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In the early 21st the worldwide migration situation has produced Church-related anomalies in Europe, including the UK.

One of these has been the marriage of convenience, as a Workpermit.com post from 2006 describes. In 2005, a set of rules was introduced in the UK to put an end to this practice designed:

to get around immigration controls and require immigrants to obtain a special certificate of approval, or COA before they can wed in the UK.

However, Mr Justice Silber overturned these laws in 2006 because they violated the European Convention on Human Rights. Consequently:

The overturning of the marriage laws due to unfair discrimination against immigrants on religious grounds leaves the door open for hundreds of people from overseas getting married in the UK.

The test case involved in overturning by Mr Justice Silber, involved a foreign national from Algeria and an EEA national who was legally living in the UK. Once Mahmaud Baiai and Izabella Trzanska from Poland were refused permission to marry, they launched the challenge.

Mr Justice Silber said the case raised issues under Article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which protects the right to marry and found a family.

“The rules were incompatible because they discriminated against immigrants rights subject to immigration control on grounds of religion and nationality,” he declared.

Oddly, the rules overturned did not apply to Church of England members:

even if they are illegally in the UK.

This meant that the Anglican Church could conduct marriages of convenience. By 2008, as The Telegraph reported (emphases mine):

the number of bogus weddings performed by Anglican priests has risen by as much as 400 per cent in some dioceses over the last four years.

Foreign nationals have turned to the Church because it is exempt from rules that require all foreign nationals from outside the European Union to obtain a Home Office certificate of approval to marry in a register office.

That year, Church of England bishops warned their clergy to be vigilant when evaluating immigrants wishing to marry in an Anglican ceremony:

the Rt Rev Tom Butler, Bishop of Southwark, urged priests to be wary of migrants looking to get married who have obtained a common licence – a preliminary for church weddings involving foreign nationls.

“The new regime does not apply to marriages by banns, common licence or special licence, which probably explains the substantial increase in demand for bishops’ common licenses,” he writes.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that there is significant abuse of the availability of Church of England marriage in order to try to gain some immigration advantage.

The Rt Rev Richard Chartres, the Bishop of London, has also written to churches in his diocese with guidance on how to tighten measures.

The diocese of Southwark, which covers Greater London south of the Thames, has seen the number of applications for common licences rise from 90 in 2004 to 493 last year.

In 2013 the Coalition government (Conservative/Liberal Democrat) produced new rules to end marriages of convenience. From page 4 of the PDF:

Notices of marriage following civil preliminaries or civil partnership in England and Wales involving a non-EEA national who could benefit from it in immigration terms will be referred to the Home Office for a decision as to whether to investigate whether the marriage or civil partnership is a sham. Non-EEA nationals will only be able to marry in the Church of England or the Church in Wales following civil preliminaries, except in limited circumstances.

Perhaps something similar should be done in the case of conversions by refugees to Christianity.

On June 5, The Guardian reported that the Catholic bishops in Austria are suspicious of the number of sudden converts to Christianity among refugees from war-torn countries. The paper reported in 2014 that the same phenomenon is going on in the Lutheran Church in Germany.

Clergy with a rosy view of the world will say that this is a tremendous opportunity to revive the Church in Europe.

The Austrian bishops view the situation differently. In 2015:

the Austrian bishops’ conference published new guidelines for priests, warning that some refugees may seek baptism in the hope of improving their chances of obtaining asylum.

Admitting persons for baptism who are during the official procedure classified as ‘not credible’ leads to a loss in the church’s credibility across the whole of Austria,” the new guidelines say.

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Vienna explained:

There has to be a noticeable interest in the faith that extends beyond merely the wish to obtain a piece of paper.

Austrian priests now informally evaluate potential refugee converts during their one-year ‘preparation period’. The Archdiocese of Vienna has recorded that 5% to 10% of potential converts drop out of the process prior to baptism.

In England, however, Anglican clergy are eager to not only ask no questions but to combine the conversion process with helping to ease the refugee application process.

The Guardian interviewed the Revd Mohammad Eghtedarian, an Iranian refugee and convert who was later ordained. He is a curate at Liverpool’s Anglican cathedral. Eghtedarian says that refugee status and religious affiliation are intertwined.

Liverpool Cathedral has a process which involves registering refugee attendance, which helps their asylum applications. A candidate for Baptism must attend the five preparatory classes. A baptised refugee seeking Confirmation must attend a dozen courses.

Hmm. It sounds very minimal.

The Guardian asked Eghtedarian about the sincerity of those candidates. Even he acknowledged that ‘plenty of people’ were converting for convenience!

In large part, only a cursory examination exists. The Cathedral will also provide a ‘letter of attendance’ to immigration authorities, if requested.

The article said that the Church of England does not record conversions, regardless of background, because it could be a ‘sensitive’ issue.

It seems the Austrian Catholic bishops have approached the conversions of convenience issue more sensibly than the German Lutherans, who resent that immigration court judges ask refugees to discuss their newly-found beliefs in detail in order to assess their sincerity.

It is the responsibility of clergy to do a thorough examination of heart and mind during the conversion process rather than let false converts through the doors for Baptism and Confirmation.

Church of England clergy should pray for divine guidance on the matter rather than deceive fellow Christians, other citizens of our country and our government.

Admittedly, some of these converts are sincere. However, if ‘plenty of people’ are not, then the whole thing is a sham.

If marriages of convenience rightly rang Anglican bishops’ alarm bells, then conversions of convenience should, too.

Peter Smith.jpgNot a day goes by in Britain now without a warning from pro-EU Conservative government ministers about Brexit.

We’ll have a recession. Well, that’s probably on the cards, anyway.

The stock market will crash. That, too, is possible — Brexit or not. It won’t just be in the UK, either, but also in Europe and elsewhere in the West.

The latest is that house prices in Britain could plummet. For under-40s living in London and the Home Counties, that comes as welcome news.

The bottom line is that no one knows exactly what is going to happen. And most of what actually happens is unlikely to have anything to do with our position in or out of the European Union.

The Most Revd Peter Smith, Catholic Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Southwark (encompassing South London to the South Coast of England), has criticised the government’s Project Fear — as Brexit supporters call it.

The archbishop is the first senior cleric — Catholic or Protestant — to express empathy with Brexit, although he says he is still undecided.

On May 19, he gave an interview on the subject to Vatican Radio, which has the full audio.

On May 23, The Catholic Herald published an article on the interview, which is well worth reading.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine:

Archbishop Smith, the vice president of the Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales … criticised the Remain campaign for attempting to “scare” the electorate into voting to stay in the EU when they go to the polls on June 23.

