My title is 20:20 vision, the church in the next millennium. The question, therefore, is: "what will the future be like in 2020 if the Lord doesn't first return?"
There are periods of enormous significance when the future is very unlike the past. Such was a time in the 1780's and 1790's. Who would have dreamt in the 1770's of the French Revolution, the American Revolution, the Industrial Revolution and the Evangelical Movement as it developed. Such was a time in the first part of this century. Such was a time in the 1960s, and indeed in the 1980s. Who in the 60s could have predicted the Thatcher - Reagan years and the defeat of Marxism? So you have to be very cautious in talking about possible futures in the church. The safest course is simply to say what will happen if we carry on in the Church of England as we are at present.
And we must think seriously about these matters. The Church of England has been called the "Tory Party at prayer." That is ominous. If the fortunes of the Church of England are mirrored in those of the Tory Party we must move fast. The chairman of the Christian Institute was predicting the virtual collapse of the Tory Party before the last election with near precision in terms of the size of the Labour majority. I now want to go on record as predicting a similar collapse of the Church of England over the next 25 years unless firm and courageous action is taken by those who seek the good of the Church of England and want the best for our nation. Like the Tory Party the Church of England will not cease to exist; but its usefulness and strength will be very minimal.
The national profile
We are living in a time of spiritual degeneration. There is a decline in numbers of attenders at church. In the Church of England the decline in terms of Sunday attendances is about 1 per cent per year. That is not huge, but it is inexorable. Over the eleven year period from 1984 (the year David Jenkins was consecrated bishop) to 1995 the usual Sunday attendances in Anglican Churches went down from 1,182,000 to 1,045,000 ( a 12 percent decline). Only about 2 percent of the population are now in an Anglican church on any given Sunday (with 10 percent plus in church overall). The decline in the number of clergy is even more serious. Nor is the situation better in the other denominations or House Churches. There has been a reported decline in the House Churches.
But we mustn't confuse beliefs and commitments with the institutional expression of those beliefs and commitments. For what continues to be significant is the overall self-identification of the people of Britain. According to the last Independent Television Commission's survey, Seeing is Believing, just over 72 percent of the population identify themselves as Christian. Only 3 percent are of other faiths. Just over 22 percent are nothing.
That 3 percent of other faiths, incidentally, shows we are not a pluralist, multifaith country. That is a myth of educationalists, broadcasters and some print journalists who are over represented by that 22 percent who believe nothing. In the words of Richard Neuhaus:
In recent decades, "pluralism" has become something of a buzz-word. It is variously employed. Often it is used to argue that no normative ethic even of the vaguest and most tentative sort, can be "imposed" in our public life. In practice it means that public policy decisions reflect a surrender of the normal to the abnormal, of the dominant to the deviant.
We are, of course, still a "Christian" country in terms of our constitution; and until by democratic process it is determined that the majority wish that to change, Christian believers have a public duty to stop the erosion of Christian values and virtues in the public square.
But to focus on the next millennium - I begin by making four assumptions. One, we in Reform, are committed to the Western Reformed Catholic tradition of the Christian faith (that indeed is the tradition of Augustine, Luther, Calvin, the English Reformers, the Evangelical leaders of the 18th century, men like Simeon and Ryle in the last century and what we mean by mainstream evangelicalism in the 20th century). Two, we are in the Church of England because its formulas and history have upheld that Western Reformed Catholic tradition. Three, we are concerned for the evangelisation of the nation. And, four, we must look at the future both sociologically from the point of view of society in general; and theologically from the point of view of God's society - the society supernatural. It was Hooker who said that the Church is a society and a society supernatural. You cannot safely ignore either dimension. Therefore we need to begin with the interface of public life and the Church of England. That is best seen in the self-identification of our citizens as revealed by opinion polls.
A Gallup survey from 1982 and published by the Bible Society in 1983 found that 64 percent identified with the Church of England. In the 1987 survey from the old IBA's (the Independent Broadcasting Authority's) religious department, published as God Watching, the figure was 50 percent. In this latest broadcasting survey from the new ITC in 1993 (that I have already referred to) the figure is 40 percent identifying as Anglican. And a 1996 survey published in British Social Attitudes (13th Report) shows 30 percent identifying as Anglican. That is a decline in people's self-perception as Anglican of 10 percent every few years. In the year 2010 we could expect 10 percent of the population to claim to be Anglican, and by the year 2020 the sense of belonging might be limited to the tiny percentage who attend regularly.
