Church of England

#PastoralLetter (2): Visions, dreams and nebulous notions of detachment


Having responded to the Preface of the Pastoral Letter from the House of Bishops “to the people and parishes of the Church of England for the General Election 2015”, let us now consider the first five paragraphs which constitute the opening section, and from which the entire thesis takes its title: ‘Who is my Neighbour?’. The Bishops begin with a summary account of the state we’re in:

1 We live in challenging but hopeful times. All political parties struggle to communicate a convincing vision. People feel detached from politics. Alongside a healthy openness to new ideas, worrying and unfamiliar trends are appearing in our national life. There is a growing appetite to exploit grievances, find scapegoats and create barriers between people and nations. The issues around the election call for a fresh moral vision of the kind of country we want to be.

There is no doubting the sociological truths which underpin these observations. But the most profound (and wholly justified) criticisms are ones that will not and cannot be addressed by a change from a Conservative-led coalition to a Labour administration (or back again). A shift from right to left will not dispel doubt, negate cynicism or nullify apathy. What are these ‘worrying and unfamiliar trends’? They don’t say. Do they mean racism? The far right? Ukip? A “fresh moral vision” requires a far more fundamental reformation of the body politic and renewal of national life. So, from the outset, the Bishops’ Letter is over-ambitious in its aspirations and reach.

Further, everything that the Bishops observe about the perishing state of politics, the politicians could surely retort with a critique of the decrepit state of true religion. The Bishops berate the political parties over their “struggle to communicate a convincing vision”, while the Church of England is itself declining, aging, and failing to articulate a vision. Lord Carey has prophesied that the Church of England will be extinct within a generation. This is the Church’s primary challenge: ‘For if the trumpet give an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself to the battle?‘ (1Cor 14:8).

Yet what should the Church’s message be? What is the point of proclaiming Christ and Him crucified for our sin and salvation, if that Christ be another unknown god; the concept of ‘sin’ meaningless, and ‘salvation’ devoid of definition? ‘But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness‘ (1Cor 1:23). Can the language of applied theology speak to an unbelieving cynical people? Is this Letter a stumbling block to the people and parishes of the Church of England? Is it foolishness to the Tories?

And what of the assertion that “people feel detached from politics’? Some may be, certainly. But the referendum on Scottish independence (and the phenomenal growth of the SNP since) establishes that people form a distinct attachment to politics when the vision inspires. Without one, they perish. People may certainly feel frustrated or disappointed with Parliament, but they have never had greater access to politicians than modern technology affords. The Bishops are right to highlight the lack of top level vision (and it is no coincidence that they later reference Thatcher and Attlee – the two conviction politicians who fundamentally transformed the country in the last century). But it will take a similarly unique (and undoubtedly divisive) politician to do this in the future. Political vision isolates and segregates: the bland uniformity and tedious incrementalism of ‘Red Tory’ and ‘Blue Labour’ is perhaps what is exacerbating feelings of detachment. And what of the overarching corpus of EU legislation? How does a farmer’s vote change agricultural policy? How does a fisherman’s vote amend trawling restrictions? Feelings of impotence are caused by the anti-democratic polity foisted upon us, which leads to the very detachment which constrains participation. These are not being addressed in the coming General Election, so the Bishops should be more realistic about what can be done. People can only vote for the candidates and manifestos in front of them.

2 Followers of Jesus Christ believe that every human being is created in the image of God. But we are not made in isolation. We belong together in a creation which should be cherished and not simply used and consumed. This is the starting point for the Church of England’s engagement with society, the nation and the world. All that we say here follows from this. Anglicans do not have a single view on which political party has the best mix of answers to today’s problems. As bishops we support policies which respect the natural environment, enhance human dignity and honour the image of God in our neighbour.

It is undoubtedly true that “Anglicans do not have a single view on which political party has the best mix of answers to today’s problems”, but the Bishops incline toward a vision of society that professes “the best mix of answers”: we usually get them via the Guardian (or the Sunday Mirror). And their professed neutrality is impaired ever so slightly by their declared overarching policy interests, which are (in this order): the environment; human dignity, and neighbourliness. These are most often reified in contemporary culture as global warming, human rights and equality – the perceived priorities of the left.

3 The General Election on 7 May 2015 is the first for which the date has been set so long in advance. We have an unprecedented opportunity to think through the issues that face the nation and to ensure that the concerns and insights of the Christian gospel are reflected in the debates that will help shape the outcome. This letter is intended to help church members and others consider the question: how can we negotiate these dangerous times to build the kind of society which many people say they want but which is not yet being expressed in the vision of any of the parties?

This is where the Letter fails, as it is unable to expound a clear new vision “to build the kind of society which many people say they want”. If asked to summarise the Letter’s vision in one sentence, would it be possible? This inability feeds into the major issues that the Letter is right to raise – the value assigned to individuals in a market-based economy; the change in societal values from communal to individual preferences, etc – but unable to answer. What exactly are the Bishops advocating beyond participation? How do they envision the common good? Where is the moral guidance? These are complex and profound matters which cannot be (and so are not) addressed in an election manifesto. Until someone comes up with a new economic model that replaces capitalism, we have to work with the least worst system (to borrow Churchill’s words).

4 We are suggesting the trajectory for a new kind of politics – one which works constructively with a ferment of different ideas and competing visions. Although we have numerous specific concerns about particular issues in national life today – and will no doubt be developing those ideas in other places – here we want to move beyond flagging up lists of issues to dig deeper into questions about the trajectory of our political life and visions of the kind of society we want to be and which political life should serve. If anyone claims that this letter is “really” saying “Vote for this party or that party”, they have misunderstood it.