He dismissed as “ludicrous” the bleak economic forecasts predicted by George Osborne, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the event of a Brexit win.

“When we joined the European Union many decades ago, the chief arguments were about trade, that we would be better off and it would help the economy,” said Archbishop Smith …

The euro hasn’t worked particularly with the poorer countries in Europe – Greece, Portugal, Spain to an extent. It is not working with the euro and all of us are glad that we didn’t go into the euro because of the different economies on the continent of Europe.”

“I am very sceptical of the arguments the Chancellor makes. When he does a budget each year very often by the end of the year his forecasts are all over the place.

“When you look at the budgets even after 12 months very often the Chancellor is wrong because you can’t pin the economy down like that because it is so involved with the world economy which goes up and down.”

He added: “Most people are completely puzzled. They don’t know what the real arguments are and then they hear these scare stories like the Chancellor saying in 14 years’ time we will £4,000 plus less (worse off).

With great respect to the Chancellor of the Exchequer I think it is ludicrous. He doesn’t know, and we don’t know

He did not think much of the Leave campaign’s rhetoric either:

Archbishop Smith said that “The real difficulty is that there has been no clarity on either side of the argument” and that “there hasn’t been much argument at all.”

“There has been a lot of emotional speculation and so on,” he said.

Outside of Brexit: The Movie, he is right.

Archbishop Smith makes good points, especially as a party of one. It must be lonely being the sole major cleric to see the benefits of Brexit.

J C RyleThis post continues my series on hell. If you haven’t read about Origen’s unorthodox views on hell which are currently infecting the Church, please do so.

J C Ryle (1816-1900) was undoubtedly one of the greatest Anglicans who ever lived.

Educated at Eton and Christ Church, Oxford, his parents expected him to enter politics. However, Ryle felt called to the priesthood and was ordained in 1842.

He was very much an evangelical preacher, firmly opposed to the Ritualism in the Church as characterised by the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement of the time. Although he had firm religious convictions which he expressed in no uncertain terms, in private, he was known for his kindness and warmth.  He also preached to the working class, bringing many to the knowledge and love of Christ Jesus.

One of Benjamin Disraeli’s last acts as Prime Minister was to appoint Ryle to the post of Bishop of Liverpool, a brand new diocese.  There, Ryle presided over the construction of 40 new churches, raised clergy salaries and instituted pension funds for them. He was also responsible for the building of the Anglican cathedral in Liverpool.

Ryle retired only three months before he died at age 83 in 1900. Today, he appears to have more of a following in the United States among orthodox Protestants than he does here in England.  He published several works on the four Gospels as well as on the Christian life.

(Incidentally, Ryle’s second son, Herbert Edward Ryle, served as Bishop of Exeter, then Bishop of Winchester before being appointed Dean of Westminster in 1911.)

If only the Church of England had many more clergy like Ryle today. He wrote:

My chief desire in all my writings, is to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ and make Him beautiful and glorious in the eyes of men; and to promote the increase of repentance, faith, and holiness upon earth.

And:

Every professing Christian is the soldier of Christ. He is bound by his baptism to fight Christ’s battle against sin, the world, and the devil. The man that does not do this, breaks his vow: he is a spiritual defaulter; he does not fulfil the engagement made for him. The man that does not do this, is practically renouncing his Christianity. The very fact that he belongs to a Church, attends a Christian place of worship, and calls himself a Christian, is a public declaration that he desires to be reckoned a soldier of Jesus Christ.

You can read his views on the Christian life and his analysis of English Puritan clergy. GraceGems has an extensive collection of Ryle’s sermons and books which you can read online.

Ryle’s written works include commentaries on the gospels. What follows is an excerpt from Ryle’s Expository Thoughts on Matthew. It is from his commentary on Matthew 26:14-25. Emphases mine below.

This is the relevant reading (ESV):

Judas to Betray Jesus

14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.

The Passover with the Disciples

17 Now on the first day of Unleavened Bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying, “Where will you have us prepare for you to eat the Passover?” 18 He said, “Go into the city to a certain man and say to him, ‘The Teacher says, My time is at hand. I will keep the Passover at your house with my disciples.’” 19 And the disciples did as Jesus had directed them, and they prepared the Passover.

20 When it was evening, he reclined at table with the twelve.[b] 21 And as they were eating, he said, “Truly, I say to you, one of you will betray me.” 22 And they were very sorrowful and began to say to him one after another, “Is it I, Lord?” 23 He answered, “He who has dipped his hand in the dish with me will betray me. 24 The Son of Man goes as it is written of him, but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born.” 25 Judas, who would betray him, answered, “Is it I, Rabbi?” He said to him, “You have said so.”

The first part of Ryle’s commentary discusses Judas then concludes with the following. Note how Ryle relies on Scripture to make his point about the importance of avoiding everlasting hell:

We ought frequently to call to mind the solemn words, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” “We brought nothing into this world and it is certain we can carry nothing out.” Our daily prayer should be, “Remove far from me vanity and lies: give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me.” ( Proverbs 30:8). Our constant aim should be to be rich in grace. “They that will be rich” in worldly possessions often find at last that they have made the worst of bargains ( 1 Timothy 6:9 ). Like Esau, they have bartered an eternal portion for a little temporary gratification; like Judas Iscariot, they have sold themselves to everlasting perdition.

Let us learn in the last place from these verses the hopeless condition of all who die unconverted. The words of our Lord on this subject are peculiarly solemn: he says of Judas, “It had been good for that man if he had not been born”. This saying admits of only one interpretation. It teaches plainly that it is better never to live at all than to live without faith and die without grace. To die in this state is to be ruined forevermore: it is a fall from which there is no rising, a loss which is utterly irretrievable. There is no change in hell: the gulf between hell and heaven is one that no man can pass. This saying could never have been used if there was any truth in the doctrine of universal salvation. If it really was true that all would sooner or later reach heaven, and hell sooner or later be emptied of inhabitants, it never could be said that it would have been “good for a man not to have been born.” Hell itself would lose its terrors if it had an end: hell itself would be endurable if after millions of ages there were a hope of freedom and of heaven. But universal salvation will find no foothold in Scripture: the teaching of the Word of God is plain and express on the subject. There is a worm that never dies, and a fire that is not quenched ( Mark 9:44) Except a man be born again,” he will wish one day he had never been born at all. “Better,” says Burkett, “have no being, than not have a being in Christ.”