That would be very serious. For then in no way would the Church of England be the church of the nation. It would be irrelevant whether there were, or were not, bishops in the House of Lords. In terms of social strength the church would be a mere "sect". For many of us that would create great problems.
The "magisterial" Reformation
Let me explain. Most of us in Reform are committed to what is called the "magisterial" Reformation [magister is the Latin for "ruler"]. Unlike the more radical Reformers who wanted to establish Christian ghettos of pure churches, the magisterial Reformers like Luther, Calvin, Cranmer and the other great English Reformers of the Church of England (including Hooker) wanted the gospel to relate to the wider realities of life - the secular (or in their jargon "the temporal") as well as the spiritual. So they were quite happy, not for the secular realm to rule the church, but for it to help the church where it could. True, sometimes the balance was wrong. But, in general, I think they were right. The legacy of this today is relevant for evangelism and, in particular, as it is popularly put, "being in the best boat to fish from."
We believe our task is to share the gospel with the citizens in our nation who live in our areas. So if in the year 2020 the shell that some would call the Church of England is simply a tiny sect and if present trends continue it is a theologically liberal sect at that, can we still be in full communion with that shell? Or put it another way - if there is then a substantial Christian presence in other fellowships in the country that is more biblical, more apostolic and more effective but with whom we are formally "out of communion" by virtue of being identified with that shell, will that be tolerable? I believe the answer is "No!" And the reason is that that shell that some might still call "the Church of England" would not be significantly part of the Western Reformed Catholic tradition. It would have lost the gospel; it would have lost its "magisterial" significance; and it would not in a meaningful sense be the church that was defined by our Reformers, by the Thirty-Nine Articles, by the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, by the Ordinal, by our recent Canons and most importantly by the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974. That and that alone is the "Established Church".
We are then in an impossible position. Constitutionally I promised 30 years ago "so to minister the doctrine and sacraments, and the discipline of Christ, as the Lord hath commanded, and as this Church and Realm hath received the same, according to the commandments of God." And for all of us who are ordained, whatever rite we were ordained under, according to the Worship and Doctrine Measure 1974 the 1662 BCP and Ordinal is still the doctrinal standard.
So what "this Church and Realm hath received" is not some of the heresy coming from House of Bishops' Reports or Doctrine Commission Reports, but the Western Reformed Catholic tradition that is our great heritage in the Church of England. Supremely it is the tradition of the true and apostolic Church of Christ. That is what Canon A1 says. Therefore, if this shell is not, self evidently, part of the true and apostolic Church of Christ, it cannot be the Church of England that Canon A1 defines.
In practical terms the shell, then, or the structured Church of England would be rather like the current Orthodox Church in, say, Romania. There you have elegant buildings - but not very well-kept. And very few attend - bar a few elderly people. In England under such a hypothetical scenario, this Church of England shell would survive. It would, however, be of historical rather than spiritual interest to the majority of our citizens. The clergy would be glorified vergers taking a service from whatever politically correct prayer book was then in fashion in a side chapel for any who attended.
"Black and white" facts
You say, "this is all opinion polls and surveys. This is Reform scare-mongering - the sort of thing we expect to hear."
Let me assure you that it is for real! Take the official infant baptism figures available from the latest edition of the CBF's official 1997 Church Statistics. These are "black and white" and matters of fact, not "opinion" or prediction.
The loss of the pull of the Church of England is mirrored in our infant baptism figures.
In 1950 67 percent of all babies in England were baptised in the Church of England.
That means that only 33 percent were not so baptised. These people are now 47 years old. That is to say, the great majority of 47 year olds today (and people who are older) were baptised Anglican.
In 1960 55 percent of all babies were baptised in the Church of England. That means 45 percent weren't so baptised. These people are now 36 years old. That is to say, of all 36 year olds more than half were baptised in an Anglican church.
In 1970 it was 47 percent, with 53 percent not being baptised. These people are now 26 years old. Of that age group it is now less than half who were baptised in an Anglican church.
In 1980 it was 36 percent, with 64 percent not being baptised Anglican. These people are now 16 years old and will be 40 in 2020.
So in 2020 two thirds of the population who are 40 will not have been baptized as Anglicans.
In 1990 it was 27 percent, with 73 percent not being baptised as Anglican. These people are now 6 years old, and will be 30 in the year 2020.
So in 2020 nearly three quarters of the population who are 30 will not have been baptized as Anglicans.
