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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 Ros Clarke, 16 Sep 2019

Mark Wallace and Fiona Gibson's session from JAEC 2019, looking at what unites us, what divides us, and how we can set aside those differences to work together more effectively for Christ's glory.

Beginning with 1 Corinthians 1, Fiona Gibson and Mark Wallace take us through the issue of unity - and disunity - in the church. This is a practical session looking at ways in which evangelicals have been united in their work and witness, and with top tips for working towards this.

Please note that we are extending the podcast summer break until the new year. But never fear! Mondays are temporarily redesignated as Media Mondays, and we will be posting new audio content every week, beginning with the excellent talks from this year’s JAEC. Already available are Lee Gatiss’s challenging session on Titus 1 and Andrew Towner’s opening talk defining Anglicanism. Later in the autumn we’ll have some terrific talks to share from the Reform archive and a few other treats are in store as well.

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Posted by Tom Woolford, 12 Sep 2019

Tom Woolford considers the strategy of drawing red lines, and suggests a different biblical approach to protecting the flock from wolves.

I have no red lines. I am not going voluntarily to leave the Church of England under any circumstances. No, not even if the Church authorises services of blessing for same-sex unions. But I have not ‘gone soft’ on that or any other issue. There is no way that I would conduct such services: there is no way that I am going to bless what God calls sin (of course, this means that a situation is certainly conceivable in which I may be expelled from ministry in the Church of England – I’ll return to this possibility later).

Other classic evangelicals take a different approach; namely, to draw a line in the sand and plan to leave the Church of England if that line were crossed. There are several weaknesses with this approach. One such is that there are at least five or six different places where that line is drawn. For some, it will be an unbiblical liturgical innovation. For others, it will be a change in the canons. For a third group, it will be allowing clergy openly to be in sinful sexual relationships. Still others will walk if the Living in Love and Faith teaching resources establish ‘two integrities’ in the Church’s official teaching.

Indeed, for a few, their line has already been crossed – in the House of Bishops’ Guidance for adapting the renewal of baptismal vows to celebrate a gender transition, and/or in the toleration of false teaching and false living under the guise of ‘pastoral accommodation’ and ‘radical inclusivity.’ The line-in-the-sand approach is therefore a recipe for confusion, frustration, and division among those on the same side.

A second drawback is its inherent ambiguity. Has General Synod act A crossed line B? Has House of Bishops’ Guidance X transgressed ultimatum Y? Things are rarely – if ever – clear cut. There is always some (deliberate?) fudging that obscures whether the Rubicon has in fact been forded – and there always will be. Indeed, evangelicals both within and without the Church of England have warned of salami-slicing, ‘boiling the frog,’ and smoothing over a previous line-in-the-sand to retreat a little further and draw a new (also inevitably provisional) one.

To be absolutely clear, I think it would be disastrous and desperately wicked if the Church were to prepare blessings for things we must not bless, alter the canons to accommodate worldly thinking, give up the standard of chastity for ordained office-holders, or sanction false teaching. I have, and always will, resist such things with everything I can muster – in prayer and preaching, petitions and politics.

But I will not leave if those things happen. My reasons are not pragmatic.

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Posted by Ros Clarke, 10 Sep 2019

Andrew Towner's opening talk from the 2019 Junior Anglican Evangelical Conference

What is Anglicanism and why does it matter? In this opening talk from JAEC 2019, Andrew Towner examines the nature of Anglicanism and the problems with defining it either too broadly or too narrowly.

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 5 Sep 2019

Lee Gatiss considers 10 challenges posed by the Anglican doctrine of the church

In a recent blog, I examined Protestant and Catholic disagreements about the doctrine of the Church, at the time of the Reformation. In such a context, what are the marks of the church, according to the Church of England?

Article 19, as we have begun to see, has several things to say about this. “The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.” The visible church is a group called out from the world, as Bellarmine said. All Englishmen are not necessarily Christians. The church is a certain group, called out or set apart from the world.

