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As a new survey shows 60% of people in the Church of England "never" read the Bible, Gavin Ashenden says its time for the CofE's leaders to step up
I've just come back from Russia. The last time I was there - 35 years ago - was when I became a Bible smuggler, and got caught by the KGB.
Two KGB majors ran the interrogation. They threatened to have me tried as a bullion smuggler (I'd failed to declare that a gold ring I was wearing was imported bullion). When I was found guilty, the sentence would be 20 years in the labour camp in Siberia, they said. In exchange for not prosecuting, they wanted the names of the contacts I was taking the Bibles to.
I survived the questioning, they didn't get the names and I lived to tell the tale.
But why did I (and others) smuggle Bibles?
Because the Bible is the bedrock of the Church. It's very hard indeed to survive as a Christian without meeting Jesus in the Gospels, where his words take on a life of their own and through which the Holy Spirit changes you.
The Russians are scornful of the way some Western Christians are capitulating to secular culture, particularly over the redefinition of marriage. At meetings I attended last week they said "we have lived under the dead weight of atheist secularism, and we know how empty and dangerous it is to human flourishing." Only the Bible challenges the claims of secularism.
When Marxism took brutal control of Russia in 1917, the activists who imposed the dictatorship had a number of targets. At the front of the line were Christians and the Church. Many people see the culture war that is sweeping over the West, the struggles over sex and sexuality and identity politics, as the next wave of Marxism, re-configuring culture this time, rather than economics. This is not just evolution, it's part of a revolution.
This ideology is attacking Judaeo-Christian culture and attempting to silence those who speak up for it. Justine Greening, the Government minister for Equalities threatens the Church and says we must "keep up" with modern attitudes. Dame Louise Casey rants that it's "not OK" for Catholic schools to be against gay marriage.
The cultural and political screws are slowly tightening against those who do read the Bible
Tim Farron ducked and dived under the media scrutiny that set out to see whether or not as an evangelical Christian he actually believed the Bible. He buckled under the pressure and gave up his office.
Jason Rees-Mogg made it very clear he did believe the Bible’s teaching and the Church’s defence of it, and was howled down in a tsunami of hate by the media and the progressives.
The cultural and political screws are slowly tightening against those who do read the Bible and keep faith with it in the public space.
Why are our leadership silent?
What help can the Church of England give to resist this censorship and attract people to the cause of Christ, if nearly two thirds of its members never read the Bible? If they don't read the Bible, you have to presume they don’t believe it either. You have to read it, to know what it teaches before you can believe and live it.
What does it say about the Bible when its Archbishops and bishops reject the teaching on sexuality, as they promote a 'radical inclusion' of homosexuality instead of the invitation to repent and be re-made, as all Christians are invited to repent and be re-made?
What example does the Church of England set when its hierarchy maintain a steely silence of the destruction of over 8 million children in the womb since the 1967 Act, when the Bible teaches "before I formed you in the womb I knew you" (Jeremiah 1:5) and shows human life to be sacred from conception?
Perhaps over 60% of Anglicans feel they can take or leave a book treated so casually by its leaders?
We cannot survive without the Bible
It is the Bible that has taught us to defend free speech as it promotes the role of the conscience and the power of the word. It is the Bible that provides a defence from slavery ancient and modern, as it celebrates the image of God in each person. It is the Bible that offers humanity glue to build as society with a pattern of marriage in which the children are the co-creation of the biological parents. It is the Bible that defends children at their most vulnerable in the womb. It is the Bible that acts as an antidote to oppressive dictatorships, Marxist or otherwise, which is why they try to silence and outlaw it. It is the Bible that promises people that are of infinite value an can be forgiven and changed.
A church cannot survive if its people are not formed by the Bible, and conformed to the radical new paradigm of humanity the Spirit in the Bible forges.
It is not enough for the CofE to suggest it wants people to "affiliate" with them even if "in practice they don't always choose to join in", as Rachel Jordan, the Church's National Mission and Evangelism adviser gently reassured. Perhaps we need to read our Bibles again? Specifically the bit where Jesus invites his followers, (not associates) to take up their cross for love of him? Or the bit where he teaches that words don’t cut it with God without action?
Our current approach isn't working
The entrance into Christianity is the point of need. When people discover that living on their own terms doesn’t work, they ask for help. The same is true for the flourishing by the Church. By now the leadership of the CofE must be discovering that doing Anglicanism in the way they have that takes its cultural and ethical standards from social and secular preferences, doesn't work.
Perhaps people may be encouraged to turn to the Bible if they were to hear the leaders of the Church take a prophetic rather than an accommodationist role with society? If the bishops and clergy were to speak out against secularism, its ethics and culture in the mode of "Thus saith the Lord God of Hosts", rather than "God loves you so much he wants you to be comfy and do your own thing."
If the bishops and more of the clergy of the CofE demonstrated their knowledge, love, and commitment to the Bible and its ethics in the way they challenged a culture that is sinking into secularism, then some of the people who can’t be bothered, might begin to wonder if there was something important enough about the Bible for them to take it more seriously. Then they might go to Church to worship and be taught and changed. Then society might be less easily lost to Karl Marx, and regained for Jesus Christ.
Gavin Ashenden has worked as a Vicar, University Chaplain and lecturer, BBC broadcaster, author and newspaper columnist. He writes a regular column for the Jersey Evening Post and lives between Shropshire and Normandy. For more information, visit his website ashenden.org
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