Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Make or Break

Reform, the Hesbollah tendency within the Church of England, have a press release on their web-site that comes closer than anything I've seen before to saying they are off. It's not blackmail as such because by and large the threats made by blackmailers are unpopular. If you want to check the whole text of their statement please follow the link and then click on 'Latest News and Events' and then 'Press Releases' to go look for yourself.

cartoon from

Cartoon by Dave Walker. Find more cartoons you can freely re-use on your blog at We Blog Cartoons.

I've tried not to misquote or quote out of context, but here is a selection of the things they say:

'We will support mission-shaped expressions of church through prayer, finance and personnel, even when official permission is unreasonably withheld.' In other words Reform are now the self-appointed arbiters of reasonableness and will back church-planting into parishes even where they are not welcome.

'...we can no longer be constrained by an over-centralised and increasingly ineffective control that is stifling the natural development of ministry. If the local Bishop unreasonably withholds authorisation, we will pay for, train and commission the ministers that are needed, and seek official Anglican recognition for them.' In other words if Reform-supporting/sponsored candidates are not recommended for ordination, Reform will ordain them anyway.

'Fellowship is based on the faith “once delivered to the saints”. Global Anglicans observe that the Church of England is increasingly polarizing into two churches: the one submitting to God’s revelation, Gospel-focused, Christ-centred, cross-shaped and Spirit-empowered; the other holding a progressive view of revelation, giving priority to human reason over Scripture, shaped primarily by western secular culture, and focused on church structures ... we can no longer associate with teaching that is contrary to the clear teaching of the Scriptures either doctrinally (for example, on the supremacy and uniqueness of Christ) or morally (for example, on issues of gender, sex and marriage), or church leadership which advocates such teaching.' In other words Reform is the one true catholic and apostolic church. The precise meaning of scripture is now fixed and immutable and it means what Reform theologians say it means now and nothing else. All progressive understandings of revelation up to this day are valid but none thereafter.

'...we can no longer support ministries or structures increasingly marked by the doctrinal and ethical heterodoxy outlined above.' In other words we ain't paying our parish share unless we like what the diocese does with it.

'As Anglicans, we affirm Episcopal oversight for the sake of God’s mission. But it must be ordered for the church’s well-being. This means having biblically orthodox oversight that will teach the apostolic faith, refute error and discipline the wayward. We can, therefore, no longer accept churches being denied such oversight.' In other words if you don't agree with your bishop we'll find you another one.

As a Christianlifelong seeker after truth, pilgrim, nomad, journeyer, student of the Bible, user of human reason and revealed gospel, lover of the outcast and refuser to draw horrid lines in the sand am I being a bit harsh, rude and unfair in saying good riddance?


Matthew P said...

Don't know much about Reform I'm afraid, but the following analogy struck me as I was reading your blog.

I grew up in a small rural village and whenever there was any kind of change proposed (planning permission and the like) it was always the people who were newer to the village who complained. They had basically bought in to the village life as it was at a particular point believing that this is how things had always been. They had no thought that the village was a constantly evolving entity that had developed and changed over the years to become the 'dream' into which they were buying.

There were however new people who got stuck into village life and made a real contribution, recognising that even though we were all different (some more so than others) we all had a role to play.

I'm all for an inclusive Church, even if I disagree quite strongly with some parts of it. Didn't the Church of England rise out of fundamental differences with the Catholic church, or is that a completely different issue? Anyway enough rambling.

Rich Burley said...

I'm not a big fan of Reform, and I'm tempted to say "good riddance", but divisions are always such devicive things. Those who revel in bishop-bashing (!) and smiting can go tomorrow for all I care but what about those who sympathise with the theology but haven't got the bad attitude to match? There'll be pressure on the moderate conservatives to leave as well and even if they don't go we'll probably end up with another marginalised evangelical right wing.

I don't have a solution, but I do try to keep praying about it.

Anonymous said...

I feel split on this one, too. Division is rarely helpful, and it never looks a good witness, either. On the other hand, if people are so unreasonable, it can be a blessed relief if they just follow the logic of their position and leave.

Realistically, one day it will be goodbye and thanks for all fish (shaped badges)

Anonymous said...