The final line is straight from the mouth of the Archbishop of York: they were his precise words at the launch of his book On Rock or Sand?, at which he was clearly irked that anyone could be so utterly dense as to think his thesis was in any sense partisan. The fact that “the theology of where I am coming from” was contingent on Marx is irrelevant. The fact that his book included chapters by a prominent Labour peer and intellectuals with known left-leaning proclivities is of no consequence to him (or other bishops, for that matter). Simply stating that this Letter is not “really” saying “Vote for this party or that party” does not mean that it is not influencing people’s thoughts and decisions in a particular direction. Certainly, to quote Karl Marx is not to say ‘Vote Labour”, but to do so is manifestly to disclose the philosophical foundation of the preferred “trajectory for a new kind of politics” (which isn’t new at all). The selection of primary issues is contentious for those on the right – the environment, nuclear armament, the European Union – and these areas of messaging belie the patronising assertion that those who detect a partisan undercurrent “have misunderstood it”. If the Bishops had mentioned (say) national sovereignty, statehood, marriage, the family or abortion, we may perceive a true fermentation of different ideas. But perhaps we can’t say that, for fear of being told we’re basically dull in our understanding (Mt 15:16).

5 The privileges of living in a democracy mean that we should use our votes thoughtfully, prayerfully, and with the good of others in mind, not just our own interests. Pursuing the common good is a Christian obligation and is expressed in how we approach our role as voters as much as in our personal priorities.

Absolutely. Yet one is left wondering how many bishops will prayerfully consider – thoughtfully, prayerfully (and truthfully) – that a Conservative government (or a Conservative-led coalition with Ukip) may be best for the country and represent the most Christian pursuit of the common good. But we can’t ask that, can we? Even to hint at it is to misunderstand the Letter. The dialogue continues..

  • David

    As first and foremost a committed traditionalist Christian, of the protestant persuasion, who happens to be within the framework of the C of E, but also a patriotic Ukip activist, I have long been horrified by the vacuous stance of the C of E bishops. The letter excels in vagueness and hand wringing, offering no clear moral teaching or direction.
    Serious abuses occurring within the nation, sometimes on a grand scale, like child sex abuse, people trafficking often linked to prostitution, the rising level of male suicides, our creeping inability to preach the gospel publicly or make faith led conscience decisions with nurses being coerced into assisting abortions and bakers forced into celebrating recently devised legal conceptions of “marriage” against their faith, are all ignored in favour of vague platitudes and expressions of concern. I prefer the clarity of the shorter letter issued by the Catholic Church, which focusses on moral questions that are traditionally areas of legitimate Christian concern. It sets itself a limited task and does it.

    At the risk of brutal brevity I feel that the present Anglican bishops have nothing of any useful value to offer, nothing that is distinctively Christian, and I dislike their vague grandstanding style. They are also blind to the moral failures of the left as well as using their Nelson’s eye for viewing the social and moral successes of the right. Patriotism is strictly off-limits ! They clearly see little of the real world and understand less. Great are the challenges that all the Churches face in extending The Kingdom, but this offering merely irritates the vast bulk of the voting public. It certainly will not lead to more followers of Christ, which usually starts with putting bums on pews, and that they seem to have forgotten, is their core business.

    • Dominic Stockford

      Worse than you say regarding the baker. Same-sex marriage is not legal in NI yet, so they are being forced to celebrate something that is still illegal!

      • David

        Correction accepted. I forgot that. You are right !

    • Dominic Stockford

      And, they think that putting bums on pews means they have more Christians. You are wrong in that – bums on pews is exactly what they are trying to increase. I don’t, nether do most preachers of the Gospel, we try to increase the glory of God in the eyes of the world – which tends to mean less bums on pews. That is, until the Holy Spirit gets involved, which he hasn’t in any great way in this country for some time, I winder why?!

      • David

        Please note what I wrote :-
        “It certainly will not lead to more followers of Christ, which usually starts with putting bums on pews,”
        I agree that no one comes to God, accepting Christ as their personal Saviour, without the intervention of the Holy Spirit.
        It is not difficult to conjecture, as you know, as to why God is active elsewhere on a mass scale. But some even here, do come to faith.

        • Dominic Stockford

          Ok. Granted.

  • Oh, your Grace,
    This is dreary stuff!
    When are you going to ‘prayerfully consider’ that politics is not going to change this nation? What does it have to say to the men under 40 who are killing themselves in ever-increasing numbers? Or to the 20,000 children who were referred to hospital for self-harming? Or to the increasing rates of mental illness? Or the women who are killing their unborn children at the rate of 200,000 a year? Or, of course, the young people who are joining I.S. at such a rate? These are the problems that face our nation and the political parties have nothing to offer.
    The root cause is the decline in Bible-believing Christianity in Britain, which has been overseen by the Bishops of the Church of England for a generation or more, ‘Having a form of godliness, but denying its power’ (1 Timothy 3:5). If this blog, which is so well-supported, is going to have any effect whatsoever upon this poor, benighted nation, it needs to stop being a support-band for unbelieving prelates and an anti-Christian political party and become a catalyst for a new Reformation.

    • Dominic Stockford

      This blog consistently fails to define what a Christian really is – it doesn’t even stick by the 39 Articles definition of it – until we are clearer on that there will always be a failure to convict and convert.

      • Feel free to shake the dust off your feet and start your own blog of purity, holiness and uncompromising witness, where you may convict and convert to your heart’s content. Clearly, your light can have no fellowship with His Grace’s dreary darkness. May the Lord bless you.

        • Uncle Brian

          Your Grace, may I put in a good word for Dominic Stockford. He has his own very narrow view of what it means to be a “Christian”, and it’s true that he can push his partisanship a bit tiresomely at times, but then don’t we all. I know that I do, and Your Grace has never threatened me with expulsion. Dominic
          is, after all, a good Christian, and not only under his own narrow terms of reference. His comments are always stimulating and Cranmer’s is a more thought-provoking place with him than it would be without him.

          • There has been no threat of expulsion. Dominic Stockford is exasperated by the failures and inferior theological precepts of His Grace’s blog. He has simply been invited to go off and start a better one.

        • Peasant Farmer

          Hang in there Your Grace, this peasant find your efforts very instructive.

          I wouldn’t say Dominic, Martin, Busy Mum etc aren’t ever right, their failure is that they never encourage where they could. A lesson they could learn from the Rev Peter Simpson above, who articulates his vision whilst commending you where he feels he can.

          • …. to say nothing of the Inspector and his attempts to ‘educate’ the Archbishop and Gillan.