The latest figures for 1995 are 24 percent, with 76 percent not being baptised Anglican.
That is a huge difference from 1950 when it was 67 percent baptised and only 33 percent not.
So in the year 2020 the vast majority of 25 year olds - now over three-quarters - are unlikely to feel any personal attachment to the Church of England. I trust that the point is made.
And it is simply fact. It is no good burying your head in the sand. Unless something happens, the Church of England as we know it will be marginalised as far as our public culture is concerned. And the process of marginalisation is under way. It is for some of us to take action.
But, remember, people are still identifying as Christian - 72 percent of them according to that Independent Television Commission. No doubt that will be lower if things continue as they are in 2020, but not necessarily hugely lower. So what is happening?
One thing that is happening is this: we are now in a period of post-denominationalism. People born after 1960 do not chose a church because of the denominational label. They are in a church either because that is where they were converted, or because the music is good, the preaching is good, the crèche is good, the youth work is good, the small group system is good or something else is good.
Denominations as we know them are probably going to become things of the past.
At the time of the Elizabethan Settlement there were no denominations. In terms of its social structure the Church of England was evolving into a federation of churches linked or "connected" together by the crown, the episcopate, a prayer book and the Articles. After the Act of Uniformity of 1662 and the ejection of 2000 presbyterian ministers from their livings, by the beginning of the 18th century denominations inevitably evolved. The Act of Toleration of 1689, at the accession of William and Mary, saw their formal beginning. Originally they too were federations of churches linked or "connected" by whatever made them distinctive - presbyteries, independency, baptismal practice, or the Quaker ethic.
However, in the 19th century, with the growth of evangelicalism and the missionary movements, there was a change. The denominations became "corporations" rather than "federations". That is to say, they operated "corporately" together for joint activities. So there were the Baptist Missionary Society, the Methodist Missionary Society, the Church Missionary Society and the like. There were also other agencies for moral and social welfare work and for education. There were Anglican schools, and Methodist Schools, and Baptist Schools. And this form - the denomination as a "corporation" where a central agency acted on behalf of the whole denomination (or that part of it that had an interest) - lasted until the 1960s.
Because of the growth of denominational activity in the 19th century - by the denominations acting as corporations - there were inevitably clashes, and the wrong sort of competition, especially on the mission field. This led to the famous Edinburgh World Missionary Conference of 1910. It aimed to set forward world-evangelization. It's main achievement was the beginning of the ecumenical movement and what became the World Council of Churches. But far from lessening the denominational distinctives the ecumenical movement gave encouragement to a new denominational self-consciousness. By the 1950's and early 1960's you probably had the high-point of denominationalism, with people paying a huge attention to "their denomination" and arguing that sound ecclesiology was "the one thing necessary". It is, of course, at this time that the recent and current senior leadership of the Church of England was in training and being formed in ministerial norms and ideals - people like Robert Runcie, John Habgood and George Carey; and also lesser clergy like many of us, myself included, were trained at this time. These people were, and are, thoroughly denominational. And today they find it difficult to think in terms other than those of "the denomination" when they think about "the Church". In the Church of England this was the period of Canon Law revision and the debates about the setting up of synodical government.
However, at the same time in the 1960's something else was happening. This was the time of extreme liberal and permissive theology centred (in England) at Cambridge and the Southbank of the Thames in Southwark. John Robinson was the most famous name of these "new theologians" with his book Honest to God. This denied much biblical truth and validated a new morality. Harry Williams, the Dean at Trinity College, Cambridge (and so college chaplain to Prince Charles) argued that if sex outside marriage helped you get integrated that must be Christ's will for you. By the end of the decade Paul Altizer was arguing that God is Dead.
Michael Ramsey was now Archbishop of Canterbury. In part the present erosion of the Church goes back to him. A brilliant and apparently godly man, he was among the first, in a high profile position, to espouse the principle of affirming truth without denying error. He would not condemn heresy, while being personally, and often helpfully, orthodox. One of the great gurus who influenced and under girded this new "comprehensiveness" of Ramsey was F.D.Maurice. But this comprehensiveness was new in the Anglican tradition. Hooker would only have comprehensiveness in matters of church order, never in matters of fundamental doctrine. There had always been latitudinarianism - but nothing like the "anything goes" that Ramsey tolerated.
At this time, in the words of the former Dean of Salisbury, Fenton Morley, "the heart was taken out of the Church of England"; and indeed there were parallels in the other denominations. These radical theological innovations meant the evaporation of the old consensus from which the denominations "as corporations" could work on behalf of those they represented. No longer could the denominations work as corporations.