[devil's advocate]

But is division a bad thing if we can separate fundy, hate-filled religion from the stuff that most of us are into?

Frankly my job would be easier if I didn't have to keep apologising to my non-Christian mates for the behaviour of the Hesbollah wing of the church, and if they could clearly identify the people that subscribed to that ideology, isn't it just easier for the rest of us?

[/devil's advocate]

Matthew McMurray said...

Oh, I am sorry! I didn't realise that they were Christians! ;)

Caroline said...

but I for one will grieve

grieve that there are some people in Reform who helped me meet and start to walk with Jesus and now they are walking away

grieve that I fear that my own much loved church will be split down the middle

grieve that we haven't found a way to heal divisions

grieve over the arrogance that says "I'm right" and won't consider it's own fallibility.

grieve that my evangelical faith seems to have be stolen away from me by people who say that it means something different to how I've grown

grieve that I know that these people would judge me for the road I have walked

and grieve that I don't seem to be able to say anything that will heal

I understand your point, st, but I can't say good riddance, even though I suspect that they would say it to my back were I to give up on this strange, wobbly, all-to-human-and-frail family called the Church of England

St said...

Good comments. Thanks. Being reminded to pray is always good Rich, ta. Caroline I share history with you and some of those influential people. I still enjoy their company as friends but their outpourings from their meetings behind closed doors are all law and no grace. I think it would be rude of me to say 'good riddance' and 'how sad' would be better.

Caroline said...

"all law and no grace" ah yes, there you have the contradiction in it all. How blind we can be (and I know that three fingers point back at me). We speak of grace and then can't find a way to practice it. I wonder if Jesus is an example here? From what I have learned, there were almost certainly Pharisees within Jesus' group. Still, He spoke harsh words of disagreement ...

whilst including those with whom he disagreed within his community, as part of his life and as recipients of his ongoing love


that we could only learn to become more like rather than just speak about Jesus,

Caroline Too

thebluefish said...

This is bigger than just Reform though isn't it:

Written by these:

Rev David Banting, Chair of Reform
Rev John Coles, Director of New Wine Networks
Rev Paul Perkin, Member of General Synod
Rev David Phillips, Director of Church Society
Rev Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbes’ Oxford
Canon Dr Chris Sugden, Executive Secretary, Anglican Mainstream
Rev William Taylor, Rector of St Helen’s Bishopsgate
Rev Dr Richard Turnbull, Chair of the Church of England Evangelical Council
Rev Dr Simon Vibert, Chair of the Fellowship of Word and Spirit

St said...

True enough. It looks like even New Wine and Proc Trust can get into bed together as long as there are no gays in the room. Enjoy the romp. But if it looks like Reform and it smells like Reform... I wish I didn't agree with so much of what they say. It would make it easier to argue with everything they do.

Anonymous said...

Not sure what you are referring to here, bluefish, but you are right that some of these issues are being raised by groups other than just Reform. It's just that Reform are particularly conservative and political in the C of E

I agree with you too Steve - some of these people used to inspire us and encourage us, but it all seems so difficult now. It feels like the centre of gravity of Anglican Evangelicalism moved and left me looking like a liberal when I have always aspired to be what Don Humphries would call a 'thinking evangelical'.

Anonymous said...

This is all very interesting, and I am struggling to get my head round it.

Mr thebluefish has a list of people, professional churchers I guess (and they all seem to be men), who I guess hold to a similiar point of view. On Simon Vibert's home church website (who appears on the list), he and the pcc have come up with a postion statement as to how they see themselves and their church.

2 of these points are as follows-

"We believe that human sexuality is a good gift of God in Creation, and that God calls Christians to live, either in celibate singleness, or in faithful heterosexual marriage.
We are committed to supporting single and married Christians as we seek to be a faithful local congregation (see Hebrews 13:4; James 1:27).

We believe that from conception, all human beings are created by God with equal worth and dignity, regardless of age, sex, race, or disability.
We are committed to celebrating God-given diversity and reflecting that in our congregation (see Galatians 3:28)."

The use and definition of the words "God-given" is fairly loaded here I reckon. If it was just diversity on it's own, then who knows who might count themselves welcome? And that would be a problem wouldn't it...

