The Uniqueness of Christ

Synod is now moving into debating motion GS Misc 905B. The fun should start shortly…

That this Synod request the House of Bishops to report to the Synod on their understanding of the uniqueness of Christ in Britain’s multi-faith society, and offer examples and commendations of good practice in sharing the gospel of salvation through Christ alone with people of other faiths and of none.

Paul Eddy tells Synod that his motion has nothing to do with aggresively converting others or trying to evoke notions of western culture equaling christianity. He reports how as he was exploring ordination there were no resources available to support such mission. He discovered that ordinands spend only one day during their training exploring this issue, and there were no guidelines or assistance available to clergy in this area. His motion therefore asks for the House of Bishops to develop best practices to evangelise non-Christians.

Eddy argues that we can’t allow notions of social cohesion to get in the way of proclaiming Christ. We need to articulate a prophetic witness to our nation. We need an explicit statement of Christ’s uniqueness from the House of Bishop. There needs to be a clear signal of where the church stands. “A strategic, highly politicised marginalisation of Christianity it the public arena”, is what Eddy suggets we are facing, and we need to present Jesus as the means of salvation. “If Christ is what Christ is, he must be uttered”.

There’s no doubt at all about where Eddy stands – let’s see what others have to say.Eddy is followed by the Bishop of Rochester, who commends Eddy and Dr Martyn Davie’s paper. He confirms, as chair of the theological committee of the House of Bishop, the uniqueness of Christ and the universal significance of that. It can be shown from Scripture that God reveals himself through creation and conscience, but such knowledge cannot save of itself, because humans are affected by sin. The image of God reveals something of God in people, so the Fathers teach, but such knowledge ultimately points to Jesus. We recognise God ultimately in the story of salvation and in Jesus Christ. This history is the touchstone to recognise salvation. No-one can be saved by natural knowledge of God, or religious observance, but only by God’s graciousness in acting through Christ. It is all of God alone. This affects our understanding of mission – we must engage with the culture of those who we speak to. It is God who converts, but that is no excuse to laxity in witness or to denying the universality of the truth abut Jesus. We have an obligation to tell all about the healing love of God.

He expects the House of Bishops to support the motion.

The Revd Nezlin Sterling (New Testament Assembly – Ecumenical member) speaks to condemn the marginalisation of christianity. We are so careful to be politically correct we fail to be “Christ correct”. Christ commissioned us to make disciples of all peoples and we can engage in this activity confidently and unashamedly. Is it a choice between community cohesion and evangelism?

We can’t complain about the decline in membership if we do nothing to solve it. Why should we as Christians have to walk on egg shells to accomodate everyone else when the world around is becoming more aggressive to Christianity. Other faiths unrelentingly spread their message and gain ground – we unwittingly have compromised and vacated the space they now occupy.

Black majority churches are growing because they engage in active evangelism and we have training courses. There is no room for complacency, not time to procrastinate. We must go forward like a mighty army. Every person is a potential convert.

Riazat Butt is sat kneeled in front of the TV in the press room – methinks she has just got her headlines…..

Dr Chik Kaw Tan (Lichfield) follows this with an amazing testimony of leaving behind decades of idol worship as a Buddhist when he discovered Jesus. He proclaims that Jesus is the Son of God. “Other gods demand sacrifice, this one (Jesus) dies for us”. Jesus claims to be the Way, the Truth and the Life and he proved it by rising from the dead, and when he realised this “great news” at the age of 17 he rejected Buddhism and accepted Jesus as his Lord and Saviour.

Bishop Pete Broadbent (Willesden) says he lives in one of the most multi-faith areas of the country. This sort of motion, he says, is really helpful as it concentrates the mind on what the Church of England is about. He shares stories about clergy who report after midnight mass on Christmas Eve the arrival of loads of Hindus who want to reverence the infant Christ, tales of confirmation candidates who’s parents had been martyred, ordinands who have left families to serve God.

Holistic mission means we affirm the uniqueness of Christ while engaging respectively with our communities. Is the House of Bishops being implicitly criticised for not doing evangelism? I’d rather have grass roots reports from the ground as to what is being done and what good practice is, so Canon Dow’s amendment is perhaps better.

Canon Simon Bessant (Sheffield) moves the following amendment:

That this Synod remembering its resolution of 6 July 2002 , affirm:
(a) the process started by Presence & Engagement (GS 1577); and
(b) that all Christians should seek to witness faithfully to Christ and His Gospel to all, whilst also building strong friendships and partnerships with other faith communities in seeking peace, justice and the common good throughout society;
and ask that Ministry Division and the Mission & Public Affairs Division report on progress on this matter.

