Joining the Dots of Disbelief in the Church of England

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I was involved recently in a discussion with Christian friends and a non-Christian. The latter had become concerned about the threat posed by radical Muslims, and asked if we could explain why so many Anglican vicars are unable to understand the violent nature of Islam. My thoughts went immediately to the 1984 fire at York Minster. As we explored the connections between the current condition of the Church of England and the events surrounding the ordination of David Jenkins as Bishop of Durham by the Archbishop of York, John Habgood, it became clear to me that these constituted an important milestone in this institution’s modern history.

Remembering God’s Works

It is very easy to react to any major traumatic events with claims that they are expressions of divine anger - this was certainly the case with this fire. Today however it is much harder to understand how events from half a lifetime ago might be directly connected to current headlines, but this is what I found myself explaining. In so doing I began to appreciate something about the ways of God which I had not seen before. When addressing the false prophets in Judah, Jeremiah brought a warning from The LORD that His word was like both a fire and a hammer which “breaks the rock in pieces.” (23:29) But after several decades of no apparent follow-up to what some had perceived at the time to be His intervention, it is easy for us to think that God was not serious when He broke out “like fire” on that occasion. (Amos 5:6)

Christians can be very quick to claim that God judges through storm, earthquake and fire, even though He taught Elijah to understand that it was His still, small voice which he needed to heed. (1 Kings 19) Having assumed that the prophetic victory on Carmel was a sign that revival was about start, Elijah had run expectantly to Jezreel, only to discover that he was still hated by its inhabitants. Despondent, he fled to the wilderness, believing himself to be the only faithful person left in that nation. Similarly it is easy for Christians to think that despite the very dramatic events of July ‘84, God wasn't really demonstrating His displeasure because nothing has seemingly changed as a result.

We all too easily expect the divine point to become obvious within our own human time-frames. Remember though that Enoch was a prophet who warned of coming judgement a thousand years before the Flood. Likewise, a chain of events in Israel’s history began at the time of Samuel, climaxed just before Jesus was crucified, but its consequences were not fully reaped until four decades after that. When Samuel complained about Israel requesting a king in order to be like the other nations, The LORD had told him, “they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.” (1 Sam. 8:7) For the next thousand years Israel continued to yo-yo between obedience and disobedience, with nothing significant seeming to result from their rejection of The LORD’s kingship. It is in John’s gospel where we see the fully ripe fruit of their long-standing unbelief. When Pilate offered to release their “King”, the Chief Priest formally voiced for the first time their rejection of The LORD as king, declaring, “We have no king but Caesar!” (19:15) No sudden thunder from heaven, no immediate sword of The LORD wielded by the Roman occupiers, no earthquake shaking the city - it was almost forty more years before they reaped what they had sown.

Reaping the Fruit of Clerical Denial

In considering the CoE (not the whole Anglican communion), we should remember that it has always stood on flawed foundations. It was not established because of a desire to seek for God’s truth, but to fulfil the desires of a man. Yes, some looking for a Biblical foundation saw the schism from Rome as an opportunity, but it has been a broad church from the start. The roots of today’s three-way coalition between liberals, evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics have always been present. Jesus warned of such dangers as He spoke of a house divided against itself not standing. (Mat. 12:25) Note also Amos 3:3 and 2 Cor. 6:14: two cannot walk together unless they are fully agreed, and what fellowship has light with darkness?

In view of this, the decision of the Church of England’s hierarchy to consecrate a man who had publicly denied both the virgin birth and the resurrection should not be viewed as the starting point of the rising unbelief in the institution. It did however provide opportunities for its leaders to repent of the disbelief already embedded in it. (Disbelief is more critical than unbelief, for it involves a refusal to believe something.) They could have done this when it was proposed that David Jenkins be consecrated as the CoE’s fourth most important cleric. Rather than rejecting this recommendation they chose to identify themselves with Jenkins’ unbelief, and confirmed this when the Archbishop of York formally laid hands on him. The danger of sharing in another’s sin is the reason why Paul cautioned Timothy not to lay hands on any potential leaders without careful thought. (1 Tim. 5:22)

Less than thirty-six hours after Jenkins’ ordination, and in the middle of the second driest summer drought of the century, “lightning” struck the Minster just before 2:00am on a Monday morning. Despite a network of lightning conductors and smoke detectors, it was 2:30 before the alarm was raised, by which time the flames were established. Many perceived as significant the fact that the fire took hold (and remained in) the roof of the South Transept, the very section of the Minister where Habgood had consecrated Jenkins.

Faced with such a compelling set of circumstances, one might have thought the two Archbishops of the day may have heeded the Biblical injunction to “consider their ways.” (Hag. 5:1) Instead the Archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runcie, told the Times that “the Lord was on our side as we battled with those flames.” Two days later in a letter to the same paper, Habgood questioned the opinions of some commentators. He wrote “What kind of a god do your correspondents believe in? I grant that if we still lived in biblical times, and if it was customary to treat thunderstorms as some kind of messengers from God, then the connection might seem inevitable…” adding that this was “the kind of world from which the Christian Gospel rescued us.”

