Strategic Consideration for Reform Members


I want to talk for the next half hour about our strategy for the future. We know that the events of the summer changed the outlook for us, but many of us don’t quite know in what way. Our situation is a bit like the present financial crisis, where it takes a long time for what happens to the banks to trickle down to the shop floor.

Put briefly, what happened last summer was that we witnessed three key developments.

First, there was a crisis of leadership. Lambeth failed to make any difference to the divisions in the Anglican Communion. Church of England bishops failed to follow the Archbishop of Canterbury’s lead at the General Synod over the proposals for women bishops. And it was GAFCON that picked up the baton so far as leadership in the Communion was concerned.

Secondly, we saw what an Anglicanism united in the Gospel and dedicated to mission could look like. At GAFCON in the summer, there was a joy and sense of purpose that could once again commend Christ to the world. It also showed what had to be done to defend the Gospel. It opened up a route for orthodox Anglicans to take when their own dioceses or Provinces are being led astray. GAFCON gave a clear commitment to providing alternative structures of support.

And thirdly, we saw the intolerant face of liberalism as General Synod took decisions which will severely hamper the future development of our ministry.

In the face of this, what should we do?

The first thing to say is that our priority must be to keep our focus on the Gospel.  This may sound an obvious thing to say and yet unless we do that we can easily find ourselves drawn into a world of politics that is increasingly distant from the real needs of people.

I was reminded of this last month by two events in the life of my own parish church. The first was when I took part in a preaching conference organised by the Gospel Partnership in Devon and Cornwall and led by David Jackman.  I went to that conference with a particular issue on my mind: and that was whether I should address issues of growth in my own congregation by starting a new service. As we studied Ephesians together and saw the glorious effect of the Gospel in uniting people with very different outlooks, I realised that part of the motivation underlying the desire for this new service was to segregate members of the congregation by their musical and liturgical preferences.  If I was to be a servant of the Gospel, I knew that I would have to go back to the drawing board.

The second event was when I found myself preaching on the theme of unity. I wanted to address the sort of criticism that Katherine Jefferts Schori made last week in attacking the decision of the Diocese of Pittsburgh to secede from the US Episcopal Church. She said that schism was often seen as a more egregious error than heresy. So I went back to those wonderful lectures which John Woodhouse gave at the Reform Conference in 2004.  We published them in a booklet entitled “Unity That Helps and Unity That Hinders”.  If you have not read them, I urge you to do so.  John showed how unity was revealed as God’s plan from the very beginning of the Bible in the Garden of Eden; how the Fall led to the scattering of mankind and later, due to their unfaithfulness, the scattering of Israel. But the prophets kept saying God’s purpose was to bring back together again those whom He has scattered, under one king.  What is so wonderfully demonstrated in the New Testament - in Christ’s prayer for unity, in Paul’s description of everything in heaven on earth being brought together under one head; and in the great gathering before the throne in Revelation - is how God’s purposes are fulfilled through the work of the Gospel. It follows then that the clearer we are about the nature of the Gospel the more we will play our part in creating godly unity.


But the Gospel both unites and divides.  To some it has the fragrance of life and to others it is a stench of death.  So as we focus on the Gospel, we can expect a reaction both of growing godly unity and evidence too of division.

These two events in my own life have reminded me in the last month how much we need to keep our focus on the Gospel.  As we do that, it will be the Gospel that reassures us that we are working for godly unity and not disunity and it will be the Gospel that shapes the way we go about organising ourselves. 

So where do these gospel considerations lead us for the future?

The answer is that they should lead us into a growing gospel fellowship on the one hand and to the development of alternative oversight on the other.