Bessant recalls a 2002 debate that ended up urging all Christians to share their faith. After this GS1577 had a section on the issue of conversion (in an inter-faith report) which was affirmed. The amendment simply asks Synod to stay with what it has already agreed and to move forward from there.

Andrew Dow responds by suggesting that the uniqueness of Christ is more important than ever. In his church’s Alpha course, attendees almost straight away challenged the uniqueness of Christ. Bessant’s amendment would be too wide in the report it asks for. Secondly, there is no attempt to get Bishops to have to affirm orthodoxy. The 2o02 motion says Jesus Christ is for all and must be shared by all, but stops short of saying he is the only Saviour. The New Testament witnesses to this greater statement and the insufficiency of other salvation paths. We need to recover our nerve of pressing our claims on those who don’t share them. We love people less, not more, if we fail to share the good news. The dreaded “C – word” – conversion – simply means turning around, which is God’s work. “He rebirths but we are called to be the midwives”.

The Bishop of Leicester talks about the tension between proclaiming Christ and building relationships with other faiths. He talks about friends from other faiths wanting us to be clear about our commitment to Christ. That’s why he was invited to a Hindu temple to speak about Jesus, but those invites don’t come unless we have good relationships. God was in Christ reconciling “all people to himself”, says the Bishop, and one senses he is indicating that he might not want to add the word “explicity”.

Alison Ruoff (London) thanks Eddy for his motion and is delighted that the media is so interested in the debate. Jesus is unique because he is the way that God has provided to cleanse us from sin. Incredible! Jesus therefore says “I am the way, the truth and the life and no-one comes to the Father except through me”. We live as marginalised and persecuted people in a society that puts Christianity way down the list. Are we going to stand up for Jesus? No other religion compares to Christianity – how can we not tell everybody how amazing Jesus is?

Prof Anthony Thiselton says he’s torn up his original speech. He talks about the “Christness of God” and “the Cosmic Christ”. You can hear the tumbleweeds rolling in the press room…..

Revd Richard Moy from Lichfield Diocese talks about the young people who come to him for help with apologetics, and that he has nowhere in the Church of England to turn for help. He took a sofa once into a shopping centre and invited people to talk to him. The first chap was a muslim who insisted no muslim ever converted. The second was an ex-muslim who had converted to Christ!!! He talks about a Muslim who tells him he watches the God Channel, who gave him a mattress, so he gave him a new Bible in return. He put the Bible on his TV and each day he and his family read it.

Simon Bessant moves his amendment formally and Andrew Dow responds. He’s delighted about the number of times Jesus has been mentioned in the debate. He thanks Bessant for reminding Synod of the previous debate, but all that Bessant asks for is already covered and it doesn’t add anything but rather takes away.

Justin Brett (Oxford) who claims he’s a liberal says that he’s reminding us of that because its important that not just evangelicals need guidance. Liberals are in need of help!!! Much laughter. Because of Brett’s background, he doesn’t have the same conversion experience to draw on like those previously shared. He needs a lead from the Bishops, as one who is “as dodgy as they come”.

Revd Brian Lewis (Chelmsford) says he works in a heavy inter-faith area and their (his parish’s) work of hospitality opens many doors and gives many opportunities to witness to Christ. Such witness should be Christ-like and GS1577 helps that. There have been extraordinary opportunities which might be the best practice sought. He talks of a group with an Imam with young Christians and Muslims, one week doing a Bible study, one of the Q’uran, ending with a study on the Emmaus story.

Synod votes on Bessant’s amendment, which fails by a large margin.

Now Andrew Dow’s amendment is debated:

That this Synod, recognising the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as the only Saviour as a foundational tenet of the Apostolic Christian Faith, request the House of Bishops to commission a report for Synod giving details of current Church of England based evangelistic ministry among those of other faiths, providing guidelines for this particular outreach, and highlighting examples of good practice.

Eddy responds by saying the amendment doesn’t address for who Jesus Christ is the only saviour, and that we shoud look for good examples fro beyond the Church of England. They’re picky points, but they’re valid.

Rose Hudson-Wilkin (London) reflects that the church is obsessed by sex, women and multi-faith. It saddens her that this debate is focussed on people of other faiths who “we think we need to target”. She says she is most alive not in Synod but witnessing to the Gospel in words and deeds. We would do better as a church is we witnessed to the uniqueness ourselves in our lives. How many of our children and grand-children are still worshipping? How can we say our faith is unique if our families scoff at it. Evangelism begins at home seems to be the message.

