The Church that Was: The Decline and Fall of the Church of England

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The mission of St. Augustine to England’s green and pleasant land may come to an end in the 2060’s. The Reformation looks to be ending too. What happened to the Church of England?

The doom of the Church of England has been written about for decades. And for good reason. The number of its communicants have been plummeting for decades. On current projections, its total extinction will occur at some point in the late 2060’s.

Despite this, we learnt this week from the Daily Telegraph (among other sources) that the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has been having meetings with Pope Francis in order to stitch up the differences and reconcile the Anglican Communion with Rome.

It is a fairly clear sign that as far as the Church of England is concerned, the Protestant Reformation is over. Finished. All water under the bridge! A mere flesh wound of 500 years which can be smoothed over in about 30.

A hundred years ago, hardly an Anglican on the planet would have countenanced a return to Rome. In fact, the articles of religion that are still contained in the Book of Common Prayer are fundamentally incompatible with the doctrine of Rome.

But the articles of religion were the product of Reformed men. They are meaningfully rooted in the Protestant re-discovery of the pristine biblical doctrines of the true Christian Church. These documents are not written in the flexible, malleable, inoffensive, fundamentally meaningless language of the 21st century where even the possibility of absolute truth has largely been consigned to the dustbin of history.

If the Church of England ploughs ahead with its rapprochement with Rome, then these articles of religion are ultimately destined to become mere historical artefacts.

Of course, this development will not be as violent as it might seem. Many Roman Catholics and Anglicans can hardly articulate their own church’s doctrine anymore. Yet they do like fuzzy, warm sentiments about unity. In an emotional age, feelgoodism is sure to triumph over uncompromising doctrine inked onto pages. Out with the old! In with the new!

In any case, I find it hard to see this outburst of ecumenicalism to be entirely principled.

It certainly has nothing to do with doctrine, since the official doctrine of both Rome and Canterbury are mutually exclusive. In fact, the respective documents still say as much. Rome’s documents anathematise Protestants. And there are similar imprecatory  passages in Protestant documents. Previous generations were not timid when it came to laying on the line what they actually believed. Their forthrightness is now an obstacle to be bulldozed over.

On the other hand, reunion does serve two selfish, political interests.

First, any reunion of the Church of England with Rome would secure a place in the history books for the Archbishop that seals the deal. And fame and glory for being a great healer of division is surely desirable. One might even get column space in an encyclopedia next to Nelson Mandala or Martin Luther King (Jr)!

Second, reunion would be a surefire way to keep the Church of England alive. In its current condition, its life is ebbing away on an operating table in the religious emergency room. The medics are pumping adrenaline into its limp arms and doctors are shouting “clear!” as they press the paddles to its chest. Nurses are wiping the sweat from the brow of surgeons as they perform intricate and arcane measures in the hope of animating the patient.

But once the Church of England is attached to the larger and more vibrant Roman Catholic community, it might not even become extinct after all. Survival has always been one of the greatest political motivators, crystallising hard choices and ushering in radical compromises.

Rulers tend to be surprisingly flexible when it results in their continuance in office. In this instance, continuance in office may require jettisoning core doctrine, or coming to “new understandings” of existing doctrine – that is, reinterpreting the text so that it means the opposite of what its originators clearly intended.

How did it come to this?

How did the Church of England – in the space of about 50 years – manage to alienate its own people, produce biblically-illiterate adherents, decimate its own congregations, transform its priority in the public education system from one of instruction in the gospel to an induction in philosophy, sow scepticism about the most sacred salvific events of the gospel, transform its representatives from respected pillars of the community into contemptible social justice engineers, trash the quality of its own seminaries, and even make itself an open joke on television comedies about the difficulties of finding a bishop in the Church of England that actually believes in God (see: Yes, Prime Minister).

How did this happen?

A scathing article in The Spectator regarding a book that was withdrawn from publication (warning: link contains some profanity at points), hints at some of the causes. It purports to expose what has been going on behind closed doors. The book seems to consist of a blow-by-blow account of sexual scandals and uncharitable in-fighting. It sounds like a cheap and tawdry approach, but even the tawdry can sometimes be illuminating – it can illuminate what not to do.

