I normally avoid Anglican politics on this blog, which is probably why nobody reads it. But as an evangelical Anglican who finds his church more hospitable to mission and evangelism than at any time in living memory, I can't for the life of me see why some of my evangelical colleagues are intent on throwing it all away.
The weekend saw the National Evangelical Anglican Congress (or Consultation, or something beginning with C). I once went to one of these (or something like it - you can tell I'm a real insider to all this) in London, and most of it is a line-up of speakers delivering stuff from the front, with the conference organisers hoping that enough of the streams of evangelicalism are represented to keep everyone happy.
Well, it all seems to have kicked off: various links for more details
Rachel at Revise Reform (lots of good reflections)
Radical Evangelical which in turn links to a discussion thread over at Forum.
Tim Goodbody has a good summary of the day.
Thinking Anglicans has the text of some of the presentations
Peter Ould has an excellent reflection on the day, and analysis of the issues.
What's all the fuss? It sounds like the delegates (who could be anyone, it didn't sound like you needed to sign a doctrinal basis to attend) were presented with a motion for discussion in the afteroon. Except there wasn't much discussion, people were just asked to give their support. Here's the motion
“That this National Evangelical Anglican Consultation,
acknowledging that the Church of England professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds and bears witness to this truth in her historic formularies (the Book of Common Prayer, the Thirty-nine Articles and the Ordinal) and as set out in Canon A5, Article 6 and the Declaration of Assent
and mindful, as members of the Anglican Communion, of our obligations to faithful Anglicans across the globe,
(a) express our support for the Jerusalem Declaration
(b) recognising that Evangelical Anglicans will pursue a variety of strategies, support our brothers and sisters in their strategic decisions including those set out in the GAFCON Statement made in Jerusalem on 29th June 2008 at the Global Anglican Future Conference gathering attended by 1148 people, including 291 Bishops of the Anglican Communion”
Most of the Jerusalem Declaration is fine, but the motion effectively
- asked the conference to give its implicit support for GAFCON, indeed sees it as an 'obligation to faithful Anglicans across the globe'. Not all of us supported it.
- give a blank cheque to whatever tactics pro-GAFCON leaders might use. Like, for example, setting up a new province in North America, which also happened over the weekend. Again, no.
It sounds like the way the debate was handled probably didn't help, and I'd love to know whether the motion came from the Council who ran the event, or just from the chairman, Richard Turnbull. Wisely, the conference declined to take a vote.
I can understand why Anglicans in other parts of the world are having major struggles. What continues to bother me is that a small clique of evangelicals in England seem intent on stirring the pot, and trying to create clear blue water between themselves and the Church of England structures. This is a church, for those who have forgotten, which threw out John Wesleys preaching. In the 1960's the best-selling book by our bishops was one which denied the objective existence of God. We had Don Cupitt. More recently our bishops have denied the resurrection of Jesus. It's not as though we have a spotless history. Henry VIII?
And now? The church has a fund set aside for mission. The Bishop of Durham is a prominent evangelical bible scholar. Church of England rules are being changed to enable church planting and new forms of church. A national body has been set up to encourage church planting and mission, and it's first leader has just been made Bishop of Sheffield. Several Dioceses organise themselves around Mission Action Plans which work at both Diocesan and Parish level. Rewind to 1990 - all this would have been unheard of. Check out the cluster of thriving evangelical churches and Anglican mission agencies in Sheffield, soon to be joined by Steve Croft as Bishop. Or the Oxford church-planting pilot set up with Church Commissioners money. Or the new partnership in theological training between Holy Trinity Brompton (home of Alpha) and London Diocese. Would Alpha have caught on in the RC church at all if it hadn't come from a 'reformed Catholic' church like the CofE?
For evangelicals, mission is a non-negotiable. Our church is more hospitable to mission than at any time in living memory. Funds, energy, research, leadership are all being geared towards outreach and growth, and this is increasing. I want to say to my fellow evangelicals WAKE UP AND SMELL THE COFFEE! This is the scenario we have been working and praying for for years, so stop thinking about homosexuality every 7 seconds and get stuck in. No matter that influential people in other places want you to sign up to their movement, God is moving here, now. Sign up to that. And if you don't like your bishop's doctrinal stance, hold tight and another one will be along soon. One word: Durham (though some clergy in Durham might tell you that there's more to being a bishop than good theology!!)
To be honest I have enough on in terms of local mission activity that things like NEAC are way down my list of priorities, which is why I didn't go. But I shall be there at the next one (if there is a next one) and I'll be going to the New Wine conference next year as well, and feel like I want to start arguing for those of us who aren't into the politics of all this, but see time and energy wasted when we could be getting on with the important stuff.
Now, back to business.