Let us grasp this truth firmly, and not let it go. There are always persons who deny the reality and eternity of hell. We live in a day when a morbid charity induces many to exaggerate God’s mercy at the expense of his justice, and when false teachers are daring to talk of a “love of God lower even than hell.” Let us resist such teaching with a holy jealousy, and abide by the doctrine of Holy Scripture: let us not be ashamed to walk in the old paths, and to believe that there is an eternal God, and an eternal heaven and an eternal hell. Once [we] depart from this belief, and we admit the thin end of the wedge of skepticism, and may at last deny any doctrine of the Gospel. We may rest assured that there is no firm standing ground between a belief in the eternity of hell, and downright infidelity.

We do need to guard against adopting unorthodox beliefs, those which go contrary to Scripture. As Ryle says, once we begin discarding one fundamental tenet of Christianity, we are unlikely to stop there. We depart on the road to questioning more and more of the Bible and discarding more doctrine. Where does one end up then? In a sorry spiritual state wherein we question whether we are saved.

Notional doubters or sceptics who claim they ‘want to believe’ but somehow cannot, would do well to study the New Testament. If they cannot bring themselves to do that, they should pray for the divine grace to enable them to do so:

I believe; help my unbelief! (Mark 9:24)

More on hell next week.

Yesterday’s post discussed Frenchmen who converted from Christianity to Islam.

Today’s entry looks at the much smaller numbers of Muslims who convert to Christianity in France, thanks to a September 25, 2015 article in the newsweekly Marianne, the online versions of which can be read here and here.

The number of Muslims finding new life in Christ is infinitesimal. Conversion is seen by many Muslim communities as apostasy punishable by death. Where death is not involved, persecution — vandalism and shunning — is not unknown. The experience of the Hussain family in Bradford is a sadly enduring example of this. It’s a dangerous and lonely undertaking.

Marianne was able to interview two converts.

‘Meet God in joy’

Ali, whose baptismal name is Jean-Marc, works as a security guard in Paris’s La Defense business district to the west of the city. He is a retired policeman.

Ali-Jean-Marc is married to a Muslim who is aware that their children will be baptised in the near future. However, she is aware of the religious journey her husband has been taking over the past three years. Of this journey, Ali-Jean-Marc says:

It’s been a long road.

He knows that his Muslim colleagues talk behind his back. His younger brother has fallen out with him. But Ali-Jean-Marc doesn’t care:

By baptism I am saved. I am saved, cleansed of my sins. I want to meet God in joy, to die in peace. This is my new life.

He said that, in recent years, he’d become troubled by the lack of a ‘Creator who controlled the universe’, so he started searching the Internet for information on Christianity and the Gospels. What he found surprised him:

‘Love your enemies!’ He shakes his head: ‘It’s good, it’s strong, it’s the opposite of Islam.’ Then he adds, ‘I do not wish to insult Muslims. If they believe in [the power of] stones, I respect that, as long as they don’t throw them at me.’

Another aspect of Islam that bothers him is the inequality between the sexes.

So as not to trouble his wife, he does not discuss religion with her.

After reading the Gospels on the Internet, Ali-Jean-Marc sought more information from a Christian association for Muslim converts, Notre Dame de Kabylie, led by a fellow convert, Moh-Christophe Bilek. (Kabylie is a region in Algeria.)

The organisation’s home page asks for prayers for Moh-Christophe, who had surgery on a heart valve during the summer and is in a special rehabilitation clinic at this time.

Early morning Christian radio programmes

Fortunately, Marianne was able to interview Moh-Christophe well before he had to be rushed to intensive care in June 2015. In the early 1960s, he began listening with fascination to early morning radio programmes on Christianity. He made sure not to turn on the radio before his father left the house at 5:30 a.m. to work in a factory. By 1962, at the tender age of 13, he had fallen ‘in love with Jesus’.

Today, he works not only with Muslims converting to Christianity but also with Christians whose children are fascinated by Islam — and jihad.

He told Marianne of the appeal of Islam for young Christians or those without religion: anti-materialism, utopia through the ummah (Muslim world), dreams of saintliness and finding a point of reference in life.

Moh-Christophe emphasised that, whereas conversion to Islam is done by taking a simple vow in front of two witnesses anywhere, conversion to Christianity — particularly the Catholic Church — involves a good grounding in the Gospels and a long, deep spiritual journey.

Fearful clergy, robust laity

Moh-Christophe deplores the fact that Catholic priests dissuade Muslims from converting:

Priests, more interested in inter-religious dialogue, discourage our conversions. They don’t want to get Muslims’ backs up.

It is estimated by people like Moh-Christophe, sociologists and other researchers into these new converts that 90% lie below the radar for survival. Some move to another community to begin a new life, sometimes changing their names. Others outwardly appear to be Muslim and keep their Christian practice private. Above all, they ensure their relatives abroad never find out about their conversion.

Marianne concluded their investigation by saying that Catholic laity and clergy are at odds about how to handle conversion.

Lay people want an organised programme of open evangelisation: dedicated stalls at local markets (ubiquitous in France) complete with volunteers on hand for discussions, pamphlets and copies of the Catholic catechism.

However, French bishops are very reluctant to go down this route — even though French Protestants are evangelising! As, of course, are Muslims.

Let us pray that Catholic clergy in France wake up soon and find some bottle. (‘Courage’, for my American readers).

After all, Jesus did give us the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20):

19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

We can also pray that Mo-Christophe recovers soon. His people need him.

slipperyMany thanks to loyal reader Llew, who sent in the link to the Spiked article cited below!

The UK Parliament will be debating assisted dying in September 2015. Over the past few years, several high profile cases have come to light of older Britons who have ended it all with professional help. Sometimes this was because of terminal illness, however, not always.

Secularist supporters

In August 2015, university lecturer and author Kevin Yuill wrote an article for Spiked — the UK’s libertarian, secular humanist/atheist site — about the curious case of retired nurse Gill Pharaoh.

Pharaoh was 75 and relatively healthy when she died on July 21, 2015, at the LifeCircle clinic in Switzerland. Yuill says she was ‘healthy’, but her final entry states that, in recent years, she’d suffered an attack of shingles, ongoing tinnitus and joint pain. A lot of other older people have these ailments, too. But she wanted to end her life her way.

Yuill cites Pharaoh’s blog. She wanted

people to remember me as I now am – as a bit worn around the edges but still recognisably me!

But how was she to know what she would be like in five or even 15 years’ time? Only the Almighty knows that. Maybe she would have continued to age gracefully apart from physical complaints which are entirely normal, albeit annoying, aspects of growing old.

Pharaoh had no faith. She objected to British law with regard to assisted death because it

originates from a god in whom we have no belief.

