Tweets on the Homilies II

Tweets on the Homilies II

Following my previous post on the First Book of Homilies, here are my tweets on the Second Book of Homilies. As before, the full texts of the homilies in question can be found in Ian Robinson (ed) The Homilies (Brynmill/Preservation Press, 2006).

My next set of tweets will be on the Book of Common Prayer

Of the right Use of the Church
Churches are holy places set aside for prayer, preaching and the sacraments. We should go there diligently and reverently.

Against Peril of Idolatry
Setting up images in churches or offering devotion to them is a form of idolatry and is contrary to Scripture and the Fathers.

For Repairing and Keeping Clean of Churches
We must honour God not only by behaving reverently in church, but by keeping our churches clean and in good repair.

Of Good Works and first of Fasting
Christians should fast in order to curb the flesh, become more fervent in prayer and witness to their sorrow for their sins.

Against Gluttony and Drunkenness

Excess in eating and drinking is hateful to God. We must learn sobriety and moderation and give ourselves to abstinence and fasting.

Against Excess of Apparel
Christians need to use the gifts that God has given to us in creation with moderation, avoiding vanity and caring for the poor.

Concerning Prayer
We must ask God for what we need in soul and body and for our neighbours’ needs. We shouldn’t pray to angels, saints or martyrs.

Of the Place and Time of Prayer
We must go to church each Sunday with faith in God and charity to our neighbours to hear the word and receive the sacrament.

Of Common Prayer and Sacraments in a Tongue Understood
Scripture and the Fathers teach us that in public worship and administering the sacraments no unknown language should be used.

For them which take Offence at certain Places of Holy Scripture
The whole of Scripture is God’s word. If we find bits of it difficult we must still accept that what God says has to be true.

Of Almsdeeds and Mercifulness
God counts our service to the poor & needy as service to Him & if we give generously to those in need God will take care of us.

Of the Nativity of our Saviour Jesus Christ
Jesus Christ, born of Mary, true God and true Man, came into the world to reveal God, defeat the devil and free us from sin.

For Good Friday: concerning the Death and Passion of our Saviour Jesus Christ

If we truly believe that Christ died for us then we will respond by giving all that we are and have in love for our neighbours.

The Second Homily concerning the Passion
Faith is the only instrument of salvation given to us. So when we sin we must put our trust solely in Christ’s death for us.

Of the Resurrection of our Saviour Jesus Christ; for Easter Day

Christ’s resurrection shows that he has defeated death, sin & the devil. We show our gratitude by striving to live a holy life.

Of the Worthy Receiving of the Sacrament
We must come to the Lord’s Supper with knowledge of what it means, faith in God, praise for him and love for our neighbour.

Of the Coming Down of the Holy Ghost: for Whitsunday

The Holy Spirit is the 3rd person of the Trinity. He regenerates and sanctifies us. His work is shown by his fruits and gifts.

For Rogation Week: that all Good Things cometh from God
Every good thing that we have, temporal and spiritual, comes from God. Our calling is to use them diligently in His service.

Perambulations in Rogation Week
Our life is transitory. We should spend it in love and charity not focussing on our rights or coveting what belongs to others.

Of the State of Matrimony
Marriage is intended by God to be a perpetually friendly fellowship. We must pray for protection against discord and division.

Against Idleness
It is God’s will that our life here on earth should not be spent in idleness, but in some honest and godly exercise and labour.

Of Repentance and True Reconciliation unto God
The Bible calls us to repentance. We must confess and turn from idolatry and wickedness and embrace, love and worship God alone.

Against Disobedience and Wilful Rebellion
God wills our obedience to those in political authority. We must pray for them and submit to them even when they do evil.

Marriage, Sex and Salvation – Part II

Marriage, Sex and Salvation – Part II

In the first part of this blog post I explained how the traditional Christian sexual ethic is based on God’s creation of human beings as male and female and on a summons to sexual holiness that flows from this. I further explained that this ethic can be summarised in the words of C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity: ‘the Christian rule is ‘either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.’’

There are three challenges which are normally made to the Christian sexual ethic as I have described it. These are (a) that love is the most important thing in sexual ethics and that sex does not have to be within marriage in order to be loving, (b) it is unkind to expect anyone to live without sex and (c) that provided sexual activity takes place between consenting adults and does not harm anyone else then it is ethically acceptable.

