After Gafcon

Joseph D’Souza writes:

Last week, I attended the 2018 Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) in Jerusalem. Around 2,000 archbishops, bishops and Anglican church leaders from North and South America, Europe, Africa, Asia and Australia came together to pray and consider the future of the global Anglican church. Some estimate that it was the largest international gathering of Anglican leaders in over 50 years.

GAFCON rose out of the Anglican church's struggle with an issue that has become the leading cause for disagreement in Christianity: same-sex marriage. It's the reason why hundreds of Anglican bishops in the southern hemisphere — who hold on to the traditional biblical view of marriage — have strongly differed with many of their more liberal counterparts in the West.

Still, as important as it might be, the issue of same-sex marriage is only the tip of the iceberg. The real question Christians all over the world must answer today is whether or not they will hold on to the authority of Scripture and the gospel the church has historically believed in.

As an outsider, I've observed how the West – and America specifically – has been steadily inching toward secularism, which is the absence of God in life.

The meteoric rise of the religiously unaffiliated over the past few decades combined with social changes such as the legalisation of same-sex marriage across all 50 states and the emergence of forced tolerance have augured the end of a 'Christian' America. Though it might still be some time away, the American church is now facing the crude reality many Christians across the southern hemisphere know well: becoming a minority religion.

Here's the thing though – this is nothing new for Christians. From the very beginning, Christianity has been well acquainted with being a minority.

Jesus gave the first believers – about 120 disciples – the job of changing the world. This small community believed Jesus and took him at his word, which was no easy task. The cultural problems and challenges they confronted were similar, if not greater, to ours. They had to contend with the widespread breakdown of the family structure, serious moral decline, a hedonistic lifestyle and religious fundamentalism of its day. If you want to see what real moral decline looks like, open a book on first-century Rome and read about the unbridled paganism, rampant sexual immorality, infanticide and slavery of the Roman Empire.

Yet, even when facing such overwhelming odds, the early church did not lose their vision of the Kingdom of God. The early Christians painstakingly developed a counterculture within a hostile environment dominated by despotic Roman emperors such as Nero, who was bent on eradicating this start-up religious movement.

No matter who was Caesar in Rome, they honoured Jesus Christ as Lord of all. They believed in the resurrection, and in his second coming. And no matter what the culture around them said, they remained committed to the truth in the God-inspired Scriptures, especially when it pertained to issues such as the biblical definition of marriage. They believed the Kingdom of God that Jesus had inaugurated was Spirit-empowered.

So, when people accused the early Christians of turning the world upside down, it wasn't a cliché. They were living upside-down lives in a society that was putting immense pressure on them to conform to the culture. Contrary to the short-sightedness that plagues many Western churches today, the early Christians had a long view of the Kingdom of God, and a holistic understanding of Christian discipleship. Their obedience literally changed the world and the flow of history.

Coming from a region in the world where Christians face dire persecution, I am disheartened to see such a large group of Christians in the West passively accept the decline of the church and its life-changing impact on society. I find it puzzling when the concept of a post-Christian Europe or United States is stated as an inevitable reality, when history knows that by and large Christianity built the modern West and paved the way for the individual democratic rights they enjoy today.

Yes, secularism might be the new religion on the block, but we can't forget it hasn't proved it can build a civilisation or a culture capable of holding society together over generations. This is because secularism neither cares for the family unity nor the divine.

The civilisations that have survived over millennia – from China to India, the Middle East and the Judeo-Christian world – hold a strong belief in God, no matter which deity they believe in. They know meeting the need of the spiritual is a given factor of life. And these cultures by the same token believe in the traditional family unit as the foundation of society.

The tragedy of the Western world is thinking it can survive without its Judeo-Christian foundation, without a commitment to God or the traditional family unit.

So, what's the answer for Christians in the West today? It's simple: get back to your roots. Get back to your roots in the timeless gospel of Jesus. Cultural movements come and go. The Kingdom of God will continue forever. Be compassionate to those struggling with same-sex attraction and reject homophobia; Jesus loves them intensely and knows how to minister to them. But stay true to the radical, holistic calling of following Jesus.

