The motive for this paper is not to wallow in the bad news (of which there is plenty) but to do something positive about it – in particular to pray, especially for Revival.

Every day I thank God “for the good things in the church: where there is faith in you, love for you, sincere worship, biblical teaching and true discipleship, unity and love, evangelism and outreach, prayer, spiritual and numerical growth.” It is important to realise that there is a lot of positive information about churches, especially when we remember that the media tends to focus on the negative news. Please bear this in mind as you read this paper which majors on the negative news. The reason for majoring on it is that much of it is very serious and damaging and we need to pray against the negatives and for the positives. And we particularly need to pray for revival – on a scale that happened in the 19th century Wesleyan Revival. Revival always begins with the church. I start with a positive.

The good effects of the Covid 19 crisis

One of the good effects is that many churches are using electronic communication to reach people during the lockdown and it seems they are reaching people who would not go to a church building (in normal circumstances). Obviously, it is important for Christians actually to meet together in fellowship, including for Communion. But if it is a choice between an individual having no contact with the church or being in contact via electronic media then, of course, the latter is preferable. In an age dominated by electronic communication it is important that the church uses electronic means in evangelism and teaching the Christian Faith, and in enabling people to experience Christian worship. It is likely that this increased use of the media will continue after the crisis, which is a good prospect.

Sometimes virtual reality is used, perhaps via a headset, which produces a 3D image, creating a completely immersive experience of an online church community. Then there is chatbot, an Artificial Intelligence device which can answer thousands of questions about the faith.

There was a huge increase in downloading of Bible Apps in the early days of the lockdown. One was installed almost two million times. Eden Bible Stores saw the sale of physical Bibles rise by 55%. American publisher LifeWay Christian Resources said sales were up 62% compared with last year.  Tyndale House Publishers recorded an increase too.

 

There has also been a massive increase in Google searches for “prayer” and “Christianity.” Since the lockdown people involved in online Alpha Courses have doubled in numbers.

Use of electronic communication prior to the crisis

Electronic communication was in increasing use before the Coronavirus crisis.

Wycliffe Bible Translators now have a Bible translation method – Mobilised Assistance Supporting Translation – which enables nationals, even in remote and dangerous countries, to translate the Bible into their own language. It uses computer tablets with translation software and high-speed printing. Instead of taking years translation of the New Testament can be done in months.

Church growth

Between 2007 and 2107 10% of Church of England parish churches have experienced significant growth in regular Sunday attendance. St George’s, Gateshead began in 2016 with 20 members and now has 200. 72 other new churches are growing in Co Durham.

Independent churches such as FIEC, Brethren, New Churches (e.g. Vineyard and New Frontiers) the Salvation Army and many immigrant churches have growing membership – an average of 2.4% between 2012 and 2019. However 10% of them grew at an average rate of 6.4%. They include Immigrant Churches, (mainly Black) Pentecostal Churches.

Dr Peter Brierley records that a group he calls Mainstream Anglican Evangelicals, grew from being 16% of all Evangelical Anglicans in 1990 to being 33% by 2010. Mainstream Evangelicals are also growing in other denominations.

Chelmsford Diocese plans to set up 101 new worshipping communities by 2025. Oxford Diocese plans to set up 750 new congregations (e.g. Fresh Expressions) for people untouched by traditional church. Stephen Hance, the new National Lead for Evangelism and Witness in the Church of England heads up a project to prepare 1000 new evangelists by 2025.

However, there is also bad news.

Church numerical decline

Church of England regular worshippers overall declined by 10% in the last decade. 39% of parishes reported a decline but 50% of parishes didn’t provided sufficient data. Membership of Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist churches is also declining. The number of Evangelical churchgoers (across all denominations) was 1.4 million in 1990 but is declining to an estimated 1.2 million by 2030.

A Gallup poll recorded that US church membership had declined from 70% to 50% since 1999.

Church spiritual failure

A LifeWay study found that only 15% of British regular churchgoers read the Bible every day. 45% read the Bible more than once a week. Over 40% only read their Bible occasionally, maybe once or twice a month. Almost 20% say they never read the Bible.

A Scripture Union study of over 1,500 Christian ministries found that many of their leaders and volunteers set aside “no or minimal” time for prayer.

Church theological failure

Dr John Shepherd was appointed in January 2019 as interim director of the Anglican Centre in Rome. But the previous Easter he said in a sermon “The resurrection of Jesus ought not to be seen in physical terms, but as a new spiritual reality. It is important for Christians to be set free from the idea that the resurrection was an extraordinary physical event which restored to life Jesus’ original earthly body….Jesus’ early followers felt His presence after His death as strongly as if it were a physical presence and incorporated this sense of a resurrection experience into their gospel accounts. But they’re not historical records as we would expect history to be written today; they are symbolic images of the breaking through of the resurrection spirit into human lives.” He subsequently released a statement seeking to give the impression that he was orthodox, saying he believed in the empty tomb. But it is difficult to see how that squares with the above statement. Did someone steal the body?

The Resonate Christian research organisation discovered that whereas 90% of Methodists believed in heaven only 56% believed in hell.  This is strange since Jesus clearly taught about Hell and had more to say about it than anyone else in the New Testament.

