Following my last post, and especially the initial comment by Phil Ritchie, I thought I would write a little more, especially as Phil asked about a Methodist perspective. What follows is entirely my own views.
I nearly became an Anglican. I had grown up in Methodism, and sensed God calling me to something – I didn’t know what – and to explore that I ended up studying Theology as an independent student at Trinity College, Bristol, an evangelical Anglican theological college.
While I was there, my calling crystallised. It was the ordained ministry. However, did I stay in my native Methodism or follow the highly attractive advertisement I was seeing for Anglicanism at Trinity?
Many factors came into play in making my decision, some pro- and some anti- both traditions. For the purposes of this discussion, there were two that I found decisive in feeling I could not go over to the Church of England. One was knowing that if I changed, I would have to be confirmed by a bishop in the so-called ‘historic succession’ as if I had never been a Christian before. That seemed – and still seems – to be a denial of the Holy Spirit’s work in my life prior to any such time. That was the most fundamental objection I had.
The second reason was that I couldn’t come to terms with the idea of an Established Church. Tying the church to the structures of government was to risk seduction by privilege, wealth and power. I didn’t regard it as being as insurmountable, but I cringed every time I saw an ordinand kneel (or even prostrate themselves) before a bishop and take the Oath of Allegiance.
The reason I don’t see the Oath of Allegiance as an insurmountable objection (although I’m uncomfortable with it) is because Article 37 of the C of E’s Thirty-Nine Articles, ‘Of the Civil Magistrates’, can be read simply to affirm that Christians respect those in civil authority. It just happens to be with the monarch in this country:
The Queen’s Majesty hath the chief power in this Realm of England, and other her Dominions, unto whom the chief Government of all Estates of this Realm, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Civil, in all causes doth appertain, and is not, nor ought to be, subject to any foreign Jurisdiction.
Where we attribute to the Queen’s Majesty the chief government, by which Titles we understand the minds of some slanderous folks to be offended; we give not to our Princes the ministering either of God’s Word, or of the Sacraments, the which thing the Injunctions also lately set forth by Elizabeth our Queen doth most plainly testify; but only that prerogative, which we see to have been given always to all godly Princes in holy Scriptures by God himself; that is, that they should rule all estates and degrees committed to their charge by God, whether they be Ecclesiastical or Temporal, and restrain with the civil sword the stubborn and evildoers.
That it should be used by bloggers such as Cranmer to accuse Pete Broadbent of not believing the Church of England’s doctrine by virtue of being a republican seems to push the language too far. It depends what import you put on the phrase ‘godly Princes’. Does that and must that merely invoke royal rulers? Romans 13 is more general about authority, even if it is written under the Roman Empire.
Those who fervently defend the connection of the Church of England to the monarchy should remember how equivocal (to put it mildly) Scripture is about royalty, something that Article 37 potentially overlooks. When Israel demands a king from Samuel, the Lord says it is a sign they have rejected him. They want a fashion accessory, and kings come with a record of oppression, was the reply. And in the New Testament, where there is no option but to live under Caesar, while his rule is respected, his claim to lordship is emphatically denied.
Royalists may counter that a republic brings all sorts of ugly notions, and until a few years ago they raised the spectre of Cherie Blair as First Lady. Yes, all forms of power and authority come with risk. The quasi-messianism of some who campaigned for Barack Obama should make us queasy, too.
But insofar as I understand these things, a biblical approach to authority includes the following:
1. Respect those who are called to rule;
2. Do not exalt them beyond their status as human sinners;
3. Be prepared to call them to account.
4. Pray for them.
Can a constitutional monarchy fit this description? Can Christians put their names to it. Can a republic? The calling to account seems to be the issue for me. How is an institution called to account when the eldest son automatically succeeds to the throne? And for a republic or democracy, does calling to account become corrupted to a desire merely for what the people fancy?
Maybe I am neither a royalist nor a republican.