Jesus' time-tested formula for finding life and happiness is to lose it all for him. It has delivered throughout the centuries more than any other formula, and still delivers today.

 

Most Rev Joseph D'Souza is the Archbishop of the Anglican Good Shepherd Church and Associated Ministries of India. He is the recipient of numerous awards and accolades for his work as a human rights activist.

 

Reprinted from ChrtistianToday.com

Gafcon Update 6 - Part of something bigger

Friday 22 June
Philip writes:

This morning Gafcon produced ‘a letter to the churches’ (https://www.gafcon.org/news/letter-to-the-churches-gafcon-assembly-2018) which has developed from a blank piece of paper at the start of the week and been shaped by the input and reflections on the week. An initial draft was shared with the whole conference yesterday and each national delegation submitted feedback. It was a genuine consultation and final version was much improved as a result. 
Inevitably, the letter will resonate with different people and different provinces in different ways but a number elements stand out-
➢ the absolute priority of proclaiming Christ faithfully to the nations
➢ the continuing need for the reformation of the Anglican communion
➢ the establishment of permanent, Communion-wide networks to promote faithful gospel work around the globe
To be Gafcon is to be on the cutting edge of what God is doing in the Anglican Church worldwide: shaking up a system no longer able to hold the church together in the unity of the faith. It is the majority of the Communion, something brought home by the sight of over 300 bishops sitting together in convocation robes for this morning’s closing communion service. And for us in Fowey, it is where we belong, standing for historic, orthodox, biblical Anglicanism. We are not alone, It is home. 
The statement was received by universal acclamation in the auditorium and we then broke into singing “To God be the Glory”. The atmosphere in the room reflected the excitement that this is the movement for the reformation and renewal of Anglican Communion and there is nothing else like it.

with love from Jerusalem

Gafcon Update 5 - A mighty fortress

Thursday 21 June
Dan writes:

“Let goods and kindred go, this mortal life also. The body they may kill; God’s truth abideth still”.

Martin Luther’s famous paraphrase of Psalm 46, probably written as plague approached Wittenberg, was the opening hymn at Morning Prayer on this the fourth day of GAFCON III in Jerusalem. It was the right choice for a day in which the delegates heard from those who have paid the price of “Proclaiming Christ Faithfully to the Nations”. 

Much of what was said at GAFCON this afternoon cannot be eported because their lives are at risk, and have no security except that the Lord is their mighty fortress. Their testimonies won’t easily be forgotten so an awed silence will have to speak eloquently for the sacrifices that some delegates have made for the sake of the Lord Jesus Christ and have experienced real agony in taking up their cross.

As delegates heard from the living, “those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne,” were not forgotten. We sang Matt Redman’s “10,000 Reasons” and rejoiced with the martyrs that when, “…our time has come” it is only the start of “…praise unending… forevermore.” 

Possessions, family and life itself, delegates heard of all these prices being paid for Gospel faithfulness. And the lessons were clear:

“God does not owe you anything for your faithfulness. It was an honour to suffer for him. Stand firm.” 

“Be Firm, be faithful, be strong, be courageous…and don’t be ashamed of Jesus”.

“I am suffering persecution as a Christian leader and that is part of the job”.

“If we are persecuted let us remember that Christ himself suffered and that he has promised us that as Christians we will suffer persecution”.

“If I die for Christ I know where I am going to. And that is why I am happy”.

Everything delegates heard confirmed the truth of Luther’s words, “For still our ancient foe doth seek to work us woe; his craft and power are great, and armed with cruel hate…”  This is the reality for many delegates and it will become reality for more as other religions and militant secularism are used as by the devil to work woe amongst faithful believers. 

Filing out of the auditorium, subdued, we were very aware that, “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, were not the right man on our side, the man of God's own choosing…and he must win the battle”… as, praise God, He has!

with love from Jerusalem

Gafcon Update 4 - Let these bones live!