St Matthew and St Luke’s Church, Darlington invited local Muslims to pray in the church and told them that a cross and a picture of Jesus as The Light of the World would be covered up.

A Muslim scholar was invited to preach at a Communion service in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford.  Yet Islam denies everything the Communion service stands for. After protests, an Oxford diocesan spokesperson said the scholar would preach following the Communion Service.

Church desecration

In 2019 Southwark Cathedral hosted the London Fashion Week which featured very scantily-clad women parading up the aisle. For example, two were wearing bikinis.

Gloucester Cathedral allowed Sky to film a drama majoring on witchcraft in which one character seeks to connect to her witch heritage and a second seeks a witch to tutor a third character.

On a lesser level but totally inappropriate, Norwich Cathedral incorporated a huge helter-skelter on top of which the Bishop of Lynn preached a sermon before sliding down in his robes and mitre. In his sermon he said “God wants to be attractive to us… for us to enjoy ourselves, each other and the world around us and this glorious helter-skelter is about just that. Enjoying ourselves is a good thing to do and God will be revelling in it with us and all those people who have found fun and joy and laughter here.” Now I’m certainly not against fun and laughter but simply entertaining people who are not yet believers is not appropriate for the church.

Rochester Cathedral installed a miniature golf course and Peterborough Cathedral hosted “creative yoga” under a giant model of the planet Earth, titled “Gaia.” Gaia was, of course, the mother goddess who presided over the earth.

The Archbishop of Canterbury commented: “The first thing I want is for people not to be bored. I want them to have fun … If you can’t have fun in a cathedral, you don’t know what fun is.”

Church sexual abuse

Sexual abuse within the church has done enormous damage to the church’s reputation and the cause of the Gospel. There is a great deal of very damning evidence. For example, as I normally do, I read the Church of England Daily Media Digest (summary of secular news items related to the church) on January 14th 2020. Every item in the Digest was about serious crime amongst leaders in the Church of England:

  • Coverage of the documentary on BBC 2 the previous evening of the Bishop Peter Ball case. This was a shocking two-part documentary about the extensive and blatant sexual abuse carried out over years by a previous Bishop of Lewes and Gloucester, for which he was imprisoned. He was convicted of abusing 17 teenagers and young men – one of whom took his own life. The present Bishop of Gloucester, Rachel Treweek said “I am utterly ashamed that a so called Bishop in the Church of England committed such horrific abuse.” There was serious criticism of how the church dealt with the situation. Peter Hancock, the Church of England lead safeguarding bishop said “It is a matter of great shame and regret that the Church did not act to address the behaviour of Peter Ball at the time and that survivors were left to fight tirelessly for justice.”
  • Report of an 81-year-old former priest convicted of sex offences from the 70s and 80s in Chichester Diocese.

 

The other two items were non-sexual but very serious:

  • Coverage of a Channel 4 documentary about a former deputy church warden jailed for 36 years for murder.
  • Coverage of the discipline of a priest who had pocketed £6000 from sham weddings

Other serious matters were reported in the media during 2019:

  • “Warwickshire vicar Christopher Goble admits child porn charges”
  • “19 abuse allegations against former Bishop of Chester who died in 1987”
  • “Clergy and staff from Lincoln Diocese were referred to police in 2015 after church leaders had allegedly ‘turned a blind eye’ to claims of child abuse, an investigation has revealed.”

There were reports of sexual abuse in other denominations in 2019-2020. Here are some headlines:

  • ‘Feared’ pastor convicted of rapes which left some child victims pregnant” [This was the same day as the above Media Digest].
  • Dozens of Catholic priests accused of sexually abusing 166 children
  • Birmingham [Roman Catholic] Archdiocese let children be abused and harboured paedophile priests ‘to protect its own reputation’
  • Jesus Army will ‘cease to exist’ [because of sexual abuse].

All of this will have done enormous damage to the church and the Gospel. Little wonder a recent Ipsos Mori survey found that only 62% of people say they trust clergy to tell the truth. That compares with 69% in 2016 and 85% in 1983.

The homosexual issue

The Church of England bishops’ 2016 report

The Church of England bishops produced a report in 2016 entitled “Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations.” It was a typical Anglican document where the bishops wanted to avoid undermining the traditional view of sexual relations whilst giving maximum freedom to clergy to deviate from it without deviating from it! (No, that is not a typing mistake but a brief description of what the report says). It said there was little support for changing the traditional teaching but they wanted to “affirm the place of lesbian and gay people in the life of the Church.” If clergy are approached by couples wanting to enter a civil partnership “it would not be right to produce an authorised public liturgy” for the purpose. But “in contrast, forms of service may be “Commended” by the House [of Bishops] without Synodical approval [by the General Synod].” But “clergy may not use forms of service which are contrary to, or indicate any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter.” If the reader is confused that is a very sensible reaction! This is Anglican waffle at its worst. But there’s more.

