Encountering contemporary liberal theology – in its own words

by Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream.symes A

Conservative evangelicals are often accused of not ‘listening’ to other points of view. We’re told that we only engage with each other; we only read or listen to ‘approved’ versions of our faith; we caricature the arguments of revisionists without really hearing them. So I was delighted to receive a press release from Modern Church, summarising the keynote address from the recent annual meeting of their Council, and giving a link to the substantial 12 page text of the talk itself, by Dr Lorraine Cavanagh, which can be found here. ‘Reclaiming the soul of Modern Church’ reads like a manifesto for mission for liberal Christians, and it’s worth reading with genuine enquiry, to ask whether this revisionist version of Christian faith offers a coherent and compelling vision that threatens orthodox biblical faith in any way.

After an opening illustration, Dr Kavanagh begins by defining liberalism in a Christian context. Firstly as “hospitality”: respect for one another around a “central altar” as we “encounter God in one another”. Then ‘freedom’ to encounter God “in a myriad of ways”, particularly through openness to “non-propositional truth” of the heart not just the head. It is also an intellectual freedom, a continual willingness to think in different ways. This can be seen as subversive, but provides a vital different voice against the contemporary tendency to conservatism, according to Cavanagh.

(To me it seems bizarre that the Church of England could be accused of undergoing a “shift to the extreme right” as the Acting General Secretary of Modern Church claims. I’m currently reading Justin Welby’s proposal of a radical Gospel-directed alternative to current models of capitalism, in the Lent book ‘Dethroning Mammon’. Meanwhile Bishops are publicly affirming the Archbishops’ call for “radical inclusion” in the Church, and are regularly critical of government economic and social policies).

Cavanagh sees the gift that liberals can offer is to bring the voice of “the unchurched, the de-churched and the marginalised” to the table. She takes a term of insult, “half-believers”, and turns it into a virtue – believing but with questions, understanding but not tied down to a particular version of the faith. Many liberals feel rejected by the institutional church or representatives of it, perhaps alienated from traditional views of God, but still want to be Christians and C of E. They have much to offer a church that, with clear echoes of Martyn Percy, she describes as “stifled by managerial concerns”. The Church’s inner spiritual life needs insights from “the humanist and the secular”, she continues, claiming that this is the opposite of extremism.

(This idea of ‘reverse mission’, of the Church learning from the world about some of its core principles, is a familiar feature of liberal theology and ethics. It is unintentionally ironic that liberals are attacking the C of E leadership for borrowing from secular management principles to improve efficiency, while at the same time themselves openly advocating the taking on board of other secular ideas.)

Modern Church stands for a fellowship with no “criteria for membership” which are divisive and sectarian. Cavanagh links the “recruitment” emphasis on evangelism and discipleship in the C of E’s Renewal and Reform programme with “dangerously emotive worship”, fundamentalism and the rise of Donald Trump. By contrast liberals look for something of the sacred, found in contemplation, with more “theological substance”. People returning to church after a long absence, including some evangelicals, are finding this helpful, says Cavanagh, although there is no evidence to indicate how many.

The worshipping community and the “life of the spirit” prevents the intellectual explorations into religious philosophy from “running aground”, and provides the liberal Christian alternative to the atheist Assemblies. Referring to Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus in John 3, Cavanagh describes God’s pneuma as “a new and life-giving force at work in any number of human contexts”, insisting that understanding of God should be “non-dogmatic”, relevant to the 21st century, and not “protectionist” (which I take to mean framed by doctrinal boundaries).

A radical new vision of Christian faith based on these principles will result in transformation of the Church, Cavanagh believes. Biblical interpretation should be based on the primary hermeneutical keys of justice and love; the authority of divine revelation is found not in Scripture but in “respect for one another, including those of other faiths”. While God “is known in different ways, as part of different and still evolving stories”, there is agreement about a quality of “loving kindness”, and that the Kingdom of God is coterminous with “reconciliation and peace in the world”.

The mission of a Modern Church is to be a “bearer of hope”, voicing liberal thought in contexts of neo-conservatism, not seeking to convert, but to liberate; challenging injustice and abuse of power in the Church, and fundamentalism in religion generally. While conservative versions are “literally unbelievable”, liberalism sees concepts of God as sacred, holy, open to a process of questioning, combining the rational and the spiritual.

Cavanagh appears to recognise the problem that the account of faith that she describes, a combination of vaguely left of centre philosophical musings and spirituality free of any biblical anchor, is seen by many as “not really Christian”. Orthodox Anglicans, confident in the authority of Scripture, and of basing theology and ethics on the Bible’s coherent and thrillingly inspiring vision of God’s relationship with humanity past, present and future through Christ, would find it difficult to see anything in Modern Church’s presentation which could offer anything helpful, or be a challenge to evangelical understandings of faith and mission.

But this kind of revisionism still remains a threat. Many Bishops see their role as referees between different theological positions rather than guardians of the faith once delivered, and liberal theology still appeals to a small but influential number of those who have rejected biblical truth but want to be involved with Church leadership. Modern Church may feel that the C of E is moving in a conservative direction, but the Synod’s House of Clergy has voted against a document advocating caution in moves towards affirming same sex marriage. Revisionist ideas have got a hold in theological colleges, Diocesan training schemes, parish pulpits and Cathedrals.

In response, orthodox Anglicans need to continue to teach the truth and refute error, and resist appeals to settle for ‘good disagreement’ when it means accepting that Modern Church’s self-confessed humanistic theology is as validly Christian as robust biblical faith.


The Gathering Storm: Religious Liberty in the Wake of the Sexual Revolution


March 21, 2107

In the first volume of his history of World War II, Winston Churchill looked back at the storm clouds that gathered in the 1930s portending war and the loss of human freedom. Churchill wisely and presciently warned Britain of the tragedy that would ensue if Hitler were not stopped. His actions were courageous and the world was shaped by his convictional leadership. We are not facing the same gathering storm, but we are now facing a battle that will determine the destiny of priceless freedoms and the very foundation of human rights and human dignity.