Wednesday 20th June
Philip writes:

By and large our news media is very parochial and includes a narrow selection of global stories. Yet it could not ignore the story of the kidnap of hundreds of young girls by the militant Islamic group, Boko Haram in Nigeria. Thankfully many have now been released, but some are still held, including a girl called Leah who has refused renounce Jesus for whom we have prayed by name here at Gafcon.

But almost completely unreported is the story of those coming to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ from a Muslim background, even in Nigeria and even from Boko Haram.

Sitting in front of me at Gafcon are Abraham and Dorcas Yisa. Abraham is a lawyer by training and serves as a judge in Nigeria and is clearly held in high regard by the authorities. He is also the Registrar of the Church of Nigeria. But his service is much more than simply institutional. He and Dorcas have opened their home to a number of young women who have been converted from Islam to Christianity. Abraham told me of two who came from his home community and whose families he knows so he has been able to speak to their parents. They have rejected their daughters but he and Dorcas have given them a new family who are now providing for them, caring for them and protecting them. Because he is a judge Abraham has armed police protection and wonderfully, as well as a home, these girls now also have a place of refuge and safety in the face of death threats because they now claim Jesus as their Lord. But Abraham and Dorcas are not the only ones. There is a whole network of brothers and sisters providing a new home and new family for those who have made the costly decision to follow Jesus. 

This is church in action, quietly, sacrificially demonstrating what it is to be belong and be part of Jesus’ family, our family!

Our focus today has been on God’s world and the immense need for Christ to be faithfully proclaimed to the nations. We had a superb plenary from the new director of Operation World, Jason Mandryk, a Canadian living in the UK. In a TED-talk style presentation he conveyed an immense amount of stats in an engaging and informative way with clear analysis and implications. And there were surprises, for example, not only is the global south (as opposed to the West) the largest proportion of Christians worldwide, it is also sending out more missionaries. The world is now looking to evangelise us in the UK and Europe. But the greatest need remains India and China, which if their states or provinces were considered individually they would be 32 of the top 40 most populous nations. The archbishop of Uganda, Laurent Mbanda reminded us of Romans 10v14, “How ... will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?”

I mentioned yesterday that I planned to attend a seminar on the Holy Spirit in the Church led by Dr Ashley Null - and it certainly did not disappoint. 

The gospel of grace is so easily distorted into a gospel of works, making my faith the key to unlocking God’s favour. This is a huge problem amongst many of the African churches. It is pastorally disastrous because if the blessing is not forthcoming, the fault must be mine. Elsewhere many believers are hamstrung by the awareness of their sinfulness and the endless attempt to do better, try harder and summon the will power not to let God down. Still more are locked into doing good to establish the grounds for a relationship with God. These are just a few pastoral scenarios which ministers come across day by day but which Ashley showed us are simply contemporary re-runs of medieval Christianity.

However at the heart of Anglicanism is the glorious rediscovery of the gospel which is truly liberating. Thomas Cranmer’s theology of the Holy Spirit is encapsulated in the Collect for Purity. It is the Holy Spirit who enables us to love God more than sin and the fruit of which is seen in lives that give God glory and magnify him. In essence, the solution to sin is the gift of a heart transplant by the Spirit (Eze 34, Jer 31).

Ashley also showed us how the reformers were clear that it is the scriptures through which the Holy Spirit speaks and works as opposed to the institutional operation of so-called ‘apostolic succession’ or the mystical influence of relics: “The words of Holy Scripture be called words of everlasting life: for they be God’s instrument ordained for the same purpose.  They have power to convert through God’s promise, and they be effectual through God’s assistance; and, being received in a faithful heart, they have ever a heavenly spiritual working in them.” (Cranmer’s Homily on Scripture)

“As I speak, with my words, go my breath.” Using this simple illustration, Dr Null was expressing why Gafcon is so unswerving in its commitment to the Bible, for without God’s word, we will not see the Holy Spirit at work in the world in transformed lives. And if the church abandons the Bible, we will simply be left with Ezekiel’s vision of dry, dead and lifeless bones.