So now the denominations had to change into something else. And they did so. From being federations and then being corporations, the denominations - and this was true of most of them, not just the Church of England - now became "regulatory agencies". This meant they became more centralised and saw their function mainly as holding budgets and telling people what they could and could not do.
The result of this change to becoming regulatory agencies has been a significant denominational break down.
The churches are "voluntary non-profit organizations". They are not "non-voluntary non-profit organizations" like Government departments and Local Authorities that have penal sanctions to enforce action. Nor are they "voluntary for-profit organizations" like businesses that have financial power to enforce action. Being "voluntary non-profit organizations" they have no sanctions and no power - certainly as far as the laity is concerned. Motivation is everything.
But the new denominations - or the denominations in their new form - cannot motivate. Laymen who are bible-believing and can administer multi-million (even billion) pound companies, or perform sophisticated surgical operations, or lead modern educational institutions, do not take kindly to less than brilliant clergy (even if they are bishops or moderators) or to clericalised laymen telling them, from denominational headquarters, what to believe or how much to give in support of causes they disapprove of.
This has led to the denominations becoming quite dysfunctional. With the erosion of the consensus their future is secured only so long as there are certain functions they still control and that the clergy are dependent on. This is fundamentally matters of stipend and pension - hence the near panic at the centre at quota-capping or the suggestion that the local congregation should be formally responsible, as it once was, for stipend and pension, or, indeed, buildings.
In the aftermath of the denominational high point of the 60s, while the pervasive church consciousness was still very "denominational", there was a massive centralization taking place. Synodical Government facilitated this process. In particular it related to stipends in the Church of England with the setting up of the Central Stipends Authority in the 1970s, initially on the grounds that this would be more convenient for everyone. But with the devaluation of central subsidies, de facto if not de jure these payments are once again the responsibility of the local congregation. Before long, certainly in the Church of England, pensions will also be the responsibility of the local congregation. At that point what will be the function of the centre?
Many would say "for training the next generation of ministers."
But that training itself is now dysfunctional. Originally, ordination training was pluralistic. In the Church of England in the last century and until the second world war, it had operated as a "free market".
This was particularly because the different traditions - anglo-catholic and evangelical - insisted on training their own men in their own way. And in output terms, it was successful. Now numbers are low, not least because young men have lost confidence in the way the denominational churches are evolving. But is not all this too pessimistic a picture?
Pannenberg and Willimon
Let me quote to you from the distinguished German theologian, Wolfhart Pannenberg, to prove that this analysis is not unique. He is talking about secularism. He says this:
Secularism's greatest success, however, is in the widespread demoralization in the ranks of the clergy and theologians who are supposed to proclaim and interpret the truth of the Gospel but delude themselves that they are achieving that purpose by adapting Christian faith and life to the demands of secularism. What the situation requires, I am convinced, is precisely the opposite of such uncritical adaptations.
The farther secularism advances the more urgent it is that Christian faith and life be seen in sharp contrast to the secularist culture ...
What is needed is a strong reaffirmation of the central articles of Christian faith against the spirit of secularism, and then a joining of that to a renewed commitment to rationality and ecumenical openness. Needless to say, such a combination is not easy. It is quite possible that in the early part of the 3rd millennium, only the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches, on the one hand, and Evangelical Protestantism, on the other, will survive as ecclesial communions. What used to be called the Protestant Mainline Churches are in acute danger of disappearing. I expect they will disappear if they continue neither to resist the Spirit of a progressively secularist culture nor to try to transform it.
And that is not a member of the Council of Reform but Wolfhart Pannenberg.
And here is William Willimon, another distinguished academic, from the United States this time, dean of chapel and professor of Christian ministry at Duke University. He is referring to the Protestant Mainline denominations:
One of the big stories we are witnessing is the dismantling of national denominations. We have been slashing national staffs due to huge budgetary problems. Some of our concern about the national denominations will dissipate due to this dismantling of bureaucracies. We're seeing a move to the local, to the congregational ... We've seen the end of denominationalism as we know it, although not the end of some kind of chastened denominationalism. It may be a stripping down for service. I don't meet any young adults interested in feeding national organizations.
So what do we do?
There have to be some hard decisions. The time for talking has come to an end. We need to act. This is what are brothers and sisters are doing now in other parts of the Anglican Communion - not least across the Atlantic. Let's learn from them. And we need to act in five ways.