Speaking thirty years ago, Attorney General Meese warned that “there are ideas which have gained influence in some parts of our society, particularly in some important and sophisticated areas that are opposed to religious freedom and freedom in general. In some areas there are some people that have espoused a hostility to religion that must be recognized for what it is, and expressly countered.”[1]

Those were prophetic words, prescient in their clarity and foresight. The ideas of which Mr. Meese warned have only gained ground in the last thirty years, and now with astounding velocity. A revolution in morality now seeks not only to subvert marriage, but also to redefine it, and thus to undermine an essential foundation of human dignity, flourishing, and freedom.

Religious liberty is under direct threat. During oral arguments in the Obergefell case, the Solicitor General of the United States served notice before the Supreme Court that the liberties of religious institutions will be an open and unavoidable question. Already, religious liberty is threatened by a new moral regime that exalts erotic liberty and personal autonomy and openly argues that religious liberties must give way to the new morality, its redefinition of marriage, and its demand for coercive moral, cultural, and legal sovereignty.

These are days that will require courage, conviction, and clarity of vision. We are in a fight for the most basic liberties God has given humanity, every single one of us, made in his image. Religious liberty is being redefined as mere freedom of worship, but it will not long survive if it is reduced to a private sphere with no public voice. The very freedom to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ is at stake, and thus so is the liberty of every American. Human rights and human dignity are temporary abstractions if they are severed from their reality as gifts of the Creator. The eclipse of Christian truth will lead inevitably to a tragic loss of human dignity. If we lose religious liberty, all other liberties will be lost, one by one.

Religious Liberty and the Challenge of Same-Sex Marriage

Even though same-sex marriage is new to the American scene, the religious liberty challenges became fully apparent even before it became a reality. Soon after the legalization of same-sex marriage in the state of Massachusetts, several seminars and symposia were held in order to consider the religious liberty dimensions of this legal revolution. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty sponsored one of the most important of these events, which produced a major volume with essays by prominent legal experts on both sides of this revolution. The consensus of every single participant in the conference was that the normalization of homosexuality and the legalization of same-sex marriage would produce a head-on collision in the courts. As Marc D. Stern, of the American Jewish Congress stated, “Same-sex marriage would work a sea change in American law.”[2] He continued, “That change will reverberate across the legal and religious landscape in ways that are unpredictable today.”[3]

Nevertheless, he predicted some of the battlefronts he saw coming and addressed some of the arguments that could already be recognized. Even then, Stern saw almost all the issues we have recounted, and others yet to come. He saw the campuses of religious colleges and the work of religious institutions as inevitable arenas of legal conflict. He pointed to employment as one of the crucial issues of legal conflict and spoke with pessimism about the ability of religious institutions to maintain liberty in this context, for which he advocates. As Stern argued, “The legalization of same-sex marriage would represent the triumph of an egalitarian-based ethic over a faith-based one, and not just legally. The remaining question is whether champions of tolerance are prepared to tolerate proponents of the different ethical vision. I think the answer will be no.”[4]

Stern did not wait long to have his assessment verified by legal scholars on the other side of the debate. One of the most important of these, Chai R. Feldblum, presented rare candor and revealed that an advocate for same-sex marriage and the normalization of homosexuality could also see these issues coming. Feldblum pointed to what she described as, “the conflict that I believe exists between laws intended to protect the liberty of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people so that they may live lives of dignity and integrity and the religious beliefs of some individuals whose conduct is regulated by such laws.”[5] She went on to state her belief that “those who advocate for LGBT equality have downplayed the impact of such laws on some people’s religious beliefs and, equally, I believe those who sought religious exemptions in such civil rights laws have downplayed the impact that such exemptions would have on LGBT people.”[6]

As Feldblum argued, she called for the society to “acknowledge that civil rights laws can burden an individual’s belief liberty interest when the conduct demanded by these laws burdens an individual’s core beliefs, whether such beliefs are religiously or secularly based.”[7]

Thus, in Feldblum’s argument, we confront face-to-face the candid assertion that an individual’s “belief liberty interest” must give way to what are now defined as the civil rights of sexual minorities. Feldblum believed she saw the future clearly and that the future would mean “a majority of jurisdictions in this country will have modified their laws so that LGBT people will have full equality in our society, including access to civil marriage or to civil unions that carry the same legal effect as civil marriage.”[8]

In that future, religious liberty would simply give way to the civil liberties of homosexuals and same-sex couples. Feldblum, then a professor at Georgetown University Law Center, also understood that this moral revolution would mean that the government is “taking sides” in a moral conflict, siding with the LGBT community. This necessarily puts government on the side of that moral judgment, which is precisely the point Feldblum is insisting we must recognize. Once government is on that side of the moral judgment, its laws and its coercion will require those who hold to a contrary moral system, whether based in religious or secular convictions to give way to the new moral judgment affirmed by the government.

In her very revealing argument, Feldblum struggles to find a way to grant recognition and a level of liberty to those who disagree with the normalization of homosexuality, especially on religious grounds. Nevertheless, as she shares quite openly, she is unable to sustain that effort, given her prior commitment to the absolute imposition of the new morality by means of the law and the power of the state.

Appointed and later confirmed as Commissioner of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, nominated by President Obama, Feldblum stated in a different context that the end result of antidiscrimination legislation would mean the victory of sexual rights over religious liberty. She commented that she could not come up with a single case in which, at least hypothetically, religious liberty would triumph over coercion to the new moral morality.