          • magnolia

            I think His Grace does us enormously well. It is difficult for anyone to have to quote and unravel this oblique and non-committal prose shorn of vital imagery and remind us that the message is largely within the choice of subject matter.

            It is of course not quite the prose style of Our Lord, which is vivid and lucid and multi-tiered in meaning, and keeps us engaged two centuries on. I wish it were closer to that. One may have a wish list!

            His Grace is both clear in what he says, and has a fantastic prose style, for which I think we should be duly grateful, and not carp!

      • Inspector General

        Chin up Dominic. Cranmer knows he is the best blogger in Christendom, but the cherry on the cake is his famous irascibility. A sterling and most formidable quality, what! Would that he could summon 40 she bears to savage his adversaries (of which you are certainly not one), though we all know the pointedness of his quill is more than sufficient to make up for this ursine absence.

        • Dominic Stockford

          Today I have been thanked by Peter Hitchens, and wondered about why that particular post was one that seemed to bug the blogger! I think I’ve come out with chin well up, thanks.

          • Doctor Crackles

            Shalom Dominic, keep posting please. I think it reasonable on a Conservative and Christian blog that these terms be defined as much as possible.

            That said maybe His Grace needs a word of encouragement today. This letter is so depressing.

          • Dominic Stockford

            Thank you Doctor, I shall indeed do so. Sometimes it is difficult to post positively, especially when the subject, as you say, is quite so depressing.

            This week, however, I was lifted by the Lord, as I his help meant that I was directly responsible for something positive for Christians, and a small lift to the name of Christ in this troubled world.


            He knows when to assist us, and He knows that when He does it uplifts us in our struggles, as well as uplifting His glorious Son’s name.

          • DanJ0

            I expect there’s an enormous amount of effort goes into maintaining a blog of this consistent quality. It probably grates if the effort appears not to be appreciated as a result of a brief and easily posted criticism underneath.

          • Inspector General

            One would say that the man behind Cranmer views his site and work here as his finest achievement to date, family additions excluded. Any rocking of his platform would thus be amplified many times through his feet.

          • Dominic Stockford

            The last line of Article 14 is worth remembering.

          • Inspector General

            The arrogance of just being alive. That will go down well in his virtual palace…

      • “This blog consistently fails to define what a Christian really is … “

        Go for it then.

    • alternative_perspective

      Note: this IS a blog on religion AND politics. If you’re displeased by reading comments and views on politics then perhaps you shouldn’t visit portals such as this? Moreover, if you’d read much of what His Grace has published to date you’d realise he is hardly a fan of the current incuments of the established church’s ecclesiatical “cathedrae apostolorum”.

      Your valid points may form the criteria for a political, critical theory and a starting point for a new manifesto however I’m not entirely sure how you’re going to reconcile what are clearly political issues with your phrase “politics is not going to change this nation”. If God weren’t interested in politics he wouldn’t have spent so much time talking about it, nor would he be returning imminently to complete Isaiah 9.6. Even an apolitical system, perhaps embodying a “christian anarchy” is itself a political vision.

      No matter which way you attempt to skin this cat, you’re going to have to deal with this political feline… nd I’m not referring to the late Humphrey.

      • And the temporal order can promote or inhibit the sinful nature of man. The Christian critique of our modern culture can be advanced on the basis of arguments from evidence and experience, supported by natural law.

        As Christians we cannot reduce ourselves to latter day Jeramiah’s, standing on the edges of the public square bemoaning the sinfulness of man. Britain is not a theocracy where the laws of Moses are statutes. It is a post-Christian society, hostile to the values that has made it strong. We have to deal with the situation we are faced with.

      • Your first point is a valid one and I shall bear it in mind. However, I haven’t noticed His Grace’s antipathy to the current AB of C. I rather thought he was a fan.
        With reference to the Lord’s interest or otherwise in politics, I think you are confusing the Old and New Covenants. Under the former, the people of God were a nation, had a government and therefore ‘did’ politics. Under the latter, Christians are dispersed among the nations and are instructed to keep the laws of the nation where they happen to be living (Mark 12:17; Romans 13:1ff; 1 Peter 2:13-17). Nowhere does Paul encourage his readers to lobby Emperor, king or governor for a change in the law. To be sure we are commanded to remember the poor (Galatians 2:10 etc.), but it is we ourselves who are to do that, we are not to wait for the government to do it.
        I have stated before on this blog that I do believe that everyone should vote, but not with the expectation that politics is going to change the things that really matter. The self-harming children, the stressed and suicidal fathers, the mothers on mogadon, the alcoholics, the drug addicts are not going to be changed by tuppence off Income Tax. They need to be told that they did not evolve from bits of slime, that they are not the products of blind chance, but that there is a God in heaven who does not desire the death of the sinners but rather that all men should repent and turn to Him (Ezekiel 18:30-32).

  • carl jacobs

    This was a good response. Although at this point, I wonder if anyone but Archbishop Cranmer is still paying attention to this letter.

    • sarky

      …….what letter? Yawn.

  • Johnny Rottenborough

    a fresh moral vision of the kind of country we want to be

    The bishops’ 2011 theological statement, Affirming Our Common Humanity [click here to download], signals the kind of Britain they want:

    ‘According to Scripture the existence of the different nations of the world is part of God’s providential ordering of human history and the nations will enjoy and contribute the riches of their diversities to the life of God’s eternal kingdom. However, this biblical teaching does not support the idea that any nation is superior to any other, or a notion of separate development involving the segregation of people belonging to different tribes, nations or religions.’

    The bishops want a Britain of different tribes, nations and religions. In other words, a house divided against itself by race and religion, an aspiration echoed by the Archbishop of Canterbury when he said he would not want to live in a monocultural—that’s to say, a Christian—society. The bishops cannot be unaware of the Muslim persecution of Christians in other countries so why are they laying the foundation for the persecution of Christians in this country? The American Jew Charles Silberman wrote in 1985 that ‘Jews are safe only in a society acceptant of a wide range of attitudes and behaviors, as well as a diversity of religious and ethnic groups.’ One can understand the bishops’ desire to accommodate the Jews by reducing a Christian country to a multicultural cess-pit but the price that will be paid—the triumph of Islam and Christian persecution—seems a trifle high.

