ReNew: united, confessing, missional

Sep 24, 2014 by

by Andrew Symes:

Is the Commitment signed on Tuesday by delegates at the ReNew conference a manifesto for schism? In a word, no.  The document begins with a promise to pray and work for a broad vision: “a nation of healthy, local Anglican churches”. This of course implies that there are not enough churches in the nation; many of them are not “healthy” in the sense of being Christ-centred, bible-based and Spirit-filled, growing and influencing society around them. The Renew movement sees the number one answer to the crisis of spiritual decline in England as the development and strengthening of local congregations based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This could be seen as a congregational ecclesiology if it stopped there, but there is a recognition of the importance of episcopacy providing oversight and facilitating the work of mission at the local level.

The partnership of Church Society with Reform means that there remains a strong commitment to working within the existing structures of the Church of England. There is a real desire to take Archbishop Welby at his word,  that as Conservative Evangelicals are considered to be part of authentic Anglicanism and encouraged to “flourish” (according to the July statement on Women Bishops), so churches in this tradition should be encouraged to grow and multiply. However while there is appreciation for those called to sit on Synods and be engaged in C of E politics, there will be no attempt to try to gain control of the structures; rather to grow a movement of like minded Anglican churches across the country. The strategy is to secure a good future for those churches which are currently strong and vibrant; to establish an evangelical ministry in many churches which are currently middle of the road and Gospel-lite; and to plant new congregations. Often these new ministries can be carried out successfully as part of a plan by the local Deanery and approved by the Bishop.

The controversial part of the commitment is the recognition that there will be times when pioneering new congregations will on occasion mean operating without Diocesan approval, and the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) is the mechanism to enable this. As we heard in various case studies during the day and a half together, there are various scenarios where new congregations have emerged wanting to be Anglican, or where growing parishes have felt the need to establish another presence, a daughter congregation, in a large area of population where the existing parish church is of a totally different churchmanship and is making little impression. Rather than welcome such fresh expressions of Christian life and growth, and eagerly own it as part of the Diocese, many in the official leadership structures block such moves, often through prejudice against conservative evangelical theology. It was emphasised at the conference that in such cases, the aim is not to be “gung-ho” and deliberately rebellious, but rather, after respectful negotiation sometimes over many months, if it becomes impossible to reach agreement, the furtherance of the Gospel must take precedence over niceties of protocol. Such new congregations wanting to maintain an Anglican identity can do so with oversight from AMiE, their panel of Bishops, and their oversight from the GAFCON Primates.

On the issue of women Bishops, there was a restatement of the ‘complementarian’ understanding of gender and ministry roles, a sense of disappointment with the outcome of the July votes and concern for the future, but not belligerence or refusal to try to work with what has been offered. However on the general theological trajectory of the Church of England, particularly in relation to the most obvious current application of attitude to same-sex relationships, there was a determination to “stand firm”, to refuse to compromise, accommodate to cultural trends or abandon clear biblical teaching. In the main theological input of the conference, Mike Ovey, Principal of Oak Hill Theological College focussed on the person and work of Christ, which included the thesis that much theological heterodoxy stems from envy of the divine Sonship of Jesus, wanting to be his equal and refusing to submit to his authority. While there would have been differing views among those at the Conference about where to draw ‘lines in the sand’ and when and how to protest against potential or actual major doctrinal and ethical changes in the policies of the C of E, there was unanimity on the glory of the Gospel and the dangers of teaching and practice which deny or undermine it. The “Shared Conversations” should not necessarily be boycotted on principle, but some preconditions for taking part, such as recognising that all Anglicans even those with extreme revisionist views should be treated as brothers and sisters in Christ, would be very problematic. Several times from the platform and the floor the importance of working in unity with other evangelical Anglicans who share the same message and mission was expressed, even though there might be disagreement about the roles of men and women in leadership; however formalising such relationships on a wider scale would always be secondary to ministry in and through local churches.

The ReNew vision then is about uniting confessing Anglicans in mission. More needs to be done to grow in numbers, increase resources, develop research and improve communication. Those who complained that they just wanted to be free to preach the Gospel in their local area without “faffing around with politics” were gently reminded from the front that engagement with wider issues including ecclesiastical and national politics is essential if we are to remain free to preach the Gospel we cherish. But delegates left on Tuesday afternoon with a strong sense of optimism that although anti-Gospel secularism may be growing greater in Church and nation, there is a growing movement of orthodox Christian leaders that has emerged, doing church locally, prayerful, ready to support one another.

Revd Andrew Symes

Executive Secretary
Anglican Mainstream
+44 (0) 1865 883388

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