If the article leaves one with any impression at all, it is the fundamental deadness of the Church of England as a viable Christian community (although, there is a living evangelical wing within it even still that are living for our Lord and Saviour in faith).

The article also gives one the distinct impression that many of its clergy are simply living on another planet. It shows the sad by-products of the absence of concrete and ruthless internal discipline to maintain the purity of the office-holders within the church, and a sorry lack of commitment to the Christian life of holiness, love and self-denial.

Out of it all, the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams emerges as a rather sympathetic figure, caught up in an uncontrollable whirlwind roaring about him. One cannot help feel that he is a basically decent man, and it was precisely because of that decency that he was so cruelly maligned by those he sought to serve and lead.

A memorable, but unkind, passage from the article presents him in these terms:

The former Archbishop of Canterbury emerges as a high-church Welsh mystic who felt more at home in Narnia than in England, where village fetes were more sacred than Holy Communion. We read that he ‘had no glib answers to the problems of human tragedy and suffering’ — or to any problem, for that matter. He expected his bishops to ‘worry at the truth like patient followers of Wittgenstein’. Instead, they kicked him around because they knew he could be bullied.

All of this is a tragic reflection of the reality of the old mainline denominations.

So much of what occurs within them is far from what Christ indicated would characterise his true people. The overwhelming picture given by the article is that the Church of England, to a very great extent, has ceased to be a communion of brothers and sisters united in doctrine, purpose and energetic commitment, and more a loose confederacy of warring tribes who do not even agree on who Christ is, much less what the church is for.

Minister: The War in the Middle East is a Proxy War between Russia and the USA

 

 

Anglican Canon Andrew White, the “Vicar of Baghdad”, has pastored one of the most dangerous churches in the world: St. George’s Church of Baghdad.

In Baghdad, converts are often killed within a month of their conversion. Many of the children of the parish call him “abba”, for they lost their own daddies in the fighting. Rocket attacks and bomb blasts were a common occurrence.

The canon has been hijacked, kidnapped, locked up in rooms splattered with body parts, held at gunpoint, had members of his staff murdered, and had to raise tens of thousands of dollars to pay the ransom for others who were kidnapped. If this were not enough, Andrew White also suffers from multiple sclerosis, which accounts for his balance problems and his somewhat slurred speech.

The canon is famous for the depth of pastoral love he has for his Iraqi people, and for boldly and insistently declaring that in the midst of all this horrendous evil, the Christians at Baghdad saw visible manifestations of angels and regularly experienced miracles such as the dead coming to life after being prayed for. Moreover, he said, the church always was provided for even when it seemed like the financial well had run completely dry. No matter what happened, they always had just enough money each month to be able to feed their people, maintain the parish, and also operate a free hospital (Andrew White is a trained surgical practitioner).

To find a minister in the Church of England who holds to a fully-scriptural and orthodox Christianity is a marvel in its own right; to find one who genuinely believes in the Triune God is more amazing still, and to find one who both believes and has experienced the supernatural workings of God, marks him out as a truly extraordinary fellow indeed.

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Canon Andrew White doing his daily rounds in St. George’s parish, Baghdad.

On one occasion, the canon observed that Eden was located in Iraq. “This is where it all began,” he said, “and who knows, maybe this is where it will all end as well.

These comments came back to me yesterday following a truly remarkable interview given by the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Julie Bishop.

Ms Bishop is not a lady to speak lightly. Like most skilled diplomats, her words are measured and she speaks advisedly. She knows that words can be bullets. Nonetheless, on national television, Ms Bishop announced that the middle-east now consists of a proxy war between the United States and Russia.

Below is part of the transcript. The interviewer’s name was Barry Cassidy:

BARRIE CASSIDY: Now on Syria and the bombing of Aleppo in particular and the suggestion that the Russians have been involved in that, what is the relationship now between the US and Russia?

