Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Email to a Young Minister on a Strategy for the Church of England

Dear N
I’m sorry to have taken so long to get back to you. But thank you for your question, which I will try to answer.
By the way, have you actually read A Strategy that Changes the Denomination? In there, I have given my own ‘potted history’ of post-war Anglican Evangelicalism, some of which is based on memory, and sketched out where I think we went wrong.
Part of the problem with ‘Keele’, I believe, is that it became a legend in its own lifetime (or at least, the lifetime of those who were there or whom it represented). Keele, according to the legend, was evangelicals ‘coming in from the cold’, opting to be part of the Church of England. But more than that, it was evangelicals achieving ‘maturity’ through ‘acceptance’ — not only would they be part of the Church of England, but the Church of England would make space for them.
What seems to me to have been lacking both then and subsequently, however, is any clarity as to what this acceptance was supposed to achieve. In 1995 a chap called Charles Yeats organized a symposium and subsequently published a book titled Has Keele Failed? This was in the wake of the founding of Reform and was deeply critical of that. But it is interesting when the book turns to the question of how one might say that Keele has succeeded. Yeats writes,
... a final judgment on Keele is impossible so soon after the Congress. Thirty years is hardly a long time in the life of the Church of England, and not a long enough period to expect to make radical changes ... (8)
So Yeats on the one hand sets up the notion of ‘radical changes’ (without specifying what they would be) and then says, ‘It’s too early to expect them, only thirty years on.’
Well, here we are forty-six years on and still waiting, but one reason why I think we are still waiting for the radical changes to result from Keele is that they were never envisaged or specified at the time! Or at least, the only ‘radical change’ was that evangelicals would accept, and seek acceptance within, the Church of England. In that, they have succeeded to a considerable degree, but of course it is an empty victory.
A few years ago, I was at a meeting called by an evangelical bishop to take counsel with evangelical leaders. He observed at the outset that although evangelicals were far more numerous at every level in the Church of England, the ethos of the institution remained resolutely Liberal Catholic. He wondered why this was so, but my answer would be, at least in part, that there has never been a coordinated intention to make it anything else.
However, I would also argue that it is pointless just trying to make the church more ‘evangelical’ — if by that we mean holding to a theology which makes certain assumptions and manifests itself in a certain church culture.
The call of the Church is to proclaim to the world the praises of God who called us out of darkness into his wonderful light (1 Pet 2:9). And it is to this end that we should draw all our efforts. Furthermore, this is the calling of the whole church. And here is where I think Keele went fundamentally wrong, for at the back of the ‘Keele’ mentality was the acceptance of a church with not only different cultures and different theologies but different missions.
We see this in the way the ‘Five Marks of Mission’ have gained easy acceptance in the Church’s official thinking, for what they do is allow you to perm a selection — “You’re doing ‘proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom’ through your parish mission, we’re doing ‘safeguarding the integrity of creation’ through our green scheme for the churchyard. Yipee, we’re all doing mission!”
But of course we’re not all doing evangelism — we’re not all proclaiming the God who called us out of darkness into light.
The Keele error, in my view, was to accept this diversity rather than to challenge it. The measure of success was the ‘acceptance’ of evangelicalism in the institution, but the price of success was to become ‘acceptable’. And as you will know, ‘acceptance of variety’ is a core institutional value in the Church of England.
What I am offering, by contrast, is a strategy with one specific aim: more evangelism. Indeed the ultimate aim is an evangelizing church in every place. Actually I believe we can settle for nothing less. But in any case it is a clearer, and different, strategy from that presented at Keele.
To achieve this, however, we have to do more than just do it ourselves (though we have to do that!). In the past I have been assured that all we need to do is “Preach the gospel, brother!” (I won’t tell you who said that to me in a public meeting when I suggested more political engagement, but I remember it well.)
In the diocese of Sydney they have preached the gospel, but they have also guarded the institution. I believe that is what we need to learn to do here, and that is the ultimate aim of the Junior Anglican Evangelical Conference. I am reminded of the title of Stott’s commentary on 2 Timothy, Guard the Gospel. But our guarding of the gospel requires us to guard that through which the gospel is proclaimed — and according to 1 Peter (and the rest of the epistles, surely?) it is the Church.
In many parishes to this day, the gospel is not proclaimed in the terms specified in 1945, that call for conversion. If you become an Anglican minister, you accept that you cannot preach the gospel in someone else’s parish. Therefore unless you do something about the lack of gospel preaching in some other way, you are accepting that people in that parish will not hear the gospel from an Anglican church.
That is where I think Keele went wrong. That is what I’m trying to help put right.
With best wishes
John
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4 comments:

