Will there ever be a conservative evangelical bishop who believes in complementarianism in the Church of England again?
According to the Archbishop of Canterbury, there will. Justin Welby was explaining to members of Parliament’s Ecclesiastical Committee a previously-made promise to appoint such a conservative evangelical bishop ‘within a matter of months’.
He declared: ‘We have undertaken to approach the Dioceses Commission to see if we can… use a vacant suffragan see for the appointment of someone holding the conservative evangelical view on headship. This was promised long, long ago in various ways.
‘One of the things that both the Archbishop of York and I feel about this – as did the House of Bishops – is that if we are going to create a climate of trust… we have got to keep our word on everything we promise. If you stop doing that, people will not believe you on anything’. he said.
Fair and equal
The archbishop also suggested that changes could be made for the processes in appointing all bishops, stating: ‘There are some absolutely outstanding clergy in both the traditional Catholic and the complemen-tarian evangelical groups; and we are going to have to develop… processes and procedures to make sure that they are considered fairly and equally, to see if they are the most appropriate person for a given post’.
Justin Welby also described Synod’s provisions for those opposed to women bishops as ‘an expression of love and concern for those who struggle with it. We are a family, not a political party. We don’t chuck people out who disagree with us’.
This all raises a number of issues. Firstly, as a letter in The Church of England Newspaper pointed out, over the summer, there have been previous promises of this kind. It said: ‘In the course of the discussions about women bishops, we were reminded that a Synod called for conservative evangelicals to be made bishops seven years ago. In the light of the failure to fulfil this ‘promise’, it is clear that: 1. conservative evangelicals should be consecrated in significant numbers (at least 10?) before any women are. 2. General Synod should stop issuing reports criticising other people since it doesn’t act on its own reports.’
Secondly, even if the archbishops are quite sincere in what they say – as I believe they are – it is hard to envisage the current process of appointment resulting in such an decision, or the particular diocese where there would be enough sympathy for it to take place. And making changes to the appointments process could be tricky.
Finally, does appointing just one bishop holding complementarian views really do justice to the movement’s strength and vitality (both numerical and financial) within the Church of England? Many would see it as mere tokenism.
Meanwhile, in relation to the other great contentious issue of the day, the first clergyman to marry a same-sex partner is planning to take the Church of England to court after his offer of a job as a hospital chaplain was withdrawn when his bishop refused to give him permission to officiate. The Revd Jeremy Pemberton stated: ‘This is an area of law that has not been tested and needs to be’.
Courteous but firm
As the latest Church Society magazine rightly says: ‘There will always be challenges to faithful evangelical ministry in the Church of England, and contending for the authority of Scripture and Reformation principles is not a new struggle… [John] Stott’s call to maintain a faithful evangelical witness ‘courteously but firmly’ working within the structures of the Church of England remains as relevant as ever’.
rector of the churches of East Dean with Friston and Jevington, East Sussex
On July 13, in anticipation of the vote of the York General Synod on women bishops the next day, the Archbishop of Canterbury took to the airwaves via the medium of The Andrew Marr Show. He declared that: ‘theologically the church has been wrong not to ordain women as priests and bishops over the centuries’.
In those few words Justin Welby isolated himself from, as I would see it, the teaching and practice of the Lord Jesus and the apostles as well as the understanding of the Church Fathers and the thinking of the best theologians of the centuries since.
He also isolated himself from large parts of his own church, including countless millions of godly women who have rendered the most faithful service to the Church of England in the past and at least 25% of the present membership who, in opinion polls and local and national synod votes, consistently take the opposite view.
The archbishop even stands isolated from the vast majority of the Anglican communion – for almost all of the provinces who do ordain and consecrate women nonetheless respect the theological integrity of those who disagree and avoid declaring that one point of view is right and the other wrong. That was the view reaffirmed at the Global Anglican Futures Conference last year.
Lastly, of course, Justin Welby has isolated himself from the understanding of Scripture on the issues of gender and church order held by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches.
