Introduction: Nothing New
There is nothing new under the Sun.
"The doctrines of true religion are overthrown. The laws of the Church are in confusion. … There is a complete lack of men shepherding the Lord's flock with knowledge. …Just judgment is a thing of the past; and everyone walks according to his heart's desire. Vice knows no bounds; the people know no restraint."
So wrote Basil the Great in the 4th century in his Letter to the Bishops of Italy and Gaul.
Encouragements from the United Methodist Church
Now let me tell you what happened two weeks or so ago in the United Methodist Church at a Special session of their General Conference in the US where they have been divided as all the Protestant Churches.
But they voted for a Traditional Plan and this defeated a One Church Plan. The result was that it …
"Expands definition of 'self-avowed homosexuals' to include persons living in a same-sex marriage or union or who publicly proclaim themselves to be practicing homosexuals;
Explicitly prohibits bishops from consecrating bishops, ordaining or commissioning clergy who are self-avowed practicing homosexuals;
Establishes a minimum penalty for clergy convicted of performing a same-sex wedding of a one year suspension (first offense) and loss of credentials (second offense);
Explicitly prohibits district committee and conference board of ministry from recommending a candidate for ministry who does not meet the standards, and orders the bishop to declare any such unqualified candidate out of order."
United Methodist Church, General Conference Resolution 2019
1. How do we plan for reformation of Church and State?
How do we work for such change in the Church of England?
Last year at the Jesmond Conference our subject was "Sexual Chaos" and we had some suggestions based on the three things needed for the health and survival of any human society: one, a domestic order (marriage and the family); two, a political order (including economics); and, three, a spiritual order.
a) Restore marriage and the family
So a key agenda item then and now needs to be restoring marriage and the family, both for the sake of the Church and State.
And action is called for in the Church of England now independently of the dysfunctional General Synod, where, as Philip Turner says,
"what parades as reflection and dialogue on the whole is no more than impassioned repetition, within a political controlled space of hardened positions."
What are the facts on marriage from the Office for National Statistics? The latest are the 2018 figures and it is reported that …
"Marriage rates for opposite-sex couples are now at their lowest level on record following a gradual long-term decline since the early 1970s. The number of marriages between opposite-sex couples decreased by 3.4% in 2015, compared with 2014."
2. To restore marriage we must address six factors:
So what are the particular causes we must address in the Church of England for what is happening with respect to marriage and the family, for obviously there are many factors?
a) Destablising of the sexual culture – extreme feminism and homosexualism
First, a major problem is the destabilizing of the sexual culture by extreme feminism and homosexualism both of which, especially the latter, punch far above their weight for a range of reasons. For there are only 2% Lesbian Gay and Bisexual people (and add a tiny percentage point for the Transgendered) according to the Office for National Statistics. However, for example, the BBC has pledged that by next year 8% of its workforce will be LBGT! And the Church of England has been not insignificant in promoting unawares such homosexualism and giving it a level of supposed divine sanction.
b) Modern Marcionism – cutting out parts of the Bible
Secondly, modern Marcionism in the Church of England has been a very serious but subtle cause of our problem. Marcion in the 2nd century adopted the heresy of only wanting Paul or portions of Paul and parts of Luke as his Bible.
He rejected the God of the Old Testament, and much of Jesus' teaching that has come down to us. And he certainly rejected the Pastoral letters of Paul and the General letters of James, Peter, John, Jude and also Revelation.
A softer Marcionism has been standard fare among many liberal theologians and so then among the leadership in both Church and State today. They do not entirely copy Marcion. Instead of rejecting those New Testament books, they accord them second division status. So when those books speak politically incorrectly for today, such as Jude on Sodom, and some clear teaching in Revelation, they are glossed over, ignored and, their implications disobeyed.
But Thomas Oden says by contrast:
"When we allow ourselves to be addressed by these letters, however, we discover to our amazement that they represent not a deterioration but a marvelously spirited, vital, and maturing phase of early Christian theological development. They struggle with the meaning of ordination, the continuity and stability of the tradition, the nature of the pastoral office, the criteria for doctrinal definition, and the distinction between heterodoxy and orthodoxy – all issues that face us today. These are problems that could not have been taken up until the church had gained several decades of experience and had faced up to the reality that it would have to continue to deal with ongoing history, governmental authority, and serious challenges to it from within and from without."
