Gavin Ashenden calls for a new Christian scaffolding for the church in England
The Church Society, through its president Dr Gatiss, has offered an enthusiastic case for staying in the Church of England as opposed to leaving it. But the choices before us are less binary than that. Some have left already, but for those who stay, the terms on which they stay need to be altered.
It has become the practice of the C of E to subjugate the authority of the Bible to the prevailing culture and zeitgeist. Dr Gatiss begins his argument by expressing reservations about the lack of confidence his constituency has in the structures of the Church of England.
But the structures are not the issue. When he writes ‘the structures’ I think he means, or ought to mean something else. The problem is not caused by General Synod, as a malfunctioning Synod, or appointments committees mismanaging their agendas. It difficulty is caused by the scale of the way in which the C of E has been taken over by a majority of people in senior and other positions who hold secular, socialist and egalitarian ideologies.
We have for example, been presented with decades of egalitarian gender theory. Slowly but surely, the mystical gender theology of St Paul has been downgraded, ignored and now disowned, even by evangelical Christians, who used to self-define by their admiration of the principle of the authority of Scripture.
‘Equality’ is a rough and uncompromising political too masquerading as a theological proposition. In the form we use it in our culture, It is not found in Scripture. It ought to come as no surprise that if we use this secular, political idea as a lens through which we refract revelation, we will end up with a distortion of the Gospel, Christian anthropology and the Church itself.
‘The equality of genders’ was always going to lead on to ‘equal’ or homosexual marriage. And so, the whole weight of Scriptural narrative which was intended to foster and forge purity in everything from social to sexual relations is being sidelined by the C of E as it adopts this new culture as normal.
Once the office was opened to them on political rather than theological grounds, It should have been obvious that the first generation of women bishops would bring with them as their politico-theological baggage, a passionate belief in the virtues of homosexual relations and marriage. After all, if this political idea of equality has served to get them to where they wanted to be, then it must be honoured and practiced in its other manifestations.
Feminism led inevitably to gay marriage. And gay marriage leads immediately on the exploration and celebration of the ‘Trans experiment’ . In stark opposition to “male and female He made them” the trans community reject the anthropology that Genesis and Jesus bear witness to. The mental distress and confusion of the of the trans community becomes an emblem of secular experiment and gender incoherence that the equality advocates committed to progressive values, within and beyond the episcopate support and promote. This tragic and tiny group of people whose mental maps had become unstuck from their biology, represent the pain and sadness of the greater journey leading beyond the scope of the purposes of God for us.
In a way, the Trans experience stands for what has happened to the Church of England. A politicised self-referential existentialism that cannot handle the difference between conflicted and imaginative self-reference, and a deeper external reality whose authority is rooted in what God has given us not only in our biology, but through revelation.
So what should the faithful do when the episcopate propagates the political and the progressive at the expense of orthodox, apostolic Christianity?
FIGHT OR FLIGHT
The Church of England is an episcopal Church. Episcopacy is not just one form of Church structure or Government over another. It has claims to be rooted in faithfulness to the patterns the Apostles laid down, and the teaching the Apostles bequeathed.
It was until a very short time ago, male, heterosexual and faithful. Feminism and equality have changed it to promote and include female, homosexual and faithless.
This is more than a shift of culture. It is the surrendering of Scripture and the diminishment of the authority of the Holy Spirit to the claims of the Zeitgeist, and a wholly different spirit; an opposing spirit in fact.
This is not then a structural deficit only. It is an abandonment and an apostasy.
In his article, Dr Gatiss is underwhelmed by the witness of those who fled in large numbers to the sanctuary of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches in one direction, and the House Churches in the other.
He is a little dismissive of the numbers he finds in Countess of Huntingdon’s connection and the small but faithful Free Church of England. But if he were to consider that there are now more Orthodox believers at the Eucharist in England than there are Anglicans; and that there are twice as many Catholics as mass than Anglicans; and that the House Churches having grown to contain about a third of the number of worshipers the C of E has, the picture develops a fresh significance. Large numbers of Anglicans have fled into these Churches in protest against the flight from faithfulness of the C of E. But what do we offer those who stay?