Pharaoh blogged about her decision-making regarding ending her own life. She also gave a interview to The Times (Murdoch paper, ergo paywall), summarised in the Daily Mail. Yuill says she was searching for validation and recognition. He introduces his article with a précis of Christopher Lasch‘s excellent 1979 book, The Culture of Narcissism. If you can buy or borrow a copy, it will be more relevant today than when it was written. I read it in the early 1980s in the US and was shocked. Needless to say, my work colleagues told me the man was talking out of his hat. Yet, how correct he was. His book warns about attention-seeking behaviour which demands that everyone else acquiesces to one’s wishes. What Pharaoh wanted was a change in the law.

The Daily Mail article quotes Pharaoh as saying that her mother had dementia and that, if she could have done so, she would have helped her mother die. My family members and I have had parents with dementia and Alzheimer’s, for shorter and longer periods of time. None of us, even the agnostics, ever thought of putting them to death.

Another high profile case in Britain was that of 68-year old Bob Cole, who ended his days at the Dignitas clinic in Switzerland on August 14, 2015. Cole’s wife Ann Hall, who suffered from progressive supranuclear palsy, had died at the clinic 18 months before.

Cole had mesothelioma, a lung cancer, which left him doubled over — in his words, ‘crouching like an animal’. He, too, wanted a change in the law. The Telegraph reports (aforementioned link) that he told The Sun (another Murdoch paper, like The Times) in an interview:

I should be able to die with dignity in my own country, in my own bed. The law needs to change. How do you change the law? People have got to take a stand. So that’s what I’m doing today. 

The politicians need to have the guts to change this law. Just bite the bullet. Accept that the British public want this change. If they don’t it will be forced upon them because the public feeling is overwhelming.

Is ‘public feeling overwhelming’ on this issue?

In any event, there are British organisations promoting legalised assisted death. Dignity in Dying were informed once Bob Cole died. Gill Pharaoh had been a member of the Society for Old Age Rational Suicide (SOARS). What role do such groups play in encouraging personal publicity for past and future high profile assisted suicides?

Yuill has a point when he says that people who want to terminate their lives through assisted dying should do so quietly with no publicity.

Judeo-Christian supporters

Only days after my reader Llew forwarded me the Spiked article, I read an article in The Telegraph which left me speechless.

‘”There is nothing sacred about suffering”, insist faith leaders in assisted dying call’ shocked me.

Among these faith leaders are

Rabbi Danny Rich, chief executive of Liberal Judaism and Rabbi Dr Jonathan Romain a leading figure in Reform Judaism …

That is bad enough. However, there are Christians, too: Baroness Richardson, first female President of Methodist Conference, along with prominent Anglicans such as Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, The Bishop of Buckingham, the Rt Rev Alan Wilson, and ‘a handful of Anglican clerics’.

It should be noted that the Church of England officially opposes euthanasia.

These men and women, Jews and Christians, are opposing the government — and God.

In a letter to The Telegraph, the article says, they wrote that:

far from being a sin, helping terminally ill people to commit suicide should be viewed simply as enabling them to “gracefully hand back” their lives to God.

There is, they insist “nothing sacred” about suffering in itself and no one should be “obliged to endure it”, they insist.

Wow. Just. Wow.

How can one ‘gracefully hand back’ one’s life to God by terminating it? He gave us life. Only He can legitimately end it. It is not up to us to decide when that moment is. Not so long ago, this sort of attitude would have been rightly condemned.

Well, Rob Marris (Labour) will have his Assisted Dying Bill debated within the next few weeks. May life-respecting and God-fearing heads prevail.

Why the law should stay as it is

The Telegraph article included the following rationale for maintaining the status quo:

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff, co-chair of the Campaign group Living and Dying Well, which opposes a change, said: “The law exists to protect us, all of us and especially the most vulnerable among us, from harm – including self-harm.

“People who are terminally ill are especially vulnerable. As a society we go to considerable lengths to discourage and prevent suicide.

“Licensing assisted suicide for terminally ill people would fly in the face of that.”

I couldn’t agree more. In 2014, I pointed out that children’s euthanasia was already legal in the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium. There’s no minimum age in Belgium and in the other two countries a child only needs to be 12 years old before he can request his own death. These kids could be disabled, suffering from terminal illness or have a curable condition such as anorexia. This is a very slippery slope.

Returning to the Spiked article, Kevin Yuill pointed out that, on the other end of the age spectrum, a Dutch citizen’s initiative Uit Vrije Wil (Out of Free Will) received 117,000 letters of support in 2010 for a relaxation of the Netherlands’ law which would allow persons over the age of 70 to end their own lives just because they were tired of living!

And this isn’t a European phenomenon, either. My aforementioned post from 2014 gave these statistics:

In 2005, Gallup’s poll on the subject found that a majority of Christians in the United States support euthanasia: 75% of Catholics, 70% of Protestants and 61% of Evangelicals. A majority of Catholics and Protestants also support physician-assisted suicide, PAS — 60% and 52%, respectively — although only 32% of Evangelicals do.

It’s pretty clear that the rise of secularism in the 1960s, possibly before, brought about legalised control over life and death, beginning with abortion. A person can be his own god, making decisions only the Almighty rightly has control over.

Does God pardon Christian suicide?

John MacArthur’s Grace to You (GTY) ministry team wrote a worthwhile article, ‘Can one who commits suicide be saved?’

It’s short and well worth reading. On the one hand, as Christians are saved, in principle, suicide

can be forgiven like any other sin.

HOWEVER … on the other hand …

GTY say that this would be (emphases mine) only 

in a time of extreme weakness.

They explain:

… we question the faith of those who take their lives or even consider it seriously–it may well be that they have never been truly saved.

In which case, there is the issue of the second death at Judgement Day leading to eternal condemnation.

Their article cites Scripture saying that a true Christian has hope and purpose in his life. As such, suicide would not enter into the equation. And:

Furthermore, one who repeatedly considers suicide is practicing sin in his heart (Proverbs 23:7), and 1 John 3:9 says that “no one who is born of God practices sin.” And finally, suicide is often the ultimate evidence of a heart that rejects the lordship of Jesus Christ, because it is an act where the sinner is taking his life into his own hands completely rather than submitting to God’s will for it. Surely many of those who have taken their lives will hear those horrifying words from the Lord Jesus at the judgment–“I never knew you; Depart from me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).

The article concludes:

So though it may be possible for a true believer to commit suicide, we believe that is an unusual occurrence. Someone considering suicide should be challenged above all to examine himself to see whether he is in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5).

Bible verses against suicide and assisted death

There are many web pages with notional Scripture verses against suicide which includes assisted death. However, most of the verses are not very helpful.

The best page I have found is Adrian Warnock’s on Patheos.

