Tuesday, May 27, 2008

"Without affirming the uniqueness of Christ... the Church of England will forfeit any claim to the Gospel"

Albert Mohler reports on Paul Eddy's challenge to the Church of England: which boils down to should those of other faiths be evangelised? Is the gospel just for those who are already Christians or is there any evangelistic mandate...

The fact that the question needs asking is alarming in itself! One of the things that struck me about Mohler's address at T4G in April was his observation that once you abandon the authority of scripture everything else quickly unravels. Exhibit 1: The Church of England. I love *much* (not all) of what the Theoretical Church of England stands for. Sadly the CofE I have affection for doesn't exist (and possibly never did). It's the CofE personified by Latimer, Ridley, Simeon and co. and outlined in (most of) The 39 Articles. The theory of churches founded on sound doctrine, locally focussed and essentially independent but with some measure of oversight regionally for the church leaders, is a great theory. The CofE has possibly largely given up on this.

The Newfrontiers family, of which we're now a part, seems to be working this out in practice - the challenge is to sustain that. Staying on track in the first generation of a movement is one thing, continuing to contend for the gospel in subsequent generation is not something to be taken for granted.

An ongoing commitment to the evangelisation of all peoples with the Biblically-defined gospel of Jesus Christ keep things going in the right direction. Avoiding the drift takes courage, but more than that it takes deep clarity about Jesus Christ, that he really is the Lord, the only Saviour and the greatest treasure of all.

16 comments:

  1. Lets not get too down-beat, the Bishops may support his motion, well, maybe...

    The 39 articles on which the CofE is based are an outworking of solid reformed theology, and in theory everyone who gets ordained in the CofE signs up to these, in practise people lie!

    But it's not all bad, there are many (like me) within the CofE trying to bring it back to the church that the reformers envisaged, and to do gospel work in our situation... here's 2 examples:

    CofE churches have for years been strong in university cities, usually being the main student church, and supporting the work of UCCF.

    CofE churches are generally the main players in local 'gospel partnerships' working with other churches on gospel initiatives.

    The recent rumblings in Canada with Dr. Packer show that true Anglicans are not bound to their churches, traditions and 'leaders' but to the gospel and the authority of the Bible.

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  2. Hugh, I agree there are great pockets of good stuff - clearly many who take the 39A seriously, plenty who are doing mission, supporting UCCF, doing some work in unity etc...

    "The recent rumblings in Canada with Dr. Packer show that true Anglicans are not bound to their churches, traditions and 'leaders' but to the gospel and the authority of the Bible."

    ..in which case... either, retake the bishopry and reform the thing, or get out! :) [and, i suspect it would take a Bishop Vaughan Roberts, Bishop Gumbel, Bishop Tinker, Bishop Bickersteth, Bishop William Taylor, Bishop P.Williams, Bishop Hugh Palmer, Bishop Mike Cain, and more to achieve a real reformation of the CofE...]

    Particularly since my understanding is that local churches are essentially just vicar-ruled then why stay in? Why not get out of this thing that has to discuss whether Jesus matters to the church... and unite with the other good Anglican and non-Anglican churches....

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  3. I think that many evangelical Anglicans remain Anglicans not only because of the gospel opportunities, but also because they see that their reformation traditions are generally compatible with and expressive of the centrality of the gospel and the authority of the Bible.

    Also, I don't know how outsiders see us, but no evangelical Anglican could ever think of their local church as 'vicar-ruled', given the Lord's words in Mark 10.42-45: 'it shall not be so among you'.

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  4. I do sometimes think "Maybe I should just leave...", but there are 3 reasons why at present I stay:

    1. CofE churches have gospel opportunities which independent churches don't have - some say it's the "best boat to fish from".

    2. Evangelical CofE churches are generally given autonomy to get on with the gospel work they want to do, so the situation is workable at present.

    3. The CofE is at heart a Reformed church, so it seems wrong to leave this great church in the hands of the liberals who will die out soon enough anyway.


