The neoliberal revolution within the Church

A thought provoking reflection on centralisation failures in the Church of England. In many ways Australian Anglican dioceses are going down a similar road and can learn from these mistakes.

In particular, the long term catastrophic failure of centralising Church of England finances in the 1970s:

In the seventies the wealth of parishes was taken into diocesan control, done for the perfectly noble reason of wanting to level out what the clergy were paid and stop richer parishes paying their clergy more and poorer ones not much at all.

But the effect of centralising the church’s finances in the Diocese Board of Finance was, for the first time in history, to shift power away from the parish and towards the Diocese. And as a consequence, the Diocese grew with ever greater numbers of staff, and the development of greater bureaucratic control.

The neoliberal revolution within the Church

He Did Not Save Us From A Safe Distance…

“God did not save us from a safe distance. He did not deal with our guilt and corruption and alienation from him and enslavement to sin in a superficial way. He bore all of it. He exhausted the penalty that we deserve. he face it up close, where its twisted character and insidious power is most keenly felt by us. In the weakness and humiliation of the cross, the sovereign God triumphed over it all and has left no aspect of it intact. God is completely and utterly Saviour. Those who are his have absolutely nothing to fear. Jesus has the keys of death and Hades.”

Mark Thompson, “The Descent of Christ Into Hell” in Churchman (2019:133/1), 20.

Peter Adam on How Sin Blinds and Binds

From his Bible Speaks Today commentary on Malachi, Peter Adam writes:

‘One of the frightening consequences of any sin is that it blinds us not only to the reality of specific sins we have committed but also to all sin. What great sins the people must have committed to make this response, How have you loved us? They are really saying, ‘Prove it’: challenging God to show them his love, and so negating all that God has done and said to them over past generations, and in their own experience…

What a frightening example of how sin blinds and binds, as we will know in our own lives and in the lives of our churches. For every time we sin, that sin makes us blind to its presence, less able to see it, and so more likely to repeat it. And sin binds, because every time we sin we weaken our power to resist sinning, and take the first steps in forming the habit of repeating that sin,’

Peter Adam, The Message of Malachi (BST), IVP, p37.

The Son of Man came to give His life a ransom for many

From JC Ryle, Expository Thoughts on the Gospels, commenting on Mark 10:

Let us mark, lastly, in this passage, the language which our Lord uses in speaking of His own death. He says, “The Son of Many came to give His life a ransom for many.”

This is one of those expressions which ought to be carefully treasured up in the minds of all true Christians. It is one of the texts which prove incontrovertibly the atoning character of Christ’s death. That death was no common death, like the death of a martyr, or of other holy men. It was the public payment by an Almighty Representative of the debt of sinful man to a holy God. It was the ransom which a Divine Surety undertook to provide, in order to procure liberty for sinners, tied and bound by the chain of their sins. By that death Jesus made a full and complete satisfaction for man’s countless transgressions. he bore our sins in His own body on the tree. The Lord on Him the iniquity of us all. When He died, He died for us. When He suffered, He suffered in our stead. When He hung on the cross, He hung there as our Substitute. When His blood flowed, it was the price of our souls.

JC Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Mark, pp219-220.

My Theology of Children in a Nutshell

Often people want to know a quick answer for why I believe in baptising infants and what my theology of parenting and children’s ministry is.

Here is my short answer I wrote for a friend some years ago:

In terms of biblical theology, the Old Covenant clearly had a discipling model for children – children of believers were born into and included at every level of spiritual activity (not an evangelistic model). If you read the whole New Testament in light of this model, there is no repudiation, only an assumption that it continues which is made explicit at several key points (Acts 2, Eph 6, 1 Cor 7).
This theology was accepted across the board by all Reformation traditions (excluding the Anabaptists who were fairly fringe).  It is only in the rise of Enlightenment individualism and the experientialism of the Great Awakening do you start to see the Baptistic exclusion of children drift into Protestant Evangelical culture – to where it has become the default cultural assumption amongst Western Christians today.

A great journalling model: Morning Pages

Private journalling is more important to me than blogging and social media combined. Here is a great model:

Morning Pages are three pages of longhand, stream of consciousness writing, done first thing in the morning. *There is no wrong way to do Morning Pages*– they are not high art. They are not even “writing.” They are about anything and everything that crosses your mind– and they are for your eyes only. Morning Pages provoke, clarify, comfort, cajole, prioritize and synchronize the day at hand. Do not over-think Morning Pages: just put three pages of anything on the page…and then do three more pages tomorrow.

Morning Pages

See also: This column will change your life: Morning Pages

The New Yorker: Can Reading Make You Happier?

Terrific article. Bibliotherapy is part of my toolkit for myself and others I care for.

