What is the biggest challenge facing the church?

I was invited by Lichfield Diocese to talk to them about the greatest challenge currency facing the Church of England, and what resources we had to hand to address it. This is part of a series, which is a fascinating initiative. I was quite intrigued to find that my observation about the challenge we are currently facing was quite different from what other people said! What do you make of my comments?

PS I didn’t choose the thumbnail for the video!

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47 thoughts on “What is the biggest challenge facing the church?”

  1. Great answer, but I’d suggest that they biggest challenge facing the church is the privatisation of faith and belief.

    The privatization thesis in Bryan Wilson’s seminal 1966 study, ‘Religion in Secular Society: A Sociological Comment’ was taken forward by Steve Bruce in ‘Post-Secularity and Religion in Britain: An Empirical Assessment’.

    As Ribberink, Achterberg and Houtman explained (http://www.egbertribberink.nl/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/post-secular-turn-in-attitudes-towards-religion-1.pdf)
    “For instance, Bryan Wilson defined secularization as the decreasing social significance of religion, yet he pointed to decline in church membership and church attendance as evidence of secularization (Wilson 1966, xiv).”

    “Steve Bruce also maintains that privatization is one of the key processes responsible for religious decline in modern societies. As i (Bruce 2011; 2013). Hence, in time, non-religiosity will grow.”

    The British Social Attitudes Survey indicates that Anglicanism is declining faster than any other major denomination.

    The steep decline of Anglican affiliation in the face of secularism is understandable.

    When compared to other denominations, as secular rules of engagement become even further embedded into British social practice and state policy, those who belong to the established church are under a far greater pressure to defer, rather than to overtly challenge them.

    We’ve seen little official Church support for school governors, teachers and chaplains who have been forced out of their jobs for questioning the headlong rush to embrace transgender ideology.

    Years ago, Church leaders would encourage patience with a reminder that quiet behind-the-scenes diplomacy characterised much of their work to resolve these kinds of situations.

    Now, they don’t even bother to say anything, perhaps in the hope that the storm will blow over by itself. Meanwhile, any who challenge secular dogma are hung out to dry.

    • One thing about the issue of ‘privatization ‘ that I’ve been thinking about is how on Desert Island Disks your one book cannot be the Bible, because obviously if it could be the Bible it would be the Bible. But that’s not so obvious now. There was a time where talking about what you did at church might seem across as self-righteous, ‘pi’ or boasting. But that’s not the case now where people are more likely to be worried at seem weird.

      I wonder if this sort of thing goes through peaks and troughs. The older generation not catching up to the change that we’re in a trough and it’s already weird, but with perhaps the younger generation more willing to share it as their passion. This would still make it a shame to be in a trough, but it might contain its own silver lining or cure.

      • The Bible is automatically given as a book in DIDs, unless the ‘celebrity’ refuses it, such as by actor Brian Cox due to his atheist views.

        • Which means that it is the Atheist you gets to be exciting and passionate and to discuss it, and that’s my point.

    • “When compared to other denominations, as secular rules of engagement become even further embedded into British social practice and state policy, those who belong to the established church are under a far greater pressure to defer, rather than to overtly challenge them.”

      In that case, would you think that the Cof E might fare better and under less pressure to conform if it was disestablished David?

      • Hi Chris,

        It’s not so much establishment per se,but the secular rules of engagement that exploit the Church’s established status, making it more vulnerable to pressure.

        While there’s greater pressure to defer, if the Church re-doubles its efforts to stand its ground judiciously, then establishment actually amplifies hard-won religious freedom.

        For example, when the Equality Bill 2010 underwent Parliamentary scrutiny, alongside Christian peers and MPs, it was the established Church which publicly supported three key amendments (98, 99 and 100) that prevented the introduction of an onerous proportionality test for religious exemption.

        This amendment was beneficial to the religious freedom of all denominations and faiths.

        In contrast, in this health crisis, the statement by the HoB Recovery Group cited the deference of canon law to statute law as the basis upon which “the canonical requirements for holding public worship have effectively been in abeyance. It is understood that the Government legislation requiring the closure of places of worship will be repealed with effect from 4th July. Once that happens, the canonical requirements in relation to the holding of public worship will come back into operation.”

