The Crisis in the Church of England
Is There a Crisis?
The word ‘crisis’ comes from the Greek krisis, and means a decision. This is not the sort of decision we may make many times in a day, but a momentous decision, the outcome of which may prove to be life-changing. This is the meaning of the term when applied to a patient in hospital. He is said to be in a critical state when the direction his illness or injury may take is uncertain, and it will result in his death or his recovery. The Church of England is, according to this definition, at a moment of decision, and the decision it takes will affect the course it will follow for some time to come.
It is perfectly possible that not everyone who reads or hears this title will think that it is anything more than scare mongering. There have always been those prophets of doom of who have spoken darkly about the imminent demise of the Church of England. It has had cause to read its own obituary on many occasions, and, to date, each has proved an exaggeration. We must ask ourselves a serious question: What, if any, crisis does the Church of England face today?
We can enumerate four possible crises facing the Church of England.
The first, and in the minds of some, the most important, crisis is financial. The Church Estates Commissioners were vested with vast quantities of land, buildings and holdings when they took over the central finances of the established church. Years of bad management, and a decade of financial storms have taken their toll. The Church of England is in a financial mess. Today, parishes are being required to provide the pensions for their clergy. Many clergy have to care for four, six, or even ten churches, because there are not enough clergy for each parish. There is a growing use of NSMs, and one feels that behind all the rhetoric surrounding the Anglican-Methodist reunion talks lies the hard and cold subject of financial viability. Unless the Church of England can deal with its financial situation its future is in doubt. It faces a veritable crisis on this level.
The second possible crisis is a direct cause of the first. There is an alarming decline in numbers, both of ordained ministers and of lay members in the Church of England. It was reported in February of last year that average weekly attendances had broken through the one million mark. Lest any should take heart from this, it was admitted that the figure was only arrived at after the statistical method employed had been altered to give a better reading! The decline in numbers was highlighted in a recent newspaper article. The sportsman Jonathan Edwards, writing in the Daily Mail, said that four and a half million people go to church in mainland Britain every Sunday, while seven million go to Ikea. The Church of England faces a huge problem with falling numbers, in that its general income is in decline because there are less and less people from whom to collect gifts. It is hard to sustain a full-time salaried minister where a congregation has sunk to a low numerical level, and it is hard to justify the upkeep of expensive old buildings, both ecclesiastical and domestic. It was reported in the Guardian in February that the Social Affairs Unit had examined the problem, and laid the blame at the door of the bishops, and consequently called on them to resign as an acknowledgement of their failure in this matter. Needless to say there have been no such resignations. However, unless the Church of England can face up to the crisis in attendances it faces a very dark future.
The third area in which one may detect the whiff of crisis is perhaps harder to define. It concerns the public perception of what the Church of England is. A recent survey found that about half of those questioned thought that the Church of England has an influence in national politics, and about half thought not. There is confusion over the nature of the role that the Church should have, and there is confusion about the way in which it should fulfil that role. It must be pointed out that this confusion and lack of certainty is a direct result of attempts to shift the area of influence that the Church has had historically. As church leaders have themselves lost sight of the spiritual nature of the church’s role, so they have substituted a social role. Unless and until the Church of England is clear in its own mind as to the nature of its role, and of the perception it wishes to project, it will continue to be in crisis in this area.
At the root of the previous point lies the fourth possible crisis. The change of direction adopted at senior levels reflects a change of direction in theology. The new theology of the Church of England can no longer be described as authentically biblical, but is liberal and critical. This does not mean that there exists a consensus among the advocates of the new theology, but there is an agreement that whatever has been believed to date is in all probability wrong, and so there is a unity of liberals against conservative evangelicals. But the arguments over theology go far deeper than simple party-politics in the Church of England. They extend to every area of the Church’s mission, and have a direct consequence for every man, woman and child to whom the Church has a responsibility. Since I believe that this is the area in which the real crisis lies, we shall spend a little time considering the new theology in a little more detail. Since the new Archbishop, Dr Rowan Williams, is himself an exponent of the new theology, it is to his position in particular that we shall turn. In so doing I express my debt to the work of Dr Garry Williams, whose Latimer Trust publication The Theology of Rowan Williams has been my source for this section.
