Church of England begins ‘shared conversations’ on human sexuality – can it reach ‘good disagreement’?


The Church of England begins its long process this week on how to avoid schism and reach “good disagreement” over the issue of homosexuality and same-sex marriage. At the same time, leading conservative evangelicals recommended Gafcon, whose leaders met recently in London, as a way forward for Anglicans who wished to remain true to biblical teaching.

In the first of a series of facilitated “conversations” taking place in the South West, church members and senior clergy are struggling to find a way to “bless and affirm” gay people and their relationships while remaining “united”.

They are discussing whether it is even possible to maintain the Church’s traditional teaching that marriage is always between a man and a woman while at the same time not be “written off” by culture in the West. The alternative, to follow the secular lead and endorse gay marriage, would be to “totally alienate” the majority of the Anglican Communion.

Western provinces do not wish to bring about a split in the worldwide Anglican Communion, and thereby a weakening of its international influence, at a time of unprecedented persecution of Christians especially in parts of the Global South and Middle East.

The “Shared Conversations on sexuality, Scripture and mission” began this week with 60 people chosen by the bishops from the Dioceses of Truro, Exeter, Bristol and Gloucester.

Andrew Symes, writing for the orthodox website Anglican Mainstream said: “Please pray for those taking part in the conversations who wish to speak with an orthodox voice. Pray for the courage and perseverance that comes from knowing their security is in God alone. Pray they would have the opportunity to speak clearly and the wisdom to know whether or not to take communion with the other participants at the end of their time together.”

He pointed to Gafcon as a possible alternative way forward for orthodox Anglicans. Referring to the “stark choice” between staying in the CofE with “good disagreement”, and leaving, presumably to resign Anglican orders and attend a congregation of another denomination, Symes says: “There is of course another option in which it will be possible to remain Anglican while not being part of a CofE which has abandoned its historic teaching.” He then links through to Gafcon.

Bishop of Lewes Richard Jackson, a member of the Church of England Evangelical Council, has said in a podcast that the Bible teaches that “sexual immorality” among Christians is serious but questions whether this might come from their own cultural background rather than be a universally applicable Gospel issue.

Conservatives increasingly fear that traditionalist bishops have backed off in the face of preserving unity and protecting the Church from hostile attack.

Rev Peter Ould, a CofE priest and who is part of the “living out” group that believes it is possible to live according to Bible teaching while acknowledging same-sex attraction, told Christian Today: “The Shared Conversations are an historic opportunity in the Church of England to capture the breadth of theological interpretations and personal experiences around the area of human sexuality.

“As an exercise in listening and sharing they are undoubtedly a useful expenditure of time and resources, but beyond that benefit it’s hard to see where the Church of England goes afterwards. It is likely that the conversations will reveal in greater detail the disparity in theological approaches between those on the conservative and liberal ends of the spectrum, and that ultimately will drive us back to the more deep rooted divisions that divide us, namely how we ultimately decide what is true.”

Colin Coward of the gay lobby group Changing Attitude said: “I really hope that each of the conversations results in a really good exchange of understanding between people who are pro-gay and those who find the full inclusion of gay people more difficult. I feel optimistic about the quality of the conversations. However I think it is going to be difficult in such a short space of time for a meeting of minds to occur. I don’t think the conversations are intended in themselves to result in proposals for change.” He said he hoped the concept of “good disagreement” meant there would eventually be “positive changes” to enhance the status of LGBTI people in the Church.

In its report published in November 2013, the House of Bishops Working Group on Human Sexuality recommended: “The subject of sexuality, with its history of deeply entrenched views, would be best addressed by facilitated conversations or a similar process to which the Church of England needs to commit itself at national and diocesan level.”

On its website the conservative evangelical group Reform, which withdrew from the conversations, says: “The majority view has prevailed and ‘good disagreement’ rather than ‘seeking the truth’ is the goal.”

Reform says that if good disagreement is both the process and the objective then it cannot advise our members to take part. “To do so would be to ask them to be party to overturning the way Christians have interpreted Scripture for two thousand years and rejecting the views of the vast majority of the Anglican Communion and other Christians in the world today. To do so would be divisive.”

Bishops back Church of England breakaway congregations

International gathering of bishops and archbishops offers public endorsement to traditionalist movement, likening new Anglican split over issues such as homosexuality to birth of Methodism

They likened the emergence of the new grouping to the ministry of John Wesley in the 18th Century which led to the creation of a separate Methodist Church.

They also condemned the recent use of a Church of England church in London for a Muslim prayer service as a betrayal of Christianity and a blow to Christians experiencing persecution in many parts of the world.

St John’s Waterloo

Leaders of the so-called Gafcon [Global Anglican Future Conference] group of primates have been meeting in London for the last week to discuss plans for the future.

In a joint communique, the primates, who include the influential archbishops of Kenya and Nigeria, singled out concerns over the Church of England, including the recent Muslim prayer service in St John’s church in Waterloo as well as the case of a bishop facing an investigation over his role in setting up a new independent congregation.

Bishop John Ellison, a retired missionary, is under investigation in the Diocese of Salisbury after it emerged he is acting as an overseer for Christ Church, a new church in the city which describes itself as Anglican but operates outside the Church of England.

It is one of around a dozen new congregations affiliated to the Anglican Mission in England (AMIE), a traditionalist organisation widely seen as embryonic breakaway church in England.

“We continue to encourage and support the efforts of those working to restore the Church of England’s commitment to Biblical truth, “ the group said.

“Equally, we authenticate and support the work of those Anglicans who are boldly spreading the gospel of Jesus Christ and whose circumstances require operating outside the old, institutional structures.”

They added: “We are particularly concerned about the Church of England and the drift of many from the Biblical faith.

“We do not regard the recent use of a Church of England building for a Muslim service as a minor aberration.

“These actions betray the gospel and discourage Christians who live among Muslims, especially those experiencing persecution.”

Facing challenges: the Archbishop of Canterbury

Gafcon’s General Secretary, the Most Rev Peter Jensen, the former Archbishop of Sydney, said the new churches would help “renew” Anglicanism in England from outside the established church.

“I think we will have churches in place which will be regarded by most of the Anglican Communion as Anglican but not be Church of England Churches,” he explained.

“At the present moment we are looking at a handful, depending on how it goes – that might be it but who can tell?

“Things have happened in the last decade which have been truly astonishing, we are looking at a totally new age from the point of view of the cultural milieu around us.

“Christians are having to work things out which worked out for millennia.

“This might be the beginning of something as big as Wesley.”

Under fire, vicar who said ‘we love Allah':

 Liberal clergyman attacked by traditional Anglicans for allowing full Muslim prayer service in his Church
Giles Goddard, vicar of St John’s, Waterloo, held ‘inclusive mosque’ event During service asked congregation to praise ‘the God that we love, Allah’ Fellow clergymen call service ‘offensive’ and say it is against church law


A leading liberal clergyman has come under fire from traditionalist Anglicans after allowing a full Muslim prayer service in his church. Reverend Giles Goddard, vicar of St John’s in Waterloo, central London, joined in the event by reading a passage from the Bible at the ‘Inclusive Mosque’ event. He then asked the congregation to praise ‘the god that we love, Allah’, it was reported last night.

It is thought to be the first time an entire Islamic service has been held by the Church of England and has sparked criticism from evangelical clerics. Orthodox clergyman said the event was against canon law, which prohibits any divergence from the official liturgy. They argued that it could be ‘offensive’ to Christians who are persecuted for their faith.

Rev Goddard defended his decision to hold the event, describing it as a ‘very moving’ service. He said his intention was simply to offer people a ‘place to pray’. He told the Christian Today website that everything his church did was legal and within bishops’ guidelines.

Mr Goddard said he was simply offering the Muslims a place to pray, adding that the religions share ‘the same God… the same tradition’  Mr Goddard said he was simply offering the Muslims a place to pray, adding that the religions share ‘the same God… the same tradition’ He added: ‘It is very much about St John’s being a place of welcome. We understand God as a generous God, a God who celebrates love and celebrates life.

