Talk 2: The Reality of the Present

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Introduction: Canon A5

Among the most important words in the history of the Church of England!

One thing that evidences the genius of the Church of England is Canon A5 and it is for us the primary reality as with think about the future of the Church of England.

The few words forming that doctrinal statement probably are among the most important few words in the history of the Church of England and so have an importance in the wider Church of God. So how we should thank God for them!

1. The History of Canon A5

They first appeared in a new Canon in the revised Canons of 1964 (for Canterbury) and 1969 (for York) and so in the ill-fated 1960s. These words were a beacon of light in that morally and theologically dark period. One or two of us here today were in training for the ministry at that time.

There had been no such direct words regarding, and so clearly summarizing, the doctrine of the Church of England before their final editing. But the Anglican doctrinal "way" that involves unsystematic "Articles" of belief rather than a systematic book-length creed, needs such a summary as an aid to define what is and what is not in error or heretical.

a) Nothing in the 1603 canons to decide what is or is not in error

There had been nothing of this sort in the 1603 Canons and there probably would still not have been in the new Canons had it not been for the controversial 1930 Lambeth Conference. For at that Conference there was a sub-section of a sub-section in the Group dealing with the subject The Unity of the Church that had to produce a "Report on Relation to and Reunion with Episcopal Churches." But in the course of their work the Anglican Bishops in that section had a grilling from a delegation of heavy-weights with long titles from the Eastern Churches. These were under the Most Reverend the Metropolitan of Thyateira, Exarch of the Oecumenical Patriarch in Western and Northern Europe, Apokrisarios of the Oecumenical Patriarch to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

b) 1930: Bishop of Thyateira required clarity over the basis of authority in Anglicanism

Relevant for today is the fact that this Patriarch there in 1930 at Lambeth Palace was the leader of the Church of Thyateira that goes right back to the Church that the risen Jesus had addressed as recorded in Revelation chapter 2, and to whom Jesus uttered warnings that we particularly need to hear in the light of our present reality in the modern world and not least the reality in the Newcastle diocese.

Well, nearly 2000 years later than that letter, the leader of the Church at Thyateira and his delegation not unreasonably were concerned with what the Church of England believed, where you could find what it believed, and who decided, I quote, "authoritatively in the matter of differences of Faith?"

In the reply to the Patriarch's questions reference was made to the Thirty-nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal as places to find what we believe; but there was no one place in 1930 where it explained simply and clearly the basis of the authority those sources had.

c) Draft Canon A5: states the basis of authority but the teaching of the ancient Fathers and Councils is unqualified

So when draft Articles were required for new Canons to replace those of 1603, in 1947 a totally new Canon was drafted as Canon A5 and entitled, Of the Doctrine of the Church of England that said this:

"The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures and in the teaching of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church, and is particularly contained in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal.

Draft Canon A5 (1947)

And a margin reference relates that Canon to those discussions in 1930 at the Lambeth Conference. But do you see the problem?

The teaching of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church is unqualified.

There were, of course, all sorts of heresies in the Ancient Church. So all sorts of weird ideas and doctrines could be legally canvassed as Anglican with those words.

d) Canon A5: Ancient Fathers and Councils are qualified by 'as are agreeable to the said Scriptures'

Thank God, after these draft Canons had gone through the Church Assembly (the forerunner to the General Synod) by the time they were promulged and then made truly effective from 1st September 1975, Canon A5 read (and reads) as follows:

"The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, The Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal."

No longer is the doctrine grounded in "the teaching of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church" but only "in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures."

