The Church of England is, once more, finding itself the butt of scorn and mockery; and national contempt. This time, because of the apparent complacency around the Church of England in properly vetting those claiming to convert to the faith – before supporting their application for asylum on the grounds of religion. The situation was brought to light by the recent chemical attack launched by a Muslim man, who had pretended to convert to Christianity for the sake of his asylum claim; Abdul Ezedi; a Muslim who played the system. It has brought huge embarrassment to the Church of England, who are now being accused of helping abuse the asylum system ignoring the sincerity of the applicant to Baptism.
The problem starts with the fact that CofE views itself more in the mode of a Christian NGO to the nation; regardless of its beliefs; rather than as the people of GOD, with a mission to bring all to the discipleship of Christ. We know from the farcical stance around issues such as abortion, gay marriage blessings, divorce, and the inability to stand up for persecuted Christians, that many of the hierarchs of the CofE actually; are more discipled by progressive politics – than anything found in the holy scriptures. They use Christian motifs, and catchphrases to misguide the ignorant; and present themselves as something they are not – disciples of Christ! This perception is supported by a Liberal Media; that knows no better what it means to follow Christ; than many of them that present themselves as Bishops of the CofE.
There is widespread complacency around the issue of sacramental abuse; and a poor understanding of the issues at hand within the CofE. I remember going into a CofE Church, under the Diocese of the flying Bishop of Fulham. I went through the mass thinking the Church was empty, but having received the Eucharist, I was amazed to see the Church full of what was clearly refugees and migrants, I was initially quite encouraged; until the teas and coffees, were served after the mass. When I saw these same folk, drifting around the church aimlessly, hanging out disrespectfully in every part of the Church; on their phone with no integration between them and the host Christian community. The leadership was clearly at a total loss as to what to do in this situation. Even if they were in the Church for disingenuous reasons, there was a real evangelistic opportunity present going a miss! I brought it up with the Bishop at the first opportunity. I do not know what came of it, but I am not confident much is being done; as most CofE clergy, are just ‘wets’ in my experience of them; to do much at all will seem like hard work.
The state itself, however, should buck its ideas up of course, and its representatives hardly have room to criticise the CofE, as it is currently unwilling or unable to defend the borders of the UK. Therefore it is very easy for them to point the finger at the CofE; as a distraction to their failures as a government. We must be vigilant as Christians – against allowing our disdain for the corrupt CofE Bishops and of the failures of the state to trick us into an attitude that ‘they are all fake converts manipulating the system. Whilst – there is no doubt fakes amongst them, real believers are coming forward from Muslim countries seeking baptism; and this places a need upon us a challenge to create fellowships able to discern and test the spirits; but within an environment of genuine, warmth, support, evangelism, discipleship and community. The CofE is correct to say, it is not its job to guard the borders; that is the job of a failing state.
What do the Scriptures teach about the sojourner in the land? The prophetic and apostolic case against xenophobia is rock solid! Christians can not ‘hate’ or seek to ‘harm’ the foreigner who lives amongst them; who wishes to sojourn in the land; and we must treat them as the native-born! They must have the same rights; as the native-born; and the same responsibilities and expectations; this, however, assumed an Israel, that believed and followed the covenant of GOD; and had a clear sense of its own identity. The Bishops of the CofE want to take some parts of the scripture and not the whole – they filter based on their Liberalism; not on their Christianity. Xenophilia is a biblical expectation; but it emerges out of an assumption that – we know who we are – and we are not going to change who we are for the sojourner (the bishops always leave this out of their presentation of the issue)! The ‘foreigner’ will become like one of us – is the biblical narrative! The best way to imagine the Biblical picture is one of the best possible ‘hosts’ you can imagine, hosting a visitor in their own home. The visitor is to be treated with a ‘my house your house’ attitude – but always within the context of the host/guest dynamic; if the guest fails to respect the host’s way of doing things – they can and should be expelled! The CofE wants some of that picture, but not another bit as chosen by the Liberal world view most of them adopt as normative to their outlook; they are more guided by the Refugee Convention of 1951 EHRC convention on human rights; than any reading of these passages: Exod 12:49; 12:19; 20:10; 23:12 Lev 24:22;16:29; 17:10, 12, 13; 18:26; 24:16; Num 9:14; 15:15, 16, 26, 29; 19:10; 35:15; 15:14 Deut 1:16; 29:11. There is simply no sense of liberal multiculturalism here; but there is also no sense of Xenophobia. The idea of others settling in the land is biblical, the idea they can change it – is not! Therefore, it makes sense to preference, those immigrants who already share our values and beliefs above those that do not! Christians, can not replace this obligation to love our brothers and sisters, with some nationalistic fear of those of other ethnicities! We should support the right of Christians to settle in the UK – no matter where they come from in the world!
Christians who convert from Islam – are in genuine danger – both abroad, and in this country; as Liberal Progressives (and Bishops of such an ilk) turn a blind eye to the sufferings of Christians everywhere. Christian solidarity, which emerges out of the sense that we are one body – means, as Christians we must support Christian refugees and asylum seekers; that much should be beyond question – and if you find yourself questioning that; I want to encourage you to think again about how well you know the teachings of the prophets and apostles; and the nature of the Church.
However, that is not the whole story – the scriptures teach us that Baptism is a sacrament, an outward expression of the inner working of grace – most Christians believe it to be communicative of grace! It is the entry rite; of being recognised that you are now part of the people of GOD; joined to the new covenant; and that you are in communion with the Church; and thus can be a recipient of the most holy eucharist; and on this this the scriptures state clearly:
‘Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord.’