Angus McClay (Rochester) says there are good things in Dow’s amendment, but the original motion is better. We want clear articulation from our leaders and to be reminded for a clear confident articulation of the uniqueness of Christ. He agrees with Canon Dow that Christ is the only saviour – we need to be unembarrased about that. However, Dow’s gone straight to soteriology (John 14:6), before a theology of incarnation (John 1:18). The uniqueness of Christ as God and man undergirds our epistemology and then our soteriology. Let’s first articulate our Christology then move onto tools for witness.

The Archbishop of York says the amendment is difficult because it takes our attention away from the majority of English people who claim to be Christians, but who we never ever see in church. We need to “get on with it”. Christ asks us where were we when he was hungry, naked, sick? That is also mission and witness. We won’t pitch a tent in the valley of relavitism but we need to be careful how we articulate that in our modern culture. He says to Justin Brett (the dodgy liberal above) that he can have a conversion experience now, like everybody else!!!!

Canon Dow’s amendment is voted on and voted down.

Revd Chris Strain presents his friendly amendment which seeks to add the words:

warmly welcome Dr Martin Davie’s background paper ‘The witness of Scripture, the Fathers and the historic formularies to the uniqueness of Christ’ attached to GS Misc 905B and

after “That this Synod”. Essentially he’s simply adding an explicit reference to the brilliant paper by Davie. We must keep the big picture in mind and Davie’s paper does that.

Paul Eddy comments by warmly welcoming the amendment. Looks like it’s going to be a winner. Synod moves to vote on the amendment and supports it convincingly.

Debate now moves to the final amended motion. The Chair calls an anonymous speaker who shares a story.

Paul Eddy sums up the debate. He thanks the speakers, particularly the testimonies. After Alison Ruoff he was tempted to suspend standing orders and invite an altar call!!

The vote is going to be electronic, so we will know who voted against it.

For : 283
Against : 8
Abstain : 10

Jolly good. Riazat Butt of the Guardian goes “Wow!!!!”

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  • John Foxe

    Crikey! Church of England affirms uniqueness of Christ and solo Christo!
    So Peter, did any bishops vote against?
    In Christ,
    John Foxe

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  • http://www.confessingevangelical.com John H

    This is a very heartening result for all of us who love the Church of England. I really hadn’t expected a motion like this to pass, let alone pass so convincingly. A striking contrast with TEC, which (IIRC) couldn’t even manage to affirm the Nicene Creed in a synod vote a few years back…

  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

    We won’t know till next week who the eight people were who voted against. Watch this space….

  • Justin Brett

    Are you going to send the boys round after the eight dissenters?

  • http://bishopalan.blogspot.com Bishop Alan Wilson

    Thanks Peter, for the blow-by-bow account. In my experience of working with people of different faiths, most are grateful for clarity and honesty in us; the idea that you make friends by watering down what you are is complete rubbish. It’s acually harder to establish a friendship with someone who doesn’t know who they are than with someone who does! The pattern i commend in our diocese is one blazed by Alwin Samuel, an excellent priest who has done much work with Muslims in East Ocford — Firm friendship, faithful witness. That way we actually have something to offer. I’m delighted the synod has talked through something that really matters (for a change??!) Thanks for a brilliant account…

  • winston

    Peter, why would anyone disagree with this motion?  It seems to me that until some of the phrases such the ‘uniqueness of Christ’ are fully delineated, most Anglicans would have no problem with this statement.  Both exclusivists and inclusivists, with reference to the classic salvation paradigms, could assent to it, and the pluralist might be able to affirm it with some caveats.

  • http://melangerie.blogspot.com Philip Walker

    Thiselton & tumbleweed: loved it!  Good result, too.  I’ll be intrigued to hear who the opponents were.

  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

    Hi Justin,

    Rescued your comment from the spam trap. Send the boys round? Interesting idea, but it’ll be intriguing to see who did actually vote “no”.

  • Justin Brett

    I was very happy with how the debate went, though. It is really important that we remind ourselves from time to time that we are all trying to witness and evangelise – Traditionalists and Liberals do it very differently (snigger ad nauseam) but we are all on the same side in the end – all of us have Good News to share.

  • http://www.safespace.me.uk Mark Berry

    Of course I welcome this debate 100%… and particularly applaud the comments of Angus McClay – that “The uniqueness of Christ as God and man undergirds our epistemology and then our soteriology. Let’s first articulate our Christology then move onto tools for witness.” 

