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Should the Church be led by opinion poll? Ask the Laodiceans

by Julian Mann

If YouGov had conducted an opinion poll asking the members of the church in Laodicea in the late 1st century AD whether they thought they were good Christians, the results would have been overwhelmingly positive.

They thought their church was rich in Christian spirituality and commitment and they were very pleased with themselves. But the risen and reigning Lord Jesus Christ, walking among the lampstands of the seven churches in Asia, revealed to the Apostle John his assessment of Laodicean spirituality and it was radically different from that of the congregation:

"You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked" (Revelation 3v17 – NIV). This was the spiritually complacent church that, unless it repented, the Lord Jesus was going to spit out of his mouth – because it was lukewarm, neither hot nor cold.

Given that devastating biblical precedent, why would any Christian place confidence in an opinion poll for deciding the way forward for the church of Jesus Christ?

According to a news report on Christian Today, Linda Woodhead, a professor of religion at Lancaster University, thinks a YouGov opinion poll on women in spiritual leadership overrides the interpretation of the New Testament, held by the orthodox early Church Fathers and then by the evangelical Reformers, that the headship of local churches is the pastoral responsibility of men.

Commenting on the poll commissioned for a Westminster Faith Debate on whether it was right for religions to treat men and women differently, Professor Woodhead said: "These new findings show that the churches are seriously out of step not only with society but with their own members. In failing to allow women's leadership in the churches, church leaders are privileging the views of a tiny, disproportionately male, group of people over the views of the vast majority of people in their own churches and in the country as a whole."

Professor Woodhead MBE would be advised to revisit her church history. At various points in the Arian controversy over the eternal deity of Christ in the 4th century AD, it looked as if the battle for orthodoxy was going to be lost. Opinion in both church and society was favouring Arius, the champion of the view that Christ was a creature.

But the then champion of the eternal deity of Christ, Bishop Athanasius of Alexandia (c297-373), did not allow himself to be swayed by the winds of fashionable opinion and stuck to his biblical guns at considerable personal cost. His perseverence under God resulted in the adoption of the Nicene Creed, which clearly states the biblical teaching that Jesus Christ is "God of God, Light of Light, very God of very God; begotten, not made, being of one substance with the Father, by whom all things were made".

What a man of God Athanasius was.

Both the New Testament and church history testify that faith in opinion polls is decidedly misplaced. How big was the majority on the first Good Friday for the crucifixion of the Lord of glory?

Julian Mann is the vicar of the Parish Church of the Ascension, Oughtibridge, South Yorkshire –

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