In that vein, Dan writes:

The theme of GAFCON III is ‘Proclaiming Christ faithfully to the Nations’. Amidst all the differences between the fifty nations represented at GAFCON there is a universal recognition that in every place there can always be a drift away from faithfulness, departing from the faith once for all delivered to the saints. 

Delegates have been reminded repeatedly that there can be no effectiveness in reaching the nations if it is not the Christ of the Bible who is proclaimed. It is foundational to GAFCON that all:

“…rejoice in the gospel of God through which we have been saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. Because God first loved us, we love him and as believers bring forth fruits of love, ongoing repentance, lively hope and thanksgiving to God in all things.”

“…gladly proclaim and submit to the unique and universal Lordship of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, humanity’s only Saviour from sin, judgement and hell, who lived the life we could not live and died the death that we deserve. By his atoning death and glorious resurrection, he secured the redemption of all who come to him in repentance and faith.”

A great gift of God to the present and future generations from GAFCON I in 2008 was the Jerusalem Declaration (https://www.gafcon.org/resources/the-jerusalem-declaration) which the Fowey PCC warmly welcomed that year and which is displayed at the back of church. It is the basis of the unity in diversity which is GAFCON and is also constant reminder of the components of Anglicanism that will keep all faithful.

Alongside rejoicing in and gladly proclaiming the gospel the declaration is clearly: 

➢ biblical - upholding the sufficiency & authority of scripture (para 2).

➢ historical - in upholding the four Ecumenical Councils &three Creeds (para 3).

➢ doctrinal - in upholding the Thirty-nine Articles (para 4).

➢ sacramental & liturgical - upholding the standard of the1662 BCP (para 6).

➢ episcopal - upholding the standards of the Anglican Ordinal(para 7).

➢ moral - upholding the creation order, the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage & caring for the world (para 8 & 10).

➢ missional - upholding the Great Commission (para 9).

➢ ecumenical - upholding the unity of all those who know &love Christ (para 11).

➢ global - upholding objective truth where necessary & respecting diversity where possible (para 12). 

Anglicanism like this (as opposed to dry bones) ought to truly gladden our hearts! 

with love from Jerusalem

Gafcon Update 3 - “Forward. Always forward. Everywhere forward!”

Monday 19th June
Philip writes:

“Forward. Always forward. Everywhere forward!”

Yesterday I bumped into a very old friend who I haven’t seen for over 20 years, Dr Ashley Null who is a hugely eminent church historian and leading scholar on Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. I first met Ashley when I was a ‘vicar factory’ in Cambridge. Amongst other things he taught me how to conduct a funeral, helping me hugely with the very first I led. He is leading a seminar tomorrow on the work of the Holy Spirit in justification, faith, assurance and holy living and I’ll be there, not just for old time’s sake, but because his input usually has both depth and profound application.

Ashley introduced me to Archbishop Foley Beach who is the presiding bishop of the recently formed Anglican province of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA). He has galvanised his province with the strap line, “Forward. Always forward. Everywhere forward!” And there is a tangible sense of that energy and drive throughout the conference.

Tonight the UK delegation heard from 4 Myanmar bishops who work against the background of civil war and the chaos of internally displaced people (like the Rohinja mulisms who have been in the news). Their dioceses are vast and resources scarce but their love for the Lord Jesus and passion to proclaim him faithfully is palpable. Likewise the vision of Ben who trains pastors in Kenya or Amos who is both radio presenter and youth worker as well as local church pastor, both working with little but totally focussed, determined and all out for Jesus and his people. That we are part of this through the worldwide Gafcon family is immensely humbling. It may be tough in the Uk because of increasing secularism, but it seems it is tough everywhere, maybe in different ways, but still tough. But that is why we need each other and the spontaneous support and appreciation of one another as stories are shared is a tremendous spur to keep on keeping on with proclaiming Christ however we can with whatever resources we have.

