‘The Coming Great Church. . .’
The Times (Monday January 24, 2000) printed an extract from Monica Furlong’s critical biography of George Carey, the Archbishop of Canterbury (C of E. The State It’s In, by Monica Furlong, to be published by Hodder and Stoughton on February 17, £18.99). At 17 years of age Londoner Carey professed conversion in an Anglican church. His modest lifestyle was transformed: ‘My conversion opened a wider world. If I was thirsty for knowledge as a child, Christianity was like a drug. It made me aware of the power of language, and gave me a focus for my education.’
That education has taken Carey far from his early convictions, though he remembers fondly those first Christians he knew. He says this to Monica Furlong when she asks whether the evangelicals will take over the C of E.
The evangelical wing is the fastest-growing tradition, because its theology is ‘mission-orientated’, and the Church of England is now in a missionary situation. I welcome evangelical growth, but not at the expense of other traditions. Evangelicals feel a vocation to share their faith, but they are sometimes too simplistic. Liberals on the other hand, can bring too many uncertainties into the matter of faith, where evangelicals will say, ‘Here is a clear way forward’. The message is more black and white, and so is attractive in a world where there are so many uncertainties.
I’d like to see the Church become a bit more Catholic, a bit more evangelical, more liberal, more charismatic. All these things — but the Church of England more authentically, genuinely itself. And all of us learning together.
The broad Church that we are now is probably a foretaste of what is to come. If we want to think about the coming great Church, it will be one in which we have to accept huge differences within the family, and we are not going to have final answers this side of eternity. Living with differences is the genius of Anglicanism.
But is it the genius of Jesus Christ? In the Sermon on the Mount he said, ‘Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them’ (Matt. 7:15). Again he says, ‘Not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven’ (Matt. 7:21).
Or think of the genius of the apostle Paul confronting the dynamic change in the Galatian church as they were moving into new theology and practices. They had decided to add some things to the grace of God that had brought them the forgiveness of a reconciled God and given them eternal life. They had added the necessity of people being circumcised and the keeping of feasts and food laws from the old covenant.
The apostle did not smile approvingly and say that he would like ‘to see them become “a bit more Old Testamentish” to make their distinct contribution to the authentic genuine first century church.’ What he actually wrote to them was, ‘I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel — which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally damned! As we have already said, so now I say unto again, If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned! Am I now trying to win the approval of men or of God? Or am I trying to please men? If I were still trying to please men, I would not be a servant of Christ’ (Gal. 1:6-10). That is the stark choice, pleasing men and women (especially when they are writing critical biographies) or seeking the approval of God. If the former then one cannot be a servant of Christ. Who are today’s false prophets that Christ warned us about? In a recent book written by another evangelical Anglican on Christian Unity they are spelled out as the ‘fundamentalists.’ If there is no place for warning Christians of a ‘different gospel’ and ‘false prophets’ in the dream of ‘a coming great church’ then it is no place for us, and especially so if we are considered the false prophets.
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