Warnock is a physician and author. He also serves as part of the leadership team at Jubilee Church London.

Any Christian who is considering ending his own life through assisted dying would do well to read Warnock’s selection of Bible verses, meditate on them then pray fervently and frequently.

Here are the first three (emphases in the original):

This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it (John 11:4).

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10).

For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.  Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead. He delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us. On him we have set our hope that he will deliver us again. (2 Corinthians 1:8–10.)

His page has several more.

Conclusion

Christians who listen to their clergy and leaders who advocate for euthanasia or assisted dying are in danger of dying an everlasting death. As they are making a considered, premeditated decision, they are guilty of murdering themselves.

Clergy advocating assisted dying would do well to examine their hearts humbly before the Lord, repent and publicly say they were wrong. They could be sending Christians — and themselves — to an eternal death. Theirs is such an irresponsible and reprehensible position to adopt.

No one knows why the Lord sends us debilitating and lengthy illnesses. However, He works everything to His purpose. In these situations, Christians must have hope, faith and pray whilst seeking palliative relief.

The basic problem is — and this seems to include certain clergymen, too — lack of faith, a love of self and pride in one’s own abilities and decision-making. I’ll return to these themes soon in another context.

On May 21, 2015, the Archbishop of Canterbury gave his thoughts on faith-based charity.

The Telegraph reported:

Faith groups are now filling a “huge gap” in British life occupied by the state until the financial crisis and onset of austerity forced a rethink, according to the Archbishop of Canterbury.

The Most Rev Justin Welby said churches, mosques, temples synagogues and other religious organisations had stepped in “in a most extraordinary way” over the past seven years.

Until the 20th century, charity was paramount. The welfare state didn’t exist.

Two thoughts:

First, it is natural that a religious person will want to give to help those in need. Why should this surprise a senior cleric?

Secondly, Welby seems to favour a bloated state welfare system. That is most disappointing.

It is only sensible that recipients of state aid — the dole — view it as temporary.

Possibly, just possibly, if we lessened the welfare budget gradually during times of recovery, we would have more people taking personal responsibility seriously and improving the lifestyle choices they make. Reflecting carefully rather than acting impulsively is one which comes to mind.

Relying on charity rather than the state is a tried-and-true tradition borne out through the centuries. Furthermore, less tax from all of us would no doubt result in a further increase in charitable giving to help those who really need it.

Yes, it is alive and well!

To be honest, I did not know it existed.

The Right Revd Daniel Martins, Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Springfield (Illinois), recently went to Cuba and wrote about his and his fellow bishops’ stay. His post, ‘Cuba Libre’, is one of the most impressive posts I’ve ever read. It comes complete with photographs. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Status of the Cuban diocese

Martins tells us that the Diocese of Cuba is over 100 years old. For much of that time, it was under the aegis of The Episcopal Church (TEC). When Fidel Castro took over in 1959:

with the ensuing restrictions on travel and fund transfers, it became impractical to continue the relationship, and the diocese entered extra-provincial status within the Anglican Communion, with primatial oversight provided by a panel of archbishops.

Cuba’s bishop is the Right Revd Griselda Delgado, more about whom below. She and her family live in Havana, where the Cathedral of the Holy Trinity is located.

There is one Protestant seminary on the island, in Matanzas, 100 miles east of Havana. Whilst the seminary is not Episcopalian — it was founded in the 1940s by Presbyterians and Methodists with the TEC coming on board afterward — the Diocese continues to maintain close links with it.

Although Cuba was officially an atheist country for many years, that status has since changed to secularist. Older church buildings are still standing and open for worship and activities. New plants are also springing up, such as the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Favorito. The church signs have the traditional Episcopalian welcome in Spanish:

La Iglesia Episcopal le da la bienvenida.

In addition to being houses of worship, the churches in rural areas have launched sustainable food or water programmes for local people.

Getting there

Martins explains that the Diocese of Cuba not only has links with Anglican churches in Canada but also an Episcopal church in the American Diocese of Wyoming. They were instrumental in facilitating travel for Martins and his fellow bishops:

there were resources who knew what levers had to be pulled to get us religious visitor visas (this was underway well before the recent thaw in relations between our two countries).

Once at Miami International Airport, the security checks took as long or longer than the 45-minute flight:

First we had to hand over our passports, wait around, queue up to check our bags, wait around some more, queue up again to pay a baggage handling fee, wait around some more, and finally proceed to the TSA screening area. Never has there been so much red tape and bureaucracy for such a short flight. Once inside the gate area, we were able to grab something to eat, which was a welcome opportunity. The boarding process was just as inefficient as the check-in process, and by the time we pushed back, it was about 45 minutes past our scheduled 1pm departure.

Once in Havana, the group were accompanied by a representative of the state-owned Havanatur.

The 1950 American model cars still exist and, out of necessity, are very well maintained. Hotels from the 1940s and 1950s are still open, lending another air of nostalgia. Food, for travellers at least, is mostly average in taste and quality. There is little choice in restaurants and in snacks. There are two flavours of fizzy soft drinks: cola and lemon-lime.

Interest in Christianity

Martins had interesting conversations during his stay just after Easter 2015.

Cuba’s Minister of Religious Affairs joined the group for dinner at Bishop Delgado’s home in Havana:

We enjoyed some serious conversation (via Manny wearing his interpreter’s hat) before dinner around various ways the government and churches can cooperate for the greater good of Cuban society. Interestingly, the strengthening of marriages was at the top of her list. So, what was once proclaimed to be an “atheist” state is now merely “secular,” but with a very benign attitude toward Christians (and the small Jewish community in Cuba; there is no significant Muslim population).

The following day, in the old part of Havana:

I did a little bit of gift shopping, but the highlight of the time there was a conversation (again, all in Spanish) with a vendor from who I didn’t buy anything, but who, when she found out I was from the U.S., peppered me with questions relating to how difficult (or not) it was for me to get into the country, and lamenting that she would like to visit the U.S. but the only Cubans who can get entry visas are those with family already here, and she has none. Then, when she found out I am a bishop, enthusiastically assured me that she is a Christian, and asked me to give her a blessing, which I did. What a joy, on so many levels

He also discovered:

the Episcopal cathedral in Havana holds theology classes on Saturdays. They are intended primarily to form their own people in ministry, but the classes are open to all comers. There is a steady stream of university students who attend faithfully. There is an intense curiosity about Christianity (and other faith practices) on the part of a generation of young people who are virtual blank slates, who did not grow up with it, for whom it is a fresh novelty rather than an artifact of cultural baggage.

Long may it continue.

As for the Minister of Religious Affairs:

she referred to “our Lord” and openly prayed with us. She articulated a hope for partnerships between the government and churches to attack Cuba’s social ills.

