Anglican Evangelicals, The CofE and church unity

Stephen Kneale has started a mini-series of articles on whether or not evangelicals should remain in the Church of England. You can read his own article arguing that evangelicals should leave, here.  You will also see that he is providing space for guest posts in response over the next few days. 

To me, this feels like one of those difficult family conversations that part of the family have been trying to have for years and that other parts do not want to have. It’s along the lines of “what should we do about granny as she starts to get older and frailer? Can we modify the house? Should she come and live with a family member or is there a sheltered accommodation option?”  The children desperately want to have the conversation as they get worried whilst Granny is in no hurry to admit defeat in the battle against old age even though she is now pushing 90. 

You see, if you think of Steve as a complete outsider to the Church of England, then you will consider that he has no business raising the point.  What has it got to do with him telling Anglicans  how to run their churches, after all, you wouldn’t presume to tell him whether he should stick with the FIEC or not would you? If our priority is our denomination, then that’s the natural conclusion.

However, if you consider yourself to be part of the family of God and if as an evangelical you believe that this is characterised by knowing Jesus as Lord and Saviour, if you think that shared family characteristics include a confident reliance in Scripture as God’s trustworthy word, then you should have another outlook. Steve then is a family member and as a family member has every right to seek to challenge you and you him.

Now, this also has implications for the institution you are currently part of.  I want to gently remind all of us that our denominations and networks are not The Church, not the family and not entitled to eternal, unquestioning loyalty. If we consider our denomination or network as “home” then it can only be home in the sense that it is where we are currently lodging.  There may be other family members living there but not everyone lodging there is family. If as a family we are concerned about the viability and healthiness of one of these lodgings, then staying put out of a sense of loyalty to other lodgers makes no sense.

The point I am coming to is this. My focus in this article is not on whether or not evangelicals should leave the church of England. This is because we need to take a little step back.  You see, before deciding where your institutional loyalty lies, you are going to think about the loyalties and priorities that underpin that. What I mean is this, for so long, it has felt to evangelicals outside of the Church of England that the priority of their Anglican brothers is not unity with us but to try and preserve unity with other Anglicans.  There is a willingness to find structures and forms of words, compromises that will allow you to keep sharing the same structures even though those compromises are rarely about the other side moving closer to you.  We have been waiting a long time whilst you have faced the other way making your accommodations.  We have watched as you have told us that there are red lines but those red lines seem to have been trampled over again and again.

What this means is that the choice being asked is not merely between unity and truth but also between two types of unity. To choose formal unity with liberals is to choose against unity with other evangelicals. To choose unity with other evangelicals on the basis of shared beliefs is of course to lose unity with liberals within your own denomination but also to exchange it for unity in truth.

This then has to be the starting point. Which unity will you prioritise? What is essential to you? Is it bishops, an established church, paedo-baptism[1] or is it the Gospel of Jesus Christ, is it justification by faith alone, is it the reliability and sufficiency of Scripture?  Who will come first, fellow lodgers or other family members?


[1] Although you can get two of them outside of the CofE

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