  • I am pleased Cranmer referred to the importance of statehood, national sovereignty, marriage, family and abortion. Nationhood with controlled borders, for example, is a thoroughly Biblical principle since time of the Tower of Babel. It is interesting that we do not hear much criticism from the churches of African and Asian nations for having strict border controls, for wanting to frame their own laws, and for desiring to retain their own essential identity.

    Abortion is a daily stain upon our national character. The redefinition of marriage is a public statement by the British establishment that the Christian Scriptures are wrong. It is an act of national rebellion against the one true Trinitarian God. The promotion of alternative family units stems from a refusal to call sin what the Bible calls sin. These are some of the issues the churches should be focusing upon, but only as an adjunct to the gospel of salvation.

    It is vital that we learn from history. The dreadful state of this nation in the early 18th century was not transformed by anything approaching a liberal social gospel, but by calling sinners to repentance for the salvation of their souls.

    I am also pleased that His Grace quoted 1 Corinthians 1:23. The plain fact is that the nation is not hearing the message of Christ crucified, the message that God is angry with sin and that repentance is a matter of urgency.

    Social equality is not the Gospel. Men need to be taught to fear the God who condemns the unrepentant. They need to flee to Christ for mercy. We cannot begin to improve society until the sinner’s heart is first changed. The man-pleasing liberal heresy of the social gospel, now over 100 years old, can never change the human heart and must be dropped once and for all. Preach the true gospel and society will improve itself.

    • “Men need to be taught to fear the God who condemns the unrepentant.”

      Surely men need to be introduced to the love of God whose mercy knows no bounds; a God who forgives all those who turn to Him?

      “They need to flee to Christ for mercy.”

      There’s no need to flee to Christ – He comes to us and embraces us where we are.

      “We cannot begin to improve society until the sinner’s heart is first changed.”

      We agree on this.

      • Dear Happy Jack, Thank you for your comments.

        Our Lord said, Come unto me, Matthew 11:28. He rebuked men for not coming, John 5:40. We must come with urgency, so that means fleeing.

        We cannot start with the love of God. People need first to be convicted of sin, or else they will never see their need of His forgiving love. Tell an unrepentant sinner God loves Him, and He says, Fine, I will carry on just as I am.

        Nowhere in Acts do we find the apostles starting out with a message of love. In Acts 2:37 for example we are told that Peter’s hearers were “pricked in their heart”, because he had just denounced their sin. Gospel preaching is not an exercise in marketing to make unbelievers feel Comfortable. It must rather humble them.

        John the Baptist preached, “Flee from the wrath to come” Matthew 3:7.

        • Dominic Stockford


        • magnolia

          Which does the Father do in the parable of the prodigal son?

          • Thankyou for raising this Magnolia. In courteous response, The father in the parable shows his compassion only after his son has been convicted of his sin and humbled by his foolishness. His adversity of being hungry and penniless was what was necessary to make him come to his senses and realise his sin. He only decided to return home after he was convinced in his heart of having broken God’s law.

            It is the law which is a schoolmaster today to bring men to Christ (Galatians 3:24). Unbelievers are not basking in God’s love, but are in a state of condemnation (John 3:18). The love of God is manifested to them when they repent of their sin and seek mercy through Christ.

          • Anton

            Wesley said he preached 90% law, to convict, then 10% grace. The trouble is that that strategy only works among people who believe that there is a god (moreover one who will judge sin). It’s actually not hard to convince people that they do things they are ashamed of time to time, but so what if they don’t believe there’s a Judge? Times have changed since Wesley’s day. Suggestions anyone?

          • Thanks Anton. I would argue times have not changed at all, because human nature has not changed. We have to tell men that there is a Judge (2 Corinthians 5:10). Sinners need to be humbled by the terrors of God’s law today – “Knowing therfore the terror of the Lord we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11).

          • Anton

            Yes Peter, of course we have to tell them that there’s a Judge, but I assure you from my own experience as an adult convert from secularism that I was willing to admit having done things I was ashamed of (and might have done again), but I genuinely didn’t believe I’d be judged for it. People are going to want evidence that there is a Judge.

          • Miles Christianus

            Anton. The C of E as I know it now (as are the Episcopalian Church) at pains to stress that the judge is also the one who will take on your sins – thus your severest judge is one’s own conscience, until the offer is truly accepted.

          • In polite response I would say Anton that the evidence of there being a Judge is provided by the Holy Spirit’s work upon the heart as the demands of God’s law are made known.

          • magnolia

            I think it helps people listen, and is more realistic when we use the word “we” in reference to our shortcomings than when we use the word “you”!

            Looking at what Jesus did, one of the first things he offered when he came to a new place was healing. Then he spoke a lot about the Kingdom of Heaven. He went with no fanfare, no special transport, and with prayer and sometimes fasting. I suspect it is better to follow his pattern, and also to go out with others, as he did, for in all things he is our pattern.

          • Yes, but isn’t the key to this that absence from the Father’s House reduced the Prodigal Son to a state of misery – not fear of his Father. He appreciated what he was missing. He was dejected and hungry for sustenance. And the Father ran out to meet Him with joy.

          • My thanks for your comment, dear brother. Luke 15:21 “And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven”. This shows that the son realises first and foremost that he has sinned against God. This would have involved an element of fear, which is healthy, for the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.

            All that we disagree upon is the order of events. The time to emphasise God’s grace and mercy is when the sinner has been humbled by God’s Law, but not before. The temptation is to over-emphasise God’s love when witnessing to the unbeliever, because it makes the message more user-friendly. However, I courteously submit that we must follow the apostolic pattern.

            Note Acts 24:25 : “as Paul reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come, Felix trembled”. Paul did not reason concerning God’s love, and let us note that Felix was afraid. If we encourage an unbeliever to feel that he is the beneficiary of God’s love before he repents, we are doing him no favours at all.