So what was the situation in the wider world towards the end of the 1st century?
"The crucial question before the churches then was: How, in a period of cross-cultural pluralism, syncretism, political alienation, and vast historical mutation, is it possible to pass the tradition learned from the earliest Christians on to succeeding generations? How can we teach it accurately without distortions, and how can we defend it against interpretations that would profoundly diminish it? It is a life-and-death question that echoes in our situation today."
After Modernity…What? Thomas C Oden
Of course, the early church solved the problem by a clear Canon of Apostolic teaching – namely the books that make up our Bible, by an institutional leadership that was male (when, by the way, outside Pharisaic Judaism there was significant feminism in the Ancient world), by a fierce struggle against heresy and by the discipline of the heterodox.
c) Judgement and hell ignored
So, thirdly this has meant the expurgation of the Biblical doctrine of Judgment and Hell from those books, not least Revelation, but also from the clear teaching of Jesus.
- For example Revelation 21.8 omitted in funeral lectionary readings
That was brought home to me recently. For a main lectionary reading at funerals is Revelation 21. Its first few verses contain the familiar, "He will wipe away every tear, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain" and so on. But the reading stops at verse 7. It omits verse 8, the natural conclusion of that section. This reads:
"But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable [it seems, homosexually active people – from the Greek word used], as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."
That is never heard.
But we need to recover a consciousness of Hell as another reality, the reality where, as C.S.Lewis says, sinners prefer self-righteousness to the righteousness of God and "the deformed sense of satisfaction from holding on to bitterness, resentment and hurt" to the joys at God's right hand. Whether Lewis is precisely true, what is true sociologically, is that belief in Hell is correlated with reduced Crime rates (Economist 3 Sept 2012).
- For example the Commination service cut from the ASB
What is also true is the wipe-out of the BCP Commination Service from the ASB, Common Worship and even the English Prayer Book. That service of God's curses on sins is for use on the first day of Lent. However, Archbishop Welby used the old BCP version on 10 Feb 2016 – Ash Wednesday, There has been no revision of it for ASB or Common Worship. So Welby's action was so rare, it merited national news coverage. But good for Welby, because the service interestingly starts like this:
"Brethren, in the primitive Church there was a godly discipline, that at the beginning of Lent, such persons as stood convicted of notorious sin were put in open penance, and punished in this world, that their souls might be saved in the day of the Lord; and that others, admonished by their example, might be the more afraid to offend. Instead whereof, until the said discipline may be restored again (which is much to be wished,) it is thought good that at this time (in the presence of you all) should be read the general sentences of God's cursing against impenitent sinners."
So this is an authority for the consideration of "restoring discipline" in the Church.
d) Evangelicals opposing Christian intervention in politics
Fourthly, another theological reason is Burke's dictum of evil prevailing when good men do nothing. This is back to the possible difference between Luther and Calvin (or Lutherism or Calvinism).
- Luther: State's role is restricted to punishment
Luther (and Augustine) held that the State is a post-Fall institution to respond to human sin by upholding the common good and executing limited judgment over the community on the basis of a higher law. It main task was in the words of Romans 13 "to bear the sword" and "bring punishment on the wrongdoer".
- Calvin: State's role is to include promoting the good
Calvin (and Thomas Aquinas), on the other hand, believed that the State was part of God's creative intention. At any rate Romans 13.3 and getting the State's "approval" for doing good, suggests a more positive role for the State.
- The Church of England, by its Establishment, ensures Christian involvement in politics
The Church of England is clearly by its Establishment on Calvin's side.
Whether this is the root of the problem on not, such involvement is very different to the view of others. In a well-known Christian book for evangelicals, the author was referring to being asked to back a campaign to oppose the law on Blasphemy; he then argues this was …
"a more extreme example of Christendom thinking [he opposes Christendom], but similar attitudes are reflected when Christians campaign on issues like: Christian involvement in broadcasting; the provision of state-funded Christian schools; the requirement for mainly Christian religious education; Christian assemblies in state schools; the retention of a specifically Christian coronation oath. Latent Christendom thinking is often revealed in the attitude of Christians to education. When we argue that Christianity should be taught in schools and that it should be the dominant religion taught because it is the historic religion of the country, then we are thinking along Christendom lines etc."
