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We update our blog several times a week, with news and comment on ministry, theology, the Bible, liturgy and issues of the day.

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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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Posted by Ros Clarke, 24 Jan 2020

An updated version of this book is now back in stock

This handbook for the visionary and the terrified is now back in stock with an updated edition for 2020.

Our gospel is eternal, our buildings just a means to an end. So why do we need to own buildings? Why not hire a cinema, or a school hall for Sunday services? Many new churches do this, and it can work very well in the early stages. But is it a good long-term solution? Should we spend money on bricks and mortar, when the church is about people? Can’t we make do with what we’ve got? Isn’t it better for money go to mission instead? This book will help those who have an inkling of dissatisfaction about the facilities or capacity in their church, and show them the way forward. It aims to help churches already launching into building projects, encourage those who are holding back, and give ideas to churches not yet thinking about possibilities.

Building for the Gospel is a valuable resource for church leaders, PCCs and others.

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Posted 23 Jan 2020

Response to the latest statement from the House of Bishops.

Church Society welcomes the recent pastoral statement from the House of Bishops concerning civil partnerships.

Specifically, we are grateful to the House for reaffirming the traditional and orthodox view of marriage (see paragraphs 7 and 35), and for clarifying that “sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purposes for human beings” (paragraph 9).

Given the confusion in our culture, and even in many of our churches, we believe the House of Bishops should be thanked for making such a courageous and counter-cultural statement.

We continue to have concerns about the trajectory of the Church of England, and some of the details of this statement, but pray that the House of Bishops will continue to provide the pastoral leadership that we need, in accordance with the revealed will of our Lord and Saviour.

Please click through for some further comments.

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Posted by Ros Clarke, 20 Jan 2020

This year, as part of our commitment to supporting churches around the country, Church Society will be hosting a series of four regional conferences.

In place of our usual annual day conference, in 2020 we are hosting a series of four regional conferences on the subject of episcopacy. We anticipate that these will be particularly suitable for clergy and lay leaders of local churches. Booking is now open for the first two conferences in March:

1.30pm: Episcopacy in Principle, Lee Gatiss
2.15pm: Episcopacy in Practice, Rob Munro
3.00pm: Break for tea
3.20pm: Panel discussion, Lee Gatiss, Rob Munro, Rod Thomas
4.00pm: End.
Location:  Park Inn by Radisson, Manchester, Cheetham Hill Road, M4 4EW.

BRISTOL: March 25th
1.30pm: Episcopacy in Principle, Lee Gatiss
2.15pm: Episcopacy in Practice, Simon Austen
3.00pm: Break for tea
3.20pm: Panel discussion, Lee Gatiss, Simon Austen, Rod Thomas
4.00pm: End.
Location: Novotel Bristol Centre, Victoria Street, Bristol BS1 6HY.

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Posted by Kirsten Birkett, 16 Jan 2020

An extract from Kirsten Birkett's article in the latest edition of Churchman

“Spiritual formation” seems to be an innocuous phrase, for Christians; a good thing to do, what we would want for ourselves and others. It is in use in general church circles, and in more formal literature. In particular, if one investigates developments concerning theological education, it is very clear that spiritual formation is what theological education should be about.

Let us consider selected examples from recent literature, tracing key developments. It is notable that the phrase “ministerial formation” has virtually taken over from “ministerial training” or even “theological education” as the correct term to describe the purpose of theological seminaries. The theological curriculum is meant to provide a “genuinely formative experience.” “‘Vocation’ and ‘formation’ are the normative concepts underlying all contemporary ministerial education,” we are told. This “spiritual formation” has something to do with character and emotions, but predominantly it is about developing a sense of spirituality. It is primarily a sensibility. It is contrasted with traditional theological education which is criticised for being too academic, too divorced from the real world and failing to relate to the whole person.

This is something almost taken for granted, stated as a fact; the discussion is generally not so much about whether spiritual formation should be central to theological education, but about ways to do it. To some extent, this is a reflection of the way in which “spiritual formation” has come to be seen as the dominant mode of understanding Christian life in general, but there is a substantial body of literature that has imported this idea as the dominant paradigm in theological education. For example, recent papers discuss how to manage spiritual formation in a theological college over multiple campuses where student life is fractured; how it might happen in a particular national context; how it happens outside traditional residential training or online.

