I’ve experienced it all in my time. I’ve been censed as the preacher in an anglo-catholic service and enjoyed a variety of high church services. I’ve been Rector of a largely middle of the way church which had a weekly Sung Eucharist. I’ve experienced various types of evangelical Anglican churches – conservative and solemn, open and relaxed. I’ve also experienced “Fresh Expressions” such as a Cafe Church.

I believe all those types of worship have their place, because different people (even in a single parish) have different tastes, different subcultures. I don’t fondly imagine that everyone living in our parish would enjoy all of our services. We need a variety of worship and we already have that to some extent. There is our formal, traditional 1662 Evensong/Communion, our more informal Morning Worship, our All Age Services and our special services.

A parish church is a church for the whole parish, not just the catholics, middle of the way, evangelical or happy clappy residents.

A few years ago I deliberately chose to a parish which was not evangelical, although I remain a convinced evangelical. The worship centred around the beautiful Sung Eucharist which I thoroughly enjoyed. Although we developed a new more informal morning service in our other church, suitable for newcomers, we made no changes to the Sung Eucharist. That way we catered for people with widely differing tastes.

Sometimes Christians speak disparagingly of “happy clappy” churches. However, whereas there are some superficial and unhelpful examples, nevertheless there are many lively churches which are growing rapidly and drawing in young people (and children). Before we criticise, we ought to ask how well we are doing in terms of church growth and find out why they are growing.

People’s tastes in worship should be respected. No-one should be pressed into expressions of worship with which they are not happy. Whatever their taste they should be loved and accepted. There is a place for more traditional worship alongside more radical expressions of worship (on separate occasions or in separate venues).  The Church of England is a Broad Church and now encourages “Fresh Expressions” of worship.

The best form of worship should be that which best helps us to worship God in spirit and in truth.

I understand the objections to women bishops because, as you know, at one time I held them myself. I have never understood the argument that Jesus chose only male disciples therefore all priests (and bishops) should be male. He only chose Hebrew-speaking Jewish men but the lobby for only appointing Hebrew-speaking Jewish male priests and bishops is not a strong one! But I do understand the problem some people have that the New Testament appears to teach that church leadership should be male. (I have no room here to say why I now believe the New Testament allows female church leadership. See http://www.christianteaching.org.uk/womensministryinthechurch.pdf).

Some of these folk can tolerate women priests in the next parish. But they can’t accept a woman bishop because she would have authority over them. This is not, for many of them, misogyny (hatred of women) but a sincerely held belief. The Church of England will have women bishops but the House of Laity of General Synod were, in my view, wrong to torpedo the archbishops’ proposals for procedures to respect the consciences of those who object. The final decision over women bishops has yet to be made and there is time to rectify the House of laity vote.

Would you like to be a better Christian? Then try reading the Bible regularly.

Going to church, taking Communion and praying are all very important but listen to St Paul: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man [or woman] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16).

If that isn’t enough, listen to the Church of England. According to church law, the most important authority under God for what the Church of England believes is the Bible and nothing is to be believed which is clearly contrary to the teaching of Scripture. However the Church takes very seriously the teaching of church leaders in the early centuries, if it is consistent with the Bible. And obviously we have to use our minds to understand Scripture properly.

The actual wording is: “The doctrine of the Church of England is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures.”

The Prayer Book makes it clear that the Bible contains “all things necessary to salvation.”  So if you want to be a Christian and to mature in your Christian faith you will find the way in the Bible.

I thank God that the churches I attended as a child were rooted and grounded in Scripture and that I went to two theological colleges which, amongst many other things, extensively taught the content of Scripture. Despite what the Church of England says about the Bible, I have even sometimes over the years come across clergy who don’t know their Bibles. They might have been taught about the Bible and about the problems that sometimes arise in interpreting it. But they do not seem to know enough about the content of Scripture and consequently some congregations are not well-taught.

I recommend that, if you don’t already, you start to read a short passage of Scripture each day. It is a great help to get hold of some Bible reading notes to help you. They suggest a passage for each day and give a comment and explanation on it.

I had a whole morning free so I spent it exploring the site of the Battle of Hastings in the hot Sussex sun. It was fascinating but sad. So much blood has been shed in conflicts over the years, normally because of selfish, power hungry leaders.