Reading has been shown to put our brains into a pleasurable trance-like state, similar to meditation, and it brings the same health benefits of deep relaxation and inner calm. Regular readers sleep better, have lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, and lower rates of depression than non-readers. “Fiction and poetry are doses, medicines,” the author Jeanette Winterson has written. “What they heal is the rupture reality makes on the imagination.”

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners

Great short piece by Peter Jensen on the heart of the gospel rediscovered at the English Reformation:

The Reformers were all too aware of the way in which we humans smuggle self-justification into our thinking and practice. Having demolished such delusions, the Prayer Book makes clear not only that our sole hope is in Jesus, but that his death on the cross is the sole foundation of that hope. It is Christ and Christ alone who saves and you cannot add to the death of Jesus without subtracting from its power. As Paul also says, ‘the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me’ (Galatians 2:20).

Peter Brain on the Anglican Viability Task Force Report

Last year Bishop Peter Brain wrote an excellent article in the EFAC Essentials Spring 2015 journal.

Brain is commenting on the 2014 Anglican General Synod Report that indicated woeful decline in attendances around most of the nation.

Brain laments the lack of theological reflection in the report. In particular he exposes the proverbial elephant in the room – why is the Sydney diocese (+ Armidale) reflective of such high relative health in comparison to the other dioceses around Australia?

He rightly suggests that it is worth considering that the theology and ecclesiology of these two dominantly evangelical Anglican dioceses needs to be considered:

The emphasis of these two dioceses on the authority of
the Bible gives to their pastors and members a confidence in
God and the content of the gospel. The fact that Jesus is Lord
and that repentance towards God and trust in Jesus form
both the content and call of the gospel means that false
hopes (like you are saved because you are baptised, good,
spiritual, sincere) are consistently exposed and the sure hope
based on God’s grace to us through the uniqueness of Christ,
his substitutionary atonement and bodily resurrection, confidently held out to all. The emphasis on the life of the local
church, where converts and seekers are drawn into its fellowship, provides a context for these gospel realities to be
observed, tested, proved and learnt. The diocese can nurture
and encourage this ministry (and must do so) but the diocese
will never be a viable substitute for the local church.

This is a wonderful call to gospel and biblical authority within the Anglican Church of Australia. Will we repent and return to our evangelical and gospel formularies? Will we return to confidence in the authority of the Word of God?

At the very least, we will try to learn something from our evangelical brothers and sisters faithfully serving in the Diocese of Sydney?

Thom S. Rainer Reflections on Church Leadership

I particularly enjoy the reflections on the life of a pastor by Thom S. Rainer. I don’t share everything in common with his models of local church life, but whenever I read him I feel a sense of the value and worth of the pastor. He honours our struggles and weaknesses.

Some of his posts have particular wisdom to my Melbourne Anglican context. For example, see Seven Ways Churches Should Die with Dignity:

Avoid merging with another struggling church. An unhealthy or dying church merging with a similar church does not equal a healthy church. At best, it prolongs the inevitability of death from taking place.

This observation is latent with wisdom.

His podcast is also particularly encouraging. A recent episode struck a number of chords with me: 10 Common Frustrations of Pastors – Rainer on Leadership #204

New publications on Anglican Clergy wellbeing and supply

Two very interesting research papers are published on the Diocese of Melbourne Bishop Perry Institute website:

A Rewarding Life
A research project undertaken by The Revd Dr David Powys and Lay Canon Colin Reilly, presented to the Synod of the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne in October 2015. The report presents findings from a survey of priests ordained in the Diocese of Melbourne between 1970 and 2013. It covers the sense of call, background and prior experience of priests, their ecclesial identity, the challenges they face, their hopes, fears, expectations and support in ministry, and indicators of their wellbeing. Questions are posed arising from the data, particularly in relation to the future supply of parish leaders in the diocese. The report is accompanied with a summary of data from the survey classified by gender, period of ordination as priest, age group when ordained, and age group now.

A Rewarding Life – project findings

Clergy supply, deployment and attrition in the Diocese of Melbourne
A comprehensive report by researcher and statistician Colin Reilly. This report provides data derived from an analysis of the the 1961, 1971, 1981, 1991, 2001, 2011 and 2014 national clergy lists, together with the diocesan Year Book, and other sources, to compile an historic picture of clergy supply and attrition over time.
Clergy supply, deployment and attrition in the Diocese of Melbourne

Those who claim the natural tolerance of Anglicanism do not know their history…

Excellent historical observations by Peter Adam in response to the 2004 Windsor Report. This is not to endorse persecution, but it exposes the myth that Anglicanism should be defined by inclusivity:

“How extraordinary to read that ‘[t]he depth of conviction […] has introduced a degree of harshness and a lack of charity which is new to Anglicanism’ (See the Forward, p.5). I think that the already existing Celtic Church leaders and members who were forced to accept the customs of the new missionaries from Rome would have found those words hard to believe, as would have the Lollards, Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer on their fires, the other martyrs of the Reformation Era, the victims of Archbishop Laud, the 1000 clergy who refused to assent to a Book of Common Prayer they had not seen in 1662, nonconformists persecuted under the Clarendon Code, Roman Catholics and other nonconformists deprived of University education, the seven students expelled from Oxford University for ‘methodism’, F. D. Maurice sacked for inadequate views on hell, or Bishop King of Lincoln in prison for illegal liturgical practice. Those who claim the natural tolerance of Anglicanism do not know their history,”

Peter Adam, “Communion: Virtue or Vice?” in  “The Faith Once For All Delivered – An Australian Evangelical Response to the Windsor Report”, Edited by Bolt, Thompson, Tong, Published by the Australian Church Record, 2005.

Archbishop Loane: Bishops are Not the Church

Great quote from Archbishop Marcus Loane in the 1981 Presidential Address to the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia:

“William Temple whose fame is in all the Churches is credited with having said: ‘When people say that the church should do something, they usually mean that the Bishops should say something’. The trouble is that the Bishops seldom agree among themselves, and in any case the Bishops are not the Church. The Church is made up of people: it is governed by an elected General Synod; when the Synod is not in session, its Standing Committee acts on its behalf. That is, as democratic a system of church government can easily be devised, but it makes it impossible for the Church to speak with a single authoritative voice. Therefore what the Primate should choose to say, or what the Bishops decide to say may be no more than a personal utterance and may command no more support that those whose views it happens to reflect.”

MacCullough on the Myth of the English Reformation

Great blog post with quotes from MacCullough on how the Reformation foundations of Anglicanism are so often forgotten.

Unfortunately the full article from MacCullough is not available online (though I have a pdf copy). Wallace summarises MacCullough’s conclusions approvingly:

“Diarmaid MacCulloch has pinned down particularly the Oxford Movement as the greatest impetus to this reinterpretation of the English Reformation. He has argued in an essay that when the anglo-catholic offspring of the Oxford Movement came to dominate English academic life, they rewrote the history of the Church of England, providing for themselves the usable past of a via media from which Puritans and Calvinists were excluded. Indeed, for some anglo-catholics the Church of England was defined by a Catholic persistence from which the Protestant Reformation was almost entirely excised,” Wallace, “Via Media? A Paradigm Shift” in Anglican and Episcopal History 72, no. 1 (2002), p20.

Reformation as restoration of corrupted catholicism

Behind the ad fontes approach of the Protestant Reformers was the desire to restore true Biblical and catholic Christianity:

“But this contest in the Church of England is not usefully described as Catholic versus Protestant, unless one means by “catholic” those persistences of an earlier Christian world that most Protestants retained, such as creeds, sacraments, and reverence for the church fathers. After all, Reformed Protestants continued to regard themselves as “catholic,” albeit not Roman or papist. Diarmaid MacCulloch makes this point with reference to Cranmer when he says of the archbishop that to define him “as a Reformed Catholic is to define all the great continental reformers in the same way: for they too sought to build up a Catholic Church anew on the same foundations of Bible, creeds, and the great councils of the early church,” Wallace, “Via Media? A Paradigm Shift” in Anglican and Episcopal History 72, no. 1 (2002), p13.

New recovered tracts from JC Ryle

When I was in England last year I was able to get and read the Church Society new publication entitled: “Distinctive Principles for Anglican Evangelicals” by JC Ryle.

It is a fantastic work, very motivating for evangelicals to work hard and long for ongoing renewal of historical Reformational Anglicanism. It is especially a call for non-clergy to fight the good fight for the gospel. I highly recommend it.











Thomas Wolfe on Ecclesiastes (updated)

Very decent commendation from a non-Christian:

“For of all I have ever seen or learned, this book [Ecclesiastes] seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and the most powerful expression of man’s life upon this earth – and also the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth. I am not given to dogmatic judgments in the matter of literary creation, but if I had to make one I could say that Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound.”

I had previously attributed this Thomas Wolfe quote, to Tom Wolfe because of a (now fixed) Wikipedia article: The Bonfire of the Vanities – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Gerald Bray on the Priority of Preaching Over the Sacraments

Great understanding of Anglican theology expressed here:

… because the Gospel is essentially a message of salvation that must be proclaimed, the sacraments are an extension of the ministry of the Word and not something distinct from it. The administration of the sacraments is the preaching of the Word by other means, bringing home to people the meaning and application of the message. Because of this, the sacrament of baptism should never be administered without proper teaching beforehand, nor should the Lord’s Supper be celebrated without an exposition of the Bible preceding it. Those who think of the sermon as a preliminary to the celebration of the sacrament have put the cart before the horse. Participation in the sacrament should be a response to the hearing of the Word, without which it is meaningless.

