Why did I leave the Anglican Church?

The message from the New Testament seemed clear to me, there was supposed to be just one church, not a multiplicity of flavours brought about through a long series of historical disagreements and splits.

I was asked this question some time ago, and at first I felt that it somehow missed the point because I tend to feel that I never was an Anglican. But it’s true that in my mid to late teens I would have called myself Anglican – perhaps.

My parents were Anglicans in the limited sense that they were not Methodists, Baptists, Presbyterians, Salvation Army or anything else. Dad was quite dedicated, jotting brief prayers in his diary and during parts of his life often attending communion at the parish church. I doubt that he made a conscious decision on this, it was just taken for granted, it had been the family tradition as far back as anyone knew. Mum was different, she was used to village life in Northern Ireland and taught Sunday school at the tiny village church, a simple and plain structure. She was uncomfortable with anything remotely high church, but if you’d asked her what she was she might have said Anglican, or Church of Ireland, or just Christian.

I was Christened when I was little and was encouraged to read the Bible as a child, at home, but more so at junior school and later in RE lessons at secondary school. By the age of 13 I was familiar with the outline contents of the Old and New Testaments, and with many of the stories recorded there. In my teens I was expected to attend confirmation classes and went along out of obedience rather than a desire to be there. In due course I was confirmed, though it didn’t mean much to me and life continued as before. I had not yet begun to grapple with what I did and did not believe.

As I went through the processes of sitting my O levels and A levels and applying for a place at university, I began to form my own ideas about faith. I was intrigued by the Bible and began to take what I read there quite seriously. And I didn’t see much there to support Anglicanism or, indeed, denominations of any kind. The message from the New Testament seemed clear to me, there was supposed to be just one church, not a multiplicity of flavours brought about through a long series of historical disagreements and splits. And what about the many stories of healings, and the parables about how we should live, and the Pauline teachings about gifts of the Spirit, and the letters to churches in the Greek world of the time? I was taking all of this seriously, but saw little evidence that the denominations were doing the same. I explored more widely, visiting the Jehovah’s Witnesses, signing up for a Christadelphian magazine, reading books about the Mormons and Christian Science, but none of these avenues seemed to make much sense to me.

After graduating from university, getting married, and starting full time jobs, Judy and I spent our Sundays in Bristol doing some serious denominational exploration. We went to Sunday services at every church we could find, and never once had a sense of, ‘This is the one!’. We were searching, but not finding.

Zetland Evangelical Church in 2002

In the end, in utter desperation, we tried a weird place just down the road from our flat. In some ways it seemed more odd than any of the other places we’d tried. It had a large sign above the door in blue and gold reading ‘God is Love’, and didn’t look like a church building, more like a large house. This was Zetland Evangelical Church in Bristol, near the railway arches over the Cheltenham Road. We found to our surprise that we were instantly at home! The people there wanted to talk with us, and they shared some of our own thoughts about what we’d been reading in the Bible. We felt welcomed – as if by a large family. We’d found a real community, which is what we’d long hoped for. Not only that, when I went to a mid-week evening meeting I was blown away by teaching about David, perhaps from 2 Samuel, and a section I was familiar with. The fresh insights and explanations were very striking, here were people who knew their topic – and it all made perfect sense.

We still felt there was more, and we were joining one of those denominational ‘splinter groups’ that so perplexed us. But this was by far the best thing yet. At this point in our lives we would not have settled for Anglican or any other church tradition. We were particularly encouraged by the fact that there was no hierarchy at Zetland, there was no single leader, we were all equal, or so it appeared. There was no liturgy, no pastor, and once a month there was a delightful Sunday morning Open Meeting with nobody at the front and where all could contribute a prayer, a hymn, or some teaching. All, that is, except women and children. This was one of several niggling issues that we put to the back of our minds for the time being.

Eventually we discovered much more – but that’s another story.

