Most Britons do not believe the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus, a study has found.
By Ben Leach
Last Updated: 10:20PM GMT 20 Dec 2008
Young people were particularly doubtful about the nativity, with 78 per cent of 16-24-year-olds saying they were not convinced of its historical reliability.
Overall, 70 per cent were sceptical of the baby’s birth in a manger to a virgin mother, according to the poll of 1,000 people by the British Marketing Research Bureau.
Almost a quarter of those questioned who described themselves as Christians admitted they did not believe certain aspects of the Bible’s teaching about Jesus.
The survey was commissioned by St Helen’s Church in Bishopsgate, London, which has produced a film of “sound evidence” supporting the Bible’s account. The Rev Charlie Skrine, curate of the church, said the survey showed that “most of the UK believes that the accounts of Jesus’s birth aren’t good history“.
He added: “Combined with a general lack of understanding about the real meaning of Christmas, this leaves people without the hope that Jesus offers.”
Simon Gathercole, a new testament scholar at Cambridge University, said people were sceptical because they were not aware the origins of Christianity were anchored in real history.
He added: “Jesus was born while Augustus was emperor of Rome just before Herod died. We’re talking about events that are anchored in real history not in ancient Greek myths.”
A separate study by Mothers’ Union, a Christian charity, showed that more parents encourage their children to believe in Father Christmas than in the nativity.
A spokeswoman for the charity said the survey “raised concerns that the church needs to do more to support families in the spiritual nurture of their children”.
She added: “The church needs to get across the fact that in times of both adversity and prosperity, it has a universal message which enables people to connect with something outside themselves.”
The study of 1,000 parents found that one in five do not encourage their children to associate Christmas with the nativity. Five per cent do not encourage their children to believe in Father Christmas.
It also found only four per cent plan to attend church services more with their children in 2009.
It comes as the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Saturday that he believed the basic premise of story of the three wise men was true.
Last year, Dr Rowan Williams appeared to cast doubt on it, but speaking on BBC Radio 4, he argued that the idea of astrologers following a bright star to Bethlehem made sense in the historical context.
Asked if he believed the men – who according to the gospel of Matthew, took gold, frankincense and myrrh to baby Jesus – existed, Dr Williams said: “Yes I do. I think I trust the beginning of Matthew’s gospel in broad outline, because the notion that there are astrologers, perhaps of partly Jewish background, just outside the boundaries of the Roman Empire who might be on the watch for this, getting involved in the politics of Herod’s last days in Jerusalem.”
A former priest has been charged with 93 child sex offences stemming from an alleged paedophile ring operating in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
The 65-year-old was arrested in connection with offences police allege took place at a Catholic boys’ school in New South Wales, Australia.
Police suspect dozens of boys may have been abused during alleged “hypnotic prayer” sessions at St Stanislaus College, located 45 miles east of Sydney, according to local media reports.
The former priest, who was not named in the statement, was charged in May with 33 offences and has been issued with another 60 offences relating to at least 13 alleged victims, police said.
The allegations reportedly included claims of late night prayer and chanting sessions in which boys were sexually abused.
The priest is the fourth person arrested by the Strike Force Belle police unit, which is investigating a number of sexual offences that allegedly occurred at one Catholic and one Anglican school in the town of Bathurst, according to a police statement.
“We are currently sifting through a significant amount of information and as a result we have broadened this investigation.
“Inquiries are continuing and we cannot rule out further arrests.”
The allegations come just five weeks after Pope Benedict apologised for sexual abuse in the Church during a visit to Sydney.
VANCOUVER — The Bible battle that has been dividing Anglicans in Canada for more than a decade is moving into new territory, with a third court battle looming in a Vancouver court.
The battle over same-sex blessings specifically, and interpretation of the Bible generally, is splitting liberal and conservative Anglicans and the fight over church property ownership has already resulted in two interim court rulings – one in Ontario and one in British Columbia.
Now the Diocese of New Westminster has invoked a church bylaw to essentially fire the clergy at two otherVancouver-area churches and order them to leave the premises.
“We are faced with the situation of clergy in both parishes who have expressly rejected the Anglican Church of Canada as their home and have left the church, yet continue to occupy church buildings that are set aside for use by parishes in the Anglican Church of Canada,” says George Cadman, chancellor, or chief legal officer, for the diocese.
The bylaw, known as Canon 15, was used to dismiss clergy at St. Matthew’s in Abbotsford and at St. Matthias and St. Luke, in Vancouver.
These two churches are among at least 18 parishes in B.C., Ontario, Newfoundland and Manitoba who have left the Anglican Church in Canada and aligned themselves with more conservative Anglican groups in other parts of the world.
Dozens more parishes in the U.S. have left the church in the U.S. over the same issues.
