Daniel Frampton: What the cringing C of E needs is a healthy dose of fire and brimstone

It’s one of the quirks of the Church of England that to be a member you don’t really have to believe in God. This is a strange sort of inclusivity, no doubt, though it is terribly nice. But that’s exactly the problem. Too much niceness is repellent. The C of E is much like that fool of a husband who gives way to his wife on every matter of consequence. He’s very reasonable, but not exactly masculine. It shouldn’t really surprise him if his wife then runs off with the local imam.

A recent ComRes survey found that 36 per cent of self-proclaimed Church of England Christians never attend church, while one-third never pray; 60 per cent do not even read the Bible. In other words, Anglicans are the least dedicated of all Christian groups. Responding to these findings, Rachel Jordan, the Church’s national mission and evangelism adviser, had the temerity to declare that the survey at least revealed who the ‘committed people are’ – meaning those ‘deeply committed, practising Christians’ who ‘might be willing to take on the task of spreading the good news of Jesus’. If only such living saints had a loyal Church.

It seems to me that self-reflection would have been a rather more serious response here. Do we really need a better class of Christian or do we simply need a better Church? One might follow the other. The Church of England has perished. It is a corpse. Another study recently found that only 15 per cent of the population identify themselves as Anglican. Church attendance is near non-existent, affiliation has dwindled. Moreover, the Church’s moral authority has been reduced to naught. Long gone are the days when clergy and laity alike were prepared to burn at the stake for their convictions. This was a very manly Christianity. Today most Anglicans aren’t even willing to risk a light singeing in The Guardian.

It is one of the tragedies of our time that the Church of England is now synonymous with ingratiation; for example, former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams’s statement that Britain should reconcile itself to certain elements within Sharia; or the suggestion from the Bishop of Oxford, Richard Harries, that the Koran should be read at the next coronation service. The Archbishop of Canterbury might just as well recite extracts of The God Delusion or The Vagina Monologues – the latter, especially, would provide him with an excellent opportunity to acknowledge the tribulations of the menstrual cycle. He could hand out free tampons in the vestry. It would at least be an honest recognition that the Church is now the province of rotund lesbians flatulating at the Mass.

The vapid proclamations of the upper echelon of the Church are mere details compared with the general surrender that has informed most of its recent history. The failure to defend lifelong marriage was decisive, of course, followed by the admittance of women into the clergy, as well as other creative acts of ‘accommodation’. These are sure signs that the Church of England has become a fundamentally unserious and confused institution.

This pallid poor dear, the C of E, has me longing for the brimstone and fire of the Old Testament, or at least the corrupt and somewhat randy popes of the Renaissance era; anything but this sorry sort of Christianity that has been a hostage of the state since 1534. The beguiling vision of ‘old maids biking to Holy Communion through the mists of the autumn mornings’ is hardly combative. Old maids aren’t nearly fanatical enough for my taste. But a lack of fanaticism is precisely what defines the Church of England: those dull words ‘established church’. It’s far too respectable for its own good.

G K Chesterton was probably on to something when he referred to Roman Catholicism as ‘the only thing that frees a man from the degrading slavery of being a child of his age’. The Catholic Church, he wrote, is the ‘one fighting form of Christianity’. I am not a Catholic, unlike Chesterton, though I cannot help noticing that Catholics have generally resisted the spirit of the age, which likely explains Catholicism’s essential continuity. Might this have something to do with actually believing in a vision of the supernatural?



Earlier this year a survey found that a quarter of Christians in Britain did not believe in the Resurrection. Presumably, most of these Christians were Anglican. Nearly a third of them thought that Heaven was an illusion. It was a surprising finding. Yet there has, for a while now, been a serious anti-supernatural tendency in the C of E. Evelyn Waugh noted that during his time in the Army in the Second World War the Anglican chaplains ‘seemed to have no sense of the supernatural at all’. This suspicion had, in some sense, justified his own conversion to Catholicism years before.

Waugh’s classic novel Brideshead Revisited underlined, as perhaps only a Catholic could, the significance of the red flame in the sanctuary lamp, ‘burning anew among the old stones’, in the chapel at Brideshead. Catholicism is right at home here, unlike its heretical younger sibling. Even the ghost stories of M R James appear to concede the point that the Church of England is hopelessly out of its depth in all matters relating to the supernatural. The insinuation is clear when, in An Episode of Cathedral History, an Anglican dean dismisses the supernatural as ‘arrant nonsense’.

It seems reasonable to suggest that a church that renounces eternity will be in a perpetual state of surrender to the passing fashions of the present day. Moreover, moral conviction is rooted in the idea of objective value, not the relativistic impulse that appears to have overcome the Church of England today. But conviction matters. Since the C of E has refused to take a stand, we have naturally declined to stand with it. This includes the Rev Gavin Ashenden, the former Honorary Chaplain to the Queen, a man of great spirit, who recently felt obliged to resign his post as a result of the Church’s moral capitulation to the modern world.