JULIE BISHOP: Well, I witnessed two meetings between the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the US Secretary of State John Kerry. Let me say that all trust has broken down. Neither side trusts the other side and while ever the Assad regime, backed by Russia… believes that it can win militarily over the opposition groups backed by the US and the Gulf countries, the killing and the war will continue. Likewise, the opposition groups believe that they can defeat the Assad regime militarily. I believe that all options have to be on the table. It seems that Russia has given up any pretence of a ceasefire at this point and the violence and the atrocities going on in Aleppo are unprecedented.

BARRIE CASSIDY: But if all trust is broken down, will they continue to talk?

JULIE BISHOP: They must. They have to continue to talk because the indiscriminate bombing is killing thousands of civilians. It is a humanitarian disaster on an unprecedented scale. Nothing we’ve seen in our lifetime. And the international community is willing both Russia and the US and their supporters to sit down and try and find a way through this. A ceasefire is absolutely central so that humanitarian relief can reach those in need. But we need to find a political solution to what is essentially a civil war and then, of course, ISIL is operating in the vacuum.

BARRIE CASSIDY: Are we anywhere near a point where the US might start bombing the Assad regime and what would be the consequences of that?

JULIE BISHOP: That would be an all-out war. We are currently seeing a proxy war between Russia and the US and other players in this disaster but I urge all of the parties to continue to talk. There has to be a diplomatic and political solution, not just a military solution. In fact I don’t believe there will be a military solution and one option would be an arms embargo. One option would be for both sides to withdraw military support from the regime, from the opposition groups and force them to the negotiating table.

Terrible things are taking place in the middle-eastern nations. It is a whirlwind that is spitting out refugees, and sucking in nations and arms to ever-expanding war. And now two of the world’s most powerful nuclear-capable nations, one on the verge of electing a volatile real-estate tycoon as leader and the other with a virtual dictator in charge, no longer trust each other. In fact, they are fighting their conflict via the proxy of different sides in the middle east. This does not portend well.

“Watch and pray.”

Charismatic Nuttiness: Baal Worship comes to America?

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The replica of the Palmyra Arch, destroyed by ISIS in October, 2015. This reasonably nondescript Roman archway was recreated using 3D printing technology and put on display in a New York City park. According to charismatics, this exhibit signals the arrival of Baal in the United States. It seems Baal litters the world with easily identifiable clues as to his whereabouts, in this instance an 11-tonne lump of moulded plastic.

There are those who seek for signs.

A great number of these people fall within the charismatic camp, which is a movement so frequently riven with heterodox opinions. Heterodoxy is the natural result of a small army of self-appointed “prophets” who deliver “revelations” to the charismatic faithful. These revelations range from idiotic musings to a mash of scripture and commentary, blended with a tincture of politics and a liberal splash of imminent doom.

People caught up in the movement – and I know a few – seem to live lives of ceaseless supernatural drama. They crave it. Perhaps their lives are so boring that the only way they can realise some purpose in their daily existence is to imagine a constellation of supernatural workings surrounding them, both demonic and angelic. The charismatics I know interpret every dream, every international news event, and every happening in their personal lives as a “sign”, or the voice of God, or a portend of the apocalypse. Usually a portend of the apocalypse. The nuttier drivers of the movement appear to find supernatural signs in their morning cornflakes. So ubiquitous is this characteristic of sign hunting, that it seems to be the logical and inevitable outworking of charismatic doctrines.

Our Lord, of course, warned people against seeking for signs (Matthew 16:4). God-honouring faith should not require them. Indeed, a person who lacks faith in the integrity and the quality of God’s word – as many charismatics seem to – will lack the fundamental prerequisite for meaningful knowledge of the Almighty. After all, without faith, it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Nonetheless, God in his great mercy sometimes does provide his people with authentic signs to demonstrate the reliability of his Being and purpose, and these actual signs have been recorded in inerrant scripture for our edification. As C. S. Lewis once pointed out, the authentic signs and miraculous works of God never have the quality of fiction to them. They could not ever be lifted from the script of a supernatural teen drama series, unlike the ruminations of many charismatics which seem to indeed be strongly influenced by supernatural television drama.

Too many charismatics seem to imagine that the devil and the demons litter the world around us with signs of their activity, like the exhaust of a passing engine. To wit, a few days ago, Charisma News reported the following story that follows the charismatic script to the letter.