        To be clear, I’m not suggesting that the Church should defy the government, but, instead, that the due process of passing emergency measures should not have been abandoned.

        Even though it will incur greater pressure, the CofE would fare better as a persistent public advocate for religious freedom of lay and ordained Christians alike; especially for freedom of speech and for society’s accommodation of the ethical norms of Christian orthodoxy.

  2. Excellent. Excellent answers to all the questions put. Well done.

    Also good comment from David, which chimes in with my thought, listening, that we read the Scriptures not only to see what God might wish to say to us, but to know God better for himself. To know his purposes not only for us but for the world; to see them being worked out in history and to know what remains to be worked out.

  3. From many of the comments I have read in the past on this blog It would seem to me that Bishops in the CofE need to spend more time knowing the scriptures and less in knowing management theory .

  4. About two weeks ago I had my formal interview for ministerial placement at Regent’s Park College, Oxford. A place I have subsequently been offered and have accepted.

    One observation of that process was that the book we were expected to read in advance of the questions in our ‘academic interview’ was Steven Croft’s “Ministry in Three Dimensions”, a book I had bought and read on the advice of a comment on this blog some 3 or 4 years ago in relation to this exact subject. 😉

    In reviewing it again as prep for the interview, I thought it was interesting that while there’s a distinct emphasis on the “Word and & Sacrament” role of presbyter in the book (ideas which are unpacked with a chapter each) there’s a much more limited expansion of this in relation to the role role of episcope, where it certainly seems that setting vision, managing conflict, supporting peers and (to put it cynically) ‘PR’ has a much greater emphasis than any sort of responsibility for ensuring sound doctrine or training others in that capacity.

    Teaching, it would seem, is something Bishops ‘do’, rather than something they also experience.


  5. Ian
    Your answer to the question “What is the biggest challenge facing the Church?” was “As a Church we don’t know the Bible”.
    I agree that is true. But the biggest challenge is the fact that those who DO know the Bible disagree among themselves about what are the truths the Bible teaches. And the most important of these disagreements are not about things we can agree to differ on but are about things of paramount importance to all of us, personally and collectively. For example: whether, because of the Fall and Original Sin we all deserve the wrath and condemnation of God from birth onwards and are born with a nature inclined to evil, as Article 9 asserts; whether a faithful preaching of the gospel must include the terrible warnings as well as the wonderful invitations and promises; whether the unsaved face eternal retribution or annihilation; whether the atonement doctrine of penal substitution is true (as some Homilies assert) or not.

    Phil Almond

    • That’s because we’re not robots who simply regurgitate what we’ve been told by others, but spend the time to consider thoughtfully what the text says and means in its cultural context. God, thank God, has given us brains to think. People will always disagree about something, and I think God can cope with that.

      Agreement on doctrine saves noone. Rather it is love.

      • It is not love, per se that saves anyone but the belief in the love of God in Christ Jesus, otherwise we remain eternally lost.
        And Peter it is a thinking approach to doctrine, philosophy and the world as it is, not an unthinking approach to doctine that reaches that conclusion, otherwise your response can be seen as an unthinking dogmatic response.
        Where is the Good News , what are the core, irreducible elements and why would anyone respond with whole life giving over to our Triune God? There will be no evangelism if the evangel is eviscerated.

        • Geoff, it is grace that saves which is undeserved love.

          I specifically referred to “consider thoughtfully” so I’m not sure what you mean by unthinking.

          I believe in substitutionary atonement but if someone else says no it’s all about christus Victor, is that the greatest challenge facing the church? No! I don’t believe in hell as conscious eternal suffering, but rather the unsaved will face judgement then destruction. Phil believes the former. Is our disagreement the greatest challenge facing the church? Come on!!

          • Peter,
            What do you mean by grace? And why is it necessary?
            It is a crucial matter yet can sometimes get bandied about as a sort of Christian jargon, without doctrinal content.
            Common grace; does that save?
            Is grace just some sort of metaphysical stuff that God lobs down to us?
            Grace in in Christianity is never anything other than God acting personally in Trinity Sovereignly in time and space.