            I offer these thoughts humbly and in brotherly love.

          • You are a very gracious man, Peter, and Jack thanks for you this discussion.

            These are sobering words to reflect on. Still, Jack would be inclined towards an evangelist receiving a sinner, who is suffering the spiritual and physical wounds of sin, with words of comfort about God’s love. When Jack reads the Gospel he sees Jesus adopting different approaches. To the broken hearted and world weary, He offers comfort and then teaches about the Kingdom. To the hard hearted and callous, His words are about condemnation, with frightful warnings of eternal punishment.

            Jack agrees with this:

            “If we encourage an unbeliever to feel that he is the beneficiary of God’s love before he repents, we are doing him no favours at all.”

            We differ on what triggers repentance and sorrow – and it’s probably different for different people, with the Holy Spirit working on us all in different ways.

            God Bless.

        • Dear Reverend Peter,
          Happy Jack finds the words in Matthew 11:28-30 full of the love of God, drawing men to Him not through fear but by compassion, sorrow and tenderness.

          ““Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

          Jack reads John 5: 39-40 as a sign to ‘bible believing Jews’:

          “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that testify about Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life.”

          And what message caused the listeners to have “their consciences stung” and to ask Peter and the Apostles “what must we do?”? It wasn’t fear as Jack reads it. It was this:

          “This man you have put to death; by God’s fixed design and foreknowledge, he was betrayed to you, and you, through the hands of sinful men, have cruelly murdered him.”

          A broken heart and an awareness of God’s immense love and mercy, through the Incarnation and Christ’s self sacrifice on the Cross, draws men to Him.

          • Thank you Jack. We are getting nearer to each other. “What must we do?” in Acts 2:37 is the realisation of being guilty. It is full of terror. A broken heart only comes after the seriousness of sin has been made known and felt by the unbeliever. Most unbelievers do not have broken hearts, because they are not aware of the horror of their sin. The Gospels show that Our Lord’s message was not, God loves you, but repent and believe (Mark 1:15, Luke 13:3).

          • Hmm … we are close, Peter.

            Jack would still maintain that it’s not predominantly fear that converts and make us aware of sin. A repentant heart is broken because it understands that sin offends God and it hurts us – a God who so loves us all He came to earth, suffered and died for each and everyone.

            Isn’t God’s message – God loves you, turn to Him, leave sinful ways behind through His grace and spend eternity with Him and avoid eternal separation from Him?

          • Isn’t fear of the Lord the beginning of wisdom (Job 28:28; Proverbs 9:10)?

          • sarky

            To have fear you need knowledge!!!

          • The knowledge is there, Sarky. It’s imprinted on your conscience – your soul – by God.

          • Very true.
            May I draw your attention to Proverbs 1:7?

          • sarky

            You may and you’re not the first. Sorry but I don’t see fear as a healthy start for any relationship (spiritual or personal).
            With regards to fools and wisdom. A different opinion does not make a person foolish. I could say the same of you but that would be just churlish.

          • alternative_perspective

            It is not opinion that makes a person foolish. It is the heart because it is with the heart that one denies God for one cannot do it rationally with the mind.

            Please endulge me. Real atheism is the excalmation that: “there are no gods or god”. Now let us apply Occam’s razor and whittle that down to one god. Any such exclamation is a claim to truth. Any such claim to truth requires a sufficiency of evidence for an individual to be persuaded.

            But how might an atheist prove that a god which is immaterial, whose nature is love, who deliberately hides just beyond the veil of perception and describes himself as “spirit”; does not exist?

            The very limits of our perceptive abilities are strained by such a being. So how might an atheist define a test to disprove his existence? What knowledge must he / she obtain to absolutely deny God’s existence? A probabalistic sufficiency is not enough to claim the mantle of atheist- for in uncertainty lies agnosticism?

            All the while the atheist must hold in tension this empirical demand they have put themselves under with the truth that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

            Given the heavy, if not impossible, burden demanded of an atheist to sustain his / her absolute belief coherently how can anyone rationally deny God’s existence thus? Clearly they can’t. One cannot rationally deny God’s existence absolutely. So if one does make such a claim, with the likely impossibility of being able to prove such a belief they must be doing so irrationally. But why would anyone act irrationally on such a question – because it is an act of will. And what do we call someone who irrationally declares himself to be onething, even when potentially it may have staggering consequences? Surely a fool sums it up nicely?

            One can clearly sidestep foolishness by classifying oneself as an agnostic but even that demands an openness. And surely anyone who has intellectually arrive at a position of agnosticism once again places themself under a burden to close out this question. If one KNOWS there is a possibility God exists and given the inifite consequences of such a possibility; then surely the rational mind would be moved to diligently seek an answer?

            Say you are driving along and people whizz past in the opposite direction. Occasionally you stop and briefly chat. A minority state that the road suddenly ends at a deep chasam. Most say they’ve not seen such a chasm but none is sure how far they must travel to find the place. Given you’re heading in that direction is it not sensible to check maps, do a diligent search or perhaps drive more slowly? Would it not be the fool who drives head on at full speed in ignorance even though they’ve beed warned of a potential pitfall by people who seemingly, truly believe the chasm lies ahead and have no other motiviation for saying so other than to prevent you falling in to it?

          • sarky

            I have checked the maps and done a diligent search and I still can’t see a chasm!
            Surely it is the christians job to prove the existence of god and not an atheists job to disprove it?
            Surely the onus is on the person making fantastic claims to provide evidence for such?
            I do agree with you that I cannot prove there is not a god, no more than I can’t prove that there aren’t fairy’s or unicorns. However, the evidence would lead me to believe there is not.

          • You wrote, “To have fear you need knowledge.”
            You have no knowledge of God and therefore you do not fear Him.
            With regard to wisdom, God promises to give it to those who ask Him for it (James 1:5). You have not asked Him for it and therefore He has not given it to you.

            Sorry but I don’t see fear as a healthy start for any relationship (spiritual or personal).