IN IT TO WIN?
Slogans may rally the troops momentarily, but they can’t afford to be to disconnected with reality. In the struggle for influence in the Church of England, Anglo-Catholics have been given temporary sanctuary in the “Society’, and conservative evangelicals have been restricted to one and only one suffragan, the bishop of Maidstone. It is widely known and Dr Gatiss acknowledges it himself, that an ordinand or curate holding views that were honoured and normal in every generation up until 30 years ago, have become the new untouchables in Anglican ministry.
THE EPISCOPAL SOLUTION.
For those who can’t, shouldn’t or won’t leave the Church of England, what can they be offered? The fellowship and support that the Church Society and other organisations in the ‘structure’ of the C of E will be of some encouragement.
But heterodox bishops in an episcopal Church are of no more use to the faithful Christian than corrupt police officers are to citizens suffering from civil disorder. They are both a contradiction in terms.
What is needed for both clergy and laity is an alternative source of episcopal oversight offered by bishops who represent, hold and minister authentic Christianity.
Since this kind of bishop has been largely excluded from the genetic modification of the Church of England’s episcopate, such oversight will need to come from people who are Anglican, but outside the C of E.
Obvious sources are beginning to emerge. The Free Church England, which ought to be admired for its devotion to Scripture rather than be decried because it is not mega-church is one obvious source. Instead of being judged by its numbers, perhaps it can be appreciated as a prophetic gift from God, discreetly waiting as a foundation to be built on by a freshly reformed Anglicanism? Cooperative ministries will be found in the bishop be who presides over AMiE, and the new Bishop from Jesmond, the Rt Rev’d Jonathan Pryke.
Leaving aside whether we know enough about Celtic Christianity to claim is as an inspiration for a new way of doing episcopacy, we certainly need a fresh expression of episcopal oversight, comprising of Council or College of Missionary bishops.
What is called for is a new reformation that expresses itself no so much in an ecclesial version of civil disobedience, but a creative semi-detachment from the C of E.
When Dr Gatiss offers us advice from J.C Ryle, “Then let us stand firm and fight on”, he may recollect that although Ryles’ personal ministry was and remains an inspiration, his strategy for influencing the Church of England ended in sorry misjudged failure. He watched his own son sell out to establishment liberalism. We owe our spiritual and personal children better judgement and better prospects than Ryle was able to provide. His advice now, is no more helpful than now, then then. More radical measures are called for.
Jesmond has set the new pattern with its consecration of its missionary bishop, the Rt Rev’d Jonathan Pryke.
It’s most unlikely that the Provincial authorities will stand by while he ministers and flourishes in two worlds – one as a senior curate and the other in a missionary bishop. Jesmond is well prepared for a war of attrition that the C of E is likely to launch against them. It has acquired with a newly re-furbished Catholic Church and now has its own bishop, to ordain and confirm, and consecrate others.
What is needed now in England is a new Christian Scaffolding – an association of different orthodox ministries cooperating to form the Anglican Church IN England – ACIE. It would draw together bishops across the range of Anglican orthodoxy from Jesmond and AMiE at one end, embracing the Free Church of England at the centre, and gathering together other churches to include the Traditional Anglican Church in England and the Anglican Catholic Church in England. Slowly there will emerge other orthodox Anglican bishops. They may spring from parishes of a similar size and outlook to Jesmond.
This will follow the same pattern as the evolved in American with ACNA standing in rebuke and contrast to the secularised and sub Christian TEC.
This is about much more than Dr Gatiss envisaged. It is not an either or for faithful Anglicans. It is the shift of allegiance, identity and resources, including money, from the Church of England to the Anglican Church inEngland.
The Church of England has become exactly that. A church whose values and theology have been defined by a secular and destructively progressive culture. The Anglican Church in England will keep the faith, honour Scripture, and transform the culture it is set in rather than be seduced and distorted by it. Something more singing hymns in a sinking ship is called for.
The faithful in Jesmond may yet prove an inspiration to the Church Society as they live and act out the priorities the Church Society was created to enshrine.