“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”
“ If a house is divided against itself, that house cannot stand.” (Mk 3.25).
There are at least two ways of doing theology; one primarily as a rational and intellectual act, and one by discernment of the Spirit.
Our Enlightenment traditions are very comfortable with the first, but Churches that look to the Holy Spirit rather than the nous or the human mind, need to be able to exercise the gift of the Holy Spirit called in the New Testament, ‘discernment.’
This is an exercise not in the cerebralness of rationality, of which we have had a great deal, but in spiritual discernment; which can only be done by the twice-born, and by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
The Gospels are preoccupied with two great themes in particular; the internalising of the great journey of cultural, legal and religious purity that had formed Israel as God’s own people in the First or Old Covenant; and the great struggle against perversion and disorderedness of the body, mind, soul or community, that the conflict between Satan and Jesus embodied.
Jesus made it clear that this journey of purity stretched from the cult, or the culture of the first Covenant, down into the heart; and at every stage, the devil set out to twist and pervert the order and priorities of God out of shape. We find this struggle marking the pages of the Gospels both explicitly and implicitly.
At every moment of renunciation on behalf of a soul or the church, the devil was and is there to slip himself into the conversation and suggest a softer way.
Starting with Jesus Himself in the wilderness, in the classic temptations as they are presented to us, the devil follows the same patterns and campaigns to twist, muddle and contort the purposes of God.
When Peter suddenly and horrifically sees that death as well as renunciation lies ahead of Jesus, with misdirected love he tried to steer Jesus in a different direction; one that will not save humankind but will be easier for Jesus.
Peter becomes Satan’s voice in the conversation, and quickly Jesus recognises and rebukes. “Get thee behind me Satan”.
At the Diocesan Synod in Hereford last week, the Church of England met in microcosm.
In each era of the Church’s life, satan has dangled temptation before the noses and souls of churchmen and women.
On the 500th anniversary of the Reformation we remember the demons of power and money that invaded the Church of the 16th Century; the wetting the human appetite and sapping the soul in that context in particular involved the selling of indulgences.
The demons of power and money are no less active in our age of course.
But fresh spirits assault the Church to pervert and confuse the body of Christ; in our time they are in particular Cupid and Eros; romantic and sexual desire, and in some cases, personal and corporate addiction.
As always, these perverse spirits present themselves as essentials that the Church (and the world) cannot do without, and of course that will do some lesser good.
In every age the Church has some defences against these cajoling and tempting spirits.
Primarily Scripture, and then of course tradition, the experience of living our Scripture across the cultures, an above all the witness and the power of the Holy Spirit for those who call on Him.
Bishops, for those Church’s that retain them, are intended to function as defenders of Scripture, and the integrity of holy tradition.
There is something dreadfully wrong in a Church when at a Synod, two bishops stand up to oppose each other over an issue that everyone agrees is critical to the integrity and life of the Church and the Spirit.
This was not an argument involving some minor piece of theological preference; this was a matter of calling good-evil, and evil- good.
A discussion which would risk the unforgivable sin of the great blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. (Mark 3.28-30)
The Church of England faces a serious dilemma at this stage of what was its life, but is rapidly becoming its death.
Just before its wholesale institutional withering on the vine – the vine that was supposed to be Jesus but has become instead the vine of the zeitgeist-, it has to chose whether its collapse will take place as it affirms secular appetites, offering a kind of spiritualised version of the great movement for affirming therapy so much loved by the people; the people have chosen to define their culture by their devotion to the demonic spirits of sex and happiness (Eros and Cupid), and they will reject or attack any one or any organisation that comes between them and their devotion and addiction.
Or, – whether the Church will risk rejection from the narcissistic and hedonistic culture by calling them back in Christ’s name to the purity and freedom of self- renunciation, and receive the promise of spiritual rebirth and recreation. To be set free from the demonic and to be made new in the Holy Spirit who promises agape, love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control. (Galatians 5)
This is of course a conflict between two spirits. One on side the Holy Spirit, and on the other the demonic spirits from hell.
At the Hereford Diocesan Synod, if one looked politically and dramatically, one could identify two parties, two political and cultural positions.
But in the Holy Spirit, one could also see heaven and hell ranged against each other in the counsels of the Church.
Tragically, the Diocesan bishop stood to present the case for the demonic spirits from hell, Cupid and Eros.
The Rt. Rev’d. Richard Frith wanted people to be happy. He wanted them to find ‘Love’. And by love, he meant not agape, but Cupid and Eros. His position was that Jesus, in so far as we understood him, had come to make people happy. He had come to help them with their sense of self-acceptance and self-fulfilment. He wanted the Church to learn the language of its surrounding culture and speak to people with values they understood. He wanted to save the Church from seeming to be out of touch and to be speaking a language was too preoccupied with sin and judgement, and more concerned with affirmation and meeting people where they are or where they want to be.