Congregations at St. Matthew’s and St. Matthias and St. Luke voted in February to join the Anglican Network in Canada, which represents the dissidents who have aligned themselves with conservative Anglicans in the southern hemisphere.
In late May, the Diocese of New Westminster asked them to leave their premises, but they refused.
The refusal prompted the diocese in recent days to try force their removal.
Apart from the seemingly irreconcilable differences on theology, the more practical dispute over exactly who owns the property remains to be settled.
Two previous interim court rulings in the Diocese of Niagara in Ontario, and the Diocese of British Columbia, on Vancouver Island, went against the dissidents.
In the Vancouver Island case Anglican parishes in Victoria voted early this year to break away from the Anglican Church of Canada. They went to court to try to ensure that they not be kicked out. They lost.
“The plaintiffs have not, at this stage, established a strong case that they and their fellow parishioners who have elected to join the network are the beneficial owners of church property because they represent true Anglicans and the remaining parishioners do not,” the court ruled.
Cheryl Chang, a lawyer and legal director of the network says the judge “ordered us out at both churches and gave both churches to the diocese until full trial.”
The otherinterim court ruling in Ontario in May concerned three breakaway Anglican parishes in the Diocese of Niagara.
The court ordered them to share the premises but two decided instead to conduct Sunday services at new locations.
If the dispute can’t be resolved without litigation, Chang expects the New Westminstercase to begin in the fall.
But the outcome of a full trial to decide ownership of the churches could go still go either way.
The issues are complex.
“There has been an acknowledgment in Ontario and B.C. that the trust case (who owns the properties) still has to be argued,” says Chang.
She argues that St. Matthew’s, and St. Matthias and St. Luke are independent entities under provincial legislation.
“We don’t recognize (the Diocese of New Westminster) and their authority to simply ignore the constitution and bylaws of the parish corporations,” she says.
The Anglican Church in Canada and the Diocese of New Westminster take the position that all parish property belongs to the church.
In the court case in Victoria, says Chang, the judge sided with the mainstream diocese because the properties were “registered in the name of the diocese.”
But in regards to St. Matthew’s and St. Matthias and St. Luke, she says they are “corporate entitities holding title to the properties.”
Cadman and Chang both suggest they would like to avoid a major court case on the ownership issue.
“We’ve offered to sit down with them and talk about this but at this point we’ve been rebuffed,” says Chang.
New Westminster, says Cadman, also favours another resolution “but on the other hand the current situation can’t be tolerated.”
The above heading should give no satisfaction to any evangelical Christian. Some of the finest literature in the evangelical heritage comes from gospel ministers of the Church of England, and a considerable number of evangelicals continue to belong to that denomination today. The crisis to which we refer has arisen from more than one direction; one major cause has been the fact that no discipline has been exercised within the Anglican communion (led by the Archbishop of Canterbury) on the Church of Canada and the Episcopal Church USA for their allowance of practising homosexual clergy. This has prompted the withdrawal of some evangelicals from these sections of Anglicanism and their realignment with the Province of the South Cone (which covers six South American countries), whose Primate, Archbishop Gregory Venables, remains in communion with Canterbury. By this means the disaffected — of whom Dr Jim Packer is the best known — support their claim to remain Anglican.
Justification for this procedure requires a re-examination of what it means to be ‘Anglican’. The historic definition has treated membership in the Church of England as adherence to the Church as by law established in Britain, under the sovereign as ‘Supreme Governor’ and in communion with the See of Canterbury. As the denomination spread into the Dominions, and the overseas provinces ceased to be simply colonial attachments, the definition has been slowly modified. In June of this year, however, a step was taken to redefine ‘Anglican’ in a fundamental manner. Some 1,200 Anglican delegates, including Archbishops Venables (South Cone), Akinola (Nigeria), Orombi (Uganda) and Jensen (Sydney), met at Jerusalem, and took the name ‘GAFCON’ (Global Anglican Future Conference). The primary aim was ‘to promote the gospel as we Anglicans have received it’; this included adhering to the name ‘Anglican’ while disowning large numbers identified with that title and perhaps even Canterbury itself.2 The proposal that emerged was the formation of a new structure which would stand for genuine Anglicanism, that is, for the ‘tenets of orthodoxy which underpin our Anglican Identity’. For this purpose the Primates attending the Jerusalem gathering were encouraged to ‘form a Council’.
Within weeks of the Jerusalem Conference the majority of the General Synod of the Church of England, meeting in York, while not directly addressing the GAFCON proposal, determined that nothing like it would be acceptable. At that Synod a motion that clergy be allowed to remove themselves from the oversight of female bishops (whose existence is now in view), to be under the oversight of another diocese, was decisively rejected. No such accommodation is to be allowed. Evangelicals, however, were not seen as the main sufferers from this decision. It was Anglo-Catholic clergy who took the lead in resisting the appointment of female bishops; many evangelicals voted with them, not necessarily because they were against female bishops, but because the Anglo-Catholics represent ‘orthodox Christology and morality’ and were therefore judged worthy of support.
