Friday, 15 September 2017

Anglicans again

I read this morning the following alarming statistics:

"Only six per cent of British adults read or listen to the Bible, while 55 per cent of Christians in this country never do so, according to a new poll commissioned for the Archbishops' Council Evangelism Task Force.

The survey of 8150 British adults, which also shows dwindling numbers praying and attending church, was conducted by ComRes in March and reported by the Church Times.

Asked about how often they read or listened to the Bible, 55 per cent of those who described themselves as Christians answered 'never' while 14 per cent said at least once a month.

Twenty-nine per cent said that they never prayed, while 40 per cent said that they did at least once a month, and 18 per cent answered that they did so daily.

Regarding church attendance, one-third of Christians said 'never' with 19 per cent saying at least once a month and 14 per cent at least once a week.

Anglicans were the most likely to tick 'never' to all three measurements of practising the faith..."

You can read the rest of the article by following this link.

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

The harm evangelism can cause?

I am currently reading The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer which, for the last 100 years has been acknowledged as a spiritual classic. In the opening chapter, he bewails what he terms 'cheap grace' and the harm it has done the church. This is what he writes:

"Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church. We are fighting today for costly grace.

Cheap grace means grace sold on the market like cheapjack's wares. The sacraments, the forgiveness of sin, and the consolations of religion are thrown away at cut prices. Grace is represented as the Church's inexhaustible treasury, from which she showers blessings with generous hands, without asking questions or fixing limits. Grace without price; grace without cost! The essence of grace, we suppose, is that the account has been paid in advance; and, because it has been paid, everything can be had for nothing. Since the cost is infinite, the possibilities of using and spending it are infinite. what would grace be if it were not cheap?

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian 'conception' of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. The Church which holds the correct doctrine of grace has, it is supposed, ipso facto a part in that grace. In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace, therefore, amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.

Cheap grace means the justification of sin without the justification of the sinner..... Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession, absolution without personal confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.

Costly grace is the treasure hidden in the field; for the sake of it a man will gladly go and sell all that he has. It is the pearl of great price to buy which the merchant will sell all his goods. It is the kingly rule of Christ, for whose sake a man will pluck out the eye which causes him to stumble, it is the call of Jesus Christ at which the disciples leaves his nets and follows him.

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock.

Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: 'ye were bought at a price', and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God..."
The Cost of Discipleship pages 35-36

You get the drift. The point Bonhoeffer is making is that we must be careful we don't cheapen grace by giving the impression that the Christian life is easy and we can become one without putting ourselves out in any way. Or that we can be a Christian without confronting our sin, and accepting the need for repentance and the ensuing battle that we will be involved in if we are to stay true to Christ.

I make this point because I have a number of concerns about the Church today:
First, I am concerned that we don't try to sell a sort of dumbed down Christian faith in order to win 'customers'. In the fear that our pews are not as full as would like them to be the temptation is to do whatever we can to try and fill them. This can - and does - so easily lead to compromise. We only have to see the way some churches are going with regards to same-sex marriage.
Second, evangelism is one of the first things to suffer. Attempts to force someone 'making a decision for Christ' with very little preparation or weighing up of the cost can have a devastating long term effect on the individual involved as he/she can be misled into thinking that everything is okay and they will go to heaven when they die because they have made a decision or prayed a special prayer.
Third, cheap grace has played into the hands of the enemy as it produces nominal Christians by the bucket load leading to the Church as Club rather than the salt and light to a dying and darkening world it is meant to be.

I could go on but you get where I am coming from. We are in the state we are today because the Church has been giving away grace cheaply by the bucketload and now it has all caught up with us. We are reaping what we have sown and now are 'enjoying the benefit' of our past indulgences.

All is not lost however and God, in His wisdom, is disciplining the Church in order to restore it to the condition He needs it to be in for what is coming ahead. In the words of Hebrews 12:4-11:

"4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. 5 And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
    and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
6 because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as his children. For what children are not disciplined by their father? 8 If you are not disciplined—and everyone undergoes discipline—then you are not legitimate, not true sons and daughters at all. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of spirits and live! 10 They disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in his holiness. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."

One final comment. Several months ago I produced a new baptism policy for the parish. Those inquiring about having their children baptized are now required to attend church first as well as classes about the Christian Faith. Unless they do so I will not give away the grace of God cheaply and go through a meaningless ceremony that means nothing and gives the impression that little Johnny is a Christian when his parents and godparents haven't a clue about the most basic beliefs about Jesus Christ. Since then I have had three enquiries but no responses. On the surface of it, it looks like a failure - which is where the pressure comes from - but at least I can now sleep at night knowing that I have not belittled what Jesus has done for them and me.

