Global challenge - the UK situation
The Rev Paul Perkin, Vicar St Mark’s Battersea Rise, London and Chairman FCA (UK and Ireland)
11am, Tuesday 22 October
This vision we have just seen, of the great Commission, the church going to the nations, equipped with the authority of Christ and the teaching of Christ, is still wonderfully being worked out in Britain today!
There are many flourishing local churches, people coming to faith in Jesus Christ, young leaders being raised up, and new members being added to the church.
A few days ago I heard of one average-sized church, which five or ten new members were joining each week.
In another brand new Anglican church planted four years ago in one of our large cities, where there was previously almost no bible-teaching ministry, 860 worshippers are now meeting every weekend.
One man aged in his 50’s told me recently that although he is the youngest person in the little rural village church he attends on Sunday mornings, when he joins his Sunday evening congregation in the city, he is by far the oldest, so young and vibrant is that church.
A number of individual churches in Britain each have 20 to 30 apprentices, ministers-in-training for full-time ministry.
One growth-oriented inner city diocese has grown by 70% in the last 20 years.
One church has started its own theological college and after three years is already the largest Anglican theological seminary in Europe.
The largest Anglican church in England has 23 ordained ministers and thousands of young people being discipled to follow Christ. It is producing over 30 ordinands every year.
Some of the networks draw 10,20,40,60 thousand people to holiday conferences.
So Jesus is the sovereign, risen Lord, miraculously active in the UK, prospering gospel evangelism, pouring out his Holy Spirit, growing the churches and planting new ones, and bringing glory to himself in it all.
However, the opposite to the dream of the church penetrating the nation is the nightmare of a secular nation invading the church. This is the contrary scene and it is also happening in Britain.
We come closest to the desire of Christ when we listen to the prayers of Christ – and none more significant than his high priestly prayer in John 17. There he pours out his longing for the unity of the church, for the holiness of the church, and for the mission of the church:
her unity: ‘that they may be one’ (11,22,23)
her purity: ‘that they may be truly sanctified’ (17,19), and
her mission: ‘that the world may believe’ (20,21)
And key to each of these is the Word of God in the scriptures:
‘They have obeyed your word (6)…
I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them (8)….
So that scripture would be fulfilled (12)….
I have given them your word (14)….
Sanctify them by the truth, your word is truth (17)’.
So this is the vision: As in Christ’s commission, so in his prayer – a vision of the church taking God’s Word to God’s world.
To that end, what is the church that will fulfil this mission? It is:
not ‘of the world’ (as Jesus himself is not of the world, 14,16), but
neither is it ‘taken out of the world’ (15). Rather it is
‘sent into the world’ (18), just as Jesus prays to his Father, ‘As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world’. The church is
not ‘of the world’ because it is the gift of the Father to Jesus ‘out of the world’ (6,9)
It is to be ‘in the world’, as Jesus said ‘I am still in the world’ (13), but
as Jesus was hated by the world, the church will also be
‘hated by the world’ (14), and so
needs to be ‘protected from the evil one’ (15)
So one of the greatest tragedies is the contradiction of a worldly church – the inconsistency of it – when, instead of the church being sent into the world, it is infected by the world!
If the church is formed by accepting and obeying the Word of God, what a tragedy when it departs from the bible
If the church is united around the Word of God, what a tragedy when it is divided by unbelief in that Word
If the church is sanctified by the truth of God’s Word, what a tragedy when unholiness and impurity spreads in the church
If the church is the Father’s gift to Jesus out of the world, what a tragedy when the church emerges within the world, adopting the world’s values
If the church is sent into the world, what a tragedy when the world invades the church.
Now this is the background, despite the pockets of life I have described – the general climate of the church in the UK today, indeed in much of the West. And the problem is not so much, or is no longer the problem of individuals in the church. The problem is more the problem of the culture of the church.
At its heart, and in many of its central institutions, and with much of its leadership and style, it is a worldly church – a church that is of the world, that is infected by the world, that is unbelieving like the world, that is as immoral as the world, that is not very present in the world, and is running away from the world.
According to a survey by Forward in Faith UK, which is available on their website, approximately one out of every four male clergy in the CofE does not believe in the Trinity, or in God the Father who made the world, or in the Holy Spirit, or that Jesus died to take away the sins of the world.