‘We try and make sure we live that out. In that sense we feel very properly Anglican.’ The ‘Inclusive Jummah’ was held in partnership with the Inclusive Mosque Initiative.It was organised to coincide with the run-up to International Women’s Day last weekend. The service was arranged by Dr Amina Wadud, a campaigner for gender justice in Islam. Rev Goddard said the service had not put off Christian churchgoers and his congregation is growing. He told the Daily Telegraph: ‘We are offering a place for people to pray so it made absolutely perfect sense. We should be offering [a place] to party, we are the Church of England. ‘They could have gone to a community centre, I suppose, but they loved being in a church, they were just really pleased and delighted to have the welcome and it was very moving, really. It is the same God, we share the same tradition.’

At the end of the service, the vicar read a section of Psalm 139 and said: ‘This is from the Hebrew scripture – we all share these great traditions, so let us celebrate our shared traditions, by giving thanks to the God that we love, Allah.’ Rev Stephen Kuhrt, vicar of Christ Church, New Malden, said: ‘I am appalled by islamophobia and when people whip up anti-Muslim frenzy, but the vicar of St John’s Waterloo has done something that is completely illegal, which is to allow an Islamic service to be held in his church, and then he has participated as well.’

Critics say Rev Goddard has overstepped his bounds by introducing other faiths. Rev Robin Weekes, the minister of Wimbledon’s Emmanuel Church, said: ‘The issue is not primarily that canon law has been broken, which it has, but that it is offensive to Christians who believe that there is only one God.’

No decision on gay blessings from South African bishops

George Conger

The House of Bishops of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa has been unable to come to a common mind on the issue of gay blessings, but have agreed to continue dialogue on the issue in preparation for the 2016 Provincial Synod. A statement released on 15 Feb 2015 following the House of Bishops’ 2-5 Feb 2015 meeting in Durban stated: “We also agreed on a way forward for the pastoral guidelines regarding Civil Unions in ACSA, which we now have in draft form. All Dioceses are asked to consider these issues of mission and ministry during 2015 and the first part of 2016. The aim is to present a resolution on them to Provincial Synod in 2016.” Sources tell AI the bishops have agreed they do not agree on the doctrinal issues at stake, but are determined to hold the institution together. The bishops heard a presentation on Paul’s Theology of the Body by Canon Janet Trisk, a member of the Sea of Faith Network, which encouraged new thinking on human sexuality. However, the political calculus within the House of Bishops, divided between traditionalists, evangelicals and liberal catholics – coupled with questions of corruption and misconduct among some bishops – makes a united theological stance unlikely, sources tell Anglican Ink.

– See more at:

God Save Us From The Churches

God Save Us From The Churches

By Bill Schanefelt
February 22, 2015

Whilst I no longer confess the faith of my younger days, I’m certain that I’m not smart enough to be, or to call myself, either an atheist or an agnostic.

But I am also certain that I am smart enough to have lost all faith in the Christian Church given what’s going on within it in these times (I shall save all theological, cosmological, and teleological discussions for — maybe — another post).

Case in point is Stanford University’s Dean for Religious Life, The Very Reverend Dr. Jane Shaw, for she believes that the:

…church needs to focus more on art and less on religion and converting people in an effort to become less “churchy,”….

The Very Reverend Dr. Shaw, an LGBT activist and lesbian, avows the above notwithstanding that her charge as “the school’s Department of Religious Studies…dean and professor of religious studies” is to:

…provide spiritual, religious and ethical leadership to the university community, serve as minister of Memorial Church and also teach undergraduates and graduate students as a professor of religious studies.

Dr. Shaw is:

… hailed as a “champion within the LGBT community” by the Palo Alto Weekly, (and) was a founding member of the Chicago Consultation, a think tank made up of Anglican and Episcopal bishops, clergy, and lay people who support the full inclusion of LGBT people into the church and the worldwide Anglican Communion.

But that’s not the problem with The Very Reverend Dr. Shaw.

The problem with The Very Reverend Dr. Shaw is that she apparently is far more interested in her vast congregation’s interest in art, inclusion, empathy, and “climate change” than in their souls.

This year (and probably for the predictable future) The Very Reverend Dr. Shaw will be:

…teaching a class on empathy…in an attempt to “almost train ourselves to begin to walk in another’s shoes,” which she called the “great wonder of a liberal arts or humanities education.”

Shaw said that greatest current crisis is “climate change” and as a proponent of “practical religion,” everyone should work to raise awareness of the issue and bring change on a local, national, or global front.

“I think the great crisis of our day is climate change and the environment….(s)o I rather hope that more people would take that seriously and begin to think and reflect on what they are doing with their own lives and how they can bring some pressure to bear to change things.”

The Very Reverend Dr. Shaw came to Stanford:

… from Grace Cathedral in San Francisco (as)…not only the first woman to head the church, but the first openly lesbian dean, (and where she)….said she brought art and public education to the church and hopes to do the same at Memorial Church….

Domine, serva!

We, sure as Hell (as it were), shall not be saved (in any meaning of the word) by the likes of The Very Reverend Dr. Jane Shaw!

Dr. Shaw is not (yet) a bishop, and she may not be an Atheist, but her priorities seem to me to be confused. Our friend, the brilliant painter, cartoonist, and illustrator, John Cox, has this to say on the subject of confused people:

However, I do not mean to imply that The Very Reverend Dr. Shaw and the Anglican Communion are unique in infamy with respect to The Church’s Fall from Grace!

Bar its Evangelical wing — and sometimes even many among the Evangelicals — The Church is increasingly concerned with Gay Rights, Civil Rights, “Climate Change,” Gaia worship, evil Zionist and non-Zionist Jooooze, and countless other secular idiocies.

Conversely and depressingly, The Church is decreasingly concerned with John 3:16, the extinction of Middle-Eastern Christianity, and the genocidal actions committed around the world by followers of The Religion of Peace! (And the Evangelical community has elements that espouse truly unbelievable beliefs!)

Attendance at Daily Chapel was mandatory at the college I first attended as were classes on various Bible Books, Religion, and Philosophy. Hence, I came away from there with the firm conviction that the first, and primary, obligation of Clergy was to live, preach, and bring people to The Word as enunciated in John 3:16. Full Stop. And, as a steamboat captain would ring on his Chadburn, “Finished With Engines.”

You tell me, for I know not, whether the worldwide decline in Religious attendance and spirituality (in Christian, Hebrew, and other non-Mohammedan creeds and ideologies) are causes or effects of the doings and decisions of the Divines who govern the various and sundry faiths.

But such doings and decisions certainly are factors in those realities.

I was raised as a practicing, if not fervent, Presbyterian, and, after a few years riding steamboats and otherwise laboring, I enrolled at a small college affiliated with The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).

In so doing my intellectual and spiritual lives were changed forever, and for the better, by those who taught and attended with me at, and by those who administered, it. For those changes, I shall be eternally grateful to that school and to those people.

However, for reasons better discussed at another time, I can no longer recite The Apostle’s Creed nor accept an Invitation to Communion. But, were I again to do either or both, it would not be amongst members of PCUSA or any other Mainline Church.

And I am infirm and aging fast. I shall leave a not-insignificant estate behind, but nary a penny of that estate will go to the hopelessly PC and terminally anti-Semitic PCUSA nor to that college because of its continuing relationship with that loathsomebody.

And I am absolutely certain that large numbers those readers who have come thus far herein share my sentiments with respect to their non-secular connections.

Domine, serva!

What is Biblical Marriage?