I was on the South coast to speak at meetings about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Whilst we were living in Jerusalem we developed a deep concern for reconciliation. I was responsible for 60 staff, many of whom were Jewish or Arab Israelis. I knew a lot about Jewish culture and attitudes, but not so much about Arabs. I therefore spent a good deal of time listening to the Arab staff. It was very illuminating. I had gone out there to major on relating to Jewish people (which was my job description) and I was quite pro-Israel. But talking with the Arabs (including some Palestinians – the same people group as Israeli Arabs but without Israeli citizenship) transformed my understanding and removed some misconceptions.

One meeting was held in the Roman Catholic Church. I was brought up to believe that Roman Catholics probably couldn’t be Christians(!) and here I was speaking in a Roman Catholic Church and being warmly welcomed by the priest. Obviously I had long since realised, through talking with many of them, that Catholics can be wonderful Christians. I was also thrilled that there were 15 Ministers present in the audience, from Pentecostals and Independent Churches through to Anglicans. At the invitation of the priest, they all stood at the front to bless the congregation. Since then a group of Poor Clares (Catholic nuns) have been in correspondence with me and gone on my mailing list.

Another meeting was chaired by the Dean of the local Cathedral. He had been very active in reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants when he ministered in Liverpool. He said publicly that he was surprised, having been on General Synod during my campaigning days, to hear me emphasising reconciliation and balancing the needs, pain and fears of Israelis and Palestinians. He was even more surprised that I publicly admitted changing my mind over women priests, after voting against them in the 1992 General Synod debate. He would not have known all this had he not heard my talk.

The whole trip illustrated one of the main points I was stressing in my talks. We must listen carefully to both sides in the Holy Land conflict. That goes for all human relationships where there is tension. At times over the years I have been totally convinced by a wife that her husband was responsible for their marital problems – until I have listened to the husband!  Only then could I get an accurate picture.

So lesson number one in reconciliation is listen (directly) to both sides, listen (directly) to those with whom you disagree. Only then will it be possible to reach that reconciliation which is always God’s will, even if it means agreeing to disagree (as I still would with those I opposed in General Synod). Only then will it be possible fully to reach that attitude of forgiveness and reconciliation which Jesus said is a condition of being forgiven by God.

There are some things God won’t do in our church (or in our private lives) if we don’t pray. Is that because God is being awkward? No, it’s because he loves us. He regards what we do and how we live as very important. But he regards it as even more important that we have a relationship of trust with him. If we pray we are taking notice of God and not taking him for granted. How many wives have said to their husbands (who might be helpful and kind to their wives): “Why don’t you talk to me? We never seem to make time to talk.” God is like that. We might try to serve him, supporting his church and he’s pleased with that. But he’s saying: ““Why don’t you talk to me?”

Do you remember when the children were small? You wanted them to ask for the good things, saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ In other words, you wanted them to develop a relationship of courtesy and gratitude with you. God wants the same with us. So he won’t bless the church (or the individual) as much as he wants to unless we say ‘please’ (pray) and ‘thank you’ (giving thanks). That’s why it is essential to pray if we really want the church to grow spiritually and numerically.

But why corporate prayer in a prayer group? As Jesus said: “if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matt 18:19-20). There are some things God will only do in response to corporate prayer and a prayer group allows more time to pray about more topics and to concentrate on some of the more important ones.

The old Prayer Book says we are! I once heard a cathedral choir sing the litany emphasising every syllable in “mis-er-a-ble”!

“GOD the Father, of heaven : have mercy upon us mis-er-a-ble sinners.

O God the Son, Redeemer of the world : have mercy upon us mis-er-a-ble sinners.

O God the Holy Ghost, proceeding from the Father and the Son : have mercy upon us mis-er-a-ble sinners.

O holy, blessed, and glorious Trinity, three Persons and one God : have mercy upon us mis-er-a-ble sinners.

Remember not, Lord, our offences, nor the offences of our forefathers; neither take thou vengeance of our sins: Spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast redeemed with thy most precious blood, and be not angry with us for ever.”

Today’s version?

God the Father, have mercy upon us.

God the Son, have mercy upon us.

God the Holy Spirit, have mercy upon us.

Holy, blessed and glorious Trinity, have mercy upon us.

and the rest is missing.

