Be careful what you wish for...restructuring the CofE.
A shift to a conservative evangelical Biblical literalism?
Not for the first time, the C of E appears to be determined to promote its own worst interests in the modern world. In addition to prevaricating on its attitudes towards those who are gay, and turning down a plan to appoint Race Equality Officers in every diocese, Synod has now voted to ‘take note’ of a Vision and Strategy document that threatens to take us back to the Middle Ages.
Because of a crass remark about clergy being an obstacle to progress and a perceived threat to the parish system, there was at least a token protest first. The Archbishop of York gave the expected assurances that the Church was not going to abandon its clergy and there would still be a ‘mixed ecology’ reflecting the diversity that a ‘national’ Church has to show. The strategy is to create thousands of new local groups, lay-led but still somehow held within the system of parish and episcopal oversight and recruit a million new believers. But what will they be expected to believe?
Dig a little deeper and a much more significant threat than mere restructuring emerges: the shift to a conservative evangelical Biblical literalism, focused solely on a message that sinners are doomed to hell and need to be rescued before they are forever ‘lost’. This reflects the influence of the ‘New Wine’ community and its leader, Canon John McGinley.
I have made myself read his book: ‘Mission Shaped Grace’. In it he talks of how he came to feel an overriding sense of what he calls ‘compassion’ in order to prevent those who do not believe being forever damned. There is only one message: ‘sin, judgement, repentance and hell. These are integral to the Gospel because these are the realities that people must face up to if they are to be saved’ (p.26). There is a nod to the ’5 marks of mission’ but only the ones about recruiting more believers really count, not the ones about loving service, transforming unjust structures or safeguarding the earth. As for tactics, it looks just like the Jehovah Witnesses to me. I can’t personally see many Anglicans taking to it!
Maybe it will ‘work’. There do seem to be enough people who want certainty and reassurance of their own salvation. But I suspect any growth will be mainly at the expense of other churches; rather like well-resourced academies taking children from local schools in more challenging circumstances. I’m sure there will be some churches and parishes who will see this as the exclusive nonsense that it is, though some will no doubt be seduced by its slick presentation and false promises
There is, of course, much quoting of the Bible, but not the ‘Jesus manifesto’ in Luke 4 or the emphasis on making a difference to those around you in Matthew 25 as the determining factor in the final judgement. My advice would be to be careful what you wish for. The ‘lost’ may not be quite so easy to define as you think.
Ben Whitney, East Shropshire and Wolverhampton PCN www.ben-whitney.org.uk