            The Bible always sees the fear of the Lord as an entirely positive thing. ”Then the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied’ (Acts 9:31).
            I was a practical atheist for many years. I never had quite enough faith to be able to deny God absolutely, but I lived as though He did not exist. When I was at University, there were plenty of Christians who came up and told me that God loved me sooooo much, but that never made me consider becoming a Christian. It was only when I came to realise that I was a sinner under the righteous condemnation of God that I did something about it. The fear of the Lord was the beginning of wisdom for me.
            Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins may flatter themselves that if they came up in front of God they would be bold to tell Him exactly what they think of Him, but the reality will be very different. ‘Every man’s heart will melt and they will be afraid. Pangs and sorrows will take hold of them; they will be in pain as a woman in childbirth; they will be amazed at one another; their faces will be like flames’ (Isaiah 13:8).
            When the Apostle Peter first had an inkling of who Jesus of Nazareth really was, he was terrified and wanted to be as far away from Him as possible. “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!” (Luke 5:8).

          • It is, Martin. Jack has always understood this word to mean an awareness of the awesome nature of God, rather than fear as in being frightened and living in fear of Him. That said, we do we need to be conscious of His Justice and the implications of rejecting Him. It’s teaching the balance between His Love and His Justice – manifest through His endless Mercy.

          • sarky

            As an unbeliever, all that sin and hellfire is a massive turn off. I’m much more open to a kindly word 🙂

          • DanJ0

            The language of it immediately puts me off. It sounds delusional.

          • sarky

            Absolutely!!!! To me it sounds like the rantings of a lunatic!!!

          • DanJ0

            Some of it will be down to portrayals in films of hellfire and brimstone preachers. The very language of religion in general is off-putting at times. I caught part of a service broadcast on the radio on Sunday and the intoning of the words themselves made the rituals sound weird. It was like the preacher on The Simpsons. No, I think Christians need to spread a message of love first, and demonstrate the effect of that in their own lives. City on a hill stuff, as described in Matthew.

          • sarky

            And in language that you don’t have to be part of the club to understand!

          • Ummm …. You have the benefit of Christian parents and friends. You’re a decent chap by the sounds of things and focussed on doing the best for your family. What turned you into a ‘sleeper’, Sarky?

          • sarky

            Sorry Jack, but is the thing that’s really bothering you the fact that I don’t meet your preconceptions of an atheist?

          • Why would that bother Happy Jack? He has no preconceptions about atheists. Like Christians they come in all shapes and sizes.

    • sarky

      With regards to your last sentence, where are you??
      I hear this sentiment time and time again, but it is just words. Nobody is out there preaching. You are all very vocal on this blog but silent in the real world. I can see two churches from my front room, one Baptist one c of e, in 9 years living in my house all I’ve ever had is the odd leaflet at Christmas and easter.
      You are never going to change things because you are insular and don’t have the balls to actually engage in the world, you just hide in your churches moaning about how bad things are.
      Rant over!

      • magnolia

        No, that is unfair. Much of the mainstream media is highly selective in giving any outlet or voice to the church, so that it is blocked from many outlets it used to take for granted, by a glass wall.

        Many parish clergy work their socks off. Sometimes cynicism and world-weariness comes into being in their late forties onwards, after years of hard slog. In the C of E this is partially due to a bottleneck where there are relatively few really big promotional opportunities for the well-experienced, and not many of the types of challenge a professional in his or her late forties early fifties might expect are available. Plus the fact that despite there being still much goodwill and affection for the church, the largescale endorsement of secular selfishness (which brings misery) from deep pocketed US tax exempt foundations with often Marxist councils has felt like a David and Goliath battle.

        And many clergy have been too busy on immediate duties to have read widely or managed to see where the “tidal wave of filth” has come from.

        It is unfair to question their virility (esp. for the women!!) They are not hiding, but taking services, visiting the sick, taking PCC meetings, raising funds to keep buildings up to expected standards, burying, comforting the bereaved, baptising, teaching confirmation candidates, counselling, healing, keeping admin up, and so on. Not much time for moaning really!

        • sarky

          Im not talking about the church in the media, I am talking about meeting people on a personal level. Your last paragraph is all very noble, but where is the bit about going to chat with kids on the estate or the 95% of people who don’t go to church? And I’m not just talking about vicars and priests. How many ordinary christians moan but do nothing? I have christian friends, but they never mention their church or their faith. My parents are christian and never speak about it either.
          Would I engage with someone if they spoke to me? Probably, depending how they did it. It’s interesting but we were talking about church at work and I was really surprised that people who I assumed would have no interest, were actually quite open to the idea. But if you are all too busy or afraid to speak to people then you will miss a trick won’t you?

          • CliveM


            You make a good point. For too many people in the Church it’s the Ministers job. Which is unbiblical and also a big cause of burn out.

          • sarky

            Never understood that. In a successful pub its not the landlord that gets the punters in, but word of mouth from the regulars!

          • CliveM

            Good example!

          • Rather like a good blog. The ‘boss’ still has to set the tone and keep an eye on things though.

          • magnolia

            There were too many potential facets to mention, so those I did not mention came under the “and so on” in my effort not to be too longwinded!!

          • sarky

            But shouldn’t the “and so on” be the most important? (The Great commission and all that)

          • magnolia

            I was imagining- in typical Anglican fashion, I admit, that the Great Commission had come under services. And having known a few clergy all the “occasional offices” , done well are also an aspect of the Great Commission, as the explanation of baptism, or the comforting of the bereaved inevitably entail the Kingdom of Heaven, and it is what it means to be a member of the Kingdom, and the joys, privileges and responsibilities thereof, known “through a glass darkly” in this life, and more clearly in the next, that is all we are on about!

          • Dominic Stockford

            I’ll talk to anyone – most of them seem in too much of a hurry to stop though.

          • sarky

            Its all in the approach!!!

          • The Explorer

            It might be as Dominic says.
            “This strange disease of modern life,
            With its sick hurry, its divided aims.”
            Spiritually, what’s changed since Matthew Arnold’s day?

