The Church Of England and The Church In England
While visiting in London recently I had occasion to visit a public library and to read again the history of the beginning of the Church of England. Perhaps almost everyone has become somewhat familiar with that story of intrigue and of corruption, but it was significantly impressive to read it there, just a few minutes ride from the place of its beginning and from the seat of its government today. Furthermore, I was made especially eager to re-study this history because of the religious condition that I had found existing in London and perhaps to a great degree in all of England today. Indeed there are many signs of religious activity in the form of church buildings of considerable grandeur but everyone with whom I talked told the same story of complacency, indifference and neglect among the members of the various churches. I was told that only the Catholic churches are crowded and that the assemblies of the Church of England are almost deserted. It is said that only about 3% of all the people attend assemblies regularly. Think of it: A great nation of 40 or 50 million people with only 120,000 to 150,000 people claiming to worship God each Lord's Day! Why is this true in a nation that has heard of Jesus for so long and has had a printed New Testament for such a long time? What affect has this had upon the Lord's people there?
The beginning of the Church of England is the story of a revolution against the Pope of Rome, but it is in no sense the story of an effort to reform the Roman religion. The fact is that it was an actual rebellion against the moral principles of the Bible but it was an outward rebellion against the Roman church because the latter refused to be moved away from her opposition to divorce. Quickly told the story is thus: Henry VIII succeeded his father, Henry VII because his older brother, Arthur, had died. Henry was only 17 years old-young, clever and handsome. He soon married his brother's widow, Katherine and to them five children were born only one of which lived and this one was a daughter instead of the son which Henry so much desired to become heir to his throne. In the midst of his anxiety about an heir, Henry fell in love with Anne Boleyn. He then began an effort to divorce Katherine or to have their marriage annulled. Rome steadfastly declined his persistent requests and for six years-from 1527 to Mav 23, 1533-the battle (cold war) raged between the King of England and the head of the church of Rome. Rome's consent was never given but Henry finally found a way to by-pass the Pope by arranging a separation from the Roman church and by making himself the head of the new denomination. Thus we see that no reformation of Rome's evils was planned but instead the whole thing was a departure into an evil that even Rome would not allow. Certainly Rome was full of evil even at that time, but the real reason for the establishment of the Church of England was in a departure from one of the few true principles for which Rome still stood.
Having had such an unholy birth, it is no wonder that the Church of England is today so devoid of any degree of spiritual strength or even of a real pretense of such. Many denominations have become mere social institutions and cultural centers and have long since been making their appeal to the outward man rather than the inward one, but the Church of England (sometimes known as the Episcopal Church) has even ceased to be very effective in those ways. It may well be that this condition in the prevailing religion in Britain has reached out into the other denominations there also, for we are told that most of them are vexed with the same passive spirit and a similar indifference that manifests itself especially in meager attendance at public assemblies.
On the same recent visit in England we also had opportunity to assemble with brethren on several occasions and we found the association and interest in the preached word very inspirational and encouraging. In a few places real progress is being made in reaching aliens and in strengthening Christians. There are certainly a number of very devout and able Christians, some of whom preach the word with great skill and fidelity. There are some churches that are active and aggressive in gospel work in their own communities, and that are interested in evangelism everywhere. Never have we been treated better by anyone than we were by British brethren. On the other hand the cause of Christ has been, and is now greatly hindered by some tendencies that may be traceable to the environment-that is that may have been borrowed from the state church.
In the first place many of the churches seem to be bound by traditionalism, and of course this is a distinct characteristic of the Church of England. Such practices as standing for all public singing, sitting for all public prayers, using song books that have on1y words and no music, etc. have, in many places been bound as though they were matters of God's law and not simply matters of human judgment. There are other such things too, and though the practices in themselves are not wrong, it is wrong to bind them, and besides that this is only a symptom of the disease of traditionalism.
However, perhaps the greatest obstacle to the churches in England is the absolute indifference of the people of that land to religion in general. Again this seems to be an indication of the influence of the Church of England upon the people and is the natural result of a religion born in immorality and fostered in disobedience. The Lord's people have been in England for about one hundred and fifty years and at one time their number was quite significant, but today they have diminished to a few dozen and all the disciples amount to an insignificant number compared to the total population of the land. Churches are small and most of them must actually struggle hard to maintain any interest at all. All in all the picture seems discouraging. Yet it seems that something should be done to help the cause advance in Britain. Teeming millions live in a comparatively small area. London alone boasts about twelve million people and perhaps there are fifteen or twenty faithful disciples there. Liverpool has about a million in the metropolitan area and there are no disciples meeting in the city. Other places are similar. There is a real and earnest desire on the part of some British brethren to secure help and to cooperate with any gospel preacher who might be sent there. Many American service men have worked and worshiped with the various churches and some have been there long enough to become very influential. It is believed that good could be accomplished even in the face of indifference, and though the work should be undertaken only after due consideration of all the problems involved, it is still my hope that two or three gospel preachers will determine to go and that some churches will be willing to send them. This should especially appeal to experienced men because there will be a great need for the patience, persistence and perseverance that comes through long effort in hard fields. Some advantages of the work would be: (1 ) No great language barrier but only a little patience with the differences between the American and British versions of the common tongue; (2) In most places there would be at least a few faithful disciples with which to work; (3) The climate would be no problem since it is seldom very hot at all and since the winters are much milder than those in northern U. S. A. If any American brethren are interested in going to England and desire addresses there, write Bryan Vinson Jr., Box 469, Aurora, Illinois, and he can give you addresses of British brethren with whom you can correspond, or write me at Box 48, Uyo, Nigeria.
Truth Magazine III:12, p. 2-3