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Gospel Flourishing in a Time of Confusion

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Posted by Lee Gatiss , 19 Feb 2019

Lee Gatiss announces the latest Church Society publication, which contains much needed wisdom from the Bible and church history for Anglican Evangelicals.

Our newest book is a fruit of the recent merger between Church Society and the Fellowship of Word & Spirit and Reform. It originates in papers given at an FWS Study Day and at the CS Conference last year, and contains chapters by Bishops Rod Thomas (a former Chairman of Reform) and Wallace Benn (a former President of Church Society and FWS), Rob Munro and James Hughes (members of FWS who are now on Church Society Council), and myself as Director of Church Society.

Copies can be purchased here, and there are discounts for 5+ copies.

Gospel Flourishing in a Time of Confusion addresses key questions facing Anglican Evangelicals at this moment of disorder and uncertainty. Should we stay in the Church of England, and make use of the many gospel opportunities it affords? Or should we leave for pastures new, since things within the established church have become so difficult? What does it mean to be a“righteous remnant”in an apostate church, when everyone seems to be doing “what is right in their own eyes”? And are there lessons we can learn from how our ancestors handled these sorts of questions, not just in recent times but in the very earliest days of the church?

“A cogent and concise book which brings much needed clarity for those swimming in the muddy waters of the Anglican Communion.” — Jon Tuckwell

    “This pastoral, historical, and biblical call to contend for the truth from within the Church of England deserves to be heard. It is a call to remain, but not at any cost.” — Ed Moll

Rod Thomas kicks things off by looking at ways in which the Church of England set-up both enables and frustrates gospel flourishing. “The biblical picture of flourishing,” he says “is about being fruitful and growing in holiness as we take the word of God seriously.” He continues by saying, “despite the ways some seek to change church doctrine by pressing what is permissible to the limit, the fact remains that the current doctrine and liturgy of the Church is entirely orthodox. This means we can continue to operate with integrity and there is much to encourage parish congregations as they do so.”

Wallace Benn then asks in his chapter whether this is really a season for secession or not. “The real issue,” he tells us, “is by what authority the church lives. Is it simply going to cave in to modern political correctness and pressure, or is it determined to live by the authority of ‘God’s Word written’, and be faithful to apostolic preaching and lifestyle?” After looking at what the Reformers said about the marks of a faithful church, his conclusion is that “It is clear that we must not run away easily but fight for the health of the church knowing that it is false doctrine and ethics that cause fracture and dislocation in the church.” And yet, at the same time, “There are still plenty of signs of life and encouragement in the Church of England, even if the storm clouds are gathering.”

“If you are wondering about how close to stay to the Church of England, how far to run from it, how awkward to be in it, or how positive to be towards it, you will find here deep biblical wisdom with lessons from our history to help and guide us all.” — Paul Darlington

    “The authors of this book build up a positive picture of confi­dent evangelical involvement in the Church of England which is humble and self aware before the Lord, and conscious of the dangers both of passive compromise and of doing some­ thing just for the sake of being seen to do something. Uncom­promising in their convictions without being combative, and piercing in their critique without being partisan, they draw on deep roots in scripture, theology, and history to present a clear call to persistent faithfulness and trust in our sovereign God. I have found it very helpful and will recommend it gladly.” — Dave Walker

There are then two chapters devoted to biblical study. James Hughes unpacks the lessons for today in the bewildering history of Judges 17-21 when “Everyone was doing what was right in their own eyes.” In a provocative exposition, he asks “in what ways might we be tempted to cultural accommodation? That is, how might I act in a way which is right in my own eyes, and would be approved of by my peers, but which is ultimately just conforming to the surrounding culture?” He challenges evangelicals in various ways, concluding (against our natural pragmatism) that “Success is not the same as faithfulness. Just because it works doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do.”

Rob Munro then zeros in on the theme of “the remnant” in the Bible. “How does God keep a promise to save and bless his people… when they are actively rebelling against him?” he asks. Through all the twists and turns of Old Testament history and the preaching of the prophets he finds that “God preserves a people for himself, even in the midst of his judgment, as testimony to his sovereignty and grace.” These biblical findings have great resonance and relevance for us today, especially when some consider secession from the Church of England the only path for today’s “righteous remnant.”

“These pieces provide useful reading for all—lay and ordained —who find themselves within the Church of England and are wondering how things might develop, and how they them­ selves should be making decisions. They remind us that God is in sovereign control and therefore encourage us that he is able to bring glory to his Son in any circumstance, even when an influential denomination looks as if it is succumbing to apostasy. This book will be a useful resource for both pessi­mists and optimists.” — Debbie Buggs

I then conclude the book with two chapters. First, I was asked to present a brief history of secession (or “Chexit”!), to see what lessons we might learn from how people had left the Church in the past. This is an urgent existential question for us today since, “the displeasure of God, the displeasure of the hierarchy, the frustrating impotence of the national church, and the seeming direction of travel are all reasons why secession has again become a hot topic. Something must be done. Secession is something. So perhaps we should do it?” I think this is faulty logic, but the trajectory at the moment gives little cause for optimism. I’m not sure anyone can blame those wanting to start out from scratch away from the Church of England, when we can all see a lamentable credibility gap between the rhetoric of careful synodical statements and the incessant official frowns (and worse) which many of us have had to endure. However, after surveying the history of some significant movements, I conclude that the “Chexit dividend” may not be as great as some imagine.

Finally, in a mixture of biblical and historical survey, I look at how the early church flourished in a hostile world. I have seven points all beginning with “E” to explain the surprising triumph of Christianity in the first few centuries after Jesus’s death and resurrection. The final one is that “the early church was an excluding church—it dealt effectively with ma­jor heretical threats to its integrity and cohesion, and did not practice what is nowadays called ‘good disagreement’—the relativising of truth and the exal­tation of unity at any cost.” We also see by studying this inspiring story that “State support, freedom of speech, and freedom of religion may be great gifts and privileges. But they are by no means prerequisites for the growth of the church.”

This book is offered as a resource to help us as we think through together how best to help the gospel flourish in our day and age. May it bring wisdom and insight as we face the future.

Copies can be purchased here, and there are discounts for 5+ copies.

Revd Dr Lee Gatiss is the Director of Church Society

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