It turns out that a 3D printed plastic replica of the ancient stone archway in Palmyra destroyed by ISIS was erected in a public park in New York City. Because this 2,000 year old Roman archway once connected a main thoroughfare to the entrance of a temple to Baal, charismatics immediately “exposed” the fact that… yes, you guessed it, that this replica archway is a sign that Baal has come to America. (Cue sinister organ music.)

(For an immeasurably more sober account of what is going on, read here.)

It is my contention that charismatics who promote this kind of nonsense bring disrepute to the gospel of Christ, which first and foremost is a reasoned and logical presentation of truth. Part of the inestimable glory of the gospel is that it is divine knowledge with a power unto itself. Humble, long-term exposure to this knowledge changes a man into a wiser creature, a more sensible creature with mature habits of thinking, who is thus equipped to really and properly enter into a loving relationship with God. One never gets the impression from the New Testament that the first Christians were jumping at shadows, or trying to divine the future by using the news headlines in the same manner that a shaman might once have employed the entrails of a bird.

These sorts of charismatic claims are juvenile and childish. They do not betoken tutored or sober minds that have been nourished by the word of God. Moreover, such claims are also utterly illogical. By the logic of the Charisma News article, any ancient archaeological religious artefact that is brought to a country must be a “harbinger” of doom or a sign of some demonic entity’s day of visitation. It must be very perplexing for charismatics, (should they consider the matter deeply at all), that most national museums in advanced Western countries hold collections of pagan religious artefacts and have done so for a long time. These artefacts are essential pieces of the historical record.

I simply refuse to accept a Christianity that is so intellectually sterile, juvenile, and fearful that a plastic replica of an ancient doorway is cause for alarm. Such a Christianity is not that of St. Paul, or of C. S. Lewis, or of St. Francis, or of Martin Luther, who despite his famous wrestling matches with the devil, was a level-headed fellow who did not engage in omni-directional emoting but produced considered argumentation. He did not interpret every change of wind as a sign of coming doom.

If it were not for the painstaking archaeological investigations of scholars both Christian and non-Christian, we would know very little about the ancient world and therefore our understanding of the biblical past would be much impoverished. Sensible Christians should never be afraid of evidence or of knowledge, which when rightly interpreted through the prism of a God-honouring intellect, always enhances and enriches our wisdom. It helps us to grow and learn, not just as individuals, but as as Church.

Charismatic nuttiness, of course, is the direct function of certain presuppositions and first principles. If a person lives in a reality where the devil leaves easily identifiable demonic signs everywhere – in this instance, an 11-tonne plastic archway in a public park – and if a person buys into the (largely American fundamentalist) idea that America is so extraordinary and exceptional that it must feature prominently in any end time prophecy, then of course these signs will form the links in the fabric of a worldview. Or more correctly, these signs will form the iron bars of an intellectual cage.

To such irrationality, I prefer scripture which is rational and sound above all things. In scripture, Paul tells us that idols are “nothing at all”. Indeed, a person may even eat food sacrificed to idols in a clear conscience (1 Corinthians 8) providing he does not violate the conscience of his brother by so doing. Now, if it is true that an idol is “nothing at all” other than a misshapen lump of wood or metal, then it is most assuredly true that a 21st century plastic replica of a 2,000 year old Roman archway that once linked a street to a temple is “nothing at all” as well.

This archway has no moral quality to it. It has no power. It is merely a moulded form that bares some resemblance to something else. It is a copy, and therefore lacks the essential qualities of the thing that it imitates. It is not being used for purposes of worship. It is not being used to revive a cult of Baal in the United States. If anything, it is being used to strike a note of defiance against ISIS – which is a real evil in the world.

The devils do not work according to the dictates of ancient and medieval superstition (or according to the silly tropes of Hollywood!), which imagined that this object or that totem could somehow take upon itself a power and must therefore be regarded as having moral agency all of itself. The devils work by corrupting men, not by inhabiting things.

This is where charismatic nuttiness becomes dangerous and even corrupting. For if you buy into the idea that this plastic archway is a revival of Baal worship, then you have to also (logically) buy the idea that ISIS were doing God’s work by destroying the ruins in the first place. Are any charismatics prepared to embrace the logical overflow of their worldview?