Almost a half do not believe in the virgin birth of Jesus, or in his bodily resurrection, or that he is the only way of salvation. Of female clergy those shocking statistics of unbelief are even, much worse. Many of the least believing, male and female, are in central leadership positions in the church.
And a worldly church will always tend to restrict or confine Jesus’ mission, with his authority, taking his Word to the world. The world will always oppose the church, and so a worldly church will always oppose a church that accepts and obeys God’s Word. And these are the two sides of church life in Britain today.
Now how is this happening? The answer is, in subtle ways. ‘Hatred’ in Britain is, thank God, not often life threatening but sometimes aggressive, and often very subtle and therefore more difficult to discern.
The five pressure points remain as they have been for years: Mission, Money, Ministers, Association, and Oversight:
Mission. The restriction of opportunities for flourishing growth and planting of new churches;
Money. The centralisation of finance that mis-directs gospel resources;
Ministers. The reluctance, obstacles and delays in selecting, training, ordaining, and appointing gospel ministers who believe and live the bible’s teaching;
Association. The pressure to conform to a superficial unity masking heterodox beliefs, rather than real fellowship in the truth;
Oversight. In some dioceses the leadership has departed from authentic Anglicanism. How can faithful ministers submit to unfaithful leaders?
For example, a minister wrote last week: ‘We have three ordinands at the theological college and they are currently very unsettled – the bishop endorsing and supporting the civil partnership of one of his deans’.
For example, when a motion defending Christian marriage was recently put to General Synod, a number of synod members openly spoke of their co-habitation or gay partnerships. No bishop stood to clarify that this was not the teaching of the Church. So orthodox clergy and congregations who do not want to appear divisive are now often very reticent to teach biblical, Anglican truth on marriage.
For example, churches that long to give life to plant new congregations on redundant church sites are often systematically blocked. Instead, choices are made to close empty churches, or sell or lease the buildings, or to give advantage to projects that have little chance of gospel growth, or are doctrinally heterodox.
For example, the neighbouring diocese to the one which has grown by 70% in 20 years, covering a similar demographic in the same city has steadily declined through an ideological radical liberalism, and opposition to biblical gospel ministry.
The good news is that overall nearly half of all clergy and their churches at local level do believe Jesus is THE way of salvation! The glass that is half empty is also, or at least almost, half full.
Some of these are in traditional rural areas, others are in inner cities.
Some are predominantly white, others are multi-ethnic.
Some are mainstream evangelical, others have come into charismatic renewal.
Some are mature and wise, others are young and energetic.
Some are small and growing, while others are large but may be struggling.
Some are seeing a few converted to Christ, others are seeing streams of people converted.
Some are seeing addicts delivered and lives transformed, others are seeing physical healings and marriages rescued.
Some are raising up an occasional minister, others whole schools of ministers.
Some small gospel churches are thriving, other small ones are vulnerable.
Some large gospel churches are thriving, other large ones are in danger, especially in a vacancy.
Some are isolated, others are in networks.
Some are supported in their dioceses, others are resented and opposed.
Some are valued in their communities, others are threatened with legal actions.
Some in the future will be secure, others will be taken to court.
And all these gospel churches are trying as faithfully as they can to bring God’s Word to God’s world, under the authority of the Lord Jesus, and in the power of the Holy Spirit. But they are facing not only an increasingly aggressive secular world, but also an increasingly worldly established church.
They, we, are not suffering martyrdom through the physical persecution being experienced by much of the rest of the world. That is why we need to be inspired by the world-wide Communion. And it is why we also cherish the encouragement and the support of faithful churches globally to urge us to remain authentic Anglicans together.
There is a battle for Britain in our own day, a battle for the heart and the soul of Britain. The Confessing Anglicans in the UK and Ireland are uniquely placed to support both those who stay in the structures, and those God is raising up beyond them. Both types of initiative are needed in the huge challenge before us.
And we treasure your inspiring example in the global FCA, your fellowship and your prayers. And we need your supportive help and your recognition that we are your Anglican brothers and sisters. We need it more than we can even begin adequately to thank you for.