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Andrew Brown: City church-plant resists secular overtures

25 August 2017

Photo by DAVID ILIFF. License: CC-BY-SA 3.0

I WAS rude about Olivia Rudgard, the Telegraph’s new religion person, the other day, when she might have been guilty of nothing more than slapping fresh wallpaper over an unsightly piece of PA at the order of the newsroom.

So she deserves proper credit for her coverage of the only interesting English religious story of the moment: the attempt to expel secular music from a Holy Trinity, Brompton, church-plant in central London (News, 18 August). It is interesting in itself, but also because it shows (if anyone from HTB reads this) why the organisation is so widely distrusted, no matter what good it does.

To quote her story: “A London church has become embroiled in a row with one of Britain’s best-known composers after it announced it would close its doors to choirs and orchestras because their music was not religious.

“Now part of a network founded by evangelical church Holy Trinity Brompton, St Sepulchre Without Newgate Church, in Holborn, central London, will stop taking bookings from the classical musicians which have relied on it as a rehearsal and concert venue for many years.

“The church became part of the evangelical group, which is known for its youth-friendly rock-band style of worship, in 2013.”

HTB used to be more balanced about this sort of thing. I still treasure the memory of Richard Chartres’s telling me that, when he preached for them, they were considerate enough to supply him with earplugs for the musical interludes. But this looks as if they now believe Beethoven would be a much more spiritual composer if only he had had the choir singing about Jesus in the Ninth Symphony.

Lovers of classical music are, of course, a niche audience; but they are all, by definition, spiritual, even when they are not religious: people attentive to what a former missionary friend of mine calls “the thing that is true even if Christianity isn’t”.

As such, they are people with whom the Church should engage. They flock to choral evensong. They may yearn for the anonymous and yet entirely personal relationship to be had with mystery in an empty cathedral.

And then along comes a gang of galumphing know-it-all Evangelicals demanding that they pass some kind of purity test before feeling anything at all like that, and, for all I know, believing that those who fail will be tortured for all eternity. That is not an attitude that will save the Church of England.

So far, St Sepulchre’s has not backed down, and even if it now does so, it will have done a lasting piece of disevangelism. What makes the whole thing so completely ridiculous is that it may well have happened by accident. Perhaps no one in the leadership team has ever listened to Classic FM, let alone Radio 3, and so they all vaguely suppose that classical music is part of the old, moth-eaten musical brocade that they are tearing down to reveal the clean, authentic Ikea Christianity that lies behind it.


FOR more serious barbarism, look at the United States, where business leaders have been abandoning President Trump, along with anyone else with a shred of decency. Needless to say, only one of the 25 members of his Evangelical Advisory Council has resigned in the wake of the President’s assertion that there were many very good people among the Nazis who marched by torchlight chanting “Jews will not replace us.” (There is an astonishing video report from vice.com on the web which shows this clearly, and I would recommend it urgently, even if it did not supply an opportunity to recommend vice to the readers of the Church Times.)

One of the advisory council, Johnnie Moore, the author of that indispensable manual Defying ISIS, put up a page defending his decision, which ought to be in every classroom as an example of disingenuous rhetoric: “Anybody who wants to say that this person, or that person, is responsible for what we saw this week in Charlottesville, is speaking disingenuously.

“All Americans have to look at ourselves in the mirror; we all have to ask ourselves what we’re doing to heal America, to fight bigotry, and to find a way through the persistent blight of racism that remains prevalent in our country. It’s on all of us. Every single one of us.”

He calls himself “a modern-day Dietrich Bonhoeffer”, but I suspect that Bonhoeffer was a little bit clearer about which people were responsible for Nazi rallies: Nazis, just possibly. Or perhaps those who said that “there were many good people on both sides.”


FOX NEWS, meanwhile, carried a remarkable piece of pseudo-apologetics, asking whether solar eclipses were proof of God, by Eric Metaxas, a man who is overwhelmed by the fact that there are no other planets in the solar system where they might be observed. “The more I thought about it, the more I knew that there was no way this could be a mere coincidence. It seemed almost planned. In fact, it seemed utterly planned, as all things of such precision must be.”

You couldn’t find a purer, more literal, example of moralistic therapeutic deism.

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