          • Dominic Stockford

            Indeed so. I just had someone at the door (disturbing my sermon writing) from a recently planted charismatic church (happy clappy) asking me whether I wanted to go to one of their talks in Costa Coffee (no the coffee isn’t free…). No thanks, says I, cheerily. But he won’t let go, and wants to carry on. I have to say no thanks a few more times before he gets the message. He failed to listen. Bad approach.

          • sarky

            Yes and no. Asking you to go for a talk at a neutral place where alot of people feel comfortable was good.
            Not letting it go when you said no was bad!

          • Dominic Stockford

            The latter point was the one I was making. Although Costa won’t be neutral, as they rent it and then open it especially in the evening for the talk!

          • sarky

            All I meant was some people who would feel uncomfortable in a church, would happily go to Costa (rented or not)

          • Dominic Stockford

            Possibly so – though last time another local charismatic church tried it, for four evenings across a month, they had precisely nobody turn up.

          • sarky

            They were all busy writing their sermons 🙂

          • chiefofsinners

            Thank you. This is sound, honest advice and exactly what Christians need to hear.
            Perhaps we are entertaining an angel unawares.

          • Fair comments sarky.

      • Dear Sarky, Thank you for your comments. May I courteously refer you to my preaching in my home town the other day- link below. On Valentines Day I was outside the local cinema handing out gospel leaflets protesting at the showing of 50 Shades of Grey.
        In the 18th century the preaching of Whitefield and Wesley helped to save this nation from violent French style revolution, and only the gospel can rescue us again (I humbly submit).

        • sarky

          Im sorry but handing out leaflets is going to do nothing but piss people off. You just end up looking like the fun police. If people are on a night out, you will be the last people they want to see.
          I have no answers for you, but choosing your battles wisely may be a start.

      • Anton

        As long as we Christians rant back at Sarky we are simply shooting the messenger.

      • DanJ0

        ” You are all very vocal on this blog but silent in the real world. I can see two churches from my front room, one Baptist one c of e, in 9 years living in my house all I’ve ever had is the odd leaflet at Christmas and easter.”
        I quite regularly get the JWs and the Mormons popping around. Well, I haven’t actually seen the Mormons for a while after my lascivious looks at the last two rather handsome American missionaries. I’m probably on a black lost there now. 🙂

        • sarky

          Ha ha like your style 🙂

          • The Explorer

            The Mormons apparently didn’t.

        • IanCad

          A Freudian slip there DanJ0!!??

        • The Explorer

          JWs and Mormons (when not scared off) are very good missionaries for their respective faiths. Sarky was complaining about Christians.

          • CliveM

            With JW’s just offer to pray with the. They’ll shift quickly then.

      • dannybhoy

        There’s a lot of truth in that Sparky..

      • magnolia

        Isn’t this blog part of the “real world”? I had thought it was. More of a marketplace of ideas than in the average market place in Britain, where concerned looking people in their lunch hours heads down against the March winds, struggle to get down things on the lunch hour to do list, surely?

        • sarky

          By real world I meant non christian world.

          • Inspector General

            Your an arse Sark. The Inspector is a Christian AND part of the real world. Now, do penance…

          • sarky

            Hmmmmm….thats debatable 🙂

          • The Explorer

            You’d have a job convincing the Hindus: they think everything’s illusion.

          • sarky

            They could be right! Wasn’t the matrix based on Hinduism?

  • Happy Jack has a difficulty. He is for national sovereignty, statehood, marriage, the family and against abortion. Yet, he is also more left leaning when it comes to capitalism and the need to regulate it.

    What to do ………..

    • carl jacobs

      Happy Jack has a difficulty. He is

      Recognition is the first step to healing. 😀

      • Happy Jack

        Grrrr ……..

        • The Explorer

          Wrong colour. Follow the example of The Incredible Hulk.

        • carl jacobs


          It was a good faith misunderstanding. Your original post seemed complete and it made perfect sense. I had no idea it wasn’t finished. If I had only realized, I would have waited. But you have had a positive influence on me. I wanted to help.

          You believe me, don’t you, Jack? 🙂

          • Happy Jack

            Of course Jack believes you, Carl.

            Happy Jack has also shared your pain and suffering over Manchester City’s recent defeats in the Champion’s League and Premiership.

          • carl jacobs

            I’m sensing some hostility, here, Jack. You seem to be harboring some doubts about my sincerity.

          • Don’t be too bothered by ‘him’, Carl. He’s suspicious by nature and not as trusting as Happy Jack.

      • “Healing”, Carl?
        You’ve been visiting progressive sites.

    • carl jacobs

      Your original post was much more interesting. 😉

    • magnolia

      Don’t you think capitalism goes most wrong when the market is not free but controlled? What some term fascist economics, when the State keeps on trying to control the markets and when privileged entities pick up monopolies and cartels operate price fixing? It seems to happen everywhere at the moment so am not sure how many markets are anything like free.

      Just think the exorbitant charges of motorway service stations- or of footballer’s time (TV monopoly)!!

      • It’s all about balance, Magnolia.
        Left to itself the market will manifest the ‘survival of the fittest’ behaviour, tending towards monopolies, oligarchies and cartels. It will also exploit people, seeking to maximise profit by minimising unit costs and overlooking living wages and health and safety. And deregulation, as we’ve learned from the financial crisis, leads to shady and unethical behaviours.

        Jack’s preference would be competition, small businesses, widespread private ownership, shared ownership by employees and worker councils. Also, voluntary living wages with safe working environments that promote motivation in workers and where the nature of work adds to, rather than detracts from, the creative capacity of individuals.

        • magnolia

          Very interesting ideas, and it does sound creative and compelling. I have been very interested in the views of Paul Craig Roberts on King World News recently, which I bring up as he mirrors your concerns about minimising unit costs and overlooking wages. He point out that outsourcing production jobs from the US meant that people lost their jobs, and were unable to afford what they had previously, thus impacting the companies’ profits in the longer term as the market dried up, a matter which is only temporarily delayed as companies go for buying up their own shares.

          The short term view ends up sawing off the branch from under themselves in the longer term.

          I think people are beginning to question whether the markets have not become too fast, also, with bots and trading algorithms, and whether this actually is in our own interests as the human race!.