I think Caroline's grief is remarkable, particularly if that is your initial emotional response. I am too often, actually pretty much always, angry and defensive first, and I know I'm not on my own.

I'm not a professional churcher. I'm a musician, and I'm on tour at the moment with a whole bunch of people who I don't think dislike christianity, but really dislike christians. Often the targets are very Richard Dawkins like- not the heavy hitting thinkers but the easy targets. However, this list of mr thebluefish is not making me say to anyone- " check out the real church- the compassionate church, people who will make you want to come back and understand more". Jesus remains a person with remarkable pull towards people who don't know him yet in my experience on this tour.

I'm not a professional churcher. I read Alan Jamieson's book A Churchless Faith and identified with some of the people and situations found in it. I meet lots of people who feel the same- I'm still going to church, and I will not give up yet or try not to, but the endless lines in the sand are making me fed up. So many people reckon they're right.

Who will compromise their faith to let someone in, in response to the call of compassion?

Jez Wiles (sorry, I don't have a blog).

Anonymous said...

All this stuff makes me feel really depressed sometimes. (Incidentally, there's quite an interesting response from the more liberal wing at
I wonder if 'the church' and christians don't do as much to besmirch the name of God as they do to uplift it.

But then, the church, as an institution, is a collection of individuals with selfish agendas (as well as a whole lot of history and politics to wade its way through). Each one of those individuals, me included, adds to its divisiveness and arrogance.

It would be less easy to pin down and condemn Christians' particular brand of arrogance and selfishness if they operated as scattered individuals, and thatmay be what today's individualistic Western culture encourages us to do. But, for some reason, Jesus was passionate about his 'church', I think in the sense of a community of believers.

If we shun the community he loved, what we're really saying is that on our own we know better. Than the community, and than him. And, while I am really tempted sometimes to think just that, I don't think it can be right. And I wonder if shunning Christian community is just a way of pretending that the conflicts and deeply embedded problems between us don't really exist.

Some people really do need to get away from insitutionalised faith in order for their beliefs to survive. Maybe i'll be one of them one day. Please God help me not to judge the church community because I think I'm better than it can be, though. Or to decide I need to make the community a bunch of people who think the same as me. Heaven save us from a churchload of Annas.......!

Anonymous said...

The quotes that Jez Wiles gives (in his interesting and thought-provoking comment above) from Simon Vibert are very telling of the sort of "logic" that Reform-types employ. He (Vibert) cites Hebrews 13:4 and James 1:27 to explain why homosexuals cannot live as a married couple - though neither verse has anything to do with homosexuals/homosexuality. Indeed, there is nothing in the Bible that says that two homosexuals cannot live as a married couple for all intents and purposes (with the possible exception of anal intercourse between a man and a man: I'm not going to try to debate this particular issue here). The idea has to come from elsewhere. (Probaby from social conventions of homophobic times-past. Which is ironic because one of Reform's big bug-bears are ideas coming from modern culture rather than the Bible.)

Similarly, Galatians 3:28 says nothing about life beginning at conception. And again, no-where in the Bible is this mentioned. But yet Rev Vibert uses this verse to back up his beliefs on the matter.

Time and time again I see that reform-type Christians try to back-up their un-loving, un-compassionate agenda by saying or implying that "we are just faithfully following God's Word in the Bible and this is where it leads us". And time and time again, an analysis of the Bible reveals that their conclusions are simply not there.

The myth they propogate is that this is a battle between emotions and reasons. It is not. Viewpoints like Simon Vibert's are neither defensible from a rational or emotional point-of-view.

So why do they not realise this? Because a central part of their belief system seems to be a refusal to enter into debate. And if they refuse to enter into debate, how can they possibly stay united with the rest of us? It's sad, but I think it's inevitable.

Anonymous said...

As Gerry Rafferty once sang. Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am stuck in the middle with you.

St said...

Thanks for all these comments. Their diversity, compassion and wisdom are pretty much a summary of why I belong to the Church of England, a church full of people fascinated by and in love with Jesus yet seeking after the truth of what that means, still trying to love, and live with, those who come to different conclusions and feeling there is more wisdom in conversation than conversion. Thanks for being there. All of you.

Caroline said...

hmm, amen st, amen