Beginning with the first objection, the key point is that what love means can only be understood in relation to the created order as God has established it. According to Christian love is about helping the created order to achieve the end intended for it by God. Thus as Oliver O’Donovan writes in his book Resurrection and Moral Order, love:

…attempts to act for any being only on the basis of the appreciation of that being. Thus classical Christian descriptions of love are often found invoking two other terms which expound its sense; the first is ‘wisdom,’ which is the intellectual apprehension of the order of things which discloses how each stands in relation to the other; the second is ‘delight’ which is affective attention to something simply for what it is and the fact that it is.

This may sound terribly abstract, but it is relevant to our concern because it means that in order to love any other human being properly I have to understand and delight in who they are and act accordingly. This means that if I understand that they are not my wife or husband, but are instead my mother, or a friend of the same sex, or someone who is married to someone else, I am called to delight in them as they are and not seek to have sex with them. To have sex with them would be to contravene the will of God by acting against the way that God has made them to be and the way God has made me to be and would therefore not be behaving with love.

Moving on to the second objection, the point that has to be understood is that being unkind to someone means not giving them some legitimate good which it is proper for them to have as human beings. Thus the way that God has made human beings means that it is proper for all humans to have food, water, shelter, education, friendship and so forth, and it would be unkind to deprive anyone of these things.

Marriage (and sex as part of marriage) is likewise a good of which it would be unkind to deprive people. That is why Paul in 1Timothy 4:3 rejects as heretical those who ‘forbid marriage’ and why the Christian Church down the ages has always taken the same position. However, sex outside marriage is not something that is good and therefore it would not be unkind to say that people should not engage in it. It is like the way in which food is good, but gluttony is not and that drink is good but drunkenness is not. It would not be unkind to say that people should not engage in gluttony and drunkenness and similarly it is not unkind to say that people should not engage in extra marital sex.

It should also be noted that, although marriage is a good, it is not a necessary good for every human being in the same way that things like food, drink, shelter and education are. As the example of Jesus, Paul, and millions of others down the centuries have shown, it is possible to live a perfectly happy and fulfilled life without being married. This means that saying that particular people have to be allowed to marry in order to be fulfilled as human beings is simply mistaken. Furthermore, when it is claimed that the traditional Christian position has been that ‘gay people are not allowed to marry’ this is also mistaken. They are just as entitled to marry as anyone else. It is just that they cannot marry someone of the same sex since that is not marriage, in the same way that a triangle is not a square.

Moving on to the third and final objection, what has to be grasped is that all inappropriate forms of sexual activity always harm somebody. Because they are sinful they harm the individuals who engage in them spiritually and potentially eternally. To put it another way, sinful sex (like all other forms of sin) poisons the soul because it involves a rejection of God’s will. That is why Jesus tells us in the Sermon on the Mount that we have to take drastic action if we are being led into such sin (‘If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell’).

In addition, sexual sin causes temporal harm both to individuals and to society. First of all, sexual promiscuity damages people’s physical and mental health and even their enjoyment of sex itself. Secondly, faithful and stable marital relationships are the bedrock of society and when they are undermined by a climate of sexual license this damages society as a whole. Thus the American writer Caitlin Flanagan writes concerning the impact on the United States of the sexual revolution that has taken place there since the 1960s:

There is no other single force causing as much human misery in this country as the collapse of marriage. It hurts children, it reduces mother’s financial security, and it has landed with particular devastation on those who can bear it least: the nation’s underclass.

To put it simply, there is a price for free love and it has been paid by single mothers, by children and by the poor. Defending traditional Christian sexual morality is thus a key part of the Christian duty to protect the poor and the vulnerable.

If all this is so, what are the missionary and pastoral issues that we need to think about?

We are called to be counter-cultural.

Jesus called his disciples to be salt and light in a corrupt and dark world (Matthew
5:13-16). In order to carry out this mandate we need to be counter-cultural in both our teaching and our lifestyle. This is as true in the area of marriage and sexuality as in any other area. If we fail to do this we are failing both God and the needy world to which he has sent us.

We need to acknowledge that we are all sinners

As the story of Jesus and the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) reminds us, we are never in a position to throw stones at other people for their sexual conduct. The starting point for our mission and pastoral care is not that we are righteous and everyone else is not. The starting point is instead that both we and the people to whom God calls us to minister are sinners who stand together in need of God’s mercy and God’s healing and re-creative power.

