Christian Life 

A Church in Ruins

In our day there are strong reasons to suspect that God is not-so-much dismantling the parody that man has created as He is merely standing by and letting the inevitable collapse occur.


Ed preface (30/05/13)
The 'lead in' to the following 'Watchman' article, in the first instance, applies to the sexuality issue as it impacted and continues to impact on the Church of England. However the problems and principles relate to most forms of contemporary denominations.

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by Watchman
first published 14/07/2008

Church ruinThe principal apparent issues currently facing the Anglican Church over the past ten years and up to the present time relate to gender and sex, and in particular these refer to the ordination of women and to non-celibate homosexual relationships amongst senior clergy respectively.

The former question has been much debated at the Church’s General Synod at the beginning of July and the vote has been to allow women to be ordained as bishops.
The latter was very much to the fore at the GAFCON conference in Jerusalem a week earlier at the end of June which was attended by over 200 evangelical bishops intent on maintaining biblical standards on, amongst other things, sexuality. And this issue has been exacerbated by the recent 'marriage' of two gay priests.  Both of these disputes (on women and gay bishops) are at the forefront of the Lambeth Conference this July (2008) – the latest decennial (once-a-decade) assembly of bishops of the Anglican Communion convened by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Double standards in the midst

But there is a substantial element of hypocrisy underlying the current objections to women and gay bishops as there is, and has been for a considerable number of years, a general – if in some quarters very reluctant – acceptance of both women priests and gay priests.
So it seems that church leaders have been prepared to oblige congregations to sit under these ministries and, only when clergy themselves have to fall under the jurisdiction of either female or gay bishops, do these things become big problems which require to be robustly addressed – even to the extent of putting the unity of the Anglican communion in jeopardy. It seems that what has been good – or at least tolerated – for the laity goose, is now deemed unacceptable to the clergy gander.

The core issues

Having said all of that, the fundamental problems in these matters which the Church – and it is not just the Anglican Communion – seems unwilling to acknowledge or address are not, as it seems, to do with gender and sex. Rather the core issues are related to (the form of) church government, and to the clergy/laity divide.

On the matter of the oversight of God’s people there are basically three systems which have been adopted since the second or third century.
In no particular order these are Episcopacy (1), Congregationalism (2) and Presbyterianism (3). And of these, Episcopacy is essentially hierarchical, with the higher echelons exercising authority over those in the lower orders.

So even if the Church of England manages a ‘work-around’ for its current difficulties it will, because of the tiered structures, remain susceptible to the next occasion where one bishop/archbishop or another deviates from biblical orthodoxy and subjects those lower down the ecclesiastical food chain to his or (soon) her views. And all this takes us to the second fundamental problem – that of clericalism; a major problem for all denominations.

Leadership in the early church

In the early church and in the apostles’ teaching there is no hint of the priest/minister ‘professional’ that we see today (4); and the practice which denies the ministry of all believers, effectively disables disciples of Jesus from exercising their respective gifts and callings within the body of Christ.

If, alternatively, the Anglican Church was structured in a biblical pattern of having neither a hierarchy nor a clergy/laity divide it would not have the problems with which it is now beset.
Any individual who, irrespective of their position or function within the church, strayed from biblical patterns would be disciplined as (mere) individuals within a biblical framework and the church would not be thrown into trauma. And with no clergy/laity divide there would not be the problems – indeed the questions would not arise – relating to ‘women priests’.

Women in 'ministry'

Women would be free to exercise their respective ministries (forms of service) in terms of their individual giftings and callings as part of the priesthood of all believers – playing their roles and making their contributions to the extension of God’s kingdom. [Those who hold fast to a male clergy model from a traditional rather than theological perspective are very likely to defect to the Roman Catholic Church; and by doing so create, in effect, a 3-way split in the Anglican Church.]

But as things currently stand, the worldwide Anglican Communion is in turmoil and may not, in its present form, survive the crisis. So thousands upon thousands of believers are in serious upset. And not because of ‘women’ and ‘homosexuals’ – these things are merely symptomatic – but fundamentally because the Church has failed and continues to fail to adopt biblical standards of government, structure and ministry.

God giving the decrease?