As the Homily for Whitsunday, probably written by Bishop John Jewel (1522-1571), puts it, “The true church is an universal congregation or fellowship of God’s faithful and elect people.” This fellowship of the elect “hath always three notes or marks whereby it is known — pure and sound doctrine, the sacraments ministered according to Christ’s holy institution, and the right use of ecclesiastical discipline.”

Bishop John Ponet (1516-1556) was essentially the mouthpiece of Cranmer’s circle of reformers, and gave us a basic commentary on the doctrine of the Articles in his officially-sanctioned catechism. He asks how the true church “may severally and plainly be known asunder from each other fellowship of men?” The answer is “That congregation is nothing else but a certain multitude of men: which, wheresoever they be, profess the pure and upright learning of Christ, and that in such sort, as it is faithfully set forth in the holy testament, by the evangelists and apostles: which in all points are governed and ruled by the laws and statutes of their king and high Bishop [in the Latin, Pontificis] Christ, in the bond of charity: which use his holy mysteries, that are commonly called sacraments, with such pureness and simplicity (as touching their nature and substance) as the apostles of Christ used and left behind in writing.”

So as D. B. Knox explains it, “Article 19 gives the marks by which a Christian assembly may be distinguished from assemblies called for other purposes.” Such a group confesses pure, biblical doctrine and is governed (as the Belgic Confession would agree) by one king and Pontiff — not the Bishop of Rome, as Bellarmine and Eck would say, but Christ. As the Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum clearly put it, “the error of those who want the universal church of the whole Christian world to be governed by the bishop of Rome alone is intolerable.” Why? Because the church is the company of all the faithful (“omnium coetus sit fidelium”) in which the Bible is sincerely taught and the sacraments are administered according to Christ’s command (2:21).

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 4 Sep 2019

Lee Gatiss looks at Roman Catholic and Protestant disagreements on the doctrine of the church, to put Anglican doctrine into its context.

In a recent blog, we looked at what Article 19 says about Anglican polity, the meaning of the word “congregation”, and the structure of the church. Yet this Article was not intended to speak to debates about church governance primarily. Its main aim was to describe what a true church looks like. This is therefore a great way to consider what kind of healthy local Anglican churches we should be seeking to pioneer, establish, and secure for the future.

The Article begins by saying, “The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.” This is framed in a very similar way to a number of other contemporary statements about what the church is, both Roman Catholic and Protestant. It was intended to speak into that polemical context. Only by seeing it in that light, can we make sense of the particular truths that Article 19 is trying to confess. When we do see it in that light, however, it presents a number of very significant challenges to us today, particularly for Anglican Evangelicals.

Roman Catholic views of the Church
We saw in the previous blog that Luther’s nemesis, John Eck (1486-1543), along with many others in medieval and early modern Europe, thought of “the church” as the clerical hierarchy. As the Reformation continued, even more thought was given by Roman Catholic theologians to this subject. Cardinal Bellarmine (1542-1621) listed 15 marks of true church in his treatise on the subject as part of his learned and impressive work on current controversies in the Christendom. Elsewhere, Bellarmine gives a snappier definition, aimed more at brevity than comprehensiveness. “The Catholic teaching,” he says, “is that the Church is only one, not two, and that the body of men of the same Christian profession and of the same Sacraments, gathered in communion is one and true, under the legitimate pastors and especially of the one Vicar of Christ on Earth, the Roman Pontiff.” So, in essence, there are three parts to his definition of what makes a church: “the profession of the true faith, the communion of the Sacraments, and subjection to the legitimate pastor, the Roman Pontiff.” (De Ecclesia Militante in De Controversiis, Book 3).

We see the same basic structure of this approach in Bellarmine’s catechism. So, what is the church, in essence? He answers, “The Church is a certain convocation and gathering of baptized men who profess the same faith and law of Christ under obedience to the Roman Pontiff.” So, the church is a convocation or congregation (Latin: convocatio / congregatio) he says, “because we are not born Christians (like we are born either as Italians, or Frenchman, or of some other nation).” We enter the church through baptism, but that is not sufficient for us to be the church. There must also be some confessional, doctrinal content to the church’s faith: “it is necessary to believe and profess the holy faith and law of Christ just as the pastors and preachers of the Church propose.” Yet even that does not suffice to make a church: “but it is also necessary for us to be in obedience to the Roman Pontiff as the Vicar of Christ, which is to hold and recognize him as the Supreme Head in place of Christ.” (Doctrina Christiana Catechismus, under the 9th Article of the Creed).

