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A Heartfelt Plea: To the Church of England Evangelical Council, and the clergy they represent.

Right now the Church of England is on the verge of approving what God disapproves of, of

blessing that which brings God’s judgment, of saying peace, peace when there is no peace.

“What is the cause of this hopeless fall of the Church? Unquestionably the diminution in the number of good shepherds of souls, the increase of wicked shepherds, and the circumscription of pastoral authority and power. Bad pastors are everywhere the cause of unbelief, division, heresy and vice. It is they who scatter the flock of Christ, who lay waste the vineyard of the Lord, and desecrate the earth. No wonder, for they preach not the gospel of Christ with that living word which comes forth from living zeal for the salvation of souls, and is confirmed by an example worthy of Jesus Christ.”[1]

Yet the Church of England Evangelical Council don’t propose resolving the real and underlying issue i.e. the lack of functional disciplinary structure within the Church of England, and a discernment process for clergy which fails to ensure that life and faith of those ordained is a fitting example for the flock. In the Church of England we are under a ridiculous situation where clergy being disciplined for false teaching have the right to appeal to a secular court (The Privy Council). “Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!”[2]. The Bishops are asked at their ordination “Be you ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God's Word?”[3] And yet the means to do so, the discipline of the clergy has been removed from them and given to unbelievers. What a terrible state into which the Church of England has fallen!

And yet the Church of England Evangelical Council do not propose to remedy the situation and protect the sheep from these wolves in sheep’s clothing but instead to give them more power and greater legitimacy. Let’s be clear this is part of a deeper malaise in the evangelical wing of the Church of England, for many have spurned their heritage, many have dispensed with the beautiful liturgical heritage afforded us by Cranmer – an evangelical anglican, many openly flout the direction of their bishops in matters lawful and honest – such as a request to use the common cup, and many evangelicals do not encourage people to go to their parish church but only to evangelical churches whether anglican or not. Let me be clear there is nothing evangelical about open rebellion against the legitimate use of authority, there is nothing evangelical about abandoning whole parishes to heretics rather than encouraging orthodox Christians to fight the good fight, there is nothing evangelical about dispensing with the biblical infused rites and ceremonies of the church and therefore inviting others to do likewise.

It’s not like our forbears did not foresee exactly this sort of situation, after all they spoke about it and prescribed the means for dealing with it. Article 26 states “Although in the visible Church the evil be ever mingled with the good, and sometimes the evil have chief authority in the Ministration of the Word and Sacraments, yet forasmuch as they do not the same in their own name, but in Christ's, and do minister by his commission and authority, we may use their Ministry, both in hearing the Word of God, and in receiving the Sacraments. Neither is the effect of Christ's ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God's gifts diminished from such as by faith, and rightly, do receive the Sacraments ministered unto them; which be effectual, because of Christ's institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men. Nevertheless, it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church, that inquiry be made of evil Ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty, by just judgment be deposed.” Yet many evangelicals in the Church of England do not encourage their fellows to faithfully go to the parish church, to like the berean Jews weigh all that is said on the basis of scripture, and when necessary to appeal to ministers respectfully,[4] and when they do not repent to raise the matter with the bishop so that that those who persist in sin may be rebuked publicly so that all take note and do not follow them in their sins[5] even though it is both biblical and in line with the Articles of Religion to do so.

Why then do many so called so called evangelical pastors and teachers not teach what Paul taught, as witnessed to by the 39? Maybe these words from St Gregory the Great whose care for the English led him to send Augustine of Canterbury to these shores provide our answer:

“As long as there is no misfortune, it is difficult to discern whether he is a pastor or a mercenary. Indeed, at the time of peace, the mercenary usually keeps the flock like a true pastor. But the arrival of the wolf shows with what dispositions each one kept the flock. A wolf throws himself on the sheep each time an unjust man or kidnapper oppresses the faithful and the humble. The one who seemed to be the pastor but was not, then abandons the sheep and flees, for fearing for himself the danger that comes from the wolf, he does not dare to resist his unfair enterprise. He flees, not by changing his place, but by refusing his assistance. He flees, because he sees the injustice and he is silent. He flees because he hides in silence…

But there is another wolf, who does not stop every day tearing, not the bodies, but the souls: it is the evil spirit. He prowls by setting traps around the fold of the faithful, and he seeks the death of souls. It is this wolf that is immediately discussed: "And the wolf carries away the sheep and scatters them." The wolf comes and the mercenary flees, when the evil spirit tears the souls of the faithful by temptation and that he who occupies the place of the pastor does not care. Souls perish, and he thinks only of enjoying his earthly advantages. The wolf carries away the sheep and disperses them: he leads one man to lust, inflames another with avarice, exalts another by pride, throws another into division by anger; he excites this one by envy, reverses that one by deceiving him. As the wolf disperses the flock, the devil makes the faithful die by temptations.