Rollin Gramsrollin01

Issues Facing Missions Today 29:

Reflection on the creation stories of Genesis 1.1-2.3 and 2.4-25—which are, of course, intended to be read together—helps us to understand a Biblical view of marriage. Three key aspects of marriage emerge from the stories. Marriage is between complementary beings of the same human species that form a permanent union: male and female. Marriage is for the purpose of procreation and flourishing within creation. And marriage involves the responsibility of exercising authority within the order of creation. Each of these points can be explored with reference to the understanding of being created in God’s image in Gen. 1.26ff. Moreover, in light of the cultural confusion regarding marriage in Western countries, that marriage so understood cannot apply to homosexual unions any more than sexual unions between humans and animals is a clear corollary of what is stated in the Biblical account of creation. Yet, to claim that marriage is not a social construction but must be understand in terms of God’s purposes in creation has become in the West an opportunity for the Church to make the missional proclamation that God is Creator.
The Image of God and Creation:
In Gen. 1.26ff, being created in the image of God has to do with two things: multiplication for the flourishing of God’s creation and the stewardship of God’s created order by those given responsibility. As these two functions involve male and female working together, a third aspect of being created in the image of God needs to be appreciated: the necessary unity of male and female. Multiplication is not possible without the union of male and female. Neither can produce offspring without the other. With this understanding of being created in God’s image, we have three key parts to any understanding of marriage: (1) the ‘one flesh’ unity of male and female; (2) multiplication for the flourishing of the species, and (3) oversight of God’s created order.
The first creation story (Gen. 1.1-2.3) emphasizes the binary roles of God’s good creation. The work of the first three days of creation involves separations of the realms for what will later be created. Only with these separations will fruitfulness and multiplication be possible and chaos be avoided. There are the separations of (day 1) the day and night, (day 2) the waters of the sky and the waters of the earth, and (day 3) the dry land and the waters. The text of Genesis elaborates at this point to emphasize that such binary distinctions permitted the vegetation of the earth to flourish (Gen. 1.11-12). Vegetation needs daylight, rain, and earth. Without such separations, the world is chaotic and cannot flourish.
The next three days of creation focus on authority/oversight of certain rulers related to each of the first three days of creation. Thus, (day 4) lights are made to populate the day and night separation, and a sun is created to rule the day and a moon to rule the night on the fourth day of creation. Then (day 5), the creatures that dwell in and rule the realm of the waters on the earth are created and commanded to multiply and flourish. Complementing these fish and sea creatures are the creatures made to rule the realm of the sky–the birds. Finally, (day 6), land creatures are formed to occupy the land realm of the third day of creation. Then, to rule over all the occupants of the different realms, God created humankind. These six days of creation, moreover, have their complement in the one day of rest, the Sabbath.
Marriage: Union, Procreation, Authority
Being created in God’s image entails an understanding of the flourishing that derives from marriage. This flourishing begins with the union of male and female. It continues with procreation—the multiplication of the species. And it further entails the right exercise of authority according to God’s purposes.
First, marriage entails a unity through complementarity of binary authorities, just as in the rest of creation. Only such an understanding of unity makes multiplication possible, and only multiplication of the species makes dominion of the rest of creation possible. Any other attempt at unity apart from the coming together of male and female will fail: multiplication is impossible, and the right rule of God’s ordered creation is impossible. Instead, the species would die out and the order of creation would turn to chaos.
In the microcosm of the family, for God’s purpose in creation to be accomplished marriage must first be understood in terms of the complementarity of male and female. They are both created in God’s image. They both have authority. Their differences allow for their unity. This is a point made especially in the second creation story, where it is said that the cleaving of male and female entails becoming one flesh (Gen. 2.24).[1] For Jesus, this fact argues against divorce (Mt. 19.4-6).[2] For Paul, this points to the fact that sexual immorality with prostitutes is sin (1 Cor. 6.16.[3] Both Jesus and Paul insist, on the basis of Gen. 2.24, that marriage is permanent. And, in Eph. 5.21-33, Paul argues that this passage points to the respect of the wife for the husband and the love of the husband for the wife within marriage. If a person does not abuse his own body, the one-flesh union of husband and wife should also produce the same love and respect seen between Christ and the Church. Paul makes this point in a larger context in which he is explaining the reign of Christ’s peace and the unity it brings in various relationships (between God and humanity, 2.1-11; Jews and Gentiles, 2.12-3.10; within the church, 4.1-6.9; and in the face of spiritual warfare, 6.10-18). Within the church is the family relationship of husband and wife, parents and children, and masters and slaves (5.21-6.9), and these are all places where strife may erupt but where Christ brings peace. The first two relationships are not social constructions but part of God’s intention in creation: male and female in marriage, parents and children as the fruit of marriage. Thus, marriage is a result of God’s intention to produce unity through complementarity.[4]
Secondly, marriage allows multiplication through procreation to take place–an essential part of creation. Again, complementarity is required for there to be sexual union that results in offspring. This understanding of the purpose of marriage explains why Jesus says that there is to be no marriage in the resurrection (Mt. 22.30): in the life to come, there is no further mandate to multiply. This does not reduce sex to having children, but it does explain where the emphasis lies: marriage is union between a male and a female. Thus, a Biblical view of sex makes clear that it is not to be pursued with others outside of marriage. This also explains why the Old Testament reports sexual union outside of marriage when the wife is barren for the purpose of procreation (as with a handmaid or a deceased brother’s widow). Sex also has the purpose within marriage of being the way to address God-given sexual desire (1 Cor. 7.2-5).
Thirdly, coming together in the union of male and female and then multiplying by having offspring leads to consideration of another function of marriage: the exercise of oversight and authority according to God’s order in creation. The primary focus of the Genesis story of creation in this regard has to do with the authority of human beings created in God’s image over the rest of creation. Yet it is not a stretch in an essay on marriage to focus on the authority parents exercise over children to raise them up in the way they should go according to God’s purposes. Children need to be raised, not just left to find their own way, and the ability of a couple to raise their children in the right way is an example of their exercise of right authority in God’s creation. This function—exercising a role of oversight—reflects being created in the image of God. In fact, Paul says that someone should not be given the authority or responsibility to exercise oversight in the church if he lacks control over his own household–that is, if the children are not submissive and respectful (1 Tim. 3.4). Whether in the family itself or in the church as a family, proper oversight is a function of being created in the image of God.
False ‘Marriage
These three things–(1) unity of male and female; (2) multiplication; and (3) raising children–explain why certain other sexual acts are considered sinful in Scripture. Bestiality, homosexuality, premarital sexual acts, and adultery are all outside of marriage. Such acts cannot constitute marriage in the Biblical sense. First, they represent precisely the chaos God overcame in His act of creation. Homosexual or bestial sexual acts make as much sense as having no distinction between day and night, sky and water, land and sea. Homosexual unions make as much sense as having two suns (or two moons) instead of a sun and a moon or no distinction between the creatures of the sea and the birds of the air. They are simply wrongly ordered unions. Secondly, homosexual unions cannot result in the mandate to multiply and flourish upon the earth as a species. Thirdly, since they reject proper ordering, they cannot result in proper oversight and authority, they constitute a failed stewardship of creation. They are no context in which to raise children in the ways of God precisely because they are a rejection of creation authority itself.
In conclusion, Jews and Christians have a clear teaching on marriage from the creation accounts in Genesis 1.1-2.25. I have, to some extent, explained how such a view is consistently maintained in the Old Testament, Jewish Scriptures and by the early Church, as reflected in the New Testament. The Biblical view of marriage is based on an understanding of creation itself and of being created in the image of God. Jews and Christians who follow the teaching of Scripture insist, therefore, that marriage is not something we can define however we wish but only in terms of what God intended in his creation. Biblical marriage entails a permanent union between a male and a female, the multiplication through procreation of our species that we might flourish, and an authority or stewardship over the order God established in His creation. This third point leads to an understanding of marriage that entails an understanding of family that entails the oversight over children that parents give in their role as God’s image-bearers. For various reasons, others might come under parental rule in the family—what we might consider an ‘extended family’. Oversight, in fact, extends to all of creation, not just authority in the home. Yet it is an authority that entails stewardship according to God’s purposes in creation; not an authority to exercise over against or independently from God’s purposes. The lure of the serpent in Genesis 3 was precisely the lure of exercising divine authority like a god rather than under God’s authority. The serpent enticed Eve to disobey God’s command and become like God in the exercise of independent authority. Thus a disordered rule—say, of two men living as though they were husband and wife—is, first, a rule of chaos in the mixing of things that should be separated; second, a sexual perversion that cannot result in offspring; and, third, an abuse of God-given authority by ruling apart from and against God’s order in this world.
Can this argument be made outside the community of faith that understands Scripture as God’s Word? To some extent, the argument can be put forward without the assumptions of a faith community. Epictetus, a Stoic philosopher in the 1st c. AD, for example, put forward a similar argument. He was neither Jewish nor Christian but argued on the grounds of what was ‘according to nature’. However, Paul, in his day, held out little hope of making such arguments apart from persons first coming to faith. He states that the minds of persons who have denied God as the creator of this world are sufficiently confused that they will think things obviously unnatural to be natural (Rom. 1.18-28)—as, indeed, we hear argued in our day as well. The redefinition of ‘marriage’ to include same-sex unions in the West in our day actually goes against the convictions of cultures throughout time.[5] We are faced with a confusion of the created order that appears to go beyond what the early Christians experienced. Indeed, the West lacks an Epictetus, it includes Jews and Christians who disregard Scripture or who readily twist its meanings for their own ends, and it argues not according to how things are but according to how they wish things to be. Truth is now thought to be constructed, and tolerance of diversity has become intolerance of the truth. In such a context, Biblical marriage cannot be mandated, and the laws of the land will not support it. However, Biblical marriage can now become a counter-cultural witness, and practicing it can now become a part of the Church’s mission. By it, Christians proclaim, ‘We believe in God, Creator of heaven and earth.’
[1] Genesis 2:24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.
[2] Matthew 19:4-6 4 He [Jesus] answered, “Have you not read that the one who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”
[3] 1 Corinthians 6:16 Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.”
[4] Paul—and his audience—assumes complementarity here. His point is that Christ establishes the unity that God intends in every sphere of creation. He does not argue that egalitarianism will accomplish unity. In the case of husband and wife, though, he establishes that God created male and female to be ‘one flesh’ through marriage and that Christ makes this possible.
[5] This is not to say that the pre-Christian world of Greece and Rome did not know of such things. Same-sex marital unions were, however, unique enough to attract comment. (One example might be the second satire of Juvenal.)

