Julian Mann is sceptical about the poten tial impact of the impending Global Anglican Future Conference, and suggests that Lambeth provides a better opportunity for proclaiming a strong message
For western evangelicals and for those from parts of the Anglican Communion where orthodoxy is in the ascendant, such as Sydney, the question needs to be put: will GAFCON prove to be anything more than a holy huddle in the Holy Land?
Holy-huddle-ism is unfortunately a modern evangelical disease. Evangelicals gather in large churches, usually in wealthier areas, often commuting out of their communities to get there, in many cases on their way driving past several smaller and struggling churches that they could help to turn around. In this, sadly, we evangelicals take our cue from our leaders.
It was not always so, as Reform Trustee Jonathan Fletcher has shown in his masterly booklet, recently published: Back to the Future: Reforming the Church of England - Learning from the Past <http:// www.reform.org.uk/pages/bb/backto-future.phpx In the eighteenth century, evangelicals were risk-takers who moved out of their comfort zones and took their cue from their leaders, men like William Grimshaw, Samuel Walker, John Berridge and Henry Venn.
Said Jonathan Fletcher: 'We must realize that what those evangelical heroes of the eighteenth century did was to go to funny little places and make them strategic through teaching the Bible, and if we want to win the country, that is what we must do.'
He continued: 'By the same token, it is rather sad that evangelicals have got a bad reputation of not going to Urban Priority Areas, such that when St Nicks Tooting was advertised as an evangelical church only two people applied for it. We will not win the country unless we can stick with those sorts of places.
The model that Holy Trinity Brompton in London has given us of planting in existing parish churches that are about to close and giving them new life is remarkable. We must not lose those opportunities.'
Based on his own experience, he had an interesting perspective on church planting, very much in the limelight in GAFCON circles: 'There is a very important place for church planting. We at
Emmanuel, Wimbledon, did that ourselves twenty years ago when we planted a church at Dundonald.
I was summoned up before the bishops who were threatening to take away my licence. I took with me Brigadier David Stileman who knew how to stand up to bishops. He kept on calling the bishop 'General' - 'Bishop, you're our General, our Chief of Staff.' After a bit he said to the then Bishop of Southwark: 'See if I can put this very simply - I'm just a plain ordinary soldier: in doing this church plant, Emmanuel is trying to preach the Gospel, and you are trying to stop that - have I got that right?'
The bishop did a sort of goldfish act and nothing came out.
'We must do church planting but, having said that, church planting can become a form of idolatry. I was very liberated at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly a few years ago, which was on church planting. Dick Lucas (former Rector of St Helen's, Bishopsgate, City of London) stood up and said that he was not a 'church planter', he was a 'church plodder', despite the fact that St Helen's provided one of the most innovative and effective forms of evangelism of the twentieth century.
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'We are all wanting to grow, but St Helen's wanted to give. People would come to the lunch hour service, and they would be sent back to their little, struggling, probably slightly unorthodox churches, and even some who came to our mid-week Bible classes were sent back to the churches where they lived.'
Mr Fletcher's prophetic comments have got under my skin - partly because I was privileged to prepare them for publication, based on his address to the Reform national conference in 2007.
As an evangelical Anglican minister in a small and previously non-evangelical parish church in the north of England, I believe it would be much better for the cause of biblical truth, where it is being most desperately contested, if the orthodox bishops of the Anglican Communion came to Lambeth and by means of a published resolution declared themselves out of communion with The Episcopal Church and called for its expulsion from the Anglican Communion. That resolution would be backed by a refusal to take Holy Communion with the false teachers from TEC and their supporters.
'Oh, but we've already done all that and it's made no difference.' In respectful response: good church discipline is surely like good comedy - it's a question of timing. Lambeth 2008, the next worldwide gathering after Resolution 1.10, is the time to do it.
Of course, this would be uncomfortable for all the orthodox involved, but as the Archdeacon of Chester, Donald Allister, so memorably put it in the 2008 Oak Hill Yearbook: As Jesus said (I can't find the reference right now), 'Follow me and I'll help you stay in your comfort zone?
I cannot see how GAFCON will make any more impact on ordinary parish churches in the liberal-dominated western world than the large gathered churches and their church plants are currently making. Very little, because of holy-huddle-ism. If I have already got the virus, going to a conference of fellow-sufferers in the Holy Land is unlikely to cure me.
Meanwhile in the unholy UK, as the Gene Robinson Show comes to town, there is a media war to be fought for a Christian vision of marriage and the family, both for the sake of the Church and society. Why let smooth-talking Gene and his Stonewall PR machine win it hands down, pressing all the right postmodern buttons with his victim-status pleading and his spurious argument that the right to sin and call it Christian is a matter of equality and justice?
The sad reality is, because holy-huddle-ism is so deep-rooted in modern evangelical Anglicanism, GAFCON is unlikely to make much impact for our Lord Christ in those parts of the Anglican Communion where false teaching is at its most virulent; a public stand at Lambeth could.
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