This is a trend which deserves careful scrutiny. “Spiritual formation” seems a reasonable thing for Christians to do, but what exactly does it mean, and why is it seen as the main purpose of theological education? Indeed, there seems to be considerable vagueness in the literature about what it is, even amongst people who agree it is central to theological education. We are told that both the UK and US have “no developed theology of formation and no clear idea about it.” Yet a little investigation reveals that in wider theological circles, this paradigm of pastoral education being spiritual formation has been gradually dominating discussion for decades. Where did this term come from? Why has it become so dominant, and what happened to the historical ways of understanding the spirituality necessary for an Anglican minister?

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Posted by Ros Clarke, 13 Jan 2020

The winner of the Gerald Bray Essay Prize is announced.

We were pleased to receive a substantial number of entries for the Gerald Bray Essay Prize, demonstrating a high standard of scholarship and engaging with a wide range of subjects. Gerald commented on the shortlisted entries that “Overall the quality is very high. I am impressed and honoured to think that so many people, from very different backgrounds, have taken the trouble to produce such outstanding work.”

The winner of the £300 prize, whose entry is due to be published in the next issue of Churchman, is Paul Young, with his essay, “The Role of Works in Final Judgment Using Calvin’s Aristotelian Framework with Special Reference to Romans 6:19-23” of which Gerald says that, “Young tackles a little known subject with great erudition and thoroughness.”

Paul Young studied at Moore Theological College in Sydney, Australia and is now a pastor at Providence City Church in Perth, Australia.
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He also commended two other entries, whose authors will both receive a copy of Gerald’s book, God is Love: Jonathan D. Torrance’s “‘Experience Alone Makes the Theologian’: A constructive retrieval of Luther’s theology of experience” and Rich Duncan’s critical evaluation of the Socinian movement, with particular reference to the polemical engagement of John Owen.

These essays will also appear in Churchman in due course and we hope to publish a number of the other entries as well. It has been very encouraging to see that the state of evangelical Anglican scholarship is so healthy, with so many new scholars emerging. The next essay prize is scheduled for autumn 2021, but of course, articles may be submitted to Churchman at any time. Please see the guidelines linked on this page.

Subscribe to Churchman. There are discounted rates for students and for Church Society members.

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Posted by Peter Jensen, 9 Jan 2020

Peter Jensen discusses the problem with laws in this excerpt from his editorial in the latest edition of Churchman

Given its age, it’s odd how powerful the Bible is.

It has a constant capacity to speak the truth about us and to us; it helps us both to understand ourselves and also to long for something better; and then it gives us that better hope in the face of Jesus Christ.The Bible is not a philosophical treatise; it is better than that, more human. It gives its truth through song and proverb and epistle and sermon and apocalypse and story and promises. In some ways it’s like an old and crusty uncle who frightens at first appearance but turns out to be the wisest person you will ever meet, precisely because he minces no words and softens no reality.

Part of the crustiness is the Law. The Bible is, among other things, a legal book containing the Law of Moses, but much else by way of legal demands. And then our Lord himself says, “Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 5:19).

It is a paradox. As the Bible itself testifies, law provokes both respect and dislike. It has that effect on us. Thus, when all is said and done, I find it hard to like the Sermon on the Mount, especially the material in the fifth chapter of Matthew, in which the Lord not only affirms the ongoing veracity of the Law, but also makes sure that we feel its interference into our lives. Banning murder is not enough; now he bans anger. Banning adultery is not enough; now he bans lust as well. And his concluding demand for perfection (5:48) is outrageous because it is totally beyond our ability to fulfil, even if we read it as a call to comprehensive love rather than mere purity.

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Posted by Simon Tomkins, 8 Jan 2020

Simon Tomkins discusses why Greta Thunberg, who was nominated as Time magazine's Person of the Year in 2019, is a worthy recipient of the honour – and why her movement desperately needs Jesus.

Challenges for us
I’m really impressed by the 16-year-old Swedish Environmental campaigner Greta Thunberg.  She’s a divisive figure who, like all of us, has her flaws, but when I watched her famous ‘How dare you?’ speech, several things struck me:
1. She’s talking about the end of the world in a culture that doesn’t think about the future
Watching Greta speak, I thought ‘that is what it looks like when a person genuinely believes the end of the world may be just around the corner.’  She may not use the word ‘eschatology’, but that’s what she’s talking about, and she clearly believes that people desperately need to change course right now to avoid disaster.  I’m a Christian, and the Bible tells me I have far better reasons than Greta to believe that the end of the world and final judgment are realities – I just wish my words and my lifestyle communicated the same urgency that hers do.

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