Explanatory note – Please don’t think that I’m judging or disapproving of denominations and those who are involved with them. In this short article I’m describing how a much younger Chris Jefferies understood things. I have many non-denominational friends, but also friends from New Frontiers, Anglican, and particularly Baptist traditions. Particularly Baptist simply because at the time of writing I take part in a small home group that meets weekly and is part of Cirencester Baptist Church. I’m not a Baptist, I will not (cannot) become a church member. We are all part of one family, the family of those who follow Jesus. We are all brothers and sisters and we have individual perspectives and expressions of what that means. I honour and love each one as part of an undivided whole.

(This article has been cross-posted to Anglicanism.org)

Christmas and New Year 2021

It’s good to be out and about to see it all and just as good to get back to a warm house.

Castle Street in Cirencester

Season’s greetings to all my readers! Cirencester is showing off its tasteful street decorations once again, the days are short, the nights are long, and it’s good to be out and about to see it all and just as good to get back to a warm house afterwards.

My thoughts are especially with those who have no warm house to come back to this year, there are so many – the homeless sleeping alone in shop doorways, refugees desperately crossing the sea and hoping for asylum, and people who do have a roof over their heads but lack money for presents for the children or depend on food banks for their next meal.

Life can be wonderful, fun, exciting. It can also be tough, exhausting, and depressing. Whoever you are, whatever your circumstances, my prayer and hope is that people will be kind to you, there will be new opportunities in your life, and that there’ll be reasons to hope and overcome the difficulties.

And if your life is comfortable and you have more than enough, my prayer and hope is that you will be kind to others, search out new opportunities for them, and provide reasons for hope and ways to overcome difficulties.

None of us can solve all of the problems; but all of us can solve some of the problems.

Some ideas:

And don’t forget to enjoy Christmas with your friends and family. Grace and peace to you all.

PS – As a reward for reading to the end, here’s a bonus – A Christmas Song!

Like a waterfall

A waterfall breaks the pattern of a river’s flow

Part 3 of a series – What are we doing?

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I’m sharing a vision and message I received recently because, although it was primarily for a small group I meet with weekly, I think it has a much wider application as well. Sometimes Father shows me things when I am not particularly trying to listen to him. But on this occasion I was prompted by something a friend had said and I’d set aside some time to deliberately look and listen to the Spirit. So without more ado, here is what I saw:

Father showed me a waterfall, there was quite a big drop and the water was crashing onto rocks at the bottom. It was not huge like Niagara, but high enough that you wouldn’t want to take a boat over it!

And I sensed the Spirit saying the following words which I wrote down at the time:

A waterfall breaks the pattern of a river’s flow. The water always responds to gravity, but rarely flows freely towards the source of attraction (the centre of the Earth), normally it’s constrained by the river bed and the banks on either side, and only makes very slow progress downwards. But just now and then it gets the chance to flow freely towards the centre of attraction. I am that centre for my people, I want you to flow freely towards me, unrestricted by the channels you normally occupy.

But those channels are comfortable and seem safe, when they are taken away you feel in danger and vulnerable. This is not just true for my people, it’s true for everyone. You can see how the normal and comfortable has been taken away during the current Covid-19 crisis. Jobs, family contacts, high street shopping, watching a film, education, visiting friends – all these things have changed. And the normal patterns of church have changed too. So what remains? Ask yourselves what remains. Ask yourselves what is important.

The water flows differently when there’s no channel and it has complete freedom. That’s true for living water too. The loss of a channel is not a disaster, it’s an opportunity – think about that too.

I called you to be part of my waterfall, not part of a constrained river.

Do you see church as a channel you flow along, something that contains you and controls your flow? Do you see the value of complete freedom to rush headlong towards Jesus like a waterfall, with no channel to contain and direct your flow?

He is our Master, our Teacher, our Shepherd, the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords. He gave us life by breathing his breath into us, and he has given us new, spiritual life in the same way. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, he is Living Water, he is the Light by which we see. He gives us gifts including the gifts of apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd, and teacher. He calls us to follow him, to say what we hear him say, and do what we see him do. Given all of that, how can we possibly allow ourselves to be channelled by anyone or anything else but him?

He said, ‘Ask yourselves what remains [when the normal channels of church have changed]. Ask yourselves what is important’. And he said, ‘The loss of a channel is not a disaster, it’s an opportunity – think about that too.’