      • Agreed that we’re not robots, and, even, that people will always disagree about something.

        However, it’s a false dichotomy to set up a redemptive contrast between ‘love’ and “agreement on doctrine”, as if they are mutually exclusive. 1 John 5:3 indicates that they are not.

        Of course, God can ‘cope’ with disagreement with those who, for example, portray the “atonement doctrine of penal substitution” (1 Pet. 3:18) as “cosmic child abuse”. As in earlier times, He warns them prophetically.

        Nevertheless, the notion that, motivated by God’s love, we should turn a blind eye towards that because “agreement on doctrine saves noone” is entirely false.

        • I was negating Phil’s view that the greatest challenge facing the church was some doctrinal differences between Christians. My point is those will likely never be resolved until we see Him face to face.

          I doubt that is God’s priority concerning his church, ensuring his children all believe exactly the same things, 100%.

          • The doctrine cited by Phil is concerned with man’s inherent sinfulness, divine wrath and eternal judgment as mankind’s just deserts. They are not just “some doctrinal differences”.

            In fact, they are essential and foundational to Christian faith, as Hebrews describes: “the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, of baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” Heb. 6:1.

            We can’t, in the name of ersatz unity, just paper over the cracks of disagreement on such foundational doctrine.

            While its true that some differences may never be resolved until we see Christ face to face, that doesn’t warrant doctrinal pluralism in relation to foundational Christian teaching.

            It’s one thing for the CofE to accommodate “the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters” (Rom 14:1). It’s quite another for the Church of England to indulge those who openly flout foundational Christian teaching and, thereby, undermine the authority of apostolic tradition which derives from Christ Himself.

            Paul is clear about how we should respond to such overt defiance:
            “Now we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from every brother who leads an unruly life and not according to the tradition which you received from us. (2 Thess. 3:6)

            “Take note of anyone who does not obey the instructions we have given in this letter. Do not associate with him, so that he may be ashamed.” (2 Thess. 3:14)

            That doesn’t mean that God’s “children all believe exactly the same things, 100%”.

            It does mean that the Church should ensure its ordained ministers are consistent on the foundational Christian teachings upon which the superstructure of enduring Christian maturity should be built.

          • David: I don’t find your approach in any way convincing and in fact just a bit Pharisaical. I think LLF puts it rather better:

            “In 1968, a report on Subscription and Assent to the 39 Articles was produced by the Archbishops’ Commission on Christian Doctrine. Focusing in particular on the approach to Scripture set out in the Articles, it called for the then current Declaration of Assent to
            be changed, so that it would ‘not tie down the person using it to acceptance of every one of the Articles’, and would leave open ‘The possibility of fresh understandings of Christian truth’, while also leaving room ‘for an appeal to the Articles as a norm within Anglican theology’.

            We don’t all read article 9 in the same way I’m afraid. That’s well known.

          • Andrew,

            Thankfully, you’re not the arbiter of theological reasoning. So, I’m not particularly interested in convincing you.

            “ We don’t all read article 9 in the same way I’m afraid. That’s well known.”

            Yeah. It’s also well known that Jeremy Pemberton didn’t read article XXXII the same way. And he took his Bishop to tribunal over it…and lost.

            That’s because, while “The Church of England will continue to place a high value on theological exploration and debate that is conducted with integrity”, clergy are still “required to fashion their lives consistently with” Church teaching.

            Certainly, that contradiction between exploring “the possibility of fresh understandings of Christian truth” and conduct disallowed by current Church doctrine that has been the real recipe for Pharisaism.

            The ongoing sexuality debate is just the presenting symptom of far deeper, more foundational differences.

            So, if resolving such foundational differences isn’t the greatest challenge facing the Church, I’d wonder why so much time and money is being spent on the LLF process.

            Why hasn’t the HoB just declared that we don’t all read scripture the same way and affirmed the primacy of doctrinal pluralism?

          • “Why hasn’t the HoB just declared that we don’t all read scripture the same way and affirmed the primacy of doctrinal pluralism?”

