On June 21, 2013 the UK’s The Telegraph reported that the Church of England was creating a pagan church in order to recruit members. The sub-heading read, “The Church of England is trying to recruit pagans and spiritual believers as part of a drive to retain congregation numbers.” This news was released as thousands of individuals gathered for the summer solstice at Stonehenge.
No doubt the church should seek to reach pagans with the Gospel. However, I have to question the wisdom in trying to create a pagan church to do so. According to the article, the church is training ministers to create a church where Christianity is “very much in the centre.” How, pray tell, can one create a pagan church with Christianity at the center of it? Pagan means, by definition, either a follower of a polytheistic religion or “one who has little or no religion and who delights in sensual pleasures and material goods; an irreligious or hedonistic person.” So the plan is to create a church for people who are irreligious or pursue whatever makes them happy, and to have Christ and the Gospel at the center. Ummm, how?
Well, Steve Hollinghurst told The Telegraph, “I would be looking to formulate an exploration of the Christian faith that would be at home in their culture.” “At home” is a synonym for “comfortable.” When you visit someone’s home they may encourage you to “make yourself at home,” meaning get comfortable, help yourself if you need something, don’t feel like a guest. So Rev. Hollinghurst wants to create a church that will explore Christianity in a way that someone who is irreligious or hedonistic will feel comfortable with.
The article goes on to quote Andrea Campenale of the Church Mission Society as saying, “Nowadays people, they want to feel something; they want to have some sense of experience.” So the intent is to create a worship service that feels good? I think I have heard of that somewhere before…oh yes! The seeker-friendly movement….
The web site Themonastery.org is the site of the Universal Life Church Monastery, which “strongly believes in the rights of all people from all faiths to practice their religious beliefs, regardless of what those beliefs are” (and also, by the way, offers free online ordination!). This site comments on the Church of England’s move by saying that the Church of England wants to create “a church which incorporates pagan styles of worship and ritual” even up to including “worship[ing] the Goddess inside a Christian cathedral.” The site goes on to comment that this move seems at first to indicate a growing acceptance of paganism among Anglicans but then goes to warn against the possibility of it being a “thinly-veiled attempt at proselytizing an increasingly secular British populace.”
Pagans do need to be reached with the Gospel; all unbelievers do. What the Church of England seems to be ignoring–and what many seeker-friendly churches before it have ignored–is that it is not possible both appeal to the world and stay true to the message of Bible. The cross is an offense to the world (Galatians 5:11). Of Paul’s preaching, Josef Urban writes, “He didn’t make his message smooth and soft in order to suit the fancies of the religious majority. His Gospel was a sharp word that exalted Christ, lifted the cross up high, proclaimed total commitment to Christ the King, and utterly stripped man of all self-reliance, shattering self-righteousness, tearing down false religion, and leaving men stripped bare before God in utter dependence on His free grace alone to save them.” That is exactly right. Whether we like it or not, it would be impossible to appeal to someone who feels self-righteous while shattering self-righteousness. Whether we like it or not, it is impossible to accommodate the practices, styles and beliefs of false religions while preaching and teaching the only true religion. It is not possible to leave people aware of their “utter dependence on [God’s] free grace to save them” while telling them they can achieve whatever it is they are seeking by worshiping “the Goddess.”
On The Christian Post Hollinghurst is quoted as discussing with various unbelievers “how Christianity can improve its flagging image.” In all honesty, I see two options here. One, Christianity may have a flagging image because it has compromised too much with the world rather than staying true to itself, and the world sees, and despises, that. Two, Christianity may have a flagging image because where it is still faithfully proclaimed it irritates the world to no end and the world would much rather have Christians adopt the “tolerance” of the world’s way of thinking. Either way, the world is the last place Christians need to look for suggestions on “improving their image.”
Christians are called to demonstrate Christ’s love toward all they encounter–and that means pagans, too, of course. Christians are called to follow Christ’s example and to reach out to sinners where they are with love and compassion. But Christians are never called to compromise the truth of God’s Word, and certainly are not called to adopt the strategies or styles or preferences of the unbelieving world or, even worse, the world believing in something else. Nowhere throughout history has any effort at blending Christianity with any false religion resulted in anything but the wrath of God. So, Church of England…watch out!