          Perhaps there are too many rules in some areas and too few in others…

      • Anton

        Well, Magnolia, it’s all about which markets. I might find myself in agreement with Jack here. My touchstone is always the Law of Moses: I try to abstract the principles underlying it and apply them today. There were free markets in all physical goods but regulated markets in property, labour and money. Charity to the poor was commanded by appeal to the conscience but not enforced by law, and there was a social security fund which was collected mandatorily but handed out at the discretion of community leaders ie taking individual circumstances into account including morality.

        Wouldn’t it be interesting to try working this out today…

        • magnolia

          Hmm… removing people’s landmarks seems to be commonplace. Downsizing biscuit packets might come under that, or fiddling with the “basket of goods”!

          • sarky

            The shrinking of wagon wheels is a national disgrace!

          • Inspector General

            Ah, you noticed too. When the Inspector was a young imp, he could have choked on aforementioned wheel. Such was their diameter…

          • Umm …. bet you could get a whole one in your mouth at one go too.


            Btw, Andre being a little shy, don’t you think Inspector? He’s up voting the odd comment but not saying much.

          • The Explorer

            So is the expansion of kids’ waistlines.

        • This is what Jack was hoping the ‘Big Society’ would develop into.

          Charity? Today, we prefer the atheist ‘National Lottery’ where so called ‘good causes’ get funding via the impulse to win a £million and where ‘charity’s’ comply with an anti-Christian agenda.

          • Inspector General

            Much lottery money has been invested in the country’s heritage, by means of preserved railway lines, this man will have you know.

          • Oh, that’s all right then. It can carry on giving money to organisations that support abortion, contraception and homosexuality as ‘solutions’ to the world’s problems. We must keep the Inspectors trains on the tracks.

          • Inspector General

            Well, write and complain.

          • No point … democracy, you see. Jack just doesn’t support it.

          • Inspector has to get to work somehow Jack.

          • According to Dr. Johnson, a national lottery is a tax on fools.

    • dannybhoy

      Not to regulate it Jack, but to morally influence it.

    • Mrs Proudie of Barchester

      Vote Whig…you know it makes sense!

      • The Explorer

        What if it ain’t on the ballot paper as an option?

        • Mrs Proudie of Barchester

          What? The Whig’s have been airbrushed out of history? Outrageous…

    • Well, Jack, in this case one would remind you of the excellent old Catholic tradition of “primacy of conscience” and let your God-given conscience get on with it. It’s amazing how often you’ll find the decision already made 🙂

  • len

    The problem with mankind is not with’ the political system’ but with the people who run ‘the system’ and the people who live under these political systems.
    In short the problem is us!.
    God never tried to retrain or to re educate fallen man because He knew this would never be a permanent solution so he went right to the heart of the matter and brought the old creation to the Cross and began a new creation in Christ.
    So whatever system we use will be bound to fail until all creation is under Christ`s rule and reign.
    So the most important thing is for Christians to be’ salt’ and ‘light’ to preach the Gospel and to do their best with whatever system is presently in power.

  • dannybhoy

    “Yet what should the Church’s message be? What is the point of
    proclaiming Christ and Him crucified for our sin and salvation, if that
    Christ be another unknown god; the concept of ‘sin’ meaningless, and
    ‘salvation’ devoid of definition…”

    It is the CofE’s commitment to equal opportunies within an already broad church which hamstrings it, as far as proclaiming the Gospel is concerned.
    Its desire to be inclusive and non contentious means it has nothing profound to say…

  • Inspector General

    “Before the final hymn, I must let you all know we have received a pastoral letter from the bishops, or should that be the damned Kommissariat as it seems these days. It reminds you all to take into account that when you vote, you should take care not to upset anybody who supposedly matters, in this case, bishops.”

    “Naturally, you are a silly lot who easily falls under the most mundane of influences, like a bishops intervention, so there’s no need to read it out, as you are already going to vote for the pro EU, pro unrestricted immigration, Islamist apologising, Marxist admiring, abortion happy, benders marriage advocating, recreational drug enjoying secular atheist scoundrel who is chancing his or her luck this year.”

    “Alternatively, you might consider UKIP.”

    “Be in no doubt, this is what our Lord Jesus Christ would want of you. And you WILL answer for it if you don’t at your day of judgment”

    “Amen to that, what!”

    “Now, bring on the black girls, and let’s have a bit of that wonderful gospel singing…”

    • Dominic Stockford

      “My faith looks up to thee” with a nice lilt to the tune, I think, to finish with tonight!

  • Shadrach Fire

    A fascinating insight of the Bishops thinking Your Grace,

    Any reasonable observer who has any understanding of God’s ways will come to the conclusion that with the CofE if the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch.

    Your reasoning that the Bishops would not state the obvious, which you do, a Conservative-led coalition with Ukip may be best for the country and represent the most Christian pursuit of the common good. But there is no alternative yet. I would not want Cameron in charge though. He has done too much damage to Christian values in this country already.

  • Martin Marprelate wrote, “The self-harming children, the stressed and suicidal fathers, the mothers on mogadon, the alcoholics, the drug addicts are not going to be changed by tuppence off Income Tax. They need to be told that they did not evolve from bits of slime, that they are not the products of blind chance, but that there is a God in heaven who does not desire the death of the sinners but rather that all men should repent and turn to Him (Ezekiel 18:30-32)”.

    Thank you so much for this. It aptly summarises the truth that a nation’s well being rests in righteousness before God. It is the God of providence who determines whether or not a nation shall prosper. Part of our task is to tell the political establishment that it is answerable to the one true Trinitarian God. By redefining marriage, for example, that establishment has shown that it repudiates the Christian Faith and that the spirit of the age is the only arbiter of its conduct.

  • Royinsouthwest

    Who is my neighbour? the bishops ask. Well the answer is apparently not the hundreds of schoolgirls in Rotherham who were abused by men of mainly Pakistani origin because the social services, local councillors, and the police were all desperate to do what the bishops imply we should all be doing when they write about people who exploit grievances, find scapegoats and create barriers between people.

    In other words we should all turn a blind eye to evil.