Wednesday, 17 May 2017

In it to win it

A few years ago now I once complained to a friend (and mentor) of mine, the Rev Stuart Bell about the Church in Wales and whether it was not just better off leaving it and going to England given the problems it was having with falling attendances etc. I then asked him why he hadn't considered the idea. I will never forget his reply. he said he was committed to the Church in Wales and wanted to work, with God for its renewal. He said: "I'm in it, to win it." That was his calling and after years of struggles, questions, frustrations and disappointments, I have decided that I agree. I too, am in it to win it.

I say this now after ten years of wrestling with the question. I have looked at other denominations like the Baptist, or the Orthodox Church and even the Roman Catholic Church, all of whom I have great admiration for. I even toyed, briefly, with the possibility of moving to Bristol where my eldest daughter and grandchildren live. I say briefly because as a Swansea City supporter and season ticket holder I would not want to travel an hour and a half every Saturday or evening home game to go and watch them.

Things became hairier when the whole question of the ordination and marriage of practising homosexuals reared its head. How could I remain a member of a Church which accepted such things? Looking more closely at the Roman Catholicism I admired their no-nonsense approach to such things and felt maybe that would be a safe place to run to? However there were too many things that I could not agree with and that idea never really materialised.

However, over the past four months of enforced rest from work, I have had much time to ponder and think and have come back again to Stuart's attitude that leaving would be unhelpful and unfulfilling and contradict the whole basis of my own calling by God which was to serve Him in the Anglican Church, come what may.

This was further reinforced by an article from Christian News Today which was written in the face of the news that one evangelical church in the Church of England has sought alternative episcopal oversight through the appointment of a 'rogue' bishop. In response, a spokesperson from a leading traditional evangelical organisation, the Church Society reiterated that as far as they were concerned "there will be no mass exodus of evangelicals from the Church of England"

Lee Gatiss, director of the Church Society, wrote in his latest 'Topical Tuesday' column that many evangelicals view the current climate in the Church of England, and the battle over how far to go in accepting LGBT people, as comparable to Brexit.

He said they are asking: 'Where shall I go to church? Where shall I offer myself to serve in ministry? Is it time to leave the CofE?'

But it is not a straightforward question, binary question as Brexit was.

'Evangelicals will not en masse leave the CofE. There is no fabled blueprint or master plan for doing that. And there never has been,' he says, going on to criticise those calling most stridently for division", he wrote. 

He went on to write:

'Interestingly, those who often seem to talk "toughest" on all this, cannot bring themselves to actually do it themselves. They are happy to urge others to leave but I've noticed some of the most strident advocates for leaving, on social media and elsewhere, are all still in Church of England parishes and vicarages and pension schemes.

'Though they try to push others into much more precarious family and financial and fellowship situations than they themselves happen to enjoy.' 

He said Credible Bishops, a discussion document (revealed exclusively by Christian Today) was a useful discussion paper by two individuals on an important subject which must be discussed. There was no vote on it at the conference. But he insisted it was not a widely accepted plan.

'Anglican evangelicals do not all agree on tactics or that the victory of the liberal agenda in the Church is inevitable and imminent as some say,' he added.

But doing the wrong thing can be worse than doing nothing. 'What we must try to do is the right thing.'

He noted that in 17th century many who left the Church of England ended up as Unitarians, especially those who were decidedly against systematic theology and wanted to only talk about and study the Bible.

In the 18th century, the Countess of Huntingdon's Connexion was detached.

In the 19th century the Free Church of England people began to leave.

In the 20th century the C of E (Continuing) was formed.

As for where they are all now, about 1,000 people meet each week in the Countess of Huntingdon's churches.

'Of those who left in the 19th century, the Free Church of England is still small.

'The Church of England (Continuing) may not continue for very much longer. It has four congregations (and two bishops) soldiering on with the King James Version and the 1662 Prayer Book alone.'

Secession is never easy, and such things need to be much more carefully thought through, he said.

'The vast majority of conservative evangelicals in the Church of England are not about to go anywhere or do anything wild. They are united around the agenda of staying in and fighting on, for the glory of God and the good of England.'

He dismissed the Newcastle consecration as the work of a 'perplexingly idiosyncratic church' which has 'gone a bit rogue'.

He continued:

'... today, we in Church Society reaffirm our commitment to working within the structures of the Church of England, for reform and renewal, and the re-evangelisation of our spiritually needy land,' he said.

'So either way, let's fight for Jesus in ways Jesus would approve. And Jesus's people will, we pray, see something attractive and worth being part of – for the glory of God and the good of his world.'

I am an evangelical (in the best sense of the word which means I am NOT right-wing, pro-Israel, or a supporter of Donal Trump) am not, nor would consider, becoming a member of the Church Society, but I agree wholeheartedly with Mr Gatiss' reasoning and conclusion. I am determined to stay and proclaim the Gospel as an Anglican until the end, praying and working for renewal and supporting those of my fellow clergy who wish to do the same.  

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