Jesmond Conference addresses “British Values” debate

By Andrew Symes, Anglican Mainstream   jessmond

Evangelicals from different denominations based in the north east of England were joined by Church of England evangelicals from the rest of the country for the 24 hour “Jesmond Conference” in Newcastle. Jesmond Parish Church has become the largest and most significant Anglican centre in the region. David Holloway, vicar of Jesmond for more than four decades, has given considerable thought to the decline of Christian influence in Western culture, and his reflections provided the basis for the discussions and the final conference statement.

Papers had been provided to delegates before the conference, setting out the issue of British Values in its immediate context and examining some of the philosophical and cultural background. In the summer of 2014 it came to light that some schools in Birmingham appeared to have been strongly influenced by Muslim governors and teachers, who were introducing teachings and practices alien to commonly held understandings of modern Western democracy. The Government’s response was to conduct an inadequate and hasty “consultation on promoting British values in school”. Holloway comments: “But what are British values and who should decide? The consultation made the Government’s answer clear: British values are what the Government decide.”

In an attempt to appear even handed and not specifically targeting schools in areas with large populations of Muslims, OFSTED inspectors have in a number of well-publicised cases been critical of schools with a Christian foundation and also some in rural ethnically homogenous areas. This has led to accusations that the Department of Education is using an undemocratically concocted definition of British values to push through a politically correct agenda, ensuring that schools promote among other things a positive view of homosexuality and a non-confessional understanding of religion. As Holloway says, “there seemed to be a lack of awareness by Government officials that extreme Islamists could be particularly concerned with such school inspections” and that the promotion of the Government’s definition of British values might therefore make the issue of extremism and Jihadist recruitment worse.

Holloway invites us to look back 50 years to see the origins of this philosophy of secularism and the State taking on the role of arbiter of what is right and wrong. In 1964 Max Warren gave a series of lectures entitled “The Functions of a National Church”, in which he argued that the nation of Britain had always existed with a consensus of belief that its rulers served under God, yet the role of the church should not be to rule but to “prophesy, purify and prepare”. 1964 of course was just before the first sexual revolution, brought about in part by Western governments deciding that the remit of law should not extend to legislating about the ethics of private conduct of relationships. Homosexual practice and abortion were decriminalized, contraception became universally available, and a new libertinism took hold, leading to an increase in immorality. But by 2014 the Church’s traditional teaching against homosexual practice and sex outside marriage are seen as implausible, immoral and “un-British” according to the new thinking.

Holloway argues that “what is needed for human and social flourishing and also cultural growth and vitality is this: the aims of a society (for example, democracy) need to be backed up by background assumptions and beliefs (such as come from the Christian tradition).” If good values are no longer backed up by shared beliefs, “then sooner or later you have spiritual, moral, social and cultural decay…then societies are ripe for various forms of totalitarianism to bring about social order, whether secular, fascist or jihadist”.

Holloway gave four lectures to the conference, on democracy and the family, the rule of law and spiritual and moral order, individual liberty and its limitations, and tolerance and respect. Each talk was relatively short (around 20 minutes) but was packed full of summaries of key social and political thinkers from Aristotle to Augustine, from Locke to Mill, showing that the idea of a common religion undergirding worldview has been axiomatic in all societies. In Britain, for centuries we have also taken for granted a “sacred canopy” in which biblical Christianity is embedded in the structures of state but tolerant and respectful of all faiths and none, allowing the flourishing of a genuinely “liberal” environment in which individuals and groups can pursue “the good life” according to certain common values and restraints. But this canopy has now been largely removed.

These talks were followed by discussion in small groups, based around the headings “prophesy, purify and prepare”. We addressed the question of what the national and local church could do to speak truth to power, apply the Gospel in the public square and bring back Christian foundations to politics, law and education, and what the obstacles to this might be. One such obstacle is pietism and fear of controversy in many evangelical churches.

As a final lecture, Charles Raven continued the theme of national values, taking as his starting point the premise of Alastair Macintyre in his influential After Virtue that the West, in abandoning its common overarching narrative, is heading for another dark age. According to Raven, same sex marriage is “an icon of secular libertarianism”, as now marriage has been redefined no longer linked to gender or procreation, but personal fulfillment. It is one more example of a process of “cultural amnesia” – the erosion of national self consciousness based on history and sense of purpose. Both politics and church appear stale, unsure of past foundations and future vision, and seeing shrinking membership. Raven compared this with a modern independent nation such as Kenya which despite having enormous problems, has a vibrancy and hopeful vision for the future characterized by a growing population through healthy birth rates, a growing church, and a maturing political system.

There was debate in my group, reflected in one of the questions at the end, about whether the reconstruction of the spiritual and moral foundations of Britain is possible at the present time, or whether we need to recognize that we are in a time of rebellion and judgement and prepare accordingly. Holloway is optimistic: faithful Christians have a much greater influence than they think, the Gospel is capable of remarkable transformation, and our sovereign God can work miracles. Raven is more sober in his forecast: the “confessing” church may in future need to separate structurally from an increasingly apostate national church; and the faithful may need to turn aside from what is often parodied as “maintaining Christendom” or “going back to the 1950’s”. Instead, our model might be the early Benedictine project, forming genuinely Christian communities, counter-cultural, sustaining theological truth and moral life amid a potentially hostile and decaying civilisation.

The Eco-Bishops are in town

Rachel Mash

Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, Chair of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, is calling together a group of bishops from various countries impacted by climate change.

Bishops have been chosen from countries reflecting the great challenges we face, from the sea level rise of Fiji, the deforestation of Argentina, the droughts of Namibia, the tsunamis of the Philippines and the storms of New York, and the warming of Alaska. These bishops are united in their commitment to addressing these environmental challenges.

Sixteen bishops will be gathering in Capetown from the 23rd of February to exchange ideas and concerns, to share challenges and successes. First the bishops will hear about the challenges faced in different parts of the globe.

Then they will share actions and theologies that have been helpful in moving forward. The goal is to strategize together in order strategies for raising the issue of climate change and environmental degradation throughout the global Anglican Church.

What is the event?

A strategic planning meeting hosted by the Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa of a core group of bishops and archbishops whose dioceses or Provinces are in areas affected by climate change or in areas that contribute significantly to conditions that lead to climate change. The bishops and archbishops identified are already active in responding to climate change and environmental degradation as a result of human activity in various ways, eg, through theological exposition and challenge, advocacy, greening churches and communities, and supporting local mitigation.

Building on relationships already established virtually, the meeting will foster a strengthened, working collegiality among the bishops who have been identified and ultimately serve as a catalyst for further response and activities throughout the Communion.

The bishops will share their experience in responding to climate change so far, their hopes, their concerns, and ideas about how they, specifically, might organize themselves better for that purpose. They will have an opportunity to reflect and study together, and to look at the obstacles they face and discern what they can do, by working together, to move through these obstacles.

Drawing on their own experience and ideas, a strategic plan will be developed for themselves, with proposals for broader engagement in the Anglican Communion.

