Thursday, 29 July 2010

A post in which I am rude about the Church of England

First of all let me say that some of my best friends are Anglicans … and now you know straight away that this week’s offering is going to be slagging off the Church of England.  Nonetheless that first sentence is not just a formality.  I really mean it.  We even have one of them on the staff here at NBLC.  Nope, I definitely like Anglicans.  As a matter of fact my wife was thinking of becoming an Anglican nun until we met.  Seriously.

What’s more not only are some of my best friends Anglicans but there are all manner of things about the established church that I really admire: things like their habit of reading big dollops of scripture in their services; things like their commitment to serve the entire country, every community and every square inch, as best they can;  things like the way they do communion and things like their bishops, well some of them anyway.

But then there’s the other stuff.  The stuff that gets up my nose and makes me want to tear my hair out.  The stuff that means that even if I wanted to become an Anglican (and there have been moments) I simply couldn’t bring my self to do it.

The stuff I have in mind is the priestly stuff, the deferential stuff, the hierarchical stuff.  Take the way they do church leadership for example. I mean to say, “My Lord Bishop”; “Lambeth Palace”.  Did I miss something the last time I read the gospels? Am I being simplistic?  Is it just me?

Then there’s the  whole clerical caste system thing.   “We get to dress up because we are special.”  Yes I know that’s not what they intend to say but it is what the fancy togs and the rest of the paraphernalia of the priesthood actually communicates, intentionally or otherwise.  And don’t get me wrong here, it’s not that I object to dressing up, but why can’t everyone join in?  Chasubles all round!

But hang on a minute why bang on about this in a newspaper aimed at Baptists?  Preaching to the converted?  A cheap and easy way of winning back a bit of approval after upsetting people with the last three columns?  Not really, more a concern that we as Baptists don’t become blind to similar tendencies in our own midst. 

You see, there’s much about Baptist church culture that irks me (as you might have spotted) but our avowed commitment to the priesthood of all believers and our anti-establishment, anti-hierarchical, inclusive, congregational ethos are not among them.  But how easily we forget these things. When we venerate pastors because of the position they hold, when we lust after ministries because of the power and status they will afford us, when we fail to do everything we can to mitigate the inherent tendency of fallen humanity to fall in love with status and position, then we betray our own heritage. 

We also fail in our ecumenical responsibility to serve the wider body of Christ by holding firm and holding out to others one of the treasures of our tradition.  You see this C of E bashing is really a way of being a good ecumenical.  No, really.  If relationships between different branches of the family are going to count for anything we’ve got to go on  sharpening our distinctives and using them to help each other to identify our blind spots.

Now, where’s my Church Times?  I wonder if it has an article on how to screw up the gospel … Baptist style.

My turn to do a month's worth of opinion pieces for the Baptist Times' "Outside Edge" column has come round again. With the agreement of the editor I'm posting my BT article here. To check out the Baptist Times as a whole click here.


Stephen Lingwood said...


Anonymous said...

I added myself to follow your blog. You are more than welcome to visit mine and become a follower if you want to.

God Bless You ~Ron

Peter Perfect said...

Nice article Glen. Have you ever served on a Churches Together committee?

Glen Marshall said...

Thanks Pete, yes, two or three.

Ash Hardingham said...

Having recently read the chapter of John Colwell's book where he talks about the sacrament of ministry, I guess you will be unlikely to feature on his Christmas Card list for the foreseeable future.