Then What Should We Do?
The following is the current editorial (December 1 & 8, 2000) of the English Churchman (1843) and St. James Chronicle (1761), and used by permission:–
A correspondent says it would be helpful to know in which direction the English Churchman considers ‘Reform’ should have decided to move at its October’s Conference (‘Readers Write’ 17 November).
‘Reform’ is an evangelical campaigning group in the Church of England. We expressed the opinion that Reform’s hopes of extending the remit of ‘flying bishops’ were unrealistic in the present climate. (‘Flying bishops’, properly known as ‘Parochial Episcopal Visitors’, act as bishops to the thousand or so parishes who have opted out of the jurisdiction of their local diocesan bishop because he ordains women.)
It is all part of a larger issue. Making a stand is not just a matter of proclaiming a point of view or bringing forward proposals or even tabling an amendment. It must contain an element of defiance. It is saying, ‘Either you change course or else…’
Church authorities seem to believe that the ‘Traditionalists’ in the Church of England, that is the Evangelicals and the Anglo-Catholics, are not prepared to suffer for their convictions, at least in any numbers. They seem to believe that the protests of the traditionalists amount to little more than sabre rattling, and that a soft answer will suffice to turn away their wrath.
At the Keele National Evangelical Anglican Conference held in 1967 Dr John Stott said:
It is a tragic thing, however; that Evangelicals have a very poor image in the Church as a whole. We have acquired a reputation for narrow partisanship and obstructionism. We have to acknowledge this, and for the most part we have no one but ourselves to blame. We need to repent and change. (Quoted by Iain H. Murray in Evangelicalism Divided. Banner of Truth. 2000)
Since that time, the Evangelical motto has been Constructive co-operation not confrontation. Our impression is that, unfortunately, the bishops understand these new Evangelical rules of engagement (or should we say disengagement) and seem to believe that they can call the Evangelical bluff.
The only weapon that the Evangelicals possess is a credible threat of secession. If the bishops were once convinced that the Evangelicals felt strongly enough about anything to secede as a body, we could expect them to behave very differently.
We have watched the Evangelicals retreat for half a century. It started with the revision of Canon Law in the early 1950s. If the Evangelicals had then told the bishops that they would not tolerate the proposed changes and that they would depart if the proposals were introduced, the story of the last 50 years would have been very different. All night prayer meetings were held at the time, hoping that the changes might not be introduced but, alas, they were introduced, and the Evangelicals meekly submitted.
Then came the downgrading of subscription to the 39 Articles. New, corrupt forms of service followed. Then women were ordained. Practising homosexuals were admitted to the ministry. The primacy of the Bishop of Rome was affirmed by General Synod. Bishops have begun publicly to promote the sodomite cause. Now female bishops are on their way. At every stage we have looked to the Evangelical clergy of the Church of England to draw a line in the sand and say: ‘Here we stand, and we mean it,’ but we have looked in vain. We understand that the Archbishop of York has said he will resign if women are made bishops. Dr Hope and the English Churchman do not agree on a lot of things, but we must grant him that he has the courage of his convictions and that he sets a shining example to Anglican Evangelicals.
Reform should forget John Stott’s strictures at Keele about being good Anglicans. Good Anglicans are not those who have a good image with the opponents of the Gospel. Good Anglicans are those who defend Reformation principles against clergy who take the pay of the Church of England to do the work of the Church of Rome, or who deny the Scriptures as the liberals do.
But are we seriously suggesting that the Evangelicals should contemplate secession? Professor Macleod told Church Society some years ago that they had not yet earned their right to secede from the Church of England. Before it thinks of secession, Reform must earn the right to secede. It must confront the authorities. It must declare, unequivocally, as a body, that the ordination of women is unscriptural, to say nothing of the ordination of sodomites, and that it will not tolerate such things any longer. It must set up the 39 Articles again in their proper place. It must refuse to have any part at all in any corrupt forms of service. It must expel those of its members who use vestments and such like. It must condemn the Church of Rome and its monstrous doctrines. Reform must be seen at Protestant public protests, or organise protests of its own. We must read in the newspapers of serial confrontations between Evangelicals and their bishops. We must hear of the righteous anger of the Evangelicals being expressed in speeches in Synod, until they are shouted down and ostracised. Reform must publish its terms and tell the bishops in words of one syllable what it is going to do if those terms are not met and the bishops must be convinced that it is prepared to do it. Dreaming of a Third Province is mere escapism.
Our correspondent says: ‘Undoubtedly, evangelicals who hold firmly to the inerrancy of scripture and the doctrine of justification by faith could easily be squeezed out of the Church of England. But should we let this happen without a struggle?’
To which we reply: What struggle? What could possibly squeeze the Evangelicals out of the Church of England? Our correspondent seems to feel that the initiative lies entirely with the Church authorities. The bishops will not squeeze the Evangelicals out. That is the last thing they want. They will just force the Evangelicals to pass under their yoke.
We hope we have answered the question.
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