Jesmond Parish Church and the Church of England
The mission statement of Jesmond Parish Church is Godly Living, Church Growth and Changing Britain. That is because we take seriously the teaching and commands of Jesus. First, comes Matthew 22.37: "you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." That is the secret of 'Godly Living' which involves obeying the Word (for us 'God's Word written', the Bible) and trusting in Christ. Secondly, there is Matthew 28.19: "go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit." That is how we can contribute to 'Church Growth' which involves telling the world and serving the Church. And, thirdly, of course, is Matthew 22.39: "you shall love your neighbour as yourself". That means we need to be practically involved in the wider world and that at least involves caring for needs and contending for truth. So that mission statement identifies us. But if that is who we are, what can I say about "Anglican Opportunities and Challenges" for us? That was the title given me on which to speak for a few minutes during our "Facing the Future" meeting in early September. What follows includes part of what I said then.
The Church of England is in somewhat of a sad state. But it still has great opportunities. For one thing, its fundamental doctrine is excellent. According to the law of the land, that doctrine is 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 39 Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal."
That is Canon A5, a brilliant expression of the English Reformed Christian tradition. But how is that of value to Jesmond Parish Church? It is because of our own founders. They required JPC to be "a central point for the maintenance and promulgation of sound, scriptural and evangelical truth" and in the Church of England. But think about those words.
We have to be concerned with the "truth" (for there is truth). But what truth? Answer: "evangelical truth" (the truth about the gospel [the 'evangel'] which is about Jesus). But which Jesus? One from a sentimental imagination? No! For it is to be "scriptural and evangelical truth" (that means only the Jesus of the Bible). But, you say, the Bible can be interpreted in so many ways. Yes! That is why it is to be "sound scriptural and evangelical truth". And that is where the Church of England's Thirty-Nine Articles are so helpful for defining a "sound" reading of the Bible. In Article XX it says clearly and simply, you may not "so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another." It is that basic principle that gives you "sound Scriptural and Evangelical truth". But, then, regarding that truth, our Founders required two things and both are essential.
One, we are to "maintain it" and not let it be corrupted or eroded. But we are not then just to pride ourselves on a dead orthodoxy. For we are, two, to "promulgate" it – share this truth with others and evangelize. But we are, then, not to be so taken up with evangelism that we fail to maintain the truth when it is being eroded, so that eventually there is little left to share. And that sadly is the case with many folk in the Church of England today. It is that that presents us with challenges – but not just us.
In September someone gave me a somewhat acerbic newspaper article. It was following the survey that found now only 15% say they follow the Church of England (whatever that means) - for only 1.4% of the English population are in a Church of England on a Sunday. The writer complained about the centrist bishops who want to include everything and everyone however good or bad. He said, "Unfortunately today's bishops are too wet to be stirred into action." And quoting Mrs. Thatcher: "If you stand in the middle of the road, you will be run down from both directions." However, he ended positively:
"I believe the Church of England will survive and prosper. It will do so from two ends of the spectrum – its evangelical and its traditional wings, which both offer a clear view. The one part of Anglicanism doomed to failure, alas, is the Centrist element."
Certainly things have been very wrong this summer. A particular rot seemed to set in on 8th June when the Scottish Episcopal Church voted in favour of changing its canons to allow same-sex marriages. Then from the 7th-10th July was the General Synod of the Church of England. Here are the notes of one General Synod member, a gifted lay woman, who was present in York for the meetings:
- At the start about 20 members 'protest' the presence of the visiting Bishop of Edinburgh in the light of the gay-marriage vote. Bishop of Tampere (Finland) also visiting uses his ecumenical greetings to describe how his church is moving forward on same-sex relationships.
- Synod votes against an amendment that sought to define the 'common good' as that which is 'revealed in the Bible and taught by the Church.'
- Synod votes against an amendment urging bishops, clergy and lay people to take every opportunity to commend to all the people of England faith in Jesus Christ.
- Synod votes against an amendment which highlighted a report on the 'uniqueness of Christ' in the context of multi-faith relationships.
- Synod told by the Bishop of Newcastle, Chair of the Pastoral Advisory Group, that Diocesan LGBTI Liaison officers and involvement in Pride marches "do not exhaust the ways that dioceses can offer a welcome."
- Synod votes against an amendment to the "conversion therapy [i.e. helping people deal with unwanted same-sex attraction]" motion – an amendment which affirmed that, "pastoral care, prayer, and professional counselling are legitimate means of supporting people". It votes in favour of calling on the government to ban conversion therapy!
That is just from one week and I could add more from the Synod such as a motion calling on the bishops to consider "nationally commended [transgender] liturgical materials" and, then, how over the summer there were Cathedrals and Bishops involved in Gay Pride celebrations, while some Cathedrals were celebrating the tercentenary of Freemasonry. But regarding the latter, the Church of England 1987 report entitled Freemasonry and Christianity "points to a number of very fundamental reasons to question the compatibility of Freemasonry and Christianity." But how do you respond to all these challenges?
Yes, we have to "maintain" the truth in the face of so many "strange and erroneous doctrines" going around. But how we need to "promulgate" (or promote) the truth as we can. So we need to see more Churches planted and this Church growing. Nor do we want Schism – hence the reason for the method and manner of Jonathan Pryke's consecration as a bishop earlier in the year. Our vision is not to leave the Church of England but to see change and reform, in line with Canon A5 and so the Reform Covenant and the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration and the majority of people in the world-wide Anglican Communion. And I am particularly concerned for the faithful poor in the Anglican Communion as Chairman of AID (Anglican International Development). So we are in fellowship with the Evangelical Archbishops and their Provinces rather than bishops who with their cathedrals and clergy promote and join in celebrations of forbidden sex. So please pray for Jonathan Pryke and I being invited to the third GAFCON in Jerusalem next June and please pray for AID which is to help that constituency - AID which is at a transition point but with all sorts of possibilities and opportunities for the future.
But we must be encouraged by the great opportunities we have here in Jesmond and not least through television, for which we thank God. Clayton TV, our Christian Internet Television Channel (featuring evangelical Bible talks, sermons, conferences, training courses, music and a section for kids), last year had a 1 year goal of 20% growth in viewing figures. But, quite miraculously, we had almost 300% growth this year, from 370,000 video plays to 1.08 million! This summer alone because of Keswick we had 1/3 million video plays in just 3 weeks. We are now also linked with a nationwide TV channel in Kenya, Pillar TV of the diocese of Kirinyaga, a diocese we have long been partnering. They are about to broadcast content filmed here in Jesmond. And a similar request has just come in. So please pray for Zoe Earnshaw and the TV team.
But thank God, as Ian Garrett reminded us as we were "Facing the Future", for a "unique opportunity that the Lord brings us every year". What is that? Answer: "a new mission field of roughly 15,000 new students and visiting scholars." So please pray for Matt Elder as he takes over as our Student Co-ordinator and Ben Cadoux Hudson our Internationals Co-ordinator. And may we all, whoever we are and as we can, be praying and working for Godly Living, Church Growth and Changing Britain (or whatever is your home country).