The bishops went on to say “the House of Bishops has affirmed that stable, faithful homosexual relationships can ‘embody crucial social virtues’ of fidelity and mutuality. One challenge is therefore to explore how that affirmation in the case of both celibate and non-celibate [emphasis mine] relationships might be more fully articulated in our theological ethics and better communicated in our pastoral and missional practice, while maintaining the current doctrine of the Church of England on marriage and relationships. …. To maintain an unambiguous position on doctrine in this matter while enabling a generous freedom for pastoral practice that does not directly and publicly undermine it is entirely consistent with our traditions and is a perfectly coherent approach to take.” 

This report was submitted for consideration by the General Synod in February 2017 but the synod refused even to “take note” of it. In other words, it totally dismissed it.

The Church of England bishops’ 2019 report

In December 2019 the House of Bishops produced a pastoral statement “Civil Partnerships – for same sex and opposite sex couples.” This was a largely good statement which clearly stated a traditional biblical understanding on the homosexual issue. It said

“The introduction of same sex marriage, through the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013, has not changed the church’s teaching on marriage or same sex relationships. A major study of this and other areas of human sexuality is underway (the Living in Love and Faith project). This work, which is expected to be completed in 2020, will then inform further deliberations of the House of Bishops. In the context, however, of the introduction of opposite sex as well as same sex civil partnerships, the teaching of the church on marriage remains unchanged … There is no theological consensus about same sex unions. Therefore, we as a body cannot support the authorisation of such rites’…. While clergy are fully entitled to argue, in the Living in Love and Faith process and elsewhere, for a change in that teaching, they are not entitled to claim the liberty to set it aside. With opposite sex civil partnerships, and with those for same sex couples, the Church’s teaching on sexual ethics remains unchanged. For Christians, marriage – that is the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows – remains the proper context for sexual activity.”

There followed a huge outcry against this biblical statement. Prominent Anglicans produced an open letter which said “The Church of England has this week become a laughingstock to a nation that believes it is obsessed with sex. More importantly this statement has significantly damaged the mission of the Church and it has broken the trust of those it seeks to serve… it seems our trust has been misplaced and we feel badly let down.”

In response the bishops of Gloucester, Worcester and Reading said they were upset at the hurt caused by the statement (although the first two were involved in producing it). Other bishops responded less than positively. Then the Archbishops of Canterbury and York apologised “We are very sorry and recognise the division and hurt this has caused.”

The Evangelical Group on General Synod divides over homosexuality

19 members of the group voted against a statement that marriage is “between one man and one woman” and that unmarried people should be committed to sexual abstinence. Some resigned from the group. 83 voted in favour.

The Lambeth Conference divided over homosexuality

Some senior overseas archbishops will not attend the Lambeth conference because of the presence of pro-homosexual bishops. In 2008 the Lambeth Conference excluded homosexual bishops (in sexual relationships) but they will be included in the next conference. However they may not bring their same-sex partners. The Bishop of Liverpool decided not to bring his (female) wife in protest. People in same-sex sexual relationships have been appointed bishops in Wales, Canada, the USA and New Zealand. The new Archbishop of York, Stephen Cotterell, has said that we need “to look again at those [biblical] texts [on homosexuality] to see what they are actually saying to our situation, for what we know now is not what was known then.” (He is mistaken in thinking this). He added that the biblical texts are merely “part of our story and our inheritance.” He believes it is acceptable to have a communion service for same-sex civil partnerships.

Other denominations

David Hull, chair of Methodist Evangelicals Together, commented on the Methodist Conference resolution supporting same-sex marriage which is likely to be finally approved at the next conference. When asked if he thought people will leave the denomination if the resolution is approved he replied: “I’m urging people not to leave just yet. I’m urging people to stay and to make the case for remaining faithful as long as we can. I don’t believe in division within the body of Christ but I do believe that we need to stand firmly on biblical teaching and so what I will be doing is, when asked the question, whether I continue to uphold the doctrine and discipline of the Methodist Church, if it changes I will have to say no at that point.” But other evangelical Methodists have said they will remain in the church. (You can see my papers about the Methodist statements on same sex marriage at Critique of Methodist study guide on same sex-marriage report and more extensively in Critique of Methodist report on homosexual relationships).

St Silas, Glasgow and Westhill Community Church, Aberdeen have voted to leave the Scottish Episcopal Church over its acceptance of homosexual practice.

Churches Together in England is facing serious division because a woman in a same-sex marriage has been appointed one of its presidents.

On the other hand, William Love, Bishop of Albany in the US Episcopal Church is being disciplined by the denomination for not permitting same-sex marriages in his diocese.

Gender issues

In July 2017 the Church of England General Synod voted to welcome and affirm transgender people. Trans people with gender recognition are already able to marry in Anglican churches and they can offer themselves for ordained ministry. In 2018 the bishops produced a document on pastoral guidance as to “how to use the rite of Affirmation of Baptismal Faith in the context of gender transition.” It said that “elements including water and oil can be used with the prayers and makes clear that trans people should be addressed publicly by their chosen name.” Then “As a central part of the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith the minister lays their hands on the candidate or candidates, addresses them by name, and prays for them.”

However there was a strong reaction against this guidance. Several senior clergy say they would refuse to conduct such services. They included the Bishop of Wakefield and the Bishop of Maidstone who said the Church of England needed to consider the theological basis for the “unconditional affirmation of trans people”. The Bishop of Blackburn who chaired the committee which produced the guidance eventually said that it “both highly divisive and theologically and pastorally questionable.”

One clergyman said “The Church of England would be declaring liturgically on behalf of God its acceptance of the claim that someone who is biologically male is in fact female or that someone who is biologically female is in fact male.”

Later an open letter signed by over 1600 clergy and lay leaders called for the advice to be reconsidered because it was an apparent “rejection of physical differentiation between male and female” which as well as being an “almost universal biological reality” is also “the basis of the Church’s understanding of Christian marriage.” They also said it was a misuse of the Baptismal liturgy.

In 2019 my wife wrote to the two archbishops asking if they could make a statement publicly disapproving of children being encouraged to consider changing sex, but she received waffly replies.

Conclusion

It is encouraging that there is an increasing amount of electronic communication by churches, including in evangelism. More people want Bibles and there is some church growth.

However there is serious numerical decline and serious spiritual weakness (many Christians not praying or reading the Bible very much). There is serious theological error – interfaith compromise, lack of belief in fundamental truths such as the resurrection, lack of belief in hell. Then there are the serious moral errors – very serious sexual abuse (including by clergy), widespread undermining of the traditional biblical teaching on sexual relations, and inappropriate action about the transgender issue.

The church desperately needs a major revival which will revitalize spirituality and promote holiness.

Tony Higton

I use the word “Oppression” rather than “Persecution” about the ways Christians are maltreated in the western world because Christians elsewhere are suffering in far worse ways. Nevertheless the trend in the west is a cause of real concern.

Good news

Of course, there is some good news. The police apologised to a street preacher in Bath who was threatened with arrest in May 2018. Another Christian street preacher was cleared of all charges after being falsely accused of making abusive comments towards a homosexual couple. A nurse in Kent who was dismissed for offering to pray with patients was officially allowed to return to her job by the Nursing and Midwifery Council. The Government has ruled that employers must allow staff to wear religious symbols at work as long as it does not interfere with their job. After widespread public opposition, Ofsted (the government’s the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills) has abandoned plans to inspect Sunday Schools and other religious groups as to whether they promote extremism.

Then, of course, there is the Supreme Court’s reversal of the High Court’s conviction of the Christian Asher’s Baking Company for not making a cake with a pro-homosexual slogan. However we need to take note of the Equality Commission’s response: “There is a concern that this judgment may raise uncertainty about the application of equality law in the commercial sphere, both about what businesses can do and what customers may expect; and that the beliefs of business owners may take precedence over a customer’s equality rights, which in our view is contrary to what the legislature intended.” This case may be finished but that attitude shows there can be pressure for a different approach in the future.

Discrimination against Christians

However, the situation and trends are still serious. Tim Farron, ex-leader of the Liberal Democrats, said “If you actively hold a faith that is more than an expression of cultural identity … you are deemed to be far worse than eccentric. You are dangerous. You are offensive.” A recent study by ComRes found that up to a million workers in Britain may have faced harassment, discrimination or bullying because of their religion or belief.

In the United States US a report, entitled ‘Undeniable: The Survey of Hostility to Religion in America’, indicated a 15% rise in cases threatening religious liberty between 2015 and 2016. It was based on research by the First Liberty Institute, a legal organisation dedicated to protecting religious liberty. Following complaints by residents, a US apartment complex implemented a zero-tolerance policy over any Bible studies being held in its community space, and sent letters to residents stating the faith-based meetings weren’t permitted there. First Liberty commented: “It’s frightening that a management company would use the threat of eviction to stop residents from meeting together to discuss any issue, let alone their faith.”

Ex-US Attorney General Jeff Sessions has said: “In recent years, the cultural climate in this country-and in the West more generally-has become less hospitable to people of faith. Many Americans have felt that their freedom to practice their faith has been under attack.”

In Australia an Elim church in New South Wales paid for digital Easter signs to be displayed at the local shopping centre. But the authorities asked them to remove the word “Jesus” from the signs because it had been causing offence.

Discrimination and intolerance of Christianity in Europe was debated for the first time in the European Parliament in June 2018. Speakers, highlighted recent instances of violence, marginalisation, and discrimination against Christians across Europe. Nathan Gill, MEP, who hosted the debate, said: “It’s the first time that Christianophobia within Europe has been discussed in the EU Parliament. There has often been a focus on Christian persecution around the world, but seldom do we look at what is happening on our doorstep. It’s important to raise awareness that our rights as Christians are being eroded. We need to stand together as practising Christians to oppose religious intolerance.” Hendrik Storm, Chief Executive of the Barnabas Fund (which assists persecuted Christians), stated, “It’s easy to sit back and ignore the damage because like erosion, it’s not always immediately visible on the surface. But look a little closer and you can begin to see the cracks. You can’t pick and choose which types of freedom you want to defend. Freedom of speech, freedom of the press, academic freedom or freedom of religion. You must defend all of them. Those freedoms are only one generation away from being lost.”