The Real Story

A recent report has noted that the number of Anglicans in Britain has collapsed by 50 per cent in under two decades, according to figures released today.

The latest British Social Attitudes survey's data on religion show that the number of people in Britain who describe themselves as having no religion at all is also at its highest ever level.

More than half, 53 per cent, of the British public now describe themselves as having 'no religion'.

This is up from 48 per cent in 2015.

On the face of it, this is really bad news and no doubt will cause much despair in the hearts of lifelong Anglicans who have prayed and hoped for a turn around in the fortunes of what used to be the Church of the land. And maybe there is a kind of poorly disguised glee behind the reporting as Christianity seems to have very few friends among the secular press nowadays.

But looking at things from a different angle I am not in despair. As well as the oft quoted teaching of Jesus that reminds us in Matthew 16 that even the gates of hell/hades will not prevail against the church, I believe that what we are experiencing is a huge reality check. People are being honest in a way that they haven't felt able to for a long time. It used to be the 'norm' that people would not only attend church - at least a few times a year - and have their families baptised, married and buried by the church. But whether there was any real integrity behind those decisions is doubtful in the majority of cases.

So what we are finding now is that people are saying that they won't attend church because they don't believe, which is fine.

Also, we are seeing the final outplaying of a disillusionment with God which started with the Great War and gained momentum after the Second as millions of lives were wiped out. Again this is a more complex picture than it appears as many, alternatively, found comfort and support from the Church which helped them through such a difficult time. However, people have questioned the goodness of God in allowing such suffering to happen and the Church has been ill-equipped to answer the question, in some cases merely telling those who have asked it that they should have more faith or something similar.

I was listening to Tim Stanley a reporter from The Telegraph being interviewed by Premier Christian Radio as part of their 'The Profile Interview Series' available as a podcast. He is a practising and committed Roman Catholic from an evangelical background. Asked about the present condition both of the Church and Christianity in Britain and he takes the view that in some senses nothing much has really changed with regards to Christian belief. In previous centuries statistics have not told the true story about the state of belief because it has been measured in terms of attendance or baptisms and weddings (and possibly funerals). But given that Christianity was the prevailing religion of the culture of society the pressures for people to conform meant that they attended church or had their children baptized as a matter of course and NOT because they had any real conviction that this really meant something. And so Stanley - who is a historian by background - sees today's situation as much more realistic and that what we are in fact seeing is not an end of the Christian faith - far from it - but an end to nominalism, and about time too. If you are a Christian today, generally it is because you are serious about your faith, although it must be said that there are still strong strands of nominalism in the Church today.

So I am optimistic about the future and although I would love to see larger congregations - especially in my own church - perhaps our weekly attendance is much more the 'norm' than we think. In fact, I read the other day that the average size of a New Testament Church was 25!

In addition, with the Church losing its privileged position in society, maybe it will return to the place where it will become less powerful and more like the Church of Jesus Christ. I for one want the Church of England to become disestablished and for the Church no longer to officially marry people but, like on the continent, have all marriages carried out by a registrar with couples going along to church after for a religious ceremony.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Political Correctness again

Evangelist J John on why Lidl's removal of the cross is a 'grotesque and blundering cultural insult'

There is a widespread trend in Christian circles to talk about a conspiracy against our faith. Endlessly recirculated emails bring warnings that a mysterious 'they' want to burn Bibles, ban baptisms and – a more questionable threat to the faith – banish bishops.

Personally, I tend to be very wary of such rumours. One reason is that I'd rather promote the certain truth of the gospel than spread dubious accounts of threats against it. And yet every so often I come across some act of such crass hostility that I find myself wondering in bewilderment if the conspiracy theorists do actually have a point.

The most recent occurrence of this has been in connection with the seemingly trivial news that the German food chain Lidl has created a brand of Greek food called Eridanous. The products are promoted with a delightful photograph of sun-drenched, blue-domed roofs overlooking an equally blue Mediterranean Sea. Yet the domes are not just those of any old roofs; they are in fact those of a church, specifically that of the Church of the Anastasis in Santorini. You would not know from this picture because the crosses that adorn these buildings have been edited out, apparently 'to avoid offence'.

