When the church is driven by pragmatism over gospel

Two stories have emerged from the world of British Anglicanism. One, on the face of it, appears better than the other. Both, however, are rather indicative of much of what is happening within the Anglican Church.

The less positive story concerns Derby Cathedral. The cathedral has refused a request from Derby Christian Union to hold a carol service in their building at which the Rev’d Melvin Tinker would speak. You can read more details here.

The problem here is not so much that Melvin Tinker isn’t permitted to speak per se. The issue is the rank hypocrisy of the Cathedral. Here is a church prepared to screen sexually explicit films without considering them too controversial but who will not permit a preacher who is faithful to the gospel (and, if you’re bothered by them, the XXXIX) that the Anglican Church is supposed to uphold.

The move is hardly surprising. The rhetoric coming out of Lambeth Palace is all about ‘mutual flourishing’. Who knows exactly what that is supposed to mean. It is beyond me how diametrically opposed views of the gospel can flourish in the same church; not least when that church insists it is wedded to a gospel over which nobody using the term can agree on what it is. Tinker has been clear about this when he said, ‘we don’t want “mutual flourishing”. We want the gospel to flourish. We want orthodoxy to flourish.’ Would that the Progressives might acknowledge they too have no interest in ‘mutual flourishing’ but rather want their heterodox views to win the day and the eradication of those, like Tinker, who hold to the historic teachings of the church and the gospel as presented in scripture.

As Jules Gomes notes on his blog, ‘Critics have accused Dean Hance of hypocrisy as the policy of “radical inclusion” pushed by Archbishop Justin Welby is turned on its head when it comes to traditionalist Christians.’ As far as ‘mutual flourishing’ and ‘radical inclusion’ are concerned, it is entirely unclear in what way the Progressives are being called to ‘radically include’ Evangelicals and traditionalists. The story seems to be something of an indication of the state of the wider Anglican Communion and the way these things are likely to go.

I’m struggling to see why you would aim to have your event at such a place as this given their clear opposition to what you want to proclaim. That Gomes reports the CU asked whether the cathedral would permit anyone from St John’s (Tinker’s church) to speak following their first refusal suggests that, rather than simply looking to find a new venue for the speaker they felt most appropriate for their mission, the CU were keen to find an acceptable speaker to secure the venue they want. Are we being driven by gospel concerns or are we being driven more by pragmatic concerns such as which building we think might attract the most people?

The (on the face of it) positive story concerns the £1m granted by the Diocese of Manchester to support planting into hard communities across the region. You can read more about it here. I say ‘on the face of it’ because who could possibly object to churches being planted on estates and into harder areas of Greater Manchester?

As I have mentioned here, there are genuine concerns about the gospel being preached in estate ministry. I was previously criticised for that comment but it has been my experience that many of us have bought into a belief that church planting is a good per se and, so long as it’s happening, the details really don’t matter. That is a dangerous road to travel and has real gospel consequences. It is the attitude that permits us to happily plant churches on top of existing gospel churches, leads us to send anyone (no matter how suitable) to plant, necessarily impacts what gospel is proclaimed, amongst a host of other examples.

But I am also aware of specific issues. I know of those who have left the area specifically because they cannot cope with the constant barrage of liberalism being peddled through the diocese. I know of those, when the bishop complained they couldn’t get people to move North and one Evangelical announced that was precisely what they wanted to do, they were met with stony silence and the man staring at his feet because they were the wrong kind of ordinand. I am aware of Evangelicals who, because of their stand for gospel truth, have been labelled ‘too toxic’ to work with in the diocese because to be associated with them would mean the burning of bridges with the bishops.

Whilst I don’t claim to know the bloke, I have met the Bishop of Manchester a couple of times (though he would have no reason to remember me). At the time – given I am a nobody who doesn’t belong to his diocese or denomination and share none of his theology – there was no reason for him to want to impress me. But I did note the Evangelicals in his communion who were very quick to bow and scrape to a man they denounce as a liberal who believes a diametrically opposing gospel. I also noted the evident contempt with which he held those who do share my theological views in the few things he said. It did seem as though he had rather more time for the Muslims we were meeting than he did for those of us who follow the same Lord he claims as his own.

Given all of that, what does it say about those to whom this money has been given that such a man was happy to give it to them? If this bishop barely makes any effort to his contempt for Evangelicals, what does it mean that he is happy to give to this kind of Evangelical? Are these acceptable Evangelicals to those who propound liberal theology? What does that mean for their particular brand of Evangelicalism?

At the same time, if people are labelled ‘too toxic’ to work with because of their stand against such liberals, what does this say about the intent of those looking to plant these churches? Are they being driven by gospel concerns and a desire to see people won for Christ or are they being driven by a pragmatism that is far more toxic than any stand against liberal authorities could possibly be? Something is seriously awry when Evangelicals would prefer the money of their liberal paymasters than to be linked with those who apparently share the same gospel.

These two stories, in many ways, act as a microcosm of what appears to be happening within Anglicanism. Some, driven by pragmatism, seek what they need from liberals opposed to what they would ordinarily want to do. Others, driven by gospel concerns, are being pushed to the margins and broken because they wish to stand where scripture does.

I know these things are easy to say from the relative comfort of the free church. I have huge admiration for those, like Melvin Tinker and others, who have made a clear stand for the gospel despite knowing how that would go for them. They have been committed to gospel truth despite the cost to them personally and their wider ministry. I don’t envy them their task at all. But I fear these things highlight what things are like in the Anglican Church these days and that means some hard decisions for the Evangelicals in their midst.

*The cathedral have since argued that nobody had been ‘banned’ from speaking but that speakers are invited at the behest of the Dean. But it is evidently true the Dean would not invite Tinker and the reason given was his orthodox view. An alternative speaker has been arranged now, rather underlining the comment that the venue is being deemed more important than the speaker. You can read more here.