It is crucially important that we understand the moral judgment being made and enforced by legal mechanisms in the wake of this revolution. Feldblum, a lesbian activist who has advocated for same-sex marriage–and for the legalization of polygamy–fully understands the law teaches and reinforces a morality. She insists that the law must allow no deviation in public life from the dictates of the new morality. In this case, this means allowing virtually no exemptions to regulations prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

In her presentation at the Becket Fund event, Feldblum cited the writings of Judge Michael McConnell, who both offered support for same-sex marriage and the assurance that the religious liberty of Christians and other religious citizens must be protected. McConnell’s argument is straightforward:

“The starting point would be to extend respect to both sides in the conflict of opinion, to treat both the view that homosexuality is a healthy and normal manifestation of human sexuality and the view that homosexuality is unnatural and immoral as conscientious positions, worthy of respect, much as we treat both atheism and faith as worthy of respect. In using the term ‘respect,’ I do not mean agreement. Rather, I mean the civil toleration we extend to fellow citizens and fellow human beings even when we disagree with their views. We should recognize that the ‘Civil Magistrate’ is no more ‘competent a Judge’ of the ‘Truth’ about human sexuality than about religion.”[9]

Feldblum dismissed his argument by accusing McConnell of failing to recognize “that the government necessarily takes a stance on the moral question he has articulated every time it fails to affirmatively ensure the gay people can live openly, safely, and honestly in society.”[10]

In other words, there must be no exceptions. Religious liberty simply evaporates as a fundamental right grounded in the U.S. Constitution, and recedes into the background in the wake of what is now a higher social commitment–sexual freedom.
This post is an excerpt from my chapter in First Freedom: The Beginning and End of Religious Liberty, edited by Jason Duesing, Thomas White, and Malcolm Yarnell III.

Article Citations

[1]Edwin Meese, Major Policy Statements of the Attorney General, Edwin Meese III, 1985-1988 (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Library, 1989), 168.
[2]Marc. D. Stern, “Same-Sex Marriage and the Churches,” in Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts, eds. Douglas Laycock, Anthony R. Picarello, and Robin Fretwell Wilson (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 1.
[3]Ibid., 1.
[4]Ibid., 57.
[5]Chai R. Feldblum, “Moral Conflict and Conflicting Liberties,” in Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty: Emerging Conflicts, eds. Douglas Laycock, Anthony R. Picarello, and Robin Fretwell Wilson (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), 124-125.
[6]Ibid., 125.
[7]Ibid., 125.
[8]Ibid., 126.
[9]Ibid., 133.

“GAFCON is enabling the Anglican Communion to be fit for God’s purposes in the twenty-first century. We are uniting Anglicans around the world in faithful witness to Jesus Christ and recovering Biblical truth where it has been compromised. There is much still to do, but we give great thanks to God for his grace at work among us.”
Archbishop Nicholas Okoh – GAFCON Chairman

GAFCON is the future

The Anglican Communion worldwide is a most amazing gift of God, but it is being squandered by false teachers determined to substitute their own ideas for God’s revealed will in Scripture. They do this without rebuke from the Communion’s traditional leadership.

Gafcon is the future. Through Gafcon the true gospel is being proclaimed and the Bible guarded. We hope this snapshot will demonstrate that the faithful of the Anglican Communion have risen and have begun to reclaim the Communion for a confident and clear witness to Jesus Christ.

By becoming a Gafcon supporter you are helping shape the future, a future where we will see the West re-evangelised and the gospel continue to spread in the fast growing parts of the world.


  • GAFCON 2018 will be held in Jerusalem, returning to the place where the movement began in 2008 when over 1,000 delegates acclaimed the inspirational Jerusalem Statement and Declaration. Attendance increased to over 1,500 for GAFCON 2013 in Nairobi and we expect a healty increase in 2018. We aim to fund 500 bursaries so that no one is excluded for financial reasons.
  • The Gafcon Primates Council meets annually and represents the majority of practicing Anglicans worldwide. Last year’s meeting in Nairobi included representatives from ten provinces and we expect a similar attendance this year.
  • From the beginning, Gafcon has stood with faithful Anglicans who have been pushed to the margins or even ejected by revisionist leadership. In South America, the pattern seen ten years ago in North America is being repeated and the Anglican Diocese of Recife is to become a new Gafcon province, the Anglican Church in Brazil, a safe place for faithful Anglicans in Brazil and throughout northern and central South America.
  • As the Scottish Episcopal Church prepares to make official its rejection of apostolic teaching about marriage and sexuality in 2017, the Revd David McCarthy, Rector of one of Scotland’s largest Anglican congregations, has spoken movingly of how Gafcon is a ‘source of great hope’.
  • In addition to Provinces represented at the Gafcon Primates Councils, there are a growing number of branches to serve regions where there is no provincial involvement. This map shows how widely Gafcon is now established throughout the Communion.


  • The Gafcon Bishops Training Institute (BTI) was launched with an inaugural international conference in September 2016 in Kenya, led by Director the Rt Revd Dr Samson Mwaluda. Nearly thirty recently consecrated bishops attended for eight days of fellowship, leadership training, Bible teaching, robust discussion and fun. The next conference will be held in May 2017.

  • The Gafcon website has had a major upgrade so that all our supporters can be informed and equipped through regular high quality content including personal testimony and teaching videos.
  • The Gafcon Theological Consultation was launched in February 2017 at a meeting hosted by Uganda Christian University and chaired by Archbishop Peter Jensen. This group will work with Gafcon aligned theological colleges across the Communion to ensure high quality bible training and teaching resources are widely available.

Gafcon Theological Consultation - February 2017


  • In January 2016 the Gafcon Primates played a leading role at the Canterbury Primates meeting called by Archbishop Justin Welby. The Primates voted overwhelming to apply disciplinary measures to the Episcopal Church of the United States (TEC), following its official adoption of same sex ‘marriage’. Sadly, these measures were not followed through, but the Gafcon Primates were widely quoted by the BBC and international media as the leading voice for orthodoxy in the Communion.
  • Meanwhile, violations of the mind of the Communion on marriage and sexuality, as expressed in Lambeth Resolution I.10 of 1998, continue in the Church of England itself as revisionists attempt to establish ‘facts on the ground’. In November, GAFCON UK courageously drew international attention to this trend. A subsequent House of Bishops report recommended no change in the Church of England’s doctrinal position, but indiscipline continues.
  • An Epiphany service at St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, included a liturgical reading from the Koran in which the divinity of Jesus was explicitly denied. The Archbishop of Canterbury declined to comment, but Gafcon UK leaders were prominent in the protests that followed this shocking departure from apostolic faith.


