|Where are we leading - is there a crisis? by David Holloway|
The international scenario
Just before he died in 1976, André Malraux the French novelist and politician said, "The twenty-first century will be religious or it will not be at all." That is a rather cryptic but, I believe, important remark.
Richard Neuhaus, the ex-Lutheran Roman Catholic sociologist has this view of the future:
"At the threshold to the Third Millennium, it seems that the alternatives to religion have exhausted themselves. That is true of the materialistically cramped rationalisms of the Enlightenment encyclopaedists, which along with ideological utopianisms, both romantic and allegedly scientific, have been consigned, as Marxists used to say, to the dustbin of history. The perversity of the human mind will no doubt produce other ideological madnesses, but at the moment it seems the historical stage has been swept clean, with only the religious proposition left standing."And in a similar vein, the distinguished Harvard political scientist Samuel Huntington has written a major work on the future entitled, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Henry Kissinger calls this "one of the most important books to have emerged since the end of the Cold War". Huntington's thesis is that world affairs in the 19th century were chiefly determined by the nation-state; in the 20th century by ideology; but in the next century, the 21st century, they will be dominated by the conflict of civilizations, with civilizations being typically defined by cultures and cultures defined by religion. So the collapse of communism does not point toward the world-wide embrace of democratic capitalism and Western values and vices. Rather he sees an era of conflict that will be deep-seated and endemic. And the West will be at a great disadvantage, with its Christian culture having disintegrated under an elitist imposition of a non-cohesive pluralism. "Peoples and countries with similar cultures are coming together," writes Huntington. "Peoples and countries with different cultures are coming apart."
Who can deny that? You only have to look at Bosnia; and there it is quite frightening. His thesis is that culture is eclipsing both nationalism and ideology as the nexus of politics. And at the heart of culture, argues Huntington, is religion.
"In the modern world religion is a central, perhaps the central force that motivates and mobilizes people."And the eight distinctive civilizations, according to Huntington, are: Islamic, Sinic (with China the core), the West (with the US the core), Orthodox (with Russia the core), Japanese, Hindu, Latin American and African. The "most dangerous clashes of the future," he writes, are "likely to arise from the interaction of Western arrogance, Islamic intolerance, and Sinic assertiveness."
So much for the international scene. What about the future of society in the UK? If this world-wide scenario is correct, there will be a significant process of desecularization. There will be a new consciousness regarding culture and religion. This will reduce the significance of what is currently understood as the "political" and the "structural" and heighten the importance of the "cultural" and the "religious". David Martin, the English sociologist, seems to echo this new analysis in his recent study, Forbidden Revolutions. He argues against the "misleading polarity ... between culture and structure, where the former is seen as derivative and passive and the latter as the arena of effective power and political action." His point is this. Religion and culture (and so we may add, personal behaviour and belief) for the past hundred years have been progressively considered marginal and part of people's private lives. The real action of life, it is said, takes place in "the structures" and so in "the politics of society." But what we have seen in the second half of this century is a contradiction. The cultural and religious margins around the world have changed the so-called centre and structures - certainly in Latin America and Eastern Europe.
I believe Martin is correct. Structures are subordinate. Beliefs are primary. That has huge implications not just for our national corporate life but for institutional churches. At the end of the day biblical and apostolic belief, prayer and straightforward evangelism - bringing men and women to faith in Christ are central with the structures (such as synodical life) marginal. That brings me to the Church of England. And I submit there is a crisis.
In the UK we are witnessing spiritual degeneration. There is decline in numbers of attenders at church. In the Church of England the decline in terms of Sunday attendances is about 1 per cent per year. That is not huge, but it is inexorable. Over the eleven year period from 1984 (the year David Jenkins was consecrated bishop) to 1995 the usual Sunday attendances in Anglican Churches went down from 1,182,000 to 1,045,000 ( a 12 percent decline). Only about 2 per cent of the population are now in an Anglican church on any given Sunday (with 10 percent plus in church overall). Nor is the situation better in the other denominations or House Churches.
But we must not confuse beliefs and commitments with the institutional expression of those beliefs and commitments. For what continues to be significant is the overall self-identification of the people of Britain. According to the last Independent Television Commission's survey, Seeing is Believing, just over 72 per cent of the population identify themselves as Christian. Only 3 percent are of other faiths. Just over 22 per cent are nothing. That 3 percent of other faiths, incidentally, shows we are not a pluralist, multifaith country in reality. That is a myth of educationalists, broadcasters, and some print journalists who are over represented by that 22 percent who believe nothing.