Losing father figures
He will find some who share his view – in Methodism in England and in the Episcopal Church of the USA, for example, and in some other churches, pretty much the entirety of whom have seen the abandonment of complementarian thinking accompanied by precipitate decline in membership to levels of near oblivion.
Remarkably however, given that the new legislation was passed almost entirely on the basis of the need to be ‘relevant’, the archbishop also finds himself isolated from our society. That is true of the bluff northern taxi drivers of York, a group of whom were mystified by the Church’s obsession with political correctness. It is also true more widely: early July saw the publication of the Centre for Social Justice’s report on fatherless families which revealed that 15-year-olds are significantly more likely to own a smart-phone than live with their fathers. Only 57% of such teenagers have their fathers living with them, at huge cost to society.
At a time when our society is waking up to the cost of ‘disposable dads’ the Church of England is busy dispensing with the need for church families to have a spiritual father at their head, or even involved in their leadership in any way. An immense price is likely to be paid for that too.
Driving away error?
How Justin Welby squares his statement to the nation on TV with his statement to Synod that he will ensure that complementarians flourish is anyone’s guess. On one reading it would appear that he is committing himself to the flourishing of that which he knows to be wrong – a strange position to be in as a bishop who has taken a solemn oath to ‘drive away error’. It is more likely, that he has a definition of ‘flourishing’ that I and other com-plementarians wouldn’t recognise as such.
The Archbishop of Canterbury would have us believe that he is only isolated because he is stepping boldly into a brave new future but sometimes being out of step is just that – marching to the beat of the wrong drum.
Susie Leafe, Director of Reform
Someone once remarked that we shouldn’t be aiming for a ‘balance’ of grace and truth – but rather, a full measure of both.
Such is certainly the need as Anglican evangelicals seek to be faithful to the gospel in a denomination full of difficulties – but also, still, many opportunities.
The vexed question of sexuality is one which isn’t going to go away. There is a ‘conspiracy theory’ school of thought which sees ‘the bishops’ conniving to change church policy on this issue, and which almost views Justin Welby as some Machiavellian figure manipulating people into change.
Well, maybe there are some bishops doing exactly that. But I continue to see Justin Welby as a man who is basically traditional on this issue (as he has stated several times), genuinely wrestling with it in his mind, but nonetheless seeking to do what is right under God.
Some of the criticism of him for his interview with the gay newspaper Pink News reminded me of the criticism of Jesus for hanging out with tax collectors and sinners. Which other evangelical or Anglican leader has ever spoken to them or even been offered a hearing? Nevertheless, it wasn’t a perfect interview – as well as being substantially misrepresented in some reports.
Welby’s gay secretary?
However, sometimes conspiracy theories do turn out to be true. Thus the website Virtue Online revealed at the end of May: ‘An ex-gay Anglican blogger in England is charging that Archbishop Justin Welby’s secretary is gay and is deliberately blocking correspondence that might help gays break free of homosexuality from the evangelical archbishop.’
It would indeed appear that the story has substance to it. The blogger in question, Phelim McIntyre (at whose website, aflame.blog.co.uk, you can read the material in full) has indeed taken a courageous stand – full of grace and truth – in tackling the individual in question head on about it.
Unfortunately, however, grace and truth seemed missing in the way that Virtue Online – which calls itself the ‘voice for global orthodox Anglicanism’ – then covered the story. As McIntyre subsequently explained: ‘I chose specifically not to name the person at Lambeth Palace as I believe that it is the issue that is important…’
He continued: ‘Virtue Online posted an article, which I had no involvement with and have complained to Virtue Online about, which names the Correspondence Secretary in tones which I disagree with. To me this is an example of tabloid journalism at its worst. The first I knew about the article was when a friend told me about it via Facebook!’. He concluded: ‘I used to have time for Virtue Online but after this I do not’.
It’s a classic example of an evangelical own goal. And I rather fear similar mistakes may be made in approaching the Church of England’s ‘facilitated conversations’ on sexuality. Should Anglican evangelicals take part? Not if the terms on which it is run make it impossible to do so per se – for example by going against conscience.