Rather than questioning society – pro Ecclesia contra mundum – the English Church has confined itself publicly to a series of embarrassing platitudes designed to placate the crowd rather than risk its fury. Perhaps this timidity is inherent. I hope it is not, though I suspect otherwise. Hollywood, of all places, appears to have caught on to the idea that Anglicanism is simply too nice. As we see time and again in film, a battling priest, often combating an otherworldly malevolence, is almost invariably a Catholic clergyman, resilient and devout – not some effete, vegetarian-option, Anglican outreach officer absolutely determined not to offend the Devil.

Daniel Frampton

  • gs_schweik

    The one thing I definitely take away from this excellent piece is the CofE’s awkwardness with the supernatural.
    Which sort of pulls the carpet from under God, how can you have a church which doesn’t believe in itself?

    • a misplaced modifier

      And what assistance could such a church offer to its own uncertain members? It seems to me that the Anglican church has long outlived its purpose. It is hardly a surprise that the evangelical churches are doing so well while the CoE continues to decline.

      • If the evangelical churches were subject to the same internal sabotage I doubt they would fair any better.

        The Left chose the Church of England purely because of it status as an institution that is part of our constitutional monarchy and parliamentary debate. It’s another way of bringing down the monarchy and install a republic head of state.

        • Colonel Mustard

          And how the House of Lords has been sabotaged!

  • Colonel Mustard

    It lost it when it decided to do politics as the religious wing of the Labour party. Two “celebrity” vicars almost permanently on TV as left-wing politicians and “activists” rather than men of God have not helped their image.

    The odious Campbell once said “We don’t do God”. They didn’t have to as Welby was in the wings preparing the Church of England to “do Labour”. They even have their own organisation:-

    http://www.christiansontheleft.org.uk/

    Is it religious or political or just a doubleplusgood way of virtue signalling in this Ingsoc Age of Uber-Sanctimony?

    • Colkitto03

      Very true about celebrity vicars. The BBC’s fascination with Ricard Coles is unending. Here is a vicar married to another male vicar and has a very big twitter following. Some nice boxes ticked.

      Tellingly in 2014 the Telegraph ran an article titled ‘Meet Richard Coles, the atheist’s favourite vicar’

      Of course like most articles is not not mention that he faked having HIV for several years, “because there was this sort of weird glamour to it”

      • John Clegg

        Am I right in thinking that he was convicted of an offence at one stage, or have I got that wrong? Can somebody confirm or correct me please. His long wikipedia page doesn’t mention of it.

    • bosco49

      The CofE has become a social club with no link to the Gospel:

      Christ’s great commission to His Church:

      “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:19-20

      Peter’s First Words on Pentecost:

      “And
      with very many other words did he testify and exhort them, saying: ‘Save
      yourselves from this perverse generation’.” Acts 2:40

  • Stéphanie Kay

    Great piece! Funny, bracing and true.

  • Coniston

    A good article, but not true of all Anglican churches. There are still Evangelical and Anglo-Catholic churches which are orthodox. But they are coming under increasing pressure from the hierarchy to be less ‘Christian’.

  • JabbaPapa

    Earlier this year a survey found that a quarter of Christians in Britain did not believe in the Resurrection. Presumably, most of these Christians were Anglican. Nearly a third of them thought that Heaven was an illusion.

    These are “Christians” in name only — without a genuine supernatural Faith you have no religion as such ; whereas lacking Belief in the Resurrection, you’re just no manner at all of a Christian, as Christianity is utterly meaningless without the Divinity of the Christ.

    • Agreed, and well said. If one doesn’t believe every word of the creeds we share, one is not a Christian, no matter what one tells the pollsters.

    • Daniel

      Quite the whole point of Christianity is found in Christ’s resurrection.

      Brethren, ‘If Christ hath not been raised, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty; and we also are found false witnesses of God, since we bore witness against God that He raised the Christ, Whom He did not raise if the dead be not raised: for if the dead be not raised then neither hath Christ been raised. If Christ hath not been raised your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also who reposed in Christ perished. If only in this life we have hoped in Christ we are of all men the most pitiable. But now Christ hath been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep did He become; for since as by a man came death, also by Man came the resurrection of the dead, for even as in Adam all die, so also in the Christ shall all be made alive.’ – Holy Apostle Paul first epistle to Corinthians.

  • Sean Toddington

    Given the archbishop’s dwindling congregations, why are the archbishop’s views on marriage of the slightest importance? Equally true of the ‘rebel priest’. These people have a pulpit but seem to have failed to notice that they have no audience.