Let me now make three assumptions. First, if we want to be true to the tradition of the bible and the apostles we need to be committed to the Western Reformed Catholic tradition of the Christian faith (that is the tradition of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, the English Reformers, the Evangelical leaders of the 18th century, men like Simeon, Ryle and Spurgeon in the last century and what we call mainstream evangelicalism in the 20th century). Secondly, we are in the Church of England because its formulas and history have, until now, upheld that Western Reformed Catholic tradition. Thirdly, we are concerned for the evangelisation of the nation. With those assumptions, let me now talk about the interface of public life and the Church of England. That is best seen in the self-identification of our citizens as revealed by opinion polls.
A Gallup survey from 1982 and published by the Bible Society in 1983 found that 64 percent identified with the Church of England. In the 1987 survey from the old IBA's (the Independent Broadcasting Authority's) religious department, published as God Watching, the figure was 50 percent. In this latest broadcasting survey from the new ITC in 1993 (that I have already referred to) the figure is 40 percent identifying as Anglican. And a 1996 survey published in British Social Attitudes (13th Report) shows 30 percent. That is a decline in people's self-perception as Anglican of 10 percent every few years. In the year 2010 we could expect 10 percent of the population to claim to be Anglican, and by the year 2020 the sense of belonging might be limited to the tiny percentage who attend regularly. That would be very serious. For then in no way would the Church of England be the church of the nation. It would be irrelevant whether there were, or were not, bishops in the House of Lords. In terms of social strength the church would be a mere "sect". For many of us that would create great problems.
The "magisterial" Reformation
Let me explain. I expect I speak for many of us when I say we, as Anglican evangelicals, are committed to what is called the "magisterial" Reformation [magister is the Latin for "ruler"]. Unlike the more radical Reformers who wanted to establish Christian ghettos of pure churches, the magisterial Reformers like Luther, Calvin, Cranmer and the other great English Reformers of the Church of England (including Hooker) wanted the gospel to relate to the wider realities of life - the secular (or in their jargon "the temporal") as well as the spiritual. We believe our task is to share the gospel with the citizens in our nation who live in our areas. So if in the year 2020 the shell that some would call the "Church of England" is simply a tiny sect and if present trends continue it becomes also a theologically liberal sect, will it be appropriate to be fully identified with that shell? That shell would not be significantly part of the Western Reformed Catholic tradition. It would have lost the gospel; it would have lost its "magisterial" significance; and it would not in a meaningful sense be the biblical church that was defined by our Reformers, by the Thirty-Nine Articles, by the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, by the Ordinal, and by the Church of England (Worship and Doctrine Measure) 1974.
In practical terms that shell, or the structured Church of England, would be rather like the current Orthodox Church in, say, Romania. There you have elegant buildings - but not very well-kept. And very few attend - bar a handful of elderly people. In England under such a hypothetical scenario, this Church of England shell would survive. It would, however, be of historical rather than spiritual interest to the majority of our citizens. The clergy would be glorified vergers taking a service from whatever politically correct prayer book was then in fashion in a side chapel for any who attended.
"Black and white" facts
You say, "this is all opinion polls and surveys. This is scare-mongering." Let me assure you that it is for real! Take the official infant baptism figures available from the latest edition of the CBF's official 1997 Church Statistics. These are "black and white" and matters of fact, not "opinion" or prediction. The loss of the pull of the Church of England is mirrored in our infant baptism figures.
In 1950 67 percent of all babies in England were baptised in the Church of England. That means that only 33 percent were not so baptised. These people are now 47 years old. That is to say, the great majority of 47 year olds today (and people who are older) were baptised Anglican.
In 1960 55 percent of all babies were baptised in the Church of England. That means 45 percent weren't so baptised. These people are now 36 years old. That is to say, of all current 36 year olds more than half were baptised in an Anglican church.
In 1970 it was 47 percent, with 53 percent not being baptised. These people are now 26 years old. Of that age group it is now less than half who were baptised in an Anglican church.
In 1980 it was 36 percent, with 64 percent not being baptised Anglican. These people are now 16 years old and will be 40 in 2020. So in 2020 two thirds of the population who are 40 will not have been baptized as Anglicans.
In 1990 it was 27 percent, with 73 percent not being baptised as Anglican. These people are now 6 years old, and will be 30 in the year 2020. The latest figures for 1995 are 24 percent, with 76 percent not being baptised Anglican. That is a huge difference from 1950 when it was 67 percent baptised and only 33 percent not. So in the year 2020 the vast majority of 25 year olds - in fact over three-quarters - are unlikely to feel any personal attachment to the Church of England. I trust the point is made. And it is simply fact. It is no good burying your head in the sand. Unless something happens, the Church of England as we know it will be marginalised as far as our public culture is concerned. The process of marginalisation is under way. It is for some of us to take action. But, remember, people are still identifying as Christian - 72 percent of them according to that Independent Television Commission survey. No doubt that will be lower if things continue as they are in 2020, but not necessarily hugely lower. So what is happening?