What a change in 40 years!  God forbid that we should be miserable in church so that people think our services are like funerals. The New Testament says we should be “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” (1 Peter 1:8). So even if our feet aren’t dancing in church, our hearts should be!

But haven’t we lost something?  I think we have, and it’s very important. We have lost, or at least largely lost, a fear of God. As someone said: We have become matey with the Almighty.  Amongst other things, that undermines our joy.

It works like this.  In line with modern culture we don’t have a fear of God. So we don’t have a sense of sin being serious. So we don’t deeply appreciate being forgiven. So we miss out on the joy of being forgiven much.

We need to remember that we are accountable to God for the thoughts we entertain, the words we say, the actions we take. We are accountable for the way we treat and speak about other people, and for any secret wrongdoing. We shall stand before him one day and the Cross shows us how seriously God takes our sins. We need a healthy fear of God. Then we’ll enjoy a deeper joy of knowing we’re forgiven because of the Cross, as we repent and trust the one who died on it.

Our time living in Jerusalem was an enriching experience of relating to Christians of different traditions. The church which I inherited as Rector was definitely Evangelical and tended to keep itself to itself.  I wasn’t at all happy with this and made a point of reaching out to the many churches in the Old City. We lived sandwiched between the Armenian Orthodox and the Latin (RC) Patriarchate. I reached out to both. I had an enjoyable lunch with the (RC) priest of the Hebrew Catholic Church. Then there were the Greek Orthodox (I was fascinated by their Mass in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre), the Greek Catholics, the Ethiopian Orthodox (that was a rich experience of a totally different culture). I almost lost count of the ancient “denominations” I’d never heard of. It was great to join in Unity Week led by the Roman Catholics in the biblical Upper Room and to join in two weeks of daily prayers for peace in a different “denomination” each day.  England seems a bit monochrome by comparison!

We had some fascinating experiences of relating to the Jewish Community, but also to our Muslim neighbours. I am part of a group of clergy which dialogues with the Muslims at the local university. I have attended several of these sessions and been impressed watching the devout young Muslims at their worship. I firmly believe that Jesus is the only Saviour but I also believe it is important to reach out in peace and love to our brothers and sisters in other faith groups, and so in a small way to counter the suspicion, fear and violence which characterises the attitudes of some towards those of other faiths.

HI I picked up your book “Prophesy” some time ago, but just got round to reading it on the bus today. The end of chapter 7 was a great encouragement to me as to why you stayed within the CofEconsidering what happened at the recent General Asembly of the Church of Scotland, of which I am a member, elder and Reader.
We are called to be salt and light and as a reader in the CofS I have the oppertunity to preach the “Word” most Sundays.If we leave, removing the salt and light, the church will rot and the people will be in darkness. How shall they hear without a preacher? I agree that Paul never told the saints to leave the church but work at getting the church back to the Truth. Thanks for your encouragement for me today even although the words were written in 1998. May God continue to bless your ministry.
In Christ Jesus
Jim Givan

In the years when I was taking a public stand against the church accepting homosexual practice, I wished that some of the people who supported me would go and support someone else. Normally these were people who despised homosexuals, not just disapproved of homosexual behaviour. To despise homosexuals as people is wrong. The old saying is relevant: “Hate the sin, love the sinner.” And that applies to all sinners, including sexual sinners – heterosexual or homosexual.

 

I believe firmly that Britain is still a Christian country, despite secularisation and the serious decline of church involvement. Statistics and other factual evidence support this. But we are not a theocracy. My opposition to the church accepting homosexual behaviour was based on biblical teaching. The Bible and Christian Tradition consistently state that homosexual behaviour is wrong and, like the multitude of other sinful actions, most not related to sex, subject to God’s judgment. That was legitimate because I was addressing the church. But such an argument will have little weight in society, although there is a strong argument that the church has a moral and spiritual responsibility to warn people about sinful behaviour and its consequences, pointing out the path of forgiveness through faith and repentance. It is a very serious matter for the church to fail society by condoning or even to appear to condone sin.

 

The church has a perfect right to convey reasons why gay marriage is wrong. But it has to argue them on rational grounds in our democratic society. It can appeal to tradition – that the Christian Faith has always defined marriage as heterosexual and that argument has some weight.

 

The church also has a perfect right to regard gay marriage as invalid morally and to have nothing to do with it even if Parliament does approve it.

