Sunday, June 11, 2006

More evidence

More evidence, if any is needed, for my evangelical culture war hypothesis. Why does the Church of England, in England, need two evangelical 'networking' organisations? I use the word networking because I'm not sure how else to describe Fulcrum and Reform. As far as I can see the websites don't even link to each other - to paraphrase, how sweet it is when brothers network in unity - it wouldn't take much, would it?

Now, I know the CofE is a very large and a very complicated social institution - and, I guess the history of Anglican Evangelicalism has been told in one or two places, either through biographies of prominent churchmen, or in other books or articles. But can it really sustain two evangelical pressure groups? This post was inspired by reading Ruth Gledhill's blog coverage of the Richard Coekin case. I had heard that it was basically good news for evangelicals - but Andrew Goddard's Fulcrum article suggests that the judgement is more subtle - evangelicals will have to tow the line and decide whether they can honour canon law, including their ordination oaths.

What a strange thing this all is? Two or three issues - certainly the role of women and the homosexuality debate (Fulcrum and Reform seem to agree on gay sex at least) - are unravelling our churches before the eyes of the faithful. To all intents and purposes many churches look the same from the outside - people gather together, sing songs (usually Kendrick or Redman), close their eyes for prayers, listen to a sermon, and have tea or coffee before going home for lunch. But under that outer surface there is a melting pot, where leaders agree or disagree about what the Bible does or doesn't say about certain things. And they form groups with very similar mission statements to mark dividing lines on issues that are really quite well defined, and historically troublesome (see this post by CG about his latest book).

In Scotland, in the CofS, we have Forward Together, One Kirk, and Affirmation Scotland. All these seem far less developed than equivalent Anglican organisations. But to some extent they are all demonstrating their existence by majoring on issues rather than vision, mission, or strategy. FT seeks to maintain the evangelical heritage of the Kirk, Affirmation Scotland seeks a truly evangelical church, One Kirk wants to discern the meaning of the gospel of Jesus for Scotland today - but they have all come to prominence in the wrangle over civil partnerships.

I think that all these organisations, that is, their leaders, know that their respective denominations are doomed - beached whales, left by a cultural tide that has shifted the shore lines. Beached whales can suffer terribly. Perhaps church history has been kind to all those little churches that just get on with living out their expression of the gospel as they understand it - churches with loose confessions of faith, loose federal connections, and very little care for office and church government. Yes, there are terrible stories of people (leaders and followers, pastors and sheep) suffering in smaller churches. But at least there is very little institutional division.

Anyone got any ideas, or any notions, for another pressure group? Perhaps a networking group would be more in keeping with the times? How about, a loose affiliation of people who are tired of talking about how bad church is in these days of decline? Okay, that's the http sorted. Now, if only we had a mission statement...


Simon Varwell said... sounds like an ace idea! Although perhaps I'd suggest that bigchurchesspendtoomuchtimegetting- might be more of an accurate name.

So many things not worth dividing over are getting talked about when we should be talking about much more relevant issues, eg poverty, war, mission and such like.

Maybe the big churches suffer from this due to both size and also a traditionally high profile politically and culturally? Just a thought...

Danny said...

Think I would set up a rival network (in keeping with the current trend) Simon is spot on though (his http name hits the nail on the head), big churches have a lot of political, cultural and traditional baggage which is not easily shed (no pun intended).We either have to accept that and work with it, or despite it, or we leave and set up our own wee churches with which history is littered! Problem is that every wee church has the potential to become big and successful thus eventually developing the same problems as the big church from which it originally split!

C G said...


I love the idea of 'towing' the line (sic) - at least that way it's always where I'm at. I find it quite a different matter to 'toe' the line, however ...


J. B. Hood said...


first time poster--I'm a postgrad (PT distance, so not living in scotland) at HTC, Dingwall (and Aberdeen via our relationship with them for postgrad validation).

I would say that you guys in CoS are much better off than the equivalent stateside, as the evangelicals (at least the number of evangelical pastors) is quite high. One potential danger with advocacy groups in our country is that they tend to be a route toward schism. Maybe this isn't a danger, but a good thing; but if you're gaining influence in the Church, why head that direction?

What's needed may not be more advocacy groups per se, but good schools with committed evangelical profs (you've got that) and Xians who live with the radical, selfless love of Jesus.