Sin is like mushrooms

Sexual sin (like every other kind of sin) is like mushrooms. Why? Because it flourishes in the dark. The only way we can deal effectively with our own sin and the sins of others is if we and they acknowledge and are appropriately open about our shortcomings. Obviously confidentiality has to be respected, but unless people are prepared to admit to other members of the Church that they are in difficulty and need God’s help then they will not be able to receive the support, counsel and prayer that they need in order for sin to be defeated.

We need to be welcoming but not affirming.

In her book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert Rosaria Butterfield writes that the Pastor who led her to Christ ‘stressed that he accepted me as a lesbian, but that he didn’t approve of me as a lesbian.’ This distinction between acceptance and approval is a crucial one. God accepts us as we are, but he does not approve of our sinfulness and calls us to let him heal us of it. We have to have the same attitude. We need to accept people as they are, but be prepared to challenge them and walk with them as they seek to become the people God calls them to be.

We need to be role models

What will give credibility to our teaching about sexual ethics is the credibility of our life styles. Conversely, our own personal failures will discredit our teaching. This means that we need to be as scrupulous as we can be about our own personal conduct, not just for the sake our relationship with God, but also for the sake of the example that we are called to give to those around us.

We need to be patient.

Particularly in the area of sexuality, sin is extremely powerful. This is, firstly, because of all the biological drives which affect human beings the sex drive is the one linked most strongly to pleasure and the impulse to pleasure is extremely powerful and addictive. Sexual addiction works just like other forms of addiction such as addiction to alcohol and drugs, which is why it leads otherwise sensible people to do incredibly stupid things. It is also because sexual activity normally involves relationships with other people and these can be very difficult to walk away from.

This combination of biology and relationships means that changing patterns of sexual behaviour is generally very difficult and can take a long time. This in turn means that if we want to help people to pursue holiness in this area we need to be in it for the long term. There is extremely unlikely to be any quick fix. However, we must never give up because there is literally no limit to what the power of God can do. The God who created the world and who raised Jesus from the dead is even more powerful than sex.

Marriage, sex and salvation – Part I

Marriage, Sexuality and Salvation: Part I

This week’s blog is the first of a two part exploration of the traditional Christian understanding of marriage and sexuality and how this relates to the Christian view that our life in this world is a journey towards the world that is to come, a journey that has two possible outcomes.

The recent introduction of same sex ‘marriage’ has made the Christian view of sex and marriage a very controversial topic at the moment and it often comes up in the context of evangelism. One of the excuses that is now often given for refusing to engage with the truth claims made by the Christian faith is that Christians have old fashioned and repressive attitudes towards human sexuality, and particularly towards homosexuality, and therefore whatever else they may have to say is not worthy of further consideration. To put it simply, Christians are homophobic bigots and that is the end of the matter.

Now, what I am not going to give you in this blog is a crushing one line answer to this objection to Christian faith. Even if I was capable of doing so (which I am not), I do not think that this would be very helpful. One line answers, crushing or otherwise, are rarely very useful in evangelism. People are not generally won for Christ through clever intellectual arguments, but by the Holy Spirit working through long term, patient dialogue backed up by the consistent witness of people’s lifestyles.

What I shall do instead is attempt to set out the mainstream Christian understanding of marriage and sexuality which has been held in the Church for the last two thousand years and to explain why, from a Christian standpoint, it makes sense.

The Christian understanding of marriage and sexuality, like the Christian understanding of everything else in life, starts off with the conviction that we have to view this present world as a place that we are passing through on the way to somewhere else. As the writer to the Hebrews puts it: ‘For here we have no lasting city, but we are looking for the city that is to come’ (Hebrew 13:14). Like the hero of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress we are on a journey towards the celestial city, ‘the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven’ described by St. John in Revelation 21-22, the place where we shall be eternally blessed by sharing life with God for ever.

One of the key points made by Bunyan in Pilgrim’s Progress is that reaching the celestial city is not inevitable. You have to be a certain type of person living in a certain type of way to get there. In the Bible what it means to be this kind of person is set out for us in Psalm 1.

‘Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water,
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.’

What this tells us is that there are two ways to live and that it is only the person whose life is focussed on obedience to God’s law, that is the will of God as this has been revealed to us in Holy Scripture, who is blessed by God and who will be able to endure the final judgement and live with God for ever.

The idea that there will be a final judgement which will lead to some people being excluded for ever from the kingdom of God is something that many people find hard to accept, but it makes sense once you understand that God’s kingdom is, as the Lord’s Prayer says, that place where God’s will is done. The citizens of the kingdom are thus those human beings and angels who are capable of delighting in God and his will. Conversely those human beings and angels who, through their own choices, have made themselves incapable of delighting in God and his will, cannot dwell in that kingdom. They will have excluded themselves from it and God’s judgement will be declaration of that reality. To quote C S Lewis, in the end ‘there are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.’