Science and the experience of the impacts of climate change suggest that in many ways survival is at stake – for human communities, for the ecosystems on which human life depends. We have listened to Anglicans in a number of regions where congregations face food and water shortages and other stresses that are directly linked to climate change. The meeting and the broader project will enable Anglicans at leadership level to make coordinated efforts towards upholding human dignity and the integrity of creation, and strengthening interdependence within the Anglican Communion as we become better stewards of God’s creation. It is hoped that the outcomes of this project will have an impact that reaches far beyond the present time.

Expected outcomes

To form a group of bishops and archbishops (Eco Bishops) representative of the regions of the Anglican Communion, will have participated in the core group as described above and worked together to formulate an action plan for themselves, with proposals for broader Anglican engagement in responding to climate change, faithfully, prayerfully and proactively.

The core group of bishops will become visible in offering biblical and moral leadership in the area of climate justice. Their experience and deliberations will be communicated to Anglicans and others around the world via ACEN, news releases and other forms of media.

As a resource for the broader Communion, a concise report will be produced, gathering the bishops’ lived experience and responses to climate change and setting out future actions. More Anglicans will understand that responding to climate change is part and parcel of our baptismal vocation and will be active in greening their homes, churches and communities and in speaking out on behalf of those experiencing the worst effects of climate change. The Anglican Church will become active in global advocacy.

The Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (currently the chair of ACEN) will have shared the experiences and deliberations of the core group with his sister and brother Primates. Anglican leadership will increasingly be taking the initiative in networking effectively with ecumenical partners, other faith groups, government and UN structures. Those currently affected by the impacts of climate change will be given a voice at the international level of the Communion, and know that they are remembered and supported, both in the prayer and in practical ways.

Those who have the power to curtail carbon emissions will have a fresh sense of how their actions can have a positive impact on their sisters and brothers in other parts of the world and contribute towards climate justice.

The Anglican Communion will benefit from a shared endeavour.

The following Eco-Bishops will be coming to Cape Town:

Jane Alexander, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada; Mark MacDonald, National Indigenous Bishop, Canada; Andrew Dietsche, New York, The Episcopal Church; Nick Drayson, Northern Argentina; Nicholas Holtam, Salisbury, Church of England; David Chillingworth, St Andrews, Dunkeld and Dunblane, Scottish Episcopal Church; Chad Gandiya, Harare, Central Africa; William Mchombo, Eastern Zambia, Central Africa; Ellinah Wamukoya, Swaziland, Southern Africa; Stephen Moreo, Johannesburg, Southern Africa; Nathaniel Nakwatumbah, Namibia, Southern Africa; Thabo Makgoba, Cape Town, Church of Southern Africa; Thomas Oommen, Madhya Kerala, Church of South India; Andrew Chan, Hong Kong; Jonathan Casimina, Davao, Philippines; Tom Wilmot, Perth, Australia; and Apimeleki Qiliho, Fiji, Aotearoa-New Zealand.

– See more at:

Investigation into church salaries leads to Living Wage row

Tim Wyatt

by Tim Wyatt

Click to enlargeLiving Wage: Canterbury Cathedral has said that it wants to pay all its staff the Living Wage but is unable to do so yet

THE Church of England has defended its stance on the Living Wage after it was revealed that cathedrals and churches were hiring staff on salaries below the benchmark.

An investigation by The Sun found that Canterbury Cathedral was advertising for porters and kiosk assistants on salaries between £6.70 and £7.75 an hour. The Living Wage (outside London) is currently set at £7.85.

Lichfield Cathedral was also revealed to be hiring waiting staff on £6.50 an hour, which is the national minimum wage. A church in Pickering, North Yorkshire – St Peter and St Paul – was hiring a pastoral worker for £7.65 an hour.

In a statement today, a C of E spokesman said that every parish, diocese, and cathedral in the Church was a separate legal entity, and had to formulate its own hiring policies. “As charities, churches require time to increase giving levels prior to ensuring delivery of the Living Wage.”

Several Conservative MPs have accused the Church of hypocrisy, because the pastoral letter sent from the House of Bishops to the C of E last week about the General Election in May had endorsed the Living Wage (News, 20 February). The Church’s statement, however, said that last year’s Living Wage Commission, which was chaired by the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, recommended phased implementation of the Wage.

“The vast majority of those employed by, or sub-contracted to the Church’s central institutions are already paid at least the Living Wage, and all will be by April 2017,” the statement also said.

The Archbishop of Canterbury was questioned about the story by reporters during a visit to Birmingham today. He admitted that the revelations had kept him up the previous night, and said that it would be “great” if every part of the C of E was paying the Living Wage, but that this would take some time.

“Every cathedral, every diocese, every parish in this country is an independent charity with its own trustees that has to make its own decisions. We all recognise that no employer can simply increase its salaries overnight. . . We’re getting there as quickly as we can.”

Canterbury Cathedral said in a statement that it was “fully committed” to introducing the Living Wage for all staff but said “current economic conditions” were stopping it from doing so.

“We have, for example, to balance any wage increases against the huge cost of repairs to the building and the large amount of repair work that is required. However, all staff at Canterbury Cathedral will receive the Living Wage by 2018.”

A Church Times investigation last year found that almost every diocese in the C of E was already paying its directly employed staff at least the Living Wage (News, 27 June). A deal brokered between the trade union Unison, and the National Society, in September, will lead to every church school’s becoming accredited Living Wage employers (News, 19 September).

Mainline Protestant Decline and Hope

by Mark Tooley


(Below are Mark Tooley’s remarks at Mt. Bethel United Methodist Church in Marietta, Georgia at the Areopagus Forum on February 18.)

This year is an ignominious anniversary for Mainline Protestantism, commemorating a half century of continuous decline since their membership peaks in the early 1960s. Fifty years ago one of every six Americans belonged to the Seven Sisters of Mainline Protestantism. Today it’s one of every 16 and plunging. Membership has dropped from 30 million to 20 million during a time when Americas population has nearly doubled. And it did so despite Gallup Poll’s insistence that overall church attendance has remained essentially the same for about the last 80 years.

In our current post denominational age, many question why this decline matters. Who cares about the Mainline except the dwindling and increasingly aged members who remain? After all, haven’t evangelical churches, especially nondenominationals, plus Catholicism, more than filled the void? Wasn’t it time for the Mainline to leave the stage, having more than played its part in American and Christian history across 4 centuries? And in the end, didn’t they deserve their own demise?

The answers are yes and no. The decline is indeed deserved and self precipitated, but nonetheless very sad for America and the Body of Christ, leaving a spiritual and cultural void that Evangelicals and Catholics, even with their increased numbers, have not been able to fill.

Mainliners literally founded America, from Jamestown and Plymouth Rock, generated its founding principles, which have become universal, and were the spiritual and cultural flagships for our nation for over 350 years. They shaped how we publicly lived out faith and applied it to our democratic process. They created civil religion, which uniquely in the world protected and integrated religion into every aspect of public life without legally establishing any particular religion.

The Mainline’s implosion in part facilitated the culture wars and polarization since the 1960s. With three centuries of experience, the Mainline knew how to lead, to unify and to challenge all at the same time. It offered continuity. It was thoroughly American yet also rooted in the European Reformation. Evangelicalism and Catholicism can’t replace it. One is maybe too much an American creation, and the other is perhaps not American enough.

Mainline Protestantism lost its way when it forgot how to balance being American and being Christian, choosing American individualism and self made spirituality over classical Christianity. Nearly all mainline seminaries had embraced modernism by the 1920s, rejecting the supernatural in favor of metaphorized faith integrated with sociology and political revolution.

By the 1960s, not in-coincidentally, too few clergy were left in the Mainline with strong educations in theological orthodoxy, hence their inability and even unwillingness to evangelize, preferring to adopt the themes of radical cultural and political change that was hyper utopian, egalitarian, therapeutic and individualistic. A 1967 survey found 60 percent of Methodist clergy, for example, disbelieving the Virgin Birth and 50 percent disbelieving the Resurrection.

The impact on Mainline membership was predictable. Absent the imperative for soul-saving and confidence in Christian doctrine, gaining new adherents became more of a sociological exercise or a bid for institutional preservation. Neither inspires great zeal.

In the 1980s there emerged a prominent Mainline prelate who embodied the new face of the Mainline.

Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong of New Jersey appeared on talk shows and wrote provocative books suggesting the Virgin Mary was impregnated by a Roman soldier, or Jesus’ body was torn apart by wild dogs instead of resurrecting. In later years he rejected “theism” altogether. Despite his clerical collar, he’s essentially a materialist who rejects the supernatural. For him Christianity is chiefly an instrument for socialization and political justice.

One of Spong’s books was “Why Christianity Must Change or Die,” its thesis being that orthodox Christianity would be rejected by rising new generations, so the oldsters needed to get hip, like he had. But he was essentially peddling an already aged form of Protestant modernism that peaked 100 years ago. Unsurprisingly, during his 20 year reign over the New Jersey Episcopal Diocese, there was a 40 percent membership loss. Who really wants to go to church to hear that Jesus is not divine, didn’t rise from the dead, doesn’t forgive sins, and doesn’t offer eternal life?

Several years ago an IRD staffer after visiting a liberal Methodist seminary to hear Bishop Spong, joked he could find the event by simply following the old people. Even on a college campus, Spong’s audience was all white headed, probably mostly retired oldline Protestant clergy who still can’t figure out why their theology and churches had failed.

Bishop Spong has remained active and outspoken. I’ve subscribed to his weekly email for years but rarely read them, as he has very little new to say. But recently I did read, mildly enticed by the headline “Jesus and Elvis.” A questioner to Spong compared the Savior with the musician, saying he admires both but the fans of each “freak me out.” Despite claims by “fundamentalists,” he says the real Jesus was “anti-wealth, anti-death penalty, anti-public prayer, never anti-gay, anti-abortion and never anti-premarital sex among other parameters.”

Spong chastised the questioner a bit, explaining that Jesus “called people to wholeness,” while Elvis was “hedonistic” and died fat, addicted to drugs and booze, revealing “pretty substantial differences.” But Spong admitted both had “devoted followers and one could even say that the followers of both were unable to accept the reality of their heroes’ deaths.” Spong readily agreed that Jesus’ followers have been often quite wicked, a favorite theme of his own, but he points out that the church has at least “raised up within itself visionary voices that bear witness to unpopular truths that eventually have forced institutional change.” No doubt Spong had himself in mind but he modestly cites others like radical Catholic theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether and gay advocate Bishop Gene Robinson, another failed Episcopal bishop whose diocesan numbers plunged. In contrast, Spong noted the “followers of Elvis Presley have never raised up minority voices to purge and to purify their movement.”

Spong insisted the “Bible asserts time and again that Christianity is called to be a minority movement, but always affecting the majority. We are told in the New Testament to be the leaven in the dough that causes the bread to rise, to be the salt in the soup that gives it flavor and to be the light in the darkness that will not be extinguished.” Spong explained he’s a Christian despite the church’s sins because “minority Christian voices can and do purge institutional Christianity of its excesses and of its life-diminishing prejudices.”

Interesting that Spong cited the Bible and New Testament as definitive authorities for his views to which others should submit. Maybe he’s still rhetorically clinging to the southern “fundamentalism” of his youth that he’s expended decades mocking and disavowing. Spong sees himself and other enlightened voices as the prophetic minority witness within a large corrupt institution, the church, which has been largely failing to represent its Founder for virtually its whole history. But what higher truths above church and Bible credential Spong et al? He’s never really clear. Spong likes to cite “science” with the sneering confidence of a village atheist, but science says nothing about the moral imperatives of fighting racism and homophobia that are central to Spong’s career.

So Spong’s final authority is Spong and the kindred spirits, mostly all modernists, he finds along the way to echo his own views. It’s a narrow perspective, very captive to the here and now, and even then to a certain segment of politically correct, Western liberal opinion. But Spong soldiers onward, with fewer and fewer listeners. At least he’s remained resolutely consistent in his 35 years of scoffing critique of orthodox Christianity.

A colleague of Spong’s on the Jesus Seminar who recently passed away, although a decade younger, was Marcus Borg, another Episcopal self styled theologian who represented a somewhat newer version of Mainline Protestant liberalism. He has been eulogized in countless blogs and articles by admirers acclaiming his spiritual insights. We can pray that God comforted his family in their recent loss.

Unfortunately, Borg did not believe in the kind of personal deity, or “supernatural theism” as he derided it, who provides this kind of direct comfort to individuals. Instead, he advocated an impersonal deity understood through panentheism (distinct from straight pantheism), which asserts that all creation is a part of God. As professor at Oregon State University, he specialized in deconstructing traditional Christian beliefs about God, Christ, and the Bible.

Twenty and thirty years ago the Jesus Seminar got routine headlines for its regular and supposedly scholarly “discoveries” that Jesus never claimed divinity or rose from the dead or said much of anything ascribed to Him in the Bible. Instead, Jesus was actually an irenic social justice philosopher and activist, just like most of the Jesus Seminar academics.

Borg’s obituaries have credited him for his relative respectfulness to more orthodox Christian scholars, in contrast with the disdain exuded by many of the Jesus Seminar’s philosopher kings. His colleague Episcopal Bishop Spong specializes in sarcastic contempt for orthodox Christianity and its unwashed adherents. Borg enjoyed debate with his theological adversaries, for years conducting public exchanges with his friendly interlocutor Tom Wright, the British biblical scholar and Church of England bishop. The two even authored a book together offering their different versions of Jesus, one a divine Savior announcing God’s Kingdom, according to Wright, the other a mortal Jewish mystic later deified by the church, according to Borg.

Fifteen years ago, in a typical exchange, Borg and Wright spoke at National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., which I attended and reported. Borg of course said much of the Gospels, like the Virgin Birth and Jesus’ multiplying of the loaves or walking on the sea, were “history metaphorized.” Likely Jesus didn’t think Himself a messiah or anticipate His death. Instead his martyrdom made him like Gandhi and Martin Luther King.

Borg described Jesus as a Jewish mystic or “spirit person,” whose “visions of the sacred” were “shamanic,” “peak experiences,” or “altered states of consciousness.”

Like Buddha, Jesus taught “wisdom,” and Jesus was also a social prophet who critiqued the “domination system” of His day. “Does it matter if Jesus thought He was messiah?” Borg asked. “Tom says yes. I say no.” He rejected an “interventionist God” who performs miracles or directly inspires Scripture.

Although erudite and polished, Borg could be a little snippy with traditional believers, especially if they lacked academic pedigree. One questioner in the cathedral audience asked if the Holy Spirit had guided interpretation of the Bible. “I don’t know if the Holy Spirit would be helpful in judging the factuality of the Gospels,” responded Borg. “The Holy Spirit is irrelevant in that decision making process.” Responding to another questioner, he said Jesus only became divine metaphorically in the church’s memory after Easter. And the Resurrection didn’t mean anything actually happened to His corpse. Again, more metaphor, merely showing Jesus to be “at one with God.”

Over the years I heard Borg speak on numerous occasions, usually at liberal Protestant events whose audiences were typically old, nearly all white and tied to academia or the clergy of declining Mainline denominations. Borg himself became a cannon theologian at an Episcopal cathedral, and his wife is an Episcopal priest.

Even though he professed Christianity, Borg was frank about rejecting nearly all core Christian beliefs. The “pre-Easter Jesus is a figure of the past, dead and gone. He isn’t anywhere,” with talk about his corpse or an empty tomb merely “irrelevant distractions.” Only an arrogant, delusional Jesus would have claimed divinity or predicted resurrection, Borg noted, adding, “We have categories of psychology for people who talk that way about themselves.”

Accordingly Borg didn’t think God answered prayer, didn’t believe in a specific afterlife, didn’t think Christianity was uniquely true or would even necessarily persist, and did not believe in a creator God or even a personal God, concepts more suitable for children who lack “critical thinking” than for adults.

Raised in a traditional Lutheran home, Borg apparently first gained enlightenment through liberal theology at Union Seminary in New York. He at times recalled that he once believed in the Christmas story as literally involving a virgin birth, a “magic star,” and Wise Men, when he lacked the “mental equipment” in his youth to think otherwise. Only with education and post-adolescent critical thinking did he reject “childlike literalization of the personifications of God.”

Rejecting God as a personal creator who presides over creation, Borg hailed panentheism for recognizing “we and everything that is are in God. God is not something else. God is right here and all around us. We are within God.” He explained: “The best way to refer to God is You, the You who is right here.”