    For detailed discussion see - http://www.fows.org/html/body_reforming_the_denomination.html

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  5. 'retake the bishopry and reform the thing'

    That was supposed to be the plan at Keele in '67 wasn't it? Look where that got us. There are apparently 20 or 30 evangelical bishops in the church of england I'm told.

    There is another option though, retake it from the bottom up, not the top down. It is pretty hard to be made a bishop nowadays without having to 'smell good' to a bunch of people that you ought to smell like death to. Hence why lots of 'evangelical' bishops left much of their evangelicalism on the road to becoming a bishop. However, keep doing evangelism, church-planting, discipleship at a local level, and who knows what things will look like in 10 yrs time? Then we might be in a position to see evangelicals made Bishop and really having an impact.

    I think my evangelical friends in the CofE are playing the long game for as long as they can stomach it, and, whilst it's not my battle to fight, I respect them for it.

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  6. I do respect those who are playing the long game, and I hope they 'win' the game. My unanswered questions for them is, how bad does it have to get for you to walk out - what is the breaking point? Is there such a point?

    So long as we keep busy preaching the gospel, I rejoice!

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  8. Bish,

    That's my question for them too. I agree wholeheartedly with you.

    Dave K. (hope u don't mind me chipping in here)

    There's surely a distinction between searching for the perfect church and not taking the appropriate action scripture requires of you. I imagine many of those who leave do so not because the church is imperfect (which all churches always are) but because that imperfection has reached intolerable levels. At what point do you separate from evil, distance yourself from false teaching, testify against idolatry by your removal from it? In short, when does association become culpable?

    I'm not sure I have a neat answer about this stuff with regard to the CofE as it currently stands, but there's more to staying in than simply the question of one's own ability/ freedom to preach the gospel. Who we say we are in fellowship with, who we recognise as family, whether by structural or practical affiliation, does matter surely?

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  9. Hi Pete,

    I don’t mind you chipping in, although I’m not sure that I directed my hastily typed comment at anyone in particular anyway. I’m just wondering aloud.

    There seems agreement between you and Dave that there is a point when we become culpable by association. However that the question of at what point me become culpable is so difficult to answer that I think it may be far to assume that it is impossible to answer because it is not the right question to be asking.

    Did Christ become culpable by associating with tax collectors, prostitutes and Pharisees? Did Paul become culpable when after rejection after rejection he carried on preaching in synagogues? Did Moses become culpable when he identified with Israel and prayed for the nation’s forgiveness when God offered to make a new nation from him? Am I culpable because I am a subject of the UK, subscribe to the Economist, and happily admit to my membership of the Kirkman family – all deeply flawed and indeed idolatrous? In some ways yes I am because in identifying with all of the above, as Jesus did, I am admitting that I am part of the problem. However, this is not a denial of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

    I don’t think there is more to the question of ‘staying in than simply the question of one's own ability/ freedom to preach the gospel’. It is a denial of the gospel to have my ultimate ‘fellowship…family…or practical affiliation’ as anything but Jesus Christ, and his body the church. However that does not prevent me continuing to have fellowship, family and affiliation with my fellow sinful human beings as long as that does not trump my relationship with my God. Indeed Jesus does exactly the same. He identifies with us all, including the Church of England. If however if we reject him, his Father, and the Holy Spirit then that is unforgivable as while he delights in us his ultimate delight is in his himself and the other persons of the Trinity (HT John Piper).

    I will obey my government until they actively get in the way of my ultimate delight. I will obey my parents until they actively get in the way of my ultimate delight. And I will continue to worship in the nearest church, and preferably the default established one, until they get in the way of my ultimate delight.

    Luther said ‘I did nothing; the Word did everything’. If we don’t have faith in the word of God to achieve all that God intends it to achieve we are denying God. If we think that the word of God is polluted by being just one voice among a confusing cacophony of voices some of which claim to be of God then we are too afraid of the power of the voices to achieve what God does not want to happen.