The historic Jerusalem Statement and Declaration of 2008 concludes with the words ‘The primary reason we have come to Jerusalem and issued this declaration is to free our churches to give clear and certain witness to Jesus Christ’. Partnership in the Gafcon movement is stimulating new mission initiatives worldwide. Here are just a few recent examples:

  • The Anglican Church in North America has now linked up with the Gafcon aligned Diocese of Recife and the Anglican Church of South America to form ‘Caminemos Juntos’, an evangelistic and church planting initiative across the Americas.
  • The Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) created by Gafcon, has announced plans to pioneer twenty-five new local churches by 2020 and two hundred and fifty by 2050.
  • In January 2017, the Gafcon Church Planting Consultative group met to plan a global church planting network for mutual learning, collaboration and encouragement. Church planting is seen as a key strategy in the re-evangelisation of the West.

How you can help

  1. Pray
    This is our top priority. Without prayer we labour in vain.  Hopefully the emails you receive with links to Gafcon news, our blogs, videos and regular updates provide useful fuel for your prayers. Why not encourage others to subscribe by forwarding this link to other Bible believing Anglicans you know? (www.gafcon.org/join)
  2. Become a Supporter
    For the movement to grow and have real influence around the world we need to recruit as many active Supporters as possible who will assent to the Jerusalem Declaration, Gafcon’s commitment to Biblical truth and apostolic orthodoxy. If you have not yet done so, please read the Declaration here and email us at support@gafcon.org to say you assent.
  3. Become a Partner (donor)
    We need finance to resource the movement properly: to provide effective communications, to mobilise the Gafcon Primates, to connect supporters worldwide and train and equip church leaders. Our hope is that most of our Supporters will become Partners by donating to the movement. A modest donation given regularly by a large number of Partners will make it possible to maintain a sustainable movement. Please become a Partner by donating here.

How to Make Disciples Jesus’ Way


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“How can we be a light to the world rather than a mirror of the world? There is probably no greater foundational challenge from Western culture today than the challenge of living our lives as Jesus would, so that people see light rather than darkness and confusion. We call it discipleship, and it is a BIG deal to Jesus himself. In fact, it was his last and greatest commission to us, his Church. Come and see how Jesus himself boldly and winsomely modeled the way you and I can live as he did, and help others to do the same. “Before his ordination, Fr Ashey was a Deputy District Attorney in Orange County, California. He completed his undergraduate degree at Stanford University, law degree at Loyola Law School, and his Master of
Divinity at General Theological Seminary in New York City. Fr. Ashey is now the Chief Operating Officer of the American Anglican Council (AAC), which provides pastoral care for clergy and other leaders as well as legal and canonical advice to churches. AAC programs include the Clergy Leadership Training Institute,
spiritual coaching and peer support

for clergy and Sure Foundation, a congregational development program. He has been a member of the Governance Task Force which drafted the Constitution and Canons of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) and currently serves on the Provincial Council. He has served congregations of all sizes in California, Virginia, Pittsburgh and has taught at Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, Ambridge, PA; lead and participated in mission trips to Uganda and Kenya; and was pastor and counsel for the Christian Legal Society.

Jeffrey John: Pressure mounts on Church in Wales after allegations of homophobia

Pressure is mounting on Welsh bishops after they were accused of homophobia by a senior gay cleric on Sunday.

Dr Jeffrey John, Dean of St Albans Cathedral, narrowly missed out on being appointed Bishop of Llandaff, despite strong support from local church figures.

Senior bishops in the Church in Wales then blocked him after ‘a number of homophobic remarks’ were made against Dr John in the appointment process. He was told bishops were ‘just too exhausted’ to deal with the problems they believed his appointment would cause.

Dr. Jeffrey John outside St Albans Cathedral.

Dr John’s own cathedral issued a statement on Monday condemning the decision amid calls on bishops to reconsider.

‘The fact that it appears Jeffrey’s sexuality and civil partnership have been used against him in the selection process is wholly wrong and it is only right that the bishops in Wales review the process before making an appointment,’ it read.

An LGBT pressure group, One Body One Faith, added to the pressure by accusing the Church of ‘unjust and discriminatory behaviour’. They called on bishops to apologise to Dr John and reconsider his name in the appointment process.

‘The bishops’ behaviour is a very clear example of the instability and inconsistency of the institutional practices of this Anglican church in the way it treats LGBTQ+ people.

‘The open integrity of Jeffrey John causes them more psychological disturbance than gay clergy who are closeted or semi-closeted, certainly far more than a heterosexual man who was divorced and remarried, and they have been unable to act with professional and pastoral integrity themselves.’

Prominent General Synod member and human rights campaigner Jayne Ozanne also joined the criticism. She told Christian Today: ‘Jeffrey is already a bishop in many of our eyes – he has been the “chief pastor” to those of us who have felt discriminated against and vilified for the sake of our sexuality, and has led and taught us how to respond in grace.

‘His treatment at the hands of the Church – both in England and Wales – has been despicable, and is one of the clearest examples yet of the high levels of institutional homophobia. He has constantly been told privately one thing while another story has been given publicly, I therefore salute his courage and dignity in bringing matters into the open, so to avoid the use of “confidentiality” as a cloak for injustice and deception.’

It comes after Dr John was strongly supported by locals in the area and won more than half of the votes in the initial election body, Christian Today revealed. But his sexuality and long-term civil partnership to fellow Anglican priest Grant Holmes meant he was barred by a handful of opponents meaning he failed to secure the two-thirds necessary.

The decision was then passed to senior bishops in the Church in Wales who asked for views across dioceses. Dr John said despite local church leaders being ‘unanimous’ in support and hundreds writing to back him, the bishops ignored their views and barred his name from the new shortlist.

Details of the appointment process were leaked to Christian Today and One Body One Faith praised the source saying they exposed ‘shameful and homophobic behaviour’ in the Church.

‘Far from showing a lack of integrity or faith in the process, what they have exposed is just the tiny tip of an iceberg in terms of injustices which are meted out to ‘rank and file’ LGBTI+ people by bishops on a weekly basis, behind closed doors, and under the cloak of “confidentiality”.

‘Such behaviour – lack of accountability and transparency – is shameful and homophobic. It does not belong in the processes of any organisation and certainly not a Christian church.’

