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Archbishop Welby receives standing ovation at Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast

18 Jun 2014

Archbishop Welby receives standing ovation at Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast

Jun 17, 2014

By Andrew Symes:

I attended the Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast this morning (Tuesday 17th) where seven hundred sat down to hear the Speaker praise the role of the Christian faith in society, and to join intercessions led by members of Parliament in the magnificent and historic Westminster Hall.  The Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, the Chaplain to Parliament, appeared to be ‘jumping the gun’ slightly as she introduced proceedings dressed pointedly in a purple clerical shirt! These events are useful for networking of course but for me at least it gave more clues and insights into the vision of our Archbishop as he gave the main address, on the nature of the Church in the 21st century.

Beginning with a reminder of his qualifications to speak about the international dimension of faith – “travelling to all 37 Provinces I know a lot about global airports” – Archbishop Justin went on to say that the worldwide Church should not just be “useful” to politicians and governors. It has it’s own primary agenda, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and the church is formed of those carrying the cross and following him: “In an uncertain world, the global Church is a blessing to the world and a call to Christ.”

Referring to the readings we had heard, from Isaiah 58 and the end of Acts 2, the Archbishop spoke of a shared vision of renewed community, generous and flourishing, and reminded us that while the Church worldwide grows, it is also courageous in suffering. During his recent visit to Pakistan he met the Bishop of Peshawar, who told him that in that city which suffered the atrocity of a deadly attack on a church last Christmas, congregations have tripled in number.

Christians belong to each other because all are part of Gods family, the Archbishop continued. For example, Synod is moving towards the final votes to approve women Bishops. The majority hope that the vote goes through, and if it does we cannot “chuck out those with whom we disagree”. The church has an opportunity to model “good and loving disagreement”. Not abandoning truth as each one sees it (“Truth is not a club with which to strike others”), but also not abandoning other Christians.

The challenge, and clearly the project of this Archbishop, is to hold the church together despite profound differences. The key way to do this is to focus on a common task, summarised in the phrase “Listen to God, hear the poor”, or to quote Pope Francis whom Welby had visited the day before, to be ever mindful of “prayer, peace and poverty”. Not looking inwards to endless debates on the life of the church, but outwards, especially to the poor and suffering. The church will always have ” fuzzy edges” but is most effective when demonstrating love. Holiness is vital, an expression of outward generosity which draws others to God.

Archbishop Justin went on to give examples of ways in which the church is doing this around the world, for example in South Sudan and the Congo. Because we are all sinners, Christians make mistakes, but for all its failings can be used by God. The church is not “an NGO with old buildings”, but offers the “treasure of reconciliation” because of being reconciled to God; “in passionate devotion to him will offer the treasure He puts in our hands, unconditionally, always pointing in worship, deed and word to Jesus Christ.”

For this inspiring message the Archbishop was given a standing ovation by his influential audience which included the Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition, and several dozen MP’s, Lords, foreign ambassadors and other dignitaries.

It’s important to point out some positive aspects of this speech and the event in which it was set. Acknowledgement of the sovereignty of almighty God and the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ were mentioned at the heart of the British legislature; a large group of Parliamentarians clearly are people of faith, and the assembled throng participated in prayer and worship within the seat of Government. Good Christian agencies organizing the meeting such as Care and Bible Society as well as the Church of England clearly have access to speak truth to power. Archbishop Justin, as well as being able to communicate clearly and simply his own faith in Jesus, is passionate about the global church and its mission, and never loses an opportunity to use examples from around the world to remind the affluent of their responsibilities and their need to remain humble and spiritually aware.

So the Archbishop’s plan seems to be to keep a place for the church at the heart of the British establishment, with the opportunity to talk about Jesus Christ and prayer, by appealing to common compassion for the underprivileged whom the church serves, and asking the world to witness how the church deals with its disagreements in a peaceful way. This might be an effective strategy if internally the church was united on its core beliefs and was only disagreeing about peripheries. But the disagreements are much more profound than this, not only about women and sexuality but now even euthanasia and indeed basic understandings about Scripture, God and humanity.

As has been said many times, the idea of “good disagreement” implies that these core doctrinal divisions do not really matter – we need to paper over the cracks and portray a united face to the world as this is our main mission strategy. In practice this means building a liberal consensus with those in power in which permission is given occasionally to talk about Jesus as part of an inoffensive programme of worship, prayer and practical service, and marginalizing those “fundamentalists” who are more certain of absolute theological non-negotiables. But if those who insist on the historic Christian message are branded as those who “use truth like a club to beat others with”, its difficult to see where the spiritual power of the church will come from in future.

But also, there is an assumption in the Archbishop’s strategy that appealing to stories about poverty will always elicit compassion and openness to the message of faith. In other words, appeals to social justice, whether for issues at home or overseas, are not so much a prophetic counter cultural challenge as a starting point of shared values. But for how long? Welby has often said that young people no longer have any remaining taboos about sex. But   research on the social attitudes of under 30’s   is also showing a consistent picture of young people brought up with little sense of social responsibility.

If any of these young people do buck the trend and start to explore the Christian faith, will they receive a clear message from the church about a counter-cultural Gospel which offers salvation as a free gift for those who repent and believe in Jesus as taught in Scripture? Or will they be told that the interpretation of the Gospel is under review as part of Facilitated Conversations? And in order for them to repent, will they be confronted with the rebellion of their celebration of and participation in sexual sin, as well as increasingly their lack of compassion for the poor and their idolatry of personal identity? These three areas were constantly highlighted by the prophets as attitudes which brought God’s judgment.

The very idea of a Parliamentary Prayer Breakfast is courageous in the face of secularist fury and so the fact that it happens every couple of years is to be celebrated, but with caution. A standing ovation for the Archbishop in Parliament should set Luke 6:26 alarm bells ringing when so few people in the nation follow Christ, and so much of the Christian heritage is being rapidly eroded by the very people joining in the applause.

posted by Grassroots Conservatives in News