Christian Concern staffer, Ben John, 27, has just been elected to the Church of England’s legislative body, the General Synod.
Ben comes onto the new 2021-2026 Synod as the CofE considers whether it will change its teaching on marriage, sexuality and gender.
Reports from 42 dioceses on the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) consultations, launched in 2020, will “feed into the Bishops’ discernment for the Church in 2022”, the CofE has announced.
Son of the evangelist J John, Ben is a lay representative for St Albans Diocese and development officer of Christian Concern’s student and young adult training arm, the Wilberforce Academy.
Christian Today spoke to Ben about his election to General Synod as an Anglican evangelical who wants to defend the traditional biblical teaching at this crunch-time for the established Church.
CT: As one of the younger members of the new General Synod, what do you think you can achieve over the next five years?
BJ: Well, I simply hope to graciously proclaim the Lordship of Christ over all things. Christ through his atoning work on the Cross is reconciling the world to himself, and the Church needs to be bold in proclaiming the love, grace, and call of Christ into a culture that rejects him.
One of the big lies today sadly propagated in the Church is that we need to compromise and listen to the spirit of the age to reach young people. This was even explicitly said at my General Synod election hustings. As a younger member of Synod, I want to be able to speak into this area, that what the world needs to hear is the power of the gospel and the radical call to discipleship.
If we are not offering anything distinctive, then what is the point? And this applies to all issues, whether racism, social justice, climate change, or sexuality. In all these issues the Church has sadly tended in recent years simply to mirror the narratives of the world and not offer a distinctively positive Christian vision for society. This partly comes from a rejection of the authority of Scripture in the Church today. We need to go back to Scripture constantly to see what God has said and is saying.
Obviously one of the major issues that will be discussed will be sexuality, and whilst many of the issues to be addressed in the quinquennium (Synod’s five-year term) are important, there is far more at stake over the issues of homosexuality in the Church. I hope to be able to make a positive contribution in defence of the biblical and creational definition of marriage, as well as the transforming and converting power of the gospel, which washes and sanctifies us.
CT: As a convinced Anglican evangelical, how do you feel about engaging in the politics of Synod and the inevitable need to form alliances with traditional Anglo-Catholics on the marriage and sexuality issue in particular?
BJ: In one sense I don’t care too much who votes, but I care about which way they vote. Obviously, I hope to align with traditional Anglo-Catholics over issues such as sexuality, and upholding provision for those whose convictions would not support the ordination of women.
However, we should never ignore serious differences just because of agreement over a single issue.
It is worth adding, that we should hope to make a positive and persuasive Biblical case on the issue of marriage and sexuality. We should never rule out the possibility of God changing the hearts of those who maybe even stood on an ‘Inclusive Church’ ticket as well those who are currently ‘undecided’.
CT: The biblically orthodox think tank Anglican Futures has predicted that in 2023 the bishops will produce a service of blessing for same-sex couples without a General Synod vote. What is your view of that prediction?
BJ: I think it may well be possible, but I sense it is unlikely. It is certainly important that evangelicals understand the different routes that could be taken so we can know how to respond and oppose these different efforts. I suspect that the bishops would not attempt to do this, particularly with everything said about how the LLF Next Steps Committee needs to present proposals to General Synod.
Nevertheless, we are talking about the same bishops who encourage celebratory services for so-called gender transitions using the reaffirmation of baptismal vows liturgy. So given the bishops can promote such wickedness, and blasphemy, and fail to shepherd so grievously, it should not surprise us if they do produce a service of blessing for same-sex couples without a General Synod vote.
CT: What do you think is the future for Anglican evangelicals like you in the established Church?
BJ: I am very sympathetic to the view that we need to stay and have a faithful witness in the Church of England until we are kicked out. The question is what faithful witness will look like going forward. Are we prepared to take courageous stands that may well lead to us being kicked out?
I think we need to be prepared to break communion with false teachers, for example bishops who are promoting LGBT issues or denying the uniqueness of Christ, and there should be a visible disunity. This is not something to relish or celebrate, but to lament. Christ clearly calls us to unity, but also to oppose the works of darkness.
Of course, visible disunity and impaired communion can only last so long; eventually new leaders have to be appointed. I think more needs to be done by evangelicals to think this through and also to think through the effect on our public witness of partnering with false teachers.
I do believe that God will bless faithfulness to him and in particular the faithful proclamation of the gospel. Failure to proclaim the gospel is why liberal churches collapse, but we as evangelicals cannot simply presume on God’s blessing for our ministry whilst we come under the authority of bishops promoting wickedness or working alongside false church leaders.
CT: In November last year just after the CofE published its LLF resources you broadcast a critical video which led to a transgender activist reporting the video. What has happened over that?
BJ: Yes, I was critical of the LLF project. The whole process seemed to be a subtle attempt to move towards a two-convictions approach, that we can allow for both the orthodox view and the revisionist view in the church. But attempts to do that must be opposed.
Nothing came about over the investigation. The police never contacted Christian Concern or myself about the video. We were only told about the investigation through the BBC when they reached out for a comment on the matter. The video may have been registered as a ‘non-crime hate incident’ but nothing has been flagged on my record about that.
Interestingly, the trans URC (United Reformed Church) Minister in the video wrote an article published in the Journal of Theology and Sexuality in August 2021 describing the video as a ‘contemporary text of terror’, though I would respectfully disagree that articulating historic biblical truth could be described as such. [Editor’s note: the minister has commented on their decision to report the Christian Concern video in this article].