The pressure is growing after Dr John made the highly unusual move or writing publicly to a senior Welsh bishop following his rejection to accuse the Church of homophobia.

‘The only arguments adduced against my appointment – in particular by two of the bishops – were directly related to my homosexuality and/or civil partnership – namely that my appointment would bring unwelcome and unsettling publicity to the diocese, and that it might create difficulties for the future Archbishop in relation to the Anglican Communion,’ he wrote.

‘To ride roughshod of the very clearly expressed, unanimous view of a diocese in this way is extraordinary, unprecedented and foolish,’ he told Bishop Davies.

‘You decided, arbitrarily, to ignore the submissions that you had asked for, and to declare that those who were discussed at the Electoral College were now, in fact, no longer to be considered. This is a clear and ludicrous breach of process, and a further insult to the people of the diocese, and very many others who took the trouble to contribute their view.

‘I trust there will now be an open and honest examination of this process in the light of day, and that you will not attempt to appoint a bishop for Llandaff until it is complete.’

A Church in Wales spokeswoman strongly denied allegations of homophobia.

‘At the recent meeting of Electoral College no one candidate secured the necessary two-thirds majority to be elected Bishop of Llandaff,’ she said.

‘The appointment will now be made by the Church’s bishops. After a process of consultation they have drawn up a shortlist of names which is confidential. However, the Bishops strongly deny allegations of homophobia.’

The spokeswoman added that neither homosexuality nor participation in a civil partnership were a bar to any candidate being either nominated or elected as Bishop of Llandaff.

Faith in the Fire: 7 quotes from Reformation icon Thomas Cramner


A woodcut depiction of Thomas Cramner’s fiery execution, from John Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1563)Wikimedia Commons

On this day in 1556, Thomas Cramner was burned alive.

Cramner was a leading light in the English Reformation, at one time the Archbishop of Canterbury and a key founding figure in the Church of England. His legacy is much in his words – he composed much of the iconic Book of Common Prayer, and the doctrinal statement known as the Thirty-nine articles. Today, his name lives on as the handle of a popular Anglican blogger.

When Queen Mary I, a Catholic, was enthroned, she had Protestant Cramner tried for heresy and treason. He was forced to denounce his Protestant beliefs and swear allegiance to the Pope. He still faced the death penalty, but moments before he was burned alive Cramner dramatically revoked his recantations and declared the Pope the antichrist. He thrust his hand into the fire first as a sign of remorse for his writings.

The poet William Wordsworth wrote in his sonnet on Cramner:

‘Outstretching flame-ward his upbraided hand
(O God of mercy, may no earthly seat
Of judgement such presumptuous doom repeat!)
Amid the shuddering throng doth Cranmer stand’.

To his dying breath, Cramner knew the weight of words. Here are 7 of his best quotes.

1. He began his speech on the day of his death:

‘Every man desireth, good people, at the time of their deaths, to give some good exhortation that others may remember after their deaths, and be the better thereby. So I beseech God grant me grace, that I may speak something at this my departing, whereby God may be glorified and you edified.’

2. On the Bible:

‘In the Scriptures be the fat pastures of the soul; therein is no venomous meat, no unwholesome thing; they be the very dainty and pure feeding. He that is ignorant, shall find there what he should learn.’

3. Moments before he was executed:

Cramner was an architect of the English Reformation.Wikimedia Commons

‘The third exhortation is, that you love all together like brethren and sisters. For alas, pity it is to see, what contention and hatred one Christian man hath to another; not taking each other, as sisters and brothers; but rather as strangers and mortal enemies. But I pray you learn and bear well away this one lesson, To do good to all men as much as in you lieth, and to hurt no man, no more than you would hurt your own natural and loving brother or sister.’

4. ‘What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies.’

5. ‘In the midst of life we are in death, earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the Resurrection.’

6. ‘There was never anything so well devised by men which in continuance of time hath not been corrupted.’

7. ‘I am come to the last end of my life, whereupon hangeth all my life passed, and my life to come, either to live with my Saviour Christ in heaven, in joy, or else to be in pain ever with wicked devils in hell; and I see before mine eyes presently either heaven ready to receive me, or hell ready to swallow me up; I shall therefore declare unto you my very faith, how I believe, without colour or dissimulation. For now is no time to dissemble, whatsoever I have written in times past.’

You can follow @JosephHartropp on Twitter

Philip North and Jeffrey John: A Church that is more ‘via muddle’ than ‘via media’

david-baker David Baker 21 March 2017

Michael Stephens/PA Archive

At first sight, the controversial ‘non-appointments’ of Philip North and Jeffery John as Bishops seem to have little in common.

If you’ve missed the news, Philip North was the man nominated to become Bishop of Sheffield. But he withdrew his name after ferocious protests from some Anglicans unhappy with his traditionalist stance on women priests. And Jeffery John was in the running to become Bishop of Llandaff. A figure of controversy for some years, his candidacy failed to achieve the two-thirds majority required in the electoral college used by the Church in Wales for such appointments. He has since hit the headlines by accusing some of those involved of homophobia.

There are, of course, significant differences in these situations. Although both men hail from the high-church end of the Anglican spectrum, Philip North might often be labelled as ‘conservative’ because of his theological objection to ordaining women, whereas Jeffrey John would be seen by many as ‘liberal’ because of his belief that permanent gay relationships are equivalent to heterosexual marriage and should be celebrated by Christians. And of course the former was nominated – but withdrew, whereas the latter was nearly nominated – but wasn’t.

Moreover, many supporters of each man would be outraged if it was implied there was a moral equivalence between the respective matters on which each has taken a particular and strong stand. I am not going to suggest that!

However, there is a similar underlying issue. And it is quite simply that on many key matters, Anglicanism in Britain is unable to assert with confidence whether some things are clearly ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ – or legitimately ‘adiaphora‘ (a term from Stoic thought meaning ‘actions that morality neither mandates nor forbids’). Instead, there is endless fudging and obfuscation. In this sort of climate, almost any potential bishop taking an unambiguous stand on anything contentious – be it on one side or the other of a particular issue – will face a firestorm of fury, as both Philip North and Jeffrey John have found out. And so it is easier to appoint people who are slightly less clear on contentious issues, appeasers of different views, rather than teachers of truth – for in today’s Anglicanism, it turns out the truth is unclear.

