HAVING covered several meetings of the Church of England’s General Synod as a journalist since I left parish ministry in 2019, I suggest there are now two radically different versions of Christianity contending for dominance in the established Church.
One version of the Christian message, held probably by a narrow majority of Synod members, could perhaps be summarised as: ‘Jesus loves me because I am lovely.’
As I listened to the speeches in the debate on the proposed services of blessing for same-sex couples at the Synod meeting last week in Westminster, I was struck by how pleased with themselves C of E revisionists seem to be. In almost every case, they introduced their speeches with their personal stories which then morphed into standard neo-Marxist virtue-signalling with biblical texts twisted to support that agenda.
Readers can judge for themselves whether this analysis is correct. The debates on the same-sex blessings on Tuesday and Wednesday can be accessed here.
Significantly, unlike the C of E theological liberals in the 20th century who doubted the miraculous tenets of the Christian faith such as the Virgin Birth and the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ, I would suggest these 21st century revisionists have very different preoccupations. They do not contend with the supernatural elements of the Christian faith; their quarrel would seem to be with its traditional understanding of human nature and its ethical teaching.
Essentially, the neo-revisionists’ message would appear to be a narcissistic one. ‘Jesus puts his arms around me because I am such a wonderful social justice warrior. He will put his arms around you too if you get up with the programme.’
This is of course not the Gospel message as Catholic Christians have traditionally understood it. That Gospel is encapsulated in the words of the Apostle Paul which are quoted in the Comfortable Words at Holy Communion according to the Book of Common Prayer: ‘This is a true saying, and worthy of all men to be received, That Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1v15).
The Prayer of Humble Access, which the minister says before the Prayer of Consecration at the Lord’s Supper according to the Prayer Book, proclaims this authentic Gospel message with beautiful clarity.
‘We do not presume to come to this thy Table, O merciful Lord, trusting in our own righteousness, but in thy manifold and great mercies. We are not worthy so much as to gather up the crumbs under thy Table. But thou art the same Lord, whose property is always to have mercy: Grant us therefore, gracious Lord, so to eat the flesh of thy dear Son Jesus Christ, and to drink his blood, that our sinful bodies may be made clean by his body, and our souls washed through his most precious blood, and that we may evermore dwell in him, and he in us.’ The congregation embraces this biblical doctrine of salvation with the concluding Amen.
It was evident from this latest Synod that there are members who believe this version of the Christian message sincerely and courageously and are prepared to make sacrifices for upholding it. But they are now in a minority, albeit quite a significant one.
The C of E is deeply divided between the two versions and is becoming more so. At February’s Synod, when it voted to push ahead with the same-sex blessings, only four bishops opposed the move. But in the vote on Wednesday to approve the continuing implementation of the new services, ten bishops were against. Ninety-three clergy opposed the services last week compared with 85 in February and 100 lay members opposed them compared with 92 in February.
The Collect for today, the 24th Sunday after Trinity, powerfully summarises the traditional message of Christianity which courageous C of E conservatives on the General Synod, such as Christian Concern’s Benjamin John and Rebecca Hunt, London vicar Adrian Clarke and barrister Daniel Matovu, are trying to uphold:
‘O Lord, we beseech thee, absolve thy people from their offences; that through thy bountiful goodness we may all be delivered from the bands of those sins, which by our frailty we have committed: Grant this, O heavenly Father, for Jesus Christ’s sake, our blessed Lord and Saviour.’