Undermining freedom of speech

South Yorkshire Police used Twitter to urge citizens to “put a stop” to hate, by reporting what it called “non-crime hate incidents.” They acknowledged that “police can only prosecute when the law is broken” but added that non-crime hate incidents like an insulting comment “can feel like a crime to those affected.” Someone responded

“Just to be clear: you want me to phone the police when there hasn’t been a crime but someone’s feelings have been hurt?”

Then reports are emerging from universities about speakers with what are considered as minority (but legal) views (e.g. pro-life) being banned because their views were considered insulting. In 2017 the Junior Common Room of Balliol College, Oxford banned the college Christian Union from attending its freshers’ (new students’) fair over concerns at the “potential for harm to freshers.” The vice-president said: “Christianity’s influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its methods of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism.” Eventually the CU was told that a single multi-faith stall would be allowed to display leaflets, though no representatives would be allowed to staff it.  Later a motion was passed unanimously at the college accusing the JCR committee of “a violation of free speech [and] a violation of religious freedom”. The motion prohibited the barring of official religious societies from future freshers’ fairs.

Christian MP Fiona Bruce commented: “University should a place where ideas can be explored and free speech is so important, it’s important from my perspective as a parliamentarian, to protect and preserve democracy, so we need to ensure students, very importantly, honour and respect the freedom of others … There is no legal right not to be offended, people can say things which might offend others but if they don’t, for example, go as far as to incite violence or terrorism under the Prevent legislation then that speech is lawful.”

One of the most worrying trends in western society is the extreme application of laws against extremism! This can easily lead to Christians being legally prevented from appropriately expressing some of the Bible’s more challenging truths.

Freedom of speech over sexuality

It is quite obvious that freedom to express biblical views on sexuality, including homosexual practice, are seriously threatened. There have been many examples of this trend. Here is one.

Matthew Grech, a contestant in a Maltese talent show, described on TV how he left a homosexual lifestyle and became a Christian. He said: “I stopped following my passions to follow Jesus. There can be love between two men and two women, yes – but only friendship love. Everything else is a sin.”  Helena Dalli, The Maltese Equality Minister, commented: “That interview should never have been aired in the first place. It did untold damage to our efforts to change social attitudes towards minorities, including LGBTQ youths. Gay youths don’t need forgiveness or healing, they need understanding.”

One of the sad things is that some of the oppression of Christians in the West comes from fellow Christians. One example is about “gay conversion therapy.” This is, of course, a highly controversial practice and even the Church of England General Synod voted to disapprove of it as an insensitive, harmful, practice which should be avoided. But, as is often the case with such action against harmful extremism, it can be taken too far and hinder helpful action. Basically the effect of what the synod did was to vote to ban anyone praying for a homosexual to be transformed by the power of God into a heterosexual. Who does the synod think it is, voting to ban prayer for a healing miracle! There are claims that homosexuals have been transformed in this way. Other people will have been prayed for and not changed – but that is the case for all healing. Of course, people must be handled with great sensitivity and loving care. They must not be pressurised. But to say that no one is allowed to pray for a miracle for a homosexual person is extremely serious. Homosexual orientation is not a sin, and it shouldn’t be implied that it is. But the Bible teaches that God created humans “male and female.” He did not intend people to have a homosexual orientation. So why can’t Christians pray for it to be changed? The church is selling out to our secular society in this respect.

I have had a good deal to do with homosexuals and have always treated them with respect. They can be subject to major traumas which should be met with real compassion. But to allow the emotional pressure of such traumas to cause us to take the wrong approach to helping them is a serious error.

However, this trend is going further. There is a strong move against what is called “Spiritual Abuse.” Jayne Ozanne is an evangelical on the Church of England General Synod who ‘came out’ as a lesbian. She has become a campaigner against ‘spiritual abuse.’

Ozanne writes: “The most typical incidents involve those in leadership who have frequently achieved a ‘cult-like’ or ‘guru’ status due to their charismatic personality and strong leadership style. This is most evident in large evangelical churches, particularly those with a Charismatic or Pentecostal background, where leaders exercise ‘gifts of the Holy Spirit’ and are therefore recognised by their congregations as being ‘chosen and anointed by God’. As a result, their word can become infallible and their authority unquestioned. For the purposes of this document this type of abuse will be called the ‘Individual Leader Model of Spiritual Abuse’” She goes on to speak of unhelpful pressure from charismatic worship and prayer ministry sessions, including teaching on the Baptism of the Spirit in contexts such as the Alpha Course, New Wine, Spring Harvest, Soul Survivor, healing ministries and even the Lydia Prayer Movement, etc. My comment is that obviously there can be unhelpful extremes in anything, but such a blanket condemnation is appalling, set against the amount of good achieved.

She then begins to speak of the damage these experiences can (allegedly) do to homosexuals and says “It is imperative that professional organisations external to the religious institutions call for better safeguarding measures against spiritual abuse. Indeed, they should look to recognise it as a key form of abuse at a national level so as to ensure that some of the most vulnerable in our society are afforded the same protection as those facing other forms of abuse.”