AdvertisementBut by their very nature, some of today’s contentious issues cannot simultaneously be ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ and ‘adiaphora’ within the same organisation. As Jesus puts it, ‘a house divided against itself cannot stand’. Too often Anglican leaders in the UK sound like the caricature vicar of satirical magazine ‘Private Eye’, the legendary Revd JC Flannel, who always says something like: ‘Well, you know, on the one hand… On the other hand… In a very real sense…’ With the best will in the world (and I do pray for them), I for one am honestly unclear what the Archbishops of York and Canterbury believe about truth, error and church discipline in general, and sexuality in particular.

To take another example: if the Church of England genuinely believes it is ‘right’ and of the Lord to encourage ‘mutual flourishing’ among those with different views on the ordination of women, as it so often claims, a bishop with similar views to Philip North – and who is robust enough to withstand the criticism he faced – needs to be appointed, and soon. If no-one is going to do this, then the church should be clear it doesn’t actually believe mutual flourishing is right. If that happens, traditionalist Anglo-Catholics will go off to the Ordinariate and conservative evangelicals will probably appoint their own bishops regardless or import them from overseas. But at least everyone will be clear.

Archbishop Justin Welby and Bishop Philip NorthArchbishop of Canterbury/Facebook

Similarly, the Church in Wales needs to decide what it believes to be ‘right’ for a bishop to teach on matters of human sexuality. If they believe a bishop should teach that stable gay relationships are akin to marriage, they should go back and appoint Jeffery John. If they believe they are sinful, they shouldn’t. We all have our views on this. But one thing that definitely doesn’t work is for confusion to reign – for how are the faithful to know how to live, and of what sins are we calling people to ‘repent and believe the good news’? Homosexual acts? Homophobia? Both? Neither?

I was once in a meeting of clergy a few years ago, and I can’t remember the precise subject of discussion, but I do recall one minister sighing in weary exasperation as we talked around whatever the issue was before pronouncing: ‘The problem is the elephant in the room – the absence of a shared set of beliefs.’ He later became a Roman Catholic.

Philip North and Jeffery John are – albeit with very different defining convictions – both victims of a church trying unsuccessfully to face in several different directions at once. Some might rejoice that this is Anglicanism’s so-called ‘via media’ or ‘middle way’ between ‘extremes’. But to most people, it looks less ‘via media’ and more ‘via muddle’. And yet, ultimately, I do not despair. After all, it is because we humans tend to make a real mess of things that Jesus came in the first place. And so once again I lift my eyes to him and pray, ‘Lord, have mercy’.

David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex, England. The Rough Guide to Discipleship is a fortnightly series. Find him on Twitter @Baker_David_A

A New Era

Benedict Option is not an Option

By Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD
I study Church history for a reason. History is the only place where Christian theology and practice becomes possible. Any real knowledge about God, in terms of Christianity, needs history. Our knowledge of God is within a context. This is owing to the fact that Christianity, at heart, is incarnational.

Because of this, we cannot limit Christian history, or indeed theology itself, within the confines of a narrow faith community. On the contrary, Church history and, indeed, Christian theology and practice, must in some sense be placed within the wider context of human history. This is to say that we must place this sacred history and the theology which surrounds it within the political, social and spiritual context to which it belongs. For the early Church, this means looking at the Middle East, the realm of the Roman empire, the Jewish community of the day and the philosophical systems then in vogue. For the Church of the middle ages and medieval monasticism we must look to the rise of the feudal system in western Europe, the rediscovery of Aristotle and the emergence of centralized political authority in the persons of kings and princes.

As we study the Reformation Church, we recognize that it is impossible to view the events, personalities and emerging theological perspectives without also taking in the emergence of nation-states, the transformation wrought by the printing press, or, indeed, the troubled marriages of England’s Henry VIII. In the modern era, it is almost impossible to separate the Enlightenment from the evangelical revivals of the 18th and 19th centuries. The tension between enlightenment ideals and religious faith has marked the last two centuries. This has resulted, I believe, in the very often “ahistorical” manifestations of Christian faith and practice exercised in many quarters. Our identity has become defined by “what we are against” rather than what we affirm.

Whether we recognize it or not, the last thirty years, with the emergence of digital technology and instant communication, has ushered us into a new era. It is a new era of not only human history, but of Church history as well. Martin Luther may or may not have recognized the contribution to his work made by Johannes Gutenberg, but the dissemination of Reformation ideals would have been near to impossible without him.

As I sit writing this small piece of theological reflection, I realize that my ability to gain a readership today is in large part owing to a Buddhist named Steve Jobs and a semi-Atheist named Bill Gates. In this new era of Church history, we are confronted with new challenges. The first and foremost challenge is that everybody has a voice. Now, please note, I did not say that everybody has expertise, only that everybody has a voice. They may use that voice to share profound insights or, they may use that voice propagate nonsense. The cacophony of voices – informed, ill-informed and uninformed – fills our television, computer and smart phone screens on a moment by moment, second by second basis without the benefits of a filter or a pause for reflection.

As we confront this new era, it seems to me that we need a moment to “step back”. Living in the history of the moment, it is hard to see the larger context, but I think we need to make the attempt. We need to make the attempt, because it is in the here and now that God is making himself known. He is making himself known in this moment of history as he has done through the millennia. I think this is part of the attraction, for some, of the so-called “Benedict Option”.

More than just a withdrawal from society at large, it represents a desire for the things we have lost of late – time for study, prayer, reflection, the nurturing of expertise, the desire for community, the intrinsic value of work, some disengagement from the myriad of voices surrounding us. On the other hand, this is not sixth century Umbria, it is America in the twenty-first century and we are called to deal with the challenges of our own time.

