When is failure faithful

Dr. Mike Ovey asks if current evangelicals are in denial about some important matters

image: iStock

image: iStock

A week ago I was at a major Church of England jamboree as a friend was installed in a new and more senior post.

The cathedral was packed, hats and dog collars were on view and just for a moment it was easy to pretend. Easy to pretend that the Church of England was central rather than peripheral in the life of our country and its citizens. Easy to pretend that we are a success story rather than a tale of failure. So too, frankly, with evangelicals. We meet at our conferences, theatres are packed, cafés overflow and for a moment we forget.

Some encouragements but…

I quite appreciate that it is emotive and depressing to talk of ‘failure’, and that most of us prefer something more upbeat. On the other hand, isn’t there a risk of denial? Again, I am not saying there are no encouragements. It is great to hear of church plants, of sinners turning by God’s grace to the Lord Jesus through our outreach. And there certainly is a contrast between an evangelical movement that clings on and just holds its own numerically and the catastrophic downturn in churches that thought theological liberalism was some kind of answer. Obviously, by almost any measure, liberalism has failed in our country, failed numerically, failed in the popularity stakes and failed in faithfulness. If anything, I think those obvious points need to be made even more forcefully now.

Who are we not reaching?

But I wonder whether this doesn’t lead us to gloss over some of our own realities. We rightly admit that there are unreached people groups in the UK, thinking largely of race. We are far less comfortable admitting there are also increasingly unreached classes, and not just the various underclasses in our cities, but classes of entrenched interest and power in the creative and media sectors.

These classes have enormous influence, not wrong in itself, but that influence has been used to reframe what counts publicly as right and wrong. Notable examples have been the support for…(to read more click here)

Dr Mike Ovey

This article was first published in the November issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, articles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Anglican update: sex, truth and love

How does the Church of England manifest genuine truth and love in its public handling of issues to do with sex?
Of course we do not need a ‘balance’ of truth and love — but, rather, a full-on measure of both, together, at the same time. But that is easier said than done. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was right to meet gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell and spend time with him recently. In a way, given the exhortations to love both our neighbour and our enemy — in other words, everyone — it is surprising that none of his predecessors have done so. Peter Tatchell had written a critical letter in the press. Justin Welby’s move was a direct response to this.
It seems to me that in countering Tatchell’s words of hostility with a gracious invitation to meet, the Archbishop was acting far more in line with biblical ethics than the counterproductive and unchristlike ‘tit for tat’ actions of those who responded to the ‘some people are gay — get over it’ bus adverts with a like-for-like slap-in-the-face response from some Christian groups.
The Archbishop has described the meeting as private. But Peter Tatchell was quoted as saying: ‘I got the impression that he wants to support gay equality, but feels bound by church tradition’.

Holding firm
Very recently, Justin Welby told the BBC: ‘The Church of England holds very firmly, and continues to hold to the view, that marriage is a lifelong union of one man to one woman. At the same time, at the heart of our understanding of what it is to be human, is the essential dignity of the human being. And so we have to be very clear about homophobia’. And in an interview with The Sunday Times he has also said: ‘My understanding of sexual ethics has been that, regardless of whether it’s gay or straight, sex outside marriage is wrong’.
Recent weeks have also seen the publication of a report from the church’s Faith and Order Commission (FAOC). Commenting on the document, entitled Men and Women in Marriage, evangelical ethicist Dr. Andrew Goddard commented: ‘Some erroneously claimed the church was now more flexible on blessing gay partnerships, but the press release made clear this was false’. However, he did add: ‘The report fails to make clear that the first and major hurdle facing those challenging the doctrine that marriage is between one man and one woman is that they are proposing that marriage embrace a pattern of sexual relationship [which] Scripture never commends and always identifies as sin’.

John and Durham?
Meanwhile, it was reported that Jeffery John was among candidates to be Bishop of Durham. Writing elsewhere, Dr. Goddard wrote: ‘The Church of England cannot now run away from examination of its teaching in relation to same-sex relationships… The danger is that it will instead simply embrace civil partnerships through playing catch-up with social changes… It would be much better were the Church of England to reaffirm traditional teaching and communicate that vision of human flourishing positively. It could then put its energies into commending those with same-sex attraction who embrace that teaching and pursue that vision, and developing good forms of pastoral support for them, while continuing to explore the appropriate pastoral responses to those who in conscience reject traditional and biblical teaching’. A full measure of truth and love?

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

This article was first published in the June 2013 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