Postcard from London
John Stott (1921-2011) evangelical statesman and longtime rector of All Souls Langham Place in London, left many legacies. Among them is the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC), created in 1960 as a “network of networks, bringing evangelicals in the Church of England together.”
The CEEC’s fortunes have ebbed and flowed over the years, not least because evangelical unity can be elusive. Lord Coggan, the 101st Archbishop of Canterbury from 1974 to 1980 and a man with firm evangelical convictions, once famously called evangelicals “fissiparous, inclined to divide.”
In recent years the CEEC has worked hard to address the unity question. It was once in the hands of a mainly conservative faction that claimed to be the only legitimate expression of evangelicalism. There was tension over its custodianship of the fourth National Evangelical Congress in 2003. Its attempt to secure adoption of the Jerusalem Declaration, the fruit of the first Global Anglican Futures Conference in 2008 brought these issues to a head and a period of rebuilding followed.
Patient work brought the CEEC back on track and under a revised constitution, and former critics from within the constituency now nestle within the fold. Members now must live with difference, not least on issues such as women in the episcopate, which a minority of members oppose.
Now the CEEC faces what is probably its sternest test yet. Conservative evangelicals were deeply disturbed by events at the July sessions of the General Synod. In their view, two votes — calls for services to welcome transgender persons and a ban on conversion therapy — crossed a line.
On July 25 the Daily Telegraph published an open letter signed by 23 Anglican conservatives. Most notable among the signatories is the Rt. Rev. Michael Nazir-Ali, former Bishop of Rochester.
The group’s chief spokesman, the Rev. Gavin Ashenden, told the Telegraph there is a risk of a “revolt in the form of an independence movement.”
“There are now effectively two opposed expressions of Anglicanism in this country,” the open letter says. “One has capitulated to secular values, and one continues to hold the faith ‘once delivered to the saints.’ We and others stand with the majority of faithful Anglicans across the globe, in prioritizing Scripture and the unanimous teaching of the universal Church over secular fashion.”
An energetic campaign is encouraging evangelicals to sign up to the open letter.
Many will not endorse the open letter. The Rt. Rev. Graham James, the Bishop of Norwich, often deals with the media on behalf of the church, and he responded with a letter to the Telegraph.
“The threefold sources of authority in the Church of England are scripture, tradition and reason, with scripture as the foundation,” James wrote. “Nothing agreed at the recent synod undermines that.”
General Synod voted against conversion therapy, but “did not seek to prevent prayer or accredited counselling for people uncomfortable with their sexuality,” he wrote.
There is another straw in the wind. The Diocese of Southwark announced it would not renew a license to officiate for the Rt. Rev. Andy Lines. He was consecrated in the United States on June 30 as GAFCON’s Missionary Bishop for Europe.
Since 2000 he has served as CEO of Crosslinks, one of several missionary agencies within the Church of England. Lines said he expected a small number of parishes to place themselves under his leadership. The Church Times quoted him as warning against a “free for all” in the Church of England.
The mettle of the CEEC is sure to be tested in the next few weeks. It has been relatively quiet for years, but it will need to meet this issue head on. At stake are questions of ecclesiology, on which evangelicals in the Church of England are hardly in full agreement.