The churches of the West are in a bad way. You know it, I know it. Classical Liberal thinkers, both of faith and none, are understandably concerned about this. We know that the philosophy that underpins our freedoms, democratic systems, laws and very way of life are based on our Judeo-Christian heritage. Post-Modernism, the resurgence (yet again) of Marxism, and the never-ending climate of offence-taking and professional hysteria of the entitled classes are a very real and serious threat to our liberty, and to truth.
But rather than refute the Dawkins and Maher atheists, I think that the heart of the problem of Christian decline comes from within.
For well over half a century the Church has been infiltrated by an insidious ‘progressivism’. In my particular sphere of experience, the Church of England, this has involved everything from liturgical reforms to abandoning basic Christian beliefs. In Australia, they even changed the name to ‘Anglican’. I always thought that this was a ridiculous move; apart from the fact that it meant seasonal attendees could no longer find their churches or locate the option on their census forms, it was one of those pointless tinkering exercises – the word ‘Anglican’ means ‘English’ in Latin after all, hardly a casting aside of the imperial shackles.
This has been done in the name of ‘relevance’, the rebrand was an attempt to reach out to Australians so that they could feel it was theirs. I once heard the chair of the Anglican liturgical committee proudly proclaim that they had agreed on a “lower form of English” for the Holy Communion service. This patronising attitude aimed to bring in ‘the plebs’ shows both a stunning disconnection with contemporary people (the most literate generation in the history of the English language), and a very poor grasp of the history of the Church of England: Cranmer deliberately chose a higher register of English, a sacred language for the liturgy. In so doing he was reminding the faithful that worship of God is not the same as having a conversation with your next-door neighbour.
‘Progress’ didn’t end there either; the governance of the church was changed to embrace a form of democracy. This was never designed to be used for anything other than rearranging the furniture in individual dioceses, but it has been used to change matters of doctrine and order that go directly against not only the foundational documents of the Church of England, but the very Catholic faith. Truth cannot be discerned by majority vote.
In practical terms, this has led to schism in all but name not only between provinces of the Communion, but between dioceses within provinces. For example, Sydney Diocese affirms a male priesthood and episcopacy, upholds biblical disciplines regarding social and moral behaviour, and continues to stand firm in the face of overwhelming pressure on the Christian theology of marriage. Newcastle Diocese has women priests and bishops, and a recent pastoral letter from their bishop is seeking a ‘Newcastle Way’ on same-sex marriage. With typical sophistry this latest attack on basic Christian doctrine is done in the name of a ‘Comprehensive Anglicanism’; what on earth does that mean?
In those dioceses where progressivism and relativism has been embraced most fully, ever dwindling numbers of ageing faithful persevere with verbose sermons that say nothing at all. Thinly veiled leftist ideology is spouted from pulpits substituting ‘proletariat’ with ‘disciples’ and pushing agendas in the name of social justice whilst ignoring divine justice.
Fr Rod Bower’s leftist putsch (his failed bid for a Senate seat shows that social media popularity does not translate into votes), has highlighted the basic problem in the theological approach undertaken by those who have been elevated to preside over the demise of the Western Church, and in turn Western culture.
The fundamental error is that they approach theology from the perspective of their own political opinions, feelings, and experiences divorced from the revelation of God through the Church. It is ultimately an act of hubris that promotes an image of God made in the likeness of man – the opposite of what is revealed in the Book of Genesis. It is ultimately comparable with atheism, as they fail to believe that God is Sovereign rather than themselves. Why would anybody gather before this image of God? The embracing of ‘diversity’ has simply led to division and the expulsion of anybody holding to the eternal truths of God revealed through the whole Church. To use a thoroughly unacceptable (but true!) phrase: Satan divides; God unites.
What is so sad is that the institution that gave us universal childhood education (often beginning in the Rectory front room), and a basic standard of health care as part and parcel of normal society now jumps onto the latest bandwagon of everybody else’s campaigns with very little, if any, theological reflection or justification. This quickly becomes individualistic, vague, and unverifiable.
I have turned Eastward to find the remedy for this. I am converting to Orthodoxy, and I encourage any truth-seeking Western Christians to do likewise. The Orthodox Church, having experienced imprisonment and martyrdom under Communism will never fall for its cultural version currently invading the post-modern West. And what a different approach the Orthodox Church has.
Dr Philip Kariatlis, Academic Director of St Andrew’s Greek Orthodox Theological College explains: “Greater than a mere understanding of propositional truths about God, theology is rightly the study of the Church’s interpretation of communion with God that leads the faithful to understand their experiences of the nature of God.”
Without this lens of interpretation, our experiences quickly become a projection of our own idealised conception of how we think God must be, and not the real God at all. Post-modern clerics appear to be more at home inside Plato’s Cave interpreting the shadows than encountering God as He has revealed Himself truly and mysteriously through the Church.
I’m not looking for perfection, I myself am deeply imperfect, divorced, sinful. But the hope of restoration for myself and all humanity lies in Christ’s body, and that is what the Church is. If the Church is to become the engine room powering a return to Judeo-Christian values in the West she must return to her true faith, no matter how unfashionable it may be.
Fr Chris Yates was a UK policeman for 10 years before being ordained in the Church of England. He served as a priest in parishes in Australia and England before converting to Orthodoxy. He has also worked as a political adviser to Federal Senators.
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