Victims and Hope
As Archbishop of Wales, Dr Rowan Williams published a number of theological books, and in them he sets out, perhaps not systematically, his basic theology. We shall examine three areas that are of great importance.
1. The Doctrine of Revelation
How can we know God? How does God reveal himself to us? These are fundamental questions in any religion, and the way in which we answer them will dictate the way in which we submit to the divine will.
Williams’ theology contains a basic denial of our ability to establish systems of truth. He states,
Those who claim to speak in the name of God will always be dangerously (exhilaratingly) close to the claim that in their speech, their active presence, the absent God who is never an existent among others is actually present: a claim of stupendous importance in legitimating any bid for power.
He goes on to show how, in his opinion, this is untenable. He reminds his readers that Jesus came as a baby, and babies can reveal nothing on deep theological issues. The silence of babyhood is God’s way of showing us that He is silent on many topics on which we want him to speak. Williams goes further than this. God is, he says, like a nine-year-old spastic child, who communicates by grunts and moans, and whose inarticulated wants must be interpreted by those who know him best.
Jesus does not reveal God to us, for he has left only silent signs, the bread and the wine. These must be interpreted as best we can.
What, one might ask, does he make of the Bible? The Bible is, to Rowan Williams, the work of men who laboured under the same limitations concerning the nature and will of God that we find ourselves facing. Some aim at the truth, but in the dark; others are confronted by the image of a crucified Messiah, and are unable to make sense of it, others—perhaps with weak minds—are broken by what they contemplate. The Revelation of John is in mind on this latter point. At best, the Bible reflects the religious hopes and aspirations of those who wrote it, and much of it is, in his opinion, irrelevant for us today.
The place to which we must go if we would establish the measure of orthodoxy is to our own community, to the people and situations we encounter daily. Orthodoxy is that which best describes our own situation, and best helps us to deal with it. This is very important, for Williams is saying that we must gain our theology from the situation we live in. The past is no help to us as our forefathers did not live in our situation. So whatever appears to address us must be right. Since the things we are concerned about are based in ourselves, and stem from our own emotions and intellects, it follows that theology, and thus religion, and thus, ultimately, God, are the servants of men. Whatever feels right must be right. This is pragmatism, and this is key to understanding the theology of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
2 . Sin and Salvation
Sin is all about victims. We are all sinners. But this does not make us all guilty, it makes us all victims. Some are victims to a greater extent than others, and Williams is a thoroughly modern social-gospeller in this respect. However, the greatest victim of sin is God, since the New Testament teaches that God bled for sinners. God is able to forgive us for our sins because he is the ultimate victim; finally, all sin comes down on God, for God suffered as a victim because of sin. Jesus died on the cross in order to experience the depths of suffering, and so be suitable as the means by which God deals with sin. To experience hell is to suffer as a human being, here and now, and Jesus, having suffered, has experienced hell. The resurrection is God showing that, although men did their worst, God’s compassion is undefeated.
In short, our sin is making other people suffer, making them victims. But in that we all make each other suffer we are all victims. God forgives us all because he has suffered most. He shows us how much he loves by returning Jesus to the world.
This view leaves us with sin that is not against God but only each other, with a saviour who does not actually save, but only forgive, and a God who can do no more than express love for sinners in a manner that requires interpretation. Absent is the Gospel hope of salvation and eternal life, because absent is the biblical theme of the holiness of God, and with it the theme of mercy and hope. It is a doctrine that is suited to Williams’ view of revelation, because it does not depend on what the Bible says, but on what he sees as being the most pressing need of our society.
3. Sexual Ethics
This pragmatic paradigm finds expression in his view of human relationships. Sex, to Dr Williams, is all about desire. The love of God is also all about desire, about his desiring us, and so making known his love to us. Since it is wrong to reject that desire, it is wrong to reject all desire. Indeed, the only sexual sin is to refuse to give way to desire, to fail to allow ourselves to be what others perceive us to be. Marriage cannot be the only sanctioned form in which sexual activity can occur, because so many marriages are cruel, violent and oppressive. Given his view of sin, it follows naturally that any type of relationship that does not make either partner a victim must be acceptable, and so must receive official sanction.