Why? Well as Richard Coekin from Co-mission in London reminded us this morning in a brilliant exposition of Jesus’ crucifixion from Luke 23, it is because of the amazing grace of God in the cross of Christ. Simply, it is because God loves us. If you only watch or listen to one thing from the conference, listen to Richard’s talk (https://vimeo.com/275840456) as he unpacks the wonder of that love revealed a the cross and draws out 4 key implications for our mission as we seek to proclaim Christ - and him crucified - faithfully to Fowey

with love from Jerusalem. 

 

Gafcon Update 2 - There's no one like Jesus

Monday 18th June
Philip writes:

“There is no one, no one like Jesus” - this is a wonderful swahili song we sang today led by an amazing Nigerian choir (click here to see a short video to get the flavour)

I have met brothers and sisters in Christ today from around the world. Abraham is the Registrar for the Church of Nigeria; David an ex-military, Harley riding Canadian who is being ordained later this year; Pete Tong, an Asian Australian who teaches at Moore College in Sydney; Paul who is the dean of Texas and leads the largest church in the ACNA whose auditorium is bigger than the conference centre; Tom from Canada whose congregation had their church building taken from them they left the Canadian church. Then I sat down and the lovely Ugandan next to meet turned out to be Archbishop Stanley Ntagali. Oh, and I met up with James de Costobadie who is Emma’s godfather and a vicar in Christchurch New Zealand and who is in the process of leaving the denomination because it has departed from scripture.

This is the wonder of the gospel that unites all types and sorts of people under the lordship of Christ so that he becomes the universe’s VIP (Remember we looked at God’s plan for the world in Ephesians 1v10 last May...) There truly is no-one like Jesus. Here were faithful ministers from around the globe doing just what we do in Fowey, seeking to live for Jesus and speak for Jesus distinctively and attractively where the Lord has placed them. It immediately felt like ‘home’, perhaps because it is a little glimpse of what home will really be like in the new creation. The commitment is the same and the commission shared.

That said, it’s not been an easy day with clear challenges from scripture and from the stories around the world of the cost of being faithful to the historic orthodox biblical gospel - which is, of course, what authentic Anglicanism should be.

Archbishop Dr Alfred Olwa from Lango in Uganda expounded Luke’s account of Jesus’ 5 trials before the council, Pilate and Herod. He highlighted how Pilate sought to duck the issues, not least because he feared the crowd, “Some people fear the jeering of the crowd more than the judgement of God”.

GAFCON chairman, Nigerian Archbishop Nicholas Okoh challenged us from Romans 1v1-6 to stand firm for the authentic apostolic gospel, “It is either God’s gospel or no gospel.” “If we walk together with those who deny the orthodox faith, in word or deed, we have agreed that orthodoxy is optional.”

And so, this afternoon, we heard from those who have indeed refused to, “…walk together with those who deny the orthodox faith” and who paid the practical, physical, spiritual, emotional, pastoral, relational and financial cost of doing so. It was inspirational as we heard stories of churches from USA, Brazil, New Zealand, Canada, and Scotland, each seeking faithfully to proclaim Christ, suffering for it and finding a home in GAFCON. It was also exceptionally moving, as each nation completed their tale, when the whole conference affirmed them as true Anglicans for their confessional stance and courageous witness. It is why GAFCON is so needed and valued around the globe, bringing together Anglicans in Biblical truth rather than organisational, or institutional but compromised, structures.

The conference liturgy includes the acclamation “We will proclaim - Response: Christ faithfully to the nations.” The Africans punched the air as we said it.

with much love from Jerusalem
 

Gafcon Update 1 - the Anglican Family

Saturday 16 June 2018
Dan Leafe writes:

Yesterday Susie and I arrived in Jerusalem as English delegates to the third Global Anglican Futures Conference, which is something of a mouthful, so it is known to all as “GAFCON”. It is a conference of 2,000 Anglicans from around the world. Everything you might need to know can be found at www.gafcon.org

Heading for Jerusalem it is difficult not to think of the Lord Jesus doing the same: “As the days drew near for him to be taken-up, [Jesus] set his face to go to Jerusalem” (Luke 9:51).