How is house moving for you? It’s stressful for most, if not all people. In the case of a minister, you are not just moving home but work base, too, if (like me and probably most British ministers) you work from home. In our forthcoming move, we are bringing together the following factors:
There are minimum standards for a Methodist minister’s house, but they vary hugely (that’s inevitable). When we moved here, we downsized from an Edwardian house with six bedrooms, two reception rooms and a huge kitchen that had once belonged to a Navy Admiral to a small three-bedroom house with a lounge-diner. We became Mr and Mrs eBay as we prepared to move. Now, we are moving back up the scale to a four-bedroom house with separate lounge and dining room, plus a conservatory. Whereas here it has been difficult to offer hospitality, in the new manse it will be eminently possible, and we need to kit ourselves out to that effect.
To do that, we need to rid ourselves of certain items, such as the small sofas we bought to squeeze into this house, a redundant wall unit, the current dining table and chairs and several other smaller things. We need to replace them with a new three-piece suite, conservatory furniture, a sideboard, and miscellaneous other items. How can we afford this? We have been given some generous financial gifts by the churches here, and we are sourcing good second-hand pieces on eBay. In some cases, we are using an excellent website called Shiply to arrange economical transporting of them. So this morning, we took delivery of the conservatory furniture we wanted, which came 150 miles, and which we could not reasonably have collected.
Next, we tried the local branch of Freecycle. If you don’t know Freecycle, it’s a great way to offer items you no longer need, or request things you do need. It’s all done by an email to a list that circulates around people in your geographical area. With our local branch, however, all emails have to go through moderators and can take up to two days to appear. When you do get rid of something, it also takes that length of time for the email you circulate telling people the item has gone to go round. In the meantime, you have to tell maybe ten other people that what they want is no longer available. However, most of the people who have collected from us have been grateful. Only the odd one or two have expected us to dance to their tunes.
In fact, Freecycle was so slow when we first started using it that in our frustration I rang the local council and booked a delivery slot for them to take away some of our stuff. I didn’t want to do that for two reasons: one, it would go to landfill, and two, I had to pay! Thankfully, as of tonight everything I had asked the council to come and take next week has finally gone on Freecycle. Tomorrow I get to ring the council again and see whether I can get a refund.
I can’t help thinking all this could be a lot simpler. Maybe you could strip the moderation out of Freecycle and just ban those who break the rules. All I do know is that I’m glad we have a three-week break between me taking my final service last Sunday and our actual moving date! Right now, I wouldn’t have time for ministry!
Radio 1’s loud-mouth breakfast DJ Chris Moyles is not the sort of person you would expect to be extolling the virtues of the church. But, this YouTube clip is doing the rounds of Christian blogs, and understandably so:
I nerver thought I’d type these words: you can only applaud Moyles for his honesty.
But it’s true. He’s frank about how his Catholic upbringing led him to expect that church would be boring. He’s honest about how blown away he was by the service from Kingsgate Community Church in Peterborough.
I’ve only seen the YouTube clip, not the rest of the broadcast. I know nothing about the church, apart from a quick surf around their website. One thing that struck me – and didn’t surprise me from the TV clip – was that they clearly have megachurch aspirations. They speak
of building a church that impacts the city, region and beyond
– sounds megachurch to me. And interesting for an outfit that calls itself a community church.
But my point is this. Many of us in the missional church movement are nervous about some expressions of megachurch. (In saying that, I’m not assuming insincerity or anything like that: I know good people in megachurches, including godly leaders.) But for those of us who have certain reservations, we have to listen carefully to why Chris Moyles found the experience so attractive. What came over to me time and time again in his comments was how much the sheer joy right across the congregation impressed him.
We are right to say there is more to biblical worship than celebration – it also includes lament. But I hear what Moyles says about the faces on some Songs of Praise worshippers and I hear a kind of longing. I’m good at the misery stuff due to my temperament and personality. But however serious we are about a rounded, compassionate Christianity that empathises with the suffering, let’s not throw out the baby of joy with the bathwater of hype.