She is calling on the government to recognise the alleged spiritual harm some churches can do to people and claims current church safeguarding procedures do not go far enough to protect them. Since she wrote a major article on the issue in the Royal College of Psychiatrists’ Journal the government is likely to take her seriously despite the fact that she has no professional qualifications or experience in either psychiatry or statistical research

The potential serious damage this campaign could do is very clear. I’m not saying it is Jayne Ozanne’s intention but it could lead to real oppression of especially charismatic evangelicals in their worship, prayer ministry, etc. In fact, experience suggests it is highly likely to do so. The church is rightly concerned about safeguarding but it has become OTT in its procedures. The Churches’ Child Protection Advisory Service is accepting the sort of opinions Jane Ozanne is expressing so the denominations are likely to follow suit. It is another case of the modern practice: Take proper action against genuine extremism/abuse then go too far and restrict good practices.

Conclusion

We need to be alert to dangerous trends both outside and inside the church which are leading to serious oppression of Christians in the West and particularly to those who still believe the teaching of Scripture on what have become controversial issues. We should take whatever action is appropriate but also remember that these trends show how urgently we need to pray for and to see God bring Revival.

Christianity is growing around the world and some churches in Britain are growing. But one of the main motives for praying for Revival in Britain is the widespread decline of the church numerically, spiritually and morally.

Church attendance

Church attendance in Britain is declining but what does that tell us about religious belief? Dr Peter Brierley, an expert on religious statistics, pointed out recently that in 2000 72% of British people said they believed in God and 5% attended church. In 2015 the figures were 60% and 4% respectively and he estimated that, at this rate, in 2020 they would be 50% and 3% respectively. So, despite the decline in church attendance, many of those who have left the church still have religious beliefs. Some may be genuine Christians but disenchanted with the church. Some may be nominally Christian. Some may believe in God as creator. Some may be adherents of other religions.

Steve Aisthorpe, Mission Development Worker for the Church of Scotland, published a book in 2016 called “The Invisible Church.” He did a survey of people who no longer attend church and reported that, of the 2000+ people who leave churches each week, the majority remain committed to their faith. He added that many meet up with others informally or online.

The important question is how much Christian belief amongst those who have left the church is purely nominal and not a saving faith.

Digital religion

It is interesting that smart phones and social media are playing an increasing role in Christianity. The Rev Pete Phillips is director of the Codec Research Centre for Digital Theology at Durham University. He has said “A new kind of mutated Christianity for a digital age is appearing. One that follows many of the ethics of the secular world.” It is focused more on the charitable and moral side of the Bible – the underlying tenets of religion, rather than the notion that the Universe was created by an all-seeing, all-powerful leader. This very individualistic approach means that people can pick and choose what doctrine they believe and avoid doctrines they don’t like. Phillips wrote “Millennials prefer this generalised picture of God rather than an interventionist God, and they prefer God to Jesus, because he’s non-specific. He stands behind them and allows them to get on with their own lives rather than Jesus, who comes in and interferes with everything.” But this pick-and-mix religion is hardly Christianity. True Christians who have left the church are missing out on Christianity as essentially corporate, as the New Testament makes clear. For example, at the heart of the faith is meeting together for Communion.

Unbelief amongst those claiming to be Christians

A Com Res survey in 2017 found that 28% of people who identified as Christians (including 5% of those who identified as “active” Christians) did not believe in the resurrection. Yet a third of people who identified as non-Christians believed in the resurrection. 10% of “active” Christians didn’t believe in life after death.

A 2017 YouGov poll about the importance of the 10 Commandments found that less than one third of Christians believe in preserving Sunday as a day of rest, only 38% were against using the Lord’s name in vain and only 43% disapproved of the worshipping of idols.

So, again, although there are people claiming to be Christians who don’t attend church, their beliefs sometimes conflict with Christianity.

Then there was the 2017 Christian Greenbelt Festival which invited participants to “Experience dhikr (remembrance), meditation, and poetry, and witness the sacred movement of the whirling dervishes. Participants can learn basic universal Sufi chants that are rhythmic, healing and a unique form of mystical worship.” I am thoroughly in favour of interfaith dialogue and respect but such worship in a Christian context is unbiblical and conflicts with the fundamental belief that Jesus is the only way of salvation.

Also in 2017 there was a controversial reading from the Quran at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral Epiphany Service in Glasgow. A Muslim law student went beyond the reading included in the order of service and added verses explicitly denying Jesus was the son of God. The dean, Kelvin Holdsworth, commented “This same Quranic reading has been given before in services and no outcry has happened. Is it because this is in a cathedral run by a gay man?” Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali commented “Christians should know what their fellow citizens believe and this can include reading the Qur’an for themselves, whether in the original or in translation. This is not, however, the same thing as having it read in Church in the context of public worship. It is particularly insensitive to have this passage read in Church on the Feast of the Epiphany when we celebrate not only Christ’s manifestation to the gentiles but also his baptism and the divine declaration, ‘You are my beloved son in whom I am well pleased.’”

Distrust in the church and clergy

A survey in December 2016 by nfpsynergy found that 56% of the British population had very little or not much trust in the church. An Ipsos/Mori poll found that 25% of people did not trust clergy or priests. 69% said they did trust them compared with 93% trusting nurses, 91% doctors and 88% teachers.