The destination, however, is pretty much the only thing delegates share with the Lord’s journey. In particular, I have been struck that Jesus was heading towards a lonely death and an even lonelier tomb. The contrast with the experience of the GAFCON delegate - because of his death and resurrection - could not be greater. 

GAFCON is the international Anglican family coming together, a family created by and united in the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is predictable to say so but this is a gathering if not, “from every tribe and language and people and nation”, certainly from an awful lot of them- around 50 nations…and I wonder just how many tribes, languages and people…perhaps someone will try and work it out.

For many here there is literal family - spouses, children, in-laws; Anglicans, just like the community of God’s people down the ages, have a tendency to intermarry! I have been looking forward to GAFCON so much, in part because for me it is a literal family experience - obviously Susie is here but so will be my sister and brother-in-law, who in turn are only able to come because our mother is caring for their girls.

Just as important is that GAFCON is a church family experience - Susie and I await the arrival of Philip and Ben tomorrow. Jerusalem will be an important week we share together. In fact, I see particular significance in Ben’s presence; it is a great blessing that at the last minute, a place came avaiable at no cost to the church, Ben has been able to join the conference because this GAFCON has a particular emphasis on young leaders like him. GAFCON only meets corporately every five years - Susie and I first came when we were 40 but Ben has the chance to get three GAFCON’s under his belt before hitting that milestone and that is how GAFCON will become the long-term, sustainable movement for the renewal of Anglicanism that it intends to be. 

It is a church family experience, however, most decidedly not just for the four of us but also for the whole church family at Fowey Parish Church as we seek to share the experience with you as fully as possible. Every day we will we will do our best to involve you all in what is going on here in Jerusalem with an email update but there are loads of others ways to join with us too:

  • much of each day’s programme will be livestreamed along with other great content - just go via the GAFCON website above. 
  • At about 4pm BST (we have to think in time zones here!) highlights packages of differing lengths will be posted. 
  • For those who tweet - follow #gafcon2018
  • By all means Whatsapp (07753 690120) or email us to keep the communication flowing. 

You might also pray for us as we will for you. There are resources to help with that privately - please use the 'Fuel for Prayer' leaflet available in church and the prayer points from the Gafcon website.  If you’d like to get together with others to watch some of the highlights and join us in prayer then email or speak to Polly Skinner (07737 281177). We’d all appreciate your prayers, but Susie has a particularly big task as deputy head of communications…perhaps more about that another time.

And if that was not enough, it is also a communion family experience. From the moment we got into Ben Gurian airport yesterday we renewed friendships with Anglicans from around the world - a couple whose daughter is going to work with our mission partners JP and Sue Arunzulla in Bologna nest year; a retired America archbishop who has helped so much in the always necessary work  of teaching the next generation to contend for the faith of the Gospel; Africans who have supported us at past international gatherings; Australians from whom English Anglicanism has benefited so much, and simply brothers and sisters - be they archbishops, bishops, clergy and lay people, from five continents who share our biblical, Anglican profession of the Christian faith. 

All healthy families need to get together from time to time - to celebrate all that is good, to strengthen family ties, to speak frankly, to reflect on the past and think about the future…and that is why we are here in Jerusalem…and why we hope you will “join” us in whatever way you can.

Vicar's letter for June Fowey News

Dear Friends

I have been struck recently how many people use the phrase ‘Touch wood!’ and seek to reach out and tap something wooden.

What does this superstition mean? It seems to be some sort of supernatural insurance policy and surprisingly it’s found almost globally.  Some suggest it’s about preventing malevolent wood-spirits from hearing and upsetting your plans. Others that it comes from auction houses when an auctioneer’s gavel falls, and your bid wins, your hope is realised. But it seems certainly to have a connection with medieval Christianity and its many relics which included pieces of the supposedly ‘true’ cross. It was then an expression of faith in Jesus’s victory over the powers of darkness in his death.