These have been Satan’s arguments from the beginning of course. And there is nothing in the history of the Church to suggest that Satan can’t whisper in an apostle’s ear, (Judas), (or Peter); nothing to suggest he cannot whisper into the ear of a gullible Anglican bishop, who, like St Paul’s erstwhile friend Demas, was in love with this world rather than the next.
Satan’s work is always to present the corrupt as the nearly good; the not quite so bad; the much to be desired.
The suffragan bishop of Ludlow, Alistair Mcgowan, spoke up for the Holy Spirit, for the Scriptures; for God’s pattern and purposes; for the authority of the Word and revelation of God over the passing attractions of culture; the prioritising of the Holy Spirit rather than the spirit of the age. But he was defeated by democracy and by the seduction of the demons in the ears of other Anglicans.
Satan has been whispering the priority of pleasure in the ears of the majority for too many years for them to recognise the Truth when it was presented to them. They had long given up on thinking that sex outside marriage was sinful. It was just what people wanted and what they did. For too long they had heard the siren call of being politically up to date and preferring what they took to be ‘justice’ (& fulfilment) to holiness (and renunciation.)
In microcosm there was the Church of England. A senior bishop advocating the cause of the demonic spirits, and an assistant bishop grimly, faithfully, bravely, holding to the Word of God and the witness of the Holy Spirit.
But the Church of England no longer hears or understand the Holy Spirit. It has given itself over to the spirits of the age. It likes Cupid and Eros; it finds renunciation repugnant.
What happened in the Diocesan Synod at Hereford with happen at the General Synod in London or York.
Satan, always offended and enraged at the prospect of judgment has whispered into an Archbishop’s ear that ‘radical inclusion’ is a better outcome than the separation of the sheep and the goats, and that a bit of affirmation on earth (as a matter of pastoral care and justice that you can see and measure) is much preferable to the narrative of eternal separation from God which is uncaring and unjust, and possibly a great mistake on the part of Jesus.
Jesus offered two models of interaction with his Church.
Where it fell, wandered, got lost, and cried or bleated for help, the great Shepherd of the sheep went searching until he located the call for mercy and help, and if the lost sheep were willing to be carried back into the ways of the Kingdom and the direction of heaven, He would carry it on His shoulder and bring it home; time and time and time again. (Luke 15.4.)
But it had to cry for mercy and be willing to change direction.
But there is another pattern. In Revelation 3.15, the self-satisfied complacency of the Church was deeply offensive to the Lord.
Where there was no cry for mercy, Jesus is fierce in judgement:-
“I will spit you out of my mouth. 17 For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. 18 I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. 19 Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent.”
Jesus is endless mercy where there is repentance. But in the Church of England there is little sign of the call for mercy and the promise of repentance for those who promote what God has declared ‘an abomination’.
Amongst all of us who are all disordered, only the cry for mercy and the plea to help carry out our repentance allows any of us to be saved of whatever sexual, mental or spiritual orientation. We are souls before we are bodies, but serving our bodies, or pleasing our intellects may destroy our souls.
The progressives in the Church of England ought to stop even for a moment when they describe their movement as one of ‘pride’ whether that pride is theological, intellectual or sexual – but they have grown so deaf to the thing of the Holy Spirit and so seduced by the demonic, that they are almost spiritually deaf now.
What will happen to the Church of England as this demonic increasingly takes charge and changes both practice, teaching and culture.
Let me share with you just two of the dreams and visions I have had sent to me by people who pray. It stands for them all.
Dreams and Visions:-
Around two years ago I remember I had the single most profound moment of travailling or “intercessory prayer” I ever have had in my life. It was regarding the Church of England at St Aldates (see Romans 8). I went up to the front of the church for a call to prayer and as I prayed in the Holy Spirit I found myself starting to cry out “I will remove my presence from you (the CofE) if you do not repent…”
Three years ago, the Lord spoke to me in the night. In a vision, I was standing on top of a mountain on the edge of a precipice.
Some loose stones started falling over the edge, so I looked down to see where they were going.
To my horror I saw the Church of England crash into the precipice and then the Lord told me to get away from the edge, get right away and don’t look back.
I woke with a great sense of grieving in my spirit. As I prayed, I felt the Lord tell me the church had been on the edge of that precipice for a very long time, but now it had crossed a line.”
Each of us has to ask the Lord how close to that cliff edge he wants us to remain if there is no cry of repentance. Some may stay until they hear the Lord telling them personally to leave; others have begun to move away from the edge of the cliff and the disaster that is a Church which has abandoned the Living God, and is in turn abandoned by Him.