to their pupils. For instance, they must not teach that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman.And of course they must not evangelise and teach that faith in the redeeming acts of Jesus Christ is necessary for our salvation.

This vicious state persecution means that a whole generation of children is growing up in ignorance of the gospel. The enormity of this deprivation comes home to us when we recall that England has been a Christian country for over a thousand years. Ours is a nation formed by Christianity: its universities and schools, hospitals, hospices and trades guilds; a parish church in every community and a cathedral in most of our great cities. Charity, civility and public manners were all the creations of the Christian faith.

But persecution is not limited to the schools: every day, Christians are being victimised throughout Britain.

The militantly secular political establishment – the same people who gave us homosexual marriage – aim to banish the Christian faith from public life. Secularism – under its mischievous and dishonest disguises of “inclusivity” and “diversity” – now rules in this country. Dishonest because the one group that is not permitted inclusion in this wonderful diversity are traditional Christians. You can go to jail for affirming aspects of Christian morality. People have done just that.

So far I have painted a bleak picture, but there is much more and worse – far worse. Traditional Christian doctrine and theology has been discarded. In the universities and theological journals there appears a radical and demythologised version of the Christian faith. And there has been a faster falling away from fundamental beliefs than in the days of Rudolf Bultmann’s “demythologising,” The Myth of God Incarnate and the atheistic assertions of Don Cupitt. So that, as the great Karl Barth said, the universities and the journals have abandoned Christianity and replaced it with, “A pseudo-religion for scholarly non-believers.”

We are now seeing the pastoral consequences of secularisation as most of our bishops and senior clergy – far from resisting the trend – embrace it with open arms. Most of these ecclesiastical functionaries merely patter the secular orthodoxies and they have reduced Christian theology to a version of glorified social work.

The fact is that these leading clergy wouldn’t have ascended to their current high positions if they did not support the new secularism wholeheartedly.

To give just one example: there is a vigorous high-level campaign for homosexual marriage. The Methodists have already voted overwhelmingly for this. You can be certain that the Church of England will in no way lag behind.

St John Henry Newman (1801-1890) saw all this coming:

“The tendency of the age is towards liberalism. But truly, religion must be based on authority of some kind — not upon sentimentality. It is the church that is the only legitimate guarantor of religious truth. The liberals know this and are in every possible manner trying to break it up.”

In fact Christianity in Britain is irreparably broken up already.

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The Rise of Identity Ecclesiology

Gender

By Rollin Grams 

Revelation 7:9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands,

Read this passage in the Modernistcolonial era from a postmillennial (i.e., basically that the Church is growing greater until Christ returns) perspective and you will think of universalism.  The inclusion of the nations, races, and ethnicities into Christendom is accomplished politically by the expansion of a Christian Empire and a State Church from Europe such as the Church of England.  The unity of diverse groups is established through a singular authority, whether government (headed by the King or Queen) or Church (headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury).  Moreover, a common language, English, a singular theological authority, Church dogma based on canonical Scripture, and a singular worship—the Book of Common Prayer—accomplish an overall unity at many levels despite the continuance of cultural variety at the local level.

Read this passage in a Postmodernist era (and probably with minimal concern for eschatology) and the perspective changes.  A recent directive from the head of a Christian organization announced that diversity training for employees would soon be implemented, and Rev. 7.9 was referenced as the basis for this.  Whereas the previously described lens for reading the text focused on how this passage pointed to unity, now the passage is used to endorse diversity.  Read a book like Soong-Chan Rah’s The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity, and you get a deconstruction of the Modernist, colonial paradigm by attacking the so-called ‘White Church’ (the category is inadequate) and ‘Western’ culture and construction of equality through the affirmation of diversity and multiculturalism.  Rah writes,

The imagery of Revelation 7 points to a gathering of all believers, across all races, ethnicities and cultures. The call for those who are outside of Western culture is to lift up the message of the gospel through the unique expression of the image of God and the cultural mandate found in each culture (p. 134).

Enter Identity Ecclesiology.  It creates an ecclesiology focussed on and celebrating diversity among humans, such as race.  ‘White Church’, ‘white privilege’, ‘Black Church’, ‘diversity,’ and ‘Multicultural Church’ become the new categories for theological reflection on the Church.  Identity Ecclesiology is a highly polished lens, derived from contemporary, Western culture, through which everything is viewed.  Somewhat ironically—but predictably—when one views everything through the lens of race in order to affirm a version of equality that is multicultural, one requires a perpetual focus on race for that equality to be maintained.  (How inconvenient for multiculturalism when the children of immigrants adopt the new country’s language and culture!)  Multiculturalism is, in the most significant definition of racism, racist (not negative attitudes or discrimination, bad as these may be, but always viewing individuals in terms of their racial groups).  A ‘White Church’ is castigated for all its ills (or alleged ills), and a ‘Multicultural Church’ is held up as the new standard of excellence.  Diversity is something to be sought after in itself—it is not a neutral condition but a virtue.  Not the right interpretation of Scripture by understanding the author’s intent but hearing different cultural interpretations of Biblical texts is the new method of enquiry.  Not exegesis but appreciative discourse, particularly to highlight culturally diverse interpretations, is pursued.  In either the multicultural Western society or the multicultural Church, diversity is, in fact, a cardinal virtue.  Also, hiring for diversity is essential.  And never mind the country church or the neighbourhood church or the small church; the new standard is a large city church that collects ethnicities.  When your ecclesiology depends on city subway systems and motor vehicles and large parking lots to gather multiple ethnicities together for a worship service, your ecclesiology has become a political ideology.  To see the Church—or the local church—through ethnicities is itself racist.  I would term this Identity Ecclesiology.

Identity Ecclesiology is the result of several storms in culture.  One is the obvious storm of Western culture itself, beholden to a Postmodern critique of ‘totalizing narratives’ and rejection of truth so that local constructions of truth may be applauded not for what they claim but for their difference.  Identity Ecclesiology is also the result of immigration and urban dominance; ecclesiology is worked out in large cities during a time of migration of persons fleeing their own national turmoil for safer and more prosperous nations, only to find these nations have a cultural change that insists that their cultures of origin are of equal value.  Yet Identity Ecclesiology is also the result of the demise of mainline denominations.  Ironically, the mainline denominations have succumbed so much to the culture themselves that they are the primary perpetrators of a cultural theology that joyfully deconstructs orthodoxy and affirms heterodoxy and multiculturalism (whether or not they practice it).  Yet the demise of the denominations themselves—regardless of their theology or heresy—also contributes to Identity Ecclesiology.  This is because the demise of mainline denominations has allowed many Evangelical churches to float free from the historic Church. This might be temporary, since new denominations in the Anglican, Presbyterian, Lutheran, and probably (soon) the Methodist traditions are reclaiming not only orthodoxy but also the value of their connections to the historical Church.  Yet non-denominational churches and agencies or institutions have proliferated in the interim, and this hyper-baptistic ecclesiology is a reason for an anti-tradition, Identity Ecclesiology.