The alignment of evangelicals with Anglo-Catholics at York was not incidental. It is part of the current Anglican evangelical policy and underlies the GAFCON platform. The participants at Jerusalem did not designate themselves as ‘evangelicals’, but as ‘confessing Anglicans’. The ‘Declaration’ issued by the Conference shows why the latter term was adopted. For centuries evangelicals have appealed to the Thirty-nine Articles as affirming the Protestantism of the Church of England, particularly the Articles which deny the ‘Romish Doctrine of Purgatory’ (22), other ‘sacraments’ (25), ‘the sacrifices of masses’ (31), and the jurisdiction of ‘the Bishop of Rome’ (37). For Anglo-Catholics those statements have long been the most serious barrier to any re-union with Roman Catholicism, and if evangelicals were to enjoy their partnership there was no way that commitment to all the Articles could be required. Consequently Anglo-Catholics were accommodated in the GAFCON Declaration by the words, ‘We uphold the Thirty-nine Articles as containing the true doctrine’ – ‘containing’ is the escape clause that allows for choice on which of the Articles express ‘the true doctrine’. Yet simultaneously the Declaration allows no escape clause when it comes to points Anglo-Catholics regard as necessary truths. Evangelicals have long had problems with certain points in the Book of Common Prayer (1662), yet the Declaration says: ‘We rejoice in our Anglican sacramental and liturgical heritage . . . we uphold the 1662 Book of Common Prayer as a true and authoritative standard of worship.’ And there is to be no equivocation over Episcopacy: ‘We recognise that God has called and gifted bishops, priests and deacons in historic succession to equip all the people of God . . . We uphold the classic Anglican Ordinal as an authoritative standard of clerical orders.’3
The GAFCON Declaration identifies liberal theology as an enemy of the gospel, but it is not the only enemy. The historic Anglican evangelical position was to recognize danger from two directions: secular rationalism on the one hand and false religion on the other — the unbelief of the world and the misbelief which makes sacraments, priests, and the Pope necessary for salvation. From both directions the authority of Scripture is attacked. In an anxiety to remain ‘Anglican’, the new evangelical policy is one of common cause with Anglo-Catholics whose doctrinal deviation from Roman Catholicism is minimal; the price for such co-operation is that some fundamental truths have to be left unstated, while episcopacy is treated as though it was of first importance. This has led to the oddity of supposing it to be necessary for clergy to be under a bishop even though his diocese is thousands of miles distant.
Even as the GAFCON Declaration was beginning to circulate there were signs of disunity among the participants. Dr Packer has called on Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury to resign, alleging that with regard to homosexuality he pretends to believe what he does not in fact believe; but Archbishop Venables – the Primate to whom Packer now answers – when asked if he endorsed Packer’s words, said he did not. Archbishop Jensen urged his bishops not to attend the Lambeth Conference (held in July), and has said, ‘If you continue in fellowship you are endorsing the lie and are complicit in it.’ On the other hand Archbishop Venables attended the Lambeth Conference, believing ‘there is more need for dialogue’. A still more fundamental issue facing the GAFCON movement is the question how they can claim to be the true Anglicans while not wishing to be a breakaway from the majority in the Anglican communion. Point 11 of the GAFCON Declaration says, ‘We recognise the orders and jurisdiction of those Anglicans who uphold orthodox faith and practice’, but what of the others (including the Archbishop of Canterbury)? ‘We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith.’ Packer has called for the Declaration to be a litmus test: ‘I would like to see it established as a basis for orthodoxy and missionary action. Anglican provinces who didn’t come along with this would be in the outer circle of limited communion for not identifying with Anglican orthodoxy.’ How can this be said, while at the same time it is repeatedly asserted by GAFCON leaders that their proposed structure would not be, in Jensen’s words, ‘a Church within a Church’? ‘It is not the formation of an alternative group’, Venables insists, and goes on: ‘We are not taking power over anybody, we are just bringing things together.’ The contradiction inherent in these statements is palpable. It lays GAFCON open to such critics as the Bishop of Durham who ask by what authority this Jerusalem grouping (an ‘unaccountable body’), has set itself up as the custodian of orthodoxy. When asked how the existence of GAFCON’S proposed ‘Primates’ Council’ was to be justified, Jensen replied, ‘First of all they have authority because they have been elected by their own people.’ His answer takes us to the crux of the problem. As an evangelical, holding to Scripture, Jensen has no difficulty in appealing to the election of the people. But when did Anglican Episcopacy ever find its warrant in ‘the people’, and where is there any trace of such a thing in the Ordinal which the GAFCON declaration means to uphold?
