A Letter to the new Archbishop

Dear Archbishop

Welcome to your new job; you aren’t getting an easy start, are you?  Now really is the time to use the skills you acquired in business, and bring a fresh analysis to your church’s affairs.  May I suggest that the analysis will be inadequate unless you reconsider Anglicanism’s most distinctive feature, prepared to change it.

I put it to you that – The vast majority of the Church of England’s problems either derive from, or are exacerbated by, the Church’s position as an established state church.

You might also consider that problems related to establishment often constitute a considerable obstacle in the way of the Gospel for those who are not Christians; just read one of Richard Dawkins’ books, for example, and see how many of his objections to ‘religion’ are actually objections not to Christianity proper but to things done by established churches (or other ‘established’ religions such as Islam, whose would-be establishment is currently a global problem).

And of course, the problems arising from established churches including Anglicanism tend to cause difficulties for those of your fellow-Christians who do not seek to have established churches.  I actually think that such issues are the main obstacle to unity among Christians.  For example, how can other Christians be united to a body entangled in a particular state?

Now I understand, of course, that regardless of all the problems, if the original teaching of Jesus and his apostles was that Christians should seek to run state churches in ‘Christian countries’, then that’s how you must do it.

But – is that the original teaching of Jesus and the apostles in the New Testament?  Or does the New Testament in fact reject that solution and advocate a very different way for Christians to relate to the states they live in and their non-Christian neighbours in those states?  In that case, surely, regardless of any apparent ‘advantages’ of establishment either to church or state, obedience to God would require disestablishment (it being too late for the better option of not getting established in the first place!)  After all, it can hardly benefit either state or church to live in open disobedience to God!!

In my first version of this open letter I spent some time outlining the biblical case against establishment; but then I thought “Hang on!  That’s getting it wrong way round; the real issue is whether there is a biblical case for establishment in the first place.  Why should I do all the hard work?  Let’s put the Archbishop on the spot and ask him if he can prove his position”.  So basically, that’s what I’m now doing.  As this blog develops I will be setting out my position, both negatively by exposing the problems of establishment and positively by expounding the biblical better way; but for now I ask you, Archbishop – or any Anglican who reads this – to put the case for establishment … IF YOU CAN!!!

A few points;

First, I don’t want to read (again) a list of the supposed advantages of establishment; I’ve heard it all before, I think the disadvantages outweigh the advantages anyway, and the supposed advantages are irrelevant compared to the big question “What does the New Testament teach us to do in Jesus’ name?”

Secondly, yes ancient Israel was indeed a ‘sacral’ state with what amounted to an established religion; and it is all too easy to just assume that Christianity, growing out of Judaism, should and would follow a similar pattern.  But is that a valid assumption?  Many other aspects of Judaism, while recognised as important in leading up to the distinctive Christian revelation, have not carried over into Christianity, or have carried over only in a transformed version – is it necessarily true that establishment in the state should carry over?  At the very least, it should not be assumed, but checked thoroughly against the New Testament’s teaching – is a different scheme more appropriate for that New Covenant, as the concept of “God’s People” spread beyond Israel to become a global body of the ‘born again’?

Go to the 39 Articles of Anglicanism – do the proof texts quoted on behalf of establishment actually prove the case adequately?  Or are they in fact rather weak?  You may be surprised …