Thinking Anglicans

Opinion – 6 January 2018 – Epiphany

From this week’s Church Times
Margaret Barker explores the legends and traditions of the Magi: Unpacking the gifts to the Christ-child
In a society that now functions around the clock, John Cheek looks at churches that are open to people ‘out of hours’: 24-hour parish people
The Corporation’s renewed commitment to religion is welcome — but we will keep asking hard questions, says Jan McFarlane: The BBC has listened; now for action

Charles Clapham pneuma Murder at the Vicarage

David Goodhew The Living Church A theology for Anglican church growth

Andrew Lightbown Theore0 Talking of mission: something old, something new.

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Rod Gillis
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Rod Gillis

A Happy Epiphany throughout the octave, and throughout the season beyond. The link below will take you to a reading of T.S. Eliot’s, Journey of the Magi as read by Sir Alec Guinness. Blessings.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vlEQYueIQJU

Revd Dr Charles Clapham
Guest

David Goodhew’s article on growth is right (in my view) to emphasise the need for numerical congregational growth, and to argue the need to think this through theologically. But his article also shows why many of us are still sceptical of what often passes for such a theology. To understand growth we need also to understand decline. One of the issues in much of the Old Testament, for example, was to make sense of the fall of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, and the experience of exile. If God promised to be faithful, the prophets (and the Deuteronomic editors)… Read more »

Revd Dr Charles Clapham
Guest

(continued from above…) The value of the work of Charles Taylor (to which Goodhew refers) and others (I would include David Martin here) is that they help provide sociological tools to understand what’s been going on in the west that has led to church decline in virtually all European (and to a lesser extent North American) societies. So (for instance) the 19th century alignment of the Catholic church with the ancien regime in Europe, and its vociferous resistance to liberal democratic movements or socialism, arguably pushed those on the centre and left of politics into anti-clericalism and atheism, thus marginalising… Read more »

Melissa Holloway
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Melissa Holloway

A well-said response re ‘Anglican Church growth’:
https://finokoye.wordpress.com/2018/01/04/but-is-it-decline-theology/

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

Charles Clapham makes excellent points. But ignores the elephant in the room: LGBTQ issues. Let us use “same sex” as a shorthand, recognising that it isn’t precise or inclusive enough. Same sex relationships are mainstream: many, if not most, families and social circles include at least one, and fulminating about how they shouldn’t be allowed or aren’t right is now pretty much the province of the elderly relative everyone avoids at parties. It is hard to imagine any middle-class and/or educated environment in which opposition to SSM is acceptable, and increasingly it isn’t just the Waitrose classes. Essentially, homophobia (and… Read more »

David Runcorn
Guest

I don’t think Charles Clapham’a purpose is to discuss the elephants. He is asking very perceptive questions about the room/building itself – how it came to be and its presumed use and purpose over time. I for one would love to hear more. A lot of the discussion about growth/decline lacks this longer term perspective and gets based on very recent history and quite simplistic assumptions as to what the’ problem’ or ‘answer’ is: the choice is wide but there are very predictable ones … ‘evangelicals’ – mindless, dumbing down, bums in pews, GAFCON etc ‘liberals’ – ignoring scripture, selling… Read more »

Janet Fife
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Janet Fife

I may be reading the wrong article, but I can’t see that Charles Clapham’s piece is about either elephants or rooms, but who gets murdered in what room, how, why and by whom – and why we are so fascinated by the whole story.

And I’m sure Clapham is right – it’s our innate longing for wrongs to be righted and justice to be done. That’s why it’s so important that we keep Advent as a time of looking forward to Christ’s return, when ‘in his name all oppression shall cease.’

Michael Mulhern
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Michael Mulhern

A characteristically searching article by Margaret Barker, challenging the status quo in biblical scholarship. I am so grateful to this Methodist lay preacher for driving a coach and horses through many entrenched protestant assumptions about the New Testament, and the way we rationalise our worship in such a myopic way.

Revd Dr Charles Clapham
Guest

It’s several years since I taught in the area of mission, so my reading is not up-to-date. But I think one of the problems is that the critical study of church growth does not yet have a sufficient institutional basis in the UK: we do not have enough researchers, PhD students, and analysts working on (and arguing about) these issues. I do recognise that David Goodhew (and others) have been trying to build this up, which is welcome. (I recently suggested to Graham Tomlin that it be extremely helpful if St Mellitus in London, for example, could develop an institute… Read more »

Revd Dr Charles Clapham
Guest

I suppose I was prompted to make these comments in part because David Goodhew gives a good example of the kind of exaggerated claim often made regarding church growth when he states in his article that: ‘A range of research shows that churches that intend to grow tend to grow.’ I myself agree that being intentional about numerical growth is a good thing, but I don’t think there is rigorous empirical evidence for the claim David Goodhew makes here, and anecdotally I could think of dozens of churches which demonstrate the opposite. (It’s perhaps worth noting that reviews of Goodhew’s… Read more »

Revd Dr Charles Clapham
Guest

Discussion of a full ‘theology’ of church growth would need much time and space (my own notes for a proposed book on contemporary mission lie tucked away long-forgotten in a folder somewhere). But in term of the ‘biblical basis’, I agree that some of Jesus’ parables use metaphors which involve growth (e.g. seeds) to illustrate the kingdom, that Paul understood himself as an evangelist and church planter, and that Book of Acts is careful to record numerical growth. And these are the sorts of passages church growth theorists point to. But you can also read vast swathes of the rest… Read more »

