Evangelical Ministry Assembly

This week I attended the Evangelical Ministry Assembly in St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, London, and as well as enjoying the excellent addresses on the theme “Preaching that Connects”, I had the opportunity of catching up with some fellow pastors from the “mainland”. The EMA has grown in numbers in the past 29 years and all 850 places were booked by early April this year. The Assembly plans to move to the Barbican in 2013 so that they can accommodate many more people. It’s a good opportunity for evangelical ministers from many different denominations in the UK to share together. The conversations away from the formal sessions centred on the significant moves that are taking place in the churches in Scotland and England.

Following the Church of Scotland General Assembly, I have already reported on moves by some ministers and congregations within the Church of Scotland towards breaking with the denomination. I chatted with Dominic Smart, minister of Gilcomston South congregation in Aberdeen, and he reported that he had begun conversations with his presbytery to move out of the denomination. The conversations are friendly, and all legal opinions so far indicate that they will be able to retain their church building. But there is a process to be completed.

Some others were reflecting on a significant meeting in St George’s Tron in Glasgow last week when several hundred ministers and elders of the Kirk gathered to discuss their options. They wanted clear and decisive action to be taken. There is clearly a range of opinions among evangelical people on what is an appropriate response to the Church of Scotland’s apparent move to ordain and install practising homosexuals. While some are eager to break with the denomination, it seems that a significant number want to stay and uphold the traditional, biblical position. I talked to another Scottish colleague who pastors two small rural parishes in south-west Scotland and he expressed the desire to bring his congregations with him in any move that is made. But issues of property and finances are complex in any schism. But the chief response of many COS ministers to the trajectory taken by their General Assembly is one of sadness and a certain inevitability. Some even refer to it as betrayal.

On Wednesday, a new initiative among Anglican evangelicals was unveiled at the Assembly. It’s known as The Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) and is led by well-known evangelical men like Richard Coekin, William Taylor, Rico Tice and Vaughan Roberts. AmiE has been established as a new mission society within the Church of England dedicated to the re-conversion of England and biblical church planting. It’s an attempt to ensure that Anglican evangelicals can remain within the Church of England without compromising their views.

The launch of AMiE comes after four and a half years of discussions with senior Anglican leaders in England, including the Archbishop of Canterbury, about ways in which those who are genuinely in need of orthodox oversight in the Church of England can receive it. The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Bishops of London and Southwark were all made aware of this development before it took place.

The formation of the AMiE has been encouraged and supported by the Primates’ Council of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (GAFCON). There’s a steering committee chaired by Paul Perkin, the vicar of St Mark’s, Battersea Rise , and a panel of bishops that includes Michael Nazir-Ali, the retired Bishop of Rochester, and Wallace Benn, the current Bishop of Lewes.

Two weeks ago, three men from England were ordained by the Archbishop of Kenya in Garissa, Kenya for “ministry in the wider Anglican communion”. The ordination took place with the support of the GAFCON Primates’ Council. Pete, Phil and Matt were welcomed and prayed for at the EMA on Wednesday.

One minister from south-west London has reported to his congregation that he and his colleagues had talked with their bishop, the Bishop of Southwark, Christopher Chessun,  and on the presenting issue of homosexual activity, he said:

“though given almost a dozen opportunities to reassure us, pointedly neglected to confirm that he believed and would teach that only God-approved context for sexual activity is within heterosexual marriage. Therefore, the situation of temporarily impaired communion remains unchanged. We do not and must not recognise his spiritual authority over us because of his unwillingness to drive away erroneous doctrines, something that he promised to do at his consecration.”

One commentator put it like this:

Revisionists will no doubt express various degrees of outrage at the emergence of the AMiE, but it is in fact a godly and gracious initiative which offers some hope that the Church of England may yet avoid the same fate as TEC. This week’s deeply disingenuous compromise by which the Church of England has accepted that clergy in Civil Partnerships (which mimic marriage and are legally understood to be same sex sexual unions) can be bishops as long as they are celibate is just one more sign of the Church of England’s slow death and its chronic tendency to surrender biblical truth to the prevailing culture. Receiving the AMiE as the new wineskin of global Anglicanism could very well be its last chance ’to wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die’ (Revelation 3:2).

So in both Scotland and England there appear to be significant developments within the mainline churches on the issue of homosexuals in leadership within the church. It remains to be seen what long-term effects may result.