Andrew Symes: Church growth ”“ time to get serious

Concern for ”˜right doctrine’ is not even present in the majority of evangelicals, argues Dr Anna Strhan; experience of God, being in community and speaking the language of hope are more important among charismatic Anglicans, according to her research.

Its easy to see where this is leading. The Pilling Report and the Bishops’ response is largely based on the reasoning we find here. The sociologists writing in the Church Times are describing reality, the “revolution” of which Archbishop Justin spoke last year. The old “Christendom” is gone, but what has replaced it is not a secular state with inevitable church decline but a new opportunity for preaching the Gospel in a new context. And the Gospel is: you can have your cake and eat it! You can have a relationship with God, be part of a warm welcoming community, but be relaxed about theological doctrine and sexual ethics. Those with a more conservative or puritanical streak can still have their congregations, and we do not need to immediately change liturgies or have damaging debates in Synod about official documents. Rather, Bishops and congregations can show by their words and actions that the church is listening and changing, including and affirming, “de-toxifying the brand”. It is this which will arrest decline and promote growth, not anxiousness about the Pilling Report.

There is a variation on this theme which is more acceptable to some conservative Anglicans. That is to say that we should teach heterosexual monogamous marriage and celibate singleness within the church to those who have accepted Christ, but we should not pronounce on sexual morality outside in the public square as if to fight a rearguard action in a culture war which as already been lost. It is too toxic, and Christians who do this are harming the mission of the church.

How to respond to such compelling arguments? Why does it matter that the Church holds on to traditional sexual morality? What has sex got to do with the Gospel, and how can the Church engage with a culture that considers this aspect of its teaching ridiculous and even harmful?

The answer is in the way we interpret the Bible, in how we understand God and the spiritual realm, and in whether we trust him and his word even if it seems foolish and offensive. When a main feature of prevailing humanistic philosophy is to deny God’s clear plan on gender, sexuality and marriage, a main feature of countercultural Gospel preaching and disciple making must be to talk plainly about sex. The idea taking root among some evangelicals that we can promote the biblical Gospel more effectively by not talking about sex and silencing conservatives who do, comes from a love of popularity and fear of offending, and becomes a capitulation to a false and deceptive philosophy.

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Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops

3 comments on “Andrew Symes: Church growth ”“ time to get serious

  1. New Reformation Advocate says:

    A marvelous article: so clear and compelling in its analysis of the problem and what needs to be done about it. Until you get the diagnosis right, you can’t hope to come up with the right treatment.

    Andrew Symes has pinpointed the root problem brilliantly: the liberal and conservative groups within the CoE (or the reassessera and reasserters) have diametrically opposite and mutually exclusive views on what the problem is, and therefore have completely opposite views on what is to be done. Both groups agree on some facts, but evaluate them totally differently, because they operate within completely different worldviews or overall theological/ideological stances. And only one of those stances is biblical or apostolic, and therefore Christian.

    The Liberal approach amounts to mere appeasement of what the founder of Liberal Protestantism, the great Friedrich Schliemacher, apltly called Christianity’s “cultured despisers.” Already in his time (1799), the trend lines were clear. But appeasement of determined foes never works. It doesn’t work with Islamist suicide bombers. And its doesn’t work with determined skeptics of the agnostic sort.

    Symes is right. It’s time to get serious about evangelism, apologetics, and church growth. What is so desperately needed in England is the same thing desperately needed in North America, or Australia, or New Zealand, etc. We must return to the sources, to the headwaters of the Christian tradition. Back to the preaching of the authentic gospel and the teaching of authentic Christianity, as set forth in the Scriptures, as understood and lived out by the patristic church. Not least, the pre-Imperial Church of the Martyrs. The Church not only of Paul, Luke, and John, but the Church of Justin, Irenaeus, and Cyprian (all three of whom gave their lives for Christ and the gospel).

    The Church of the first few centuries took on the mighty Roman Empire, and won, by the grace of God and the power of the Holy Spirit. We can take on the cynical, post-Christendom, neo-pagan society of our time and win too. If we are willing to pay the same price that our spiritual forebears did.

    David Handy+

  2. Hursley says:

    This is indeed a good article, cutting through so much of the delusion and babble used to cover over the truth about our current situation.

    When I spend time with advocates for the New Religion of secularized Christianity, I come away more and more convinced that it is, at heart, the worship of another god. Like most addicts, they will do anything–to anyone–to prove that they are “in control,” but when it is all said and done, their loyalty is to the addiction, not to truth. The author here is unmasking that very simply.

    NRA: I am confident that the coming years will result in very clear decisions for everyone who follows Christ. By that time, those “Laodicean” Christians will be fewer in number, and will largely recant any faith when it becomes inconvenient. The debates and “facilitated conversations” will long ago have been revealed for the sham they are, and faithful Christians will have abandoned them.

    Hard times ahead…yes; but, times of real discipleship and witness to the power of Truth in the face of the Great Lie, of which the pansexual pseudo-Gospel is just one more manifestation in a long line of heresies and apostasies.

  3. New Reformation Advocate says:

    Thanks, Hurley. I agree.

    After some 1500 years of being the favored, privileged religion in Europe, Christianity is now increasingly maligned, openly attacked, and publicly disfavored. Just look at the recent, astounding UN attack on the Vatican for a blatant example. I fear that outright persecution could come upon us much sooner than anyone now expects. And the Church, not least the Anglican Church in the Global North, is woefully unprepared to face such an ordeal.

    We must start getting our flocks ready for the coming trials and travails. Appeasement didn’t work iwth Hitler. It won’t work with hardcore “progressive” either, who see us Christians as the biggest obstacle to “social justice.”

    I fear that time is running out on us. It’s high time to stop the foolish Indaba games. Andrew Symes gets that and nails it in this fine article. I hope that many orthodox folk in the CoE heed his call.

    David Handy+