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Welcome to Church Society online. We are a fellowship contending to reform and renew the Church of England in biblical faith. On this website, you will find details of our conferences, publications and other resources, as well as our regularly updated blog and weekly podcast.

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 18 Feb 2020

Lee Gatiss looks at the biblical basis for episcopacy

I am often asked by Baptist or Presbyterian friends where the idea of bishops came from. To those unfamiliar with the idea of episcopal church government, it can seem somewhat strange. Nowadays, because many bishops do not seem committed to the Reformed theology which the Church of England professes to believe in its Articles and Canon Law, even many Anglicans have been prompted to wonder if there really is a biblical basis for bishops at all, and whether we might not be better off without them (either abolishing them, or leaving for a Congregationalist or Presbyterian set-up instead). Just because episcopal office has been abused, however does not mean it is necessarily to be abandoned altogether. After all, elsewhere in the world and in church history, Anglican bishops have been a great force for good, in reformation and revival and good governance. So it is worthwhile asking again, where did the idea of bishops come from, and is this a defensible form of church government for evangelicals in the Church of England?

The Pastoral Epistles
In Acts we see the apostles appointing elders / presbyters in the churches they plant. So Paul and Barnabas make disciples in Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch for example (Acts 14) and then re-visit each place some time later to appoint elders for these churches (Acts 14:23). Timothy would have observed this pattern first hand (see 2 Timothy 3:10-11) and indeed he was himself ordained by a group of elders including Paul (1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6). The church can therefore exist without such presbyters (since it is birthed by the living word of God). Yet they are appointed for its wellbeing (Titus 1:3; see also Ephesians 4:11-16), just as elders were appointed and empowered by God in Old Testament Israel to govern the people of God under the Law of Moses (e.g. Exodus 18; Numbers 11).

In the New Testament, Timothy and Paul’s other co-worker, Titus are in fact presented as more than simply pastors or elders. Paul (authorised directly by the Lord Jesus as an apostle) appears to have given these men authority over other elders, in more than a single gathering. In 1 Timothy, Paul tells Timothy to keep other teachers in Ephesus in line, and command them not to preach various heresies (1 Timothy 1:3, 18). Paul speaks as though Timothy has authority over them. He tells Timothy the kind of people who should be appointed as elders and overseers publicly (1 Timothy 3:1-13; 2 Timothy 2:2), if such can be found, and how to organise things in the church — presumably because he will be doing the ordaining and organising. Just as Timothy himself was set aside by the council of elders, through the laying on of hands (1 Timothy 4:14), he is told that he should not be hasty in laying hands on others (1 Timothy 5:22), presumably as he considers whether to ordain them.

When it comes to other elders in Ephesus, Timothy is also to keep an eye on their stipends and assess their performance (1 Timothy 5:17), hear charges against elders, and rebuke their behaviour where necessary (1 Timothy 5:19-20). Paul clearly envisages Timothy as having some authority over the other elders in the large city of Ephesus, just as Titus is also commanded to stay on the island of Crete “so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5). He is to do this if — and only if — he can find suitable people in each town, exercising his judgment in that island-wide discernment process, in the absence of the apostle. Titus is also told to silence and rebuke false teachers (Titus 1:10-16) and not let anyone disregard this authority he has been given (Titus 2:15). This is especially so with those who are divisive or heretical teachers, who he is to warn and then avoid (Titus 3:10-11).

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Posted by Ros Clarke, 14 Feb 2020

Fight Valiantly! and the Fight Valiantly Study Pack are currently half price.

Fight Valiantly! Contending for the Faith in the Bible and in the Church of England is now available for just £5. The Study Pack, which includes 10 copies of the study guide, along with the book, is also half price, at just £10. Bag your bargain today! The Kindle version of the book is also half-price at £2.99.

Here’s why this book is so important for all church leaders and church members to engage with today:
“The Christian faith today is under attack both from ‘Christians’ and from outsiders… This book will broaden your understanding and strengthen your perseverance.”
Ben Kwashi, Bishop of Jos in Nigeria, and General Secretary GAFCON

“Fight Valiantly! is a clarion call which all Christian leaders, lay and ordained, urgently need to hear and to which all need to respond in action.”
Stephen Hofmeyr QC, Barrister and Secretary to the Church of England Evangelical Council

“We don’t like contending, but sometimes faithfulness to Christ requires that we must. This book helpfully takes us to the Bible to show us why and how. An excellent resource for individuals, PCC members, and whole churches.”
Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe’s Oxford and Chairman of the Proclamation Trust

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Posted by Justin Humphreys, 30 Jan 2020

In the latest edition of Crossway, Justin Humphreys writes about how we can do better at creating healthy cultures in our churches.

The Church is facing a level of criticism about its safeguarding failures that is unprecedented. The report by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) on its conclusions regarding the Church of England’s management of allegations is just one part of this increased scrutiny. We will see the wider Church come under the spotlight as IICSA launches its latest investigation, reviewing the current child protection policies and procedures in a range of religious institutions that have a significant presence in England and Wales: non-conformist Christian denominations, Jehovah’s Witnesses and those within the Islamic, Jewish, Sikh, Hindu and Buddhist faiths. 

The right to be protected from harm
But is this level of scrutiny, particularly of the Church, fair? Some may say that the safeguarding message within the Church and wider society has been well and truly heard by now. However, I am convinced that there is nothing that breaks God’s heart more than seeing his Church causing harm to others (whether through acts of commission or omission) and also perpetuating that harm by failing to fully address the issues that lead to the creation of environments where abuse can happen in the first place. Experience tells us that understanding that it is ‘everybody’s responsibility’ and what this really means is still only gaining partial traction.

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