Why I stand where I stand – part 1
One conscious decision I made many years ago was not to spend too much time discussing and explaining church politics with the congregations I serve. Church politics is a fascinating subject, and some people hold very impassioned and very partisan views about all kinds of hot topics, but I have always felt that as a local church our focus should be more on contending for the faith once delivered once for all to the saints. However as I have stood back from the life of the two churches during my sabbatical, I have become all the more conscious of the wider issues that are gathering around us, and so in spite of my earlier decision, I thought I ought to write briefly about some of the things that sooner or later will have an immediate impact upon us.
As some of you, all deanery synods will shortly be asked to discuss on whether there should be provision for those who in all good conscience cannot accept the oversight of female bishops. The issue here is not whether there should be women bishops, but whether there should be protection for those who do not want to come under them, and whether that protection should be set out in law or in a code of practice.
You may have also been aware of government proposals to permit civil partnerships to be blessed in religious buildings. At the moment, the proposals are very much designed to offer provision to those who want such blessings, not to force churches to carry out such ceremonies, but I can well see a situation where in a few years’ time where I will receive a phone call asking me to officiate. What pressure will be put upon me to oblige? Not just from outside the church, but from those inside who have no problem with what are sometimes wrongly called “same-sex marriages”.
Then there have been the news stories about Christians who have run into problems at work for simply wearing a cross, for example, or offering to pray for a colleague. In some senses Christians have always been targets for their critics, but when the reaction of the Anglican church as a whole seems so weak and so muddled, it may sometimes be wondered when exactly it will stand up for an issue it believes in.
So what should our response be?
I suggest, first of all, we need to be clear where exactly we stand. I work from the position that I am an evangelical and so are most of the church members I serve. The word “evangelical” is often misunderstood. It is not a political label, or a particular style of worship. It is also not directly related to the word evangelism, although an evangelical will certainly believe in evangelism. The word “evangelical” refers to a basic understanding of the Christian faith, and one that agrees with the historic foundations of the Anglican church, namely:
- That the Bible is the inspired word of God, and contains all we need to know to be saved.
- That we are only saved from our sin by the death of Jesus Christ in our place.
- That we can contribute nothing to our salvation, and can only be saved through faith and trust in Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
- That the Holy Spirit is given to all those who believe and trust in Jesus Christ.
In my next blog, I will spell out why all this is so important. However for now I want to draw a link between what I’ve just said and what I’ve written earlier about renewal. Because what the church doesn’t need is a group within it that simply recites what it believes, or is able to produce a list of doctrines. Rather, the truths I’ve outlined are ones that are meant to be lived out in such a way that provides visible evidence that we know and love Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
After all, the best antidote to the muddle and confusion of church politics is a clear and a living faith that demonstrates the truth of what we believe. The charge often labelled at evangelicals is that they haven’t really thought through their position, or that they need to broaden their outlook. The best way to answer this is to show that our position embraces the whole of our lives, and makes a real difference to what we say and think and do. For I believe that to be an evangelical involves embracing authentic Christian living, under the cross, in the power of the Holy Spirit, according to the word of God, to the glory of God the Father.
I’ll leave you to ponder that statement, and then I’ll explain why all this is so important…