A call by the Church of England's board of education for an end to compulsory religious education in schools was thrown out this week after a controversial debate in the General Synod.
The motion asked the synod to recognise that county schools "cannot be expected to take responsibility for Christian nurture among their pupils", and asked each diocese to take on this role themselves.
The Bishop of Coventry, the Right Rev John Gibbs, urged the synod not to take a nostalgic view of the church's role in education. It was not a time to be looking backward, he said.
"I believe that we have to come to terms with the new society in which we are living. We have moved very rapidly from the time when it was a Christian society to quite a new situation in which we have a pluralistic society."
County schools could no longer be reliable agents of Christian nurture. The Bishop of Coventry wanted the church to move away from 19th-century education theory, and to see a child as a person in his or her own right rather than merely as a potential adult.
Opposing the motion, the Bishop of London, Dr Gerald Ellison, said it would be a capitulation to secularists. "In my view, this motion is in clean contradiction to the requirement of the law, and represents a radical departure from the accepted philosophy of the century.
"The whole of our national life, its law, its institutions and its educational system, has been erected upon the fundamental acceptance of Christian principles. This motion represents a capitulation to the secularists, who have been pressing for just such an admission on our part. Once the battle has been won in the schools, they will press on for the complete secularisation of the whole society."