Why Bother with the Church of England?

It was Friday night. I was looking for the Cardiff Blues game on the channels at the top end of the scale. And there it was; General Synod on the BBC Parliament Channel. I’d never seen it before. I was glued. I saw some familiar faces spread throughout the Church House debating chamber; Chris Hobbs (the St Thomas’ Oakwood one) had a natty crimson red v-neck sweater on. Even though supper was ready, Rosslyn couldn’t tear me away as I tried to follow a debate on various ammendments to a revisionist proposal concerning women and the episcopacy. In the end I just sat there in despair. This was the church that I belong to. And they don’t seem to like having people like me around! It prompted the question, ‘why bother with the Church of England?’

It’s one I revisit from time to time, especially given our precarious position on the edge of all things Church of England. This is Jonathan Fletcher’s answer. And it’s one I’m broadly happy with.

Jonathan’s case for remaining in the Church of England has four key components

1. Theologically the Church of England is, in Jonathan’s estimation, the best presentation of the Reformed Protestant faith. We see that in the Thirty Nine Articles and the doctrine of the Book of Common Prayer. These are the foundation documents upon which the Church of England has been built. Theologically it’s home for reformed evangelicals.

2. Liturgically the principles that lie behind the content of Cranmer’s Services are thoroughly helpful in ministry. Though we may wish to update the language of the liturgy, the priority of ensuring that our meetings are biblical, accessible, congregational and edifying is right.

3. Historically God has used the Church of England to bring revival to this country. Jonathan acknowledges that the C of E is in bad shape at the present. But, as he reminds us (not from personal experience!) it’s been worse than this. Back in the 18th century. And God worked through it to bring the gospel to the nation.

4. Pastorally many people in this country look to the Church of England for the support they need to live for Christ. It’s perhaps especially the case that in Urban Priority Areas and rural settings people look to the Parish Church for spiritual encouragement. Jonathan is unwilling to leave sheep without a shepherd.

It’s a great little video. It’s only 5 minutes long. And it may be worth watching if, like me from time to time, you just want to jump ship altogether!

14 thoughts on “Why Bother with the Church of England?

  1. MichaelA February 21, 2012 / 1:35 am

    I for one am glad to hear that you intend to stick with it -after all, why should the liberals get the CofE to themselves?

    They won’t thank you for sticking around of course. I hope all of you in CofE who are of a reformed evangelical persuasion are supporting each other in prayer and in all sorts of other ways. You need divine assistance and you need each other!

    • theurbanpastor February 21, 2012 / 9:20 am

      Thanks for the encouragement Michael. Though I fear we’re fighting a losing battle. That may be noble. It may also be stupidity! If insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting the same results, we Anglican evangelicals may also be guilty of that as well! I struggle to think of a single issue in the last 20 years where the biblically orthodox position has triumphed over the revisionist alternative! (I’m hoping I’m wonrg on that!)

      • MichaelA February 27, 2012 / 7:27 am

        Richard, I am not going to pretend to know the answers. This issue seems to be exercising a lot of minds at present: John Richardson helpfully refers to his recently published book below, and Julian Mann at Cranmer’s Curate recently wrote an article entitled “Reasons for staying in the Church of England”, see http://cranmercurate.blogspot.com.au/2012/02/reasons-for-staying-in-church-of.html.

        One comment by Julian especially caught my eye: “A new orthodox Anglican denomination in the UK following the advent of women bishops would benefit from gospel partnership with those staying in the Church of England and vice versa.” It seems that a number of solutions may be under consideration, by different people.

  2. John Richardson February 23, 2012 / 11:48 am

    At the risk of self-publicity, may I point you to my book ‘A Strategy that Changes the Denomination’, that attempts to take us beyond mere survival as a ghetto or enclave within the Church of England into effective instituional change? I have outlined why I think Anglican evangelicals did not achieve this in the post-war era, despite the fact that the publication of ‘Towards the Conversion of England’ ostensibly committed the Church to an evangelizing agenda.

    The real need is for evangelism in every parish and every place and it is the failure of evangelicals to identify that need and address it effectively that is the motivation for the book, which gives numerous practical examples of how to make a real difference at the institutional level.

    The book is available on Amazon for £6.50.

  3. John Richardson February 23, 2012 / 12:09 pm

    At the risk of self-publicity, may I draw attention to my book ‘A Strategy that Changes the Denomination’, which argues for ways in which we can do much more than survive in ghettoes or enclaves?

    The publication in 1945 put before the Church of England the task of evangelizing the nation in every parish. Since then, however, evangelical strategy has unfortunately failed to identify and pursue that vision. Hence, not only is the constituency accepted as just one ‘tradition’ (the one that does evangelism) but the denomination is ineffective (mission is wrongly understood as many things in addition to proclaiming the gospel, which is reduced to one amongst five ‘marks of mission’ – an idea now discredited by the very body which first had responsibility for it).

    Despite the pressures on us, the opportunities are immense – especially in an aging institution where the majority of recruits amongst young, full-time clergy are conservative evangelical men.

    The book is available on Amazon for £6.50.

    • theurbanpastor February 23, 2012 / 12:17 pm

      John
      Thanks for the heads up. Be interested to discover what that strategy is, how it should be implemented, whether it has been or not and if not, why not?!
      regards
      perks

  4. John Richardson February 23, 2012 / 12:10 pm

    Ooops – I should have said, “the publication of ‘Towards the Conversion of England’ in 1945”.