So a true Catholic Church is a band of baptised believers beholden to the Bishop of Rome.

Luther on the Church
Martin Luther wanted to be very clear that the Pope and his cardinals are not the Church, but the people are.

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 3 Sep 2019

Can Anglican polity rightly be said to be Congregationalist? Lee Gatiss takes a look.

In recent days, there has been some confusion about Anglican polity amongst evangelicals. Some have made the claim that Anglican polity is congregationalist, as part of an attempt to justify the avoidance of heretical super-congregational authorities. That is, they claim that if we wish (quite rightly) to distance ourselves from false teachers within the diocese or national church, we can easily do so, because in Anglicanism the church is really only the local congregation.

Now, it is true, that the Church of England has never seen local parishes as merely “lesser groupings of the faithful”, subordinate to the bishop and diocese, the “real” church. That is the doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church as seen, for example, in Vatican II which teaches that “the bishop is to be considered as the high priest of his flock, from whom the life in Christ of his faithful is in some way derived and dependent. Therefore all should hold in great esteem the liturgical life of the diocese centered around the bishop, especially in his cathedral church; they must be convinced that the pre-eminent manifestation of the Church consists in the full active participation of all God’s holy people in these liturgical celebrations, especially in the same eucharist, in a single prayer, at one altar, at which there presides the bishop surrounded by his college of priests and by his ministers.” (Sacrosanctum Consilium, E41-42)

The parish is truly the heart of the Church of England. However, that does not mean the parish, or local congregation, is all. Neither does it mean that the bishop and diocese is nothing. The claim some have made, however, is that Article 19 of The Thirty-nine Articles supports the idea that Anglican polity is Congregationalist.

It says in Article 19 that “The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men.” But does this mean that a particular local congregation is the church, and the only thing that matters? The article continues “The visible Church of Christ is a congregation of faithful men in which the pure Word of God is preached, and the sacraments be duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance in all those things that of necessity are requisite to the same.” It then talks about some visible churches which have fallen short of this ideal standard. But it doesn’t talk about congregational gatherings in specific buildings, or even small groups meeting in homes. It says “As the Church of Jerusalem, Alexandria, and Antioch, have erred; so also the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith.”

So the Article is talking about the essential elements, or marks of a church, but not just in a local sense. Cardinal Bellarmine listed 15 marks of true church in De Notis Ecclesiae, part of his massive refutation of Protestantism, De Controversiis Christianiae Fidei (Ingolstadt, 1588). But the Articles give us a snappier definition. The church is a group of faithful Christians with the word of God and the sacraments duly administered. Churches err and go astray if their understanding of the faith, of ceremonies, or of Christian living deviate from the word of God.

It doesn’t say here that bishops or cathedrals are necessary for there to be a church. But equally, it isn’t making the point that every individual congregation is “an island entire of itself” either, or that church is only a local assembly. It can’t be saying that. After all, in the context of the Article itself, the word Church is used of 4 entities far larger than a parish gathering — the Church of Rome, that is, the Roman Catholic Church, being one of them!

The Meaning of “Congregation”
In the historical context of Article 19, the word “congregation” was not used (as some may imagine) exclusively of a small local gathering of Christians anyway. In English during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, this could be used not just of particular local meetings, but of the whole visible church on earth. (See this common use in the Congregationalist, John Owen, Works 11:66-67 for example). In Latin, congregatio meant a union, society, or association of various sorts, although the word used in the Latin edition of the Articles is not congregatio anyway, it is cœtus — another general word for a coming together of some sort, a conjoining (yes, including the sexual kind), or just for a company of people.

