Musings of a restless bishop – +Nick Baines
April 19, 2015
The real Church of England
The Church of England is investing a huge amount of time and energy into re-shaping its agenda. Not in order to bolster the institution, but in order to get us back (amid a million claims on attention) to our core vocation: to make and nurture disciples of Jesus Christ; to grow disciples who pray into ministers who evangelise; to shape churches that give themselves away in serving their communities. Not simply growing churches for the sake of having big churches, but growing churches in all our communities – even and especially where it is tough.
I am working with lay and ordained Anglican disciples to shape a diocese that places worship, evangelism, nurture and service at the heart of our life. This will shape our priorities, how we raise and allocate our resources (of people, money and ‘stuff’), and how we shape and work our structures. We are attending seriously to growth, and to tackling the challenges of buildings, decline and discouragement. And I lead a team of bishops and other ministers – lay and ordained – who are determined, confident (in God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Church – and especially the Church of England -, and the contexts in which we live and serve), and sacrificial in their exercise of this ministry.
And we are only one of 42 dioceses in the Church of England that are doing this.
You would never believe any of this from the communique issued following the meeting in England this week of the primates of what is known as Gafcon. According to this group – which, despite statements to the contrary and consistent with behaviour that is inexplicable – the Church of England has abandoned the gospel of Jesus Christ and is “unfaithful”. It is probably worth noting that the key words in the rhetoric of this conservative evangelical constituency are “gospel” and “faithful”. What is actually meant is that if you do not fit their narrow description of what the “gospel” is and who might be described as “faithful”, then you are fair game for being dismissed. (Assumptions about the meaning of key words matters here.)
For a long time I have wondered if the Church of England ought not to be a little more robust in countering the misrepresentation and manipulation (of reality) that emanates from Gafcon. I am not alone. But, I have bowed to the wisdom of those who (rightly) assert that we shouldn’t counter bad behaviour with bad behaviour, and that we should trust that one day the truth will out. I am no longer so sure about the efficacy of such an eirenic response. I think we owe it to Anglicans in England and around the Communion to fight the corner and challenge the misrepresentation that is fed to other parts of the Anglican Communion. (I was once asked in Central Africa why one has to be gay to be ordained in the Church of England. I was asked in another country why the Church of England no longer reads the Bible and denies Jesus Christ. I could go on. When asked where this stuff has come from, the answer is that this is what a bishop has told them.)
The Gafcon primates say:
We are uniting faithful Anglicans, growing in momentum, structured for the future, and committed to the Anglican Communion.
Which means what – especially when they claim ‘gospel values’ and speak and behave in ways that do not reflect values of honesty, integrity and humility? And on what basis is the bulk of the Church of England reported (within Gafcon circles) as being unfaithful? And who writes the stuff they put out? Who is directing whom – who is pulling whose strings? And what would be the response if I wrote off as “unfaithful” entire provinces of the Anglican Communion where there was evidence of corruption, love of power, financial unfaithfulness or other sins? Does the ninth Commandment still apply today, or only where convenient? Is sex the only ethical matter that matters, or does breaking the ninth Commandment get a look in?
The Gafcon primates get their information (and money) from somewhere. The ‘take’ on the Church of England reflects simply the perceptions of a few. I bet the wider picture is not represented. They insinuate that some clergy and churches (decidedly congregations and not parishes – and thereby lies another issue) feel marginalised or fearful – treated like ‘pariahs’ according to Gafcon – so cannot be identified. Really? How pathetic.
I was once at a meeting of evangelical bishops in England when three English Gafcon men came to meet us. They had stated that this was the case and that bishops were giving their clergy a hard time. We asked for evidence so we could consider it before we met. Bishop Tom Wright and I were just two who were outraged at the misinformation, misrepresentation and selective re-writing of history presented to us. When we began to challenge this, we were told that we shouldn’t get bogged down in the detail and could we move on. And they got away with it. I am not making this up.
The truth is that while all this nonsense goes on, the rest of the Church of England will continue to focus on being faithful to its gospel vocation and mission. We are doing it every day. We will not be distracted by people who selectively report, regularly misrepresent, manipulate truth and plough their own furrow. God bless them in their commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ; and God bless the rest of us in our commitment to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
We continue to support our fellow Anglicans all over the world, many of whom tell us that they have no time for Gafcon. Some face dreadful challenges and we stand with them. Some face real persecution and we stand with them. The great power of the Anglican Communion lies in these relationships of mutual prayer, learning, fellowship, mission and support – and they cannot be bought to promote the power games of a few.
Today I confirmed a number of new Christians in an ordinary and faithful West Yorkshire parish.
Now this is one feisty Bishop (+Nick Baines) of the Church of England!
In response to the bid to overtake the soul of world-wide Anglicanism – and now the Church of England – By the GAFCON Primates; here is one English Bishop who is actually saying something useful; needing to be said!
While some of the African Bishop of the Anglican Communion have been on a visitation to their surrogate ‘Anglican Mission in England’, the situation on their own home-ground is suffering from depredation and strife from other quarters – mainly Muslim – that hardly gives them the moral right to preach to the Church of England about its lack of authenticity in the Gospel. Bishop Nick has this to say:
“I lead a team of bishops and other ministers – lay and ordained – who are determined, confident (in God, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Church – and especially the Church of England -, and the contexts in which we live and serve), and sacrificial in their exercise of this ministry. And we are only one of 42 dioceses in the Church of England that are doing this.”
Bishop Nick emphasises the fact that the GAFCON Primates are set to re-evangelise the territory of the Church of England, should not deflect them from the urgent mission in their own territories. The Church of England, meanwhile, is earnestly intent on promoting the working out of the Gospel in a very different context from that of the Gafcon Primates, whose own mission should be providing them with sufficient problems of their own.
Unfortunately for the Church of England, its two provincial archbishops, ++Welby & ++Sentamu, seem disinclined to challenge the chutzpah of these African and other prelates who, encouraged by conservative elements in other provincial Anglican Churches – principally in North America – seem intent on a take-over bid of the Anglican Communion, on issues of gender and sexuality which are at last being addressed in the Churches of the West.
Successive Archbishops of Canterbury were warned, in the wake of Lambeth 1998, that the more conservative elements of the Communion in the Global South – who have now issued their own Declaration of Faith in the ‘Jerusalem Statement’ – and have now formed an association with the Sola-Scriptura-based ‘Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans’ into a united Confessing Anglican Church – in competition with the other Provincial Churches of the historic Anglican Communion – are intent on founding their own local churches in North America and, more recently, England itself with the advent of A.M.i.E.
Now that the chickens have ‘come home to roost’ in the Mother Church, perhaps more of the Bishops of the Church of England will be taking note of what is about to happen in their own home-ground. This article, above, by Bishop Nick, will no doubt cause more fluttering in the dovecotes, that will, hopefully, encourage debate in Anglican Provinces around the world – about the nature of the Gospel versus the tyranny of exclusivism.
Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand