We rejoice in the emergence of the ANGLICAN MISSION IN ENGLAND
by Richard Coekin, Director of Co-Mission
England is increasingly secularised and hostile to Christian faith and ethics and is consequently suffering immense social damage. It needs to be re-evangelised with the spectacular saving grace and transforming hope of the gospel of Christ crucified, risen and returning in glory. This is the cause to which the Anglican Mission in England (A.M.I.E.) is clearly committed and which Co-Mission wholeheartedly supports.
The Church of England has tremendous opportunities and resources to “make disciples of all nations” for Christ in England. But sadly, it has been moving along a theologically liberal trajectory. This is evident from a loss of confidence in basic Biblical doctrine concerning the uniquely saving substitutionary death, bodily resurrection and final judgement of Jesus Christ, a growing tolerance of homosexual practice in the churches and the failure adequately to provide for those unable to accept the oversight of women bishops. Such widespread departure from the saving power of the Biblical gospel in the Church of England has inevitably resulted in sustained and serious decline in its mission and in distraction by schismatic questioning of fundamental principles of Christian faith. A.M.I.E. will thankfully be committed to strengthening confidence in ministry that is shaped by the Biblical gospel of God as the power of God for the conversion of England.
There are many doctrinally orthodox and missionally effective clergy and congregations scattered throughout the Church of England (for the purposes of this paper “orthodox” is used to describe those committed to the Scriptural doctrine of the Anglican formularies as that has been helpfully interpreted in the Jerusalem Declaration of the Global Anglican Future Conference in 2008). However, some have found themselves obstructed or marginalised in faithful mission. They are under-represented in the House of Bishops and their theological views seem to be largely ignored in the corridors of denominational power in the name of a never-ending listening and debating process that appears to be waiting for culturally popular liberal conclusions to prevail.
For example, in the liberal Southwark Diocese where I work as a senior pastor and director of the Co-Mission church-planting network, we have been pushed into “temporarily impaired communion” with our Diocesan Bishop since 2005. This is because, despite Lambeth Resolution 1.10 (declaring that homosexual activity is wrong) he would offer us no assurance that he would teach that homosexual practice is sin and therefore something not to be tolerated among the clergy. As a matter of conscience under the Biblical command to “contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” with those “who change the grace of our God into a licence for immorality”, we cannot accept the oversight of a Bishop who refuses to teach such fundamental Biblical doctrine. The Bible is clear that un-repented wickedness (including homosexual practice) prevents us from inheriting the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). The refusal of church leaders to teach this truth with compassion and clarity imperils the salvation of gay people we seek to love in our community by suggesting that repentance isn’t necessary. In this conviction we have enjoyed warm fellowship within many Evangelical networks but have longed for orthodox Episcopal oversight within the Church of England that will support Biblical teaching in our church-planting movement.
We were therefore hugely encouraged by the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON) and its Jerusalem Declaration in 2008 and by the emergence of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (UK and Ireland). Now that, sadly, the new Bishop of Southwark has also recently declined to offer any assurance that he will teach that homosexual practice is a sin, we have finally been offered orthodox oversight from the Bishops of the Anglican Mission in England. We thank God for them! Theologically orthodox and evangelistically effective clergy and congregations who were being marginalised have now been provided with a home within the Church of England.
Nothing very strange or novel has happened. A recognised form of Anglican voluntary mission society has been established to enable theologically orthodox churches like ours to proceed with contemporary gospel ministry in the fellowship of the Church of England and gives us cause for great joy and thanks to our heavenly Father.
Let me try to briefly expand upon the purpose of the A.M.I.E., how it emerged, why we went to Kenya and then suggest different ways in which others could help.
What is the purpose of the Anglican Mission In England?
The name reveals the aim.
A.M.I.E. is ANGLICAN
A.M.I.E. is simply another mission society established within the Church of England for the evangelisation of England. It is dedicated to spreading the wonderful news of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord and encouraging Biblical church-planting in continuity with the best traditions of Anglican mission. While some with a liberal agenda are seeking to reinvent inconvenient Biblical doctrines and are therefore bringing schism into the Church of England (e.g. offering no solid provision for those unable to accept the oversight of unorthodox or woman Bishops) A.M.I.E. has been established to enable orthodox clergy and congregations to remain Anglican as we engage in gospel mission.
Its doctrine is the historic Anglican understanding of the Bible as described in Canon A5 and further clarified for contemporary issues in the Jerusalem Declaration issued by the Global Anglican Future Conference convened by the Primates Council of the international Anglican Communion (GAFCON) in 2008.
It is run by a steering committee with a panel of English Anglican Bishops (including Wallace Benn, Michael Nazir Ali, John Ball, John Ellison and Colin Bazley) who are all signatories to the Jerusalem Declaration. They are willing to provide different aspects of Anglican oversight for clergy and churches across England with needs of oversight that will greatly vary across Dioceses and over time (they can be assisted by orthodox senior Anglican clergy around the country who can function as “Deans of Mission” to help them manage situations at a local level). The steering committee and Panel of Bishops will naturally seek to support the ongoing mission of the churches in the recruitment, training, authenticating and deployment of able and godly gospel ministers of Jesus Christ. In this task they enjoy the support in this country of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (UK and Ireland), a broad body of Anglicans whose Executive Council chaired by Rev. Paul Perkin is recognised by the Primates Council of the international Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, as a legitimate voice of orthodox Anglicans in the UK.
A.M.I.E., like other such legally constituted societies in the Church of England, is certainly not a rival or alternative denomination. It has been formed precisely in order to enable orthodox Anglican clergy and congregations to remain Anglican. We hope and pray that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York will welcome and facilitate this provision of oversight for the orthodox and license those overseen by A.M.I.E. bishops.
Our Anglican Co-Mission churches want to remain Anglican because we rejoice in the Biblical faithfulness of our founding formularies and reformed Anglican heritage, in our multi-cultural global fellowship of orthodox Anglicans and in the special opportunities for mission still open to the Church of England. We rejoice that A.M.I.E. is Anglican!
A.M.I.E. is a Mission
A.M.I.E. has been formed to enable orthodox Anglican churches and clergy to engage fully in the task of evangelism in England. This is to be welcomed in a social context of increasing secularism and alternative spiritualities and in a denomination generally experiencing sustained and serious decline.
Unfortunately, there have been various instances in recent years of missionally effective evangelicals facing systemic prejudice in the discernment of their vocation to gospel ministry or obstruction in their creative church-planting or a refusal of recognition for their ministries or church-plants. Moreover, some orthodox ministers find themselves struggling with issues of conscience over accepting the oversight of a Bishop who offers little encouragement or leadership in evangelism while neglecting to teach sound doctrine and refute error or discipline clergy who live in unrepentant immorality. Others despair that their churches which are growing through effective gospel ministry are unfairly burdened financially for the maintenance of other churches that won’t proclaim the gospel.
A.M.I.E. is clearly committed to offering Episcopal leadership that encourages and protects missionally effective orthodox churches in Biblically faithful and culturally innovative patterns of evangelism and church-planting. We rejoice that A.M.I.E. is a Mission!
A.M.I.E. is in England
We are thrilled that this mission society is established in England and overseen by English Bishops. In our search for orthodox oversight, while we have celebrated the fellowship in Christ with provinces around the globe that was so evident at GAFCON in 2008, we have hoped for real and local oversight that understands our context within the Church of England.
We are delighted that three of our staff who have been validly ordained abroad are to be overseen by orthodox and reputable English Bishops of A.M.I.E. whom we know and who know us. These young men are outstanding gospel ministers who are now available to contribute to the mission of the Church of England.
We hope that clergy overseen by A.M.I.E. Bishops and those overseen by Diocesan Bishops will explore the normal opportunities for co-operation in Biblically faithful gospel ministry. We trust that the Bishops of A.M.I.E. and Bishops of the Dioceses will endeavour to lead by example with appropriate mutual respect and co-operation. There will clearly be lots of detailed governance to be worked out, but with patient generosity it must be possible to co-operate within the Church of England for the good of gospel ministry in this country and in the wider Anglican Communion. We rejoice that there is now a new Anglican Mission in England.
How has A.M.I.E. emerged?
The A.M.I.E. has emerged gradually from years of prayer and discussion. There have been more than 10 meetings over a period of 42 months since late 2006 between A.M.I.E. bishops and members of the executive Council of the FCA (UK and I) with the Archbishop of Canterbury and his representatives to explain the serious and growing problems among orthodox Anglo-catholic and Evangelical clergy and to request a solution. Following a large gathering of Evangelical clergy at All Souls Langham Place in July 2008 and a broader gathering of 1600 at the “Be Faithful” conference in Westminster Central Hall in July 2009 there has been considerable disquiet among orthodox clergy and congregations at the apparent paralysis of discussions and lack of active progress towards provision for the orthodox.
A religious society called the St. Augustine Society was established in 2010 amidst debate about how broadly the society should operate. A consensus emerged from various consultations that the society should exist for a range of needs among the orthodox in the cause of mission. That society is now called the Anglican Mission in England.
Earlier this year, a request to the Primates Council of the FCA for properly selected and trained English Anglican ordinands to be ordained for ministry in England in the fellowship of A.M.I.E. was granted. These ordinations were an obvious place to begin the effective ministry of A.M.I.E.. From among a wider group of men in need of such ordinations, three of our Co-Mission staff who had all been properly selected for training within London Diocese and have been involved in growing orthodox church-plants in Southwark but without the possibility of ordination and oversight from an orthodox Bishop, were, after thorough examination, commended by the A.M.I.E. Bishops for ordination abroad.
After their ordination as deacons for ministry in the wider Anglican Communion in Kenya according to the rites of the Church of Kenya, these men were then received back into this country and their ministries recognised by a gathering of 130 senior orthodox Bishops and clergy at a joyful inaugural event in London on June 21st. With the press release on the following day, June 22nd, the A.M.I.E. was now fully functional.
Out of a compassionate desire not to provoke media pressure around the ordinands and their families, limited information was initially provided. But there is no appetite for secrecy as the ordinations were entirely legal and properly conducted.
A.M.I.E. has secured for us the ordination of three Co-Mission staff who are gifted and godly ministers of the gospel, now made available to the Church of England in the future. They cannot claim to be Church of England clergy until the Archbishop of Canterbury agrees to their being licensed, but they can claim to be fully Anglican and part of the global Anglican communion. In this we greatly rejoice.
Why did we go to Kenya?
Our need for orthodox oversight goes back many years in Southwark Diocese. Discussions about provision for orthodox congregations like ours between Lambeth and the FCA (UK and I) since 2008 had taken so long that by early this year, not only had the previous Bishop of Southwark retired and an interregnum ensued but a new Bishop of Southwark was appointed bringing fresh hopes that we could resume full communion with the Diocese. We clearly needed to discover if the new Bishop would be orthodox in the presenting salvation issue of homosexual practice.
The Bishop of Kingston agreed in late 2010 to seek a meeting for me with the new Bishop as soon as was convenient but I heard nothing. In March 2011 I sent a letter of congratulations to the new Bishop with a request for a meeting to discuss our genuine hope of reintegration into the Diocese, but heard nothing. When the A.M.I.E. bishops secured an agreement from the Primates Council to provide ordinations abroad for our ordinands but having received no offer of a meeting for six months, I asked for an urgent meeting with the Bishop. In the presence of a small number of colleagues, we had a short but gracious and honest conversation. Sadly, when I asked the new Bishop repeatedly if he believes and will teach that homosexual practice is a sin, the presenting issue over which our relationship with the Diocese had been impaired, he offered no such assurance.
The Bishop was utterly pleasant and reasonable, and he understandably came to the meeting hoping to talk about issues on which we could agree and seek reconciliation. So did I. But we cannot accept oversight from any Bishop who is not orthodox on such fundamental matters of morality which imperil the salvation of the unrepentant. I genuinely came to the meeting in hope of orthodox oversight. But Bishops are required to teach sound doctrine and refute error and we need leaders to be speaking up on these vital contemporary issues as clergy have to do each Sunday to their congregations. We need support from our leaders in Biblical mission. He has repeatedly insisted that the Diocese of Southwark is no different from the Diocese of London where we operate in glad and full submission to the oversight of the Bishop of London. I have repeatedly explained that the difference is that the Bishop of London has assured us publicly that he believes and teaches that homosexual practice is sin and can be quoted as so doing. We need leaders to whom we can look for support when the Bible is being challenged by our society.
In these circumstances we accepted the offer of ordination abroad and I flew with three staff in need of ordination as deacons to Kenya. We spent three days travelling with the Archbishop of Kenya and many wonderful Kenyan clergy. There was no confusion among the senior Kenyans about what was happening or the significance of these events. There had been full discussion between the Primates Council and the A.M.I.E. Bishops about Canon Law and appropriate conduct. The Primates Council and Kenyan Bishops clearly share our concern about such theological departures within the Church of England, the nation that once sent missionaries to their country with the gospel.
As we travelled to a remote poverty-stricken area for the ordination service, we were experiencing the cultural breadth combined with theological orthodoxy for which we have been searching. The Archbishop was immensely impressive in his gently prayerful godliness, biblical teaching and spiritual wisdom. Our fellowship in Christ with the Kenyans being ordained and with the congregations celebrating the gospel was moving and uplifting. That we were willing to travel so far is an indication of our determination to remain Anglican without compromising the truth of the Gospel. We all felt humbled and honoured to share with our Kenyan brothers and sisters in our commitment to mission within the fellowship of the global Anglican Communion.
How might others respond?
We hope and pray that the Archbishops of Canterbury and York will welcome the emergence of A.M.I.E., extend warm fellowship to its Bishops, arrange for the licensing of its clergy and recognise its congregations so as to make provision for the orthodox in England.
We hope and pray that those who are sceptical or opposed to A.M.I.E. might recognise and approve of the commitment of those involved with A.M.I.E. to be wholeheartedly committed to mission within the Church of England.
We hope and pray that many orthodox clergy and congregations will want to become supporters who pray for A.M.I.E.. and take part in shaping its future, without needing the ministry of the Bishops. Some will need help from the Bishops, ranging from pastoral wisdom or the progressing of candidates for training who experience theological prejudice, to requests for ordinations and full oversight. It would be particularly helpful if friends and supporters were not shy in explaining the needs of the orthodox for A.M.I.E. to those who may be perplexed or sceptical.
We don’t expect others to do exactly what we have done. We do hope and pray that those who claim to be orthodox will do what they can to contend for the faith and to secure provision for orthodox ministry elsewhere and in generations to come. It would be disappointing if those who could be supportive of this initiative do or say nothing out of fear or because of mistakes in timing or tactics among those who are trying to secure a future for orthodox ministry in the Church of England. Let’s rejoice that God has used very ordinary people from across the Anglican Communion to open up a new society for Anglican mission in England for the salvation of many and for the glory of God.
As the Apostle wrote, let us “... stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.” (Phil. 1:27-30)