            Well, it has really. I was trying to remain focussed on the Article that Phil had introduced in to the discussion. But the 1968 statement above will apply to all of the articles.

            In the matter of human sexuality, which you seem keen to return to, we have had a pluralistic approach for a rather long time. Lay people, the vast majority of the Church members, are permitted to marry their same sex partners and live in active sexual relationships. That’s widely recognised. Jeremy Pemberton remains a Priest. And has not been excommunicated. The greatest danger to the CofE might be a pharisaical approach to the scriptures. It is at least clear that there is a broader approach to the 39 Articles.

          • I’m not particularly keen to return to the matter of human sexuality. Instead, as I wrote, it is “just the presenting symptom of far deeper, more foundational differences”.

            The 1968 statement simply led to new form of the Declaration of Assent in 1975, the preface of that states concerning the Church of England:
            “It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the Catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. Led by the Holy Spirit, it has borne witness to Christian truth in its historic formularies, the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordering of Bishops, Priests and Deacons.”

            The 1908 Court of the Arches judgment in Banister vs Thompson formed the basis upon which “lay people, the vast majority of the Church members, are permitted to marry their same sex partners and live in active sexual relationships”.

            According to that judgment : “the responsibility for separating a man from communion is thus left…to the voluntary actions of the man himself, whose conscience is to be informed…by the exhortations of the clergy” (p. 383)

            Clergy are not permitted similar discretion. That’s why Pemberton, who sought to justify his same-sex marriage by a different reading of Article XXIII, lost his good standing with the Church that was required for his chaplaincy job.

            The fact that he wasn’t laicised or excommunicated doesn’t make Bishop Inwood’s withdrawal of endorsement any less disciplinary.

            If such a state of affairs is consonant with a fait accompli of doctrinal pluralism, then I’d expect you to endorse the status quo established by Issues in Human Sexuality and to reject the LLF process.

          • The reason it called for the then current Declaration of Assent to
            be changed, was so that it would ‘not tie down the person using it to acceptance of every one of the Articles’, and would leave open ‘The possibility of fresh understandings of Christian truth’, while also leaving room ‘for an appeal to the Articles as a norm within Anglican theology’. It’s clear that this allows the possibility of some pluralism. The fact that Readers and others who hold the bishops licence are permitted to express their sexuality is also an indication of such pluralism.

            If you have concerns about the ways in which greater inclusivity might work out then do read Nick Bundock’s very moving testimony

            As he says, ‘Another way is possible’

          • “It’s clear that this allows the possibility of some pluralism”

            Well, no. “The possibility of fresh understandings of Christian truth” simply allows for what the HoB Pastoral Statement called “theological exploration and debate that is conducted with integrity”.

            The latter caters to the possibility of a legitimate development to Anglican doctrine (as with the LLF process), but does not permit ordained clergy (who are bound by Canon C26) to use liturgy or adopt a manner of life that contravenes Church teaching.

            Theological exploration that might result in a legitimate development is not doctrinal pluralism.

          • There are different understandings – doctrinally different – of the atonement, of the Eucharist, of baptism, of the traditions of the Church, of salvation, of hell and so on. Matters addressed by the 39 articles. Matters about which the 1968 report on Subscription and Assent to the 39 Articles produced by the Archbishops’ Commission on Christian Doctrine was referring. There has been doctrinal pluralism in the C of E for decades, and it is this to which Peter (PC1) is referring in his original post.

            Happy to disagree David and I suspect that is how we shall have to leave it.

          • Andrew,

            J.I. Packer was a member of the Archbishops Commission that wrote the Report Subscription and Assent.

            In his book, ” The Thirty-nine Articles: Their Place and Use Today, he explained that nothing in that Report relegated the status of the Thirty-Nine Articles.

            He also highlighted that the related Resolution 43 (1968 Lambeth Conference) resulted from an erroneous reading of the report and a mistake by the Conference Chair.

            That said, even if individuals can have different understandings of the atonement, etc., that doesn’t mean that they can pass off such beliefs as the doctrine of the Church. For example, clergy can’t conduct self-styled alternative public rites that express heterodox beliefs..