Do texts from Paul support Identity Ecclesiology?  Paul said,

Galatians 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

and

Colossians 3:11 In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

What we find in such passages is a negation of the relevance of diversity, not a valuing of diversity.  Equality is not located in the equal worth of each social grouping but in the singular worth of Christ.  Christology, not sociology, is the basis for Paul’s ecclesiology.  (Side note for academics: the ‘new perspective on Paul’, I would argue, is largely a sociological reading of soteriology.  No wonder that the foundational book on the new perspective by E. P. Sanders–Paul and Palestinian Judaism–begins with an ethnic focus.)  Of course, a theology of the Church has social implications, but social equity is not the foundation for our understanding of the Church.  If it were in passages such as Gal. 3.28 and Col. 3.11, then we would have to value the perpetuation of slaves and Scythians (a barbaric culture from which many slaves came in Roman times).  If such were valued by Paul and the early Church for their contribution to ecclesial diversity, then their continuation would be important.  Instead, Paul minimizes the relevance of such social conditions.  What elevates the slave and the Scythian in the Church is not the value of their condition or ethnicity for the Church but their participation in Christ.

Postmodern leanings in the Church today—including some Evangelical churches, institutions of education, and mission agencies—are creating challenges that we might no longer be equipped to address.  The failings of Christendom, with its colonialism, patriarchalism, and any domination of others by the self-assured, superior group, have provided grounds for a permanent critique, a hermeneutic of deconstruction, of ‘catholicity’ (a Church united despite local differences) in favour of diversity (a Church united by celebrating local differences).  Past errors undermine the Church’s voice in the present context.  Moreover, Postmodernism has moved from affirming that each group’s identity is of equal value (a hopelessly flawed assumption) to a Tribalism that values victimhood groups more than others (a frightfully flawed conviction).  ‘Intersectionalism’ characterizes Western culture today: the higher level of victimhood one can claim by identifying with an increasing number of oppressed, minority groups, the higher one climbs in social status.

Rah’s railing against the so-called ‘white church’s’ ethnocentrism proceeds with two amazing omissions.  In his concern that theological enquiry should collect ethnically diverse authors (pp. 116-120), there is an inevitable disvaluing of academic quality and theological orthodoxy.  If we promote ethnic diversity to the primary level of theological discourse, we run the risk of changing the way we go about theological enquiry as a theological tradition.  Oddly enough—for Rah’s thesis—the African Anglican Church would be the first to call the WesternEpiscopal Church in America or Scotland or the Western Church of England to task for its failure to hold fast to thetradition of the Anglican Church.  The concern is to contend for the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), not to begin and carry on theological enquiry by hearing from diverse voices—even if it is to listen to ethnically diverse voices within the orthodox faith.

The second omission in Rah’s Next Evangelicalism’s railing against the ‘white church’s’ ethnocentricism is his failure to consider the remarkable story of foreign missionary work by the American and British Evangelical churches.  The story of ‘Modern missions’ is not just about the missionaries who gave their lives to tell the world about Jesus in foreign lands and translate the Scriptures in numerous languages that had never been reduced to writing before–bringing dignity to those cultures and helping to preserve them; it is also about the Western Church’s support of foreign missionary work.  Moreover, when Rah engages with the question of missions, his primary value is in missional reciprocity, where, as Oscar Muria suggests, ten short-term missionaries from the US to Kenya should be reciprocated with ten short-term missionaries from Kenya to the US (p. 136).  My suspicion is that Muria suggested this as a critique of western mission tourism more than anything else.  Yet Rah cites this suggestion as a positive way to conceive of missions in a multicultural Evangelicalism.  The notion that ‘mission’ may be about a task, not, as Rah hopes, cultural exchange and interaction (p. 136), seems to have missed his reflections altogether.  The proclamation of the Lord Jesus Christ is a challenge to every culture.  Ray is aware of missiological discussion about the ‘translation’ (so Lamin Sanneh, Andrew Walls) of the Gospel into various cultures (in contrast, for Sanneh, to Islam), yet this truth about Christianity is not an endorsement of cultural diversity in itself.  First, culture is not static—it is always in flux.  The affirmation of a culture in itself can be embarrassed by persons within that culture who are advocating for cultural change.  Second, while the Gospel may find a remarkable ability to take shape in some form or another in diverse cultures, it is a challenge to every culture.  The Gospel is not just translatable, it is also transforming.

So, what is Revelation 7’s vision all about?  To answer this, we need to step back to Genesis 11.  The story of the Tower of Babel is the third story in Genesis 1 – 11 of the assertion of humans over against God.  In the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve rejected God’s knowledge of good and evil, choosing autonomy from God to make their own choices.  In the story of Noah and the Flood, humans rejected God’s righteousness, for the thoughts of their hearts were continuously evil (Genesis 6.5).  And in the story of the tower of Babel, human beings rejected God’s superiority, seeking to ascend to the heavens to assert their equality with God.  So God caused them to speak different languages and scattered them abroad across the face of the earth (Genesis 11.9). Cultural diversity was God’s curse on humanity.  Revelation 7 (and other passages in Revelation, incidentally) picture eschatological unity of the diverse cultures of the earth by their worship of God, acknowledging Him as their Lord.  What do every nation, tribe, people, and language cry when they gather before the throne of God?  They cry, ‘Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!’ (Revelation 7.10).  Ecclesiology needs to be Christocentric, not ethnocentric.  Revelation 7 is not about the innate worth of diverse cultures but about the undoing of difference in the transformative unity of life submitted to the Lamb upon the heavenly throne.

We do, indeed, need to ask, ‘What is the next Evangelicalism?’  Under the pressure of Western culture and Postmodernity, it may well end up being a multicultural, Identity Ecclesiology that prioritizes cultural diversity and asserts the equality of all cultures.  Or it may reclaim its connectivity to the historic Church through catechetical instruction in continuity with orthodoxy, its vision for Christian mission as the proclamation of the Gospel to the ends of the earth rather than a cultural exchange and the pursuit of intercultural studies instead of missions in Evangelical seminaries, and its affirmation of individuals as worthy because Jesus died for them instead of worthy because of the contribution of their particular ethnicity to enrich the multicultural church.

Diocese of Oxford: a case study in radical inclusion

Author:

Andrew Symes

In 2003 Jeffrey John was put forward by the Crown Nominations Commission as Bishop of Reading in the Diocese of Oxford. John[1] had for some time been publicly arguing for the church to accept and bless same sex relationships. His good friends the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and Bishop of Oxford Richard Harries were delighted. But opponents in the Diocese formed a coalition of churches from conservative evangelical, charismatic and anglo-catholic traditions; they strongly opposed the move to appoint John as Bishop, and he withdrew.

Having learned their lesson from the Jeffrey John incident in England, and the much more divisive saga of Gene Robinson in the US, from 2013 Archbishop Justin Welby and his team developed a new policy of gradually making the church more LGBT friendly while avoiding stirring up opposition through symbolic ‘red line’ change events such as gay Bishops or official prayers for same sex couples.

Two key phrases that sum up this policy are “good disagreement” and “radical inclusion”. The first saw the debate on homosexuality in the church as like a nation having two opposing groups with strong political and religious allegiances. No-one can adjudicate who is right or wrong, but we can get people with different views to live together in peace. The problem with using this analogy is that the church does officially have a view on what is right and wrong! It should be teaching what the bible and its own Prayer Books say, and refute ideas which do not align with this. But the “good disagreement’ and ‘Shared Conversations’ process was specifically designed to undermine the “this is true, this is false” nature of the church’s official teaching, not contradicting or changing it, but saying that people were free to agree or disagree with it as long as they stayed together in the same church.

