(Lord George Carey, public domain)
By Spencer D Gear
There is an article in the issue of AP (Australian Presbyterian, Summer 2013/14), ‘Battle for the Bible’ in which Peter Hastie states:
Wherever churches in the Protestant world have identified with theological liberalism they have diminished in size or are dying. I can’t think of a Protestant church anywhere in the world that has embraced an anti-inerrancy view that is thriving right now – they just don’t exist in the English-speaking world (see: http://ap.org.au/images/2013AP/AP11.13.pdf, p. 4)
We know that when Spong was bishop of Newark NJ, 40,000 people left the Episcopalian church in that diocese. See my articles:
- The Gospel Distortion: A reply to John Shelby Spong;
- John Shelby Spong & the Churches of Christ (Victoria, Australia);
- Spong’s deadly Christianity
However, I’m not convinced that one has to believe in inerrancy for a church to grow. I’ve encountered many in the Pentecostal-charismatic movement who wouldn’t take an overt stance on inerrancy and yet their churches are attracting the numbers. That would be an interesting exercise to survey AoG, CLC, Vineyard and other such Pentecostal-charismatic denominations to find the views on Scripture of their leaders.
What’s the status of the evangelical Anglican diocese of Sydney? Are the churches growing or in decline? Tony Payne wrote an article in Aug 2011 for The Briefing, out of the evangelical Anglican Sydney diocese, in which he asked, ‘Why aren’t we growing?‘ Provocative and interesting article, based on research.
What did the former Archbishop of Canterbury, an evangelical, George Carey have to say about the demise of the Anglican Church?
On 18 November 2013, the British newspaper, Daily Mail, in its online edition had the heading: “Church ‘is on the brink of extinction’: Ex-Archbishop George Carey warns of Christianity crisis”.
In the article, Mail Online had these sub-points from Carey:
The Mail Online also stated:
‘Lord Carey’s warning was delivered in a speech at Holy Trinity Church in Shrewsbury as part of the Shropshire Churches Conference 2013.
Church of England Sunday congregations are running at half the numbers of the 1960s, and over the past two decades Roman Catholic churchgoing has seen a similar decline.
Christian numbers are rising fast in some parts of the world, notably in Africa. Worldwide, the Anglican churches have between 70 and 80 million followers – many of whom look to the Church of England for a lead.
However Christian churches are under pressure from Islam, particularly in West Africa, and persecution and violence in parts of the Middle East and Pakistan.
A. George Carey placed blame with aggressive secularism
Back at the time of Easter 2013 (end of March), The Independent reported George Carey:
A former Archbishop of Canterbury has accused the Prime Minister of doing more than any other recent political leader to make Christians feel a “persecuted minority”.
Lord Carey of Clifton said David Cameron’s government was “aiding and abetting” aggressive secularism in its approach to same-sex marriage.
His attack coincides with the Easter celebrations and the release of a survey for the Coalition for Marriage, which highlights the resentment felt by some Christians about the Prime Minister’s support for gay marriage.
“It was a bit rich to hear the Prime Minister has told religious leaders they should ‘stand up and oppose aggressive secularism’ when it seems that his government is aiding and abetting this aggression every step of the way,” said Lord Carey, 77, who led the Anglican Church from 1991 to 2002.
“At his pre-Easter Downing Street reception for faith leaders, he said that he supported Christians’ right to practise their faith. Yet many Christians doubt his sincerity.”
Citing the ComRes survey of 535 churchgoers, which suggested that two-thirds of Christians felt they were a persecuted minority, he wrote in The Daily Mail: “The Prime Minister has done more than any other recent political leader to feed these anxieties.”
A spokesman for Mr Cameron rejected Lord Carey’s accusations, saying: “This Government strongly backs faith and Christianity in particular. Christianity plays a vital part in the Big Society. The Prime Minister values the profound contribution that Christianity has made and continues to make to the country.”
B. What about the real rot? Theological liberalism!
As indicated above, Peter Hastie, has stated that ‘wherever churches in the Protestant world have identified with theological liberalism they have diminished in size or are dying’. The evidence points in that direction. Let’s take a peer into the Anglicans, their beliefs and their decline.