For me (and I can only speak for myself) withdrawal from society at large is not really an option. Additionally, I would submit that the confrontation between Christian theology and enlightenment ideals is a battle that is over. Society at large has made its choice and they did not choose Christian theology. If we continue fighting this non-existent battle, the only result will be the further alienation of rising generations as the Church shouts into the wind and wonders why it is not heard. On the other hand, complete engagement with current norms creates not only theological issues, but a practical problem as well.

Let us be true to ourselves as the Church and say that Christian doctrine and practice is not established by the vote of fifty-one percent. By making this simple statement, we have already placed a gap between ourselves and civil society that cannot, and, indeed, should not be bridged. In terms of practicality, perhaps it is enough to say that “if you wed yourself to the present, you will be found a widow in the future”. Or, perhaps, more prosaically, if you think you’re hip and trendy today, you’ll look a bit silly in ten or twenty years time. (Just think of the photos of yourself wearing those… bell bottoms, peasant skirts, wide ties, skinny ties, etc.)

Looking over the course of Church history and the development of Christian doctrine, it seems to me that the Church has done best in doing those things that society has left undone. The early Church confronted the Roman empire by adopting its own moral code from the Gospels and apostolic letters and creating communities in which class distinctions were ignored. Benedict established communities which not only became centers of learning and stability in a tumultuous age, but also taught farming and crop management to those in the surrounding area. In a time of unfettered clericalism, Luther placed the Scripture and the greater part of the liturgy into the vernacular for the benefit of the common believer. He demonstrated clerical marriage by his own example and encouraged the education of lay people. John and Charles Wesley, in a time of latitudinarianism, created a “Holy Club” at Oxford, the members of which fasted, studied the Greek New Testament each evening, visited prisoners and the sick and received Holy Communion each week.

So, what has been left “undone” in 2016? I’m sure each of you will have a list. I certainly have mine, but let me say first, these few suggestions are only meant to be suggestive, not exhaustive…

* Education in many quarters has become vocational, rather than the centuries old concept of “learning to learn”. It has resulted in the death of expertise in some fields (especially theology) and a lack of regard for education among many. Perhaps a return to mentoring and the joy of learning is in order.

*In our ever more connected world, loneliness is endemic. We see it among young and old alike. A sense of community and of belonging is desired (and sometimes feared) by many. Perhaps we need to ensure that church is no longer a “spectator” experience.

*In a time in which anything can be said, courtesy and civility is being lost. We see it in politics, but we also see it in our churches and in our theological discussions. Have we forgotten how to “consider others as more important” than ourselves (Phil. 2:30)? Courtesy and civility provides the space for real conversation, for growth, for learning.

Learning, community, conversation… the list could go on, but you get the idea. I think if we begin to look for that which is “undone” in this time of history; if we look for the “broken places” in society and apply an incarnational approach to our theology in addressing them, we could be amazed at the result.

Duane W.H. Arnold, PhD writes for The Project

Ours is Not a Likeable, Sissified Faith


Bill Muehlenberg’s commentary on issues of the day…

Call them what you will: evangellyfish, spineless wonders, cowards, wimps for Jesus, churchians, adherents to the gospel of nice, and so on, but they are all around us. And I have written often about these believers: those who shy away from controversy; never open their mouths in public to defend their faith; get offended not at sin and evil, but at other believers who do; etc.

They stand in marked contrast to the prophets, to Jesus, to the disciples, and to heroic men and women of God from the past 2000 years of church history. They refuse to rock the boat, they are terrified of hurting anyone’s feelings, they will never stand up for what counts, and they are basically ashamed of the gospel.

Their fate will not be pretty – those who are ashamed of Christ and his words will not do well at the last judgment. Those who will deny Jesus now will one day be denied by Jesus. Jesus warned about this quite often. I for one want nothing to do with such cowards.

Indeed, we even read about the cowardly leading the list of those who are cast into the lake of fire (see Revelation 21:8). Thankfully other bold believers are also taking these folks to task. Two recent pieces have focussed on such craven Christians, and both of their stories are worth telling.

Exhibit A is Larry Alex Taunton, who penned the recent book, The Faith of Christopher Hitchens. He has a new article out in which he takes on these spineless Christians who think we all should just quiet down and not make folks upset.

He uses John Piper’s son Barnabas as an example of this. Barnabas had recently attacked those Christians who wanted to stand in solidarity with the Christian business Chick-fil-A when it was being persecuted by homosexual activists. Says Taunton:

I was stupefied by these remarks. Piper is young and was, no doubt, well intentioned here. But, brother, if you can’t be relied on to show up and order a combo meal in support of a company under attack for its commitment to Christian principles, when exactly can we count on you? This wasn’t about “the leadership’s view” on homosexuality; this was about the biblical view of marriage and society. Besides, Huckabee wasn’t asking Piper or other Christians to die for their faith. He wasn’t asking them to take to the streets and destroy property as protestors on the Left have recently done in such places as Ferguson and Berkeley. He was asking them to do nothing more than eat a chicken sandwich and some waffle fries for Jesus. Has any protest in history been easier or tastier?

He says, “evangelicals have confused Christ’s command to love others with being likable, as if that were an attribute of God. (It isn’t.) As such, they endeavor to be, above all else, inoffensive and polite. This doctrinal malpractice has given us a generation of men who are what Lewis called ‘men without chests’.”

He concludes:

I am a child of the military. I was born at Fort Benning, Georgia and grew up at such places as Fort Gordon, Fort Campbell, and Fort Lewis. The idea of fighting for things that matter has never been foreign to me. I fully recognize, as the Athenian statesman, Pericles, observed, “Happiness depends on freedom, and freedom depends on courage.”
My father, a career soldier, had a phrase he liked to employ whenever he saw a man behave in a manner that was less than manly. He would say something like, “That was candy-assed.” Of course, my father didn’t invent the idiom, but in his use of it you didn’t need further explanation. You knew exactly what he was talking about.
The term fits the kind of Christianity that has infected the Church and sapped it of its vitality and strength. The expression might offend the sensibilities of some of my readers to which I can only say, it might fit you.
I urge you instead to be offended by the way our God’s name is blasphemed in our country every day; by the 54 million children murdered in the holocaust of abortion since 1973; by the sordid sexual agenda that is eroding the very fabric of Western civilization; by the fact that Christians are dying for their faith, largely at the hands of Muslims, at a rate of 100,000 per year; and, most of all, by the reality that these things are being ignored, trivialized, or celebrated. These are things that offend me deeply, and I hope they offend you, too. Righteous anger has a place within the Christian life. Tap into it. In the words of Ephesians 4:26, “Be angry and do not sin.”
Evangelical Christians comprise a hefty 26 percent of the U.S. population. I fully believe that if they were to find their voices, their courage, and were to dispense with candy-assed Christianity, that we would see a Great Awakening in America. Indeed, we would see America become truly great again rather than superficially so. But it will, as I say, require courage, because the forces opposing us seem determined to burn this country to the ground.
That cannot go unchallenged. When Jesus said to turn the other cheek, he did not mean to turn a blind eye. The highest calling of a Christian is not to be civil; it is to be salt and light.