What all this means is that this life is a serious business. What we do in this life really matters because it has eternal consequences. What is true of life in general is also true of our conduct in respect of sex. This, too, involves making a choice about whether to go God’s way or not. This is made clear, for example, in the following two passages, one from Jesus himself and one from Paul.

First Jesus

‘You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away; it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.’ (Matthew 5:27-30)

Then Paul

‘God’s plan is to make you holy, and that entails first of all a clean cut with sexual immorality. Every one of you should learn to control his body, keeping it pure and treating it with respect, and never regarding it as an instrument for self-gratification, as do pagans with no knowledge of God. You cannot break this rule without in some way cheating your fellow-men. And you must remember that God will punish all who do offend in this matter, and we have warned you how we have seen this work out in our experience of life. The calling of God is not to impurity but to the most thorough purity, and anyone who makes light of the matter is not making light of man’s ruling but of God’s command. It is not for nothing that the Spirit God gives us is called the Holy Spirit.’ (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 – J.B. Philips translation)

Both of these passages make it clear that sexual immorality is completely incompatible with being a follower of Jesus Christ. God will judge not only sexually immoral actions, but even sexually immoral thoughts, and as Christians we need to live in the light of this fact. Sexual holiness is therefore not optional.

If we are to live lives of sexual holiness we need to know what such holiness involves. What is God’s will for human beings in relation to their sexual conduct? In the two passages just quoted we have seen snapshots of what is involved, but what is the big picture they reflect?

To understand this big picture we have to go right back to the beginning, to the accounts of God’s creation of the human race contained in the first two chapters of the Book of Genesis. The reason these two chapters are crucial is because they lay down God’s intention for human life on this planet, an intention that he has never revoked. Just as Jesus’ resurrection did not mean a rejection of his human nature, but its taking up into a new stage of human existence, so also the new life that God grants us as Christians does not cancel out God’s purpose for us as human beings laid down at creation, but enables us to fulfil it.

For the purposes of understanding what sexual holiness involves there are two key passages from Genesis that we need to consider. The first is Genesis 1:26-28:

‘Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” ‘

The second is Genesis 2:18-24:

‘Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.” So out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every beast of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh; and the rib which the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.”

Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.’

The first passage tell us that God made human beings in two sexes, both of whom were equally created in God’s image and likeness, and that men and women together are blessed by God and are called to be fruitful and multiply and to exercise stewardship over the created order on God’s behalf.

The second tells us that marriage is the social form that gives primary expression to the divinely created relationship of interdependence between men and women. The man is incomplete on his own and cannot fulfil the vocation that God has given him and so God creates the woman to be his perfect companion and therefore in marriage ‘a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.’ Each marriage, that is to say, is a fresh expression and re-affirmation of God’s original creation of men and women to serve him together in the world. In addition, as St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:21-32, it is also intended to be an image of the relationships between Christ and his Church, in the same way that in the Old Testament marriage was an image of the relationship between God and Israel.

It is within this marital relationship that sex has its proper place. Within marriage, sex has three equally important functions. First, it consummates the union between a man and a woman. It is the physical means through which the two become ‘one flesh.’ Secondly, it is a means through which, by the giving and receiving of physical pleasure the love between a married couple is expressed and deepened (for a biblical account of this see the Song of Songs throughout). Thirdly, it is the normal and natural means by which a married couple can fulfil the God given mandate to ‘be fruitful and multiply.’

Just as the God given purpose of food is to satisfy our hunger and the purpose of drink is to satisfy our thirst, so the God given purpose of sex is to fulfil these three ends within marriage.

The Christian sexual ethic is based on this fact in a number of ways.

First of all it holds that sex is a good within marriage and that, as Paul teaches in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5, a married couple should therefore not refuse sexual relations with each other except for a specific purpose and for a specific period of time.

Secondly, it holds that although not every act of sexual intercourse should be expected or intended to lead to the procreation of children, nevertheless sexual relations should be open to fulfilment through the gift of children. For this reason a sexual relationship within marriage that was intentionally closed to having any children would be morally wrong. This is, incidentally, something on which Anglicans and Roman Catholics have traditionally agreed. The difference between the two traditions has been that since the 1930s Anglicans have felt it right to use artificial contraception to limit fertility whereas Roman Catholics have argued for the use of natural family planning instead.