Good News to the Poor – Tim Chester
Much more in line with Anglicanism are the Americans, Tom Minnery and Glenn Stanton, in a paper on Family Integrity. They wrote:
"Our society has been reshaping marriage and the family into oblivion. Nearly all of this reshaping is measurably harmful to society and human well-being, and thus something all faithful Christians should oppose. So how do we prophetically and redemptively challenge this change? What is more, how do we do this in an increasingly pluralistic society? First is to realize that Christ has called us to engage the culture. It is a sin to remain silent [there is citation to back this up]. To say our task is solely to lead others to Christ and believe the rest will work itself out, as some Christians do, is shamefully simplistic and fails to recognize the fullness of the lordship of Christ over all of creation, including public life."
Towards and Evangelical Public Policy: 'Family Integrity' Tim Minnery and Glenn Stanton
They then argue that we are not Gnostic and so we must not argue that our faith is unrelated to the real world of flesh and blood. Therefore …
"… we can persuade from the perspective of human well-being, for God doesn't make up his directives for reasons that have no impact on the lives of those he loves. We must show that when we move away from God's ideal for the family, people suffer."
And Minnery and Stanton then proceed with a galaxy of facts to show …
"… the connection between God's rule for family life and the way it corresponds with human and societal well-being. Our Lord's two great commandments – love God and love neighbour – demand we concern ourselves for the health of the family, at home and in the public square. God created the family uniquely to reflect his nature and the glory of the Church in the world; and our neighbour's well-being is deeply rooted in the health of their family."
e) Bishops: illegally promoting homosexual sex
And the fifth factor is when bishops act illegally by teaching, by sleight of hand or of tongue, that homosexual sex is legitimate.
- 'Respecting a person' actually means endorsing their lifestyle choices
For they can seek to canvas support by talking about respecting each person as a child of God (with which we all agree) and, before you know where you are, you seem to be respecting their lifestyle choices. But to respect an identity self chosen because of a temptation that is indulged, enjoyed and celebrated, is not open to the Christian. For the Bible says the indulgence in this temptation, in the euphemism of the Bishops, is especially "dishonourable". The Bible calls it "an abomination".
f) Revision of the BCP marriage service to prioritize 'love' over 'having children'
And as serious as anything episcopal, was a previous set of bishops overseeing the modern language prayer book and the marriage service. The did not stop the alteration of the three purposes of marriage.
The Book of Common Prayer is clear. The first "cause" is that "it was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord" (Genesis 1.28). The second was for the satisfactions of physical sex and the third for love – "the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity."
But in the revision "love" was made primary and "having children" was downgraded. Immediately, it was open to homosexual people to claim that they could fulfil the first purpose of marriage, so why was marriage closed to them?
3. How do we plan for restoration of Church and State?
As we think what we must do, we need to be careful. Both in the mainstream and in our smaller groups we must work for unity.
a) Act to preserve unity but restore discipline
We must keep in mind Ephesians 4.2 and be …
"… with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace."
At the same time we must (Ephesians 4.14-15):
"no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes [that is what we are up against] Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ"
b) Work for "Deep Change"
And finally what is needed is "Deep Change". Deep Change is a business category for large companies that are in "slow death" (See Robert Quinn's book)..
But change won't come from the senior management – those folk are simply working their way towards a pension and keeping their heads down. The bright young things with no loyalty to the company simply jump ship and get security elsewhere.
What is needed is Deep Change – that is where someone embedded in the company sees the issues, and takes action. He usually has to break the rules which are strangling the company to death. Accordingly he risks his job.
And he doesn't have a neat business plan with the future all mapped out. He just does immediately what is obviously necessary and reasonable as far as anyone can see, but that is not far. So he has to build his bridge while crossing over.
And that is what I believe we have to do.
So remember Deep Change.