One thing that is happening is this: we are now in a period of post-denominationalism. People born after 1960 do not chose a church because of the denominational label. They are in a church either because that is where they were converted, or because the music is good, the preaching is good, the crèche is good, the youth work is good, the small group system is good or something else is good.
Denominations as we know them are probably going to become things of the past. At the time of the Elizabethan Settlement there were no denominations. In terms of its social structure the Church of England was evolving into a federation of churches linked or "connected" together by the crown, the episcopate, a prayer book and the Articles. The Act of Uniformity of 1662 and the ejection of 2000 presbyterian ministers from their livings meant that by the beginning of the 18th century denominations would inevitably have evolved. The Act of Toleration of 1689, at the accession of William and Mary, saw their formal beginning. Originally they too were federations of churches linked or "connected" by whatever made them distinctive - presbyteries, independency, baptismal practice, or the Quaker ethic.
However, in the 19th century, with the growth of evangelicalism and the missionary movements, there was a change. The denominations became "corporations" rather than "federations". That is to say, they operated "corporately" together for joint activities. So there were the Baptist Missionary Society, the Methodist Missionary Society, the Church Missionary Society and the like. There were also other agencies for moral and social welfare work and for education. And this form - the denomination as a "corporation" where a central agency acted on behalf of the whole denomination (or that part of it that had an interest) - lasted until the 1960s.
Because of the growth of denominational activity in the 19th century - by the denominations acting as corporations - there were inevitably clashes, and the wrong sort of competition, especially on the mission field. This led to the famous Edinburgh World Missionary Conference of 1910. It aimed to set forward world-evangelization. It's main achievement was the beginning of the ecumenical movement and what became the World Council of Churches. But far from lessening the denominational distinctives the ecumenical movement gave encouragement to a new denominational self-consciousness. By the 1950's and early 1960's you probably had the high-point of denominationalism, with people paying a huge attention to "their denomination" and arguing that sound ecclesiology was "the one thing necessary". It is, of course, at this time that many in the recent and current leadership of the Church of England were in training and being formed in ministerial norms and ideals - people like George Carey and Pat Harris, and also lesser clergy like many of us, myself included. These people were, and are, thoroughly denominational. And today they find it difficult to think in terms other than those of "the denomination" when they think about "the Church". In the Church of England this was the period of Canon Law revision and the debates about the setting up of synodical government.
However, at the same time in the 1960's something else was happening. This was the time of extreme liberal and permissive theology centred (in England) at Cambridge and the Southbank of the Thames in Southwark. John Robinson was the most famous name of these "new theologians" with his book Honest to God. This denied much biblical truth and validated a new morality. Harry Williams, the Dean at Trinity College, Cambridge (and so college chaplain to Prince Charles) argued that if sex outside marriage helped you psychologically that must be Christ's will. By the end of the decade Paul Altizer was arguing that God is Dead.
Michael Ramsey was now Archbishop of Canterbury. In part the present erosion of the Church goes back to him. A brilliant and apparently godly man, he was among the first, in a high profile position, to espouse the principle of affirming truth without denying error. He would not condemn heresy, while being personally, and often helpfully, orthodox. One of the great gurus who influenced and under-girded this new "comprehensiveness" of Ramsey was F.D.Maurice. But this comprehensiveness was new in the Anglican tradition. Hooker would only have comprehensiveness in matters of church order, never in matters of fundamental doctrine. There had always been latitudinarianism - but nothing like the "anything goes" Ramsey tolerated.
At this time, in the words of the former Dean of Salisbury, Fenton Morley, "the heart was taken out of the Church of England"; and indeed there were parallels in the other denominations. These radical theological innovations meant the evaporation of the old consensus from which the denominations "as corporations" could work on behalf of those they represented. No longer could the denominations work as corporations.
So now the denominations had to change into something else. And they did so. From being federations and then being corporations, the denominations - and this was true of most of them, not just the Church of England - now became "regulatory agencies". This meant they became more centralised and saw their function mainly as holding budgets and telling people what they could and could not do. The result of this change to becoming regulatory agencies has been a significant denominational break down.
The churches are "voluntary non-profit organizations". They are not "non-voluntary non-profit organizations" like Government departments and Local Authorities that have penal sanctions to enforce action. Nor are they "voluntary for-profit organizations" like businesses that have financial power to enforce action. Being "voluntary non-profit organizations" they have no sanctions and no power - certainly as far as the laity is concerned. Motivation is everything.