In February 2017 General Synod debated a report which had taken up hundreds of hours of work by Bishops, concluding that while bible interpretation is disputed, and the church needs to be more welcoming to LGBT people, it cannot approve blessing of same sex relationships or gay marriage. This was voted down. The Archbishop of Canterbury, chastened by this liberal revolt, promised a policy of ‘radical inclusion’ which was warmly welcomed by LGBT campaigners.

Afterwards a number of Bishops openly declared their support for this progressive agenda, appointing its advocates to senior Diocesan posts, turning a blind eye to gay wedding lookalikes in churches, Cathedrals flying the rainbow pride flag, and then, most recently, ‘rainbow eucharists’ where the communion table is draped with the rainbow flag and the message of love and inclusion for all is preached.

Recently the Bishops of Oxford Diocese sent out a pastoral letter to all clergy and lay ministers, interpreting how radical inclusion would work. (See here for the letter, and responses, including my own from last week).

Discussion is still going on about future policy of the church regarding blessing of same sex relationships and gay marriage in church, the Bishops say, but in the meantime “LGBTI+ people” must feel welcome in any church. Clergy should certainly not question gay people about their lifestyles, the letter continues, nor suggest that sexual orientation/behaviour might change through prayer and counselling, link receiving the sacraments to the necessity of repentance from what the bible calls sin, or deny LGBT people wanting to take leadership positions in the church from doing so.

So the official position of the church remains the same: doctrine and liturgy about sex and marriage have not been changed. But on the ground things have changed – so much so that in carefully constructed language, this Bishops’ letter in promoting ‘inclusion’ effectively warns clergy against ways of teaching and offering welcome, pastoral care and the opportunity of discipleship guided by the church’s official doctrinal position.

When the Diocese of Lichfield sent out a similar letter in May this year, one of its partner Dioceses in South East Asia immediately terminated its link. The fact that Lichfield’s main points were copied by the Oxford  Bishops and leadership really raises questions about their interest in any relationship with the majority Anglican world in the global South, apart from those areas which have imbibed a Western world view.

Why have Oxford done this? The Bishop of Oxford is in the House of Lords, and of course Oxford University is a prominent seat of learning – there would be constant strong influences in a liberal direction from these bastions of the establishment. But also there are some key players in the leadership of the Diocese. Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham, is a leading LGBT advocate who has written a book arguing for same sex marriage in church. Jayne Ozanne is a prominent member of Oxford’s Diocesan Synod as well as General Synod; Colin Fletcher Bishop of Dorchester wrote the forward to the book she edited in 2016. Martyn Percy, veteran revisionist campaigner, is Dean of Christ Church, Oxford’s Cathedral.

Where is the opposition? The appointment of Justin Welby, a charismatic evangelical, as Archbishop, has effectively divided conservatives, bringing ‘moderates’ on board with the establishment (in return for continued mission opportunities), and marginalizing those who are prepared to publicly oppose the LGBT agenda as ‘extremists’.

True, a small number of Bishops, including some Diocesans, were recently prepared to go on public record as indicating their continued belief in the historic, bible-based Christian teaching on sexual ethics and marriage. They did this by way of urging the Chairman of the ‘Living in Love and Faith’ project to include this teaching in the proposed Teaching Document due to be released in 2020, and warning the C of E against changing its teaching in this area. But as we’ve seen, its possible to create a culture of full acceptance of LGBT ideology in the church without the need to cross “red lines” of official liturgies and canons; and “good disagreement” means that anyone can state their own position as long as they see it as provisional and second-order, for the sake of unity.

In Oxford Diocese, the original conservative coalition which successfully stopped the appointment of a gay Bishop and the acceptance of the LGBT agenda in 2003 had fractured ten years later. A number of the churches which opposed Jeffrey John’s appointment in 2003 would not do so today; some perhaps would even welcome the Bishops’ letter. Many conservative evangelical churches have been persuaded over the past five years to view the sexuality issue as a pastoral concern for individuals in the church, and not to see or understand the global ideological revolution of which it is a part. During the past 15 years society has seen the normalization and celebration of gay identities and relationships, and now transgenderism; opposing this trend is too difficult for churches to contemplate when there would be opposition in their own congregations, and bills to pay.

So while some churches in Oxford Diocese are concerned about this latest letter from the Bishops, it is unlikely that any public action will be taken. Some who recognize the true nature of the letter from the Bishops and its infringement on freedom to minister according to the bible’s teaching, can at least follow the example of the Bishop of Albany in TEC, who recently said publicly that he would not accept the directive of General Convention allowing for same sex marriage, if it meant going against his vows to uphold truth and oppose error. Might some churches in Oxford be prepared to send at least a private letter to their Bishop, thanking him for his directive but politely declining to implement its contents?

Such an approach would require courage but would not alter the overall trajectory. In my view what has happened in Oxford serves as a case study for how the Church of England as an institution has now been taken over completely by the specific mutation of the combination of consumerist individualism and cultural Marxism (political correctness) peculiar to our nation. It will be possible for a few years to retain orthodox faithful Christian witness in some of the more secure evangelical churches in the C of E, but this will become more difficult when the politicians have Brexit behind them and start to put more pressure on the established church to ‘get with the programme’.

Another hope for the future is to establish small independent Anglican congregations, not under the authority of the Church of England but linked to the global movement of biblically orthodox Anglicanism known as Gafcon. This does not mean immediately ‘abandoning ship’; it can be done in parallel to pursuing a rearguard ministry in the C of E. Then, increasingly, Anglicans will find themselves with a choice, having to decide which is the priority: aesthetics, the beauty of the parish church or Cathedral, with a ‘progressive’ message; or truth, the beauty of the biblical gospel, still authentically Anglican, in a front room or school hall.

[1] An openly gay man, John has always maintained that his own domestic arrangements conform to the Church of England’s teaching.

The post Diocese of Oxford: a case study in radical inclusion appeared first on Anglican Mainstream.

Silent Anglicans – Why evangelicals in the Church of England need to talk openly

Silent Anglicans
Why evangelicals in the Church of England (and ACSA) need to talk openly

By Peter Sanlon
https://www.e-n.org.uk/
August 27, 2018

One year before WWI broke out, Winston Churchill wrote a memo: ‘Timetable of a Nightmare.’

It predicted details of the coming war. Churchill frequently warned of the danger his country faced — the majority of his fellow leaders merely complained about him. Sir Henry Jackson spoke for many when he wrote that he ‘did not like the style’ of Churchill’s writing. Churchill’s warnings of danger were ignored and instead his manner, style and motivations were impugned. Trying to prepare the military and nation to defend itself felt like wading through treacle with chains of iron around his neck — because free and open debate about the actual issues was precluded by those in a position to act.