The word congregation was much employed by Tyndale and other English reformers to translate the biblical Greek word ekklesia. Yet they did this not to restrict the word to a local setting, but actually to widen its meaning. Their point was that the church is not just the Roman clergy under the Pope. As Tyndale says in “In as much as the clergy… had appropriated unto themselves the term [Church] that of right is common unto all the whole congregation of them that believe in Christ… therefore in the translation of the new Testament where I found this word Ecclesia, I interpreted it by this word congregation.” (Section 2 of his Answer to More, from 1530) This is why the Oxford English Dictionary lists Article 19’s use of the word under its definition of congregation “in the sense of the whole body of the faithful, the Church of Christ”, as distinct from the contemporary clericalist connotations.

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Posted by Lee Gatiss, 2 Sep 2019

Lee Gatiss's keynote address from this year's Junior Anglican Evangelical Conference, looks at the church's need for godly leaders.

In the sixteenth-century, the Anglican Reformers claimed that when people are languishing for lack of good leadership in the state, the church must lead the way by recovering a vision of godly government and guidance.

“Just as the condition of the state is ruined when it is governed by people who are stupid, demanding, and burning with ambition, so in these times the church of God is struggling, since it is committed to the care of those who are totally incompetent to assume so important a task, in which respect it has fallen very far short indeed of those rules of the blessed Paul, which he prescribed to Timothy and Titus. Therefore we must find an appropriate remedy for so serious a plague on our churches.” [Reformatio Legum Ecclesiasticarum 11:1]

So in my keynote talk from this year’s JAEC conference, I looked at what Paul says in Titus chapter 1 about the appropriate remedy for this plague. You can listen in, by clicking on the talk above.

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Posted 12 Aug 2019

Book asap for this year's JAEC!

It’s not too late to book for this year’s Junior Anglican Evangelical Conference, featuring John Dunnett, Mark Tanner, Andrew Towner and many others.  All the details and the booking form are here. Please contact the office as soon as possible to confirm your place.

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Posted 30 Jul 2019

Robin Barfield continues our series of posts on the subject of spiritual abuse by considering some of the particular dangers and temptations in ministry with children and young people.

Children and young people are the most likely to be spiritually abused, since spiritual abuse is most likely to occur in a relationship between a significantly more powerful individual (most likely an adult) and a less powerful individual (often a child or young person). The only successfully prosecuted criminal case of spiritual abuse in the UK so far was between a vicar and a teenage boy.  This means that those of us with responsibility for the care of children and young people in our churches have to be particularly vigilant.

We need to understand the ways in which children and young people are particularly vulnerable and then think carefully about how we guard against spiritual abuse occurring.

Children are Theologically Vulnerable

Children are full of questions and naturally curious about everything, including Christian things. Adults are seen as people who know more, who can answer their questions and who are, therefore, in a position of power and influence over the children they are in proximity to. Generally speaking, that is all children an adult is in proximity to. I minister in a primarily working class context, and I realise that in these circumstances, and others, it does not always feel as though all adults have this type of power over a child, but they do.

A child will listen to whatever you tell them about Jesus. If you say Jesus was half man, half goat a good number of younger children will nod and accept that without question. An adult would not. This makes children theologically vulnerable to whatever you want to tell them to believe, do, say or think. Evangelicals are therefore particularly open to this kind of spiritual abuse because we love the truth and we love people hearing the truth of the gospel. We are truth people. We recognise that the gospel cannot just be invented on the whim of the human heart but is revealed to us often in ways that rebuke and correct our own thinking and feeling.

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Posted by Ros Clarke, 29 Jul 2019

Ros Clarke offers some suggestions for summer podcast listening.

With no new episodes of the Church Society podcast over the summer, now is a great time to catch up on some of what you may have missed. Here are eight of our most popular episodes, along with a handful of suggestions of other great podcasts you may not have come across:

Evangelism Four Ways
Anglican Elders
Singing the Psalms
Ministry and Mental Health
To Lithuania and Beyond!
Matt and Anne Kennedy

Have you tried:
Simply Put: Barry Cooper
Preventing Grace: Matt and Anne Kennedy
Talking Theology: Cranmer Hall

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