Church of England

“Is Church History?” – The Church of England Might Be

on September 10, 2019

Church attendance and engagement declined precipitously across the past half-century, and there are few places where this is more apparent than in the Church of England. A study done last year reports that only 2% of young adults in the United Kingdom identify with the official state church. This important dilemma facing the church was brought up at this year’s Greenbelt festival in a panel discussion titled: “Is Church History?”

Greenbelt is a prominent liberal Christian event that began as a music festival in 1974 and has since morphed into an all-inclusive festival of faith, art, and music. Most of the talks at Greenbelt focus on the role of the church in modern society and how it should act.

The panel “Is Church History?” featured Martin Wroe, co-author of Lifelines, Notes on Life & Love, and Faith and Doubt; the Rev. Liz Adekunle, Archdeacon of Hackney; the Rt. Rev. Stephen Cottrell, Bishop of Chelmsford; and the Rev. Kate Bottley, an English journalist and priest nicknamed “Bishop of the Telly” for her frequent appearances on British radio and television. The talk itself focused on the numbers and community.

When talking about the numbers, panelists agreed that the outlook for the Church is bleak. While news reports from 2018 showed that 2% of British young adults identified with the Church of England, the panelists seemed to be referencing a different study which showed that only 1% of young adults identified with the Church of England.

Cottrell cast doubt on the numbers broadly speaking, “If all you do is count numbers and that becomes the only criteria by which you judge the impact and fruitfulness of the church, then we have to concede that we have many problems and challenges… my prayer for the church is, ‘Teach me to measure my impact in something other than numbers.’” While this is certainly a nice and in some ways true sentiment, it does little to help when the numbers are extremely low.

Panelists asked why the numbers were so bad, with many agreeing that a pressing issue was a lack of engagement.

“No one gets out of bed in the morning for the Church of England,” Cottrell insisted. While somewhat hyperbolic, the bishop spoke to a real lack of engagement with congregations and the community on the part of the church. This lack of engagement with the community was a major focus of the talk.

Throughout the panel discussion the panelists spoke highly of outreach to the community by members of the Church of England. Adekunle talked about a bishop who opened his house for dinner to anyone who passed by. A member of the audience shared her story about a church-run homeless shelter and how that effort has positively impacted the community. However, these community-focused initiatives were too often for their own sake and not included in a larger evangelistic initiative.

There was also apologetic talk about inclusiveness and whether the Church of England was as inclusive as it should be. Bottley asked a rhetorical question, “Why would I want to go to a place that is institutionally homophobic and non-inclusive?” Some audience members shared stories of either themselves or their friends and family being excluded from church functions on account of their sexuality or gender identity.

Has the Church of England gone too far in its attempts to demonstrate Christian love through inclusivity? “Hate the sin, but love the sinner” is a popular refrain regarding acceptance of sinners within the Church. One cannot be condemned for assuming that the Church of England has thrown out the entire doctrine of sanctification in its search for relevance and inclusiveness. An oft-repeated point was that God made you and therefore loves you “just the way you are.” But this is incorrect. God made you to be conformed to the image of his son, Jesus Christ, and though he loves you unconditionally, he is not content to see you wallow in your sins forever.

Decline in Church of England membership should be no surprise; church membership has been dropping across the West for decades. However, the Church of England could learn some important lessons from other Protestant denominations in the United States. All denominations which exhibit sustained growth are traditionalist, while all liberal Protestant denominations are declining.

Community-based evangelism is a perfectly good way to grow a church, but a focus on community engagement for its own sake and inclusiveness does not increase attendance or engagement, as proven by liberal denominations in the United States. The Church of England has been in decline for years, and the recommendations made at the Greenbelt panel are not going to reverse this trend.

  1. Comment by David on September 10, 2019 at 7:23 pm

    It is not just the Church of England that is in trouble. The Methodists registered a larger decline and the Roman Catholic Church there has lost far more. Much information is provided on this website that is too extensive to quote at length.

  2. Comment by Phil on September 10, 2019 at 9:28 pm

    It would seem that panel was nothing but an echo chamber. The only goal was to reaffirm their bias against orthodoxy.
    Had they bothered with facts, they would have acknowledged their failure is partly due to their heretical beliefs. Why would any person who becomes a Christian or raised Christian bother with a church that not only barely mentions God but also barely believes in God?

  3. Comment by Jeffrey on September 15, 2019 at 3:48 pm

    Young people, and most of their parents, have lost their embrace of traditional Christian theology, particularly as it continues to uphold Anselm’s subtitutionary atonement theory as a dogmatic position. It does not square, and never did, with a loving Father who loves his own Son by sacrificing him as a debt payment.

  4. Comment by Loren J Golden on October 6, 2019 at 5:10 pm

    “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.” (Lev. 17.11)  “Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Heb. 9.22)  However, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Heb. 10.4)
    “He was despised and rejected by men;
        a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
    and as one from whom men hide their faces
        he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
    Surely he has borne our griefs
        and carried our sorrows;
    yet we esteemed him stricken,
        smitten by God, and afflicted.
    But he was wounded for our transgressions;
        he was crushed for our iniquities;
    upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
        and with his stripes we are healed.
    All we like sheep have gone astray;
        we have turned every one to his own way;
    and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. …
    Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him;
        he has put him to grief;
    when his soul makes an offering for sin,
        he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
    the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.
    Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied;
    by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant,
        make many to be accounted righteous,
        and he shall bear their iniquities.
    Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
        and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
    because he poured out his soul to death
        and was numbered with the transgressors;
    yet he bore the sin of many,
        and makes intercession for the transgressors.” (Is. 53.3-6,10-12)
    If the loving Father in Heaven would not accept the sacrifice of His own Son to make atonement for our sins, as you claim, then whose son’s sacrifice would He accept in our place?  Whose son will be wounded for our transgressions?  Whose son will bear the chastisement to bring us peace?  On whose son will the Lord lay the iniquity of us all?  Whose son is it the will of the Lord to crush?  Whose son will bear the iniquity that will make many to be accounted righteous?  Whose son will pour out his soul to death, be numbered among the transgressors, and bear the sin of many, that he might make intercession for the transgressors?
    Whose son would be “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn. 1.29)?
    “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
    “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.  Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” (Jn. 3.14-18)
    “Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than (bulls and goats).  For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.” (Heb. 9.23-24)
    The doctrine of the penal substitutionary atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ was not invented out of whole cloth by Anselm, who first formulated it, nor by Calvin, who improved on Anselm’s doctrine.  It is clearly taught in Scripture.  And what is more, Christ willingly undertook His Father’s mission to atone for our sins, for Christ, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil. 2.6-11)

  5. Comment by barbara seddon on September 29, 2019 at 1:56 pm

    I believe the churches in decline because they conform to the
    world. We were created to be conformed to His Son,and this
    means NOT being conformed to the world and its acceptance
    of sin.The love of God is pure,and enables us to live a life
    seeking to please God and help our brothers and sisters.

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