Now as someone who is both Greek and a Christian this amazes and annoys me.

First, I find it insensitive. As many people will know, the Greeks have for over a thousand years taken pride in being the heroic defenders of Christian Europe's south-eastern border. You may disagree with that role and that pride but, trust me, it is a fundamental part of the Greek psyche.

In this culturally embattled corner of the Mediterranean, the issue of whether a building is capped by a cross or crescent is no light matter. Here men and women still regularly overlook five hundred years of history to refer to Istanbul as Constantinople. Here, in living memory, the unfortunate tension between cross and crescent has erupted in bitter bloodshed in Cyprus and the horrid Balkan war of 1991–99. To remove the cross from the image of these buildings is a grotesque and blundering cultural insult.

And as an aside, I can't help wondering if the marketing geniuses at Lidl have noticed that the cross plays a major part in quite a number of European flags, not least the Union Jack. Are these to be removed as well? One of the problems of rampant political correctness is that in the effort to stop one offence it almost inevitably ends up creating others. There is nothing quite so inclined to create offence as political correctness trying to erase it.

Second, I find it troubling. This removal of crosses echoes the recent debates in the United States about whether to keep or topple statues of Confederate war heroes. Extreme political correctness demands that all that is offensive about the past be erased. This, of course, is impossible; history is a deep-grained reality that is not easily eliminated. It is also perilous; history teaches lessons and to ignore our past is to choose to walk blindfold into the future. We may find much about the past and the present offensive; the wisest reaction is to acknowledge what was done and to move on.

Third, I find that it is revealing. It is an intriguing fact that the symbol of the cross continues to arouse so much antagonism. Given the New Testament view that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the very heart of God's programme of reconciliation for humanity and the world, it is perhaps not surprising that attacks on the faith fall here most fiercely. A Christian faith without the cross is stripped of its power. Objections to the cross go back to the very first days of the Christian faith; writing to the Galatians just twenty years after the crucifixion, St Paul comments on the 'offence of the cross' (Galatians 5:11). Want to understand Christianity? Understand the cross.

Ultimately, though, we Christians need to keep something like this in proportion. It's a worrying and silly trend but the Church has seen worse and outlived it. From the first Good Friday onwards there have been repeated efforts to bury the truth of the cross and the One who died on it. Yet the name of the church in the image is the Anastasis – the Greek word for the resurrection. It's a reminder that no one can keep the truth hidden. The Roman Empire couldn't and I don't think Lidl will.

Canon J John is director of the Philo Trust. Find him on Twitter @CanonJJohn

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

The Church's Year

Hope for the Church?

The Gospel - Scot McKnight

Speaking out

I was impressed by a recent ITV interview with Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg who told ITV's Good Morning Britain that abortion was "morally indefensible".

"Life is sacrosanct and begins at the point of conception," he said.

He was also asked for his views on same-sex marriage, which he opposes. He replied:
"I am a Catholic and I take the teachings of the Catholic Church seriously," he said.
"Marriage is a sacrament and the decision of what is a sacrament lies with the Church, not with Parliament."

The Church's teachings on faith and morals were "authoritative", he said, but he added it was not for him to judge others. However, he said he was completely opposed to abortion.

"With same-sex marriage, that is something that people are doing for themselves," he said.
"With abortion, it is something that is done to the unborn child. That is different."

Mr Rees-Mogg said women's abortion rights under UK law were "not going to change".
He also said his party was more tolerant of religious views than the Liberal Democrats, whose former leader Tim Farron quit after facing repeated questions about his views on gay sex.

"It's all very well to say we live in a multicultural country... until you're a Christian until you hold the traditional views of the Catholic Church, and that seems to me fundamentally wrong," Mr Rees-Mogg said.
"People are entitled to hold these views."

He added that the "democratic majority" were equally entitled to laws that did not follow the Catholic Church's teaching.

I may not share Rees-Mogg's Roman Catholicism, or indeed his politics, but I admire him for speaking out of his personal convictions, which is something that is becoming increasingly hard to do ESPECIALLY if you are a Christian. You can be a Hindu, a Muslim or any other faith and everyone is quick to let you speak. But as a Christian, we are becoming increasingly silenced. So well done Rees-Mogg. I am with you 100%.

In Essentials Unity, In Non-Essentials Liberty, In All Things Charity

There is an old religious joke that has been doing the rounds for years which goes like this:`` I was walking across a bridge one day, and ...