Crisis on the horizon
A similar problem weighs upon evangelicals in the CofE today. Crisis looms on the horizon, but leaders, organisations and churches are frightened even to debate the issues impartially. Over the past year I have been asked by three of the well-known evangelical parachurch organisations if I would speak in a debate about the spiritual state of the CofE? In all three cases the debates were called off because none of those evangelicals who privately defend the CofE were willing to have their arguments examined in public. Evangelicals are a constituency reputed to be courageous, idiosyncratic and counter-cultural. Why then are evangelicals in the CofE so frightened to debate the deep problems we face in our denomination? There are a number of reasons:

Outsiders?
1. Admitting that the problems in the CofE are severe would force ministers to lead ministries outside the established church. Those less than a decade off retirement lack the energy, and those in their 20s cannot see how they could raise the necessary finances to replicate CofE provision. In many parts of the country a CofE minister’s remuneration package (including rent) is about £65,000. Stepping away from that calls for considerable faith.

Ignore the denomination
2. Many evangelicals in the CofE believe they can ignore the denomination. There are strengths and weaknesses of every polity — but one creates an intractable problem when evangelicals in any system claim they can reject the principles of their own polity. One CofE minister intimated to me that it mattered not a jot what his bishop believed about anything. Deep inconsistencies have to be embraced in order to hold such views alongside being a minister in the CofE. Open discussion of the heresy that has captured the denomination would expose these.

Social class
3. We have a problem with class. This is why Acts 29 are organising a conference on the topic. In the CofE, a group of ministers who hail from upper-middle-class backgrounds shape the national agenda for our constituency. Several of them are good friends. Still, it is without a doubt the case that their cultural background makes them frightened of open public debate about theological issues. In a widely circulated paper on the problem of class, the late Mike Ovey wrote: ‘I am disturbed that we spend so little time on what is blindingly obvious to outsiders, that so much of our implicit leadership has an upper-crust profile. This implicit leadership structure creates a real dilemma. If we appoint a bishop from this implicit leadership, then questions arise about transparency, fairness and whether the individual has the requisite qualities. If we do not, how will a new bishop exercise oversight over a member of this implicit leadership?’ Mike Ovey went on to explain how our captivation to upper-class leadership ties us into a toxic secretive form of decision making — the very kind exposed by open debate.

Big churches dominate
4. Conservatives in the CofE find that our leadership structures are dominated by our larger churches. These churches are able to negotiate deals with the denomination small churches cannot. They can do so due to financial clout and size — but as they focus energies on those negotiations they ignore the opportunity to rally and support others effectively. Peter Jensen describes this as the ‘Fortress Church’ strategy. It feels safe inside a fortress — but one needs to remember that a besieged fortress falls eventually.

Being groomed?
5. It puzzled me for a while why a couple of well-known conservative leaders mimic the establishment propaganda that evangelicals can flourish alongside liberals. It made sense when I heard that one of them had been invited to speak at Lambeth Palace and the other has for some years been on the bishops’ training programme. Evangelicals often feel excluded — being promised a position of influence as a bishop is seductive. The price of being groomed is that one must not bite the handler, so debate becomes toothless.

Separation from false teaching
6. We conservative Anglicans have been notoriously poor at applying the Bible to our culture. We have focused on helping people become Christians — applications beyond that have been lacking. Evaluating the CofE takes us beyond our exegetical comfort zone — we are called to ask what it really means for us to separate from false teachers. We are ill-prepared for such debates.

Parachurch
7. All the parachurch organisations that represent conservatives in the CofE now commend some form of tolerating the CofE’s heresies. CEEC hopes for a solution from the Archbishop himself. Reform has morphed into Church Society, which is careful to challenge the CofE in terms no stronger than any CofE bishop would voice. Renew gestures to AMiE as a network free of the CofE — but the vast bulk of its energy is focused on helping people do ministry within the CofE. Where would people go to debate the issues and formulate an effective way forward? The answer from all organisations is that we should quietly wait and see what happens.

Conflicting strategies
8. It is said that people in our constituency will all do different things. Leaving aside the fact that no army has won a war by adopting conflicting strategies, this has given rise to a false view of unity. That idea is that unity will be preserved by not evaluating the theological foundations of our differing approaches. Failure to debate openly fosters false unity and means that factors other than truth shape actions.

As one minister criticising Church Society’s approach wrote: ‘I’m deeply unconvinced by what seems to be the current pressure to hold our tongues because everyone is in a different situation, so we will follow different strategies. I don’t think we strive to maintain our unity by not speaking especially in a context where we feel dangerous steps are being taken.’ I realise that in summarising these concerns I will likely be accused of undermining unity. I urge those who would lay that charge to seek the deeper unity which lies the other side of honest debate. There are numbers of positive steps that could be taken — but they can only be explored with those willing to discuss the nature of the problem faced.

Consequences
A tragic consequence of failure to debate the issues facing us is that we are less well prepared for future events than we could be. Discussing the issues and past decisions would be painful for all — we would all need to admit our past failures of leadership. It would be worthwhile, as it would leave us better prepared for what is coming.

Another consequence of our failure to talk openly is that we are formed into the image of the CofE. Our denomination has been captured by a spirit that says truth and error can be held together; that institutional positions and money matter more than Jesus’ words. The longer we refuse to debate the relevant issues the more deeply we will be formed into the likeness of an institution God has abandoned.

Peter Sanlon is Vicar of St Mark’s Church, Tunbridge Wells and Director of Training, the Free Church of England

Outrage over attack on GAFCON general secretary’s home

Author:

Andrew Boyd

Cattle rustlers have attacked the home of the Nigerian Archbishop of Jos, Benjamin Kwashi. The Anglican Archbishop was at home at the time, with some 60 orphans in his care when the raiders struck.

They seized nine cows and shot and killed a neighbour who challenged them by shining a torch in their direction.

Archbishop Ben Kwashi heard the raiders break into his compound and told everyone to stay indoors until they had left. They struck on Saturday June 30.

The Archbishop later visited the family of the dead man, who has been named as Adamu Dung, and prayed for them.

Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi is a partner of Release International, which serves the persecuted church around the world. He wrote on his Facebook page: ‘Adamu Dung was shot through the head because he flashed his light when he heard footsteps of cattle being rustled. The cows were mine. Adamu was killed. He is no threat. He is an ordinary citizen struggling with life and doing every honest job to make ends meet.

‘When I saw the widow and the house I could not help myself, my tears flowed freely and my heart shattered! I still carry the image of the house, the widow and the children. Adamu died, killed by rustlers in front of his house.

‘We are not safe in [our] homes. I am raising an alarm – if the government will listen. Lord in your mercy…’

Archbishop Kwashi has called repeatedly for the government to step up security to protect Christians under attack in the north.

The latest attack came days after he was announced as General Secretary of GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) in Jerusalem.

This is the fourth attack on his own home. His church and vicarage have been burnt down, and, on one occasion, when would-be assassins discovered he wasn’t there, they took their revenge on his wife Gloria, leaving her partially blinded.

Each time the attackers come, Archbishop Kwashi says it just makes him more resolved to preach the gospel and proclaim the Christian message. Since the attacks began, the Archbishop and his wife have fostered hundreds of orphans. Their latest was a baby whose parents were killed in the recent attacks two weekends ago.

The latest death toll in attacks by Fulani herdsmen has reached 218, according to Release International contacts in Jos. The herdsmen killed 11 more people this weekend in two separate attacks. Six of the dead were killed in Mangu, which is 40 miles from Jos, the capital of Plateau State.

