The Ugley Vicar on the Church of England

I have known for a while of Rev John Richardson and his blog The Ugley Vicar. Indeed I have been to a Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream event which he introduced. But I have only interacted with him personally since Wednesday, when the Chelmsford ordination kerfuffle came to my notice. “Ugley” is not a mis-spelled description of him, however ugly some of his ideas might be to some people such as his bishop, but the name of the small village about 20 miles from here where he is the non-stipendiary (i.e. unpaid) vicar.

John has graciously responded to my post here and to my comments on the Chelmsford Anglican Mainstream blog which he also runs. I have also commented about him here. Now he has posted, at The Ugley Vicar, a long essay, originally written in 1997, outlining his understanding of the Church of England. Here is my response to that essay in the context of the current controversy; it is also partially in response to Tim Chesterton’s series ‘What does Anabaptism have to do with Anglicanism?’, which I started to discuss before. Note that I am writing here as a lifelong Anglican, not as an outside critic.

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I want it all too!

I am right with Adrian Warnock in saying I don’t want balance, I want it all! – although I might have chosen some different role models at the end.

But I also agree with Dave Warnock, no relation, that this all should be for everyone, “Not just white middle class men” like Adrian, Dave and me. So he criticises Adrian for implicitly restricting this by gender and sexuality. On the same basis I agree with Henry Neufeld on this. To be fair to Adrian, I don’t think he disagrees, for he wasn’t writing about leadership, but about matters in which we can all agree that men and women can play an equal part. Of course the entirely predictable responses to Dave’s comments on Adrian’s blog only served to stir up this side issue and detract from Adrian’s real vision, and Adrian doesn’t help by the patronising tone of his comments like

The ladies in our church I speak to feel fulfilled and are serving God in ways consistent with however they are called by God. They can minister, they can lead, they can speak to the church.

– but of course we know that they cannot preach or be elders, and there is no sign of them speaking for themselves on such matters.

But this is not Adrian’s main point. His point is that there is so much that the church is missing out on, because either congregations are going to one extreme at the expense of the others, or they are seeking some kind of balance which pleases nobody. Just as Jesus was not half man and half God, but fully man and fully God, so we should not be half charismatic and half doctrinally sound, or half evangelistic and half socially concerned, or any other half and half balance, but we should seek to be fully all of these things.

A commenter on Adrian’s blog mentioned Smith Wigglesworth’s 1947 prophecy, recently republished by Adrian. Here is part of it:

When the new church phase is on the wane, there will be evidenced in the churches something that has not been seen before: a coming together of those with an emphasis on the Word and those with an emphasis on the Spirit. When the Word and the Spirit come together, there will be the biggest movement of the Holy Spirit that the nation, and indeed, the world, has ever seen.

Whatever we may think of this as an actual predictive prophecy, surely we should take it as wise words for the church today. Those with an emphasis on the Word and those with an emphasis on the Spirit need to come together, to seek together the moving of the Holy Spirit that can bring revival to our nation and to the world. When we stop our public bickering and work together, we can expect to see something truly great happening.

The Oak Hill connection

One point which I did not bring out in my post on the Chelmsford ordination row (see the helpful comment by Rev John Richardson, and my reply) is that, according to The Guardian, the candidate whom the bishop refused to ordain and his vicar had both trained for ordination at Oak Hill College. This Church of England theological college (“seminary” in US terms), situated in north London about thirty miles from my home, can be linked with several of the issues that have been discussed on this blog. It is certainly a centre for those opposed to homosexuality in the church. Also, the authors of the infamous book Pierced for Our Transgressions are all from this college; one, Mike Ovey, is its Principal. I understand that Oak Hill is also something of a centre for those in the Church of England who oppose the ordination of women, although the college does offer ordination training for women. Somehow it seems to me that these people have a totally different vision for the church from that of the main stream of the Church of England. I can’t help wondering if that different vision would be better expressed in a separate organisation.

Bishop refuses to ordain candidate who won't take communion from him

I thank Dave of The Cartoon Blog (which is often more serious than one might imagine) for this story relating to the Church of England diocese of Chelmsford, to which both of us are in some way attached – that is, we are both Anglicans living and worshipping within it. It seems that the Bishop of Chelmsford refused to ordain an ordination candidate, Richard Wood, because this candidate refused to take communion from him. I was actually at the service on 1st July where Richard was to have been ordained, supporting another candidate; Richard’s name was on the service sheet, and the service went ahead without him, with no explanation given.

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Following God's leading in decisions big and small

Dave Bish “the blue fish” writes The Spirit Says…, thanks to Adrian Warnock for the link. Now I know Dave mainly from his comments here and elsewhere on the atonement debate, on which he may think he is on the opposite side from me. But on this matter of the need to hear God’s voice in decision-making I can wholeheartedly recommend his post.

In a comment in response Adrian Reynolds asks

one big problem – how do you decide what is “big” as an issue or not? … E.g. is your choice of supermarket a big issue to seek guidance on – quite possibly! Where do you draw the line, unless you don’t draw the line…?