But otherwise, if possible, yes – certainly. To fail to do so would merely hasten the outcome which is feared; would let down the many genuinely wrestling with the issue; smacks of running away from the battle scene; deprives our archbishops of support; and makes conservative evangelicals look aloof, self-righteous and closed in on themselves. Grace and truth, people. In full measure.
David Baker, rector of the churches of East Dean with Friston and Jevington, East Sussex
Having recently moved to the south coast after more than 18 years at a church in the City of Cardiff, this book was both timely and helpful.
Rebecca VanDoodewaard offers sound, practical advice for those relocating, whether in this country or abroad. For me, one of the book’s biggest assets is that feelings of dislocation and disconnection are described as being the natural result of a massive, life-changing event. Thought patterns, inner battles and emotions are identified with a startling accuracy, resulting in the reader feeling understood and less isolated.
Absence of familiar people
The author initially recounts some of her personal experiences of homesickness and unpacks the complexities that can arise when we are away from our comfortable routines. This is obviously compounded by the absence of people we love who make us feel secure in their love and understanding. The unfamiliar, a change in customs, food, language and climate, can often result in a loss of perspective, producing an overly simplistic feeling of ‘loving’ where we have been and ‘hating’ where we are! We can forget the problems, battles and trials in our previous location and replace them with an idealistic picture, making us feel even more dislocated and hurt as we contemplate our new situation.
There are many good tips included on how to say ‘goodbye’, as well as suggestions of actions and attitudes that are not helpful when we arrive in a new home, church and community. There is an admission early on that homesickness does not always completely disappear, but we are always encouraged to deal with it biblically and bravely.
After outlining the temptations that can occur at a time when we may be vulnerable and irrational, Rebecca provides a list of helps, addressing some of the specific problems that can arise for those who are married, single, or working in a pastorate. Perhaps the advice borders on being slightly prescriptive, but a down-to-earth, common sense comes through clearly and helpfully.
The book ends by highlighting many of the benefits of homesickness, which include an opportunity to see God’s provision and encounter new adventures and amazing people. There is a sober reminder that earth is not our home and we need to prepare for saying our final goodbye before moving to our eternal destination.
Homesickness obviously has great relevance for those going through the early stages of a move, but could be a valuable tool for those engaged in pastoral ministry at any level, or who find themselves helping friends and family. It is refreshing to have a book on a topic rarely tackled in Christian circles, but one that affects many of us at some stage in our lives.
This article was first published in the January 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057
Reactions to the announcement of new guidelines for Church of England Schools on countering homophobic bullying have perhaps been predictable. On the one hand you have those who declare the guidelines themselves homophobic and on the other there are those who believe they will prevent Christian children expressing biblical views in the playground.
The Church of England finds itself, once again, in the eye of a storm. Stonewall may have been key advisors for this report but you only have to look at the comments on Justin Welby’s interview with the gay news service, Pink News, to see that many people will not be satisﬁed until there is wholesale change in the church’s teaching. But these are not just issues for the Anglican Church. How do Christians learn to live in a country that is no longer shaped by Christian values?
Of course, we have never considered England to be a ‘Christian country’ in any theological way. We know that God’s people are those he has rescued, by his grace, and who seek to live under his lordship. God’s people are scattered throughout the world. God is not actually an Englishman!
We have, however, lived in a country where our laws and customs have been founded on Christian values. This has generally allowed us to live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness, without threat of prosecution or imprisonment. We should be grateful for that blessing, but we should also recognise that times are changing.
Exciting or scary?
Perhaps we should see this as exciting and encouraging, rather than scary and disheartening. After all, as Justin Welby said earlier this month, ‘the Christian faith is much more vulnerable to comfortable indifference than to hatred and opposition’. I don’t know about you, but I fear I prefer comfortable indifference. I like to forget that Jesus warned me that his disciples would be hated.
It should not take a Church of England report to remind us that the Bible does not license hatred or bullying of anyone, for any reason, whether at work or in the playground. Neither does the Bible affirm sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage. Some will claim that this makes the Bible (and even God) homophobic, but as Christians we have the privilege of knowing the goodness of our Creator and the rightness of his Word. In a world that thinks tolerance means complete affirmation and the only sins are injustice and prejudice, it will be hard for us to be understood. But that doesn’t mean we should not try. Our task, whether we are five or 55, will be to find ways of expressing the hope that we have with gentleness and respect, so that those who speak maliciously against us will ultimately be ashamed.
