Guest Post: Why this denominational nomad believes it is right to remain in the CofE

Following on from my Evangelicals Now article on why I believe (as a dissenter) Evangelicals should quit the Church of England, I asked someone who is not confessionally Anglican to write why he thought it legitimate for Evangelicals to stay within the CofE. Tomorrow, a former Church of England minister who left the CofE will explain why he thinks others should also leave. Following this, a serving Anglican minister will explain why he thinks remaining is important and why he thinks others should do so too.

This is a guest post by Jeremy Marshall. Views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of this blog.

Let me put my cards on the table. I am passionate about the gospel and the evangelical Christian faith but I’m not particularly attached to any one denomination. In my life I have moved a lot with work and have been in the following churches. 

  • Evangelical Free 
  • Grace Baptist
  • Grace Baptist 
  • Southern Baptist 
  • Anglican
  • Southern Baptist 
  • PCA
  • Anglican 

Whenever I moved area, my wife and I tried to choose the best local church with the best Bible teaching. Then I believe in being loyal to it and especially trying to support the vicar/pastor. So I am not a conviction “birth” Anglican but I can see good reasons to stay in the Church of England. That said, I can also see some very bad reasons to remain, namely:

  1. “It’s a good boat to fish from” (pure pragmatism)
  2. “I was born an Anglican” (tradition)
  3. ”I am an Episcopalian by ecclesiology“ (there are perfectly valid episcopal alternatives – GAFCON/AMIE, FCE)
  4. “State church” (no biblical support for that)
  5. “I feel God has called me…” (maybe, but we must ultimately submit our feelings to the bible) 

Nevertheless, I believe there are good arguments for staying. There is a battle that is raging, so why would we retreat? If we look at the letters to the 7 churches in Revelation, within two in particular – Pergamum and Thyatira – people have been led astray by false teachers. Nowhere are the church members told to quit and form a new church, rather they are told to hold fast. For example, Christ writes: 

“There are some among you who hold to the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to entice the Israelites to sin so that they ate food sacrificed to idols and committed sexual immorality. Likewise, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans. Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them”

“Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come.”

We may note that then, as now, the prevailing heresy is sexual immorality and the instruction of the Lord is to “hold on to what you have”. Of course, there may come a point where we cannot hold the line when the battle is lost and retreat is the only option, but I do not believe that is the case today (And to anticipate an objection to my analogy: yes we are to contend for truth in love and seek to persuade those who oppose us, not kill them).

The reasons I think it is good to stay and contend are these:-

  1. The official teaching canons and liturgy of the Church of England are wonderfully orthodox. Even that doughty proponent of disestablishment CH Spurgeon said, “Measure me by the articles of the Church of England, and I will not stand second to any man under heaven’s blue sky in preaching the gospel contained in them; for if there be an excellent epitome of the gospel, it is to be found in the articles of the Church of England.“
  2. There is a large and increasingly well organised group of evangelicals willing to stand and be counted for orthodox beliefs. Previously many people just kept their heads down and hoped it would all go away – which is certainly not biblical, but I believe this is changing. 
  3. Yes, there are people who act contrary to the official teaching canons and liturgy but thus has it always been since the foundation of the Church of England. We should remember that the Puritans, until 1642, were almost exclusively Anglican and they contended for truth within the church. Even after 1662 and the Great Ejection, there were many godly vicars who stayed in the church. 
  4. Crucially, and this is certainly the case for our church and our vicar, there is also a clear plan and statement of intent. If we say, “under no circumstances will I ever leave the Church of England“ then we are not acting biblically it seems to me because there must be some circumstances under which we must separate. We used to debate this topic 40 years ago and I would ask my Anglican friends, “If the Archbishop of Canterbury said to worship the devil would you leave?” To my equal horror and amusement, they would not answer the question because to say “yes” implied there were circumstances in which one should leave and to say “no” was obviously ludicrous.

So, are there such grounds for separation? These would be my lines:

“If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house or give him any greeting, for whoever greets him takes part in his wicked works.“

“But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one.“

So, I feel comfortable that it’s right to stay and contend because:

  1. I believe the cause can be won and we are in a Revelation 2 type situation.
  2. In the case of our church anyway – our respected vicar has been very clear that he has a red “separation” line which he says is a “change in the canon of liturgies of the church”. 

I think it’s entirely fair for those like Steve, who are outside the Church of England, to set out their views, which I respect. It is also entire reasonable for others inside to disagree. That’s good and honest and provided it’s done in a loving spirit is to be encouraged. I don’t understand why some people are so irked by the very question posed by Steve?

I am also highly sympathetic and happy to help if I can (and have done so) those who decide in all good conscience that they cannot stay in the Church of England and should leave. Let us all encourage each other and show unity around the gospel across the denominational lines. 

May God’s grant us unity and sweet comradeship as we contend for the faith once delivered.