            Also, happy to disagree.

            Thanks for an interesting exchange.

          • David- just to say thanks for the Lambeth reference. Not everyone agreed with Packer’s analysis of course. But readers might like to see the resolution you refer to:

            Resolution 43
            The Ministry – The Thirty-Nine Articles
            The Conference accepts the main conclusion of the Report of the Archbishops’ Commission on Christian Doctrine entitled “Subscription and Assent to the Thirty-nine Articles” (1968) and in furtherance of its recommendation:
            (a) suggeststhateachChurchofourCommunionconsiderwhethertheArticlesneedbe bound up with its Prayer Book;
            (b) suggeststotheChurchesoftheAnglicanCommunionthatassenttotheThirty-nine Articles be no longer required of ordinands;
            (c) suggests that, when subscription is required to the Articles or other elements in the Anglican tradition, it should be required, and given, only in the context of a statement which gives the full range of our inheritance of faith and sets the Articles in their historical context.
            Voting: Adopted, with 37 dissentients.

        • Spot on David, with your comment of 6:37 pm.
          While the laity may have hydra-like many headed beliefs, it is scripturally incumbent on those in offices of authority in church to subscribe to orthodoxy in relation to preaching and teaching. It is a fearful position of higher responsibility and reckoning and probity of affirmation, of vow.

        • “It’s clear that this allows the possibility of some pluralism”

          Well, no. “The possibility of fresh understandings of Christian truth” simply allows for what the HoB Pastoral Statement called “theological exploration and debate that is conducted with integrity”.

          The latter caters to the possibility of a legitimate development to Anglican doctrine (as with the LLF process), but does not permit ordained clergy (who are bound by Canon C26) to use liturgy or adopt a manner of life that contravenes Church teaching.

          Theological exploration that might result in a legitimate development is not doctrinal pluralism.

  6. Those who are saved, being saved, and will be saved – from God’s wrath, curse and condemnation which they deserve from birth onwards, from a nature inclined to evil, and from eternal retribution on the Day of Judgement – is because the doctrines of predestination to life, the Fall and original sin, penal substitution, lifelong sanctification, eternal retribution are all true and God in his love, grace and mercy has endued them with these excellent benefits, as Article 17 puts it. I don’t rule out the possibility that God in his love, grace mercy and forbearance may so endue some who don’t believe these doctrines – but let not those who don’t believe them presume on that possibility!

    The reason why the disagreements I mentioned in my last post are so important is that they are preventing the Church and her ministers as a whole from uniting in believing, teaching and preaching about ‘The Thing that Matters Most’ – ‘It’s Eternity Stupid’ (as Dr. Martin Davie explains in one of his ‘Reflections of an Anglican Theologian’ on the internet).

    To focus clearly on ‘The Thing that Matters Most’ the Church must believe, teach and preach both the terrible warnings, some from Christ’s own lips, as well as the wonderful invitations and promises to submit to Christ in his atoning death and life-giving resurrection, which are the two essential parts of the Gospel, the Church’s core message. As Warfield commented on Elijah’s experience in the cave,

    ‘….it is not the Law but the Gospel, not the revelation of wrath but that of love, which saves the world. Wrath may prepare for love; but wrath never did and never will save a soul’

    But wrath may indeed prepare for love. And an honest, faithful preaching of the gospel has to include that warning. After all, Christ and his apostles gave us the warnings as well as the loving invitations and promises. The Church needs to believe and teach and preach both to be faithful.

    Only thus can the Church as a whole say with Paul, ‘Therefore I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God’; only thus can the Church as a whole take seriously the solemn warning God gave to Ezekiel that the appointed Watchman who ‘does not blow the trumpet to warn the people’ will be held accountable by God for the blood of the unsaved.