In principle I would go for not drawing the line, as does Luke Wood in his helpful comment in response. There are not some important or “religious” decisions we have to pray about and other trivial or “secular” ones for which we don’t need to bother with prayer. God may guide us to a particular supermarket so that we can meet and minister to someone there, or to keep us from a danger we might face at the alternative store. Even the colour of our socks can in principle affect our Christian witness. I don’t say that we should kneel down and ask God to tell us which socks to wear and then wait for an audible answer. But our whole lives should be lived prayerfully and in tune with God, so that we know when we are following his will, and feel a check in our spirits when we start to step outside them, even to the extent of choosing the wrong socks. Paul knew this call and this check on his missionary journeys, in the examples Dave quotes. As we learn to listen to God and follow his way in the small things of life (yes, even in which socks to wear), we find ourselves more and more able to keep in step with him in the bigger decisions.

That sounds good in theory, it’s another matter putting it into practice, especially when the going gets tough!

Learning Greek and Hebrew: joy or torment?

Different bloggers have been expressing very different opinions on the importance for pastors, priests and rabbis of learning biblical Greek and Hebrew. John Hobbins and Iyov, who both have a very scholarly perspective, seem to consider high levels of biblical language understanding essential for these callings, and regret that North American seminaries do not insist on this – and the situation is little different here in Britain. On the other hand, Suzanne McCarthy reminds us that book learning of this kind is not enough to make a good pastor:

I don’t really need a spiritual counselor who knows Greek or Hebrew. It can help, but empathy and knowledge of the human condition go further. If they can be combined with language knowledge – well that’s a different thing.

Lingamish, in his usual hyperbolic style, goes further. He writes:

Greek sucks. Hebrew hurts.

I don’t agree. But I understand what he is getting at when I read on:

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Old Testament sacrifices did not work by Penal Substitution

The atonement debate has mostly gone quiet, for which I am grateful – although I still have some more posts in the pipeline. But today Andrew has contributed to this debate as part of his ongoing review of David Brondos’ book Paul on the Cross. In his latest instalment Andrew puts forward clearly, and is convinced by, Brondos’ “case that Old Testament sacrifices were not understood to work by Penal Substitution”. In fact, from the evidence summarised by Andrew, this case which seems to be just about indisputable. But, he notes,

While Brondos’ treatment of how sacrifices don’t work was nice and thorough, I found him both brief and vague when it came to explaining just how sacrifices do work.

The church: the nation at prayer or a gathering of disciples?

At the start of a series (five posts so far, 2 3 4 5) at An Anabaptist Anglican, Tim Chesterton considers the questions “What does Anabaptism have to do with Anglicanism?”, “Anabaptist Anglican? How is that possible?” and “How are you still an Anglican?”, and starts to answer the questions. The series is intended to sum up what he has learned during his sabbatical here in England and will shortly take back to the Anglican church he leads in Canada.

This series looks like being important reading, not just for Anglicans and Anabaptists, but for all who are interested in questions like the title I have given to this post (not taken from Tim). For the Anabaptists were the first Christians in modern times to question the assumptions of more than a millennium of Christendom which almost identified the church and the state. The new directions into which they launched out have become many of the major controversies in the church for the last few centuries: Christ-centred Bible interpretation; emphases on evangelism and personal discipleship; rejection of a special class of clergy; believers’ baptism and a believers’ church; separation of the church and state; non-violence and pacifism. It seems to me that these controversies cannot be understood properly without a familiarity with the Anabaptist tradition.

I will refrain from further comment until the series has gone further. But I am personally interested in seeing how, if at all, Tim can justify remaining an Anglican while embracing, as I do, so much Anabaptist thinking.

Give, and it will be given to you

Michael Kruse reviews the book “Who Really Cares?” by Arthur C. Brooks, a study from a secular viewpoint of charitable giving in the USA and elsewhere, and how it relates to political and religious orientation. The basic conclusion of the book seems to be that religious people give much more to charity than secular people do, but that there is little difference between the giving of political conservatives and liberals. I must say I am surprised that Brooks and Kruse call this “The Surprising Truth”; to me it is rather predictable.

I was more struck by one paragraph from Kruse’s review:

One particularly interesting question Brooks deals with is the casual (sic) relationship between charity and prosperity, which seem to go together. Brooks concludes that charity actually leads to prosperity. Charity makes you feel good about yourself and more connected to others. This connectedness and other-centeredness are precisely the requisite traits that are needed to advance in business and to improve economically. Also, givers are considerably more happy than non-givers. (150)

(I assume that he means “causal” rather than “casual”.)

Now this sounds very like the teaching of the “prosperity gospel”, that the more people give, the more they will receive. Of course the prosperity preachers say that this is because God will bless the giver, whereas for Brooks it is a matter of the attitude of the giver. But perhaps there is no clear division here, God blesses the giver by giving them the right character to receive and to prosper. Certainly generous giving releases the person from a kind of mean-spiritedness which makes it very hard to find true prosperity and even harder to find happiness in it.

Now I utterly reject the kind of teaching which I see in the begging letters sent by some Christian ministries, of the kind “Send us money so that God will give you even more”. This is simply playing on people’s greed and gullibility. I suppose that some people teach like this because it works, because many people (but not me) do give in response to such letters. But I consider this to be immoral, although not necessarily a sign that the ministry itself is fundamentally wrong.

Nevertheless, there is teaching in the Bible, as well as in Brooks’ secular study, that giving leads to prosperity. Jesus said:

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

Luke 6:38 (TNIV)

So let’s not use wrong teaching about giving as an excuse to be mean. Let us give generously, not in order to get rich but in order to bless God and his work in the world. And we can expect that God will provide for us abundantly.