This blog/podcast is a result of the prayerful burden that I have recognised following three conversations with three separate households in the last couple of days and in addition to my participation in an online prayer meeting last week where as many as 125 other British households were also represented. (The audio version of this blog is available via the Into the Pray podcast).
God knows that the very last thing I would ever want is to say something that God is in fact not saying. The thought of misrepresenting Him from the very limited wisdom of my heart and mind and, therefore, to grieve the Holy Spirit by contributing to the sickness of the Church, would be something akin to hell on Earth.
An equally awful prospect however is the thought that the voice of the LORD (especially to His people) isn’t clear, distinct or consistent and that it is just ‘relative’ to each of us personally as though there were no instruction for the sheepfold as a whole.
Is God calling some of us to remain ‘within’ and others of us to urgently leave? Is it perhaps both? What is God actually saying to His people?
That said, it follows that I recognise a responsibility to use the aforementioned heart and mind that God has given me, in faith and within the limited time that He has granted me, to be as helpful to the building up of the Church in love as possible.
Matthew Chapter Ten
Concerning the overwhelming state of affairs within the Body of Christ and the associated dilemma of, ‘should I stay or should I go?’, it is always by the living Word of God that God intends to bring clarity and peace to us, never merely a subjective and, dare I say, disjointed ‘sense’ of God speaking to us.
When the Holy Spirit speaks directly to our hearts (through the Scriptures that He inspired), it is as though a visible illuminosity of His kingdom penetrates the darkness of this world, much like shards of light soothing a frozen landscape.
This is not to say that the Holy Spirit doesn’t speak to us when we’re not reading the Bible, but rather that whenever He does speak to us by His Spirit it is always consistent with the written Word of God; our reference and our mooring (about everything!) is only ever to the Bible.
This is especially the case for the most pivotally important matters in our lives.
What should I say to these brothers and sisters, Lord? Do you have a redeeming purpose for the Church of England and other denominations and congregations that are not walking faithfully?
In my overwhelmed, weary state yesterday following the recent communications with the good people that I mention, this breaking in of biblical light occurred as I read through the gospel of Matthew and, specifically, as my eyes fell on chapter ten.
I am specifically referring here to Matthew 10: 5-15 for what I would now say to those who are claiming that God has (over many years) and still is today leading them to “remain” in an unfaithful establishment* in the hope of speaking prophetically (especially to leaders) about the adulterous behaviour of the Church — indeed, in the sincere hope that they would repent.
(*Church of England or any other denomination at any other point within the denominational maze).
As I read this passage in Matthew yesterday, the burden on my heart about the apparently uncertain and subjectively varied voice of the Lord to His people was immediately lifted — the living word of Christ took the strain as I committed my heart and mind to Him in prayer and was, again, willing for tears to fall.
Let me try and show you exactly what I mean.
In reading these short ten verses, you will have likely noticed the cluster of three uses of the word ‘worthy’, (or unworthy), across just two verses, (10:11,13 ESV). Jesus uses this word (axios, ἄξιος) as an adjective of the locations (town, village, house, vv11-12) that the Apostles would either stay in or leave as part of their mission to proclaim the gospel. The AMPC renders the same word ‘deserving’ and the NIV (1984) opts for both.
We are seeing that Jesus’ express command to the itinerant Apostles was to greet the houses that they visited and then either, “…let your peace come upon it...‘” or “…let your peace return to you.” (v13). In other words, peace — a fruit of the Holy Spirit — governed whether or not the Apostles would stay in a town, village or house. What Jesus then called for was discernment — a gift of the Holy Spirit — enabling the men to make agile decisions within a large and varied volume of people.
Notice that the fruit of the Spirit was dependent on the gifts of the Spirit.
Speaking of this central importance of the gift of discernment, the early Church Father, John Chrysostom, in his interpretation of 1 Corinthians 12, said that, “these words mean the ability to tell who is spiritual and who is not, who is a prophet and who is not, as Paul wrote at the time of many false prophets.”
The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one.1 Corinthians 2:15 (ESV)
So we can say that the Apostle’s peace was to rest only with those who were genuinely spiritual people, those with whom the Spirit of God found rest. Jesus did not leave the option of peace returning to the Apostle and him remaining in the place regardless; without an acceptance of the gospel — of Jesus Christ — there was no peace and there was to be no remaining.
Let me say it again: it would have been disobeying an express command of the Lord to remain within a place where there was no listening ear or the proclamation of the true gospel of repentance.
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;Psalm 1:1 (ESV)
More than this, the express command of the Lord Jesus to the Apostles was not only to leave such unworthy houses but to also, “…shake the dust off your feet as you leave…”. Mark and Luke make this prophetic command even more strongly by adding, “…as a testimony (warning) against them.” (See Mark 6:11 & Luke 9:5).
The Apostolic responsibility to leave the houses and locations that were not found worthy, combined with their prophetic sign of shaking the dust off their feet against them, was like the signing of a death certificate — a dire judicial warning to them for ignoring and rejecting the Word of God. This carried with it a sense of finality as we will see shortly in verse 15 .
Note what Matthew Henry (a non-conformist, English minister) says about this prophetic shaking of the dust from the Apostle’s feet:
Thinking of Henry’s “very heavy doom”, you might recall the fate of Ananias and Sapphira, (see Acts 5).
So, how should the Body of Christ reflect on this dramatic activity of the Holy Spirit, by the Word of Christ? How does it relate to the commonly claimed conviction today that God wants some of His people to remain within unworthy houses where, by definition, there is no peace of God?