But the new denominations - or the denominations in their new form - cannot motivate. Laymen who are bible-believing and can administer multi-million (even billion) pound companies, or perform sophisticated surgical operations, or lead modern educational institutions, do not take kindly to less than brilliant clergy (even if they are bishops or moderators) or to clericalised laymen telling them, from denominational headquarters, what to believe or how much to give in support of causes they disapprove of.
This has led to the denominations becoming quite dysfunctional. With the erosion of the consensus their future is secured only so long as there are certain functions they still control and that the clergy are dependent on. This is fundamentally matters of stipend and pension - hence the near panic at the centre at quota-capping or the suggestion that the local congregation should be formally responsible, as it once was, for stipend and pension, or, indeed, buildings.
In the aftermath of the denominational high point of the 60s, while the pervasive church consciousness was still very "denominational", there was massive centralization taking place. Synodical Government facilitated this process. In particular it related to stipends in the Church of England with the setting up of the Central Stipends Authority in the 1970s, initially on the grounds that this would be more convenient for everyone. But with the devaluation of central subsidies, de facto if not de jure these payments are once again the responsibility of the local congregation. Before long, certainly in the Church of England, pensions will also be the responsibility of the local congregation. At that point what will be the function of the centre? Many would say "for training the next generation of ministers."
But that training itself is now dysfunctional. Originally, ordination training was pluralistic. In the Church of England in the last century and until the second world war, it had operated as a "free market". This was particularly because the different traditions - anglo-catholic and evangelical - insisted on training their own men in their own way. And in output terms, it was successful. Now numbers are low, not least because young men (and women) have lost confidence in the way the denominational churches are evolving. But is not all this too pessimistic a picture?
Pannenberg and Willimon
Let me quote to you from the distinguished German theologian, Wolfhart Pannenberg, to prove that this analysis is not unique:
It is quite possible that in the early part of the 3rd millennium, only the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, on the one hand, and Evangelical Protestantism, on the other, will survive as ecclesial communions. What used to be called the Protestant Mainline Churches are in acute danger of disappearing. I expect they will disappear if they continue neither to resist the Spirit of a progressively secularist culture nor to try to transform it.Here is the American William Willimon, dean of chapel and professor of Christian ministry at Duke University:
One of the big stories we are witnessing is the dismantling of national denominations. We have been slashing national staffs due to huge budgetary problems. Some of our concern about the national denominations will dissipate due to this dismantling of bureaucracies. We're seeing a move to the local, to the congregational ... We've seen the end of denominationalism as we know it, although not the end of some kind of chastened denominationalism. It may be a stripping down for service. I don't meet any young adults interested in feeding national organizations.So what do we do?
First we must face the facts. Then positively at a structural level, among other things I believe we must see in the West the rise in urban areas of many large, seven-day-a-week churches, that can provide a range of ministries adequate to modern needs. That will mean teams of leaders working from one base. David Martin writes:
At the cutting edge of modernity the megacity may well be complemented by the megachurch, which (in the range of functions it includes) almost harbingers a return to the medieval Church. Megachurches are emerging in Latin America as well as in North America (and Korea) and are even to be found in Eastern Europe. Only Western Europe so far lacks them.
But large or small we must all structure for growth. Our concern will not be to keep other clergy happy but saving souls. Where there is heresy we must note what ECUSA Evangelicals have recently said:
We will not be bound, in the exercise of our presbyteral or diaconal ministries, by the legal or geographical boundaries of any parish or diocese, if those boundaries are being invoked to prevent the preaching and teaching of "the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them" [that is a quote from the American Ordinal].
Then at a theological level, I believe we need to recover the biblical doctrine of sin. It was Ryle who said: "dim or indistinct views of sin are the origin of most of the errors, heresies, and false doctrines." And there must be firm action against heresy. Bishop Spong is publishing a new book that denies the incarnation. Reform, not unreasonably, has asked the Archbishop of Canterbury to disinvite Spong and his co-signatories of the Koinonia Statement from Lambeth - without success, so far. Nor must we be intimidated by the word schism. As Hooker said, "what they call schism we call our reasonable service unto God."
At a pastoral level I believe we need - all of us as church leaders - to heed Paul's words in Colossians 1.28-29:
We proclaim him [that is Jesus], admonishing [that is saying things are wrong when they are wrong] and teaching everyone with all wisdom [not some], so that we may present everyone perfect [or, 'mature'] in Christ. 29 To this end I labour [that means hard work], struggling [that means conflict, but it is] with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me.Ever since I heard John Stott expound that verse on his 50th birthday, I have made that my own person philosophy of ministry.
And at an evangelistic level, we need to heed Paul's words to Timothy (2 Tim 4.1-5):
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage--with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.And above all we must pray - that God's will is done.
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