 

But we need arguments which will make sense to society. Simply to say that gay marriage will be bad for couples won’t make sense because people will say that if heterosexual marriage is commended by the church as beneficial to individuals and society, homosexual marriage will have the same good effects.

 

What are the arguments against gay marriage? They include the following:

1.      ‘Gay marriage’ is contrary to the fundamental meaning of marriage

 

It is obvious that marriage is related to procreation. Had human beings been creatures who reproduced asexually and had self-sufficient children there would have been no need for marriage. Marriage meets the human concern for the future of the race and so for the welfare of children. This concern includes the desire for the best context for the bringing up of children: a stable, committed family.

 

It is the nature of things that individual human beings are incomplete as far as reproduction is concerned. Male and female bodies are clearly complementary and reproduction is achieved in the context of a couple becoming one organically in sexual intercourse. This completeness is only possible with two sexually complementary individuals – male and female. It is a beautiful context for the conception of new life. No other sexual relationship can achieve this – only the union of a man and a woman.

 

It is because of this fundamental definition of marriage that it is legally only consummated by heterosexual intercourse, no other sexual activity.

 

This is the “givenness” of marriage which has been recognised by society and by all religions through the millennia. Neither the state nor the church can change what marriage is because of ill thought out concerns for homosexual equality. Homosexual relationships can never be marriage because they are incapable of procreation. If our government approves what it calls gay marriage we can only conclude that it isn’t marriage.

 

There will, of course, be arguments that all this is undermined by the existence of heterosexual couples who cannot or decide not to have children, or by the fact that same sex couples can adopt children or have children by AID etc. But these are special pleading. Human beings are clearly designed to be able to achieve procreation in heterosexual marriage

2.      Children need a father and a mother

 

This is an obvious implication from the fact that children are born to heterosexual parents. It is the nature of things that children are born into a heterosexual family. Of course, there are many single parent families where the parent does an excellent job but most people would think that is not the ideal situation. We need not deny that same sex couples might also make a good job of rearing children. But children need the input of both close, loving male and a female role models. That is the nature of things. That is how children are best brought up and best learn from their parents.

 

Research on the effect of homosexual parenting on children is at an early stage, particularly in the case of male same sex partners. However research does show that children benefit most from being in a family led by biological parents of both sexes who are in a loving relationship.

 

One factor is that statistically, same sex relationships are significantly less faithful than heterosexual couples and this could, of course, have a negative effect on children.

3.      Approval of ‘gay marriage’ will undermine the institution of marriage

 

It would re-define marriage as basically about emotional fulfilment of adults rather than about procreation and the care and nurture of children. Already the de facto definition of marital love as primarily emotional undermines marriage and encourages divorce. We ‘fall in love’ and we ‘fall out of love’ so we split up. If we regarded marital love as primarily a commitment of the will we would have a firmer foundation for marriage. It would be more likely to weather the storm of varying emotions.

 

Marriage, being about procreation and the care and nurture of children, has a profound effect on society, which is why there is a social and legal aspect to marriage. To undermine marriage would therefore be harmful socially.

4.      Approval of ‘gay marriage’ is likely to open the gates to other unhelpful practices

 

At this point, critics will groan at the “slippery slope” argument. But one would be very naive to believe that the approval of gay marriage would be an end of the liberalising trend. Already people are calling for multi-partner sexual relationships or “small group marriages.” There are people practising and advocating “polyamory [several/many loves], polygamy, polyandry, ….  multipartner relationships, sharing their mates with others, open marriage, and/or group marriage.” Carla Bruni in an interview with Figaro in 2007 (quoted in Guardian 28.03.08) said: “Monogamy bores me terribly … I am monogamous from time to time but I prefer polygamy and polyandry.”  Judith Stacey, Professor of Sociology and Streisand Professor of Contemporary Gender Studies at the University of Southern California advocates polyamory and group marriages (of any number or gender). If gay marriage is approved on the basis of removing discrimination, why should these other practices not be approved, to remove discrimination from those who want them? However they would not only harm society by undermining marriage and the family but they would also cause emotional and physical harm to individuals.

 

In working towards ‘gay marriage’ on the grounds of removing discrimination against homosexuals the government is thinking superficially and ignoring the harm to marriage, the family and society which will result from it.