One of the worst factors which has damaged the church is, of course, sexual abuse by clergy. This has seriously affected the Church of England. But more recently the Roman Catholic Church has been the focus of concern. In Ireland sexual abuse has seriously damaged the Catholic Church. Twenty years ago 90% of the population were regular attenders at mass. Now the figure is about 18%. In America, after a two-year investigation, Jos Shapiro, Attorney General of Pennsylvania discovered 1000 victims but said there are likely to be many more. He added that in some cases, “the cover up stretched all the way up to the Vatican” and that bishops “protected their institution at all costs”. His colleagues believe that, even today, bishops are working hard to protect themselves. All of this has done enormous damage to the church and to the cause of the gospel.

On a different level, the apparently uncritical support of American Evangelicals for Donald Trump has undermined their credibility and some are dropping the description “Evangelical” accordingly. In fact, there is a support group on Facebook called “Exvangelical”! Inevitably people in Britain will conclude that British Evangelicals are Trump supporters too, which is not helpful.

The situation in the Church of England

There are good things going on in the Church of England, for example various initiatives reaching out to local communities such as the new Advance 2020 initiative. The organisers hope it will mean “the gospel being taken to the nation on an unprecedented scale.” One of the organisers said “We’re dreaming of seeing the United Kingdom come back to relationship with Jesus.” Evangelistic initiatives like this are very good and should be fully supported. But we have to face up to experience. They have very limited effects and tend to influence only the minority of churches already into evangelism. Also we are dealing with a population which is very resistant to the gospel. It is very important to do evangelism but it will only scratch the surface. We need more. We need revival.

There are also prayer initiatives such as “Thy Kingdom Come” – an international, ecumenical call to 10 days of prayer around Pentecost which grew out of an initiative of the Archbishops of Canterbury and York in 2016. It involves over 50 denominations in 85 countries. There is a lot of faithful work going on in parishes, although the overburdening of the reduced number of clergy is a growing problem (however a growing number of younger people want to become ordained). And some churches are growing. At its best the Church of England has a lot to offer.

However it is facing enormous problems. There is serious numerical decline in many churches and many have small elderly congregations which doesn’t bode well for the future. The number of people identifying with the Church of England has more than halved (from 31% to 14%) in the last 15 years according to a recent British Social Attitudes survey. One Christian commentator said: “The Church [of England] is becoming less and less embedded in the public consciousness as representative of their own spiritual identity. It has become strange.”

Controversy over sexuality

The main issue it is struggling with is controversy over sexuality. There has been extensive bad publicity over sexual abuse by clergy and even one bishop. The Church of England has been facing 3,300 allegations of sexual abuse. It has been made worse by the fact that the issue has not been handled well by some bishops – a fact which has hit the headlines.

The other prominent aspect of the sexuality controversy in the C of E is the issue of homosexual practice, gay marriage etc. Officially the church is committed to the biblical view that sex is a gift of God to be enjoyed only within the context of heterosexual marriage. Anglican Canon Law states: “the Church of England affirms, according to our Lord’s teaching, that marriage is a union permanent and life-long, of one man with one woman…”

However, in an interview in October 2017, the Archbishop of Canterbury was asked “Is gay sex sinful?” He replied: “Because I don’t do blanket condemnation and I haven’t got a good answer to the question. I’ll be really honest about that. I know I haven’t got a good answer to the question. Inherently, within myself, the things that seem to me to be absolutely central are around faithfulness, stability of relationships and loving relationships.” In just a few words the archbishop seriously undermined the biblical stance of the Church of England.

In addition Canon Giles Goddard, chair of the Human Sexuality Group of the Church of England’s General Synod, said the church could not maintain its traditional position. He wrote an open letter on behalf of 240 of the 483 synod members, saying: “Marriage between a man and a woman is the majority stance of the Anglican Communion, but just because so many people say something does not mean it is right.”

A recent British Social Attitudes survey found that 73% of Anglicans don’t think premarital sex is wrong, and 55% don’t think gay sex is wrong. 62% of Roman Catholics support same-sex relationships. In 1985 only 9% of Christians in Britain supported same-sex relationships.

Confusion in the House of Bishops and General Synod

There is huge controversy over the issue in the General Synod which has a strong pro-gay lobby led by such people as Jayne Ozanne, an Evangelical who recently ‘came out’ as a lesbian.

Hereford Diocesan Synod passed a motion calling for “official prayers and a dedication service for gay couples after their civil partnership or marriage.” This has not been discussed in General Synod but it does not take much imagination to see that the church is moving towards such a position.

One of the problems is the confusing messages coming particularly from the House of Bishops. On the one hand they say they are maintaining the biblical teaching on marriage. On the other they appear to be moving towards accepting homosexual practice.

A 2017 report from the House of Bishops supported the official definition of marriage but also backed a greater role for practising homosexuals in the Church. The archbishops have promised “radical new Christian inclusion” in the church. The bishops were accused of “looking both ways” in sexuality.  The house is working on a report on sexuality to be presented in 2020.