    What happens to those who at the Day of Judgment are not saved from their sins? As I see it retribution inflicted by God on the unsaved and the atonement doctrine of penal substitution go together. If one is true the other must be true. If one is not true then the other must not be true. Also it really matters whether that retribution is eternal. If it stops followed by annihilation, well, then (not to trivialise a dreadfully serious and sensitive personal subject) – that might not be a very fearful prospect. Also, if, as Travis asserts ‘The outcome of being unsuccessful at the judgment is exclusion from relationship to God’ and, quoting Tillich, ‘Judgment is an act of love which surrenders that which resists love to self-destruction…’, then that might not be a very fearful prospect either. At stake is what is the terrible warning the Church needs to proclaim, alongside the wonderful message of deliverance. I see this as the most important disagreement in the Church.

    I suggest that if evangelicals are ever going to challenge the rest of the Church about what she believes and preaches about Original Sin, the need to preach the warnings as well as the Good News, about wrath and retribution – this is the decisive moment to do it, by pointing out in the LLF debates that LLF is part of a wider, deeper issue. I suggest writing an Open Letter to challenge all ordained Ministers, including Bishops and Archbishops, and please, please, let the ensuing debate be on the internet open to all, and not behind closed doors.

    Let us all continue to pray that God in his grace and mercy will revive and rebuke the world-wide Church to focus on the thing that matters most, the Day of Judgment and the eternal life (or eternal retribution) which awaits each of us after death. Let us all also continue to pray that God will convict us all that God and Christ are both terrible and wonderful.

    Phil Almond

  7. Having now watched the link at home, I found it, in turns
    – uplifting, your enthusiasm
    – dispiriting, that something so basic should need to be emphasised at a heirarchical level in the CoE
    – a reminder and necessary corrective that the church in England doesn’t only comprise the CoE
    – and that the continuation of the church will be due to the faithfulness of God.
    It is Christ’s church after all.
    As an aside, but relevant, on Sunday 6th June, my wife and I travelling to the Lakes, listened to the morning service in the car, on radio 4. It was superb from St George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle; the liturgy, the reading of scripture, prayers, the choir, sermon, all together wonderful.

    • Tom Wright made the sad observation (I cannot remember where) that in a traditional eucharist you will get OT, epistle and Gospel, plus a psalm, but in many evangelical churches you get just a single reading.

  8. Ian,
    As a fellow rose-grower and Bible student, I warm to your comments on both topics. I think it is not just knowledge of the Bible that has gone down the memory hole but other books, stories and cultural artefacts that were once expected knowledge in the “average person”. The disappearance of classical languages (as well as modern ones) from school curriculums is part of this general trend. The Bible has vanished from public consciousness along with Sunday school as normal experience for most British children and the teaching of the basic Gospel story in RE lessons in school. l find it interesting that the home schooling movement in the United States, as well as having a strong Christian drive behind it, also places an emphasis on history, classical knowledge and Latin – the kind of things British grammar schools once stressed.
    On the Bible, my impression (I hope it is wrong) is that there is a gap between rhetoric and practice in many evangelical churches, the very ones who assert the primacy of Scripture. On the public use of Scripture, we should Read, Pray and Sing the Scriptures. Yet my inpression is the following:
    1. Reading: how many evangelical churches bother with three lections each Sunday? The point of a good lectionary is to show the interconnected tapestry of the Word of God and the two Testaments. The able preacher is one who knows how to combine the readings as the unfolding story of redemption and judgment.
    How many ordinands are trained in this art?
    2. Praying the Scriptures: how many worship leaders seek to turn the very words of Scripture into public prayer? Too often in evangelical churches public prayer by worship leaders is boring and perfunctory, falling into cliches of “blessing”, without thinking about the meaning and richness of words.
    How many know how to pray the Psalms? Meditative use of these words would take us more deply into actual biblical spirituality.
    3. Singing the Scriptures: how much do the actual words of the Bible actually inform the so-called “worship” songs that so predominate in evangelical churches today?
    The weakness and banality of many contemporary lyrics is obvious but I suspect few want to call this out, for fear of being labelled a complainer or old fogey. Whatever you think of the music of old hymns, lyrically and doctrinally they are far, far superior to the great majority of “Contemporary Christian Music” where the range of ideas, emotions and vocabulary is extremely limited. We are up against an old fact, familiar at least since the advent of opera, that a great composer-musician is rarely a great lyricist.
    Where the best hymns of a Watts or a Wesley or Cowper succeeded was in blending biblical words and images with a coherent theme and an easily singable meter. A lot of CCM doesn’t do any of these becuase its inspiration is contemporary pop music.