4. The Consequences
What are the consequences of this theology? Leaving aside the specifics of his views on sexual ethics, let us consider for a moment the general position he is adopting. The Bible, he says, is a reflection of man’s attempts to understand God, rather than God’s revelation of himself to man. What the Bible condemns is simply what men have thought good to condemn at various times in the distant past. Given that sin is anything that makes another person a victim, we can reduce the sinful content of any action or lifestyle at a stroke if we remove the victimising element. Thus, finally, (and he does not appear to draw this conclusion) if we abandoned all notions of personal property, we could, at a stroke, remove the notion of theft. If we abandoned all notions of the sanctity of human life, we could remove the notion of manslaughter and murder.
Against this it must be said that the Bible is held to be of a very different order by many professing Christians. To them, it is the inspired and infallible Word of God, just what Dr Williams says it is not. As such it speaks with authority, and reveals to us the nature and character of God. This same God has, among many other things, threatened judgement against all sexual activity that takes place beyond the bounds of marriage, which is defined as being between a man and a woman. Those who continue unrepentant in such things face eternal punishment. For sin, finally, is not what makes victims of individuals, but what offends the honour and holiness of Almighty God. So, on the one hand, the Bible declaims against sin, and on the other, the Archbishop denies that it is sin. If the Bible is authoritative, then it follows that Dr Williams is effectively soothing people into hell by telling them that they are not as the Bible describes them, and that their actions and lifestyles are perfectly acceptable to God.
Lest an should fail to see how Dr Rowan Williams’ theology works out in practice, it would be helpful to consider the recent excitement in Reading. Before we do so, we must place events in this country into the context of the world-wide Anglican scene.
The World-wide Anglican Scene
Writing in the Summer issue of CrossWay, the ‘in-house’ magazine for members of Church Society, the Secretary, the Rev David Phillips, said, ‘Over the last few weeks the Anglican Communion has begun to crumble’. His article was entitled, ‘The Anglican Communion—can it survive the corruption to the western Churches?’ It is an exposÈ of recent events, all to do with the church’s attitude to homosexuals. In New Westminster, Canada, Bishop Ingham had authorized a form of service for the blessing of same-sex relationships. In New Hampshire, USA, an openly homosexual canon had been elected bishop. And then, Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford, made a similar appointment in Reading. Reactions to the first two events were already well-known. A number of African and Asian dioceses had already severed ties with these two provinces. The former Archbishop, George Carey, had pleaded with the Canadians not to act unilaterally. Even Rowan Williams had indicated that he did not think the Canadians wise in their actions. So, when the Bishop of Oxford made his appointment, one wonders just how he thought he would escape without criticism of his actions. And yet it is clear that neither he not the Archbishop of Canterbury really expected the degree of opposition they met. Furthermore, those who criticise evangelicals for refusing to accept the appointment of the new Bishop of Reading ought to realise that we are by no means alone, and that this whole issue of human sexuality is causing a realignment within Anglicanism world-wide.
Those who take the liberal position are able to point with some credibility to the confused position agreed at Lambeth in 1998. It was stated that same-sex relationships ought to be tolerated in the laity but not among the clergy. This has led, naturally, to claims of double-standards. It is felt that there should be one rule for all. The question is, to which rule will all be willing to submit?
Reading and Repercussions
As we turn to the particular events in Reading, it ought to be made clear that Canon Jeffrey John is by no means the only actively homosexual clergyman in the Church of England, and that his appointment, in spite of the express denials of Oxford and Canterbury, has something of the ‘stalking horse’ about it. One should feel a degree of pity for a man who was used for political ends by those whose calling it is to heal strife rather than engender it.
The facts of the Reading appointment are probably fairly well known. We shall review them briefly.
When Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Wales, was appointed to Canterbury, it resulted in a form of episcopal musical chairs. Among the changes was the preferment of Dominic Walker, Suffrage Bishop of Reading. His empty chair was offered to Canon Jeffrey John, Chancellor and Canon Theologian at Southwark Cathedral. In the end, it turns out that this was the chair that was taken away.
The news of the appointment broke on 21st May. Writing in the Daily Telegraph on that day, Jonathan Petre, Religious Correspondent, wrote,
In a development which will dismay traditionalists, Canon Jeffrey John, the Chancellor and Canon Theologian of Southwark Cathedral, was yesterday named by Downing Street as the new Suffrage Bishop of Reading.
His elevation will give fresh impetus to the Church’s gay rights movement and reflects the new mood since Dr Rowan Williams, who has admitted ordaining a practising homosexual, became Archbishop of Canterbury.
His predecessor, Dr George Carey, who warned that the Church was on the brink of a fundamental split over the issue, is unlikely to have welcomed the appointment.
Canon John was described in that same article as ‘One of the Church of England’s most prominent advocates of gay rights’. It was clear to all that the appointment itself was a turning-point in the Church of England. It would come out as time progressed that the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, had himself knowingly appointed homosexuals as bishops, and the views and practices of Rowan Williams were already well-known. The open appointment of a man who had campaigned for the furtherance of the homosexual cause was a departure, and gave way to a good deal of loud opposition.
The opposition came from a number of quarters. Most prominent in this country were Church Society and Reform, both of which are bodies that represent Evangelical Anglicans. It became clear that the level of opposition greatly exceeded anything that Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford, or Rowan Williams had contemplated. When the Third Province movement, a mainly Anglo-Catholic group of traditionalists, announced that they had eight hundred parishes ready to withdraw their submission to either See, Rowan Williams was compelled to act.
Domestic pressure came also from the Bishops of the Church of England, one quarter of whom signed an open letter in which they opposed the appointment. Such episcopal unity is rare indeed. This unity does not go very deep, as there was a remarkable lack of consensus among the signatories on the exact nature of their opposition. Some, like James Jones in Liverpool, felt that it was not the right time for such a move, as the Church had not agreed a position. To many, that was exactly why Lambeth ’98 had been so important. Other bishops, such as Michael Scott-Joynt of Winchester, opposed on more biblical grounds. A survey of Reading deanery clergy revealed that those opposed were divided along similar lines.
However, the domestic opposition was not the only form of protest. The Archbishop of the West Indies, Drexel Gomez, and the Archbishop of Nigeria, Peter Akinola, made their opposition known in no uncertain terms. Akinola had already severed communion with the Diocese of New Westminster, after its introduction of services for the blessing of homosexual relationships. Nigeria contains more Anglicans than Canada, the USA and the UK combined. Given the financial sanctions imposed by ECUSA on Third World dioceses following the Lambeth Statement on Human Sexuality, their firm actions are to be applauded.
The threat of splits within the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion led to the intervention of Her Majesty the Queen. In an unprecedented step, she raised the matter of the appointment on two occasions when she met with the Prime Minister. After all, each episcopal appointment requires her consent. The Daily Telegraph reported on 30th June that the Queen was ‘deeply concerned’ about the imminent rift. It was suggested that she had been kept in the dark concerning Jeffrey John’s personal life. When the appointment threatened a split both in the Church of England and in the Commonwealth, she acted.
The result of all this pressure was that on Sunday 6th July, a meeting was held at Lambeth Palace, at which the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishop of Oxford, and the new Bishop of Reading, with their respective advisors, were present. After some six hours of discussions it was reported that Jeffrey John would be approaching Her Majesty the Queen with a view to withdraw his acceptance of the appointment.