C. The sickness in the USA Anglicans
In February 2005, Bill Boniface wrote an article that exposed the theological disease in the USA Anglican ranks (the Episcopal Church): ‘A SENIOR WARDEN’S LAMENT: “Why I left my liberal parish“’. Here he articulated the problem:
Some of you doubt the very notion that there’s a serious and divisive situation in the Episcopal Church[Anglicans USA] today. Please don’t rely on me or any one person to sway you. Make your own decision from the following facts and then decide on your own whether this is serious enough:
Over 40,000 faithful Episcopalians left the Church last year (didn’t just change congregations, but left it altogether).
100 entire congregations have left together to form new churches or worship under the protection of foreign Anglican primates or bishops.
11 dioceses have formed a Network within the Episcopal Church structure in opposition to the direction their Church is going.
These dioceses represent 1,100 clergy, 735 congregations and 176,000 faithful communicants.
Cathedrals and multi-million dollar retreat centers are being closed down and sold to raise money for the Episcopal Church due to losses of parishioners who took their money with them.
The Washington Diocese alone is tapping $1.9 million from a trust fund just to continue operating ($1.4 million this budget year alone).
In the Diocese of Newark (NJ), where there is reputedly the strongest support of any diocese for the Episcopal Church’s new agenda, 40 parishes are projected to close this year.
22 of the other 37 provinces in our Anglican Communion have declared impaired or broken communion with the Episcopal Church.
15 of these 22 provinces now officially recognize only the Network – not the Episcopal Church – as the voice of Anglicanism in the U.S. These 15 provinces represent 55 million Anglicans.
Faithful priests all over the country are being deposed and inhibited by their bishops for speaking against the church’s “new direction.”
The Episcopal Church is suing a number of Episcopal congregations for their church property in a number of states who won’t go along with the new “doctrine.”
Two parishes in the Washington Diocese have joined the Network in opposition to the church’s policies and 13 vestries in the Diocese of Maryland have joined together as “confessing vestries” whose congregations refuse to follow the church’s new policies.
Information about the demise continues. One of the most damning pieces of evidence against John Shelby Spong’s theologically liberal views are contained in what happened when he was bishop of the Episcopalian Church diocese of Newark, NJ. It is reported in ‘Newark’s Disastrous Decline Under Spong: Post-Mortem of a Bishop’s Tenure’. Here it was reported:
Prior to Spong’s arrival as bishop coadjutor in 1977, the Diocese of Newark, like the Episcopal Church in the U.S.A (ECUSA), was facing a slow but steady decline from its peak membership in the 1960s. After Spong became the bishop in 1979, the rate of decline began to pick up.
Between 1978 and 1999, the number of baptized persons in the diocese fell from 64,323 to 36,340, a loss of 27,983 members in 21 years. That’s a disastrous 43.5% decline. The Episcopal Church, by contrast, saw a decline in the number of baptized persons from 3,057,162 in 1978 to 2,339,133 in 1997, a loss of 718, 499, or a substantial 23.4%, according to the 1998 Church Annual.
The Diocese of Newark under Spong, thus, has declined at a rate 20.1 percentage points higher than the rate for the entire Episcopal Church. This rate of decline is 86% faster than the Episcopal Church, whose losses are considerable in and of themselves.
As any statistician would note, the losses in the Diocese of Newark represent a highly statistically significant variation from the trends within the Episcopal Church. No systematic effort has been made to get at the exact causes that made losses in the diocese so much greater.
Ominously for the future, church members in the diocese are also getting older and there are fewer children in Sunday School. In 1976 there were 10,186 children pupils in Sunday School. In 1999 there were only 4,833, a loss of 5,353. That’s 52.6% decline.
By 1997 the diocese had closed at least 18 parishes or missions which had existed when Spong became bishop. All of these parishes or missions were in urban areas. The details of the closing of these churches was reported by the author in an article in United Voice in 1997 titled “The Diocese of Newark’s Graveyard of Urban Ministry.”
The rate of decline under Spong – already fairly torrid – sharply accelerated after 1995. During the 1980s and early 1990s, there was often a loss of 1,000 members a year. From 1995 to 1998, there was a stunning drop from 44, 246 to 36,597 in only three years, a drop of 7,649 — or more than 2,500 a year.
The rate of membership decline under Spong is disastrous by any reasonable measure. Such a pace of decline cannot continue if the diocese is to survive and if the Episcopal church is to retain more than a marginal presence in northern New Jersey.
What’s the truth about the death of theism? This is but one example of what happens when theological liberalism has taken hold. Church numbers have crashed.