2. Canon A5: Doctrinal and social implications

And what does Canon A5 mean for today? Many Christians have agreed that that Canon certainly covers or implies for today the following:

  1. The triune personhood of God as the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, and the historical incarnation of the Son of God through the Virgin Mary.
  2. The substitutionary sin-bearing death, bodily resurrection, present heavenly reign, and future return to judgment of Jesus Christ the incarnate Son.
  3. The universality of sin, the present justification of sinners by grace through faith in Christ alone, and their supernatural regeneration and new life through the Holy Spirit.
  4. The calling of the Church and of all Christian people to a life of holiness and prayer according to the Scriptures.
  5. The primacy of evangelism and nurture in each local church's task of setting forth the kingdom of God.
  6. The significance of personal present repentance and faith as determining eternal destiny.
  7. The finality of God's revelation in Jesus Christ and the uniqueness of his ministry as our prophet, priest and king, and the only Saviour of sinners.
  8. The infallibility and supreme authority of "God's Word written" and its clarity and sufficiency for the resolving of disputes about Christian faith and life (See Article 20).

And it includes:

a. The special teaching responsibility of ordained leaders within the every-member ministry of the body of Christ, and the need to provide for its continuance.
b. The unique value of women's ministry in the local congregation but also the divine order of male headship, which makes the headship of women as priests in charge, incumbents, dignitaries and bishops inappropriate.
c. The vital importance of monogamous life-long marriage for the care and nurture of children, and the well-being of human society.
d. The rightness of sexual intercourse in heterosexual marriage, and the wrongness of such activity both outside it and in all its homosexual forms.
e. The urgent need for decentralisation at national, diocesan and deanery level, and the need radically to reform the present shape of episcopacy and pastoral discipline, to enable local churches to evangelize more effectively.

And also it includes the need to serve Jesus Christ in the Church and in the World in a manner faithful to the Holy Scriptures and as his ambassadors in low income communities to bring solutions to poverty (financial, physical and spiritual) and to promote the relevance, truth and authority of the Holy Scriptures (in accordance with the Anglican Thirty-nine Articles of Religion [i.e. Article XX]) in a manner that leads others to trust and serve Jesus Christ in the Church and in the World.

That is the present reality as bequeathed to us in the Church of England and to which doctrinally we need to return; and which we have to maintain against those seeking to destroy that heritage, and then transmit and promote it in the strength that God supplies.

3. The Reality of a Liberal Church

But sadly so much of the present Church of England is a travesty of that heritage.

And not surprisingly the world, of which it is a part and symptom, is in chaos.

a) A liberal church seen by thoughtful students and a liberal professor

Let me give you an extensive quotation from a university theological teacher, who is seeing the chaos and is in the process of changing his mind. He is someone who doesn't like the present reality in much of the Church, as he sees it, for …

"the current generation of post-critical students asks far deeper questions then their religious mentors are prepared to answer on the basis of the prevailing theology of recent Protestantism. They spot empty rhetoric a mile away. They will not abide easy evasions or cheap reassurances. They want substance, not pabulum. They may have their blind-spots, but their hearing is perfect in the presence of double-talk … they expect us to deliver to them the available power of the Christian heritage rather than trendy ideas of minor modern heretics. … These young people … remain the unreported story of this period… The popular press can see no reportable news here. But if one of these young people were to swallow a fish or crack someone on the head with a sign with a four letter word on it or announce with gestures of importance that he or she had discovered a new coital position, you can bet that would be vigorously reported. But that is the nature of news, and it is the very reason why religious teaching does well to pay less and less attention to the press's view of theological importance. When the media become fixated only on aberrations, especially among those who imagine that they constitute some irrepressible wave of the future, they unconsciously collude with the encouragement of publicity for anyone who is odd, provocative, scandalous, or has his or her hat on backwards.

After Modernity...What? - Thomas C Oden

How did this Professor change his mind? Well, he tells us:

"It was the abortion-on-demand movement more than anything else that brought me to this movement's revulsiveness. The climbing abortion statistics made me movement-weary movement-de-moralized. I now suspect that a fair amount of my own idealistic history of political action was ill conceived by self-deceptive romanticisms, in search of power in the form of prestige, that were from the beginning willing to destroy human traditions in the name of humanity and at the end willing to extinguish the futures of countless unborn children in the name of individual autonomy."

But is he right? Do the young want substance not pabulum?

Well, yes and no.