Thirdly, it holds that because God wills that sex should find its proper place within marriage, sex outside the marital context is sinful. Once again the analogy with food and drink is illuminating.

Food has a good and pleasurable place in human existence when it used to satisfy hunger. However, when desire for the consumption of food becomes an end in itself and becomes excessive this is the sin of gluttony. Likewise, the consumption of alcoholic drink if one is thirsty is a perfectly good thing to do, but the immoderate consumption of alcohol purely for the sake of intoxication becomes the sin of drunkenness.

In a similar way sex has a proper place in human existence within marriage for the purposes outlined above. However, forms of sexual activity that fall outside of this context constitute the sin which the New Testament refers to by the blanket term ‘porneia’ which is translated into English as ‘sexual uncleanness’ or ‘sexual immorality.’

These forms of sexual activity can be broken down into a number of categories. There are unacceptable forms of sex within marriage such as marital rape and sadomasochism (popularised today in Fifty Shades of Grey and its numerous imitators). There is sex before marriage. There is sex outside marriage in the form of adultery. Finally, there are forms of sexual activity that fall outside the parameters laid down for marriage, including necrophilia, bestiality, paedophilia, incest, and, controversially today, homosexuality. Some of these forms of sexual activity are specifically condemned in Scripture (see for example the list of sexual offences in Leviticus 18:1-23) and others, such as sadomasochism within marriage, have to be rejected because they go against what Scripture teaches about the dignity of the human person.

The reason that homosexuality is on the list is that it falls outside the parameters of marriage for two reasons: firstly, because it is a relationship between two men or two women rather than a man and a woman and secondly because it is intrinsically closed to the procreation of children. A relationship that is between two people of the same sex and that can never be procreative is simply not marriage. Therefore homosexual sex can never be marital sex and as such it must always be sinful.

In summary, we can thus say with C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity that ‘the Christian rule is ‘Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.’’ We can also see that this rule makes perfect sense once you understand sex within its proper God given context of marriage.

However, as we know, not everyone is happy with the traditional Christian approach, so in next week’s blog I shall begin by looking at a series of objections to the traditional Christian position and explaining why I think they are mistaken.

People are not hogs

People are not Hogs

The Prime Minister’s Church Times article ‘My Faith in the Church of England’ has sparked off a debate about the place of Christianity in the life of this country and about the establishment of the Church of England in particular. What has been notable about this debate is a lack of a proper theological explanation and defence of the establishment of the Church. This blog is an attempt to remedy this omission.

A good place to start thinking about the establishment of the Church is some words from the 16th century Church of England theologian Richard Hooker written in response to those in his day who thought that the Church of England should not be established:

‘A gross error it is, to think that regal power ought to serve for the good of the body, and not of the soul; for men’s temporal peace, and not for their eternal safety: as if God had ordained kings for no other end and purpose but only to fat up men like hogs, and to see that they have their mast. Indeed, to lead men unto salvation by the hand of secret, invisible and ghostly regiment, or by the external administration of things belonging unto priestly order, (such as the word and sacraments are,) this is denied unto Christian kings: no cause in the world to think them uncapable of supreme authority in the outward government which disposeth the affairs of religion so far as the same are disposable by human authority, and to think them uncapable thereof, only for that the said religion is everlastingly beneficial to them that faithfully continue in it.’

What Hooker is saying here is that while rulers may not preach the word or administer the sacraments it is part of their role to ensure that people’s souls are cared for as well as their bodies. This makes absolutely no sense if you are a secularist and believe that this life is all that there is. However, if, in the words of the Creed, you believe in ‘the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come’, if you believe that the final destiny intended by God for human beings is not the grave or the crematorium but ‘the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God’ (Revelation 21:2) and if you believe, as the New Testament tells us, that participation in the life of the new Jerusalem is not automatic, but depends on our belief and behaviour in this life, then you will think that it is the proper business of rulers to care for the spiritual well-being of their subjects.

To unpack this point further we need to consider the traditional Christian view of the role of governments. This view starts from the conviction that the ultimate governmental power belongs to Jesus Christ. In Matthew 28:18 the risen Jesus tells his disciples ‘All authority on heaven and on earth has been given to me’ and we are told in Revelation 1:5 that Jesus is ‘the ruler of kings on earth’ In Revelation as a whole the implications of this truth are set out in narrative form as we are told how the power of the seemingly invincible Roman Empire is subjected to the authority of Jesus crucified and risen and so gives way to the coming of God’s final kingdom.