Continuing with the USA Episcopal Church as an example, this recent article, ‘Episcopal Church Task Force Releases Report on Restructuring Plans’ (July 17, 2013), stated.
“Entrenched bureaucracies and dozens of committees or commissions have accumulated over time. This has occurred even as the Episcopal Church has dropped from a high of 3.6 million members in the mid-1960s to 1.9 million members today,” said Walton. “The large amount of money that sustained these structures in the past is long gone, and the church looks very different than it did a generation ago.”
What’s the cause of this crisis in the Episcopalians in the USA? Bill Boniface nailed it:
So what is it that’s behind this dangerous agenda? A radical agenda orchestrated by supposedly “gay rights” activists that seeks far more than just rights. Who in this congregation is not for equal rights for all people? Who in this congregation wants any among us to have fewer rights than us? I can tell you from experience that all those dioceses and parishes who are standing in opposition to the Episcopal Church’s new direction aren’t against those things. And I seriously doubt that any of us are.
But it’s not about equal rights. That’s simply the strategic sound-byte. It’s about taking human experience and desire, laying it up next to Holy Scripture, and asserting that it’s the Holy Scripture that’s in error and has been for these almost two thousand years.
How does it happen? Read Boniface’s section on ‘Moving the Strategy into the Church’ and you’ll see how ‘the most liberal philosophy and the most “flexible” theology’ can take over The Episcopal Church and send the attendance figures plummeting.
When John Shelby Spong was the Episcopal bishop of Newark NJ, the Episcopalians of Spong’s diocese voted with their feet while he was bishop there. One report said that
The Episcopal Church, with due respect, has suffered declining membership since 1965. Spong has been the Episcopal Bishop of Newark since 1976. He has presided over one of the most rapid witherings of any diocese in the Episcopal Church. The most charitable assessment shows that Newark’s parish membership rolls have evaporated by more than 42 percent. Less charitable accountants put the rate at over 50 percent (Lasley 1999; Virtue 1999).
Could a similar liberal theological rot be affecting the UK Anglicans (as it is here in Australia, except for the Sydney diocese, some of the Melbourne diocese, and isolated churches around the country)?
D. Roots of liberal theology
Mike Ratliff has written an article in The Aquila Report (November 18, 2013) that asks: ‘What is the Root of Liberal Theology?’ Its subheading is, ‘Unbelief is the root of Liberal Theology. Never forget, the attacks we are witnessing in our day on our faith are coming from within the visible Church’.
See my articles:
E. Theological liberalism in UK Anglicans: A scholar states it like it is – liberalism supremo!
Emeritus Professor Paul Badham, has written of ‘The Anglican Liberal Tradition’ (April 2006), in which he makes these statements of its dynamics:
Liberalism has always existed within Anglicanism wearing different labels at different times: Latitudinarian, Broad Church, Modernist, Liberal, Radical…. More serious to traditional Christianity was liberal criticism of belief in original sin, substitution atonement or hell….
More serious to traditional Christianity was liberal criticism of belief in original sin, substitution atonement or hell….
The most widespread success of liberalism has been the near collapse of belief in hell. When disbelief in hell was pronounced as legal in 1864 almost half the clergy signed a petition to say they still believed in it. But preaching of hell fire has become very rare in contemporary Anglicanism and the doctrine was repudiated as incompatible with belief in the love of God in the Doctrine commission report The Mystery of Salvation in 1995.
On the doctrine of the atonement Bishop Stephen Sykes is right to say that ‘phrases and sentences’ associated with the older atonement beliefs are ‘the common coin of the Church’s worship’, but he also rightly notes that explanations of such language are ‘not obvious’. The problem is that theories of atonement in terms of a sacrifice by which God was placated, or of a bait through which the devil was deceived seem increasingly implausible.
However liberal theology offers an understanding of Jesus’ death which has become increasingly popular. This is that God was present in Jesus’ suffering on the cross and that this illustrates the way in which God shares in the sorrows of humanity. This understanding of the cross has been endorsed by the 1995 Church of England Doctrine Commission report on The Mystery of Salvation as the ‘only ultimately satisfactory response to evil.’
One further characteristic of liberal doctrine is that liberals believe that God has nowhere left himself without witness but has created all human beings with a yearning to feel after him and find him. Hence they believe that the logos of God which found expression in Christ was also at work in other religious leaders….