    • Tricia

      There is an “audience” as you put it, but the hierarchy of the church is letting down many very good clergy who do take seriously; “The cure of souls in their Parish” which induction as a Parish Priest specifies. They are comforting the sick and dying, marrying men and women, preaching the gospel and baptising. In my local church there has been a wedding every weekend for 2 months and several baptisms and funerals. There are a committed core of people who clean the building, take care of the accounts, give to those in need and assist at services. There is pastoral care for the elderly and school visits. This is in a village of around 3500 people. We are not finished yet!

      • “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”

        St. Francis of Assisi.

      • Sean Toddington

        That is all commendable, but my point is that less that 1% of the population practice as Anglicans. Why should the views of such a tiny group carry any weight or be accorded any prominence?

  • A recent ComRes survey found that 36 per cent of self-proclaimed Church of England Christians never attend church.

    I presume that I’m one of this 36%, although I attend church to help ring the bells, I rarely attend the service. I would argue that I have not left the Church, but the Church has left me. The modern Service seems to be designed to be all things to all people and the sermon is hardly inspiring due to a desire not to offend anyone.

    The Intercessions now seem to cover every world event and non-event. In my younger days they were generally for the Queen and her government along with a mention of any parish members who were ill or who had died in the preceding week. Now they cover everything and go on and on, maybe longer than the sermon! We are asked to pray for the Americans under Trump in much the same tone as we were once asked to pray for those suffering under Stalin, and for the refugees ‘forced from their homes’; the list seems endless!
    Add to this the modern hymns, sung to dreary tunes, which are unknown to a majority of the congregation, one does not leave church feeling uplifted, but the exact opposite.
    And if I were foolish enough to attend for the monthly “family service” (shouldn’t they all be for the family?) one would be faced with children playing in the aisles and a PowerPoint presentation on a screen which totally hides the altar.

    So the present Church is not the one that I was brought up in, and whilst I will continue to attend to ring the bells as long as I’m sufficiently fit and can get up the stairs, my attendance at the service will be limited.

    • Coniston

      I’m not sure I agree with you about the Family Service. We have a weekly one (with a Eucharist most weeks), followed a little later by the longer main Eucharist Service. Many families with small children, and babies, attend the earlier service, which is certainly rather noisy; they would almost certainly not attend the later service. This earlier service is growing in size, and is completely orthodox in its teaching, but geared to families with young children.

      • Colonel Mustard

        Young children have always existed but their noisy and disruptive behaviour which over indulgent and selfish parents now bring to public spaces hasn’t.

        In the distant past of living memory young children usually behaved in hushed awe in church. Vicars and their congregations were all aware of and respectful of the quiet sanctity of the place (it was not then a drop-in centre) and parents were mortified if their children should misbehave. A child’s tantrum in a church had the same effect on parents as if they were to be accused of “racism” these days.

        “Progressives” will say that change is a good thing, that we can all “chill” and be more ourselves. Like museums and the National Trust the Church is focussed on getting them in the door and the “experience”, never mind what they take in or leave with.

        • I recently attended my local ecumenical church that has a period where the children are led off by one of the lay persons for lessons separate from the main service for thirty minutes. This is something I welcome as 99% of the children cannot sit still on the chairs* let alone pay attention to the sermons along with toddlers crying or talking throughout the time they are present.

          *Not hard wooden pews, but those horrid cushioned community centre chairs.

        • Coniston

          In today’s society I think it is unreasonable to expect children aged 1 month – 5 years to be quiet in church. If possible there should be separate services for parents and their very young children (unless they can be taken out and looked after in a separate place – a sort of Sunday School). As it is, they and their parents have a proper, shorter service, based on the usual full-length service. All the teaching is thoroughly orthodox. Otherwise most of these parents would not come to church with their children at all. The numbers coming are healthy and slowly increasing.

          • Colonel Mustard

            That is saying that in today’s society it is unreasonable to expect parents to control their children. True but not excusable. In distant but living memory babies used to cry in church of course, but most mothers would immediately take them outside so as not to disturb the service.

      • There is a short traditional service from the old prayer book at 8am, but no music or hymns. Often cut short because the “pop-group” has to get ready for the family service!
        Only one local church caters for children; fortunately the architecture allows one of the side arches completely double glazed so that families with children can be seen and not heard.

        • I bridle at the use of the BCP service being at 8am. This is too early for most pensioners who are the main attendees plus the non existence of bus services on a Sunday.

          • Having had to get up at 5:30 am for years whilst I was working, I vowed that I was going to stay in bed until much later once I retired.

        • Coniston

          Thank heavens we have no ‘pop group’ for our Family Service, which in fact caters for much younger children. The real problem, probably very common, is keeping the teenagers. I do not think that providing them with the same teen-age culture found outside the church is a viable solution: it soon becomes less and less Christian.

          • A nearby church went all out to attract youngsters. The trouble was that most of the older, regular, churchgoers who provided the church with the bulk of its money went elsewhere leaving the church stony broke. The diocese then merged it with the adjoining parish to cut clergy costs! A great step forward all round!