With this notion of self-deification, along with Jesus’ supposed “shamanic journeys,” Borg believed in “paranormal healings,” visions, and altered states of consciousness. Of course, Borg rejected notions of sin and salvation, along with conventional “moralistic” standards, preferring self-enlightenment and self-empowerment.

Christianity for Borg was only a helpful “lens” through which to view the sacred. “If we stop using the Christian lens, then we cease to be Christian and that’s not the end of the world. If humanity lasts 10,000 years, then I expect that, if Christianity lasts at all, then it will be a tiny sect like Zoroastrianism. We’re not going to last forever in the Christian tradition. The Christian lens will eventually fall into disuse.”

Bizarrely, Borg, speaking in the 1990s, thought liberal Mainline churches were losing members because they still clung to biblical “literalism” instead of embracing his idea of enlightenment. But they would have a “very bright future” once they reinterpreted their faith “metaphorically.” In contrast, “fundamentalism” had “reached its high water mark.”

Borg’s deity did not hear prayer, forgive sin, exude grace, inspire love, or offer heaven. For Borg, an abstract deity within self and nature can be reached in self-generated visions or altered states of consciousness. His panentheism ultimately incorporated even evil into the divine, making virtue and love nonsensical. Such a vision is depressing and illogical. Why it, if fully contemplated, should have inspired anybody is unclear.

Yet Borg had his fans among especially Mainline Protestants. Along with his leftist politics and critique of traditional Christians, perhaps they identified with how he clung tenaciously to Jesus as “light of the world,” even if only a metaphor. He rejected absolute truth yet also resisted nihilism. Seemingly some kernel of faith from his Lutheran childhood survived and hopefully reignited when Borg finally faced the afterlife and personal deity he had for years rejected.

Sadly the Mainline churches and clergy who have heeded Borg’s theology have suffered a terrible price in lost members, vitality and cultural influence.

Recently I was conversing with a United Methodist friend about a church we previously attended. It’s now in difficult financial straits, property has been sold, membership is down, and the minister is leaving early.

The trajectory would be familiar to many Mainline Protestants. There was a film series introduced into the adult Sunday school featuring Bishop Spong and Marcus Borg, among other radical revisionists, generating contentious debate and ill will. The lobbyist for United Methodism’s liberal Capitol Hill office was a featured guest preacher. The U.S. flag was removed from the sanctuary. The small young adult group was sent to visit an urban Reconciling congregation as an exemplar. “Transgender” and “global warming” occasionally appeared in a sermon, as did references to supposedly universal church decline across America, to which we were evidently to be reconciled. “Sexual orientation” appeared on the church website. A prayer to “our Father/Mother God” prompted me to stop attending there altogether.

All of this liberal inclusivity and diversity should have been enticing to Millennials and other sought after demographics, right? Of course not. The once strong and large congregation now may or may not survive.

That story, as I was telling my friend after worship at another United Methodist church, contrasts with another previously dying congregation in the area, which is Southern Baptist. It has a large, imposing property but the congregation had dwindled to a few elderly. Another conservative Presbyterian congregation that rents the property had been expected eventually to purchase it. But a new young Southern Baptist pastor was dispatched, and a couple hundred are now worshipping in his congregation. He has a dramatic testimony, and he is emphatic about the exclusivity of Christ and the Bible’s authority. His message and ministry fall considerably outside the parameters of political correctness. And now his once dying church has a future.

My United Methodist friend remarked upon hearing this story that in general we know what will grow a church. It’s not a mystery. The real question is, do we want the biblical message and ministry that will attract new people, or do we prefer less challenging alternatives, with predictable outcomes. Church vitality or decline to a large extent are choices. For 50 years, once Mainline denominations have chosen to decline. Some Evangelical churches have chosen to grow. The Lord sets that choice before every church and honors the decisions made.

United Methodism is the largest Mainline denomination. The year 1965 was the last year that Methodism had membership growth in the U.S. Starting in 1966, there’s been membership decline EVERY year. Our church lost almost 4 million members, over one third of the original 11 million, during a time when the U.S. population nearly doubled.

Meanwhile, other Wesleyan denominations have grown over the last 50 years, often dramatically.

The Church of God increased by two thirds. The Wesleyan Church increased by 75 percent. The Church of the Nazarene nearly doubled. The Free Methodist Church increased by 25 percent. The Assemblies of God have increased a whopping 500 percent. Growth for most of these churches over the last several years has leveled off, except for the still fast growing Assemblies. But none are experiencing United Methodism’s ongoing exodus.
Methodism had been America’s largest Protestant denomination until surpassed by the Southern Baptist Convention in 1967, whose membership is now more than double United Methodism’s.

Nearly all the Mainline denominations have declined even more than Methodism, with similar comparisons to more conservative denominations of the same tradition that have grown significantly. Thanks to Africa, United Methodism is growing globally, with nearly 13 million members, possibly the 9th largest denomination in the world. But none of the other Mainline denominations have that global advantage.

Many perhaps most Mainline clergy remain firmly in denial about the causes of decline. Some falsely and comfortingly assume all churches in America are shriveling. Others try to sanctify shrinking churches as somehow more faithful and spiritually elite. For them, church growth is idolatrous.
But there’s nothing holy about a death spiral, is there? The Gospel commands offering redemption to the whole world. All the church’s good works, rightly understood, are in service to the urgent evangelistic imperative. The fields are white to harvest.

Recently in Washington, D.C. I was walking by an old United Methodist sanctuary, one of scores of beautiful Mainline sanctuaries in the nation’s capital and countless other large cities that but sadly mostly empty on Sunday mornings. Hearing uncharacteristic music emanating from the windows, curiosity drove me inside, where I was surprised to see a full congregation of almost all twenty-somethings singing robustly as a band performed behind the altar. There being no seating left, I went upstairs to the balcony.

The congregation, of course, was not United Methodist but an Evangelical congregation tied to a Calvinist network and founded just a few years ago by a young pastor from out of town. Meanwhile, the home United Methodist congregation has virtually died off. I was glad to see the stately old sanctuary put to good use for vital worship and ministry reaching Millennials.

But I was saddened to contemplate there is no Methodist equivalent in Washington, D.C. or in most large cities. Institutional United Methodism in America has given up on cities and given up on young people, so no surprise we are declining by nearly 100,000 annually. Pockets of United Methodist vitality are typically is in the suburbs.

Sometimes over the years I’ve been asked by friends where their young adult child newly arrived in the nation’s capital might find a vital and orthodox United Methodist church. I’ve told them there really are no options. So they end up at any one of dozens of Evangelical new church plants that successfully attract young people, like the one I spontaneously visited.

Think about it. The most powerful city in the world has almost no vital, orthodox United Methodist churches. Instead there are typically small, liberal congregations that celebrate their diversity but have little capacity for meaningful outreach. The same is true for most large cities. And institutional United Methodism has no capacity to address this challenge.

The Evangelical congregation I visited this evening describes their mission explicitly and evangelistically. Their website says: “We believe in the personal, bodily return of our Lord Jesus Christ. The coming of Christ, at a time known only to God, demands constant expectancy and, as our blessed hope, motivates the believer to godly living, sacrificial service and energetic mission.”

It also says:

God’s gospel requires a response that has eternal consequences. We believe that God commands everyone everywhere to believe the gospel by turning to Him in repentance and receiving the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that God will raise the dead bodily and judge the world, assigning the unbeliever to condemnation and eternal conscious punishment and the believer to eternal blessedness and joy with the Lord in the new heaven and the new earth, to the praise of His glorious grace. Amen.

In contrast, what is the mission of diversity churches? Inclusiveness, community building, radical hospitality, affirmation, etc. One United Methodist congregation in D.C. advertises its welcome to all this way:

No matter,
– Where you’ve come from or are going;
– What you believe or doubt;
– What you are feeling or just not feeling;
– What you have or don’t have; and
– No matter whom you love
All of who you are
– is welcomed into this community of faith
– by a God who loves you passionately.
Thanks be to God. Amen!

So what does that mean? And whom would it excite? All are welcome into what, for what? Most Millennials, and nearly everyone else, would respond with yawns. Hence the empty churches.

