Posted by: stpowen | May 24, 2014

An Open Appeal to British Evangelicals for a New Reformation

Hebrews 13:12-13. ‘Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach.’

I have written previously {1} concerning the Pilling Report which the Church of England has established to look into the desirability or otherwise of holding services of blessing for homosexual couples. The report is due to take around two years to be completed.

That such a Report should be commissioned is deeply troubling on a number of levels. Those of us who come from a Reformed perspective wonder what authority the C. of E. has even to consider the matter. When did the Lord Jesus Christ or the Apostle Paul ever bless unrepentant, practising homosexuals or indeed, unrepentant sinners of any sort? Unfortunately, the Anglican Church has always claimed the right to invent ceremonies for itself. Article XX declares, ‘The Church hath power to decree Rites and Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith.’ Thus John Sentenu, Archbishop of York, could ask that if the C. of E. could bless dogs, cats and hamsters, as well as buildings and other inanimate objects, how could it refuse to bless the ‘marriages’ {2} of homosexuals? However, the Article continues, ‘And yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain anything that is contrary to God’s word written.’ The blessing of animals and buildings is certainly not commanded in Scripture, but neither, I suppose, is it condemned (unless in Mark 7:7 etc.). Homosexuality, however, is roundly condemned in both Old and New Testaments

Perhaps it is as well to remind ourselves at this point of God’s recorded view of homosexuality. Firstly, it is something He hates. Lev. 18:22. ‘You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination.’ Secondly, its practice excludes one from His kingdom. 1 Cor. 6:9-10. ‘Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolators, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.’ It needs to be said that homosexuality is not the only thing that God hates (cf. eg. Prov. 6:16-19) and we can see above that it is not the only sin that keeps people out of God’s kingdom unless repented of. However, the C of E is not (yet?) proposing to bless extortioners or those whose hands shed innocent blood (Prov. 6:17), so we are justified in concentrating our attention on homosexuality for the present time.

Back in April, Canon Jeremy Pendleton, an Anglican priest and divorced father of five, ‘married’ his male partner. This was against the instructions of the Bishops, yet I am not aware of any disciplinary action being taken against him. Canon Pendleton has no parish; he is a hospital chaplain. It seems likely that he has been selected by the Anglican homosexual lobby as a ‘stalking horse’ to test the resolve of the C of E establishment to uphold its decrees. If no action is taken, it will be a green light for other homosexual clergy to ‘wed.’ Apparently a vicar in West London has already declared his intention to do just that.

So, if homosexual Anglican ministers are allowed to ‘marry’ their partners, how can the C of E refuse to bless similar unions of its parishioners? By the time the Pilling Report is finally published, the matter will be a fait accompli. And if homosexual ‘marriages’ are deemed to be blessed by God (which is surely the logic of a church blessing), and if clergy are allowed to enter into same-sex ‘marriages,’ however can the Church refuse to conduct such ceremonies? Readers from outside the UK may not realise that, as the National Church, the C of E is obliged by law to ‘christen’ any child of parents who have themselves been ‘christened,’ and to marry (and conduct the funeral service) of any such person. The law that introduced same-sex ‘marriage’ also specifically excluded the C of E from conducting such ceremonies, but once blessings of ‘married’ homosexuals are commenced, churches that refuse to conduct them will very swiftly face legal challenge from the militant homosexual lobby. Evangelical Anglican clergy will then be forced either to swallow their principles and conform or to leave the Church of England. I hope they have their strategy worked out, because this choice will be upon them faster than they may imagine.

The issue facing the Church of England is not primarily the question of homosexuality; that is simply what has produced the current crisis. The root problem is that of the authority of the Bible. The C of E has long since abandoned its founding document, the XXXIX Articles, which acknowledged the authority of the Bible in all matters, and has not replaced it with anything else. It is a ship without an anchor, drifting from one unbiblical position to another, ‘tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting’ (Eph. 4:14). The homosexual lobby has out-thought and out-fought the evangelicals at every stage, just as the feminist lobby has done on the question of women ministers and bishops. Because the will of God as expressed in the Bible no longer holds sway, the will of man will have its way.

Yet it is no good for non-conformists to blame or look down on the Church of England, though it is tempting to do so since it is the most visible expression of Christianity in the country. In my home city of Exeter, the most prestigious church in the United Reformed denomination has an openly homosexual minister and boasts on its website that it is happy to ‘bless’ same-sex couples. The Methodists are no better, and of course we have the best known minister in the Baptist Union, Steve Chalke, declaring his support for same-sex ‘marriage.’ Again, the homosexuality question is simply the most recent and egregious departure from God’s word; the outward symptom, as it were, of the deadly underlying disease: the abandonment of God’s word as the sole authority for all doctrine and practice.

The problem is that the majority of church ministers in Britain today do not preach the Gospel. Indeed, I doubt that many of them even know what the Gospel is. As a result, most church-goers do not know their Bibles and they do not understand what salvation entails, nor what the Lord Jesus came to do. Let me give an example. A few years ago I visited a nearby Anglican church that purported to be ‘evangelical’ to give a talk about the work of the Gideons, of which organization I am a member. I told the story of a man who was saved by reading 1 Timothy 1:15 in a Gideon Bible and at the end of the talk I gave a short Gospel word lasting no more than five minutes, asking briefly if the members of the congregation had seen themselves as sinners since that was whom our Lord came to save (Mark 2:17). At the end of the talk I went to the back of the church where there was a display of Gideon Bibles and Testaments. A lady came up to me and said, “Thank you so much for that talk! I never knew before why Jesus came.” How can it be that someone can attend an ‘evangelical’ church for any length of time and not know what the Lord Jesus came for? The only reason can be that the flock is not being fed (Ezek. 34:2-3). The truth is that even in many professedly evangelical churches, what passes for Christian doctrine has been reduced to a few life principles which could perfectly well have been extracted from a secular self-help book rather than the Bible. We have been hearing from the Government recently that Britain is a Christian country. How can that be when the vast majority of the population does not know the very first thing about Christian doctrine? ‘My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge’ (Hosea 4:6).