Release International has warned the ongoing attacks, by heavily armed herdsmen and Boko Haram militants, point to a campaign to drive Christians out of the north of Nigeria.

Release CEO Paul Robinson says: ‘These murderous raids beg important questions. Why is the military apparently powerless to stop the slaughter of unarmed farmers? Who is arming and training these Fulani militants? And whose agenda does this killing of mainly Christian communities serve?

‘It all points to a strategy to drive out Christians from the north of Nigeria.

‘The government of Nigeria must protect its vulnerable Christian communities in the north – and its Anglican Archbishop.’

Categories: Provinces: 

A Hard Future For Traditional Christianity

Irish abortion rights protesters says whores are more important than unborn children. Her side won (abd/Shutterstock)

Exit polling shows that Ireland has voted in a landslide — 68 percent to 32 percent— to change the constitution to legalize abortion. Among 18 to 24 year olds, the pro-abortion vote was 87 percent. Even rural Ireland, which was expected to be a bastion of anti-repeal sentiment, came in at 60 percent for repealing the abortion ban.

So much for Catholic Ireland. The Rubicon has been crossed. The young Dublin protester in the photo above, whose sign says that the desires of whores (“hoes”) are more important than the right to life of the unborn, has prevailed. Thus, from the Catholic commenter Sohrab Ahmari:

Sohrab Ahmari

@SohrabAhmari

Exit polls suggest a strong pro-abortion vote in Ireland. As I said last night, we need to think of the West as the repaganized periphery.

Kyrie eleison. Christe eleison.

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Today, The Benedict Option seems radical and alarmist to a lot of Christians. By 2020, it’s going to seem like plain common sense.

Don’t misread me here. There will still be Catholics in Ireland after abortion is legal. The point is that the shift in public consciousness that made it possible for the Irish to accept legal abortion is part of a massive de-Christianization (or re-paganization) of the West.

The main focus of my work in the last few years has been to shake traditional Christians out of our collective torpor in the face of this challenge. Part of that torpor involves believing that politics are sufficient to deal with the problem. This is going to sound strange to non-Christians, or to those who identify as Christians, but who are not involved in church, but it’s true: there are more than a few conservative Christians who still believe that most Americans are pretty much on their side. To them, it can’t be true that America is post-Christian, therefore it isn’t true.

So they don’t see the tsunamis coming.

For example, a reader tips me off to a new set of numbers from Pew: a study comparing and contrasting the way urban, suburban, and rural people think about a variety of issues.  Here’s one result that struck the reader (and me):

Notice that even a comfortable majority (58 percent) of rural residents think same-sex marriage is good for society. These numbers shouldn’t surprise anybody who has been paying attention. I bring them up, though, in another of my routine attempts to convince my fellow conservative Christians that we are going to face a much more difficult future on the religious liberty front than our leaders are telling us, and that many of us want to hear.

“Religious liberty” is not just freedom to believe and freedom to worship. Nobody who understands the issues believes that there will be a serious threat to freedom to worship, or freedom to affirm one’s religious beliefs. The threat to religious liberty comes in the exercise of religious beliefs outside of one’s house of worship. I wrote here recently about how the City of Philadelphia is attempting to prevent Catholic Social Services from placing foster children because, in accordance with Catholic teaching, the agency refuses to place foster kids with same-sex couples. Even if you think CSS is in the wrong here, you have to recognize that the state is exacting a cost to Christians for adhering to their religious beliefs regarding homosexuality.

This is going to be increasingly common. Everybody knows that. The clash between gay rights and traditional Christianity (as well as Orthodox Judaism and Islam) is going to grow fiercer. It is the main event in religious liberty challenges now and into the foreseeable future. In an extremely prescient 2006 article on gay marriage and religious liberty, Maggie Gallagher interviewed Anthony Picarello, at the time the president and general counsel of the Becket Fund, a public interest legal organization advocating for clients in religious liberty cases. He said:

Just how serious are the coming conflicts over religious liberty stemming from gay marriage?

“The impact will be severe and pervasive,” Picarello says flatly. “This is going to affect every aspect of church-state relations.” Recent years, he predicts, will be looked back on as a time of relative peace between church and state, one where people had the luxury of litigating cases about things like the Ten Commandments in courthouses. In times of relative peace, says Picarello, people don’t even notice that “the church is surrounded on all sides by the state; that church and state butt up against each other. The boundaries are usually peaceful, so it’s easy sometimes to forget they are there. But because marriage affects just about every area of the law, gay marriage is going to create a point of conflict at every point around the perimeter.”

We’ve been living through that. It’s going to get harsher.

Traditional Christians had better understand that the vise is going to be squeezing us much tighter. Look at the numbers in the Pew study above. The Silent Generation will be gone in the next two decades. Assuming that nobody changes his mind, that will leave rural Boomers and Xers as the only generational and geographical demographic groups who believe that same-sex marriage is not good for society.

The numbers sympathetic to trads will be even smaller if Boomers and Xers who are negative on gay marriage today change their mind, as has been the trend over the past decade. How many people do you think are going from having been pro-SSM to anti-SSM? If any, the number has not been meaningful. The trend towards accepting gay marriage is overwhelming and irreversible for the foreseeable future.

One might have thought that having won the right to marry, and the culture war in general, that gay rights supporters would be magnanimous in victory, and leave religious people alone to live out our sad, limited beliefs, until we all just fade away. That was never a possibility. Activist groups depend on keeping fervor against enemies stoked. As long as there is any resistance anywhere, gay activists and liberal fellow travelers will be attacking in court and in other forums. This is obvious.

Here’s the thing: they will have the public on their side. They already do — see the Pew numbers above, especially the overwhelming numbers in the youngest generational cohort. Among the Millennials, an average of 68 percent think same-sex marriage is a good thing for society. Those numbers are not going to shrink. If they move at all, it will be to expand. And there is no reason at all to believe the numbers for the generation following the Millennials will be anything but bigger.

So, you tell me: how do you protect the right of traditional Christians to live by a conviction that a strong majority of Americans believe is bad for society? 

You don’t. The Supreme Court’s Bob Jones ruling gives the IRS the right to take away a religious institution’s tax-exempt status if the government has a compelling public interest to do so, e.g., fighting racial discrimination. If you don’t think that’s going to happen to Christian educational institutions in the next few years, you’re dreaming.

Will it be applied to churches too? That seems far less likely, but by no means unthinkable as America secularizes. We are moving very quickly into a country where people don’t understand what it means to be traditionally religious. Consider:

The Nones are rising as a percentage of the population. Most of them consider themselves to be spiritual, but not religious — and aren’t looking to affiliate themselves with any particular church or tradition. And Millennials who still identify with particular religious traditions are much more pro-gay (read: anti-traditional) than older Christians. Catholic Millennials overwhelmingly accept homosexuality and favor gay marriage. Among Evangelicals polled last year by Pew, a slight majority said that homosexuality should be accepted by society, and 45 percent favored same-sex marriage.

Why is this important? Because the American public is becoming less religious, and those who adhere to religion are becoming less conservative, especially on the issue — homosexuality — where the religious liberties of traditionalist Christians will be most tested. What conservative Catholics, Evangelicals, and other Christians believe will not only not be shared by most Americans (even most American Christians!), it will also seem to them like nothing more than mindless hatred.