Perhaps we should take him at his word. What remains of normal church life? What is important? What are the opportunities?

Should we go back to the old channels as soon as that becomes possible? Should we cling to church, or should we cling to Jesus? Should we follow habit and tradition, or should we follow Jesus? Will we turn to church to disciple us or will we turn to Jesus to do that? Is there a difference? I think there is an enormous difference. What do you think?

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Church as we know it

The whole point of church is that we are a community of people who follow Jesus

Part 1 of a series – What are we doing?

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The time has come to ask some questions about church as we know it in 2020. What cause lies behind the shrinking attendance at mainstream denominations? Why do we do the things we do? Do our traditions and assumptions match up with church as Jesus wants it to be? If we need to change, how do we go about that? Should we even be asking questions like these?

I believe we should. Not that things are worse than they were ten years ago, or a hundred years ago. But certainly things are not at all as they were at the beginning. Does that matter? If so, why? If not why not? How can we even begin to wrestle with these questions?

I believe we can – and must. But first we need to calibrate our knowledge and understanding and find a measuring system so that we can establish some basic parameters.

The fundamental measure

A steel ruler for measuring length

Let’s take length as an example of a physical quantity. To measure the length of something we need a calibrated tool – a ruler, tape measure, laser rangefinder – whatever form it might take. But the measuring device must be calibrated. A ruler with mm and cm markings on it would be useless if it didn’t agree with other rulers. The basic need here is for a length that never changes that we can use as a standard. Until 1960 the standard was a metal bar in France, and this standard meter was used for calibration; if your ruler didn’t agree with the standard meter in France, it was a bad and misleading ruler. The modern standard is based on the wavelength of a particular kind of light and is far more precise and reliable than the metal bar.

In church life we need a similarly precise and reliable standard concerning our organisation and behaviour. Since the whole point of church is that we are a community of people who follow Jesus, it should be obvious that he is the standard we must use for calibration. If our organisation and behaviour don’t agree with his, we are out of true and some adjustments will be essential to bring us back into line. The life and words of Jesus are the primary source for us. And all the church leaders who have ever arisen since Jesus’ day should agree with his standard. If they do not, they are bad and misleading leaders.

So how does Jesus measure up as a fundamental standard for his followers? Does he ever change? No, he is the same yesterday, today and forever. Can we use him as a standard? Yes, he is knowable in several ways, his words and actions are described in the Bible, he has filled his people with his Spirit as a guide and comforter. Is there anyone else with an equal or better claim to be our fundamental standard? Peter? James? John? Paul? A pope? An archbishop? Your pastor? Arguably, some or all of these might be more or less useful substitutes if the primary standard was unavailable. But Jesus is always available! So no, there is no man or woman who can claim to be a better standard than Jesus himself.

He’s consistent and he’s knowable – and that’s all we need.

Where do we go from here?

In future parts of this series we’ll begin to query what we’ve been doing, individually and corporately. We’ll check the standard of Jesus to see if we need to recalibrate. I’m not here to tell you what to do, but along the way I’ll try to encourage you to look for yourself, to examine Jesus and ask yourself some questions, and to act on what you discover. I’ll revisit this topic from time to time. In the meantime, may your journey be an illuminating one, may you grapple with the challenges, find your own answers, and always keep your eyes on Jesus.

What if you are not following Jesus?

Please note: If your faith is Judaism, or Islam, or Buddhism, or Hinduism or any other religion, or if you have no faith at all, then the paragraphs above are not aimed at you. They are aimed squarely at anyone who claims to follow Jesus.

But I do encourage you to take a look at the claims Jesus makes about himself, and I encourage you to read about him in the Bible, especially in the New Testament. A good place to begin might be one of the gospels. I suggest reading Luke (and then Acts for the early history of the church). And if you find Jesus is calling you to follow him, then the main part of this article does start to apply to you, as it does to all his people.

If you click those links to Luke and Acts you’ll be able to choose from many Bible translations in a number of modern languages.

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