Martins observed that the tables with regard to faith are now turned in Cuba and the United States:

Religious practice was stigmatized and marginalized. Now, five decades later, this is the trend in American society, though it’s rolling out at a rather more deliberate pace … So, as American Christianity continues to enter a bit of a winter season, my visit to Cuba gives me hope that spring will indeed come. Not in my lifetime, most likely, but it will come.

Bishop Delgado

The Anglican Church of Canada website has an interesting profile of the Right Revd Griselda Delgado del Carpio, one of the first two women ordained in the country and the first woman bishop in Latin America.

Delgado is originally from Bolivia. In her student days, she was quite the political activist. For that reason, she emigrated to Cuba, accompanied by her mother and her young daughter. Once there, she later married a Cuban. She and her husband Geraldo have two children of their own.

When she first arrived in Cuba, she did a lot of soul searching. Eventually, she entered the Matanzas Evangelical Theological Seminary. At the time, religious practice was frowned on and the seminary numbers reflected that state of affairs. The ratio of faculty to students was practically 1:1. Delgado was ordained in 1986.

Although church finances are an ongoing problem, largely because of Cuba’s economic insecurity:

In recent years, there has been a sense that the IEC and other Cuban churches are growing in both membership and national influence …

Bishop Delgado has a vision for the role the church can play in this shifting Cuban culture. “Up until now the church has seemed invisible to society,” she said. “In Cuba, all people have education, all have professions, but the people are lacking values. The church is a place to bring people together, to give them identity and dignity.”

Let us pray for the continuous growth of the Church in Cuba.

Episcopal Church welcome 0A7AB222-279F-4A6F-8122C192BD2E1165The Episcopal Church (TEC) in the United States continues its inexorable decline.

In October 2014, Philip Jenkins discussed the latest TEC statistics for Patheos (H/T Not Another Episcopal Church Blog and Midwest Conservative Journal):

Between 2012 and 2013, the denomination’s membership fell by 1.4 percent, to 1.87 million, while Average Sunday Attendance (ASA) fell by 2.6 percent. Those percentages may not sound like much, until you realize that these are figures for a single year, and they closely echo the percentage drops for several preceding years …  

If we extrapolate that rate into the not-too-distant future, then the number of people attending Episcopal churches on a typical Sunday will be negligible by mid-century, typical of a tiny sect rather than a great church or denomination. It won’t reach zero for a while, but in effect, the church will cease to exist.

That mid-century date is really not far off. In fact, the baby baptized at my church last Sunday will by that point only be a young adult in her 30s. 

Churches — and seminaries — are merging or closing. One recent church sale took place in Avon, Connecticut. This is how the Diocese of Connecticut explained the sale of Christ Episcopal Church to the Farmington Valley American Muslim Center:

The building was vacated after the congregation voted in 2012 to dissolve as a parish and close by the end of that year.

The following spring, Bishop Ian T. Douglas and other ECCT staff hosted a meeting of community leaders and interested residents to discern how the property could best be used “as an asset to God’s mission of restoration and reconciliation” in greater Avon and beyond.

At the meeting they learned that the local Muslim community needed a place to gather for prayers, teaching, youth programs and interfaith work. In September 2013 the ECCT entered into an interfaith partnership with FVAMC that included leasing the Avon building.

Since then the FVAMC has reached out to its neighbors with open houses and other interfaith efforts, expanded its worship and service work, and grown its programs, particularly for youth.

The several committees of the ECCT needed to approve the sale gave it their solid endorsement and support.

Hmm.

Christopher Johnson of Midwest Conservative Journal rightly finds it odd that a denomination which has lost its way theologically in appealing to the world is in decline:

For the last several years, studies similar to this one have assured us again and again that the reason why the Young PeopleTM no longer identify as Christians to the extent that they once did is that they don’t share the outmoded, retrograde attitudes of their parents or their churches on social issues such as abortion, women in leadership roles, duh gaze, etc.

Frankly, I’m starting to doubt the validity of those studies.  Because if they were true, would it not follow that the Episcopalians would be cleaning up?  That you’d have to make a reservation weeks in advance just to be allowed inside an Episcopal church?

Undergroundpewster of Not Another Episcopal Church Blog says (emphasis in the original):

Is there a way to reverse the trajectory? Of course there is, but nobody on board the starship Episcoprize seems willing to toss the captain and crew out into the vacuum of space and make the passengers study the owner’s manual in order to find out how we should have been flying this thing in the first place.

On the Midwest Conservative Journal‘s entry, he commented (emphases mine):

The shift is nearly complete from being called the Republican party at prayer to being the Democrat party without a prayer. Playing dress up on Sunday with phony clerics who don’t really believe the source documents of Christianity just won’t bring people to Christ.

In response to the Patheos article, he wrote:

The numbers don’t include the loss of the Diocese of South Carolina. The math is problematic in some other respects. The data on ASA and membership is not precise. Our parish ASA is routinely overstated by 20% or so by my estimate. Predicting the future is always difficult. It is hard to know if there will ever be a plateau or not at some point in the future. I suspect there will be a small remnant as Sarah suggests in her comment. The causes of the decline are legion, and I agree with others that the Church has departed from orthodox Christianity in many, many respects, and it is not likely to return to the fold of the one holy, catholic and apostolic Church that we say we believe in without giving up many, many of its new beliefs.

I thoroughly agree with undergroundpewster and Christopher Johnson.

Furthermore, a number of clergy from parish level to national level are guilty of the 15 ailments of which Pope Francis accuses the Curia. TEC has ongoing, vicious property disputes. Over the past two decades, it has splintered over theological and socio-political divisions (e.g. gay bishop Gene Robinson).

As for the faithful members, people either die or leave for a denomination which teaches the Gospel in all its fullness.

Churchgoers of faith know the difference between the Shepherd’s voice via His clergy and that of thieves and robbers of souls.

This is St John’s account of the Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18). Would that Episcopalian clergy were mindful of it:

1 “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”

The comments on the three entries I have linked to are well worth reading. Faithful Episcopalians describe their displeasure with a ‘Unitarian’ atmosphere, syncretic liturgies, ambivalent morality and apostate clergy.

Each time the Episcopal Church has embraced the world, it has lost more members.

There is no solution other than a return to the foundations of faith and the Bible.

As with the Catholic Church it is hard to know whether this should start with the Presiding Bishop or the seminaries.

Alt=Series title over a country skyline sceneThe six-episode series of Grantchester ended last week on Britain’s ITV.

Is it a church drama? Is it a detective series?