From “The Faith We Confess – An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles”, Gerald Bray, Latimer Trust, p140.

Hence why the Book of Common Prayer church services always have ministry of the Word, but only optionally the sacraments.

Gerald Bray on Justification and Baptism

Helpful unpacking of the Anglican articles:

Justification follows our encounter with God. It is the result of our conversion and not its cause, something that many people fail to understand. God calls us to himself first and then he justifies us by pointing us to the shed blood of his Son. It is easy for people to be moved by the sufferings of Jesus, but that is not the same thing as being justified by his atoning sacrifice. It is only as we meet him that we start to understand what he has done for us, and we cannot benefit from that until we are put in the right relationship with him. By its nature, justification has to be an individual experience, even if it is symbolised by the sacraments of the church. Baptism stands in relation to justification rather in the way that a wedding ring stands in relation to a marriage. The two things go together and the one reflects and reinforces the other, but just as wearing a ring cannot by itself produce a relationship, so being baptised in water and incorporated into the church does not automatically produce justification.

From “The Faith We Confess – An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles”, Gerald Bray, Latimer Trust, p86.

Part of his exposition of article 25 on the sacraments:

… the sacraments are spiritual food for those who are spiritual. There is no sense in trying to feed a corpse, because a corpse cannot receive the food offered to it. Similarly, there is nothing to be gained by administering the sacraments to spiritually dead people, because they cannot receive them either. Food sustains and supports life but does not creat it – in spiritual terms, only the Holy Spirit can do that. The Apostle Paul makes this abundantly clear in Ephesians 2:1-10, a passage of Scripture that describes the passage from spiritual death to life in detail. It is when that transition has occurred that the sacraments find their place

From “The Faith We Confess – An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles”, Gerald Bray, Latimer Trust, p37.

The Limits of Imitation

Good wisdom from Gerald Bray:

‘What would Jesus do?’ seems like an innocent question to ask, but it is impossible to answer literally and does not reflect the teaching of the New Testament. As Christians we are not called to do what Jesus did (or what we might think he would do if he were in our shoes) but to do what he tells us to do – to obey his commands, not to copy his actions (unless, of course, that is what he tells us to do!) We must resist the temptation to turn Jesus into the first Christian… A Christian is a sinner saved by grace, which Jesus was not. His life was lived in a different context and had a different purpose from anything that our life coudl ever have. He is not a man who discovered a new relationship with God that he is now sharing with us, but our Saviour and Lord, and we must respect that essential difference. What he was capable of is not possible for us because we are still sinners, and must continue to depend on him for the grace we need to live the life that he wants us to live

From “The Faith We Confess – An Exposition of the Thirty-Nine Articles”, Gerald Bray, Latimer Trust, p86.

Philip Jenkins – The Next Christendom, The Coming of Global Christianity

This is a great book. It is scholarly and objective in tone, but it left me feeling excited and optimistic for the future of Christianity. The Lord Jesus is on the throne! Future global Christianity will be one of the South – of the continents of Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The global outlook Jenkins describes is very different to the Western experience of secularism, and also the Western media reporting of global events.

He has statistics that Christianity in Africa “is growing at 8.4 million new Christians a year of which 1.5 million are net new converts” (p.56). He notes, “Sometime in the 1960s, another historic landmark occurred, when Christians first outnumbered Muslims in Africa.”

In Korea the number of Christians “was only 300,000 or so in 1920, but this has now risen to 10 million or 12 million, about a quarter of the national population.” (p.71).

Christianity is the overlooked and misunderstood religion of the modern world: “… a secularized North could well be forced to deal with religious conflicts that it genuinely does not understand. One augur of this cultural divide is the dismal record of the United States and its allies in dealing with the new Islamic fundamentalism of the late twentieth century. We recall the policy disasters that resulted in Iran, Lebanon, and elsewhere from a basic failure to take seriously the concept of religious motivation. By common consent, Western policy makers have never excellent at understanding Islam, but perhaps the great political unknown of the new century, the most powerful international wild card, will be that mysterious non-Western ideology called Christianity,” p161.

Different theological outlooks compete for a stake in future global Christianity: “Time and again, when European and American Christians look South, they see what they want to see. A generation ago, liberals saw their own views reflected by the rising masses of the Third World, marching toward socialism and liberation. Today, conservatives have the rosier view,” p209.

1 Corinthians 14:25: For Jesus must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.