    Am I making any sense? I think I am, but please pull apart what I am saying.

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  10. DaveK, you have a point about the lasting presence of the Evangelical Party... I wonder, hypothetically, whether some of the breakaway's would have fared better if those who stayed had left (or indeed one could argue, if everyone had stayed the evangelicals might have taken more ground...)

    Question remains, how bad should it get before you jump... how beneficial is it really to cling to thinking you can reform things - maybe we should just get on with being local church in right partnership with good gospel people.... but in that case why do the Anglican's stay.

    On the NF point. I take your point about there apparently being not so 'solid' people in NF as Adrian and I espouse... but in my contact with now about 8-10 NF churches they've all been pretty good... Not sure where the 'bad' ones are....

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  11. correction: "However that the question of at what point me become culpable is so difficult to answer that I think it may be far to assume that it is impossible to answer because it is not the right question to be asking." should read: "However the question of at what point we become culpable is so difficult to answer that I think it may be far to assume that the reason it is impossible to answer because it is actually because it is not the right question to be asking."

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  13. Yeh, let's not go naming them! Generalisations can also be unhelpful - I find plenty of good Newfrontiers churches and I know there are plenty of good Anglican ones... maybe we shouldn't worry about the rest, maybe there is something we should be doing about them!

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  14. Hi Dave K. Sorry to have not got back to you before now. Exams etc.

    I have a couple of points.

    1. We can't avoid questions just because they're hard and complex. Yes, complexity might affect the degree of certainty we have about our solutions. But, the complexity of a problem in no way absolves us from the hard work, prayer etc. involved in dealing with it and attempting to do so in the light given in the scriptures. I' not sure you're saying otherwise, but it sounded a little that way in the first part of yr comments.

    2. I think what needs to be recognised is that there are different types of association, different kinds of relationship, different kinds of affiliation, and these differences impact levels of culpability in massive ways.

    Otherwise, how else could the bible call for church discipline, i.e. the actual exclusion of unrepentant church members from the church? Or how could it call for separation from and avoidance of false teachers the way that it does.

    In other words, your arguments about family, about tax collectors etc. are maybe not the best examples for thinking through the ethics of church affiliation, because they're different kinds of relationships and affiliations.

    The point is, is it ok for me to associate with covenant-breakers and false teachers in such a way as still outwardly declares them to be my 'brothers and sisters in good standing in the church,' or do `i have other responsibilities in this regard. By associating with family even though they might not believe someone is not pretending to have Christian fellowship. Unless we're able to make these distinction then we can associate with everyone in every way, including multi-faith services. Quite clearly, different relationships and different types of association bring different responsibilities and different ethical implications.

    Obviously the responsibility with false teachers etc. also differs vastly depending on a number of different factors, such as whether or not you're someone who is personally charged with keeping church discipline and order or not (i.e. an elder or something like that), the responsibilty of the bloke in the pew is different here from the Pastor's or indeed the Bishop's.

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  15. Thanks for your further thoughts Pete. You make some good points. I will probably have to think a bit more now before penning a response. On reflecting on your comment on the bus home from work where I read your comment I was thinking that 1 Corinthians is an interesting case for us to consider.

    Paul did tell the church there "not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one". And yet this is also a church that had a significant numbers of members who denied the resurrection (15:12, and of course they had other problems too) but Paul not only associates them but calls them saints and enriched with knowledge.

    I'm away for a few days. Maybe when I come back I will have some thoughts... or maybe not.

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  16. Thanks Dave K.

    I'd want to stress that I'm really really NOT saying that it is now definitely time for evangelicals en masse to be leaving the CofE. I am saying I think it's an issue that needs thinking about, because (among so many other reasons) who we call (even if only by formal arrangement) our christian family matters. The 'good boat to fish from' and 'no church is pure' isn't the end of the question.

    And I know that many many evangelicals within the CofE know that. And most of them are far more godly than me, and capable of rising to the challenges ahead.

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