Guest Post – In defence of Denominations

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Yesterday I wrote about the relationship between evangelical Anglicans and evangelicals outside of the Church of England. I invited response and I’m delighted to share a guest post from Moses Tutesigensi. In his article, Moses focuses on a defence of denominations through interaction with my comments. Whilst the existence of denominations was not within my sights, this is itself a related subject worthy of further discussion. I hope to respond and engage further with Moses in the coming days.

Moses T. Tutesigensi lives in Cardiff and is currently serving amongst a group of presbyterian congregations in the western Gwent valleys. You can contact him on twitter @mosestt

I am grateful for the opportunity to respond to some of the issues arising out of the Dave’s article, “Anglican Evangelicals, the C of E and church unity.” I write not as a member of the Anglican Church but as someone who has an affection for that communion and denominations in general. This article takes the form of a conversation between two family members and as such I will quote sections of Dave’s article and then follow the quotation with my points – like a dialogue. My aim is to show that simply crying “evangelicals assemble” will not solve the real issues in the denominations. Moreover, denominations at their best expose the comprehensive genius of protestant religion…

Dave: “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.”

Moses: Denominations and networks are not the same thing. Networks have the connotation, in my mind at least, of a voluntary association of co-operative units. Denominations on the other hand see their very existence as part of the expression of the global-ness (catholicity) of the one holy catholic and apostolic church of Christ. Closely identifying denominations with networks can inadvertently equate denominations with parachurch organisations. This is simply not the case. Networks in my view promote a Christian market economy, a McChristianised worldview if you will, which results in an increasingly pragmatic approach to worship, mission and ecclesiology.

D: “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.”

M: Does this not give too much towards the impermanence that we see in the wider world? Surely, we want to build long term and stable communities in which discipline (read discipleship) might be meaningfully practiced. Isn’t the Christian whom we cannot be sure if this is their last Sunday with us one of the challenges that precludes establishing many congregations that can self-finance?

D: “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.”

M: I am not sure that that is an inherently bad thing. In fact, I am convinced that it is a good thing. As a member of a Presbyterian denomination I am frequently distressed when I hear complaints from my peers that can be caricaturised as, ‘if only we were independent evangelicals.’ What I mean is that Evangelical Anglicans have more in common with Anglicans than with other evangelicals. Why? Because Evangelical unity has thus far proved, at its worst, to be an exercise in “what’s the minimum doctrinal content that we can get away with?” Whereas the terms conservative and liberal are meaningful when talking about the same denomination. So, in my denomination a conservative is anyone that upholds the faith as it is expounded in such documents as the 1823 Calvinistic Methodist Confession of Faith. Conversely, a liberal has a somewhat loose affiliation the common faith. Furthermore, a conservative Anglican has fellowship with all other Anglicans that have faithfully upheld their confession throughout space and time. What I am saying is that evangelicalism has a tendency towards relegating important historical distinctives to secondary, and thus relatively unimportant, categories.

D: “What this means is that the choice being asked is not merely unity and truth but also between two types of unity… which unity will you prioritise? What is essential to you? Is it bishops, an established church, paedo-baptism… is it the reliability and sufficiency of Scripture?”

M: This is a false choice. Unity in what sense? Take baptism – who should be baptised? I believe that those who profess their faith and their children should be baptised. I find that position in the reliable and sufficient Scriptures. However, other evangelicals, equally committed to the sufficiency and reliability of the Scriptures do not see the situation in the same light. The best, in so far as unity is concerned, that evangelicals can say is something like, “baptism is very important.” My point is that the situation is a lot more complex than it appears. It is not, simply put, a question of unity with us evangelicals out here or death with them liberals in the denominations. It is more a question of, what does a conservative and, therefore, biblically faithful expression of the 39 Articles (in this instance) look like. For what it is worth, I think that where it exists it looks different to many evangelical churches.

To conclude, let us assume that there are good reasons for people having the denominational affiliations that they have. And that some of those reasons, at the very least, have nothing to do with tradition but have to do with doctrinal commitments. Surely the most basic of these doctrinal commitments is one’s answer to the question, “is this body a church or not?” If we are a Christian and are in a church, then we have to very good reasons to leave it!

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