A vision for the Church of England in the 2020s

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  1. In one of his ‘Reflections of an Anglican Theologian’ titled ‘The Thing that Matters Most’ Dr. Martin Davie explains that he was prompted by Bill Clinton’s successful slogan ‘It’s the economy stupid’ to reflect on what should be an equally clear, brief slogan for the Church of England. He concludes:

    “When all is said and done, the Church’s core business is saving souls, and the only way that souls will be saved is if people come to realize that this life is not all there is, and that they need to put their trust in Jesus in order to avoid an eternity of damnation and enjoy an eternity of blessedness instead. The Church’s calling is to be God’s instrument to bring people to this realization, and for this to happen the leaders of the Church need to switch the focus of their message to the thing that matters most, the life of the world to come.”

    “It’s eternity, stupid”.

    Surely, then, to focus clearly on ‘The Thing that Matters Most’ the Church must believe, teach and preach both the terrible warnings, some from Christ’s own lips, as well as the wonderful invitations and promises to submit to Christ in his atoning death and life-giving resurrection, which are the two essential parts of the Gospel, the Church’s core message. As Warfield commented on Elijah’s experience in the cave,
    ‘….it is not the Law but the Gospel, not the revelation of wrath but that of love, which saves the world. Wrath may prepare for love; but wrath never did and never will save a soul’
    But wrath may prepare for love. And an honest, faithful preaching of the gospel has to include that warning. After all, Christ and his apostles gave us the warnings as well as the loving invitations and promises. The Church needs to believe and teach and preach both to be faithful.

    Only thus can the Church as a whole say with Paul, ‘Therefore I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God’; only thus can the Church as a whole take seriously the solemn warning God gave to Ezekiel that the appointed Watchman who ‘does not blow the trumpet to warn the people’ will be held accountable by God for the blood of the unsaved.

    With the publication of the LLF material the Church is about to spend considerable time and effort on the Human Sexuality disagreement. This disagreement is important. But it is definitely not “The Thing that matters Most”. What matters most is that the whole Church should believe, teach and preach both parts of her core message, the terrible part and the wonderful part, and the serious failure, as I see it, of the majority of the Church to preach the terrible part – the warnings.
    The LLF disagreement and this more fundamental and more important (as I see it) failure are linked: by the doctrine of the Fall and Original Sin. So I think that the present LLF situation is an opportunity for those who agree with me to challenge the rest of the church, both evangelicals and non-evangelicals about this most serious failure.

    I realise it is easy for me to suggest this challenge – I am not dependent on the Church for my livelihood and I have not promised to be obedient to any Bishop in all things lawful and honest. But I want to see that challenge take place, because I want those I dearly love to hear that warning, not just from me, but from the whole Church, before there is any talk of going separate ways on the sexuality disagreement.

    Put it this way: suppose at the end of the LLF process the church reaffirms the ‘traditional’ view on Human Sexuality. That would leave this most fundamental and most important failure unaddressed.

    According to General Fuller’s account of the battle of Waterloo in ‘Decisive Battles…’ there came a moment when ‘Napoleon still had in hand eight battalions of the Old Guard and six of the Middle, and had he sent to Ney but half this force, Wellington’s centre must inevitably have been overwhelmed…..’. But the decisive moment passed.

    I suggest that if evangelicals are ever going to challenge the rest of the Church about what she believes and preaches about Original Sin, the need to preach the warnings as well as the Good News, about wrath and retribution – this is the decisive moment to do it, by pointing out in the LLF debates that LLF is part of a wider, deeper issue. I suggest writing an Open Letter to challenge all ordained Ministers, including Bishops and Archbishops, and please, please, let the ensuing debate be on the internet open to all, and not behind closed doors.

    Let us all continue to pray that God in his grace and mercy will revive and rebuke the world-wide Church to focus on the thing that matters most, the Day of Judgment and the eternal life (or eternal retribution) which awaits each of us after death. Let us all also continue to pray that God will convict us all that God and Christ are both terrible and wonderful.

    Phil Almond

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