In our day there are strong reasons to suspect that God is not-so-much dismantling the parody that man has created as He is merely standing by and letting the inevitable collapse occur.

Jesus said: “I will build my church.” We have had two thousand years to allow him do that, but instead we have persisted with our own misguided methods. Perhaps, in the light of failing ecclesiastical structures – and Episcopalian Anglicanism is not alone – we are now being forced to let Him get on with the task.

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(1) Episcopacy is essentially hierarchical (the term literally means “priestly rule”) whereby the pecking order, from bottom up, is church members, deacons, priests, archdeacons, bishops and archbishops. This is the model that developed under what is now the Roman Catholic Church, which of course also has cardinals and the Pope at the head. The Episcopal system essentially continued in England in spite of the Reformation, into the present day Anglican Church and the Anglican community worldwide. (In Scotland the Scottish Episcopal Church operates much the same structures.)

(2) Congregationalism is basically ‘one member, one vote’ and this is the system of church government employed within, for instance, Methodist and Baptist churches – essentially a form of ecclesiastical democracy.

Neither of these systems has a biblical foundation, and both are seriously flawed. Episcopacy is vulnerable to the beliefs and weaknesses of those further up the tree, whereas congregationalism can create a situation whereby the least spiritual (unconverted) person in a local congregation could have a casting vote on the most major of issues.

(3) Presbyterianism (government by elders) is the nearest to biblical forms.
However in most Presbyterian churches there remains an essentially hierarchical system of local church, presbytery and general assembly (albeit with some checks and balances). But the other main weakness lies in the fact that in most local Presbyterian churches the minister is the de facto leader. His word goes; and any dissenter can find himself/herself labelled as a 'trouble-maker'. The closest any group of true believers gets to a true plurality of leadership with collective and collegiate prayer and decision-making is to be found in Brethren Assemblies.

(4) Clericalism: If the clergy model had pertained in the early years of Christ’s church, Paul and his fellow apostles would surely have addressed their letters to those ‘heads’ of the churches in their day. But neither he nor the others did: nor could they have. With all the problems in the church in Corinth, Paul would most certainly have written in the first instance to a leading figure there, had there been one.
In fact Paul’s letters to the churches are all addressed to the whole company of believers in each of the various regions/congregations/assemblies – with only the letter to the Philippians mentioning “overseers and deacons”, and even then they are mentioned in second place to the “saints”. The clergy/building facets of our present day 'churches' are basically the Old Testament priest/temple forms carried forward into New Testament times.

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Postscript:
An article from Christianity Today is an excellent summary (14 October, 2008) of the present position and also the four main sectors within the Anglican communion.

Watchman, 30/05/2013

Feedback:
Editor 15/07/2008 14:27
Bishop Robinson ... described the decision to bar him from the Lambeth conference as a "mistake", adding that it meant the only openly-gay voice would be missing from the event.
Asked if this meant that some of the bishops attending were gay, but not open about it, he said: "Absolutely."

He added: "I do not think that there is a person around and breathing that believes that I'm the first gay bishop, just the first talking honestly about it."
Bishop Robinson said that some bishops had partners and that it had been accepted as an open secret.

Asked if this meant that the Archbishop of Canterbury was being hypocritical in not inviting an openly-gay man but at the same time allowing closet homosexuals, Mr Robinson said: "When Rowan Williams was appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, we were delighted because he had been very vocal in his support of the full inclusion of gay and lesbian people in the church.

"It has certainly been a disappointment that he has been seen to seem to us to bend over backwards to, some would say, listen, others would say appease, the most conservative elements of our church."

The Telegraph / read on...http://tinyurl.com/6ntxea
Editor 15/07/2008 19:40
Scottish Episcopal churches to receive Gene Robinson in Edinburgh and Glasgow - http://tinyurl.com/5a984e

Gay clergy split is 'most perilous crisis' in Church's history - http://tinyurl.com/6rbx5y

Ephraim Radner: An Open Letter to the Bishops Gathering at Lambeth -
http://covenant-communion.com/?p=799
Editor 18/07/2008 09:56
The Archbishop of Canterbury has admitted that the crises in the "wounded" church will not be ended by the gathering of Anglican bishops which began this week.
The Telegraph read on...http://tinyurl.com/5fhsqn
Editor 24/07/2008 21:52
The crackup of the Anglican Communion is at hand, evangelical bishops attending the Lambeth Conference in Canterbury tell Christianity Today, and to them, the 400-year-old Anglican project appears over.

