Anyone in a mainline denomination infected by liberalism, or some other divergence from the evangelical faith, will have faced the question of when to stay or when to go? How bad does the denomination have to get before you decide to abandon ship?
Recently, this question came closer to home as an evangelical Anglican pastor in Australia, when a bishop in another diocese knowingly appointed a clergyman in an open same-sex relationship to charge of a parish. The matter was openly reported in the diocesan newspaper. (So the matter is public and I could provide links, but do not wish to give any oxygen to this bishop and his actions.)
My own Sydney Diocese is staunchly evangelical, mainly with a reformed flavour. As well as contradicting Scripture, we believe this move clearly breaches the agreement at the Lambeth bishops conference in 1998 (Resolution 1.10), and our national code of conduct for church workers, Faithfulness in Service (pdf, §7.4) and other national Anglican protocols and standards.
In addition, there is a high (not total) degree of independence in the governance of each diocese in Australia.
Nevertheless, this unbiblical move somehow makes it even more embarrassing and difficult for evangelicals to be an Anglican in Australia than similar moves when they occurred overseas. After all, they were in entirely different continents, but this was in our own backyard, on our own familiar shores.
As so often, I have found the wisdom of Bishop J. C. Ryle so helpful. The words that follow were part of an essay entitled “The Lord’s Supper” first published in 1877. In another context today, I found them persuasive and stirring. Take it away Bishop Ryle…
It is a cheap and easy remedy to secede from a Church when we see evils round us, but it is not always the wisest one. To pull down a house because the chimney smokes, to chop off a hand because we have cut our finger, to forsake a ship because she has sprung a leak and makes a little water, – all this we know is childish impatience. But is it a wise man’s act to forsake a Church because things in our own parish, and under our own minister in that Church, are wrong? I answer decidedly and unhesitatingly, No!
It is not so sure as it seems that we mend matters by leaving the Church of England. Every man knows the faults of his own house, but he never knows the faults of another till he moves into it, and then perhaps he finds he is worse off than he was before his move. There are often smoky chimneys, and bad drains, and draughts, and doors that will not shut, and windows that will not open, in No. 2 as well as in No. 1. All is not perfect among Dissenters and Plymouth Brethren. We may find to our cost, if we join them in disgust with the Church of England, that we have only changed one sort of evil for another, and that the chimney smokes in chapel as well as in church.
It is very certain that a sensible and well-instructed layman can do an immense deal of good to the Church of England, – can check much evil and promote Christ’s truth, – if he will only hold his ground and use all lawful means. Public opinion is very powerful. Exposure of extreme malpractice has a great effect. Bishops cannot all together ignore appeals from the laity. By much importunity even the most cautious occupants of the Episcopal bench may be roused to action. The press is open to every man. In short, there is much to be done, though, like anything else that is good, it may give much trouble. And as for a man’s own soul, he must be in a strange position if he cannot hear the Gospel in some Church near him. At the worst he has the Bible, the throne of grace, and the Lord Jesus Christ always near him at his own home.
I say these things as one who is called a Low Churchman, and as one who feels a righteous indignation at the Romanizing proceedings of many clergymen in our own day. I mourn over the danger done to the Church of England by the Ritualism of this day. I mourn over the many driven in disgust out of the pale of our Zion. But Low Churchmen as I am called, I am a Churchman, and I am anxious that no one should be goaded into doing rash and hasty things by the proceedings to which I have alluded. So long as we have truth, liberty, and an unaltered Confession of faith in the Church of England, so long I am convinced that the way of patience is much better than the way of secession.
When the Thirty-nine Articles are altered,- when the Prayer-book is revised on Romish principles and filled with Popery, – when the Bible is withdrawn from the reading desk , – when the pulpit is shut against the Gospel, – when the mass is formally restored in every parish by Act of Parliament, – when, in fact, our present order of things in the Church of England is altered by a statute, and Queen, Lords, and Commons command that our parish churches can be given over to procession, incenses, crosses, images, banner, flowers, gorgeous vestments, idolatrous veneration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, mumbled prayers, gabbled-over apocryphal lessons, short, dry, sapless sermons, histrionic gestures and postures, bowings, crossings, and the like, – when these things come to pass by law and rule, then it will be time for us all to leave the Church of England. Then we may arise and say with one voice, “Let us depart, for God is not here.”
But till that time, – and God forbid it should ever come; till that time, – and when it does come, there will be a good many seceders; till that time let us stand fast and fight for the truth. Let us not desert our post to save trouble, and move out to please our adversaries, and spike our guns to avoid a battle. No! In the name of God, let us fight on even we are like the 300 at Thermopylae, – few with us, many against us, and traitors on every side. Let us fight on, and contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the saints.
The good ship of the Church of England may have some rotten planks about her. The crew may, many of them, be useless and mutinous, and not trustworthy. But there are still some faithful ones among them. There is still hope for the good old craft. The Great Pilot has not yet left her. Let us therefore stick by the ship.1
What do you think of what the Bishop argues?
If you find yourself contending for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), I hope you find his words rousing, and can work out the application to your own situation.
As for me, the Anglican flotilla is taking on water, but I am persuaded not to abandon my particular ship yet!
- Source: Knots Untied: Being plain statements on disputed points in Religion from the standpoint of an Evangelical Churchman, (James Clarke, 1964 ed.) pages 148-149. ↩