As usual, recrimination followed. Supporters of Jeffrey John named Rowan Williams’ press advisor as the guilty party who had forced the decision. The press officer is, of course, the spin-doctor. Their conclusive evidence was that he had been appointed by George Carey, who had the title at least of evangelical. Unfortunately George had let on that he had himself appointed men known to him as homosexuals to bishoprics, and his press officer was certainly no evangelical. So the current objects of blame are evangelicals in this country, and third-world Anglican church leaders. It is an open secret that senior bishops in the West view their third-world counterparts as little more than ignorant natives, who ought to submit to the greater intelligence of their white superiors. Bishop David Jenkins, the former and notorious Bishop of Durham was interviewed on a fairly recent edition of Newsnight saying that it was time the Archbishop of Canterbury told the evangelicals that they are only a minority in the church, and that they should behave themselves. This is hard to take from a man who made it his business to deny almost every article of faith that the universal Church has maintained for two millennia.
In the confusion that has erupted since this fiasco many voices have spoken. On local radio in Berkshire it has been noticed that those who preface their comments with ‘I don’t go to church, but…’ are invariably opposed to the decision of Jeffrey John to step down. The local newspaper editor, Joe Wise, has been a regular voice, and his stated view is that the Church of England is behind the times. On the day following Jeffrey John’s decision to step down the Times carried an on-line poll, asking readers to vote on the question, ‘Is there a future for a Church that bans minorities?’ Such is the popular misconception of the role of the Church of England that nobody questions the legitimacy of such positions. Such is the failure of the Bishops and other leaders to present clearly the true mission of the Church that there are many within the Church who agree with their outrage.
And so we must ask ourselves another question. What is the true position of the Church of England? How should it present itself to the nation?
All churches are, or ought to be, expressions of the universal or catholic church. For there is only one church, although it may appear under different local denominations. As such there is only one foundation document, upon which all churches are based, and by which the authenticity of any church may be established or denied. This document is, of course, the Bible. No denomination can claim to be Christian if it does not place at its very centre and core the Word of God. Without the Bible there is no revelation, and without the divine revelation we are left only with human reason and guesswork.
However, because all local denominations must express themselves in particular ways, it has been the practice of each denomination to draw up its own basis of faith. This basis is drawn from the Bible, contains the key doctrines that are taught in the Bible, and requires all of its ministers and laity to adhere to the tenets or articles of faith. In the Church of England these are known as the Thirty-nine Articles. They are not alone, for they stand with the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal, the manual for the ordaining of deacons, presbyters and bishops. Since the Church of England has an historical basis we must ask a question, and follow it with a subsequent one. Our question here must be, What is the doctrinal position of the historic Church of England? Our subsequent question is, Does the present Church of England abide by that historic position?
In the key areas we highlighted in Dr Rowan Williams’ theology—that is, regarding revelation, sin, and sexual ethics—the doctrine of the Thirty-nine Articles can be set out as follows.
Article 6, ‘Of the Sufficiency of the Scriptures’, reads,
Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not required of any man that it should be believed as an article of the Faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation. In the name of the holy Scripture we do understand those Canonical books of the Old and New Testaments, of whose authority was never any doubt in the Church.
And Article 7, ‘Of the Old Testament’, says,
The Old Testament is not contrary to the New: for both in the Old and New Testaments everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man.
It is clear from this that Dr Williams’ position regarding what we may know of God is at variance with the historic Anglican position. This position, it must be said, is agreed with by all Protestant churches, at least as far as their doctrinal bases go. If Dr Williams is truly at odds with the historic position of the Church of England, we must ask if he, or anyone else, has the authority to make such a change? Article 20, ‘Of the Authority of the Church’, is relevant.
The Church hath power to decree rites or ceremonies, and authority in controversies of faith: And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another. Wherefore, although the Church be a witness and a keeper of holy Writ, yet, as it ought not to decree anything against the same, so besides the same ought it not to enforce any thing to be believed for necessity of salvation.
It is clear that, according the Church of England’s own teaching, he does not.
2. Sin and Salvation
We have seen that Dr Williams describes sin as being that which makes anyone a victim. Such sin is forgiven by God in that he is the ultimate victim, made to bleed by the sins of men.
The Articles have something else to say.
Article 9, ‘Of Original or Birth -sin’, says this.
