Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Changing Face of Anglican Evangelicalism

Some years ago I lived in Durham, England and worshiped at St. Nicholas' Church, Marketplace, Durham. Our vicar then was Michael Wilcock, well known for his expositional writings in the Bible Speaks Today series. His predecessor was even better known, one George Carey, who wrote a book about his time as Vicar of St Nick's (as it was popularly known), called The Church in the Marketplace. This parish has had, as far as I know, an unbroken evangelical ministry for 150 years.

Just up the road, about a stone's throw away, was the Claypath United Reform Church. It had an energetic and learned minister who was succeeded by Dr Bob Faull, who was the OT tutor at Cranmer Hall during our time in Durham. Last night a perchance read on the internet led me to a story I was not aware of, namely that around 2003, when Bob moved onto a post in Scotland, the Claypath church appealed not to its own denomination but to a Church of England church for assistance with its future, the somewhat famous evangelical parish of Jesmond in Newcastle (in the neighbouring diocese to Durham).

Cutting a presumably longish story short, Christ Church Durham was formed, in the face of protests from the established Church of England (read a Church Times report here). On the website of Christ Church Durham you can read of the manifold ministries and activities of this church and learn that

"We are an Anglican evangelical church in the heart of Durham City, committed to preaching the good news of Jesus."

I hunted round the site in vain for any sign that this Anglican evangelical church is under the episcopal oversight of the Bishop of Durham. A cross check on the site of the Diocese of Durham reveals no church of this name listed as one of the churches of the Diocese. I conclude that this is an 'independent evangelical Anglican church'. (Incidentally, notwithstanding the suggestion in the Church Times that this church is a plant of the Jesmond parish, it does seem to have its own trust managing its affairs).

Yet it is not completely independent, for this statement is made here:

"We are an Anglican evangelical Church which holds to the teaching of the Bible. Our doctrinal beliefs are contained in our Trust Deed and are set out below. We are formally linked to Crosslinks [a mission organisation], and to the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (a world-wide Communion of orthodox Anglicans) and we assent to the Jerusalem Declaration of 2008. We hold to the Biblical doctrines contained in the 39 Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal."

This is not the only independent Anglican evangelical church in England. I do not know how many others there are. But clearly the continuing existence of such a church (which seems to be thriving, by the way) offers a model which can be replicated into a network of such churches.

I imagine you might have some questions reading this story. Here are some of mine:

What role, if any, do bishops play in the ongoing life of this form of Anglican evangelicalism?

If bishops play no role, what kind of commissioning for ministry takes place when the church wishes to appoint a minister?

To what authority would a person with a complaint about ministry in this kind of church appeal?

Is it possible to claim the description 'Anglican' in a meaningful manner when defining a church which is not under the oversight of a local bishop? (Noting that not only is this church not under the oversight of the Bishop of Durham, but it does not appear to be under the oversight of any bishop of anywhere).

What is the long-term future of independent Anglican evangelical churches? (I imagine that it must evolve one day into either an episcopal-led network of churches or into a non-episcopal-led network of churches which might quietly drop the word 'Anglican').

Is it possible to claim to "hold to the Biblical doctrines contained in the 39 Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal" while not being under direct episcopal leadership?

Whatever answers may be given to these questions, the face of Anglican evangelicalism is changing when one can set up an Anglican evangelical church a stone's throw away from another one!

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