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Posts Tagged ‘Church of England’

I’m staggered by Keith Ward’s suggestion in a recent article that the Church of England should ‘modify it’s traditional basis’ so that ‘it becomes the guardian and tutor of our natural religious instincts’. His vision for the Church of England has hardly any room for revelation, truth, authority, scripture or the supernatural.

St Paul's Cathedral, London

The Christian community becomes a place where people can express themselves, their aspirations, their questions, their explorations, and their tentative answers; Jesus hardly gets a mention; and even when Ward proposes, as an alternative to ‘the acceptance of some formal creed’, a basic commitment to ‘an objective morality, and loyalty to a God believed to be revealed in and through Jesus’, he qualifies this by stating that ‘many interpretations of that revelation’ will be possible.

It’s a fairly hollow version of Christianity. Or, to be less judgemental and more theological, it’s a presentation of Anglicanism in this country as a purely natural religion, a holding place for all our human religious and quasi-religious longings and instincts, but nothing more.

You probably think I’m exaggerating, but just read a few paragraphs here:

The opportunity for the C of E today is so to modify its traditional basis that it becomes the guardian and tutor of our natural religious instincts.

The Protestant heritage can best be expressed today as the encouragement of freedom of thought and rational criticism of all authority. The church should raise the big questions about human meaning, purpose and value, and encourage their exploration, without pretending it has the final answers.

The national basis of the church must today take fully into account the diversity of modern England, and aim to be fully inclusive — open to all without exception, but not seeking to decry alternative options of thought and belief where they are conducive to human well-being. It will never be, and never has been, the church of all English people. But it can be a national church, in expressing the moral and spiritual ideals of our society and aiming to promote compassion and spirituality throughout society.

Establishment in its present form may not remain. But the church can continue to reflect and help to shape the moral and spiritual values upon which our society at its best is founded — freedom, democracy, justice, a concern for the flourishing of all persons, and a concern for the weak and disadvantaged. All religious and humanist groups can co-operate in this, but it is beneficial to have a national institution formally committed to promoting those values.

This requires a liberal and humane approach to the Christian faith, a commitment which is not narrowly restrictive and doctrinally inflexible, but which preserves a distinctive vision of God as morally demanding, unrestrictedly loving and personally enabling. That vision is seen in many different ways in the person of Jesus and the inner power of the Spirit which filled his life and is present in human hearts. There is no thought here that God is not seen in other ways, too. But this is a way that should attract by a desire to love the good for its own sake, not by a fear of punishment by a basically vindictive God.

Many — I hope, most — Anglicans in England already believe this. But there can be a certain timidity about making senior appointments in the church which, afraid of the anger of those who want a much more exclusive and doctrinally divisive church, and who seem obsessed with gender and sexuality, will opt for a safe and therefore insipid archbishop. What the Church of England needs is an uncompromisingly liberal archbishop, who can lead a Protestant (which must now mean critical and questioning), national (which must now mean inclusive and tolerant) and established (which must now mean committed to the promotion of broad humane and spiritual values) church in an age of rapid scientific advance and moral change.

There is a mistrust of certainty that makes it impossible to believe or propose anything as being true, and Ward states this quite clearly:

[This new Church of England] would have to stop any ordained ministers from pretending that they alone are ‘true’ Christians, and get them to accept, as a condition of ordination, that they are part of one inclusive church with many diverse interpretations of Scripture and tradition, none of them certain and unchangeable.

Has this version of Anglicanism got legs?

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Nothing to do with the Papal visit: I just came across this article about how attendance at Christian services in Britain has not been declining over the last five years or so, and in one or two areas has actually been increasing.

The ‘not declining’ tag might seem rather negative and un-newsworthy, but it is quite a powerful news story when you set it against the common journalistic assumption that Christianity is on the back foot and is unlikely to exist as a significant part of British life a generation from now.

Benita Hewitt from Christian Research gives some of the figures here:

It’s time to believe that the church in this country is no longer in decline. The latest statistics coming from various denominations are clearly showing stability in church attendance and even signs of growth. This news may come as a surprise to many people who believe that the church is a dying institution.

But the news is no surprise to us at Christian Research. We’ve been watching the church adapt and change over recent years, and have been collecting statistics for some time which suggest that the church in this country is in reasonably good health. There is now enough combined evidence to state confidently that the decline is over.

The long term decline in weekly Mass attendance in the Roman Catholic church in England and Wales ended in 2005 and the figures have been broadly stable since. In 2008 there were 918,844 attending Mass, an increase from 915,556 the year before.

The Church of England has seen fairly steady attendance over the last ten years, with 1.67m attending services each month in 2008, compared with 1.71m in 2001. An important point to note is that the statistics over the past decade include all worship during the week, and not just Sunday morning services. One of the most significant changes we have been monitoring in the church is the growth in mid-week worship, which is an indication of how the church has been adapting and changing over recent years.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain has seen attendance rise from 148,835 a week in 2002 to 153,714 in 2008, with particular growth in the contact with young people aged 13 to 18 – up from 34,095 in 2002 to 41,392 in 2008.

In July of this year Christian Research conducted 1000 interviews in the streets of 44 locations in England and Wales with a representative sample of the population. 63% think of themselves as Christian, 14% said they attended church at least once a month and 29% at least once a year. Those are significant proportions of the population. The research also shows that 41% of adults agree “The Bible is an influence for good in society”. Just last week there was also research published which showed that two in three adults agree “British Society should retain its Christian culture”.

All of this paints a picture of the church as living movement rather than a dying institution. And it is a living movement which is generally recognised as a good influence in society, one which many people do not wish to see decline and die. It is time to stop talking about the decline of church and start facing up to the fact that it is here to stay.

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