The Lion and the Lamb
Other than the clustered trio of repetitions over two short verses, (Matthew 10:11,13), the other striking detail about this word (axios, ἄξιος) is that it is exactly the same word that is used of Jesus in Revelation 5 in which John the Apostle records his vision of Christ within the throne-room of God. John the Apostle is weeping because no-one had been fond worthy to open the scroll of God but his apostolic heart and mind was comforted by one of the elders who spoke to him of the Lion and the Lamb.
Between the throne of God and the four living creatures, (and among the elders), John sees a Lamb, standing as though it had been slain, with seven horns and seven eyes. But a lamb that has been slain can not possibly stand, unless it is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah and therefore who has overcome death and hell and is, in fact, found as the only One worthy to open the scroll of God.
(Of course, the beloved Physician Luke also records Jesus doing just this with the scroll of Isaiah in front of a watching world. Please see Luke 4:17-21).
In John’s revelatory vision, Jesus had authority to stand and He had authority to open the scroll and I take this to mean that He had God-given authority and blessing to open the Word of God. When we think of this in parallel with the worthy and unworthy locations that the early church were sent into to proclaim the gospel, we can understand that unworthy “churches” and leaders today have no spiritual authority even if they dare to open the Word of God.
The point is that just as Jesus was the only one found worthy to open the scroll in the book of Revelation (with weeping beforehand at the recognition of the need for the scroll to be opened) there was no worth to the houses in Matthew ten that did not accept the peace of the Apostles. Remaining within such houses would have been like someone else trying to open the scroll of God unworthily.
The Apostles were only to remain within the towns, villages and houses that were deemed by God to be worthy, (in which Jesus’ authority was recognised).
Sodom & the Bible Today
Today, as within the urgent message of 2 Timothy, the sincere faith of many members of the Body of Christ is being hampered and upset by ongoing submission and remaining within houses that are manifestly not worthy of Christ and therefore where there is no peace. Jesus uses another trio of ‘worthies’ in vv 37-38 to make the emphatic point that this isn’t always as innocent as we might think it is.
Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.Matthew 10:37-38
The full gravity of this might dawn on us more by considering the sobering climax of Matthew 10:5-15 and Jesus’ reference to the day of judgment (v15).
Will we seriously dwell within houses today who claim to be Christian when they are, in fact, proclaiming that which is anti-Christ? Or, in many other cases, being influenced more than we realise by indirect association?
There is a death and dearth of spiritual authority today. Our points of reference are often askew, (well, after all, this house isn’t as unworthy and that other unworthy house, is it?)
If, on the day of judgment, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah (synonymous with sexual depravity and the abuse of angels as well as men) than it will for these locations and houses of Matthew chapter 10, what is the biblical precedent for God calling His people today to remain within them?
What is your conviction for doing so actually based on?
One of the most common reasons I hear given about this conviction to remain within the Church of England in this way is because one house is viewed as being comparably less unworthy than another unworthy house (ie one Anglican church is seen as less apostate or less liberal than another Anglican church, or that another stream is surely less unworthy than another unworthy stream).
But our points of reference are wrong! Three chapters earlier in Matthew 7, Jesus said that we will know (discern) a tree by its fruit. We must stop making excuses for the tree by the odd pieces of fruit that we deem to be less unworthy or perhaps more edible.
The other major difference between Matthew 10:5-15 and this claim today that the Holy Spirit is leading some to remain is that the Apostles were sent from a faithful Christian community on their mission. They were rooted in good soil as part of a faithful Christian community and were not sent to join unfaithful communities in the hope of turning them to repentance.
Advice in Conclusion
I don’t witness at all with the call to remain (and even in some cases go) to the unworthy houses in this country, whether of the Church of England or any other expression of establishment. I don’t recognise this as being His wisdom for some to flee and for some to ‘dig in’.
The writer to the Hebrews gives the answer about this which is to, rather, join Jesus outside of the city walls and to suffer the reproach that fell on Him — the question then is: where is Jesus?
Therefore let us go to him outside the camp and bear the reproach he endured.Hebrews 13:12 (ESV)
Therefore, I would advise all serious and sobered disciples today to:
- Pour their efforts and energies and prayers (and finances and service) into rebuking the Church of England from outside of its toppling walls.
- Join hands and lock shields with those who have gone ‘outside the camp’.
- Prioritise your own spiritual health by planting yourself and contributing as part of something worthy that is calling for national repentance, guarding yourself from deception in the gracious process.
- Re-assess your conviction of the Holy Spirit’s call to that which is unworthy in light of Scripture.
- Repent that you have remained or flirted with going to dwell where it is impossible for there to be peace (where Jesus’ is disobeyed and dishonoured).
- Contribute instead to the formation and emergence of radicalised communities of legitimate Christian faith that will be marginalised and despised but also that will rejoice at being found worthy (when He comes) of suffering dishonour for the Name of Christ.
Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name.Acts 5:41 (ESV)
He alone is worthy.
5 thoughts on “Should You Remain Within the Church of England?”
Thanks Nick for faithfully expressing your heart burden for the body & honour of God’s word for today. It is indeed very grieving to see & hear of the fracturedness that is accepted as normal within God’s redeemed people.
Thank you for reading, Mum…
What more can be said that you have not expressed? What can righteousness have to do with unrighteousness? It stuck me that, the same week the CofE decided to bless what God has called detestable, Sam Smith performed his song ‘Unholy’ at the Grammys- even the pagan world can see that it is not holy!
Thank you, Beth! Amen. My prayer is that the people of God would express much more en masse and that Jesus’ worth would be broadcast from every rooftop. For He is unspeakably worthy!