One Rector writes of his disappointment of what is happening in the Church of Ireland
At the beginning of this article I want to state clearly that this is a personal reflection. Nothing discussed here has been put into place. This is one view of the way ahead.
For many faithful members of the Church of Ireland the future looks bleak indeed. Any hope they had of the Church of Ireland being revived has faded into the background. The civil partnership controversy has finally ripped apart any semblance of unity that had remained. The average member of the Church of Ireland has felt powerless in the face of such actions and at a loss to explain the silence of their leaders on this subject. The House of Bishops has been conspicuous by its silence. At the time of writing not one bishop has spoken publicly in defence of the historic biblical teaching of the church on human sexuality. This demonstrates how far we have departed from the foundations of the Scriptures in our beloved Church of Ireland. When those called to maintain truth and drive away error fail to speak, there is either a climate of fear pervading the institution or it is so sick it is at death's door. It cannot be the climate of fear or lack of courage, as in the past they have not remained silent on other issues which directly and indirectly impacted on their people.
Outlined below are some thoughts about the future for those who are orthodox biblical Christians within the Church of Ireland.
At the beginning we should note that this battle over human sexuality is in fact a battle about the authority of Scripture in the life of the church. If, as the revisionists wish, we no longer treat what the bible says is sin as sin then Scripture is no longer the final authority in our church. We should no longer say ‘this is the Word of the Lord’ after a public reading of the bible as we no longer hold to those words in life and doctrine. We have arrived at a point in the life of the Church of Ireland that is a direct consequence of the liberal teaching and training of clergy over many decades. Evangelicals were vilified, sometimes by those who claimed to be evangelicals, for criticising the training of ordinands in the past. However, when we look around our church we see the dire consequences of such training – liberal teaching and leadership that denies the plain teaching of Scripture and condones sinful lifestyles. We are left now with no moral authority in our church or society because we have moral standard by which to judge any action, behaviour or chosen lifestyle. The result is that the Church of Ireland is now struck dumb on issues of personal morality and ethics. The gods of ‘tolerance’ and ‘inclusivity’ are now bowed down to and worshipped above all else. The Word of God has been sidelined, ignored, denigrated, denied and abandoned in favour of cultural and moral relativism.
Leadership – what leadership? For many ordinary members of the Church of Ireland the lack of leadership, especially from the house of bishops, in this current crisis has deeply saddened them. However, an important question for us now is where do we look for leadership in the future? As Anglicans we believe in the historic episcopate as part of the three fold ministry of the church. We value pastoral and spiritual oversight of godly faithful bishops. Yet we must ask what happens when a bishop acts, or allows his clergy to act, in a manner which is clearly contrary to Scripture? The time has come for us to face the reality that our faithful brothers and sisters in other parts of the Anglican Communion have had to, namely that alternative Episcopal oversight is the only way forward if we wish to remain faithful to Christ and the bible. One commentator from the USA said that they had fought for 15 years over the issue of liberalisation of human sexuality within the Episcopal Church before finally realising the battle was lost and they had to leave and seek alternative structures. Do we really want to waste energy, resources and time in a battle with the liberals who have already shown by their actions that they will go ahead regardless of anything or anyone’s opinion? We should be under no illusions this will be a painful road and a difficult road for us to walk but as we look into the future there appears to be no alternative for us. We will remain within the Church of Ireland as we have not departed from the historic faith of the church as expressed in the 39 Articles, the Preamble and Declaration and the Ordinal. The liberals, those promoting and allowing such behaviour as civil partnerships, have departed from this faith. We will remain but we cannot accept oversight from bishops who have departed from the teaching of the bible. Nor can we financially support structures and projects which are working contrary to the gospel. We are being left with no choice but to turn to faithful bishops for oversight. If those bishops within the Church of Ireland who are faithful will not offer that oversight then we will be left with only one choice, namely to turn to our brothers in Christ outside of Ireland. If needs be, we should explore the option of having a bishop consecrated for the faithful in the Church of Ireland.
When I look to the future I also see a time when we may need to have our clergy ordained outside of Ireland. It may be irregular but it would be valid. A precedent has been set in the Church of England for such an action. Again, this is an action that we would not enter into lightly but it may come to pass as the liberalism which dominates the house of bishops may prevent evangelicals being accepted for training and ordination.
Evangelism -When we look around us it is very apparent that there are swathes of this island where there is no gospel witness. The historic structures of the Church of Ireland do not lend themselves to rapidly changing culture of the 21st Century. Parish boundaries mean nothing to people who are now connected by social networks rather than familial or geographic locations. If we are to win this island for Christ we need to be willing to once again become a ‘missionary people.’ We no longer need to send missionaries overseas but actually across the street. We need missionaries to come to Ireland, North and South. We need leaders at parish and diocesan levels who are willing to take risks, to reach out, to try something new in order to engage people with the good news of Jesus. There is a place for robed choirs, robed clergy and all that many hold dear in the Church of Ireland. Such traditions and historic worship have their place in the 21st Century, they are valid and to be valued. However, they are not the only, nor the ‘right’, way to worship almighty God. Where they hinder the advancement of the gospel then they need to be set aside for the sake of the gospel and the leadership of the Church of Ireland needs to lead in this respect. Gospel priorities must come first. To seek to maintain a Church of Ireland identity or ethos is in fact to seek to manage decline. Within a generation such an attitude will see the closure of many parish churches. As a church we have been good at sending people to Judea, Samaria and even the ends of the earth. However, we have failed in sending people to Jerusalem. Evangelism and mission is not even on the agenda of vast parts of our church and then we wonder why numbers are declining?
Prayer – when you look at the Prayer Book we read of Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. I am struck by that. It is not Morning Worship and Evening Worship but ‘Prayer.’ Prayer is central to the life of a church, it is its lifeblood. Where a church is not praying there is decline, immorality and death. If this article could do one thing it would be to encourage you to pray. Pray for your parish clergy. Pray that they might lead you by example in holiness of life, in godly pasturing and in biblical teaching. Pray the same for your diocesan bishop. Pray for repentance from sin in the leadership of our church. Pray for renewal of lives and for revival to sweep your parish, diocese and the whole of Church of Ireland. You may feel powerless in the face of what has been happening in the Church of Ireland but you are not – pray.