But the mercenary is not inflamed with any zeal or animated by any fervor of love to oppose it: seeking in all only its external advantages, he has only negligence for the internal damage of the herd. So the text immediately adds: "The mercenary flees because he is a mercenary and does not care about the sheep." Indeed, the only reason the mercenary flees, is that he is a mercenary. It is as if one were saying clearly: "To dwell in the midst of the sheep in danger is impossible for the one who guides the sheep, not out of love for the sheep, but for the sake of profit from the land." attached to honors and delights in terrestrial advantages, the mercenary hesitates to oppose the danger, so as not to lose what he loves.”

To separate into different provinces would be to abandon the sheep at the time of their greatest need. The document visibly different states that the cost of a new province would be orthodox bishops and presbyters leaving their flocks, and orthodox laity being left in churches without anyone to defend or guide them, this is a cost which can not be countenanced. Most evangelicals know this and at a recent diocesan evangelical fellowship meeting I attended the CEEC Director of Strategy got a very cool reception from those gathered there, the CEEC proposal is not representative of what evangelicals on the ground want or would accept. The Rev Canon John Dunnett said to me at that meeting that Synod is not a place of theological discussion but a political arena where we have to get what we can, he cautioned me that we don’t want to see evangelical pastors losing their homes, and evangelical churches loosing their buildings and of course we don’t but houses can be bought, and churches can be built but we must never surrender peoples souls to evil.

As the Archbishop of Canterbury says in his book The Power of Reconciliation “Every journey of peacebuilding and reconciliation has innumerable judgements and choices” “Even the idea of judgement involves division” “In the film Darkest Hour, set in Mary 1940, Winston Churchill struggles to keep the British War Cabinet committed to continue the war even after the defeat of France and the triumph of German armies across Europe. One of the lines he is given is: ‘You do not negotiate with a tiger when your head is in its mouth.’ The Foreign Secretary, Lord Halifax, was arguing that the possibilities of a negotiated peace on poor terms were better than the prospect of complete defeat. Both arguments convinced some people. Churchill was generally seen to have been right, but even he had his doubts. The road forked and neither potential route had many attractions; there was no risk-free option.”[6] In other words there is “a time for war and a time for peace”[7] and in the face of evil, when the your head is in the tigers mouth it is not time to negotiate.

Who are the shepherds and who are the mercenaries? Who will protect the sheep and who will abandon them? This is the question all bishops and presbyters must reflect upon. Being willing to abandon the flock, to hand them over to evil, is a sign that one is a mercenary.

If anyone thinks this is simply about moving on. Let me remind them this same proposal document suggested that there would be no overlapping jurisdiction and therefore whole areas of the country where the preaching of the gospel can be circumscribed by heretics. This isn’t a solution, it isn’t even a defeat, it is collusion in the destruction of the Church of England.

That said I want to end on a note of encouragement. Christ has said “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”[8] No matter the way things look on the surface, no matter what happens in the years to come, no matter how big the defeat seems, we must remember God will not abandon his people, and as in Athanasius day, so too today, in the end, the truth of the gospel will win out, and light will overcome darkness as the day follows the night.

Let us pray for all our Bishops to be faithful and to reflect deeply over the next few weeks before they gather together again to discuss a way forward.

[1] Taken from the Memorial of Bishop Grosseteste addressed to Pope Innocent IV [2] 1 Corinthian 6:3-6 (NIV) [3] The Ordinal [4] 1 Timothy 5:1 [5] 1 Timothy 5:20 [6] Justin Welby, The Power of Reconciliation, p137-138. [7] Ecclesiastes 3:8 [8] Matthew 16:18

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