    • JabbaPapa

      I presume that I’m one of this 36%

      Doesn’t sound like it — in these sorts of surveys “never” means, quite literally, “never” — not “rarely”, not “once a year”, not “weddings, christenings, and funerals”.

      • If the survey counts me as one of those who attend, the Church must be in a very poor state!

  • paul parmenter

    I am generally reluctant to comment on religious matters, partly because of the extreme sensitivity of many of those with deep convictions, and also the fact that my own religious journey has been a very complicated and difficult one that I have no intention of trying to explain to anyone. But I have always believed that without consistency, you do not have any religion worthy of the name. This has been shown by all the world’s major religions: you set up your beliefs, and hold securely to them against all challenges and threats.

    But the Anglican church is the one that has failed to show consistency. It has simply lost its foundation and drifted. How can it expect to hold onto its congregation when it cannot hold onto its own beliefs? If I want to find my way to the top of a mountain through a dense fog, I would want a guide who has already made that journey, has tested each step of the way and is confident that he knows how secure it is. What I do not want is someone who claims to be a guide but keeps taking parties off into the gloom only to re-appear hours later from a different direction, saying “Sorry, I thought I had it but I must have been wrong. Let’s try a different route and see if that is any better.”

    Still less do I want a guide who says “I really don’t know. What do you think?”

  • Dant e

    A born again of the Spirit of God elect follower, servant and friend of and in relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ Who is the Head of the one true church of God, the faithful descendants in Spirit of Abraham. This is the true church, those who truly love God first and with all their heart, soul, mind and strength, everything else that is good, right and true follows. If this isn`t you then i implore you to repent and seek the Master, your denominational affiliations will not help you at all, appearing as the pharisees of the Lord Jesus time.

  • therealguyfaux ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    The CofE should stand as the basic argument for disestablishment just simply in virtue of its very existence, but apparently it cares not one bit how much evidence it continues to produce to reinforce that argument.

    It has been argued that the US is a more-religious nation precisely because the Episcopal Church was disestablished wherever it had been the official religion of that particular colony, as others which had been set up as “tolerant” indicated that the Episcopal Church could still exist as “one among many” quite well, thank you. When you are CofE pretty much “by default” in failure of declaration of any other belief, because of its status as the official state church and your allegiance to the Queen (assuming you actually have any) is also to her position as defender of the faith, it is “de fault,” so to speak, of the church if it provides no other compelling reason for you to belong.

    • I’m one who makes that argument. If you look at the two countries, of basically similar outlook and history, well to me at least it is blindingly obvious. The other half of the story, the Episcopalians, and my Evangelical Lutheran Church descended from the equally obtuse state churches of Scandinavia are much the same. What is still properly religious here is the Missouri Synod Lutherans, the Gafcon Anglicans (with their ties to Africa) the Orthodox, and parts of the Catholic Church, most Baptists, and a good many fundamentalists/Evangelicals.

      Seems to me to be hard to be Christian without Christ, the episcopacy is not really required, although discipline (or self-discipline) is. And that is defined by knowing what we have always known, everywhere, the short form is orthodoxy. And that is what is lacking when a church wants to be part of a society, especially one that is devolving. Lancelot Andrewes and Oliver Cromwell would be equally appalled at where the church has gone.

  • David

    I agree with the main thrust of this argument. The C of E, particularly the vast bulk of itsliberal bishops are far too “nice”.
    However if you seek a Biblically faithful, gospel preaching form of evangelical Anglicanism then it is still there. In each major town conservative, orthodox Bible preaching vicars and their slowly growing teams still offer gospel truth and pastoral care. You just have to look for them !

  • Flaketime

    Since the conclave of Cardinals elected an anti Pope, he has been issued with the first declaration of Heresy since the 14th Century, with the issue of a ‘Filial Correction’.
    It wasn’t just a single heresy, but seven!

    This is the Pope who thought that courting Islam was harmless, and seems to be yet another Left wing fantasist rather than a Christian.

    • JabbaPapa

      the … Pope … has been issued with the first declaration of Heresy since the 14th Century

      erm, no, in fact no he hasn’t.

      1) those scholars have no Authority whatsoever to condemn anyone for heresy, and they know it

      2) those scholars have issued no condemnation of that sort against the Roman Pontiff

      3) What they have in fact condemned is the heretical promotion by some Bishops and others of some false doctrines, which they are trying to “justify” on the basis of Amoris Laetitia as if this document were capable (but it isn’t) of overturning the Revelation or the Catholic Dogma

      4) and they are asking the Pope to condemn these heresies, but he continues to refrain from doing so, thereby creating confusion — this is a criticism of his inaction in the face of manifest heresies, not a condemnation as such of the Pope for the heresies themselves