In August 2018 Ely Cathedral flew the “Pride flag” to support the local pro-gay organisation held its first festival. The bishop defended this and said it did not represent a shift away from traditional church teaching on sexuality and gender. But the festival was not just supporting the correct idea that homosexuals should be treated with full respect as people. It was affirming that homosexual practice is acceptable.

On the 50th Anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexual acts in the UK the archbishops made a public statement which included the words “Sin is not a characteristic of a particular group of people. Sin is the same for all of us. And the challenge to take onto ourselves the obligation to be yoked with Christ, to bear the load he gives us, is the same for all of us.” This statement is true but anyone who follows events in the Church of England knows that the intended implication is that the church should therefore tolerate homosexual practice. The correct implication is that the church should not accept any unbiblical behaviour – in any of us – but urge repentance on everyone. This is certainly not the message the church is giving.

Uncritical emotional reactions

Another serious problem is the tendency of the church to act on a purely emotional level. Take for example the tragic case of 14-year old Lizzie Lowe who committed suicide because she did not believe she would be accepted as a Christian because she believed she was gay. Who could not be deeply distressed at such a tragedy? It shows the importance of the church making it clear that it accepts and respect homosexuals as people just as much as heterosexuals. But, sadly, in addition to this, her traumatised church has radically changed to accept homosexual practice. For example, it invited the first Didsbury [Gay] Pride event to take place in its grounds. It has also joined with 11 other neighbouring churches to become the first “inclusive” Deanery in the Church of England. The area Dean is gay.

The church must warmly welcome all human beings but it should not necessarily welcome their behaviour.

Increasing support for homosexual practice in other churches

The Scottish Episcopal Church decided in 2017 to approve same-sex marriages taking place in their churches. One third of its clergy have asked to be licensed to take them. However St Thomas’ Edinburgh has left the Episcopal Church because of the decision. The rector, David McCarthy, said “We have not done it easily. We have had many tears and many sleepless nights. It is a tragic necessity. But it is the Episcopal Church who are leaving us. They are leaving orthodoxy.”

A few months later, in a meeting of Anglican Primates in Canterbury, a decision was made to exclude the Scottish Episcopal Church from ecumenical and leadership roles in the Anglican Communion.

In September 2018 the head of the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Mark Strange gave a presentation on same-sex marriage to the Church in Wales. Afterwards the governing body stated: “It is pastorally unsustainable for the Church to make no formal provision for those in same-gender relationships.”

Meanwhile the Presbyterian Church in Ireland decided against allowing same-sex marriages and not to allow those in same-sex relationships to be full members. This resulted in 232 senior members of the church writing to express their “profound sense of hurt, dismay and anger” at those decisions.

In May 2018 the Anglican Church in New Zealand voted in favour of blessing couples in same-sex relationships. But it does not permit same sex marriages to take place in churches.

Serious division

In view of all this, it is hardly surprising that the Church of England and the Anglican Communion are facing serious division (and will face more in the future). The Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) is a new organisation which seeks to establish Anglican Churches in England outside the Church of England. However it also supports Church of England churches which are seriously struggling with the way the Church of England is going. AMiE grew out of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) which involved archbishops, bishops, clergy and lay leaders. The first conference happened in 2008 and its aim was to take a “united stand against the moral compromise, doctrinal error and the collapse of biblical witness that were becoming prevalent in parts of the Anglican Communion.” The conference said that the Episcopal Church of the USA, the Anglican Church of Canada and the Scottish Episcopal Church had departed from the Christian faith (over the issue of homosexual relationships and same-sex marriage). They called on the Archbishop of Canterbury not to invite representatives of these churches to the Lambeth Conference in 2020 and said if he didn’t the archbishops in GAFCON would not attend.

AMiE has taken the very controversial step of arranging the consecration of an English clergyman as a bishop outside the structure of the Church of England. He is Andy Lines and is legally the Missionary Bishop to Europe of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which is outside the Anglican Communion. He has ordained people as Anglican clergy (again outside the Church of England). In addition Jonathan Pryke, a senior minister at Jesmond Parish Church, Newcastle, has been ordained bishop without Church of England authorisation.

If the Church of England approves of homosexual relationships and same-sex marriages the division is highly likely to spread.

What should be the attitude of biblical Christians to homosexual people?

As Christians and churches we should welcome sinners (there is no one else to welcome – we’re all sinners) but we should NOT welcome sin. So homosexual people should be warmly welcomed and respected as much as everyone else. But we should not welcome either their sins or anyone else’s, including our own. Jesus died bearing the penalty for their sins and ours. We all fall to temptation sometimes but if we repent, i.e. express sorrow and seek to mend our ways, God will forgive us. Christians should always forgive the penitent sinner. But if people persist in sin, we should treat them with love but we should in no way give them the impression we approve of their sin. Many people can fall to sexual temptation, which can be a powerful temptation for most of us, but we need to exercise self control. This is the conviction of “Living Out”, a Christian organisation run by same-sex attracted people committed to homosexual celibacy. It is run by three same-sex attracted Anglican Ministers who say “We experience same-sex attraction and yet are committed to what the Bible clearly says, and what the church has always taught, about marriage and sex. See http://www.livingout.org/

Tony Higton