St Stephen’s Lewisham

15th January 2006

Stand or Fall?

There is an old proverb which says, ‘If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything’.

The problem with any proverb is that anyone quoting it always imagines that it applies to other people, not to himself. ‘If you don’t stand for something you’ll fall for anything’ is no exception. When it comes to making a stand, we expect others to do the standing; whilst as for falling, why, that’s the very last thing you’d expect nice sensible people like us to do! But remember – pride goes before a fall.

So let’s think about standing and falling. Standing is intentional, whereas falling is accidental. Carelessness or negligence – our own or other people’s – are why falls occur. We’re not looking where we’re going and we fall off the pavement, or we trip over something. Either way we fall over with a bang.

When the Bible uses the word stand, it often means ‘making a stand about something’ or ‘remaining steadfast in our faith’. In other words ‘standing up for something that is good’. St Paul, for instance, urges us to ‘stand firm in our faith’, however costly that may be. He also warns that ‘anyone who thinks he is standing should be careful lest he fall’. Nowadays we often sing hymns with words like ‘Stand up for Jesus’ or ‘Stand up and bless the Lord’.

By contrast, the word fall in the Bible means something bad. The Fall describes how Adam and Eve sinned; and the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that ‘falling away from the faith’ is the most fatal sin of all.

So we usually fall into sin, temptation, or bad habits, like we fall off the pavement – by not watching where we’re going. Falling happens without our intending it. But standing-up, when we stand up for Jesus (or anything else), only happens because we have made the effort to do so. We choose to make it happen, otherwise it doesn’t happen at all. Christian discipleship really is a matter of ‘choose or lose!’.

At our Confirmation each one of us chooses to ‘stand up for Jesus’. By doing so we join ourselves up with ‘the glorious company of the Apostles, the goodly fellowship of the prophets and the noble army of martyrs’. What all of us have in common with them, is that at some critical moment in our life, each one of us made up his mind to ‘stand up for Jesus’.

For some Christians this entails nothing worse than the mockery of our ungodly friends; for others it is more costly than that, and our careers or family relationships may suffer as a result of that commitment; whilst for those like St Stephen, St Paul and St Peter, it even involved suffering and death. But for all of us, being a Christian involves ‘standing up and be counted’, when the moment to do so arrives.

Well, the moment has arrived. Every one of us here this morning ought to go to the Forward in Hope meeting on Saturday-week, 28th January at Central Hall Westminster from 12 mid-day to 3pm. In the name of Christ, let me urge you to take this call very seriously indeed. You don’t often hear the clergy at St Stephen’s say ‘you must’ – but this is one of those occasions when no other word is strong enough.

So why is it so important to go?

If you value all that St Stephen’s, Lewisham stands for, like many other churches up and down the land, you also need to understand that both this church, and the faith we believe, are now threatened in a way, and to an extent that has never been the case during the 150 years this church has been standing.

General Synod, the Church of England’s ‘parliament’, is determined to consecrate women as bishops. This step, when it is taken, perhaps in five years time or so, may be compared to falling off the pavement or down a manhole cover. But it will also make it impossible for priests like Fr Geoffrey, and Fr Nick and myself to continue ministering in the Church of England unless provision is made for us to do so.

We are three of those who are standing up for the Catholic faith revealed by God in Jesus Christ, once and for all delivered to the Apostles and their successors. The purpose of the Rally is to ensure that the Bishops and the Synod realise the seriousness of the error into which they are about to fall.

Now, please don’t go rushing off with the idea that any of your priests is about to leave you. It will take a minimum of five, and possibly as many as ten years before the curtain finally comes down. But remember, it is our children and our grandchildren that we need to worry about. Will there be a St Stephen’s where they can be baptized and worship, or will it have been damaged beyond repair?

There simply isn’t time this morning to deal with the issue in any detail. So here, for those who want it, is a one-minute sketch of what we, and the vast majority of our fellow-Christians believe and have believed throughout the ages:

1. The Church is the Body of Christ.

2. The Church is his new Creation, by Water and the Word and was designed by him to take a particular form which we call Catholic and Apostolic.

3. Like the rest of Creation the Church can go off the rails. It is in the process of doing precisely that, as it did in the days of Eli (in this morning’s first reading); but God will always ensure that there is at least a remnant, large, or small like the child Samuel, to safeguard the truth which has been revealed to us in and through Jesus Christ.

4. The idea that we as human beings are at liberty to reshape the structure of the Church’s ministry to suit our own idea of what it should be, is absurd.

5. The notion that we will make the Church, or the faith, more attractive and acceptable by changing its teachings or moral principles to be in line with those of the world, has been proved false in practice over and over again.

Just in case there are some of you who are still not prepared to accept my word for it that this is a critical moment for the future of our church, there are a number of possible alternatives:

You can come to the Rally where it will be carefully explained;

You can come and have a talk with any of your clergy

You can read this book Consecrated Women? which sets out in detail what the problem is, and the only possible way of dealing with it, which we call the New Province Option.

So you have a duty to come to Westminster, to stand up and be counted. Otherwise you, and St Stephen’s, and the Word of God which he has entrusted to you to safeguard, will all three certainly fall to the ground!

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