    I plead tiredness!

  5. Brooks February 27, 2012 / 6:37 pm

    I’m curious though, under what circumstances would you leave the denomination?

    I’m currently studying to be an ordained minister in the mainline Presbyterian body in Canada. Our mainliners are much further along the wide road to perdition than they are in England.

    Our Anglicans not only have women bishops, but also practicing homosexual clergy!

    This is a real dilemma for us over here – at what point do we break fellowship? I’ve argued that a practicing homosexual clergy is no different from a liberal minister who is skittish on the gospel and the resurrection. Both are functional denials of Christian orthodoxy, and mainliners have put up with the latter for centuries.

    What would your stance be on this?

    • MichaelA February 29, 2012 / 7:57 am

      “Our Anglicans not only have women bishops, but also practicing homosexual clergy!”

      Yes, but hasn’t the split already started in the Anglicans? The Canadian dioceses of ACNA are still small (I think only a total of about 80 parishes so far) but they have the endorsement of foreign primates who lead a majority of the world’s Anglicans. I don’t know how this works for the Presbyterians, but the fracture line runs throughout world Anglicanism.

  6. Brooks February 29, 2012 / 12:33 pm

    Yes, but I think the bigger issue is, what is wise for them to split? What about those who have chosen to remain, in spite of the women bishops and homosexual clergy? The thing that confuses me about this is that the Anglican church has been littered with liberal clergy for centuries. Some have denied the atonement, revised doctrines of sin, etc. All of these are departures from the gospel! So, yes, having a lesbitry for the presbytery is a denial of the gospel, but so is having an old Anglican priest who’s sketchy on the resurrection.

    It seems then that Anglicans like JI Packer are being inconsistent for their reasons to change communions, or the whole argument for staying in these mainline institutions need to be rethought. As for me, I think the reason is the former.

    • theurbanpastor February 29, 2012 / 5:12 pm

      Am I right in thinking that the decision was taken out of their hands? They were expelled from the denomination, weren’t they rather than opting to leave. Or have I got that wrong. I know Church of England Ministers who’ve said that they’ll never leave the denomination. In fact, doesn’t Jonathan say that in the video clip above?

      I guess the question of whether you leave a denomination is shaped by a number of things. For example, (and this is not an exhaustive list)
      1. What’s the nature of a denomination. It’s not a church and so to what extent am I reponsible for what’s taught elsewhere (as long as I publically distance myself from it). I do not think that I am tainted by the biblical revisionism of some within my own denomination. I’ll stand fro truth. I’d rebuke them if I ever met them. But does God require me to leave what is a foundationally solid denomination simply because there are some heretics now runnig the asylum?! I don’t think so.
      2. What’s the state of my own church. Are they sufficiently well taught to take a principled stance with me? If I’m a new Vicara nd just moved into a chruch without a history of Bible teaching should I leave? Or do I give up a gilt edge gospel opportunity. The situation in teh UK is that people still look to teh C of E in some places fro spiritual leadership – and so do I want to give that up?
      3. What’s the benefit for the gospel by staying? If we lose buildings, opportunities and gospel money by leaving is that sensible?
      Just a few quick thoughts. John Richardson will ahve done a whole more thinking on this than I have. My situation is somewhat different. And I suspect that evangelicals like me will be forced out, we’ll never get round to leaving. And nor should we, probably. Especially if someone can get something else established.

  7. MichaelA March 1, 2012 / 4:24 am

    “The thing that confuses me about this is that the Anglican church has been littered with liberal clergy for centuries. Some have denied the atonement, revised doctrines of sin, etc.”

    But don’t you see a significant difference between then and now?

    In the late 20th century, Jack Spong was a controversial and (in)famous figure in American Anglicanism, because he was virtually alone in his open deifance of traditional theology. The same goes for someone like John Robinson +Woolwich in England. But now in America the Presiding Bishop can publicly declare to her House of Bishops that she will not endorse a statement that salvation comes through the saving work of Christ, and no voice is raised in protest. Surely that is a very different situation?

    The same goes for homosexuality in the priesthood: There have doubtless been many practicing homosexuals in the history of any Anglican Chuch, but the difference now is that church leaders in CofE are openly advocating that practicing homosexuals should be ordained as priests and consecrated as bishops. Surely that is a different situation to just a few years ago?

    Now, I am not saying that orthodox believers MUST leave a denomination as a result – that is a whole different question on its own, and depends on the particular circumstances. For example, in the USA in 2008-2009 some orthodox Anglicans chose to leave the Episcopal Church and form ACNA, while others chose to stay in TEC. Those who remained are in more or less a state of siege with their leaders. But the Global South Primates (who represent a majority of provinces of the Anglican Communion and a healthy majority of baptised members) endorsed BOTH groups when they invited ++Duncan of ACNA and +Lawrence and +Howe of TEC to take communion with them in April 2010. So I am not advocating a particular solution for any particular person, just contending that the situation really is different now, in a way that it wasn’t 10 years ago.

  8. miike September 24, 2013 / 11:20 pm

    What about the dying congregations? the weak evangelism that preaches only to the converted? the lack of any solid identity and the sheepish reluctance to assert one? Do please give an impassioned response if you can manage one, because my experience of the church of england is of a church without energy and dynamism. Try and prove me wrong. No lethargic theological prose please.

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