In my last entry I talked about some of the wider issues that we face as a church, and explained the need for us to be clear about what we believe. To be evangelical is to hold on to certain key truths of the Christian faith, which we need not only to know and understand but also to live by. There is a link between holding on to this faith and experiencing spiritual renewal.
So why is all this so important?
Firstly, if we hold on to the authority of Scripture, then we are able to identify issues of primary importance. So, for example, when it comes to the question of blessing what is wrongly called “same-sex marriage”, then we can be firm and say this is contrary to the will of God. Not only because there are certain individual verses which prohibit homosexual union, but because the whole idea runs contrary to the whole teaching of Scripture about men and women. We are made male and female in the image of God, and we reflect that image when male and female are living in right relationship with each other. Marriage is part of that right relationship, and it involves a man and a woman, as Genesis 2 teaches and as Jesus affirms in the gospels.
Being confident about what the Bible says also enables us to address other issues, which may not be directly addressed in Scripture. For example, insistence on justice and righteousness and not oppressing the poor would seem to preclude the directors of a large company awarding themselves huge pay rises while making many of their workforce redundant.
But secondly, if we hold on the authority of Scripture, then we are also to recognise issues where Christians quite properly might disagree. For example, when it comes to the debate about women bishops, we have to recognise that the Bible says very little about church leadership and certainly knows nothing of institutions with bishops, cathedrals and synods. This is why evangelicals have come to different conclusions when looking at the role of women in the church. In my opinion, this should mean that, rather than splitting over the issue, due provision should be made for those who cannot accept the authority of a woman bishop. So long as there is a common concern for gospel priorities, some way should be found for both sides to continue within the church.
Thirdly, however, we are part of an Anglican church that is deeply divided. Indeed worldwide the Anglican Communion has already effectively split in two. The real issue is not homosexuality, but how God is seen to reveal Himself. Evangelicals believe that God has revealed Himself fully and finally in the person of Jesus Christ and that this revelation is contained within the pages of Scripture. Of course our understanding of and obedience to Scripture needs to constantly grow and deepen, but we cannot do anything which goes against the word of God. Liberals on the other hand would see the word of God as being more a product of its culture and society, and claim that God continues to reveal Himself through the outworkings of history, and the insights of modern disciplines like psychology and social sciences. This explains, incidentally, why it seems there is so much talking and so little firm decision in the Anglican church. Because God’s revelation is seen as an ongoing process with little clear end, there is no fixed point at which conclusions are definitively reached.
So, fourthly, if we are to stand out as a church with a distinctively evangelical ethos, then it is important for us to meet together regularly for fellowship and support. Our society is becoming less and less tolerant to those who hold to a firm and principled faith, and on our own it is hard to resist the pressures to abandon what we believe. It is also important that we form networks with like-minded churches, across denominations, and across geographical areas. This takes time and effort and commitment, but I believe it is a necessary investment of resources. Of course our focus should remain on proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ in our local area, but increasingly we are being forced to stand up and be counted. And it’s difficult to do that without the practical support and prayers of those who are in a similar situation.
Now there’s much, much more I could say on all these areas. But I think the overall reason why we face so many challenges is that the Lord is asking us to think through what it really means to live by faith. We admire the merchant who sold everything to acquire the pearl of great price (Matt 13:45-46); we applaud the disciples who left everything to follow Jesus (Mark 10:28), but what are we prepared to do to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints (Jude 4)? That’s a question I think we all need to think through carefully.