"I'd like to expect a miracle," said Bishop Venables, a leader of the evangelical alliance at Lambeth, but said he feared the prospects for the church holding together were grim.

"Humanely speaking, there is little hope for even a peaceful separation" between the liberal and evangelical wings of the 80-million-member communion of churches, Bishop Venables said on July 18.

Read on...
http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/julyweb-only/130-11.0.html
Editor 29/07/2008 17:59
A group of senior Anglican clergy presented a document on Monday (28 July) demanding a halt to the consecration of partnered gay and lesbian bishops, blessings for same-sex unions and cross-border interventions.

The document by the Windsor Continuation Group warned that if the three moratoria – which would maintain bans that were presented in 2004 – were not observed, the Anglican Communion was “likely to fracture.”

Read on http://tinyurl.com/create.php
Editor 27/08/2008 15:55
Following the Lambeth Conference the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr. Rowan Williams, believes that the conference achieved enough to ensure that the Anglican Community remains intact.
However, The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt. Rev. Michael Scott-Joynt, believes a split is inevitable.

He said he believes a "negotiated orderly separation" is the best way forward for the Anglican Communion, emphasizing that the global body "cannot hold in tension convictions and practices that are incompatible, and so not patent of 'reconciliation.'"

Staying together could "damage the life and witness of Anglican churches as much in the Global South as in North America and in other provinces that have followed the lead of The Episcopal Church," he added in a comment earlier this month after the Lambeth Conference.

Footnote:
The Episcopal Church in America (ECUSA) is the American arm of Anglicanism and its actions in ordaining an openly gay bishop, are at the heart of the divisions in the worldwide Communion.

At the conclusion of Lambeth, the majority of Anglican bishops agreed on a moratoria on the ordination of openly gay persons, same-sex blessings and cross-provincial interventions.
However the diversity of opinion, particularly on the issue of homosexuality but including the ordination of women bishops, poses a challenge to the Communion's continued efforts to stay together.

It remains to be seen whether Anglican leaders will feel a stronger loyalty to their understanding of God's word than to the Anglican Church as it is presently constituted.
Editor 14/10/2008 21:30
See "Postscript" on original article for an excellent summary of the present position and the four main constituencies within the Anglican community.
Editor 11/02/2009 14:43
Anglican differences 'irreconcilable', says Akinola
Posted: Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Days after Anglican leaders came out of a global meeting pleased with the respect and graciousness that were exchanged despite ongoing internal conflicts, one prominent conservative bishop has demanded that the "bitter truth" be acknowledged – that their differences are irreconcilable.

In an open letter addressed to Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams, who is considered the spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, Nigerian Archbishop Peter J Akinola expressed his discontentment with the churches in North America and their continued pro-gay actions.

"It now seems increasingly clear that without a radical change of behavior on the part of The Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada the only possible outcome of such a process is acknowledgment of a bitter truth that the differences in the words of Archbishop Idris Jones are 'irreconcilable'," Akinola wrote in the letter, released Tuesday.

Read on..
http://www.christiantoday.com/article/anglican.differences.irreconcilable.says.akinola/22494.htm
Martin Lisemore 21/10/2010 21:11
OK, I know this is somewhat belated, but I new around here.

I read all these posts, and followed the links, mainly to understand if there is something I've missed in the women priest/gay clergy debate.

There isn't.

These issues have largely been made public since I left the church some years ago. They serve as a confirmation I, and many others, have no place in these institutions. I say many others, because if the Lord wishes a remnant to remain, there they should be.

I must ask, what is wrong with the New Testament model of the church, it being the Body of Christ? Not national, or supra national, with a place for every believer according to his calling.

If all the churches would stop following the world, and lead it instead, these issues would be redundant! Get the world out of the church!

Why are the churches so intent on kicking away any spiritual mandate they have have remaining? We need you, church! Where are you?
covenanter 1 (Guest) 16/07/2013 08:48
What the so called churches need is Christ as does every individual .

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