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I should stay in the Church of England, this week

Tue, 07/11/2023 - 12:54

As the Church of England continues to plunge deeper into crisis and judgement, three incidents this week have increased my desire to stay (although, even after one of our most encouraging Sunday’s in the parish, I was in the mood to leave by the evening because of the incompetence and evil of many in governance of the CofE).

Before I go on, my free church brothers and sisters and AiME and ACE brothers and sisters, please don’t hear what I am about to say as criticism because I am fully convinced that the local church is the church; that the faithful preaching of the word of God and the right administration of the sacraments is where Christ is with his people. The Universal Church is invisible and known to God alone. The Church of England is not the church in England, it is not even properly a church but a denomination. Denominations are not the church.

With those things in mind here’s what has happened to increase my desire to stay. These all involve the Kingship of Christ. These three things have made me see the long term value of serving in the established church.

1. Like many of us, I have had recent conversations about the role of bishops in the Church of England. I have also spoken with those I know and love serving on General Synod and in the Houses of Parliament. I know the anxieties of many about the declining standards in public life and national governance. I have also been reading King Solomon’s dedication of the first temple in Jerusalem. These things combined so I have seen more clearly the need for national governance under the kingship of Christ. When Solomon addressed the people of God, he addressed them nationally. He cautioned that when they would, in some time, sin against the Lord, nationally, they would all need a change of heart and soul, they would all need to repent and plead with the Lord, then the Lord would forgive them and have mercy and restore the national prosperity and peace they enjoyed under Solomon. I have been challenged that our view of the kingship of Christ has been too limited to individual piety and local church polity in recent generations. Christ is our prophet, priest and king. Our vision of his rule must be personal, parochial and from shore to shore. How will he rule over the nation if his people are concerned only with the personal and parochial?

2. I was sent this aerial photo this week of the village in Scotland where I grew up. My family house is circled and was on a street between two church buildings. The building in the foreground, with the cross over it, is the Free Church of Scotland the other building on the right of the photo, in partial view, is the established Church of Scotland.

The Free Church of Scotland was built in 1843 after the great disruption of 1837. At that time, the evangelicals, who had been in the ascendancy, had established the right of veto, which allowed congregations to reject a patron’s choice of minister. But the veto was repealed and 450 evangelical ministers left the established church. I am aware that the Free Church of Scotland is now the fastest growing denomination in Scotland. But the Free Church of Scotland in my village was demolished in 1979 and the parish church continues to dish out a Liberal diet whilst the national government is arguably the most secular in the UK. We cannot know what might have happened if the evangelicals had stayed and we cannot know our own future. The fact is, 450 evangelical ministers left the Church of Scotland 180 years ago. It is also clear that although the Free Church has preserved individual piety and local polity, the rule of Christ in the nation is lost.

3. I have an intimate but arm’s length involvement in the inner workings of General Synod. Amanda, who some of you know is my wife, serves on the national governing body of the CofE. She will attend a revisions committee for the Clergy Conduct Measure today. She will represent the concerns of me and two fellow CDM (Clergy Discipline Measure) survivors from my diocese. All three of us, and our families, have suffered the mishandling of complaints. The work of making laws which will benefit the whole Church of England is tedious, time-consuming and fraught with risk. The legal team drafting the new legislation is stretched and somewhat myopic. Our input is vital. Yesterday, I asked my two fellow clergy to pray for Amanda, who is feeling ill-equipped, untrained and outnumbered, that she might represent our concerns well. One of my fellow clergy wrote yesterday, ‘thank you both for your painstaking work which will benefit all clergy and their parishes for generations to come.’

The future national rule of Christ, it seems to me, depends on people who may not ever be as famous as Lord Shaftesbury or the Clapham Sect, but who are willing to seek change in the nation in a series of small steps. Some, from free churches, like Kate Forbes and Tim Farron, and others from the established church, will be called to serve on local councils and national government. Those who are in the established church should lean-in, be patient, and seek the common good by establishing the rule of Christ over the Church of England and the land.

My prayer is that personal piety, the living local church and national instruments of governance align with their King so that Christ may rule in every heart, every community and from shore to shore.

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