In truth, it combines both with occasional flashes of humour and great dollops of Christian charity.

Series synopsis

Grantchester (pron. ‘Gran-chester’) is a charming village just outside of Cambridge. I’ve been there. It is idyllic.

The village is the backdrop for a series of eponymous mysteries by James Runcie, son of the late Archbishop of Canterbury, the Rt Revd Robert Runcie.

The main character, the young vicar Sidney Chambers, is loosely based on Robert Runcie. Chambers not only has to cope with parish life in 1953. He also becomes involved in helping a Cambridge police Detective Inspector solve local murders.

In short, Grantchester is not unlike Father Brown, which, by the way, is set to return to the BBC early in 2015 for a third, expanded series of 15 episodes. Sidney Chambers, like his Catholic counterpart, is largely viewed by local police as being a meddling priest: ‘Get back to church’. Yet, he always figures out who the murderer was.

Chambers is a man of his time — 1953 — as is Detective Inspector Geordie Keating. Both served in the Second World War and knew its horrors first-hand. Chambers is tortured by nightmares from his service in the Scots Guards, causing him to seek temporal solace in cigarettes, whisky and jazz. He abhors sherry, the traditional vicar’s drink.

However, Chambers also attracts the company of women, causing Keating to say when the young vicar shares his accounts of unrequited love: ‘Sidney, you sly old dog. Who was it this time?’

More importantly, we see his interpersonal relationships within his small village parish, interspersed with friends from his youth.

Good ratings

It is amazing that a prime-time television show featuring a vicar could be such a ratings hit in an increasingly secular Britain. However, it had between 4 and 5.5 million viewers every Monday night for the six weeks of its run.

It seems as if the episode list from the show’s Wikipedia entry might be overstating the ratings as their figures are well over what I have read elsewhere. Perhaps a fan has written the page and misunderstood the statistics? In any event, it’s a great result, considering the protagonist’s calling and the plethora of free-to-view television channels we have.

Its October 21 episode was ranked No. 15 for the week on ITV with 5.14m viewers. On November 4, the show’s Twitter feed (spoiler alert) stated:

A big thanks to the 5.08m viewers who tuned in to watch Episode 5 last night. Our highest audience since the premiere!

American viewers can look forward to seeing Grantchester on PBS’s Masterpiece in January 2015 (emphases mine):

The enlarged Masterpiece footprint kicks off with Grantchester, ITV‘s six-part mystery that stars James Norton as a charismatic clergyman who turns investigative vicar when one of his parishioners dies under suspicious circumstances (see trailer below). The 1950s-set series has received strong notices from critics in the UK where it is currently airing. It will debut on Masterpiece on January 18, at 10 PM, following Downton Abbey. Grantchester is a Lovely Day and Masterpiece co-production for ITV.

The aforementioned one-minute trailer sets expectations well:

James Norton — heartthrob and style icon

Ladies in the UK are quite taken with James Norton, who plays Sidney Chambers. A recent spread from Marks & Spencer shows him modelling some of their new men’s collection.

Their article has been reproduced on other online news sites, e.g. The Huffington Post. Although Norton previously — and convincingly — played a psychopath on Happy Valley, he is perfectly cut out for his role in Grantchester:

I had the acting bug from a very early age,” says British actor James Norton. “I remember when I had friends over, they would all be desperate to play football or cricket, but I would insist upon making a little piece of theatre that I could write, direct and star in. I think they got fed up in the end and went to play at my other friends’ houses! …

An article in the UK’s Radio Times revealed that Norton attended the renowned Roman Catholic school Ampleforth in Yorkshire. The actor explained that it was more for his parents to be able to visit him regularly (the family home was nearby) than for religious reasons. Nonetheless, Norton ended up reading theology at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge, prior to attending drama school. In the aforementioned publicity article, he says:

My parents both come from the world of academia, but I don’t think I ever felt pushed to go down an academic or acting route. I loved my degree in theology … It was great, even though it doesn’t have any relevance to my current profession. It’s not even on my CV, but I would never turn the clocks back.

Norton told the Radio Times that he pursued theology because he had many questions about it. Unfortunately, his coursework left him with more questions than answers. As such, he professes no faith at all today.

Of his years at Cambridge, he told Marks & Spencer:

Cambridge is so magical. It was lovely to go back and film there; it’s kind of a home from home for me.

He also took his co-star Robson Green (who plays Geordie Keating) for a tour of the city and its sights, reliving memories of his days at university.

Possible second series?

Four signs point to a follow-up series.

First, the iconic Rebecca Eaton — formerly of PBS and now with Lovely Day/Masterpiece — is one of the executive producers. Even SpouseMouse, who is English, said, ‘She knows how to choose a script and a storyline. That’s promising.’

Secondly, the ratings were very good.

Thirdly, a boxed DVD set has just come out as has a soundtrack album.

Fourthly, the sixth episode gave us threads to pick up in a future series.

One hour for each episode of Grantchester packs in a lot. We see the parish, starring housekeeper Mrs Maguire (Tessa Peake-Jones) and Leonard Finch the amiable curate (Al Weaver). Sidney’s love interests appear. And, of course, there is always Cambridge Police Station.

Social and physical settings

Forum comments on James Runcie’s novels, The Grantchester Mysteries, loosely based on aspects of his father’s life (although not as a crime-fighter), tell us that the Sidney Chambers character is more intense on television than in the books. It is interesting that those who have read the books prefer the television character.

However, the Daily Mail said:

It takes a first-class writer to put together a convincing storyline for such unlikely circumstances. James Runcie does it admirably. Sidney, like all good clergy, possesses an understanding of human nature that transcends simplistic judgments. He is a good man in an imperfect world and we should welcome him to the ranks of classic detectives.

Runcie, born in 1959, describes what 1953, the year in which The Grantchester Mysteries open, was like: beginning with the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II:

My father-in-law bought a Bush TV22 specifically for the Coronation and all the neighbours came round to watch in the company of twenty million others. It was on this day that the nation could properly breathe a collective sigh of relief, realise what it meant to be part of a country that was building a peace, and be proud of itself. In short, 1953 was when Britain found its post war identity.

It was the year in which confidence returned; in which people felt liberated enough to think positively about country they wanted to live in, the clothes they chose to wear and the food they were able to eat (rationing had eased off but only stopped completely in 1954, almost nine years after the end of the war). The nation was changing and I believe there are two drivers in this creation of our modern identity: the spread of mass communication through the experience of the Coronation on television, and the discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick. The creation of modern Britain works on two levels; the molecular and the momentous

As for his father, pictured as a young priest at the bottom of the page, James says:

My father, Robert Runcie, trained as a clergyman at Westcott House, Cambridge in 1949 and was ordained as a Priest on Christmas Eve 1950. There is quite a bit about him in the character of Sidney

It should be noted that not all scenes were filmed in Grantchester or Cambridge. Chambers’s church is the one in Grantchester, however, the railway station is much too antiquated to be Cambridge’s and is actually that of Horstead Keynes in West Sussex. The rectory is actually located in Hertfordshire, the county bordering Cambridgeshire. However, some city and rural scenes were filmed in Cambridge. Creative England has more information.