Liberal Anglicans consistently supported the ordination of women to the priesthood and now support their consecration to the episcopate. In the case of homosexuals, liberals accept the empirical evidence that suggests that homosexuality is a natural state for certain people to find themselves in, and believe they should be allowed the same opportunity to find fulfilment in a stable relationship as heterosexuals enjoy.
Liberal Anglicans find it puzzling that a Church which was formerly in the van of theological and social reform and which played a key role in changing public attitudes should now find itself increasingly at odds with the beliefs and values of modern society.
That is the kind of sickness that will decimate British Anglicans. This is the disease that will kill the Anglican Church and it is what George Carey should be addressing.
F. Theological liberalism in UK Anglicans: A new evangelical graduate experiences the sickness
How does Paul Badham’s liberal Anglican tradition work itself out with new Anglican graduates who are seeking a parish? This is what liberal Anglicanism is doing to evangelicals in that church.
An article in Mail Online (23 December 2013) gives a sample of the disease that has infected the Anglican Church. It seems to have come from a much earlier time. The article is titled: ‘Michael Howard’s son tells how liberal Anglicans have thwarted his ambition.
Photo of Nick Howard, courtesy The Week. ‘The son of Tory MP Michael Howard, age 33, is an evangelical Christian who lives off the kindness of believers’.
I urge you to read this article in its entirety to get a feel for the virus that is infecting Anglicans in the UK. It starts:
The son of Michael Howard, the former Conservative Party leader, has spoken for the first time about his distress at being turned down for ordination by the Church of England.
Nick Howard, who completed a theology degree this summer, was not ordained because of his “unwillingness to listen” to other viewpoints.
He told The Mail on Sunday that his strongly held evangelical beliefs on homosexuality and multifaith worship marked him out as a “troublemaker” even though they reflect official Anglican doctrine.
During his three-year training at Cranmer Hall, a theological college attached to the University of Durham, Nick discussed his concerns with tutors but found little comfort in their “blase attitudes”. Fellow students, although often sympathetic to his orthodox views, did not want to incur the wrath of college authorities by speaking out.
Nick, however, quietly reinforced his views by refusing to take Communion at the college’s weekly Tuesday evening service. Instead he stayed in his pew, his head bowed in reflection.
“An ethics tutor at the college was saying publicly that you can be in a gay sexual relationship and follow Christ,” he explains. “That is incompatible with the teaching of the New Testament.”
Nick was also encouraged to accord equal spiritual value to Muslim, Sikh and Hindu religions in the name of “multifaith ministry”.
“As a Christian, I believe that Jesus died for Sikhs and Muslims, too,” he says, “so I long to share the good news with them so that they can be saved. It felt a bit awkward sitting there when everyone else was going up [for Communion] but I couldn’t physically have done anything else because I can’t pretend someone shares the same religion as me if, in reality, they don’t.”
Yet, as a result of this silent declaration of belief, 30-year-old Nick now finds himself ostracised from the Anglican Church he so desperately wants to be a part of.
At the end of his final year, a panel of tutors explained that his “unwillingness to listen” would make him an unsuitable vicar.
It was an extraordinary decision because Nick’s view – that gay people are welcome to belong to the Church if they remain celibate – is official Anglican teaching.
But many may feel that Nick’s defence of the basic tenets of Christianity should be welcomed by the Church. After all, woolly-mindedness in its beliefs has seen a huge decline in congregations, while the clear dictums of Islam have contributed to its rapid growth around the globe.
Anglican Mainstream, an Anglican newspaper, addressed this issue back in 2006 when Nick Howard’s ordination was rejected. So this is intimating that the original article about Nick Howard’s rejection of ordination was in 2006. This online magazine’s assessment was:
The trouble is that unrepresentative and unorthodox views, especially on human sexuality and the uniqueness of Christ, have become mainstream in some circles of the Church of England. Even an evangelical institution like Cranmer Hall undoubtedly has a problem with this ‘slippage’. The presence of the widely-respected gay theologian, Michael Vasey, led inevitably to changes in the ethos of Cranmer Hall.
I suspect that if recent evangelical giants of yesteryear like John Stott, Michael Green, and Jim Packer were ordinands or prospective ordinands today they would also be accused of an ‘unwillingness to listen’.
This is the kind of sickness that will kill the Anglican Church and it is what George Carey should really be addressing – BIG TIME!