Revd Dr Charles Clapham
Guest

My real concern is that a market economy re-shapes traditional (pre-market) religion in all sorts of ways, and it would be helpful to reflect on this process of inculturation more critically in relation to church growth in the UK. So under a market economy, worship songs, for example, become a consumer product: written, performed at concerts and festivals, marketed and sold within a culture that necessarily therefore (from the point of view of the producer) encourages the newest and latest: in practice, the ‘religious’ music market operates no differently from the market for contemporary pop music. Sermons and teaching become… Read more »

Revd Dr Charles Clapham
Guest

So those who are in struggling churches, whether in Middlesborough or Salford, rural Cornwall or the Welsh valleys, are told: buy the latest book on church growth, attend this course, change your theology, and your church too can be transformed. Whereas the vast majority of empirical evidence suggests, in all likelihood, it won’t be: not because your theology is too liberal, or because you’ve been duped by secular sociologists (which is the rather extraordinary suggestion in one of Goodhew’s books), but because the contemporary context in the UK for mission is extremely hard in many areas, as a result of… Read more »

Interested Observer
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Interested Observer

What Charles points to is the inevitable tension of religion in 2018, when it is relatively unusual for people to have been cradle Christians who transitioned to regular involvement. If people are starting from a position of passive agnosticism with a vaguely theistic overlay (which I think is probably the default position) then what will attract them to churches is feeling better for being involved than not being involved. Few are going to start attending for fear of hellfire: if such people exist, they are already attending, but otherwise it is no longer 1750. Few are going to start attending… Read more »

Father Ron Smith
Guest

Nothing is more attractive to us sinners than the prospect of God’s Love, Mercy and Forgiveness. The ‘God of Wrath’ is no longer feasible for people whose lives are constantly bombarded with the cares and distractions of our world. The Beatles had it right: “What we need is Love” (and the justice that Love begets). When we speak of evangelism (Good News), the Church is sometimes the bearer of Bad News – the ‘Wrath of God’ rather than “the Great Love of God as revealed in the Son” Maybe the Church is still too threatening to draw those most in… Read more »

Tim Chesterton
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Tim Chesterton

Great article about night church – very encouraging.

Perry Butler
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Perry Butler

The Scandinavian Churches have developed late night Nicodemas masses in large cities..does anyone on here know more?

AnotherFrDavid
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AnotherFrDavid

This from Charles Clapham … the implicit message that is not your context that is responsible – it is you … says it all. Since 1984 I’ve lived and served in 4 parishes, each described by CUF as among the most deprived. In my experience the challenges for everyone here simply trying to stay alive have become harder and harder year on year. It’s not made easier by being part of an otherwise well off deanery and diocese where the emphasis is very much on growth and ‘leadership’ training for clergy. Recently I asked for a meeting with my diocesan… Read more »

Revd Dr Charles Clapham
Guest

To Interested Observer – absolutely. And to AnotherFrDavid – Amen.

CRS
Guest
CRS

“then why would you attend church unless it makes you feel better?”

To worship and praise the Living God? To find direction and centering in him? To be fed on his word and sacraments? To be able to confess and lay before God our sins and weaknesses, and be forgiven? To be given opportunies of service and catechism and support?

I suspect a lot of places are far better at making us feel better, at least in the sense that would be generally taken by the general public.

Simon Kershaw
Admin

“why would you attend church”? To contribute to building up the kingdom that Christ proclaimed? To contribute to building up the common ife of the people of God? (Which are essentially the same things in different words.) A key difference from earlier points is that these are not individualistic things but communal ones. The kingdom cannot be lived in isolation but only with our fellow human beings. The church should be the place where we meet others who share those goals and who have placed their trust in the Jesus of Nazareth and the good news that he preached. That… Read more »

CRS
Guest
CRS

“not individualistic things but communal ones” SK. Just so I am not misrepresented, praise of God only makes sense in community, as well as every thing else mentioned. We live in the catholic rectory of the parish church in Courances, France. I have never seen such lay involvement, at all levels: music, care for the dying, catechesis, youth leadership, Sunday leadership, sick-bed care. This is all the furthest thing from “individualistic” which I often witness in protestant contexts. How to be fed on word and sacraments can be interpreted as individualistic is a context I do not know well. Epiphany… Read more »

CRS
Guest
CRS

SK: in case any “communal Christians” would be interested, I hope this might be helpful. I share your concerns deeply.

https://www.wycliffecollege.ca/podcast

Tim Chesterton
Guest

Re: going to church to make you feel better, here’s C.S. Lewis (in answer to a question):

‘Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness? While it lasts, the religion of worshipping oneself is best…As you perhaps know, I haven’t always been a Christian. I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that. If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don’t recommend Christianity’ (‘God in the Dock’ Ch. 4 ‘Answers to Questions on Christianity’).

Tobias Haller
Guest

That is an excellent point, Tim Chesterton. However, I also recall a comment by Lewis (exact quote not at hand) concerning the Hebrew Scriptures to the effect that the literature of no other people paints such an accurate and damning testimony of themselves, concerning the many failings rightly to worship. So one might just as well say that Judaism is not any more “comfortable” than Christianity. The warning is that just as Judaism did not prevent the self-righteous man in the temple proclaiming his virtues (beside the humble man who bewailed his sins, to whom the “righteous” one compared himself),… Read more »