I recall the intense pleasure when I was first first taught the rudiments of the differential calculus donkey’s years ago: this seemingly miraculous, and charmingly simple, means of calculating increases and decreases in rates of change. Well, I don’t think the editors of Church Times needed the calculus to measure the catastrophic increase in the pace of the decline – literally dismemberment – of the Church of England. That newspaper is really the house journal of the C. of E. and it is read by more than 90% of the clergy and a good proportion of the laity. The current edition must give them all pause for thought, for it has devoted ten pages to consider the “apocalyptic” decline of the English church which, some claim, will barely exist in twenty years’ time. Most churchgoers are elderly or old. Their numbers are not being replaced. Thus – we might say rather late in the day – appraised of the crisis, we have those ten pages of head-scratching in CT, as sociologists, clergy, theologians and religious pundits cast around for what might be done.
On the basis of the well-known fact that those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it, we should ask first what has been going on in the English church in the last half century which has – shall we say – coincided with its collapse. Let me mention a few of what seem to me to be the most significant features.
The last fifty years have seen the rise of theological reductionism. Bluntly, this means that ancient doctrines, always previously proclaimed as true and the foundational beliefs of the church have been, in the jargon, demythologised. So Jesus was not born of a virgin and he didn’t rise from the dead. His miracles were really “acted parables” – that is more jargon for the claim that they didn’t actually happen.
Concurrent with theological reductionism has run a fifty years programme of liturgical “reform” which has seen the discarding of The King James Bible and The Book of Common Prayer. This means that there is no longer observance of the rule that all the realm shall have one use. In fact, these changes mean that you have no idea what you’re going to find in a church service until the service begins. It’s a sort of churchy babel in which no two churches do the same thing and many priests and ministers seem to do as they like.
In addition to these changes, the bishops, the clergy and the synod have endorsed the secular mores of the age.
I have commented enough on these matters and I will not do so again here, but conclude with a single observation:
In those churches where the ancient doctrines are still taught as true, where traditional scriptures are used and where the moral teaching which stood the church apart from pagan practices is still taught, there is life and growth. Churches in Africa, Central and South America and parts of the Far East are burgeoning.
By contrast, the churches which have most successfully modernised themselves are failing, and – perhaps this is where the calculus comes in – those modernising more rapidly are also failing faster.
The church which has modernised itself to the greatest extent is the Episcopal Church of the USA (ECUSA).
Recently this institution changed its name from ECUSA to The Episcopal Church, known widely as TEC
Some, basing their remark on observation, say that TEC stands for The Empty Church