    • Thank you Ian… others here and James (as replied to)

      I agree with nearly all that you (James) has written.

      One caveat… As an old fogey I recall the 1960s when lectionary choices were effectively unknown. The move to a single reading was probably to do with trying to communicate the Gospel to an audience that was, even then, not really Gospel educated (not merely knowing key stories). It has developed into a life of its own which, whilst helpful sometimes still, has not produced a width biblical knowledge. I’m also wary that a single reading sequence can be a good focus tool… or a dangerous lever in “telling them what they need to know”.

      One reemphasis…. I’m utterly fed up with “contemporary” being used as a measure of quality in music. Sometimes it’s no more than the choice of a controlling group/individual within a congregation. It can be accompanied by the unsupported theory that those who don’t come would prefer it. I say this as someone who first played the guitar in church in the late 60’s.

      One disagreement… I don’t grow roses…

      • I take your point about the single reading and still think that a complementary passage should be found to illustrate Augustine’s dictum:

        Novum in Vetere latet
        Vetus in Novo patet.

        A great emphasis of evangelical expository preaching has been to go through whole books (or some of them – not many series on Leviticus, Jeremiah or even our host’s beloved Revelation). This is in the footsteps of Calvin and before him, Chrysostom. Whatever text we are speaking from, I think there are four principles to bear in mind:
        1. Our responsibility is to expound the text, not our favourite ideas.
        2. We put the text in its larger text of God’s purposes.
        3. We remember Spurgeon’s dictum for developing his sermon: “I take a text and make a beeline for the Cross.”
        4. We preach grace first instead of law. Of course law has its place, but the problem of so much evangelical preaching is that it gets the order and emphasis wrong, and a sermon becomes another list of “things we should be doing”. Paul’s letters – the New Testament’s equivalent of preaching – are much more about what God has done for us in Christ and what He graciously provides. The ethics of obedience follows, but only after the spectrum of divine grace has been displayed.

  9. Andrew
    Thank you for drawing my attention in your Andrew Godsall June 8, 2021 at 9:44 pm post to statement on page 317 of the LLF book about then 1968 report on subscription and assent to the 39 articles, which precedes the statements on page 318 about the new Declaration of Assent and its Preface. I have not read the 1968 report nor the 1975 account (if there is one) of any debate that accompanied the change in the wording. But the present wording (after the 1975 change), given the normal understanding of words, does still, as I have long argued with you, tie down the person using it to acceptance of every one of the Articles. So the change proposed by the 1968 report failed, in my view, to be achieved by the new wording. Which leaves the open question whether note 318 does alter, from a strictly legal point of view, what the Declaration does commit those who make it to believe and preach. But, in any case, setting aside this long trajectory since the Reformation to water down assent to the Articles, the position of evangelicals like me remains: we are convinced that Article 9 truly summarises what the Bible says (Romans 5:12-21 and elsewhere). The fact that Anglican ministers like you do not believe it does truly summarise what the Bible says is just a sad and disastrous example of what I have argued is the biggest challenge facing the Church, leading to her widespread failure to ‘blow the trumpet to warn the people’.

    Phil Almond

  10. I was shocked a few years ago at an event when a suffragan bishop was unable to say where the Lord’s Prayer was found in the Gospels. It really underscored for me the lack of biblical knowledge that can exist even among some senior ordained leaders.

    • The bar is set quite low. Yesterday, I was watching a scripted YouTube video of a new Archdeacon introducing herself to the diocese where she’s been promoted from a mission-enabler role: “I’ve been a Christian now for many years…” she said. One would have hoped that would go without saying!

    • Don’t forget the apalling heresy about God and Creation promoted in “teaching videos” last year by the Bishop of Reading.
      How anyone could even be confirmed soouting that nonsense beggars belief. But that’s the Church of England today.


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