Do you really think that America is going to protect the rights of bigots to practice their hatred, either under law or in custom? Especially when those so-called bigots oppose the holiest things in the religion of secular liberalism: sexual autonomy, diversity, egalitarianism?

Many of you cannot figure out why homosexuality (and sexuality in general) is such a big deal to us traditionalists. There is the fact that it is clearly condemned in Biblical teaching. Plus, that condemnation is not arbitrary at all, but emerges out of the Judeo-Christian conception of what it means to be a human being, and of the right ordering of the cosmos. As I tried to explain in The Benedict Option, we are not now seeing the embrace of sexual autonomy — including abortion rights and gay rights — and their affirmation as good things because of the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles first LP. These things are no aberration, but rather the logical fulfillment of a philosophical and theological turn made centuries ago. A remnant of the Christian faith held these things in check, but not that restraint has almost entirely evaporated.

We have severed the Christian faith from our body politic — in the sense that Western people no longer believe that traditional Christianity should have anything to do with the way we order public life — and nearly severed the Christian faith from the body, period. By that I mean that people who call themselves Christians increasingly disbelieve that their faith obliges them to live by a certain corporal disciplines, sexual and otherwise.

This is something radically new in the history of Christianity, this disincarnationalism. Christians don’t see that, though. They don’t see how difficult it will be to hold on to the liberating teachings of the Bible regarding sexuality, in this repaganized West. And they see no better than anybody else what this repaganization is likely to mean for the body and those who live in them.

What kind of world did Christian sexual ethics challenge? Here’s a passage from aNew York Review of Books review essay by Peter Brown, one of the greatest living historians of late antiquity. He talks about how Christianity opposed Roman mores most powerfully in its rejection of the widespread sexual exploitation of slaves and women:

From Saint Paul onward, the great issues of sex and freedom were brought together in Christian circles like the enriched ore of an atomic device. For Paul, porneia—fornication—meant a lot more than premarital fooling around. It was a brooding metonym, “enriched” by an entire spectrum of associations. It stood for mankind’s rebellion against God. And this primal rebellion was shown most clearly in the topsy-turvy sexual freedom ascribed first by Jews and then by Christians to the non-Christian world.

But then, what was true freedom? Freedom also was a mighty metonym, of which the freedom to decide one’s sexual fate was only one, highly “enriched” part. Above all, it meant “freedom” from “the world.” And by “the world” Christians meant, bluntly, the Roman society of their own times, where unfreedom was shown in its darkest light by the trading and sexual abuse of unfree bodies. It no longer mattered, to Christians, with whose bodies, from which social categories, and in what manner sex might happen. From Paul onward, for Christians, there was right sex—sex between spouses for the production of children; wrong sex—sex outside marriage; and abhorrent sex—sex between same-sex partners. Wrong sex of any kind was a sin. And a sin was a sin. It was not a social faux pas, deemed an outrage in one situation and accepted in another.

Seldom has so great a simplification been imposed on a complex society. The unexpected victory of Christian norms in the fourth, fifth, and sixth centuries was so thorough that any alternative ordering of moral frontiers within a society became unthinkable. The intricacies of a status-based morality still require patient reconstruction by modern historians of Rome, like the bones of some flamboyant creature of the Jurassic age. The Christian victory was one that caused a chasm to open up between ourselves and the ancient world.

Brown’s general point here — and in his own work — is that Christianity radically restructured the way Greco-Roman society thought about sex and the body. Now that we are leaving Christianity, the old ways are returning. You may think that a good thing. But Christians who don’t apostatize on these teachings for the sake of fitting into the world had better, in Sohrab Ahmari’s words, start thinking of the West as pagan territory, and had better get clear in their minds the steep, rocky, narrow road opening out in front of us, our children, and our children’s children.

The ‘Story’ That Replaced Christianity Is Collapsing

The 'Story' That Replaced Christianity Is Collapsing

Daniel Lattier | April 26, 2018 |  7,900

 

In graduate school, one of the most helpful concepts I learned about was narrative theology. The basic premise behind it is that theologies are rooted in a narrative, or story, that forms the lens through which a religion’s adherents interpret the world.

Christianity itself is a story, one that captured the West’s attention for almost two-thousand years. According to this narrative—as contained in Scripture and expressed by Church Fathers such as Irenaeus of Lyons, the Cappadocians (Basil and the two Gregories), and Maximus the Confessor—God created all men to participate in His divine life, i.e., for deification. He created them in His “image,” and they had to freely choose to grow in His “likeness.” The “Fall” was an attempt to achieve deification apart from God. After the Fall, man retained the image of God (though marred by sin), but no longer had the divine life dwelling in him. God’s redemption of man, over the course of many years, culminated in Christ’s death and Resurrection, which “conquered death,” redeemed human nature, and enabled man to once again fulfill his original call to participate in the divine life.

In saying that “Christianity is a story,” there are many who will immediately smirk and say, “Why yes, it is.” What the smirks usually reveal about their owners, however, is a total lack of awareness of the narrative-based character of their own lives. They have rejected the Christian story—at least, the parts they’re conscious of—and merely replaced it with another story.

As theologian Robert Jenson pointed out in the title of his 1993 essay, the Western world has “lost its story,” the Christian story. For the past two-hundred or more years, its replacement in the West has been “modernity.”

In a remarkably insightful article published yesterday, popular blogger Fr. Stephen Freeman reminds us of the story-based character of modernity:

“We live in a story that calls itself the ‘modern world.’ It is about the ‘time’ we live in. It invented terms such as the ‘Classical Period,’ the ‘Dark Ages,’ and the ‘Middle Ages,’ naming history in such a way that it inevitably yielded modernity. It is the story of progress and evolution, not the unfolding of a divine plan, but the successive work of increasing understanding, science and compassion.”

But stories are to be tested by their fruits, and as Freeman and others have argued, modernity has not delivered on its promises of making of the world a better place, and of making people happier. In other words, it’s a bad story. That’s precisely why it has needed to be propped up by various forms of entertainment and distraction for people. That’s precisely why people have gravitated toward the fantasy genre (represented by Tolkien in the quote below), which hearkens back to a past way of life and being in the world:

“Of course, the narrative that is the story of modernity is fictional. It’s power and strength come from repetition. Modernity did not end war; human suffering has changed but not disappeared; prosperity has come to some but very unevenly; democracy has created universal suffrage to little or no effect; human dignity is a popular slogan, but largely without content. Has the world truly left behind superstition and ignorance in an ageless march towards a consumer paradise?

 

Modernity is only a story: it is a narrative disguised as history. The emptiness and pointlessness of the modern narrative begs for questions. I suspect it’s why our hearts ache from time to time and dream of Hobbits. The narrative of Middle Earth, though fictional, has a transcendent meaning and purpose, something that calls for the deepest courage and makes every sacrifice to be significant. That Mordor and Isengard both embody elements of the industrial revolution, endangering even the Shire, are not accidental. They intentionally represent the flaws of modernity. Tolkien’s mythology imagines that such forces can be defeated.”