Taking alternative oversight first: the reason we’re interested in Episcopal oversight at all is that we believe in being part of an Episcopal church for good theological and pragmatic reasons. We are not Congregationalists in that we believe it biblical to be connexional. It is right therefore that it should not simply be the local congregation that validates its own senior ministry. Nor, as David Holloway pointed out a couple of years ago are we Presbyterian with its belief in a regulative principle. "Good" episcopacy is part of the "bene esse" of the church, in providing personal rather than committee leadership. However, where the teaching and actions of a bishop promote an unbiblical way of thinking, then we simply have to look elsewhere for a bishop. If we fail to do this then  our congregations will not see us taking New Testament teaching seriously and the process of accommodation will continue.

Seeking alternative oversight is not necessarily a confrontational act. For a start it doesn’t mean finding alternative oversight for everybody. For many of us, our existing diocesan bishops are orthodox men who are fully supportive of our ministries. Such men need our support not our rebuke. To say that alternative oversight is key to a strategy for addressing our present difficulties is not to say that it should apply across the board.

We need to recognise secondly that the Church of England already accepts that there may be circumstances where alternative oversight is needed. When, in response to last July’s General Synod, John Richardson urged evangelicals, once again, to sign up to Resolution C and thus come under a flying bishop, what he did was entirely consistent with the law and accepted church of England practice. I realise that such bishops only have delegated powers and to that extent are not genuinely alternative. I want publicly to pay tribute to John’s vigour and engagement with these issues as he seeks to find ways of demonstrating to the wider denomination the folly of the decision taken last July. While I am at it, I would also like to thank him for the ways he has made it possible for parishes to line up with the Jerusalem Declaration. 

The third reason for arguing that alternative oversight does not have to be confrontational is that it can provide a positive way forward from our present difficulties. Last week I wrote to all Diocesan Bishops prior to the meeting of the House of Bishops and asked them what sort of provision they personally would be prepared to make for those of us who will be unable to accept the ministry of women bishops. One reply I received acknowledged that a Code of Practice would be unable to provide us with any real assurance about the future of our ministries and then said that what was needed was something which gave the same sort of certainty to us as the creation of a separate diocese would, but didn’t actually create a separate diocese. It seems to me that this is something we could work at. The Church of England is used to the existence of religious communities each having their own Episcopal Visitor, chosen by them. It makes provision for such communities to come into being. The Manchester Report was rather dismissive of the idea on the grounds that it was only really relevant in the Roman Catholic Church, but it spent no time at all examining what actually happens in the Church of England. It seems to me that here we have an option that could really help if a way could be found of enabling acknowledged communities to cover parishes and not just individuals and if we could also ensure the availability of godly Episcopal Visitors. Ever since the July vote, bishops have been voicing their uneasiness with the result not least because so many of them want the Church to remain true to her Elizabethan heritage of tolerance and inclusion. I intend, with the Council’s agreement to outline a proposal to them to see whether or not they really mean this.

But we’re not holding our breath. It may be that we will be listened to. It may be that when a vote in General Synod is eventually taken, these intolerant legislative proposals will be defeated. But that may not happen.

This is one reason why we must take forward the agenda of alternative oversight even if the Church of England cannot currently find a way to accommodate it. But in order to  outline what we need to do, I need to turn to the second element of our strategy: the growth of Gospel fellowship.

This, I believe, is where GAFCON comes in. Reform has been an ardent supporter of GAFCON. We raised over £65,000 to support the attendance of bishops from the Developing World. Many members of Reform were present in Jerusalem. I personally was thrilled to be invited to join the Statement Group that put in words what the conference wanted to see as the end product of our time together. Much was achieved – not least a definition of Anglicanism that puts reformed theology at its heart.

And it was GAFCON that mobilised the troops. On 1st July at All Souls hundreds of evangelical clergy and church wardens gathered to hear about what had happened and to be challenged by Peter Jensen to set a lead in obedience to the Bible and sacrifice for the Gospel; to teach our congregations about the issues at stake without being put off by worries that we might be fomenting disunity; and to be part of active evangelical fellowships. Huge momentum was created and if we are at all interested in reforming the wider church, then we must build on that momentum and not be put off by the thought that GAFCON contains such a spread of churchmanships.

So what needs to happen now?

