The launch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (UK and Ireland) on 6 July was an answer to my prayers. I had feared that orthodox Anglicans, who share a common commitment to the essentials of our faith and a concern about departures from it within the Church of England and wider Anglican Communion, would spend more energy disagreeing over their different strategies for the defence and proclamation of the gospel than in supporting one another and working together for Christ in our church and nation. GAFCON gave me a glimpse of another possibility: a wide spectrum of believers including Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals of all shades, joining together in one united movement for the cause of Christ in the Anglican Communion in the light of great opportunities for mission and serious departures from the apostolic gospel. The existence of a national FCA provides us, I believe, with a God given opportunity. It is urgently needed for the following reasons:
1. To support the beleaguered orthodox overseas
FCA is committed to supporting Anglicans around the world who are suffering because of their commitment to the orthodox faith in dioceses and provinces that have departed from it. TEC is currently spending very large sums of money on deposing clergy and dispossessing churches. Both those who have formed the ACNA and others who have remained in TEC need to know that they are not alone and can rely on our prayers and partnership, as do the orthodox in a number of other countries who face great difficulties. Their situations are urgent now and can not wait for the outcome of the proposed Anglican Covenant process, which is anyway likely only to address questions of order rather than the issue of defending orthodox belief.
2. To resist a drift from orthodoxy in the Church of England
Although the situation in TEC is especially bad, there is certainly no room for complacency closer to home, especially in Scotland and Wales. There is a good number of supportive, orthodox bishops in the Church of England and General Synod has not gone down the heterodox road of the General Convention in sanctioning immorality and yet there is much to cause deep concern. In recent years the lack of almost any doctrinal discipline has had alarming results, with the Cost of Conscience survey of 2002 revealing that from a half to a third of clergy do not believe core doctrines such as the physical resurrection, the virgin birth or the uniqueness of Christ in salvation. There already exist two irreconcilable understandings of the Christian faith which can not ultimately be held together. We must not be naive and fail to notice the gradual slide away from the truth because of the salami tactics of revisionists who are often careful not to overreach themselves and bring things to a head before they are likely to win the victory, but rather gradually establish facts on the ground, thus undermining the orthodox faith slice by slice. Given this reality, FCA must offer a robust defence against the false gospel and be a bulwark for the truth.
3. To support the beleaguered orthodox in England
While we ourselves may work in supportive dioceses we must recognise that some are not so fortunate. There is ample evidence of ordination candidates being discriminated against, clergy finding doors closed when they look for new posts or seek support for initiatives because they are regarded as “too narrow” and increasing numbers of clergy and congregations now find themselves “on the edge” because of their principled objection to the heterodox stance of the diocesan bishop. The FCA is needed to provide an opportunity for a broader group to offer them solidarity and support.
4. To prevent defections by orthodox Anglicans
A united body of the orthodox will be a spur to those who may already be tempted to give up on the Church of England. It should also make it less likely that different groups gradually defect into little offshoots such as the Church of England Continuing (Reform) or (Forward in Faith) or (New Wine). It is well known that members of FCA worldwide and in England hold different views on women’s ministry. While retaining our distinctives and different associations it is vital that we maintain our partnership for the gospel despite differences on this point. FCA provides an opportunity for a united body in which orthodox believers from the two integrities insist together that those who in conscience can not accept women bishops must receive adequate legally enforceable provision. We must do all we can to prevent orthodox Anglicans from leaving the Church of England and to resist the success of a divide and rule strategy.
5. To promote mission
This fifth point is surely the most important for evangelicals and undergirds the others. The reason that we should work together for the cause of the true faith in the Church of England is not, above all, for the church but for the world. We must not only ensure the preservation of the authentic gospel but also do all we can to get it out to people where they can hear it. This, as the Archbishop of Canterbury and many others recognise, will require not just the maintenance of old patterns of parochial ministry but also fresh approaches. Many evangelical churches have found that despite the talk of “mission shaped church” their attempts to apply these principles have been met by obstacles and opposition from other clergy and some have felt bound to proceed despite opposition because of the urgency of gospel proclamation. While taking care not to endorse an unprincipled pragmatism the FCA can play an important role in encouraging responsible yet radical mission.
It is vital that orthodox Anglicans stand together in the cause of the gospel for the sake not just of our church but, above all, for those who do not know Christ.
Friday, 16 October 2009
Why I Praise God for the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans
This week Vaughan Roberts writes in the Church of England Newspaper "Why I praise God for the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, to which I simply want to add a hearty "Amen, Amen".