It seems to us that the desire to redefine Anglicanism, and to sustain Anglo-Catholic support, has led to an inconsistent appeal to Scripture. It was good to hear Archbishop Orombi of Uganda asserting that the great issue was the authority of Scripture, not homosexuality, but confidence in GAFCON is undermined by the way that authority has been inconsistently used. We regret also, that instead of making appeal to Scripture sufficient, the GAFCON spokesmen follow the ecumenical practice when they write, ‘We believe the Holy Spirit has led us.’4
So far we have heard no Anglican evangelicals resident in England speaking on behalf of GAFCON and few of them appear to have been at the Jerusalem Conference. But it would be a strange new ‘Anglicanism’ that is not in communion with the Church of England and the See of Canterbury. Further, in all the current discussions there is one momentous issue left in silence. The Bill of Rights (1689) and the Act of Settlement (1700) secure that the British sovereign cannot be a Roman Catholic. The repealing of this legislation may well be close and, given the current religious climate, there can be no expectation the change will be prevented. Does that matter? Does the cause of Christ depend on acts of Parliament? I do not raise the matter to pursue that question but rather to point out that such a change would radically affect the meaning of ‘Church of England’. What kind of church would it be to have a Roman Catholic as its ‘Supreme Governor’? Or could a multi-faith sovereign – as Prince Charles has said he wishes to be – hold that position? The annulment of the Acts of 1689 and 1700 would entail more than the removal of a religious test for the monarch. The idea that the Church of England is ‘the national Church’ is, for many, already a fiction. A major dismantling of what has been the established Church may well take place, and what comes out of it is likely to have some favourable relation to the Church of Rome. The question Dr Lloyd-Jones pressed in 1966 is the more relevant today: ‘Are evangelicals prepared to be of a Church that would include the Church of Rome?’ Anglo-Catholics have no problem in answering that question, but it will be too late for Anglican evangelicals to return to the position of Bishop Ryle and say: ‘I maintain that the Established Church of England had better be disestablished, disendowed, and broken in pieces, than re-united with the Church of Rome.’5
The current Anglican evangelical response to homosexuality (at least the only one that gets publicity), while being faithful to Scripture on that point, is by-passing more fundamental issues.
1. An abbreviated version of this article was published in Evangelicals Now, September 2008.
2. ‘While acknowledging the nature of Canterbury as an historic see, we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury’ (GAFCON Final Statement). In this article I do not mean to overload the text with references to sources. The relevant web-sites can easily be found and other quotations come from the Church of England Newspaper (July 4, 2008) and Evangelicals Now (July and August 2008). The web-site of South Cone Province shows its Anglo-Catholic sympathies and contains the statement, ‘The Archbishop of Canterbury is the focus of unity’.
3. Speaking of the way Tractarianism (the origin of Anglo-Catholicism in the Church of England) assimilates with Roman Catholic belief, an evangelical leader of the 19th Century wrote: ‘The two systems proceed onwards by many of the same steps. Beginning with Tradition, they go on to Justification by infused righteousness, the authority of the Fathers, the Catholic Church the interpreter of Scripture, salvation by sacraments not by faith, the sacrifice of the Eucharist’ etc. [J. Bateman, Life of Daniel Wilson, Bishop of Calcutta (John Murray: London, 1860), vol. 2, p. 213.
4. Even worse is the way the writer of ‘GAFCON Takes Off!’ the lead article in Evangelicals Now (August 2008), thinks there was a succession of ‘miracles’ in the Jerusalem Conference.
5. John Charles Ryle, Charges and Addresses (repr. Edinburgh; Banner of Truth, 1978), p. 170. ‘Reunion with Rome means the abolition of our Thirty-nine Articles’ (p. 169).
THE Anglican Church has defrocked a Brisbane priest convicted of child sex abuse.
The church today confirmed it had deposed Robert Francis Sharwood from his holy orders.
Sharwood, 62, of Brisbane, was jailed for 12 months in November 2006, after being found guilty of sexually abusing a 13-year-old boy in Brisbane more than 30 years ago.
He was released from jail in November last year.
Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane Philip Aspinall removed Sharwood’s licence to operate as a priest in the diocese in 2002, however, he remained an ordained minister.
The church’s professional standards board, presided over by Justice Debra Mullins, recommended in March after a public hearing that Sharwood’s holy orders be removed.
Sharwood then exercised his legal right to a review of that decision.
The review determined that the appeal against the board’s recommendation be dismissed.
Bishop John Parkes, who is acting for Dr Aspinall while he is on leave, said today he had now formally accepted the recommendation of the board and deposed Sharwood from his holy orders.
“The archbishop has repeatedly apologised to victims of sexual abuse by members of the church and today I repeat that apology to the victims in this case,” Bishop Parkes said in a statement.
“Archbishop Aspinall has previously said that the victims deserved nothing less than a thorough and just process that arrives at a proper decision. That has now been completed.”