Breaking the church/state link


Breaking the church_state link(view original article here)

Given the rise of secular ideas, should the Church of England be disestablished?

David Cameron looks upon Britain as a ‘Christian country.’

His comments came in an article for the Church Times in April. It caused a furore in the press with a collection of 55 anti-religious intellectuals firing off a furious letter to the Daily Telegraph. And atheist and Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg would evidently agree with them. He does not want Britain to be seen as a Christian country – at least not in the historic sense. On an LBC radio phone-in following the PM’s comments he said that he would like to see the disestab-lishment of the Church of England.

All this has brought to the surface the question of whether or not, in 21st-century multi-cultural Britain, any one religion should be given preferred treatment. Surely, Church and State ought to be separated.

Running from the argument

The argument over disestablishment has, of course, a long history. In her novel Felix Holt the Radical, the great 19th-century writer George Eliot touches on the subject with light comedy. Her book is set during the time of the Reform Act of 1832. Old Rufus Lyon, Dissenting minister of the Independent Chapel at Treby in the Midlands, is a central character. In the course of the story Mr Lyon does Sir Maximus Debarry, the local Lord of the Manor, a good turn and, touched by the Dissenter’s kindness, Sir Maximus asks if there is anything he could do for him. After some thought Mr Lyon says there is. He could arrange for a public debate between Mr Lyon and the local rector, Sir Maximus’s brother, the Revd Augustus Debarry, on the subject of the establishment of the Church of England. This is duly arranged. But fearing the debating abilities of Mr Lyon, the rector passes the buck. He deputes the responsibility to engage in the debate to his curate, the Revd Sherlock. There is much excitement. The day of the debate arrives. However, it arrives only for the Revd Sherlock to abscond. He has taken the stagecoach out of town and is nowhere to be found!

Perhaps George Eliot was aware that an argument for establishment is pretty hard to muster from the New Testament. Convinced from Scripture of independency though with a great respect for good gospel congregations still within the Church of England, many of us would find it impossible to argue cogently and biblically for the present state of affairs.

Contemporary Britain is not in the same category as Old Testament Israel. We are not a theocracy but a democracy. The only Head of the Church is the Lord Jesus, not the monarch – much as we respect her.

Atheism and establishment

Many thinkers have argued that to break the link between Church and State would be ultimately beneficial for the Christian faith.

Why is it that Europe is now so strongly atheist, yet America, also a modern society, is not? Listen to what Alistair McGrath has written in his excellent book The Twilight of Atheism: ‘The appeal of atheism in Europe rested partly on its social role as liberator from the bondage of the past and partly on the challenge it posed to the state. In Europe, the phenomenon of state churches (a relic of medieval Christianity) made Christianity an integral part of the establishment. To revolt against the status quo was to revolt against Christianity. But the social situation in North America was quite different. The constitutional separation of Church and State prevented any Christian body from exercising influence save through its function as an interest group. There was no link between Church and State to revolt against, no established church to oppose’.1

The Church/State link of establishment forever allies Christianity with worldly (and therefore failing) governments. With an established church, people can feel as if Christianity has been forced down their throats for centuries. This is one of the great catalysts for aggressive atheism.

America’s wisdom?

But there is another side to this coin. In their book The Right Nation: Why America is Different, John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge write: ‘The separation of Church and State has done more than anything else to preserve religion as a vigorous … force in American life. The disestablishment of religion injected market forces into American religious life. Religious organisations could not rely on the state for subsidies in the same way as, say, the Church of England. They had to compete to survive. This was exactly as Jefferson, one of the most vigorous supporters of disestablishment, predicted. In his notes for a speech to the legislature in 1776 he argued that religious freedom would strengthen the church because it would “oblige its ministers to be industrious and exemplary.”’. They go on to state, ‘Disestablishment also lifted a huge burden from religion. What better way to distort faith than to make it dependent on the whims of politicians? And what better way to debilitate faith than to link it to the pursuit of sinecures and preferment? America was mercifully free from the local equivalents of Trollope’s parsons, who were constantly manoeuvring for official preferment’.2 .

The Queen and the Prince?

It also needs to be pointed out that at present the Head of the Church of England is Queen Elizabeth II, who declares herself to be a Christian. Many of us have been tremendously encouraged by her Christmas Day messages over the last few years which, though showing much respect for other faiths, have seen our monarch speak of her own personal trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. However, Prince Charles, her son and next in line to the throne, does not seem to have a similar Christian faith. The anomaly of having a non-Christian as Head of the Church of England is of course absurd. But it is an absurdity which was bound to happen sometime given establishment.

Long and short

However, although this writer believes that there is no biblical case for an established church in these new covenant times, and that disestablishment would have long term benefits for the gospel, I do have some misgivings for the short term.

If, eventually, Parliament does vote to cut the links between Church and State it will of course be trumpeted by anti-God brigade and the chameleons of the media as a great triumph for atheism and for ‘freedom’. It will be less mainstream than ever to identify yourself as a Christian. The majority of people in our darkened country will see this as yet another reason why they may dismiss the gospel and write off those who believe it as cranks or cultists. At the last census in 2011 some 59% of the population called themselves ‘Christian’ in some sense. That was a fall from 70% in the previous census ten years earlier. I would expect that disestablish-ment would have the effect of seeing that decline accelerate.

No neutrality

I also have misgivings about those Christians who think that somehow a secular State would bring about a fairer deal for evangelicals. The idea is that the secular judiciary would be neutral and be bound by law to treat all religious groups equally – a nice idea but it is a pipe dream.

According to Scripture, a position of ‘neutrality’ concerning the things of God or the people of God is a myth. Already in our increasingly secular and politically correct society we do not see other groups being treated in the same way that Christianity is treated. The blasphemies and derision allowed as acceptable against the person of Jesus in recent years would never be allowed against the Prophet of Islam. Christians are reprimanded for wearing any emblem of their faith or offering to pray with someone whereas to treat those of other faiths similarly would cause an uproar. If this is the present experience of the church then to imagine that things would improve for us once disestablish-ment occurred is hard to believe.

The Bible teaches that Christians are in a spiritual warfare in which there is no one who is disinterested. Secular lawyers and judges are just as fallen as other people and part of that fallen-ness is not only alienation from God, but antipathy to God and his gospel (Romans 8.7). So if disestablishment goes ahead I will rejoice for the long term but prepare for an even more bumpy ride for the short.

1. The Twilight of Atheism by Alistair McGrath, p.162.
2. The Right Nation: Why America is Different by John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, p.324

 

John Benton,
Pastor of Chertsey Street Baptist Church, Guildford and Editor of en

This article was first published in the June 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online www.e-n.org.uk or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Anglican update: Token men?


Anglican Update

(view online version here)

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’.

David Baker,
rector of the churches of East Dean with Friston and Jevington, East Sussex

 

This article was first published in the September 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to EN for monthly updates

Anglican update: The beat of the wrong drum


Anglican Update

(view online version here)

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

This article was first published in the August 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to EN for monthly updates

Anglican update: Always grace and truth


Anglican Update

(view online version here)

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

This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to EN for monthly updates

Anglican update: Changing times


Anglican Update

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

This article was first published in the June 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Anglican update: People and politics


Anglican UpdateThis month’s Anglican Update takes us into the world of the Church of England through the lives of some individuals within it.

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

 

This article was first published in the May 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057

Anglican update: Complementarian is Arian?


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 article was first published in the April 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057