Contend for the faith
There is much to do. Anglican evangelical leaders are working together to contend for the faith inside the Church of England and it was heartening that the leaders of GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference) met in London this month and encouraged us to persevere. But ultimately we place ourselves in the hands of the one who judges justly and died because we are all sinners; wonderfully, that is a truly ‘safe place’.
Suzie Leafe – Director of Reform
First of all, it would be impossible to start anywhere else but by paying tribute to the long-term co-writer of this column, John Richardson, who has passed away. A fuller obituary can be found on here. But John was a doughty campaigner for evangelical causes within the Church of England, not least in the Diocese of Chelmsford, where he ministered for many years, and through his involvement with the Junior Anglican Evangelical Conference, begun in 2010.
This latter event aims to ‘to encourage the development of a new generation of denominational leaders’ who are ‘committed to the principles of the proclamation of the gospel of Christ for the salvation of the nation and the transformation of the Church of England’. Only recently, one colleague was telling me how influential John had been in encouraging him and others to remain committed to Anglicanism.
No conservative Bishop
One of John’s ongoing campaigns was to keep an automatic update on his website of how many days the Church of England has been without a conservative evangelical bishop committed to ‘complementarian’ views of men and women. (It stands at 523 days at the time of writing). He would have been disappointed, then, with the appointment of the new Bishop of Lewes in succession to Wallace Benn, since the new bishop, unlike his predecessor, will ordain women.
But the new bishop in question, Richard Jackson, is in many ways an outstanding appointment – a man already much loved in the diocese. He is a member of the Sussex Gospel Partnership and is a great addition to the episcopal bench.
Orthodox views on sex
But being an evangelical bishop is an almost impossible task, as Justin Welby is no doubt realising. Interviewed on LBC Radio at the start of April, he affirmed an orthodox view on same-sex relationships, declaring: ‘My position is the historic position of the Church which is in our canons which says that sexual relations should be within marriage, and marriage is between a man and a woman.’ Asked whether he could imagine a day when two people of the same sex married in the Church of England, he said: ‘I have real hesitations about that.’
Another piece of fudge
Nonetheless, the latest pastoral guidance from the House of Bishops on this issue is at best a ‘fudge’ (as John Sentamu admitted), since it suggests that while clergy cannot enter a same-sex marriage, lay people in such relationships should not be denied access to communion (thus incidentally raising an unanswered question about unmarried opposite-sex couples too). Either way, it’s utterly incoherent.
At the end of the LBC interview Justin Welby was asked by one caller: ‘What is a definition of God, please?’ The Archbishop replied simply: ‘When you look at Jesus, you see God’. The caller responded: ‘Thank you very much, that’s very helpful’. But, of course, this was not widely reported.
David Baker, rector of the churches of East Dean with Friston and Jevington, East Sussex
The Church of England’s governance is more democratic than many would have you believe.
No significant change to the liturgy of the Church of England can take place without the approval of a majority of the 44 diocesan synods. But the system is complex; representatives to diocesan synods are elected from the deanery synod representatives, who are, in turn, elected by their congregation. This complexity is one of the reasons that evangelicals tend to be under-represented in the governing structures of the church.
Over the next two months every diocesan synod will vote on the latest legislation to enable women to become bishops. Those pushing for this innovation are claiming that we have found the answer. They assert that the legislation is simpler than the package that failed in November 2012 and it will encourage a spirit of trust that will allow all to flourish.
Any doubters are referred to one of the five guiding principles of the new dispensation, which states: ‘Since those within the Church of England who, on grounds of theological conviction, are unable to receive the ministry of women bishops or priests continue to be within the spectrum of teaching and tradition of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England remains committed to enabling them to flourish within its life and structures.’
