Anglican Samizdat

May 1, 2009

Pollyanna Christianity

Filed under: Anglican Church of Canada — David Jenkins @ 3:46 pm

A thread on another blog started me thinking about how things could have gone so catastrophically wrong in the Western Anglican church without a large number of people standing up and saying “Enough – stop!”

In Canada, part of the reason is that we want so much to be Nice To Each Other (well, I don’t), so when we disagree we have to affirm people on the other side of the issue and, preferably have a “conversation”, rather than an argument.

A tolerant, liberal drift has infected much of the Western church – to the extent that, when we disagree, it has to be at the level of “I’m OK,you’re OK” even if the truth demands that, if I’m right, you are really far from OK. This uncomfortable situation was incisively illustrated at a synod in the diocese of Niagara. When the issue of same sex blessings was discussed, a number of clergy stated that they could not go along with it because they could not contradict a clear biblical teaching. In the ensuing discussion, it became clear that many clergy were unwilling to admit that, as a Christian, one must at least attempt to adhere to clear biblical teaching. Finally, an astute fellow with a funny collar stood up and said with an air of one suffering a mortal insult: “you are saying that I am not a Christian!” Bingo.

Here, there is a plea for discussion to be conducted in “a positive, life giving way”. What does this mean? If the truth is that the “gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few”, then surely the positive and life-giving thing to do is to make the case for the “narrow way” as strenuously as possible; even if it means being less than nice.

When it comes to addressing church leaders who are leading their flock away from the narrow gate, I am a Luke 17:2 and Gal 5:12 enthusiast.



  1. I’ve spent a lot of time wondering about the question in your first paragraph.

    Part of the answer, I believe, is that until the Internet people did not realize how widespread the rot was and how it was growing. You would here stories that there was a heretical minister here and a Bible-denier there, but it was all undocumented and the tendency was to think of these people as representing a small minority of the kind that plagues every church.

    And there was some complacency. A few decades ago, Primate Edward “Call Me Ted” Scott was more heterodox than ++Fred Hiltz; Bishop Bothwell even more aggressively liberal than +Michael Bird. But I always thought in the back of my mind that there was a “silent majority” of the church that was solid and orthodox. I fear that I was deluding myself.

    Comment by Toral — May 1, 2009 @ 5:47 pm

  2. S.M. Hutchens of Touchstone magazine is discussing this very issue:

    Reading the last few weeks in the church fathers and reformers, I was struck once again by what we would call their rudeness. It is hard to go far in their writings without finding them bluntly identifying their opponents as heretics, perverts, madmen, liars, and tools of the devil.

    These days, however, polite Christian society will have none of that: It is the sort of thing one expects only of the unwashed fundamentalist. Truth be told, among many professing Christians, defamation, even though done frequently by the Lord and the apostolic writers, simply isn’t regarded as Christian conduct. What sort of person, after all, would call apparently well-intentioned and perfectly respectable people, often very important, very religious people, snakes or hypocrites, or compare them to dirty tableware, whitewashed tombs, or ravening wolves?

    Comment by Scott Gilbreath — May 2, 2009 @ 5:38 am

  3. Revelation 3:15–16

    I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were cold or hot. So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will vomit you out of my mouth.

    Galatians 3: 1-3

    O stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? I want to learn only this from you: did you receive the Spirit from works of the law, or from faith in what you heard? Are you so stupid?

    Comment by Ellie M. — May 2, 2009 @ 9:47 am

  4. Scott – interesting, thanks.

    Ellie – exactly.

    Comment by David — May 2, 2009 @ 4:51 pm

  5. Yes, Scott, it is true that some of the Reformation rhetoric was very impolite. I read a treatise on sacred images by Hieronymus Emser the other day, and his denunciation of Andreas Karlstadt makes David look like a kitten. On the other hand, some of those guys seemed like they weren’t even listening to each other, which meant that some of their arguments weren’t as constructive as they might have been. I think it’s important to distinguish between being charitable and being too timid to call the other side wrong.

    Comment by Andrew — May 2, 2009 @ 10:28 pm

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