It is surely becoming clear that simply to pray for revival and wait for God to act is no longer enough. Prayer is essential, and regular readers will know that I am a fervent supporter of the Concert of Prayer. Without the blessing of God we can do nothing and we must seek Him for it. But what is needed in this country is a new reformation. The problem is that non-Christians and seekers of God think that all churches are alike and that they all teach the same things. They hear the Archbishop of Canterbury on the television and suppose that he speaks for God. It is no longer enough for true evangelicals to preach the word to each other in their own little holy huddles while the people in liberal churches are perishing because they are not hearing God’s word in their own assemblies and don’t know where to go to hear it. Likewise Moslems, who in other parts of the world are coming to Christ in large numbers, reject the Gospel in Britain because they think Christians don’t believe their own holy book.

So what is to be done? We must act. When Hezekiah became king of Judah (2 Chron. 29), he did not wait passively, but in the strength of God he cleared the rubbish out of the holy place (v. 5), cleansed the assembly (vs. 15-18), restored true worship (v. 20ff) and called the nation back to the Lord (30:1-12). How does that relate to today? Well, we must get the rubbish out of the professing church and cleanse ourselves of evil associations. My desire would be for the true evangelicals within the denominations to get out of them and be united with other Bible-believing congregations. I understand how difficult that is, especially where the denomination owns the church building. But if separation in that sense is not an option, at the very least they should refuse to associate with ministers in their denominations who do not believe the Gospel. It is not an act of friendship, but an act of great wickedness to treat someone who is not saved as though he is, to pray with him and to call him ‘brother.’ You are merely confirming him in his sin and rebellion. The Bible commands us to ‘have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them’ (Eph. 5:11). Christians should also get out of the Churches Together movement as soon as possible. By being part of it, members are saying that all churches are the same and that it doesn’t matter whether one goes to an evangelical church, a liberal or a Roman Catholic one. It does matter and may be the difference between eternal life and death. Christians should also get out of the Evangelical Alliance. That organization has prevaricated on Substitutionary Atonement and eternal punishment of the wicked. It is not something that God’s true people should be supporting. Something better is needed.

Next, we need to restore true worship. This means placing the preaching of the word at the very centre of our services. It means approaching the throne of God with all due reverence, having prayers of repentance at every service (the Anglicans are very good at this because of their liturgy; free churches less so) and ‘fencing’ the communion table {3}. It means not treating unsaved people as if they are saved, and having regular services where evangelistic preaching takes place. It means that every hymn to be sung in church must first be examined for soundness and Biblical content. It means that nothing should take place in our church services for which there is no Biblical example or command. ‘And they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the unholy, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean’ (Ezek. 44:23).

Finally, we need to call the people back to repentance and faith in Christ. How is that to be done? Well, it brings us back to where we started, to separation. At the time of the Reformation, people were in no doubt whether they were entering a Lutheran or Reformed church or a Roman Catholic one. They were as different as chalk and cheese. We need to restore that difference and publicize it. If we are the light of the world (Matt. 5:14) we need to let people know, not to hide our light under a basket. It may seem worldly and a bit cheesy, but Bible-believing churches need to brand themselves. If I go into an Anglican church, I have no idea until the service starts whether it is evangelical, liberal or Anglo-catholic. If I wander into a Baptist church, I don’t know at first if it is Reformed, ‘broad evangelical’ or liberal. I can go to the church’s website, but that won’t always tell me what I need to know.

In three years time, on October 31st 2017, it will be the 500th anniversary of the start of the Reformation. Would that not be a good time to declare a New Reformation, to call Bible-believing churches to separate themselves from nominalism and liberalism and to come together to declare their fidelity to The Lord Jesus Christ and to His word, the Bible and to let their neighbourhoods know that the Gospel will be preached regularly and faithfully at their meetings and His ordinances faithfully observed. Each church, regardless of denomination, would have a large sign outside proclaiming NEW REFORMATION CHURCH.

‘Unless the LORD builds the house, they labour in vain who build it’ (Psalm 127:1). Obviously we need to seek God’s face on this, and bathe the whole project in prayer, but surely the time is past for passivity or for tinkering? Hezekiah wasted no time. ‘In the first year of his reign, in the first month, he opened the doors of the house of the LORD and repaired them’ (2 Chron. 29:3). At the end of his reforms, we read, ‘Then Hezekiah and all the people rejoiced that God had prepared the people, since the events took place so suddenly’ (v.36). We worship the same God today. Why should He not bless our work as He blessed that of Hezekiah?
Notes
{1} https://marprelate.wordpress.com/2013/12/23/time-to-remove-the-diadem/
{2} Acts of Parliament notwithstanding, I do not accept that people of the same sex can be married (Mark 10:6-9 etc.). Therefore I place the word in inverted commas.
{3} That is, that the minister should make it clear that only repentant, born-again believers should partake of communion.

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