Lutherans Regret Abolition of Women’s Ordination in Latvia

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The German Evangelical webpage featured an article that outlined the regret among various Lutheran leaders when Latvian Lutherans voted to abolish women’s ordination.

There is nothing particularly groundbreaking about that, of course. The mainstream churches of Europe have so deeply sunk into secularism and theological liberalism that true Christianity now resides in exceptional pockets. It is no longer the norm. One needs to go as far afield as Africa or Asia to find mainstream churches that faithfully retain their deposit of orthodoxy.

What is instructive about this article, however, are the arguments made by supporters of women’s ordination. Their arguments bear the unmistakable imprint of secular reasoning. It is a powerful indication that feminist philosophy has deeply infiltrated the Lutheran World Federation, (not that there was ever much doubt about that). [Read more]

New Roman Catholic ‘Social Gospel’ Advertising

The new “Catholics Come Home” videos show unmistakable evidence of the “Francis Effect”. Check out these millennial-friendly, gospel-void advertisements… no, not for a mobile soup kitchen or an environmentalist lobby group, but the Roman Catholic Church. You could get confused!

 

 

Bishop of Durham Dies

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The Bishop of Durham has died, at the age of 91.

As bishop, he was famous for denying on television the virgin birth and the resurrection of Christ. In fact, not only denying the resurrection but actively ridiculing it.

Three days after being consecrated in 1984 in York Minister, the building was struck by lightning and devastated by the subsequent fire. Not unreasonably, for those who believe in a Sovereign God, this was interpreted by some people as a sign of God’s divine displeasure. Predictably, this was ignored by the Church of England for whom God’s wrath is now merely a remote theory, probably reserved for people who do really evil things like owning shares in a petrochemical corporation.

In 2005, he was one of the first clerics in England to participate in the blessing of a civil partnership between two homosexual males. In 2006, he was banned from preaching in a number of his local churches for using language deemed irreverent – terms like “bloody” and “damn”.

Well we may mourn such a man’s passing. To deny the resurrection is a sure sign of being outside of the orbit and boundary of salvation, of never having met the risen and glorified Christ at any point on our personal Damascene Road. Furthermore, to promote conduct explicitly repudiated in God’s word does indeed bring the wrath of God – in this life or the next. “Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19). This text rules out any hope that a person who wilfully, persistently, and stubbornly preaches error will enter the kingdom of heaven.

The bishop’s long life – evidently blessed with child, and an equally long-lived wife – is a testament to the long-suffering and kindness of God who lavishes grace and generosity even upon his enemies. May we bless God for his goodness toward men, and watch unto our own souls, examining ourselves “to see whether we be of the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Bomb Attack in Philippines after Week of Fighting

News is trickling through of a bomb attack on a night market in Davao, Philippines. This is the home town of the current President, Rodrigo Duterte.

14 people have been killed and at least 60 injured.

The President has declared a “state of lawlessness” to exist in the region, and both police and armed soldiers are being deployed.

There is some confusion as to who might be responsible for the attack. The President has suggested drug syndicates might be responsible, and that may not be an unreasonable assumption given the President’s extraordinarily tough measures on drug users and sellers that have seen thousands shot (CAUTION: link contains very graphic images).

Nonetheless, a militant group that the Philippine government has been battling has publicly claimed responsibility for the murders. The group is called Abu Sayyaf.

Last Monday, in intensive fighting, 12 Philippine soldiers were  killed in an offensive against the militants.

Note that, consistent with the rest of the world, much of the conflict is located within an urban environment, the battlefield of the 21st century.

Here is fresh evidence – as if we needed any more – that the everlasting gospel is always relevant, and always necessary. Human conflict, itself the product of human sin, has never departed out of the world. Peace remains as elusive today as it was when Cain first smashed his brother to death at the beginning of the world.

May Christ’s true people discover, as the expansion of evil continues commensurate with the expansion of the human population and its ever-greater concentration in urban centres, that there is a divine peace that He alone can give.

Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.

 

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