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. You can read that here. Yesterday, a former Church of England minister who left the CofE explained why he thinks others should also leave. You can read that here. Today, a serving Anglican minister will explain why he thinks remaining is important and why he thinks others should stay. Tomorrow, an academic will share a video on why he believes faithful Anglicans should leave the Church of England.
This is a guest post by Hugh Bourne. Views expressed in this article are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect those of this blog.
“I’m not leaving until they kick me out!”
What is this? Is this the pinnacle of faithfulness or an undiscerning inertia? It could be either, context is everything. Not only do we have our own conscience and personal ‘red-lines’, we (that is Church of England ministers) have different churches and congregations, and Dioceses and Bishops. I’m privileged to be in a supportive church with Bishops who are orthodox, who understand evangelicals, alongside a vibrant gospel partnership network. So I don’t seek to assume how others might respond when faced with a different context, but for now, I’m resolved to stay within the Church of England.
In these discussions there’s always a sense of it being a rehash of 1966. As I reflect on Dr. Andrew Atherstone’s summary of events [https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/evangelical-history/50-years-ago-today-the-split-between-john-stott-and-martyn-lloyd-jones/], I’m conscious that my arguments to ‘remain’ pretty much follow the same pattern as Stott and Packer. That the Church of England is historically and foundational Reformed, that Biblically we would expect churches and denominations to be spiritually mixed, and that pragmatically we still see many opportunities for the gospel. I’m not convinced a huge amount has changed (yet) since those debates of previous generations.
But forget debates of the past, why do I stay, today?
It’s My Home
I’ve spent all of my life within conservative evangelical anglican churches. These are the places where I was converted and discipled, where I’ve served and grown and seen God at work in countless others. Like me, many will have benefitted from the ministries of those who have remained; I came to faith through CPAS summer camps, perhaps others through Christianity Explored, I’ve benefitted from training through Proc Trust and Oak Hill, and all of us (UK evangelicals) stand on the shoulders of the likes of Stott, Lucas, Packer and Motyer. Theologically it’s home too; historically reformed and catholic and officially still that way. Bishop Wallace Benn used to describe Liberalism as like a Cuckoo stealing a nest – there’s nothing wrong with the nest, it’s my home, why should I move out?
I’m a Pastor
Pastors don’t lead churches, they care for people. Like shepherds they lead people to water and pasture, and protect them from wolves. But they stay with the people, not charging ahead, but walking at a pace to keep everyone together – we “have mercy on those who doubt”, the “weaker parts are indispensable.”
The option to leave is of course legitimate, taking the sheep with us, but what of those who remain? Whether ‘sheep’ or not, we inevitably abandon them to the wolves and in many contexts we vacate a pulpit that communities still look too. Our church database (probably in need of an update) contains 600 adults and 200 children, that’s not including the countless contacts (pre-covid) that come through ministries to seniors, parents, weddings and funerals. Over a typical Christmas week we see around 2500 people through the doors, to whom we preach the gospel. That is a testimony to both long-term, faithful gospel ministry here, but also the unique opportunities we have had and continue to have within the Church of England. As a pastor I’m not willing to leave the sheep (many who wouldn’t leave with me at present or at all), nor as an evangelist willing to vacate this pulpit which has such a reach in the community.
I believe in miracles
I take it you do too. For those of us who see and hope for God’s redemptive power to be at work why stop with the Church of England? If we’re Reformation people, confident of God’s power, why not hope and pray for a revival of the Church of England? I’m not sure my theology allows me to concede that any person, and by implication any institution is beyond redemption.
Even if a revival is not forthcoming (God doesn’t need the C of E!) I remain convinced of two clear trajectories; firstly that the gospel brings life and growth, and secondly that Liberalism leads to death and decline. I’m not naive to assume that false teaching isn’t harmful and corrosive but I am confident that God has the power to grow his church, even while entangled by false teaching. The liberals may well win the war, but their ‘church’ has no future. As they attempt to drive the C of E off the cliff, I’m not yet ready to bail – not for my sake, but for the passengers.
There are clearly difficulties for those who like me hold this position and many of the questions from my independent friends are reasonable and offer a fair challenge. However, while these challenges are fair, I don’t think they are entirely unique to Anglicans, I suggest they are things we all must consider:
- One of the right challenges that comes our way is the question of fellowship with false teachers – ‘how can you submit to that bishop’? Anglican clergy swear an oath of “canonical obedience… in all things lawful.” We are submitting to the canons of the church this is why a “change in doctrine” is a red-line, at which point we either leave or are removed for breaking it. The temptation to compromise is clear, yet which of us regardless of our church polity is immune from this temptation to fear man or to compromise on what we think is right to avoid conflict?
- Some of the heresy in the Church of England is easy to spot (look out for the pointy hats) and we must refute those errors to protect the flock. However, I would suggest that in an age where many are embracing teaching online we all need to be much more aware of who and what are congregations are listening too. Being an independent doesn’t shield you from the influence of false teaching, how will you refute it?
- We’re all affected by the cultural changes surrounding questions of authority, gender and sexuality. In the Church of England we’re exposed to these and we can see the trajectory of where the church may end up assimilating with the culture. But Independents won’t be sheltered from these shifts; will you be prepared to lose your charitable status, the use of your community building, the right to conduct marriages? It may come sooner for us, but will you remain faithful when these challenges come?
What’s not in doubt is that we all and particularly those who remain in the Church of England face huge pressures and challenges of conscience – so please pray for us!