At the time many suspected that this denial of divine intervention was because the Church’s insurance policies did not cover “acts of God,” but was that the only reason behind their protests? Habgood’s god was shaped by the theology of deism, in which God takes no action in the world. This argument is consistent with Jenkins’ denial of the virgin birth and resurrection, for a prerequisite of both is faith that God had intervened. The Archbishops therefore colluded in twin denials: the first being that Jenkins’ disbelief was of any consequence; secondly they denied that the fire was an act of God.

The Long View of Judgement

When my non-Christian friend asked why vicars cannot spot the dangers of welcoming Islam into their buildings, it became clear that it’s because they are incapable of discerning good from bad. I further understood that events surrounding the York fire demonstrated an unwillingness on the part of the CoE’s leaders to believe God on the most important of matters. In both the ordination and in their response to the fire, they denied that The LORD is involved today with the people He created. Throughout the Scriptures we discover that The LORD uses nature and people to discipline those who are known by His name. (Heb. 12:4-8) We should therefore consider what the consequences of denying that He does this are likely to be.

Israel was warned by various prophets of the dangers of failing to take The LORD seriously. Hosea warned of the dangers of not seeking truth, mercy and a knowledge of The LORD. In the context of this article, our attention should be drawn to these verses from Ch.4:

Therefore you shall stumble in the day; The prophet also shall stumble with you in the night; And I will destroy your mother. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.

Three decades after the York fire we are in a situation where the ‘children’ of that generation are now in leadership. They bear all the signs of having embraced the disbelief of their forefathers and having forgotten the law of God. They are people who have not had their senses trained to discern between good and evil. (Heb. 5:12-14) Though the current Archbishop of Canterbury is from the evangelical stable, it appears he has embraced secular sexuality which seeks to eradicate all memory that The LORD created us male and female.

Thirty-five years later therefore, should we be considering if the signs are that the God of the Bible has forgotten the children of the established church? The evidence suggests that the fathers have eaten sour grapes and now the children’s teeth are being set on edge by a lack of knowledge of The LORD.

This is true not only of the CoE. Leaders in most denominations are falling over themselves to embrace the godlessness prevailing in the nation. This applies not only to those who would self-identify as liberal Christians – a similar lack of understanding is growing in evangelical and charismatic groupings too. Less than four hundred years after being built on a weak foundation, there is much to warn those within the CoE that their divided house is about to fall. It will not be the only institution to fall, but will those who have devoted themselves to the hope that the tide will turn recognise the need to leave before they share in the sins of each and every institution which has failed to take The LORD at His word? (Rev. 17:4-5)

Given the historic lack of spiritual discernment in the Church of England and the human tendency to love darkness rather than light, the direction of travel should be no surprise. Since important landmarks were removed at the time of David Jenkins’ elevation to the office of bishop, it may seem that The LORD's response has involved little more than starting a fire. However if we join the dots of disbelief growing in that institution and elsewhere, perhaps we can appreciate that He has not forgotten. Rather, He has been waiting patiently until it is His time to judge in righteousness.

Just as Israel did not heed the prophetic warnings that The LORD would raise up Babylon to destroy Jerusalem, perhaps we have now reached a point where our national and religious leaders cannot understand that He does involve Himself in history and that He might just be preparing a religion which bears the hallmarks of antichrist (1 John 2:22) to judge the secularism embraced by many nations and churches. Could the disbelief of their predecessors be the reason why many vicars are unable to discern the spirit behind Islam? These are days in which we need to watch and pray very carefully.

Randall Hardy - January 2019

Postscript: This article was written, but not published, prior to the outcry in response to Dr John Shepherd, an Australian Dean, being appointed as the Archbishop of Canterbury’s interim ambassador to the Vatican. In a 2008 sermon Shepherd made clear that he did not believe the resurrection of Jesus was physical. The similarity to David Jenkins’ unorthodox convictions makes the theme of this essay even more relevant to current events in the Church of England and the wider Anglican Communion.

Web pages referred to in researching the background to this article:

July 9, 1984: Lightning bolt is responsible for catastrophic York Minster blaze | BT
Memories of York Minster fire in 1984 | York Press
How the York Minster fire sparked an unholy row in The Times | YorkMix
The fire at York Minster, July 9th 1984 - Prophetic Telegraph
THE UK DROUGHT 1984, Weather | 10.1002/j.1477-8696.1984.tb06739.x | DeepDyve

One of several reports about the response to John Shepherd’s appointment:

Archbishop of Canterbury urged to act over Vatican envoy who questioned resurrection - The Telegraph

© Copyright Randall Hardy – January 2019
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