What we now need to see happening is the early development of a leadership team in the UK for a Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans so that the GAFCON agenda can be carried forward over here.  We need to show the wider denomination what it ought to be concentrating on when it meets in its synods, when it appoints its bishops and when it engages in outreach and international support for mission.  We look to the signatories of the Covenant to carry this forward.

Some, I know, will be sceptical about whether a body made up of different traditions can really co-operate sufficiently to achieve something specific. There are currently some 25 church congregations that are either being denied oversight by Bishops or are in impaired communion. They are looking to GAFCON for recognition as authentic Anglican congregations and for help in securing oversight. So could a fellowship, made up of different traditions, really steel itself for action by asking GAFCON Primates to endorse the consecration of bishops who could exercise alternative oversight? We know the difficulties: such a Fellowship would not necessarily be agreed on women’s ministry; those who currently need alternative oversight do so for a variety of reasons, not all of which are connected to the big issue of Biblical authority and human sexuality; and some evangelical networks are not yet fully convinced about the purpose of the Jerusalem Declaration.

But this is not a time to be timorous. The fact that so many across the world could be brought together in such a short time at Jerusalem and achieve so much should surely encourage us to aim high, here in England. And if we’re going to do that, I want to encourage each of us in our network to pursue four objectives:

First, education.

What lies behind the global realignment of Christianity to which Chris Sugden was referring earlier, is the clear conviction that two religions are crystallising within worldwide Anglicanism.  One is based on the Word, the other on the World.  From time to time the alternative religion is clearly on display; when Jesus Christ’s uniqueness as the Saviour of the world is questioned; when congregations are taken to court in the USA; services of blessing take place at Smithfield for same sex couples; or when General Synod lets the mask of inclusiveness slip and shows itself determined to pursue an exclusively liberal agenda on women bishops. 

But at the level of the congregation it is not always clear that a choice has to be made between which religion to follow.  Some events – particularly those in the USA and Canada – can seem very distant.  Debates at General Synod can be seen as one - off examples of something not going quite right.  Rowan Williams can be seen simply as a good and intelligent man trying to hold fighting factions together and therefore as the embodiment of what the Bible teaches about unity.  On top of all that, some diocesan bishops go out of their way to avoid controversy; there are frequent appeals to concentrate on those things which unite us; and many of our so-called evangelical bishops line up in support of Lambeth and the archbishops whenever they are called upon to show their true colours.  We have a great deal to do in order to inform and educate.  Fortunately, in the GAFCON Statement and Jerusalem Declaration we have a perfect opportunity for doing so.  I realised this when I was putting the Jerusalem Declaration to my own PCC.  

“Just what are the four ecumenical councils that we are being asked to support?”  was one question. 

I am ashamed to say that my answer was “I haven’t a clue, but I am sure I agree with them!”.

Then, although our PCC had been in session for some two hours already, I was asked about the Thirty-nine Articles that are so strongly affirmed in the Declaration.  So we opened our prayer books, and I went through them explaining how the articles had such a present day thrust and how they were under attack from proponents of the alternative religion.

When I had finished, the person who had originally asked me the question on the PCC said  “am I the only person here to have found that completely fascinating?”.

Needless to say I felt rebuked as a teacher but hugely encouraged too that the Jerusalem Declaration had given me the opportunity to make good at least some of the shortfall. 

I am delighted that the theological working group of GAFCON is developing a commentary on this summer’s work because I am sure that will help us in this process of education.  The Reform booklets that we are currently publishing should also help – and the next one due out is on what we should look for in our bishops.

We must continue to work at winning our congregations.

Secondly cooperation. 

