Future Church of England: Would you be ordained now? - Part 2

Recently I wrote a blog about the question of whether the number of Conservative Evangelical (CE) ordinands for the CHurch of England would drop in the current climate and suggested that one way to think about it was to ask the personal question of whether we would want to be ordained today.  That blog, which was largely a personal reflection in a fairly tough time, received 219 views and quite a lot of facebook comments, both of which are unusual for this lowly blog!  Because it was largely a personal reflection, it didn't really set out the logic of what I was saying and from the comments, it seems it might be worth doing so.

1. A Credible Choice

I may be wrong, but it seems to me that most evangelical Christians grow up recognising that there is a credible choice for church ministry now.  What I mean is that what used to perhaps be seen as the only/best option - ordination in the Church of England - is a much more open choice now.

Many of us have attended excellent free churches or churches in different denominations.  Many of us have been part of gospel partnerships and Passion for Life initiatives across different churches. Many of us have been at universities where the CU contained active Christians from across the board and increasing proportions of those Christians don't attend Church of England churches.  In fact many of us will have attended universities or lived in towns, where the Church of England churches were a far worse option for ourselves, our families and so forth.

Furthermore, many young Christians now train across denominational lines, e.g. Cornhill or its equivalents and even at Anglican training colleges.  When I was at Oak Hill it was essentially 50% ordinands and 50% free (although who was what in the free was a bit more complex!).

A former generation read Stott, Motyer and Packer (with a bit of Lloyd-Jones on the side!).  Now we read Carson, Keller and Dever (with a bit of Vaughan Roberts on the side!).  There is, of course, an interesting comment on globalism in there too. (I mention these two generations because, a little simplistically they are the generations who have influence those currently in the C of E).

My suggestion is that Anglicanism has, to some extent, decreased in significance, as the free church has grown in significance within evangelicalism.  That means that the choice whether to go the Anglican route or not has become much more credible choice.

2. A Convictional Choice

If people can create the word missional then I reckon I can create the word convictional!  What I mean, is that because there is a choice, the choice is often much more clearly based upon conviction. When I talk to my generation and younger CEs they are where they are because of their convictions.

Often we would totally agree on the core gospel issues, but when it comes to what are considered to be secondary things, we have convictions.  Baptism, Church Government, Establishment of the church are the classic ones in relation to the Church of England.  Hence, that I can or cannot agree in conscience with Episcopalianism/Infant Baptism etc. means I make a choice to fall one way or another.

3. An Erosion of the Convictional Anglicanism

The liberalising moves in the Church of England have created all sorts of problems for convictional CE Anglicans.  For example, I may have a conviction about episcopacy, but probably not one about the sort of episcopacy we now have!  And the recent changes with respect to women bishops move that convictional problem from the practical outworkings (we have poor bishops, but the system isn't by definition wrong) to the legal position of the church (the system is now wrong).  And, perhaps more historically, we could follow a similar line on baptism, where we may be convinced, covenantally, by infant baptism, but not by the legal obligations to baptise.

For many CEs who would naturally and convictionally be Anglican in the sense of the formularies (the 39 Articles, Ordinal and Prayer Book), the confidence that you can be convictionally Anglican has been eroded, because of movement on some of the very issues which would make us convictionally Anglican instead of something else.

Obviously, the issue is much worse if we're not talking secondary issues, but gospel issues.  The reality is that the C of E is so near to that in the formal statements on homosexuality (for example the House of Bishops pastoral note on civil partnerships in 2005) and seems likely to get nearer.

It seems at least likely that (a) less CEs are willing to go forward for selection and (b) less CE ministers are willing to encourage people to go forward (something I have also picked up recently). If this turns out to be true, then we of course should be very worried about the future of CEs in the Church of England and the Church of England.

Now, of course, this is purely based on generalisation and anecdotal observation - actually it would be quite difficult to get good statistics on this.  But it does seem to me at least to be a logical and likely observation.

Unfortunately and significantly, the problem doesn't stop there.

4. The Exclusion of Convictional Anglicanism

There has, for many years, been the impression that CEs have a place in the Church of England, but that there is significant prejudice against them.  We've known for years that getting through selection was a skill, for example.  It seems to me that following the acrimony of the debate on women bishops and the ongoing and forthcoming acrimony on homosexuality has ramped up the prejudice no end.

In short, this means that getting through selection, getting a curacy, completing curacies and getting incumbencies are all extremely difficult hurdles to cross.  I know a number of excellent ministers who were Anglican by conviction, who are now ministering outside the C of E simply because they have been blocked, or because they couldn't find a post.

5. Some Thought on Responding

First, I think various people might have issues with how I've set up the issue.  That may be fair.  I wonder about some of the individualism behind the idea of choice.  I wonder about questions of unity.  I wonder about the actual significance of the C of E.  Those and others are fair questions, but maybe beside the point if how I've described it is actually how many people see it.

Second, I think the constant calls to arms that I hear are fairly useless in this sort of context.  Why? Because I'm not sure how it helps deal with the convictional issues.  If I'm doubting that the C of E can contain me with my convictions, how does it help to tell me to fight?

Third, I think the vision of something like the ReNew conference perhaps alongside AMiE may actually be better at dealing with the convictional questions, although there is huge work to be done. If I can see an Anglican model that does match my convictions, then I will be likely to sign up!

Fourth, as CEs we need a more consistent strategy in terms of selection and deployment.  If we can envision people with a Reformed Anglicanism that they can sign up to convictionally, then we need a way to get suitable people through a process where they end up as ministers of churches with a proper support structure all the way through to stop the leakage.  There's no point training loads of people if we have nowhere for them to go!

What do you think?


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