Original sin standeth not in the following of Adam (as the Pelagians do vainly talk) but it is the fault and corruption of the nature of every man, that naturally is ingendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil…
And Article 11, ‘Of the Justification of Man’, says,
We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings…
And Article 2, ‘Of the Word or Son of God, which was made Man’,
The Son, which is the Word of the Father…took man’s nature in the womb of the blessed virgin, of her substance:…whereof is one Christ, very God and very man; who truly suffered, was crucified, dead and buried, to reconcile his Father to us, and to be a sacrifice, not only for original guilt, but also for all actual sins of men.
By these statements it is clear that the theology of Dr Williams is at odds with the Articles of the Church he leads.
3. Sexual Ethics
It must be said that there is no Article on this subject, nor is it mentioned explicitly in the Articles. But it is mentioned in the Book of Common Prayer, particularly in the Marriage Service. Here we read,
…of the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.
First, it was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
Secondly, it was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body.
Thirdly, it was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity…
And it is mentioned in the Litany,
From fornication, and all other deadly sin; and from the deceits of the world, the flesh and the devil,
Good Lord, deliver us
It might be concluded from this that the theology of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and of those who share his liberal views, is the minority view. As such we should not find it represented widely in the Church of England. But that is not the case. Liberal presuppositions underlie almost every theological college curriculum today. All books that deal with the content of the Bible take, as their basic premise, the view that what we read we must reinterpret for our day. It is a common feature of modern thinking that we must never take anything for granted. Two current expressions indicate this; ‘thinking outside the box’, and ‘pushing the envelope’. The first, of course, refers to a removal of constraints on thinking, so that people are not bound by common, though outmoded, preconceptions. The second refers to the removal of constraints by allowing ourselves to dare to do and to think things that were previously taboo. Just because a former generation condemned aspects of morality, it does not follow that we should do as they. There is a grain of truth in this; if we simply adopt the thinking of our forefathers, rather than thinking things through for ourselves, we are loosing our liberty by binding ourselves blindly to the past. However, if we are motivated to rethink the past by a desire to leave behind inconvenient aspects of long-held morality, then we must ask if our motive is worthy.
The theology of Dr Williams is at odds with the position of the Church of England as expressed in her formularies. However, the theology of Dr Williams is the accepted theology of the Church of England today. From where did this view come?
Finding the Source
The origin of liberal theology lies in the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. This was the Age of Reason, and it was believed that man, by the exercise of his mind and of his reasoning faculties, could unlock the mysteries of the ages. Interestingly, Edward Gibbon, the historian, who was himself a creature of the Enlightenment, saw the weakness in this view. In the fifteenth chapter of his magisterial work, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, he wrote, concerning Plato’s poor attempts at discovering a doctrine of the soul,
Since therefore the most sublime efforts of philosophy can extend no farther than feebly to point out the desire, the hope, or, at most, the probability of a future state, there is nothing, except a divine revelation that can ascertain the existence…of the souls of men…
In order for the free thinking of the rationalists to descend to the level of sceptical criticism we now see in all parts of academic theology, another ingredient was required. This was provided by a failed theologian, whose switch to science opened the door to the greatest shake-up of world-views that have ever taken place. His name was Charles Darwin, and his book, Origin of Species, published in 1859, contained a theory of the origin of life which has had a huge impact on theology at the time, and has gone on to infect every aspect of thinking in our society since.
The immediate effect of Darwin’s position is reflected in a quotation from a letter written by F.J.A Hort to his friend B.F. Westcott, in March 1860. “Have you read Darwin? How I should like to talk with you about it! In spite of difficulties I am inclined to think it unanswerable. In any case it is a treat to read such a book.” In 1879 Stewart Headlam, a preacher and commentator, said, “Thank God that the scientific men have …shattered the idol of an infallible book!”