I would encourage as many readers as possible to see Grantchester. My British readers can find it on ITV’s iPlayer and Americans can look forward to seeing it on PBS in the New Year.

window_pfcross271w St Mary the Virgin Gillingham DorsetMy past two posts — here and here — have discussed the Church of England’s annual pledge drive which takes place at this time of year.

Our priests raise associated questions and ways that our denomination and dioceses can be rescued, given less money and falling church attendance.

Yet, it is rare that we see a mention of ‘faithfully preaching the Gospel’ in these discussions.

Psephizo has two posts which typify the thinking of our clergy: ‘How to save a diocese’ and ‘How to save the Church of England’. These offer businesslike remedies. One illustration appears in each which states these objectives concerning the execrable strategy of church growth:

– Churches that have a clear mission and purpose.

– Clergy & congregations who are intentional about and prioritise growth.

– Clergy & worshippers who are willing to change and adapt.

– Churches where lay people as well as ordained clergy are active in leadership and other roles.

– Churches that actively engage children and young people.

– Churches with a welcoming culture who build on-going relationships with people.

– Churches that nurture disciples (offering specific encouragement through courses & activities).

– Clergy / leaders who innovate, envision and motivate people.

Fortunately, the Anglican dioceses in England state their objectives more spiritually. This list dates from the summer of 2014. Some of these are better than others, but one wonders how they work in practice.

Confessions of a Ridiculous Vicar has a post on the inadequacy of the church growth concept. An excerpt follows (emphases mine):

If the push for Church Growth makes us resent our people, rather than cherish them, we are talking about it in the wrong way.

When we talk about Church Growth the focus seems to be on all the wrong things. On a recent course, (by a well respected national organisation) we were encouraged to start small, and find achievable changes we could make, to get us heading in the right direction. I’m in favour of starting with the small and achievable, so I was encouraged. Then I saw the list.

“Install Dimmer Switches” was the most memorable item.

Really???

There were other suggestions too. Serve better coffee, was another, and pay attention to the quality of your church notice board. They would all make the church a more attractive physical environment. But honestly, it felt more like advice from The Hotel Inspector than how to grow God’s people.

Did people follow Jesus because he had such a nice building? Or any sort of building at all? Because the loaves and the fishes were particularly good, organic loaves and fishes, from Waitrose rather than Cost-cutter?

Because his sermons were 10 minutes, rather than 12?

Because when they came to hear Jesus preach, they were welcomed by those with name badges and good small talk?

Because there was a special meeting, targeted precisely at just their demographic?

Have we lost confidence in what really matters? Like David as a boy, are we putting on all the armour of King Saul, trusting that it will help us to fight Goliath. Trying to wield a sword that is bigger than we are, and stand up in armour that is just wrong, we are trying to grow the church by all the wrong methods, but unlike David, we do not yet realise where our true hope lies – what it is we have of value, that can be found no-where else.

I agree, as would many other pewsitters.

The answer is simple: preach the Gospel faithfully and they will come.

How does John MacArthur do it? He explains what Scripture says, ties the Old Testament into the New. He helps people to understand the Bible and what our Lord accomplished on our behalf. He preaches the Gospel of grace. But, then, he has unshakeable faith. Not all Church of England clergy do, and that creates an insurmountable problem.

In ‘How to save a diocese’, reader Clive suggests:

They could try the really unthinkable thing of returning to Christianity.

Everywhere else in the world the Church that believes in Christianity is actually growing.

He elaborates:

I am just aware that some clergy say the 39 Articles with their fingers crossed!

Article II affirms that Jesus is God’s word. It says:
II. Of the Word or Son of God, which was made very Man.
The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father…

Article VI defines Scripture, in the Bible, as sufficient in all respects:
VI. Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation.
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the Holy Scripture we do understand those canonical Books of the Old and New Testament, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.

Article XIX has the Bible preached to everyone:
XIX. Of the Church.
The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached,

Article XX puts authority in the Church only so far as Scripture allows:
XX. Of the Authority of the Church.
The Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written,…

The danger for any Church is that you simply become an extension of social services.

Reader Tony Oliver wrote:

Well in my church, which is supposed to be an Anglo-Catholic church, the worldview preached from the pulpit and announced on its web-site is that of “Progressive Christianity”. This was not always the case. Whatever “Progressive Christianity” is, it is certainly, to my mind, neither “Progressive” nor Christian…Now I’m confident that Progressive Christianity will wither on the vine; I just hope that the Church does not wither along with it.

He added:

When I attended the Living the Question course I got the impression that the teachings of the Buddha were highly regarded and so I’m sure it won’t be long before the Eight Points become indistinguishable from the Buddha’s Noble Eightfold Path. Let’s wait and see.

Another Psephizo post, ‘What does it mean to be “lost”?’ discusses the use of language in evangelism. Here again, we see only a few mentions of what true evangelism is, best summed up by Steve Hollinghurst, formerly of the Church Army:

… I find some who are lost and wandering, I find others who are one the road but off beam, I find others who have stppped and need to start moving and I find that I still am not always on course and I have some way yet to go – only the first of these are lost, but all of us need Jesus to change our lives and overcome the power of sin and death – oh and BTW I wouldn’t use the language of sin and death in my evangelism either – but I would want my witness to help people find God dealing with its reality.

I know of a Church Army member who was very schooled in Scripture and preached a great sermon at church, despite his young age. It was hard to believe he was an Anglican. He carried his Bible everywhere and, when preaching, would open it frequently to cite various passages which tied his scriptural message together. Unfortunately, he got fed up with the Church of England and left to attend his wife’s Evangelical (non-denominational) church which was more faithful to the Gospel.

Oh for the days of the great — and first — Bishop of Liverpool, J C Ryle, who lived in the 19th century. He was a man of great faith. This site has a collection of his sermons and another, Grace Gems, has more. Ryle once said:

My chief desire in all my writings, is to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ and make Him beautiful and glorious in the eyes of men; and to promote the increase of repentance, faith, and holiness upon earth.

May our clergy discard the emptiness of church growth and follow Ryle’s example. That is the only way the Church of England can be saved for generations to come.

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