So it is ironic that, as the diocesan debates begin, we find increasing hostility towards those who hold firmly to a complementarian view of gender. Despite all these fine words about ‘flourishing’ and ‘trust’, the facts on the ground tell a different story.
Calling me a heretic
At the Sheffield diocesan synod in March the Dean of the Cathedral summed up the debate by asserting that the complementarian view of the inter-relationship between the divine persons of the Holy Trinity goes against the Church of England’s Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. In other words, it is un-Anglican to believe in headship. No opportunity was given for a complementarian to reject this charge of heresy and the vote simply proceeded on the basis of the Dean’s remarks.
It is a serious matter to report such division in the church, but I do it not just for the benefit of Anglicans but because this is the charge of more liberally-minded theologians from all denominations. The Dean is obviously not the first to allude to the idea that a complementarian view of gender leads to an Arian-style heresy and it would seem he is unlikely to be the last.
Nature of the Trinity
As the debate about women’s roles in church becomes a debate about the nature of the Trinity, we can no longer see it as an issue of secondary importance. If our men and women are not to be blown off course by these accusations, then we need to prepare and equip them to understand and refute these arguments. The nature of the Trinity has always been challenging but, wonderfully, some excellent work has already been done by Bruce Ware*, Mike Ovey and others. Reform would be delighted to help any evangelical who is currently facing this challenge.
Please pray that the increasing hostility in diocesan synods will actually open the door for courageous men and women to proclaim the wonderful truth that in the Godhead we see equality and difference worked out perfectly.
Susie Leafe – Director of Reform
This month’s Anglican Update is a significant one – for me, anyway!
For, amazingly, it is now ten years since I started writing this column. But, before you rush to hang out the bunting or indeed to send congratulatory gifts of whisky or cheeses, I thought it would be worth taking a moment to review where we are now – one decade on.
In terms of the Church of England, in some ways little has changed. I could have cut and pasted most of the first column I wrote for EN in 2004 and reproduced it now – and probably few would notice, except, I am sure, the editor!
Ten years ago
In that edition I wrote: ‘At its heart, the battle over homosexuality is a battle between those who continue to believe, as Christians generally have, that because of humanity’s sinfulness and limited capacities, God must reveal himself to us – ultimately through the Word of God both written and incarnate – and those… who apparently believe that the Christian faith is primarily a matter of human cultural construct’. To all this we might say – plus ça change!
And what of Anglican evangelicals? Sadly it is fair to say that among those who claim the label ‘evangelical’ in the Church of England there has rarely been less harmony and understanding. The future of the Church of England Evangelical Council seems unclear. Different groupings – representing open evangelicals, conservative evangelicals and charismatic evangelicals – seem to regard one another with suspicion, sometimes hostility and often mutual incomprehension. Are we saddened by this?
When it comes to conservative evangelicalism specifically, my observation – for what it’s worth – is that in terms of doctrine it is strong, but in terms of devotion sometimes rather weak. Some of today’s conservative evangelicalism is a reaction against the evangelical pietism and charismatic excesses of earlier generations. But I often wonder whether, in seeking a better balance, some conservative evangelicals have become so suspicious of experience, so distrusting of emotion, so wedded to one particular way of preaching, and so committed to doctrinal purity that what we sometimes have is more akin to an ideology than a fully-rounded Christian life.
Such problems are not new, perhaps. Bishop J.C. Ryle wrote in 1879: ‘Cease to regard the gospel as a mere set of abstract propositions… Look at it as the introduction to a glorious personal Friend. This is the kind of gospel that the apostles preached. They did not go about the world telling men of love and mercy and pardon in the abstract. The leading subject of all their sermons was the loving heart of an actual living Christ!’
And J.I. Packer wrote in Themelios magazine in 1996: ‘The great Puritans were as humble-minded and warm-hearted as they were clear-headed, as fully-orientated to people as they were to Scripture, and as passionate for peace as they were for truth. They would certainly have diagnosed today’s fixated Christian intellectualists as spiritually-stunted, not in their zeal for the form of sound words but in their lack of zeal for anything else’.