Johnston ElizabethHey, I am with you Alex. My second example is the by-now famous “Activist Mommy”. Elizabeth Johnston recently had her Facebook page frozen for simply sharing what the Bible says about homosexuality. She is not one to take such things lying down.

She is a feisty warrior for Christ and she too dislikes greatly all the church mice who are wilted pansies in the face of roaring lions. She too has one of these folks in her sights: Sara Wallace who recently told Christians to just “calm down” about the new Disney film Beauty and the Beast with the homosexual characters in it. Says Johnston:

This article ticks me off!! Yes, there is some truth in it, but telling Christian parents to calm down about being upset that Disney is prostituting and defiling the minds of our children, is really the LAST thing Christian parents need to hear. Christian parents are not doing ENOUGH to push back against the darkness in our culture. If anything, we are asleep in our pews and on our devices, and completely unengaged in the battle to save our kids from the evil that seeks to devour their souls. Every time a Christian actually gets off their duff and raises a stink about something wicked (which is way too rare, by the way), you have these “calm down Christians” who rush in to provide a more moderate spin on the issue. They attempt to make the ones who are taking action look wild and intemperate.

She concludes:

There is one thing the author said that I really do agree with! “We must raise alien children.” My husband and I have ten children we are raising to be different from the culture around them. We are blessed to have teenagers who have ventured into the uncomfortable waters of cultural depravity and are taking a stand against unrighteousness. It is by God’s grace that they have mustered the courage to not blend into their sensual and sinful surroundings. But I can also assure you that they haven’t taken their cues from their Mommy and Daddy who are not known for calming down in the face of sin and injustice, but to the contrary, boldly and lovingly opposing depravity in all its forms.
What will we be doing as a family about “Beauty and the Beast”? I would not let my child watch that rag of a movie for anything, and I certainly don’t want my money to go to supporting it either. We need to teach these companies with our pocketbooks that we do not want this kind of entertainment for our children.
Christian parents, I beg you…do not calm down!! Go berserk! Call the owner of your local theatre and ask them not to show the homosexual Beauty and the Beast. Ask your pastor if you can stuff an insert into this week’s church bulletin, warning parents of the homosexual content in the movie. (Many who are not active on social media will not have learned this information yet.) Think of something! Do something! But for the love of God and your kids, DON’T CALM DOWN!

Now that’s what I’m talking about. You go girl. Give me one fireball Johnston over a thousand spineless wonders any day of the week. We need bold, fearless Christians today, not craven cowards who never speak up about anything that matters.

We need some warriors for Christ with backbone who will not be silenced, who will not be intimidated, and will not be sucked into the false gospel of nice. We need more superstars like Taunton and Johnston. May their tribes increase.


How the Entitlement Mentality Crept Into Our Churches


In 1974 Burger King made a bold move to take market share from McDonald’s. At the time, McDonald’s made burgers en masse. If you wanted a special order, you had to wait interminably while it was cooked separately.

I remember. I’m a ketchup-only kind of guy.

So Burger King announced that each order would be cooked at the time of the order the way the customer wanted. Their new slogan was “Have It Your Way.” Burger King, at least at the time, understood the consumer entitlement mentality.

So what does this story have to do with our churches?

It provides a brief historical backdrop of the mentality that has crept into our churches, where many of our members think church is a place where I can always “have it my way.” For now, let me share some key reasons many of our congregations have become more like country clubs than churches, a place where some members demand their way instead of serving and self-sacrificing.

  1. Failure to state clearly the expectations of church membership on the front end. A membership class, or some similar entry point into churches, should not only give information about the church, it should provide expectations about membership. Membership without expectations becomes membership with entitlements.
  2. Failure to make certain as possible that members are Christians. Sadly, we church leaders often neglect to discuss the spiritual conditions of prospective members. Are they truly followers of Christ? As a result, many of our churches have unregenerate members.
  3. Seeking numerical growth at all costs. We certainly should be Great Commission churches. We certainly should be inviting people and sharing the gospel. But if our end goal is numbers, we will make compromising statements to bring people into our churches. We should seek to grow our churches out of obedience to God, not to create our own kingdoms.
  4. Failure to remind the congregation regularly what it means to be a part of the body of Christ. All of us church members have the potential to lapse into self-serving, entitlement members. We all need to be reminded that church membership is not about perks and privileges, but serving and sacrifice. I have been encouraged to see many churches have annual renewal and commitment services.
  5. Allowing the most entitled members into positions of key leadership in the church. One of the more common manifestations of an entitled church member is a person who seeks to gain power and leadership positions in a church so he or she can control and get his or her own way. We yield to them too often because they might be big givers or because we don’t have the fortitude to resist their bullying behavior.
  6. Failure to deal with difficult issues. Church leaders too often are conflict avoiders. And while we shouldn’t pick a fight over every issue of minutia, neither should we allow a pervasive culture of entitlement, bullying, and manipulation to grow unabated. A problem not handled now is a larger problem later.

The biblical mandate for local congregations is counter-cultural. In many passages of the New Testament, such as 1 Corinthians 12, we are clearly taught that members are to be sacrificial, giving and serving.

Such a mentality goes counter to the culture in which the church ministers.

Church is not about having it our way.

It’s about bringing glory to God by having it His way.