As the New Testament scholar Charles Cranfield notes, the Church is that part of Jesus’ dominion ‘in which his authority is already in some measure known and acknowledged.’ In the Church Jesus rules through his word and his Spirit and through the ministry of those leaders that he has raised up to be the shepherds of his people. However, Jesus’ authority is not only exercised in the Church. To quote Cranfield again, because Jesus is the ‘ruler of the kings of the earth’ it follows that ‘whether consciously or unconsciously, willingly or unwillingly, directly or indirectly, the governments of the nations serve his purposes.’

From this perspective, and on the basis of New Testament passages such as Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:13-17, the Christian Church has consistently held that although governments can become oppressive, the existence of government as such is something that is positive and indeed God given. The role of government is not to do everything in society, since individuals, families and other social organizations (including the Church) each have their own proper role to play in enabling the well-being of society. Rather, as both the passages just mentioned emphasize, the role of government is to promote the well-being of human societies under God by performing acts of judgment in response to wrongdoing. The final coming of God’s kingdom will bring about a state of perfect justice through an act of judgment in which all wrongs are put right and the role of government is provisionally to anticipate that final state of justice by acts of judgment in the here and now.

These acts of judgment can be either reactive or proactive. They are reactive when they are a response to acts of wrongdoing that have already been committed: as when someone commits a crime and is punished by the state. They are proactive when they are intended to prevent forms of wrongdoing that are foreseen.

If we apply this view of governmental authority to the issue of religion we can say that there are three forms of wrong to which governments need to respond.

a) It would be wrong for a nation not to corporately acknowledge Christ and his Lordship.
b) It would be wrong for a nation not to frame its laws so as to reflect the values of God’s coming kingdom
c) It would be wrong for individuals not to have the opportunity to relate rightly to God now so that
they can subsequently enjoy life with him forever.

Bearing in mind the limited role of government noted earlier, we can further say the role of the government, guided by the Church speaking on the basis of the Scriptures (the ‘oracles of God’ referred to in the coronation service), is, while avoiding religious coercion, to seek as far as it can to ensure (a) and (b) and to support the Church, to call it to account and reform it where necessary, in order to ensure that (c) comes about through the Church’s mission to the nation in which it proclaims the gospel through word and sacrament.

For its part the Church needs to be willing to give guidance to the state about (a) and (b) and be willing to be accountable to the state in terms of (c), acknowledging that the government has a legitimate interest in the Church’s performance of its God given mission.

My former colleague Paul Avis sums up this way of thinking when he writes that:

‘As twin divinely ordained institutions – two channels through which God works for the well-being of God’s human creatures – church and state must necessarily relate to each other. They cannot ignore each other’s existence. This can be put more positively by saying that they have mutual obligations and must, therefore, reach an arrangement that respects the calling and integrity of the other. The Church should not attempt to usurp the role of the State, legislating for the temporal aspects of society. The State should not attempt to dominate or control the Church or to usurp its spiritual authority. But that cannot mean that there is no interaction between them. In cognisance of its moral and spiritual obligations, the state may give formal recognition, in law and in the constitution, to the Christian religion and to one or more particular churches. This acknowledgement provides the Church with pastoral and prophetic opportunities that it cannot renounce without betraying its mission. It is helped to bring its ministry to bear on the life of the nation in every level: in local communities; in the numerous institutions that make up civil society; and nationally, in terms of public doctrine. It will not always be heeded, but to speak and sometimes to be ignored is better than to be structurally marginalized and socially invisible.’

It is this framework of thinking that has traditionally shaped the relationship between the Church and the state since Saxon times and which continues to be reflected in the coronation service and the establishment of the Church of England.

In a better world the Church would not be divided and so it would not be the Church of England as one denomination among others, but simply the Church that was established. However, we are where we are, and as the Church of England is currently the only church that is either (i) willing to undertake the role of being the established Church and (ii) has the capacity to do so, it makes sense for it to continue in that role on the understanding that it is representing the Christian church as a whole.

Establishment is thus not predicated on the basis that the Church is ‘owned and directed by a modern secular state,’ as some have suggested. It is predicated on the basis that the state and the Church both acknowledge their complementary responsibilities before God for the welfare of the nation. The establishment of the Church of England thus has a theological basis in a distinctive vision of the proper roles and relationship of government and the Church and it is this theology that must be borne in mind when any discussion of establishment takes place.