First, we need to act in regard to homosexuality. We need to align ourselves with Resolution 4 of the First Promise Statement of the evangelicals in ECUSA [the Episcopal Church of the USA] in their endorsement of the recent resolution of the Province of South East Asia. I quote:
We intend to "be in communion with that part of the Anglican Communion which accepts and endorses the principles aforesaid [the "Kuala Lumpur Statement" (1997) that affirms traditional Christian sexual ethics] and not otherwise".
To endorse that means we must be out of communion in a significant sense with a number of English bishops. For some of us that will mean we need, immediately, alternative episcopal oversight.
Secondly, we need to act financially. Resolution 5 of the First Promise Statement reads something like this:
We believe that the teaching of our church requires that our financial stewardship and giving must be "for the spread of the kingdom of God". We will therefore support and urge our people to support only those agencies and ministries which directly further the Great Commission. We will not fund, nor recommend funding, any institution, organization or person whose actions aid or further teaching contrary to the above principles [the Kuala Lumpur Statement and another statement like our Reform Covenant].
That is what quota capping is all about for those who are net-givers.
But once you do that the heat will be on. Sadly money, as Martin Luther found, is the thing that really talks in a decadent church. Was Rome worried by justification by faith? No! Was Rome worried by the drying up of income for St Peter's from Luther's attack on indulgences? Most certainly.
And because of that "heat" Resolution 8 of the First Promise Statement says:
We ... pledge to come to the aid of any brother or sister in Christ who is being persecuted for the sake of the gospel, as it has been received by this church, declaring that to attack them is to attack us all.
Thirdly, we must act for the gospel.
What does that mean? We need to love people and preach the gospel? We need a new concern for the lost and a new confidence in God's word.
Let me refer to Luther again. On one occasion he said this:
The word of God is seldom retained in its purity in any one place beyond the period of twenty or at best forty years. The people become accustomed to it, grow cold in their Christian love and regard God's gift of grace with indifference.
And isn't that what we need today for ourselves - to recover the word of God in its purity.
And as the word of God is recovered in all its purity, much will fall into place if we love people.
We will structure for growth. Our concern will not be to keep clergy happy or to have job security or good prospects for ourselves. Our concern will be saving souls from hell.
We will plant new churches, where necessary - come what may.
And as we recover confidence in the gospel we will have a burning desire to preach it and share it with others. And so we will follow Resolution 6 of theFirst Promise Statement of the American Evangelicals:
We will not be bound, in the exercise of our presbyteral or diaconal ministries, by the legal or geographical boundaries of any parish or diocese, if those boundaries are being invoked to prevent the preaching and teaching of "the doctrine, discipline, and worship of Christ as this Church has received them" [that is quote from the American Ordinal].
Schism and discipline
Fourthly, we must act to clear our minds about schism.
The fundamental issue today is over "what is the Church of England?" The "contention" is over the definition of the Church as it manifests itself in our denomination.
The presenting problem comes from people, including bishops, who deny key elements of the gospel. Such denial occurred in New Testament times. 1 John 2.19 says:
They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us.
John doesn't mince words. He has just called these people "antichrists".
What was different then, was this: these people in the New Testament had the moral integrity to leave and "go".
But the bishops and clergy that deny the virginal conception of Jesus and his empty tomb and validate gay sex want to stay. They then become like cuckoos in a nest where they do not belong. They want to define themselves as "the church" and "within the church". The consequence of that is that we appear as "divisive" and "a church within a church". And that phrase, "a church within a church", is persuasive, but only if you extend the boundaries as these bishops and clergy do.
We must not allow them to do that. We must say: "No! They are the 'dividers' because they haven't got the honesty to leave. And we, of the Western Reformed Catholic tradition, are 'the church' - full stop."
To divide from heretics is not schism but discipline. You must never have schism in the true body of Christ. But you must have "schism" from what is false - that is discipline. The false must be "cut" out. Of course, there must be care. Of course, God alone is the judge. But there is no danger, I can assure you, of any of us acting prematurely. The question is, will we act at all?
If we don't, there may be very little left of significance in the Church of England shell in 2020.
If we do, God alone will determine the shape of the Church then, but Christ will be glorified, men and women will be saved, and we will have been faithful.
Finally, we must pray. What should we pray for? We could do worse than echo Paul's prayer in Ephesians 1 and pray for one another in these terms - verses 17-19:
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in th e saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.