  1. I remember vividly Dick Lucas pointing out that in 1 Timothy 3, the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth. He said that we would instinctively expect the other way around - the truth is the pillar and foundation of the church. Both are, of course, true, but Dick's point was that in 1 Timothy the great concern is for people to be saved. It is the connection in 3:15 that makes Paul so concerned that Timothy contends for good order in the church.

    James Oakley, Kemsing, Kent

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  2. May I pitch in from an Anglo-Catholic perspective - but also from one who sees mission as all about evangelisation (and despair of the vagueness of of the 5 Marks of Mission for the reason JR gives).

    Two questions occur to me:

    Firstly, I'd be interested to know in what way the ethos of the Church of England's institutions is, from an Evangelical perspective, "Liberal Catholic". It doesn't necessarily seem like that to Catholic or to Liberal eyes (I wouldn't call myself a Liberal myself, however, but I know they also complain about the institutional culture, for different reasons).

    Secondly, and connected to it, would there be a difference between a change in the denomination that made it more Evangelical, and a change in the denomination that made for more evangelisation? That seems to me to be a key question, for both Evangelicals and non-Evangelicals.

    It's worth saying, perhaps, that I sometimes have to point out to fellow Anglo-Catholics that church-growth-and-evangelisation stuff is not a capital-E Evangelical thing (and therefore suspect!). Until the 1960s the Anglo-Catholics were very small-e evangelical, in the sense that we did mission to outsiders, church growth, basics teaching, etc etc. But people's memories are very short.

    Any thoughts on my two questions. It's an important subjects, and not just for Evangelicals. Thanks for the post.

    Simon

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  3. The true Gospel is now delivered to you from the wilderness Rev 12:6 as a witness Matt 24:14.
    Our heavenly Father will NOT put any child of his into a hell fire no matter what their sins. Sin doesn't scare God! He created it Isa 45:7 to teach us all the knowledge of good and evil Gen 3:22 for our eternal placement in his coming kingdom. Throwing a child of his into a hell fire has never entered the heart or mind of God to ever do such a thing Jer7:31, Jer 19:5. Anyone preaching a hell fire to God's children has been deceived into teaching lies. The whole world has been believing in a god of hate murder and revenge (The devil Rev 12:9). The true word of God John 1:1 is now delivered Rev 12:5 here http://thegoodtale.wordpress.com/

    God chose a woman Rev 12 to be the prophet like unto Moses and Elijah Matt 17:3, Acts 3:21-23, Luke 1:17. Those professing themselves to be Christians would be wise to hear all Acts 3:23 BEFORE making any judgment. The proof of what I tell you is in the hearing.

    Prove ALL things 1 Thes 5:21. Satan has deceived the whole world Rev 12:9 until now.

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  4. Thanks, John. I'd not really looked at it that way. Two thoughts.

    First, it is really hard to develop any sense of shared purpose when there's no common ground on which you can do theology and work that purpose out. The CofE extremes - say, libCaths and conEvos - use the same words to speak a different language, and so push the Elizabethan settlement to its dysfunctional limit. I can't see an amicable way out of this.

    Evangelism would be great focus if it weren't for this. With different gospels at work you can neither evangelise together, nor in good conscience respect parish boundaries.

    Second, it appears to me that acceptance was a bargain going two ways. I may be wrong on this, in fact I hope to be wrong on this, but within CofE evangelicalism there seems to be a quiet but steady drift towards liberalism. When the dust has settled on women bishops and its momentum gets carried into the next flashpoint issue (human sexuality), we'll learn more. If I'm right, we'll remain distracted from our primary task a good while longer.

    And that isn't good news for anyone.

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