As mentioned, a recent Gallup reports 41 percent of Americans say they attend church weekly or more. This number has stayed remarkably constant for 80 years. This survey, along with Pew poll showing large majorities believing in the historicity of the Christmas story, rebuts sweeping claims that America is becoming more and more and more secular. The rising numbers of “nones” partly reflects non church goers who once may have cited their parents’ religious affiliations as their own if asked but now no longer bother. Many of them are from Mainline Protestant backgrounds,

America’s cultural elites – in academia, entertainment, journalism, social sciences, and non elected government – maybe more secular. But the American people as a whole, however confusedly and inconsistently, seem to be as religiously believing and practicing as ever.

One of the mostly untold stories about the continued vibrancy of American religion is the last two decades of successful church planting in many of America’s great cities. Tim Keller’s very influential Redeemer Church network, affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in America, in New York is a prime example. It, along with hundreds of other Evangelical urban church plants, specializes in attracting young professionals who have fueled a renaissance in many American cities after the several decades of decline and decay following WWII and America’s suburbanization.

Washington, D.C.’s rebirth and growth of recent years has included a plethora of new church plants appealing mainly to Millennials. One of the most prominent and successful has been a National Community Church (NCC), an Assemblies of God related network of now seven congregations, several of which are now in Virginia. Pastor Mark Batterson started the first church 19 years ago when himself in his mid twenties. It grew rapidly while meeting at a downtown cinema, and several of its congregations now meet in theaters, including a restored Vaudeville theater in the once depressed but now fashionably thriving Barracks Row neighborhood. NCC also owns a popular DC coffee house that often hosts special talks and music.

Batterson announced in time for Christmas that NCC, in its latest advance, has purchased the Blue Castle, an iconic 100,000 square foot 124 year old former trolley barn. It’s a few blocks from the Barracks Row theater and, across the street from the Navy Yard, in what recently was a dangerous, gutted neighborhood that now enjoys increasing vitality and development. This massive new church space, purchased with a $4.5 million down payment, will serve as a music and theater venue during the week, with more traditional church use on the weekend, plus children’s activities and “providing incubator spaces for like-mission, like-minded non-profits that serve the city.”

A seminal event for Batterson’s ministry was in 1996 after losing the school space where his young congregation met. He walked a prayer circle around Capitol Hill imploring divine assistance, after which he gained the initial movie theater space. He notes that the newly acquired Blue Castle is at the the same corner he rounded on his 4.7-mile prayer walk, which was the basis of his popular book The Circle Maker. The purchase letter of intent was signed 18 years to the day of his prayer walk.

“It was a miracle, 18 years in the making,” Batterson declares. “When God gives a vision, He makes provision.” He insists the “church belongs in the middle of the marketplace.”

NCC’s thriving ministry among mainly young people who are flocking to rejuvenated neighborhoods in the nation’s capital showcases the ongoing resilience of American religion, especially Evangelicalism. Batterson’s 11 books and wide social media following, with over 90,000 Twitter followers, also illustrate the changing optics and messaging of American spirituality. Some traditionalists maybe discomfited by the pragmatic styling, but the core message is orthodox Christianity transmitted through contemporary media.

Possibly Washington D.C. is experiencing more religious renewal today than it has in a half century or more. We can be grateful for how God is deploying churches like NCC and pastors like Batterson, even as the Mainline Protestants are absent from this revival.

A recent survey showed about 90 percent of members of the U.S. Congress, which meets just blocks from Batterson’s church, profess adherence to Christian churches, according to a new survey from Pew, compared to nearly 95 percent 50 years ago. Members adhering to other religions, especially Judaism, have increased, with Jewish representation going from just over two percent to just over five percent. Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist representation stand at under one percent each. Less than one percent profess no religious affiliation.

In contrast, about 15 to 20 percent of the American general population profess no specific religious affiliation, and about 75 to 80 percent profess Christianity. No surprise here. Politicians, typically ambitious extroverts, obviously are much likelier to be joiners and adherents of institutions.

Maybe most interesting, although again not surprising, is the shift in types of Christian affiliation. Fifty years ago over half of Congress was Mainline Protestant. Today it’s only about a quarter. Methodists by themselves were nearly one fifth of Congress then, now it’s less than ten percent. Presbyterians also dropped by about 50 percent, and Episcopal/Anglicans lost about a third. Congregationalists dropped by four fifths, and now comprise less than one percent, a steep decline from their ascendancy in early America.

Catholics are up from under 20 percent to over 30 percent. And Baptists increased about a quarter, now just under 15 percent. Undefined Protestants have more than doubled to more than 10 percent, probably reflecting the growth of nondenominational Christianity, although almost no members of Congress specifically professed nondenominational.

Can Mainline implosion be faulted for increased fractiousness in Congress and government? The Mainline traditions transcended party differences and mediated how Americans, especially their governing and social elites, translated their faith into governance without succumbing to fisticuffs.

Some of America’s greatest social reform movements also emerged from Mainline Protestantism. These churches gave the nation civic conscience and orderly habits for government and debate.

Mainline Protestantism across four centuries in America mightily contributed to the ethos of American democracy by not routinely becoming partisan but by affirming honest civic life, opposing corruption, and backing social reforms directly tied to public morals. Protestant social reformers have fought liquor and drug abuse, prostitution, gambling, pornography, and government corruption, all of which were typically connected in a web of social vice. These reformers assumed that democracy could not effectively survive absent virtue.

The churches also long opposed these vices because of a specific Christian anthropology that affirms human dignity, understands the human body as the temple of the Holy Spirit, and believes joyful living is premised on hard work, self denial and delayed gratification. They spiritually recognized that vice breeds more vice, and that the chief victims are typically not the ostensibly consenting adults but the more vulnerable, especially children and the impoverished, who are trapped under the trash heap of social and personal corruption.

Protestant social reformers long had a vision of social righteousness that saw the hand of Providence in the affairs of nations. They inspired and hearkened to the words of James Russell Lowell’s famous 1845 hymn, which has since disappeared from some Mainline hymnals, that declared:

Once to ev’ry man and nation
Comes the moment to decide,
In the strife of truth and falsehood,
For the good or evil side;
Some great cause, some great decision,
Off’ring each the bloom or blight,
And the choice goes by forever
‘Twixt that darkness and that light.

The original Protestant social reformers knew that humanity is spirit, and eternal, not just material, and that the soul of a nation supersedes its short term financial interests. Indeed, permanent prosperity can only be sustained by morality and justice. They also began their witness to society with the premise that the church’s first responsibility was to evangelize, disciple and nurture individual souls, guiding them heavenward, towards holiness and truth. A clean society with virtue on the throne would help lead individual souls in the right direction and in so doing glorify God before the world.

Protestant social reform understood it was fighting a perpetual spiritual war against the Devil and human sin. But they were confident in God’s redemptive power both for individuals and societies. But theological liberalism and the Social Gospel denied the spiritual aspect of humanity’s destiny and turned humans into strictly material creatures with rights to certain material goods, to be guaranteed by a coercive, engorged state.

Traditional Mainline social reform saw a righteous society as a roadway towards Heaven. Unlike the Social Gospel, which rejected Heaven and equated social justice with politically achieving God’s fulfilled Kingdom, the old Mainline witness was rooted to orthodox theology, and more accurately understood the institutional church’s carefully defined vocation for political witness.

The successes and failures of 400 years of Mainline Protestant witness in America have much to teach Evangelicals and other Christians, especially nondenominationals, of today who too often are untethered to historical traditions and are themselves very vulnerable to succumbing to hyper American individualistic spirituality at the expense of orthodox faith.

So maybe the Mainline at this point is primarily useful as teacher and warning. But we should be more hopeful still. As the implosion continues, a new generation will arise in the Mainline that will admit the failures and will seek a new direction that will lead back to orthodoxy. They will ponder the vitality of pockets of orthodoxy that will have persisted with the Mainline. And they will appreciate the witness of new denominations that emerged from the Mainline after compromises over marriage and sexuality.

Oddly, many young clergy in the Mainline, while liberal on sex, are far more orthodox on central Christian teachings as found in the ancient creeds, not at all attracted to Bishop Spong’s materialism or even Borg’s panentheism. Perhaps they will with time realize that the orthodoxy of the universal church across time and culture provides a reliable guide to both theology and ethics.

The Church as the Body of Christ endures now and forever, and no aspect of Christian practice or tradition, whether Mainline or not, can thrive except that it is firmly planted in this Body.


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