It would, of course, be unfair to suggest that Darwin’s theory alone was responsible for the rush of academics and theologians to deny one aspect of biblical truth after another. It would be more truthful to say that Darwin was merely the catalyst that sparked the reaction, the plug-remover who broke the dam. For it is clear from the speed at which men like Westcott and Hort began their attacks, and men like Bishop Colenso of Natal carried them forward, that there was in existence a problem of a somewhat different nature. All the sceptical theories of the higher critics reflect the previous existence of a fundamental lack of faith in the accepted tenets of the Christian faith. It is this lack of faith, this basic unbelief, that allowed first the Enlightenment, and secondly the theory of Charles Darwin, to gain acceptance in academic circles. Had the men who fell before this double onslaught been grounded firmly in the articles and formularies of the Church of England—for it is here that the first victims fell in this country—it is highly unlikely that the onslaught would have been anywhere nearly so devastating. But, since so many leading clerics at that time were quietly dismissive of so much biblical truth, it is no wonder that they found themselves in favour of anything that appeared to give legitimacy to their doubts. After all, if the world really did become as it is through time and evolution, then God cannot have created it as the Bible says. And so to deny the origin of the world as the Bible describes it is not heresy but common sense. Thus the sceptics reason.
Solving the Crisis
The crisis facing the Church of England has, finally, nothing to do with its finances, and nothing to do with attendance levels. It has little to do with the way in which it wishes to project itself, or the way in which it wants to be perceived. It has everything to do with its theological position, with the doctrine to which it adheres, which it preaches, and which it defends strenuously.
Archbishop Rowan Williams is consistent. His theological position denies that we can know the mind or will of God. He affirms that all are sinners, and that God alone can forgive sin. But he denies that sin is against the holiness and majesty of the Almighty God, or that Jesus Christ by his death atoned for sin. He denies that there is such a thing as hell in the world to come. He affirms that human love is a reflection of divine love, and that we must make sure that there are no barriers to the expressing of that love. Therefore he wants the Church of England to accept homosexuals and their partners as recognized couples in the sight of God. There is no inconsistency in his position. His position, however, is based upon an entirely false premise. He believes that he is the highest authority, not because he is the Archbishop of Canterbury, but because he lives today. It is society today that dictates the direction the Church must take. And so, if society contains those who lifestyles were previously condemned by the Church, why, the Church must make sure that all such condemnation is removed.
Against that lies the historic position of the Church of England. This declares the truth about human kind, that all are sinners in the sight of a holy God, who has the will and the power to punish all sinners with death, the eternal punishment. But this same God, being rich in mercy and love, has opened the way of salvation through Jesus Christ his Son. Jesus died on the cross in order that the wrath of God might be propitiated. He was raised again for our justification. All who believe on the Lord Jesus Christ are made heirs of the hope of eternal life. Faith in Jesus Christ is the key to salvation, and so the preaching of Jesus Christ, of faith in him, and the promotion of all that tends to faith and godliness is the work and calling of the Church in every age.
If the Church of England would avoid the crisis it faces, let it cease from its socio-political endeavours, from its attempts to remove the distinctions that exist between it and the world, and let it return unto the Lord its God. Let it make its peace with him, being ready to show its true repentance by a casting off of false teachers and their heresies. Then let it be bold in the preaching of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ, through whom alone is salvation to be had.
But how will this happen? At present the liberals are declaring that evangelicalism is an illegitimate presence in the Church of England. But the formularies of the Church of England give the lie to that view. It is liberalism that has no place here, and it is the liberals who must fall into line, not with evangelicalism, but with the plain teaching of the Bible. It will not be easy to accomplish this, for there is much at stake. Perhaps the hardest matter with which it is necessary to deal is the hardest substance known to man. This is not flint, not granite, not diamond, but human pride. The whole liberal position gains its influence, at least in part, from the fact that it promotes human reasoning, making our wills greater than the will of God. Until that view is shown for the arrogance and godlessness that it is, liberals will continue to flout every tenet of the Christian faith. Theirs is the illegitimate position. But this matter will only be dealt with when God himself chooses to act. No human agency can break the power of pride, no human reasoning can out-reason the wilful ignorance of unbelief. Only God can do that. If we would see the crisis facing the Church of England solved in our day, we have a course open to us. Let us return to the Bible, to the revelation of the will of God, let us live according to his precepts, and let us declare boldly those things that are set before us in the pages of the Book. The whole counsel of God must be made known, and the issue must be offered up to God, who is wise above all that we can imagine, and who is able to save to the uttermost.