But why does such a superstition still persist in our modern age? Most of the people I hear uttering ‘touch wood’ are educated and intelligent yet they seemed utterly confident that ‘touching wood’ would avoid bad luck coming their way. Many people have a spiritual awareness yet often it is mixed with uncertainty and fear that fuels such irrational superstitions.

A Christian would say that muttering ‘touch wood’ is completely unnecessary. Our lives are in God’s hands and he is a good and gracious and generously heavenly Father. We sing, ‘In Christ alone my hope is found… No guilt in life, no fear in death, this is the power of Christ in me; from life’s first cry to final breath, Jesus commands my destiny.’ Exactly! It is Jesus who commands and controls what happens in our life. We are in the safest of hands.

But what if you’re not a Christian? May I suggest you might think about why you say ‘touch wood’? Because performing this little ritual is actually making an admission. It is to concede that you are not the master of your own destiny.  In which case, who is?

In any case such superstition is misplaced because faith is not mechanical. Even if we were able to touch the wood of the cross on which Jesus died, it would make no difference.  However if, facing an uncertain future, you reach out in faith, not to the cross but to the One who died on it, that’s a very different matter. To put your life under the control of the God who in Jesus Christ loved you so much he died for you is, quite simply, the only safe way to face the future.

with every blessing

Philip de Grey-Warter, Vicar

 

Vicar's letter for May Fowey News

Dear Friends

There are many values that the modern Western world prizes, yet increasingly these are assumed to have ‘just happened’ as accidents of history and have nothing to do with the beliefs that shaped them.The truth is that Christianity played a significant role in shaping what we call ‘the West’.

Consider human rights; the idea that every individual has rights and freedoms. It is the biblical belief that everybody is made in God’s image and as such has value that gave birth to the idea and it’s no coincidence that Amnesty International, the leading human rights group, was founded in 1961 by Peter Benenson – a Christian.

Consider children. In the ancient world and in many cultures, infanticide was common. However, following the example of Jesus (Matthew 19:14), Christianity values children. That high evaluation led to the creation of orphanages by Christians such as Thomas Barnardo, Charles Haddon Spurgeon and George Müller, and in the labours of the tireless Lord Shaftesbury in creating laws to restrict the use of children in factories and mines.

Consider education. Today we believe in universal education but it was Christians who promoted education not just for an elite but for all. So while some have mocked the idea of Sunday schools, by 1830 they were bringing literacy to over a million children in Britain.

Consider the economic systems that underlie modern Western society and that have allowed health and prosperity to so many. The Christian attitude to labour and wealth, widely but simplistically termed ‘the Protestant work ethic’, was fundamental. Its attitude to wealth was summed up in John Wesley’s words: ‘gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can’. Possibly even more significant was the condemnation of those scourges of every economic system: dishonesty, corruption and laziness.

Compassion for people: who stopped the abominable slaughter of the amphitheatres and the trade in gladiators? Christians.The largest aid organisation working with the homeless, the Salvation Army started by William and Catherine Booth, proclaims its Christian ethos in its very name. The Red Cross was started by Henry Dunant – a Christian. The modern hospice movement was founded by Cicely Saunders – a Christian. The Samaritans, with their invaluable ministry to the suicidal and desperate, was founded by the Reverend Chad Varah. Care for animals? The RSPCA was founded by the Reverend Arthur Broome with that champion against slavery William Wilberforce. They considered the society ‘a specifically Christian enterprise based on Christian principles’.

In fact the Christian role in creating what we are today is everywhere. Now of course the record is not unblemished; history also yields the names of those who, despite naming the name of Christ, sadly perpetuated evil and ignorance. Nevertheless, the record of Christianity in creating much of what we value is overwhelming. Indeed, it’s a striking irony that those atheists who criticise Christians and Christianity prefer to do so from the freedom and protection provided by a culture whose very basis they despise.

Perhaps we should be wary of removing our foundations?

with every blessing, Philip de Grey-Warter, Vicar

(I am indebted to J.John for the material for this letter)