Our teacher Augustine on this said:
‘What does it mean to receive unworthily? To receive in mockery, to receive in contempt.’
Our teacher Cyprian of Carthage said this:
“But what a crime is theirs on the one hand who receive, or on the other, theirs who are received, that their foulness not being washed away by the layer of the Church, nor their sins put away, communion being rashly seized, they touch the body and blood of the Lord, although it is written, “Whosoever shall eat the bread or drink the cup of the Lord unworthily, shall be guilty of the body and blood of the Lord!”.
Christians must guard the table of the Lord from abuse; and what an abuse it is, to receive of it deceitfully; to participate in the Eucharist, whilst acknowledging a false god! This is why the liturgy of Baptism has as part of the rite an examination of the one being baptised to see that they have renounced the devil and all his works, and have turned to Christ, confessing the faith of the saints! The Church must, therefore, take the ethic of this examination seriously and genuinely seek to discern who, amongst the sojourners, presenting themselves for Baptism are sincere! The church must not be lazy in this affair – but must guard the table seriously, which means they must guard baptism seriously from abuse! Sadly, too much of the civic Church of England is entirely used to prostituting its sacraments to non-believers in some vain attempt to be the national church. They marry non-Christians and baptise non-Christian children; even when they know the people are not Christian or serious about the promises they are making in the Church! New disciplines are needed on this and several other matters; about the administration of the sacraments; which are the signs of the new covenant and are only appropriate to those in that covenant.
The Church of England canon law states:
When any such person as is of riper years and able to answer for himself is to be baptized, the minister shall instruct such person, or cause him to be instructed, in the principles of the Christian religion, and exhort him so to prepare himself with prayers and fasting that he may receive this holy sacrament with repentance and faith.” Canon B 4 21.
The assumption is the minister, should be personally confident, that the one coming to baptism is sincere; however; most ministers, simply shrug their shoulders nonchalantly; and say it is beyond their knowing; and some know better – prostitute the sacraments anyway!
The current guidance of the CofE for supporting asylum seekers, found here [supporting-asylum-seekers-guidance-for-church-of-england-clergy-161201.pdf (churchofengland.org)] seems devoid of any ideas of discernment or about the importance of the guarding the sacrament from abuse; such ideas of how to verify to the sincerity of the potential convert is slim; most of it is about simply helping the refugee (clearly the point of the document); the area covering the issue of converts sincerity, is covered by a few case studies and a few comments at the end.
The case studies offered in this document; do encourage; a time of waiting – to get to know the candidate. It does encourage churches to encourage’ weekly attendance at Bible studies; it encourages the Bible study to be given in the migrant’s native language. The congregations of the CofE are being encouraged to teach and disciple those that come to it, before baptism; however; there is no clear encouragement in the document to discern the sincerity of the people coming forward for baptism; though the idea is wanton; their is no test; it is simply – self identification! There are examples given; emphasising rigorous discipleship. Evangelistic courses, like Christianity, explored and Alpha; is being used as a stand-in, for catechism – which is surely problematic; as these are courses aimed at evangelising the lost, not catechising the catechumen! The Church is nudging congregations to ‘examine’ the faith of candidates, but it is not encouraging them to refuse baptism if suspicions are present that someone is seeking to abuse the sacraments for legal reasons. No guidance is given at all on what to do in this case, and that is part of the problem!
So what can the Church and the nation do about the problem? We have seen evidence that immigrants are abusing the sacrament of Baptism as a means of claiming asylum and the right to remain in the country. There are clear examples known to ministers of people who suddenly lose interest in the Christian faith the moment they have won their right to remain; never to be seen by the fellowship that once gave them succour before their ‘conversion’ and supported their asylum application. I would argue, that some of the answers are obvious; there needs to be a positive and clear examination of the doctrine of the new convert. They must, in word and deed, be seen to clearly reject their former belief systems, and this should be instituted in the liturgy through symbolic actions incorporated into the Liturgy of Baptism; such as a clear questions: do you denounce Muhammad as a false prophet? Do you renounce the god of Muhammad as a false god? This then could be reinforced by symbolic acts, such as disposing in a bin or ceremonial burning, of a Quran and prayer mat; removal of the Hijab in public. Prior to baptism being offered; the congregation should witness them glorifying Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The congregation should ‘witness’ then rejecting Islamic teaching; condemning the practices of Muhammad. Their attendance at religious services on a regular basis and ‘fellowship’ with other believers outside of the Church again should be witnessed. Once these things have been seen, and witnessed by all; the Baptism as described a little earlier should proceed. The Church should then offer its full support to the believer in their application to Asylum. The taking on of a Christian name; and the adoption of Christian practices, customs and attitudes, should be witnessed by the congregation before Baptism is offered. That assumes of course, that the fellowship is a community in the first place – where the person can be known!
However, from a state perspective; the Church and state should be in touch for YEARS following such Asylum being given; and if it becomes evident; that newly granted asylum applicant, have stopped practicing the faith; and seemingly lost interest in it; and the Church verifies this (and should) – the converts sudden lack of practice; the Asylum grant, should be withdrawn and deportation proceedings resume at the point they had reached before – their ‘conversion’. I would say this monitoring should go on for several years. The nation should work with the Church – to allow for the continued discernment concerning those seeking baptism; when it moves them around; so that last congregation can help them when they are moved to a new place; to find a good congregation to connect to. Furthermore, the principle of god parents; and sponsors, should really come into their own, by continuing to engage with the catechumen wherever he/she is in the UK. This means better training of those who are taking on this role! The Church must not be afraid; to refuse baptism to anyone it feels is doing so for reasons not congruent to the telos of Baptism!