A speech given by Vaughan Roberts at the launch of FCA UK and Ireland 6/7/2009
(View this presentation on Anglican TV
I am not a prophet so I cannot tell what the future holds for the Anglican churches in our islands. As I look ahead I see two possible contrasting scenarios: a nightmare and a dream.
Let me start with my nightmare: in my negative moments it seems not just realistic but likely. In my nightmare the Church of England, Church in Wales, Church of Ireland and Episcopal Church of Scotland continue on their gradual drift towards the apostasy of The Episcopal Church in America, so that within twenty, or maybe only ten years, it becomes virtually impossible for orthodox Christians to be ordained: either because the hierarchy will not accept them or because their consciences will not allow them to join such a compromised body. As a result gospel witness in the Anglican churches will be gradually extinguished, making it that much harder to evangelise our nations. Some will ask how we could descend into such a gloomy situation so quickly given that, as they argue, “We have never had it so good”, with many orthodox parishes thriving and orthodox bishops regularly appointed. But it is sadly easy to imagine how the liberal agenda will quickly come to dominate our churches because of an inadequate response from faithful Christians who react with naivety, compromise and internecine squabbles.
There is a tendency for many to be naive, failing to notice the steady slide away from the truth. This is not least because of the ‘salami tactics’ of the revisionists, who are often careful not to overreach themselves and bring things to a head before they are likely to win the victory; but rather gradually establish facts on the ground, thus undermining the orthodox faith slice by slice.
Some are canny enough to see what is happening but compromise rather than giving the robust response that is required. They shy away from the inevitable cost of standing for truth and against error, whether it is the possibility of a strained relationship with the bishop, who may be less likely to give a curate and support a plant; the fear of gaining a reputation as a trouble maker and thus damaging prospects for future preferment; or concern to avoid possible tensions in the local church where the PCC may not wholeheartedly support any form of protest. As a result, many clergy and lay leaders keep their heads down, so the slide continues.
Divisions within the orthodox
There are many in our churches who are committed to a revealed faith that we have received in trust from God and are not at liberty to change. There are many too who are deeply concerned about the drift away from that faith in our churches. But we are a disparate group: traditional Anglo-Catholics in their various forms and evangelicals from different tribes – conservative, charismatic and open. We have different opinions and styles and have a background of decades, even generations, of mutual suspicion. In my nightmare it will prove impossible for us to work together for a common cause; instead of moving forward in convoy we will divide into different factions and turn our guns on one another. There will be gradual defections into little offshoots such as: Church of England Continuing (Reform), C of E Continuing (Forward in Faith), C of E Continuing (New Wine). Once such splits begin they soon become contagious, suffering from the Protestant disease of dividing over minor differences, so that we will soon have a multiplicity of independent groups all claiming to be the authentic Anglicans. None of them, of course, will have any chance of renewing or reforming the main body of our churches and they will struggle to have a national impact.
There is my nightmare. It need not and must not be like that!
My dream is of a strong, united renewal movement of orthodox Anglicans whom God will use to stem the tide of heresy in our churches and to move out in mission to the world. Today’s launch of the FCA UK and Ireland is a significant step forward towards the possibility of that dream becoming a reality. If it is to happen we must bind ourselves to five commitments right from the start:
1. A commitment to truth
We must never be a merely pragmatic alliance of disparate groups with a common enemy. Above all we should stand together as those joined by a common Biblical faith as expressed by Canon A5 of the Church of England and the Jerusalem Statement: “The doctrine of the Church is grounded in the Holy Scriptures, and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal.” We believe in the Bible as God’s word written and we proclaim Jesus Christ as the only Lord and Saviour.
2. A commitment to breadth
It was a privilege to be at GAFCON and to witness such unity in Christ and yet such variety: racially, culturally and liturgically. We came from diverse Anglican traditions and differed on many secondary matters, notably on whether it is appropriate for women to be ordained presbyter or consecrated as bishops; but we were united in our commitment to fundamental truths. Our joining of the FCA does not mean that we must abandon all our distinctives and agree on every detail. No doubt some significant differences of conviction and culture will remain and we may stay largely in our own particular boats, but if we share common fundamental convictions we will be able to sail in convoy in the same direction and support one another along the way.
3. A commitment to grace
We will not all always agree with one another on secondary matters or on precisely what action we think it right to take in any given situation, but we must respond to those differences with grace and resist the temptation to make public criticisms of one another. We should show grace too to our fellow orthodox Anglicans who do not feel it right to travel with us at this stage. Even if they criticise us sharply we must not respond in kind but rather do all we can to keep the door open and be ready to welcome them in if they should ever choose to join us.
4. A commitment to prayer
There is much to encourage us today: we stand with the majority of practising Anglicans worldwide and there is great potential in our midst, with many gifted leaders from vibrant churches; but we must not delude ourselves into thinking that we are strong. We are not strong! The task of reforming our churches and reaching our nations is too much for us. We depend entirely on God so we must commit ourselves to urgent, persistent prayer, not just for our fellow Anglicans but for all Christians: that God would fill us with faith in the living Christ, transform us by the Spirit into radical communities of love and equip us to reach out with the gospel.
5. A commitment to action
The FCA must not be just a talking shop. Of course we must talk with one another and take counsel but then we must act. There are millions in our country who know virtually nothing of Christ; we must move forward in radical mission, if at all possible within the current structures, if necessary, on the edge. We should do so not to build our own little empires but for the glory of God and the extension of his Kingdom.
There is my dream. May God keep us humble, prayerful, wise and courageous so that it might begin to become a reality.