    Peter, your comment “it’ll be intriguing to see who did actually vote “no”.” makes me squirm somewhat – why will it be interesting?  There may be many reasons for someone voting against the motion – personally I wouldn’t have, but some of the reported speeches do make me uncomfortable – but, I would rather those whose conscience (for whatever reason) would not allow them to support this particular motion had the freedom to do so without being pursued out of curiosity, or any other reason.

  • http://www.peter-ould.net Peter Ould

    Hi Mark,

    I think we need to firstly recognise that the electronic vote is a public vote. It’s not prurient to want to see who voted which way, it’s simply a record of the facts of the matter.

    You’re right that there might be a number of reasons to vote “no”, but I don’t think any of them are reasonable. Can you think of any reasons why you wouldn’t want to support the motion as it carried?

  • Justin Brett

    Actually, I can think of one good reason to vote against the motion – if you look at the text it was demanding some work to be done by the House of Bishops. If you didn’t want the work to be done by the House of Bishops – or indeed if you felt that there was enough material out there already and that the work didn’t need to be done at all – then that would be a legitimate reason to vote against.

  • Winston

    Peter, as someone who has just spent two years doing a Masters in Interreligious Relations, I can think of lots of possible reasons for people, even who may have agreed with the statement, not wanting to vote for it.  I wonder what sustained experience you have of interreligous dialogue in areas with high multicultural populations.  I also think if some people who voted for the motion could have seen what the press would write today, they too would have voted against the motion for the sake of interreligous relations.

  • http://www.confessingevangelical.com John H

    Winston: fair point. Martin Davie’s paper may have looked at the uniqueness of Christ from the point of view of Scripture, the patristic era, the Anglican formularies and the continuing witness of the Church of England, but it did somewhat neglect the question of “But what if Ruth Gledhill says something mean about us?”, which must surely be key to all mature Christian reflection.

  • http://www.himherandthem.blogspot.com Tim Butt

    Fight Club stylee theological and doctrinal discussions appeal to me (I think I might have been living in Manchester in sight of gangs for too long!). Was that a summoning of “the boys”? Email through the photos and addresses and … … I’m sure I could borrow the heavy leather bound bible from St James’ which should make quite an impact!!!

  • winston

    John – I am not at all concerned about the meanness.  I am, however, concerned about the vital relationships that Anglicans have in my area with people of many faiths.  I am concerned that many of those people of other religious traditions have no understanding of what synod is or does, nor any understanding of the theological framework you mentioned.  I am concerned that all they will hear are the words of journalists interpreting the discussions of synod in order to get a good soundbite, a grabbing headline.  I suppose all of these concerns about my desire for theology to be contextualised rather than be a product of the rarified nature of discussion documents, and synodical processes.

    By the way, it would be great to hear comments from other readers of Peter’s blog who have significant experience of living in a multicultural area, and how they think the discussions help to further interreligious relations in their area.

  • http://www.himherandthem.blogspot.com Tim Butt

    Are we getting led on a tangent by all this? Whether someone identifies themselves as subscribing to a formal belief system or not, the Christian view is that they need Jesus. There’s a danger that by getting into a debate over “people of other faiths” and the business of ‘conversion’ we are getting sucked into a politicised debate that has been stirred up by journalists preying on the English lack of ‘English’ identity. There’s not a single person in the office where I work who would identify themselves with a particular faith group / religion. However, I would argue that they have each bought into all number of different faith groups, it’s just that they don’t name the gods they worship.
    If what Paul Eddy is looking for is a clear renunciation of a liberal multi-faith view, perhaps his motion wasn’t worded clearly enough. If he’s looking for a statement about the uniqueness of Jesus, he needs to put down some basic statements that we can open our bibles to and agree with. The same if he’s looking for a statement about the means/nature of salvation.
    To try to separate out certain groups of people because they identify as Muslim, Hindhu, Sikh or whatever sounds a bit too much like old-school evangelism. In the contemporary context, it doesn’t matter what people we’re telling about Jesus. We should be doing all we can to understand the beliefs and value systems of those with whom we interact. But our knowing and understanding of Jesus and engagement with Him is what will feed our conversations (in my experience, despite the rhetoric and headlines, ‘discipleship’ in ‘evangelical’ churches is woefully shallow). As I write it occurs to me that I’m getting full circle back to an Acts picture of Christians and the Church where the buzzed with Jesus and lives changed by Him so that they couldn’t help but impact the people and places around them.

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