An ornate parish church in the heart of rural England was the unlikely setting for an announcement by a visiting preacher that “Religion is dead!”
You could have heard a pin drop. The speaker was Rev Greg Price, vicar of a nearby Anglican parish, who was taking part in a Pilgrim Fathers tour, visiting places associated with the famous forbears of the United States.
The venue was Babworth in north Nottinghamshire, where the Rev Richard Clyfton effectively launched the breakaway Separatists in 1606.
Now, more than 400 years after the Separatist movement caused a rift in the established Church of England that also led to the founding of America, it could all happen again, Rev Price warned.
From 1606-8, Christians would come from miles around to hear Clyfton speak forthrightly on the life-transforming truths of the Bible, which spiritually-hungry ‘pilgrims’ were reading for the first time in their own language.
Until then, the Bible was chained to the pulpit and the masses had little or no access to its liberating lessons. But Clyfton and his ‘co-conspirators’ came under fierce attack from the authorities for their failure to follow strict religious ritual, and were eventually hounded out of the country.
They became known as the Pilgrim Fathers who, with some of their followers, were initially granted safe haven in Holland before finally sailing to the New World in the Mayflower in 1620. They subsequently founded what was to be widely regarded as the greatest nation on earth on the solid biblical principles of faith and freedom.
The 400th anniversary tour, delayed by Covid, was organised by the Church’s Ministry among the Jewish people (CMJ) for the purpose of highlighting the crucial role played by the Pilgrim Fathers, not only in building a nation on Christian foundations, but also in re-awakening a vital understanding of the gospel’s Jewish roots, and Israel’s fundamental importance to our faith. The friendship and support given to Israel by the United States over the years is clear testament to this.
Addressing a congregation which included other tour members in period costume, Rev Price said that Clyfton’s experience bore striking similarities to his own. Like Clyfton, he too was “deprived of his living” (i.e. sacked) for his biblical views, though he has since been reinstated.
Ordained at Liverpool Cathedral in 1983, he later challenged a visiting preacher to the church where he served as curate for denying both the resurrection and the virgin birth. He prayed and fasted for six weeks before deciding to tell his congregation that the preacher had been wrong because his views were unbiblical.
He was duly sacked and told by his superior that he would ensure he never worked for the Church of England again. But, after 20 years, the former hotel manager said God spoke to him in Israel during a Global Day of Prayer in Jerusalem, saying: “I want you to go back into the Church of England.”
He is now Vicar of Tuxford, just a few miles south of Babworth, having charge of five parishes including Marnham, the very village that produced Richard Clyfton!
Having once repented on behalf of the Anglican Church for their persecution of the Pilgrim Fathers, Rev Price then shocked his 21st century congregation by announcing: “Religion is dead. You will not get to heaven with religion.”
He was speaking in the context of one of the readings for the day (as set out in the Book of Common Prayer) in which the Apostle Paul denounces the Galatians for insisting on the ritual of circumcision for Gentiles (Gal 6:11-18). ‘Religious’ people in the early church, he explained, were trying to add extra requirements on converts whose faith alone qualified them for heaven.
He further hit out at today’s Archbishops for failing to give a lead to a nation supposedly built on God’s Word, specifically referring to the Scripture inscribed in Latin on the floor of Parliament – that “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain” (Psalm 127:1) – and the mural of Moses receiving the Ten Commandments also hanging in that esteemed establishment.
And yet, he bemoaned, a chaplain at a Christian school has been sacked for stating a biblical view of marriage and an English cathedral has accepted a council grant for an extension despite a condition that it be used for multi-faith purposes.
Reminding us of the Christian martyrs burnt at the stake for wanting people to read the Word of God in their own language, he said the Church of England was now coming under increasing pressure to allow same-sex marriage in line with the Methodists and other Christian groups.
“We haven’t got the authority to change God’s Word, but I fear they are going to do it. So, might we see a repeat Separatist movement?” he posed. “I fear it’s already beginning.”
One local congregant (not part of the tour) was afterwards heard to say: “Well, that was a breath of fresh air!” And another told the vicar she had waited all her life for a sermon like that! So all is not lost. Truth is not always falling on deaf ears, and there is hope for our nation while ever gospel truth is proclaimed loud and clear.
Charles Gardner is author of Israel the Chosen, available from Amazon; Peace in Jerusalem, available from olivepresspublisher.com; A Nation Reborn, available from Christian Publications International; and King of the Jews, also available from Christian Publications International.