Here is book reviewer James Marriott's views writing in The Times newspaper on 21 February 2019:

"You may remember new atheism. About ten years ago every Waterstones display table in the land groaned under piles of anti-religious polemics, most notable among them Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great, Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion, Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell and Sam Harris's The End of Faith. With the cringe worthy bombast typical of the movement, those writers named themselves the "four horsemen" of atheism. And for a while it looked like they had God on the run.

The "horsemen" gathered once, in 2007: the transcript of their conversation was published this month and it's a reminder of how much has changed since then. Globally, religion is on the rise and The Times recently reported that the number of British atheists actually fell last year. It looks like the new atheists failed to do their job."

However, still an atheist, James Marriott worries that in Britain "the threat to unbelief seems to come less from organized religion than from spirituality" or "some sort of spiritual power." He says "you can see this in the rise of millennial interest in astrology and tarot and the Canadian psychologist and speaker Jordan Peterson's invocations of God and Judeo-Christian ethics." Marriott rightly points out that the new atheists had merely constructed a new "religion" animated by myths of advancement and the power of science which shows "the modern West is the high point of human development." And he notes, I quote,

"that the 'four horsemen' conversation took place the year before the financial crash, an event that challenged received ideas about the inevitable progress of Western Liberalism. To a whole generation of young people, the world looks much more confusing and unstable than it did to Dawkins in 2007."

He is right. We are now post-secularists since that economic crash. But as G.K.Chesterton famously said,

"when men choose not to believe in God, they do not thereafter believe in nothing, they then become capable of believing in anything."

b) A post rational, post secular society and Church

So they believe in astrology and tarot. But we are being post-rational as well as being post-secularist and not only in the world but also in the Church. So you can have, as happened recently, a bishop signing one report for welcoming transgender people with baptismal rites and signing another opposed to such a move.

Hooker would have been horrified with the last General Synod in February with its so called LBGTi+ agenda and so money directed to making the Church fixated on the sexual aberrations of a minority who actually have been an irrepressible wave.

And he would especially have been horrified that our bishops are unconsciously (but some quite consciously) encouraging this minority that is not only provocative and scandalous but sexually involved in what the Bible calls "an abomination".

c) The Stats: Church of England at a record low

Is it to be wondered that the most recent statistics from the British Social Attitudes survey shows that those who describe themselves as "belonging to the Church of England" is at a record low. It has halved in the last fifteen years, with the sharpest decline among 45-54 year olds – the age of many of our country's leaders in both the Church and the State.

4. Failure of the Church and the State

In such a situation it is not surprising that people are not only challenging the idea of the progress of Western Liberalism but, more seriously, Western Liberal Democracy.

a) As Christian tradition fades, so does the political structures to which it has given rise i.e. western political liberalism

For such liberalism only is possible within a strong Christian tradition. As that tradition fades so does its political structures to which it has given rise. The State needs the Church for a liberal system to work. Gladstone put it like this in the 19th century:

"The State and the Church have both of them moral agencies. But the State aims at character through conduct; the Church at conduct through character; in harmony with which, the State forbids more than enjoins, the Church enjoins more than forbids. The Church brings down from heaven a divine principle of life, and plants it in the centre of the human heart to work outwards and to leaven the whole mass: the State out of the fragments of primeval virtue, and the powers of the external world, constructs a partial and elementary system, corrective from without, and subsidiary to the great process of redemption and spiritual recovery which advances towards it from within."

The State In Its Relations With The Church - William Gladstone

So when there is the lack of a healthy Church, there is great hole in society.

b) A healthy State, a healthy Church and healthy families all need each other

But the State does not only need a healthy Church, it needs healthy families that the Church, through its teaching and support, enables.

David Green in his Forward to the study Cultures and Crimes by Norman Dennis and George Erdos states the facts:

"All research shows that the key element in keeping children and young people from crime and disorder has been, and is, their being born into and brought up by a family of their own biological parents, who before the conception of their child were in a self-chosen and socially approved and sanctioned relationship of life-long [heterosexual] monogamy … as contrasted with two per cent of the general population, 25 percent of all prisoners were in local authority care as children, their parents having failed to provide, never having created, a marital family home."

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