As for me, I’m with the Puritan Thomas Goodwin who wrote: ‘I never yet took up party religion in the lump… I have found gospel holiness where you would little think it to be, and so likewise truth. And I have learned this principle, which I hope I shall never lay down till I am swallowed up of immortality, and that is, to acknowledge every truth and every goodness wherever I find it’.
Now you may hang out the bunting and send me whisky and cheese! Glory be to God.
Rector of the churches of East Dean with Friston and Jevington, East Sussex
He was an atheist who prided himself in his ‘evidence based’ scientific approach to life. I was next in turn to speak and basically ripped up my prepared speech to begin by simply responding: ‘You have now’. As a Christian for over 35 years and a minister for over 25 you would of course expect me to believe in prayer — or rather to believe in the One who answers prayer. Over my life I have experienced many answers, questions and responses to prayer. I have wrestled, struggled, practised and denied prayer. But of one thing I am certain — I am able to write this today because of answered prayer.
Pool of blood
In October 2011, I collapsed in a pool of blood outside my church after conducting a wedding. Although spectacular it was not considered to be too serious — a couple of bleeding ulcers should have been easily dealt with by a routine endoscopy procedure. Except that from this point on nothing was routine. Three endoscopies could not stop the bleeding and my lungs almost drowned in blood. I have little or no recollection of the several weeks I spent in the Intensive Care Unit in Ninewells Hospital, Dundee, but I have since been told that three times I came close to death. The inability to breath, e-coli of the lung, numerous infections, a haemoglobin rate of 4, and finally pneumonia all threatened to end my life.
My family at one point were told that there was nothing that the hospital could do, that I was unlikely to make it through, and that it was now all up to me. Little wonder that my wife was incredulous — up to me?! I was comatose and unable to move, communicate or do anything. Thankfully it was up to someone else.
Of course my family were praying. As were friends and the church. Apparently even in my delusional state (brought on by the drugs that had to be administered) I was asking for prayer. At one point I even wrote that people should be called to fast and pray between 3.00 and 4.00 pm one particular afternoon. I guess I figured that people could manage to fast for one hour!
But people did pray — and then some. There are three extraordinary aspects of this that stand out in my mind. Firstly, on one particular Sunday the whole Free Church were asked to stop what they were doing and pray at 12 noon for my recovery.
Secondly, I have received many reports from people to the effect that they would be woken in the middle of the night with a strong urge to pray for me and could not go back to sleep until they did so. It seems as though God gave the burden for prayer and then answered the prayers he inspired.
Thirdly, I am reminded of Augustine’s prayer, ‘O Lord, command what you will, and give what you command’.
What to pray?
Sometimes it was difficult for my family to pray. What could they ask for? How could they express what they felt when they saw me agitated, in agony and at times in great spiritual and emotional turmoil? There were no words. Except there were. God’s words. And especially those given to us in the prayer book of the Bible — the Psalms. They were so precious, real and emotional. We used them every day. Psalms like Psalm 91 were read or sung to me every night. In fact, the whole time I was in hospital I did not go to sleep at night without a Psalm. And, as a Presbyterian brought up in a tradition that prayer should be un-rehearsed and generally not written down, I was surprised at how helpful I found the prayers in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
And the prayers were answered. One night lying in the High Dependency Unit I knew that I was going to get better and that God still had a role for me on this earth.
Since then I have lived every day grateful for life and for the particular answer that was given to myself and so many people in answer to prayer. I say particular because, of course, there could have been other answers. As my son, Andrew, pointed out: ‘If Dad dies then that too will be an answer to prayer’. And so it would have been. The atheist cited at the beginning of the passage, upon hearing this, stated that that was not fair because then God wins every way. Indeed he does. And that is totally fair. As a Christian I believe that God works all things together for the good of those who love him — even illness and death. ‘Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints’ (Psalm 116.15, KJV). One day I will die — until then I will live on this earth thankful to God that I am living proof that prayer does indeed impact lives.
This article is a chapter from How Prayer Impacts Lives: 41 Christians and their Conversations with God, edited by Catherine Mackenzie and recently published by Christian Focus (ISBN 978 1 781 911 310, £7.99), and is used with permission.
http://www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057