Twenty-five years ago, Jenson saw that “the modern world, the world that instrumental and critical reason built, is falling about us.” Its successor is postmodernism, which has not only revealed the shaky intellectual foundations of the story of modernity, but has also sought to do away with all universal narratives that seek to make sense of reality. The postmodern world is one in which each of us is free to make up our own story, using whatever narrative helps us get by.

To reiterate what I mentioned above, the story of modernity was able to come to power because the Christian story in the West had first been lost. Christianity itself had started to tell a bad story, one that did not capture the glory of the original revelation, and one that was not bearing sufficient fruits in its purveyors.

I contend that most Christian churches today continue to perpetuate a bad story, one that’s not really Christianity, but instead, the story of modernity with a superficial Christian garnish. In the description of Rod Dreher, the average person attending a Sunday worship service these days is “fed nothing but the thin gruel of contemporary Christianity, with its shallow theology and upbeat sloganeering.” Today’s churches have sold the birthright of a rich narrative for “a pot of message.”

In line with Freeman’s article, philosopher John Milbank argued that modernity is not actually “secular reason” (he doesn’t believe there is a such a thing) but a story, or mythos, “and therefore cannot be refuted, but only out-narrated.” If Christianity is to ever hope to overcome both modernism and postmodernism, they’re going to have to start telling a better story again.


Contentions

Over the next few weeks I shall be posting a series of “Contentions” concerning the Anglican Church – touching on fundamentals of why we are or would want to be Anglican and thus part of something bigger than just a local church.COntentions

Ask God to Forgive You, Not Excuse You FIVE LESSONS FROM C.S. LEWIS

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God exists everywhere and everywhen. He is eternal and omnipresent. And not only is he present everywhere, he is everywhere pursuing us. He is the hunter, the king, the husband, approaching us at an infinite speed. Central to C.S. Lewis’s vision of the Christian life is the basic fact that we are always in God’s presence and pursuit.

This basic fact about reality yields a basic choice. We can either embrace and welcome this reality, surrendering ourselves to this eternal, omnipresent, and pursuing God, or we can vainly try to hide from him, to resist his advances, to reject his offer. Thus, though it is true that we are always in God’s presence, it’s equally true that we are perpetually called to come into God’s presence, to unveil ourselves to him.

“All of us are worse than we think.”

A chief component of this unveiling is the confession of our sins. If we are to come into God’s presence, we must come honestly. We must come as we are. And what we are is a bundle of sins, fears, needs, wants, and anxieties, so our honesty and unveiling must include the confession of sins.

Lewis is aware that the confession of sin is difficult and fraught with danger. Thus, in a number of places, he offers counsel on the perils and pitfalls of confessing our sins.

1. Beware of vague guilt.

One of the main hindrances to unveiling before God is a vague cloud of guilt that often hangs over us. And vague guilt is particularly troublesome. For you can’t repent of vague sins; you can only repent of real ones. And all real sins are specific sins.

This means that if you find yourself in the fog of vague guilt, begin by asking God to show you the details. Press through the smoke to see if there is really a fire in there somewhere.

If you do, and you find yourself unable to discover any real concrete sin underneath the vague sense of guilt, don’t feel compelled to go rummaging around until you do. Instead, treat the guilt like a vague buzzing noise in your ears — something to be endured as you continue to seek to unveil in God’s presence (Lewis, Letters to Malcolm, 34).

2. Confess your sins quickly and specifically.

Other times, our reluctance to unveil is driven by the fact that we are guilty and we know exactly why. We know what the guilt is about, and we’re trying to avoid the conviction. In such moments, we often also feel that God is standing there, watching us hem and haw and dance and make excuses and saying to us, You know you’re only wasting time. In such cases, the best solution is the simple one. If there’s a specific sin in your life, confess it to God, clearly, honestly, and forthrightly, without using euphemisms (Lewis, “Miserable Offenders,” in God in the Dock, 124).

This means using the biblical words for sins. “I’ve lied,” not “I’ve not been quite honest.” “I’ve stolen,” not “I’ve used something without asking.” “I’ve lusted in my heart. I’ve committed sexual immorality. I’ve envied another person or coveted his gifts. I’m full of bitterness and hatred toward that person in particular. I’m puffed up and arrogant. I’m full of anxiety and fear. I’m not trusting God with the future.” In the same way that you can’t really confess vague sins, you can’t vaguely confess real sins.

3. Ask God to forgive you, not to excuse you.

Often when we ask God to forgive us, we are really asking him to excuse us. But according to Lewis, forgiveness and excusing are almost opposites (Lewis, “On Forgiveness,” in The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, 178–181). Forgiveness says, “You have done an evil thing; nevertheless, I will not hold it against you.” Excusing says, “I see that you couldn’t help it or didn’t mean it; you weren’t really to blame.” Therefore, to excuse someone is to let that person off the hook because he didn’t really belong on the hook in the first place. We refuse to blame someone for something that wasn’t his fault to begin with.

“Ask God to forgive you, not to excuse you.”

When it comes to God, Lewis notes, “What we call ‘asking God’s forgiveness’ very often really consists in asking God to accept our excuses.” We want him to remember the extenuating circumstances that led us to do what we did. We go away “imagining that we have repented and been forgiven when all that has really happened is that we have satisfied ourselves with our own excuses.”

When seeking God’s forgiveness, we must set aside the excuses and the blame-shifting. If there were extenuating circumstances, God is more aware of them than we are. What is required of us is to find what’s left over after every circumstance has been stripped away, the little ball of sin that is hardened like a cancer. That is what we are to bring to God. That is what he must (and will) forgive.

4. Don’t camp at the cesspool.

Some Christians have thought that one of the chief marks of Christian growth is a permanent and permanently horrified perception of one’s own internal corruption (Letters to Malcolm, 98). The true Christian’s nostril is to be continually attentive to the inner stink. We feel that faithfulness demands pitching our tent by the dark caves and slimy bogs of our hearts.

Lewis thinks this is a bad idea. But it’s not a bad idea because we’re not thatcorrupt. We are that corrupt. All of us are worse than we think. Our hearts really are slimy. When you look in there, it’s true that there is depth upon depth of self-love and sin. But Lewis commended an imaginative glimpse of our sinfulness, not a permanent stare. The glimpse is enough to teach us sense, to humble us so that we don’t regard ourselves more highly than we ought. But the longer we stare, the more we run the risk of falling into despair. Or worse, we might even begin to develop a tolerance for the cesspool, even a perverse kind of pride in our hovel by the bog.

Thus, we must cultivate the practice of imaginative honesty about our sin. We must look at it clearly and acknowledge it. We must not try to hide it or make excuses for it. But, equally, we must not wallow in it either. We need to know sin is in our hearts, and we need to feel the ugliness of it. But then we must also remember that Jesus covers all of it.

5. Surrender self-examination to God.

In our attempts to lay ourselves open to God’s view, we must remember that self-examination is really God-examination. “Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Psalm 139:23–24). This doesn’t make us passive. We’re active, but our activity is mainly in opening ourselves up to divine inspection. Self-examination is only safe when God’s hands are on the reins.

“You can’t repent of vague sins; you can only repent of real ones. And all real sins are specific sins.”