I have already said that I think Reform has a key part to play in helping to develop a Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans here in the UK.  We have often been in the forefront of thinking and action.  Many of the very positive developments we see now have their genesis in work that Reform originally undertook. But we mustn’t delude ourselves that reform of the church can be achieved by us alone.  It will inevitably involve a wider spectrum of opinion.  So the question is, can we cooperate without losing our cutting edge?  I believe that this summer’s events show very clearly that we can.  We are also discovering new allies. On the General Synod, we started up discussions with a number of leading figures who we judged were orthodox and as a result a group of people has been formed who are so concerned about the direction of events that they have agreed to work together in defence of the gospel knowing full well that co-operation won’t be possible on every issue.

We all know people in our own dioceses who are absolutely with us on most issues but have never been able to bring themselves to join Reform. We have a unique opportunity now to encourage them in gospel partnership – in a Fellowship that won’t just be about words but will also be about action.

But while we need to cooperate, we also need to keep going as a Reform network.  We need to keep each other keen and we need to keep doing the radical thinking that will help lead the wider church forward.

Thirdly determination. 

At last year’s conference we agreed that we needed to press for the reform of the Church of England both by working within the present structures and by operating on the edge – taking a lead and seeking to draw others with us. To some extent the emerging Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans will be able to embody both those approaches.

But if action in both these ways is to happen, we must be determined to bring it about.

Would you allow me to ask you two questions? Your answer to these will show whether or not the strategy we are pursuing will work. The first is this: How many of us here have either considered standing for General Synod in 2010 or have asked a member of the congregation whether they would do so?

General Synod has enormous power to muck things up. We must encourage people who are capable of standing firm to stand for election. And don’t worry that you may be taking votes from someone else; the voting system we have operates by transferable vote, so you can never take votes away from anyone that way.

Here’s the second question: if your bishop said he wanted to encourage lifelong commitment between two actively gay people, what would your PCC do? Would they be prepared to declare themselves in impaired communion? Would they see the need for help from a bishop operating within the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans?

Fourthly, dissemination.

As we move towards the development of a Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and despite the fact that the very emergence of this fellowship indicates the reality of two religions within Anglicanism, we want to insist that we are not setting up a separate ecclesial organisation.  Rather, we are a fellowship operating within a wider federation.  And as a fellowship we seek to reach out to whoever wants to be a partner in the gospel.  We must win friends to the cause. 

As the two religions develop, our leadership will become increasingly schizophrenic.  General Synod has already become dysfunctional.  Some bishops appear to act as politicians responding to lobbying tactics rather than as shepherds of the flock.  Groups of likeminded people formulate voting tactics so that synodical processes can be used to subvert what is clearly the will of synod.  And once underway, the House of Bishop’s declares itself powerless to reverse the synodical process. 

The Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans needs to show that things can be done differently.  It needs to show how different objectives can be effectively pursued.  We need to move forward together in supporting one another internationally.  We need to develop English solutions to problems of oversight.  And we need to show how a synodical gathering could be convened and given an agenda that enables us all to serve the Gospel better.  My hope is that next year we will have a gathering of those who support the Fellowship at least twice as big as that which met last July.  And together we should decide on our priorities for the future.

There are many question marks about what all this will mean in terms of our institutions.  But the New Testament is remarkably free of institutional recommendations.  It may be that our affections have to become increasingly oriented towards confessing Anglicanism rather than the Church of England per se.  We do not know what the future holds in that respect. What we do know is that we are called to be faithful to the Gospel and to organise ourselves accordingly.


1  This conference welcomes the outcome of GAFCON, pledges the support of Reform for the resulting initiatives, and calls on evangelicals in the Church of England to show more courage in promoting the gospel and resisting unbiblical teaching.

2  This conference recognises that when bishops accommodate themselves to unbiblical teaching, they deny the faith and therefore abandon their sees.  In these circumstances it is vital that alternative oversight should be provided.

3  This conference calls on the House of Bishops to recognise that pursuing the General Synod Resolution on the preparation of legislation to allow the consecration of women bishops will permanently damage and narrow the Church of England unless full legislative protection is given to the ministry of those who cannot with integrity go along with this development.  We urge the House to present alternative proposals to the General Synod so that greater generosity of spirit can be displayed.

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