Posted by: stpowen | December 9, 2014

‘Woe to the Shepherds of Israel!’

Jeremiah 5:2. ‘Though they say, “As the LORD lives,” Surely they swear falsely.’

James 3:1. ‘My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgement.’

‘If gold shall rust, what shall iron do?’ Geoffrey Chaucer; Prologue to the Canterbury Tales.

Browsing through my December issue of Evangelicals Now {1}, I noticed a report on a poll conducted recently by YouGov. This organization questioned 1,500 Anglican clergy about their beliefs and discovered that 16% of them were ‘agnostic.’ Of these, 2% were out-and-out atheists, believing God to be merely a ‘human construct.’ 3% believe in some sort of spirit of life force. If your vicar is accustomed to greet you with the words, “Live long and prosper!” He may well be one of these. 9% of those questioned stated that it is impossible to imagine what God is like. That leaves another 2% who were presumably the true agnostics, not having any idea what they believe.

I see no reason to suppose that clergy in other denominations would be any more faithful. A poll of Methodists or U.R.C. ministers might well produce even worse results. Yet are these not appalling statistics? 16% of 1,500 is 240. I don’t know how many Anglican vicars and associated clergy there are in England, but beyond a doubt there are hundreds of churches up and down the country where the congregation is not being taught the word of God or given the consolations and assurance of the Christian faith. ‘The hungry sheep look up and are not fed.’ Is it any wonder that so many Anglican churches are all but empty on the Lord’s Day? The attenders are quite reasonably deciding that if the preacher doesn’t believe the prayers, the liturgy or the doctrines, there is no reason why they should do so, and they are finding something better to do with their Sundays.

When one takes an aeroplane flight, there is always a talk on safety where it is explained that if there should be a drop in air pressure, oxygen masks will automatically drop from the top of the cabin. Passengers are advised to make sure that their own supply of oxygen is secure before helping children or elderly people to don their masks. How could anyone be of help to a struggling child if he himself was choking trough lack of air? So it is within the churches of God; those who would bring the words of life to the Lord’s sheep must first have obtained that new life in Christ for themselves before they attempt to speak of it to others. The ordinary person who enters a church is entitled to be fearful, doubtful or even downright sceptical of Christianity. The Pastor, on the other hand, must be assured of the goodness of God, the propitiation of Christ and the doctrines of the faith once delivered to the saints or he will do his charges no good at all, but rather, harm.

So what can be done about all this? Well, in a perfect world the Bishops of the Church of England and the leaders of the other denominations would be investigating this matter with a view to finding out who these unbelievers are and either bringing them back into the narrow path or expelling them from their positions. That was the step that Paul took with Hymenaeus and Alexander (1 Tim. 1:19-20), though it was not the end of his troubles (2 Tim 4:14). A church leader must ‘Hold fast the faithful word as he has been taught’ (Titus 1:9), not to mention being ‘Full of the Holy Spirit and of wisdom’ (Acts 6:3). Those who fall from such standards must not be allowed to corrupt the people of God by their teaching. However, the problem of unbelieving ministers goes way back- at least to the 19th Century- and rarely have the church authorities taken a really firm line. According to the old 1662 Prayer Book, at their inductions, Bishops are asked by the Archbishop, ‘Be you ready, with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God’s word; and both privately and openly to call upon and encourage others to the same?’ The Bishop answers, ‘I am ready, the Lord being my helper.’ I am by no means a believer in episcopacy, but if there is an argument for it, it is the one of discipline. If the Bishop is not willing to bring errant ministers to order, then what on earth is his purpose? But alas, if a similar survey was to be conducted on the beliefs of Bishops, I fear it would be found that they are, if anything, less sound on the faith than theirs vicars and curates. Since it is unlikely that the church authorities will take any action on these matters, it is for the people themselves to refuse to sit under the ministry of those who do not believe the very fundamentals of the Faith. ‘Thus says the LORD of hosts, “Do not listen to the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless; they speak a vision of their own heart, and not from the mouth of the LORD. They continually say to those who despise Me, ‘The LORD has said, “You shall have peace.”’ And to everyone who walks after the dictates of his own heart, they say, ‘No evil shall come upon you’”’ (Jer. 23:16-17).

If a flock of sheep were under the supervision of a careless shepherd who left them in a field with no grass or fodder to eat, sooner or later they would break through the hedge and find a meadow with fresh pasture. Why will God’s flock not do the same? There are still hundreds of churches where one can find faithful ministers and sound teaching, so if you, the reader, are sitting under the ministry of someone who is an unbeliever or a false teacher, then for the sake of your soul you need to leave at once. ‘Why do you spend your money on what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy?’ (Isaiah 55:2).

However, there was one message of hope in the report. Among the younger vicars, those ordained since 2011, there was notably less unbelief. Almost 90% of these believed in God compared with only 72% of those appointed in the 1960s. This is still pretty pathetic, but the longest journey begins with the first step. It may have something to do with the firm evangelical stance of Oak Hill College, but it may also be that God is starting to raise up a new generation of godly men to revive His Church. Only time will tell.

Note {1} http://www.e-n.org.uk

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