This is what this might look like. We surrender ourselves to God; we give Christ the keys to every room in our heart. No dark closet held back. No basement corner off-limits. The whole house belongs to him (and he is free to demolish, if he deems it best). We lay ourselves open before him and ask “for just so much self-knowledge at the moment as [we] can bear and use at the moment” (Letters to Malcolm, 34). ⁠There may be deeper sins, down in the black caves, that we don’t yet see. But perhaps we don’t see them because God knows we’re not ready to face them yet. We must learn to crawl before we can walk. God wants us to complete boot camp before sending us off to war.

Then, having surrendered and having asked for our little daily dose of self-knowledge, we believe (and, for some, this is one of the greatest acts of faith that they ever do) that he is fully capable of drawing our sin and our sinfulness into the light, into our conscious attention where it can be confessed and killed.

In the meantime, if we are daily surrendering ourselves to God in this way, we ought to forget about ourselves and do our work.

Are You Avoiding Good?

Finally, as we confront our own reluctance to unveil in God’s presence, it’s worth remembering what God is really after. C.S. Lewis tells a story about his wife, Joy,

Long ago, before we were married, she was haunted all one morning as she went about her work with the obscure sense of God (so to speak) “at her elbow,” demanding her attention. And of course, not being a perfected saint, she had the feeling that it would be a question, as it usually is, of some unrepented sin or tedious duty. At last she gave in — I know how one puts it off — and faced Him. But the message was, “I want to give you something,” and instantly she entered into joy. (A Grief Observed, 46–47)

How much effort we put in to avoiding all that would do us good. This is the great paradox we carry with us into God’s presence. God is here and now, and he demands all of us. But God is here and now, and he wants to give us everything. God is for us, not against us. He may not be safe, but he is most definitely good.

“How much effort we put in to avoiding all that would do us good.”

And he won’t settle for half measures, because he loves us and wants to give us himself. And he can’t give us himself as long as we’re full of ourselves. But if we give up ourselves, if we die to ourselves, then he will give us himself, and, in giving us himself, he will give us back ourselves.

In fact, when we unveil in God’s presence, we find that we become our true selves — stable, strong, full of life and joy, and conformed to the image of Christ, from one degree of glory to another.

Monsters in Mitres: The Church of England’s bishops have been corrupted by their absolute power

Author:

Jules Gomes

You can impeach the President of the United States of America and hold the world’s most powerful man to account. You cannot bring to book an Anglican bishop. He is accountable to nobody. He is lord of his diocese and sovereign of all he surveys. For all the ceaseless chatter about equality from the archbishops and bishops, the ecclesiastical hierarchy is the only institution that remains as feudal and fixed as in the Middle Ages.

The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) is now stripping naked our episcopal emperors of mitre and muscle as it exposes the glaring abuse of unbridled power exercised with heightened impunity by bishops in the Church of England. The IICSA hearings began on Monday and are being streamed live on the internet. Each hour lays bare revelations of corruption and nepotism. Each witness tells horrific tales of the abuse of power and the power of abuse.

The Archbishop of Canterbury gets the first resounding slap on his wrist in chairman Alexis Jay’s opening remarks. Justin Welby has been a naughty boy. He’s told journalists he would be giving evidence. ‘It is most disappointing that confidential matters were shared by the archbishop in breach of the undertaking,’ says Professor Jay in disapproval of Welby’s cavalier attitude. Further, by casting doubt on Bishop George Bell’s character, despite the findings of Lord Carlile’s review, Welby also demonstrated he was not accountable to a high-profile independent review.

Meanwhile, in a parallel theatre of the absurd, John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, is shamed with a raft of bishops, Peter Burrows (Doncaster), Steven Croft (Oxford), Martyn Snow (Leicester), Glyn Webster (Beverley) and Roy Williamson (Bradford, now retired) by Fr Matt Ineson for covering up his rape by a former Bradford vicar. ‘By lies, by cover-up, the Church of England has gone out of its way to protect them [the bishops],’ he said. Like him, another victim, ‘Gilo’, is calling for an end to what Gilo calls ‘the Society for the Protection of Bishops’.

The hearing quotes a statement from the victims of abuse explicitly indicting the bishops: ‘Many of us have suffered not only the abuse itself but also years of manipulation, blanking and lies by bishops and leaders in the Church of England.’

The most damning statement against bishops is on page 132 of the transcript of the hearing’s opening session: ‘diocesan bishops are not formally accountable to anyone’. Welby is quoted as saying, ‘I have no legal power to direct that bishops take specific action or to dismiss a bishop.’ If diocesan bishops are not accountable to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, the frightening conclusion that must be drawn is ‘Who, then, are Welby and Sentamu accountable to?’

The hearing cites a statement from the campaign group Mandate Now: ‘The diocesan bishop is king in his diocese. The power and status of the bishops is hardwired into the culture of the Church of England.’ It quotes a victim abused by a former bishop: ‘The bishop told me he had the power to give me everything I wanted in life and the power to take it all away’. It goes on to note ‘the broader issue of the unaccountable power of bishops in church structures which were conceived in medieval times’.

Most people know Lord Acton’s celebrated aphorism, ‘Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely’. What most people don’t know is that Acton was referring to bishops. Historian and thinker John Dalberg-Acton was writing to Mandell Creighton, Bishop of London, in 1887.

In the context of the IICSA hearings, Acton’s entire argument to Creighton on the corruption of episcopal power is worth its weight in gold: ‘I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way against holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.’

So what makes bishops the most egomaniacal of leaders? Bishops are paid far more than vicars; archbishops receive around £65,000 a year compared with a vicar’s stipend of £24,000 per annum. Inequality? Ha! Twenty-six bishops are given legislative power through seats in the House of Lords and have opportunities to curry favour with politicians.

Bishops still demand to be addressed as ‘Bishop’. The bishop’s mitre and crozier are episcopal totem poles. Bishops are supplied with a generous discretionary fund and with a secretary and chaplain. Most of all, bishops ‘are running multi-million-pound institutions with significant numbers of office holders and employees, as well as a vast number of volunteers’, as the hearing concedes.

Bishops are also the ultimate decision-makers in a diocese. This leads to a culture of ‘inbuilt deference to the bishop’, as social worker Shirley Hosgood reveals to the hearing. Bishops are responsible for clergy appointments. Since the ancient freehold that protected a vicar for life was made redundant, the cleric is at the bishop’s mercy.

Above all, bishops now have the most draconian weapon against clergy – the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM), introduced in 2003. An unhealthy proximity to ecclesiastical judges makes it possible for bishops to manipulate the CDM process. So far, to the best of my knowledge, not a single bishop has been found guilty under the CDM, even though a number of CDMs have been brought against bishops.

Lord Acton argues that those seated on thrones of power should not escape justice. ‘You would spare these criminals, for some mysterious reason,’ he tells Bishop Creighton. ‘I would hang them, higher than Haman, for reasons of quite obvious justice; still more, still higher, for the sake of historical science.’

So far, the IICSA is exposing the corruption of absolute power in the Church of England. Lamentably, we can’t hang corrupt bishops. Neither can we strangle the last bishop with the entrails of the last politician. We can do far more and pray Mary’s Magnificat that God will ‘pull down the mighty from their thrones and exalt those of humble estate’.