When core doctrines of biblical Christianity, the Gospel content, and a high view of Scripture are abandoned, Nick Howard’s experience should become the norm. Theological liberals cannot tolerate evangelicals and evangelicals will not buy into the liberal agenda.
What is left for the picking? I can’t see any future than to let the liberal Anglican churches die and the evangelicals to do church planting of evangelical Anglican churches – probably under another name. Or, the evangelical Anglicans will migrate to another evangelical denomination.
The ‘Anglican Down Under’ website questions, ‘A Post Anglican Denomination Emerging in New Zealand?’ which involves evangelical Anglican clergymen from Australia. Churches have been planted in Auckland and Christchurch. The author of this article mentioned The Campus Church in Christchurch and stated that ‘Its current pastor I have heard in personal conversation describe himself as Anglican, but he has no formal relationship with the Bishop of Christchurch. Its site is here and I do not think you will find on it any sign as to whom the leadership of the church is accountable’. Is this the evangelical Anglicanism of the future in regions of liberal Anglican influence?
The ‘Reformed and Post-Anglican’ website has noted:
To the distress of the bishops of yet other, mostly Anglo-Catholic [Anglican], dioceses Sydney has offered a process of ‘affiliation’ to so-called independent Evangelical churches in their territories, sometimes so placed as to be in direct competition with a bona fide [Anglican] parish of the diocese.
Although the diocese has not formally planted these churches outside its diocesan boundaries, they have often been seeded by individual Sydney parishes in a wave of cross-borders incursions dating from the 1990s.
The challenge is that of 1 John 4:1, ‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (ESV). Liberal Anglicanism does not agree with Scripture in some prominent areas (see Paul Badham’s summary above), so it is promoting false teaching and needs to be corrected. If correction is refused, the churches need to be abandoned as liberal theology promotes a dangerous virus that is deadly to vital Christianity.
H. Works consulted
Lasley, D M 1999. Rescuing Christianity from Bishop Kevorkian, review of John Shelby Spong’s, Why Christianity Must Change or Die (online), Anglican Voice, June 2. Available at http://www.anglicanvoice.org/voice/spong0699.htm (Accessed 4 November 2001). On 23 December 2013, this article was no longer available at Anglican Voice, but was available at Virtue (1999).
Virtue, D 1999. Rescuing Christianity from Bishop Kevorkian – A Baptist looks at Spong (this is the review by Marty Lasley). Virtue Online (online), 2 June. Available at: http://listserv.virtueonline.org/pipermail/virtueonline_listserv.virtueonline.org/1999-June/000415.html (Accessed 23 December 2013).
 Lewis Smith 2013. ‘Former archbishop Lord Carey attacks David Cameron for “aggressive secularism” in the Government’s approach to same-sex marriage’, The Independent (online), 30 March 2013. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/former-archbishop-lord-carey-attacks-david-cameron-for-aggressive-secularism-in-the-governments-approach-to-samesex-marriage-8554864.html (Accessed 23 December 2013).
 This article was published on 13 February 2005, VirtueOnline.org. Available at: http://www.virtueonline.org/portal/modules/news/print.php?storyid=2076 (Accessed 23 December 2013).
 The article states that ‘Revd Prof Paul Badham is Emeritus Professor of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of Wales, Trinity Saint David (Lampeter Campus) and a Modern Church Vice-president’.
 The date of publication of this article at the top of the article is given as 23 December 2013. However, the original publication date must have been ;prior to this as the article has this statement at its conclusion: ‘Nick Howard will be speaking on God and Politics at Lansdowne Baptist Church, Bournemouth, at the 6.30pm service on 1 October’. I can’t imagine that this is referring to 1 October 2014. There was an article title, ‘Michael Howard’s son turned down for ordination because of biblical views’ (online), The Daily Mail, 30 September 2006, available at EV News. Available at: http://www.evangelicals.org/news.asp?id=511 (Accessed 23 December 2013).
 Mainstream Anglican 2006. Serious issues over ordination (online), 5 October 2006. Available at: http://www.anglican-mainstream.net/2006/10/05/serious-issues-over-ordination/ (Accessed 23 December 2013).
 This is the article, ‘Sydney Anglicans and the Threat to World Anglicanism’ (online), August 29, 2011. Available at: http://reformationanglicanism.blogspot.com.au/2011/08/sydney-anglicans-and-threat-to-world.html (Accessed 23 December 2013).
Copyright © 2013 Spencer D. Gear. This document last updated at Date: 13 October 2015.