For the last few years, my wife and I have attended the New Wine summer conferences. Ostensibly, at first, because our church decamped to Somerset for two weeks every Summer, we have become regulars in the team that corrals 500 ten and eleven year olds per week.
I’ve been impressed with New Wine generally speaking. I like their emphasis on the Spirit of God as well as the word of God and when I first attended they were a great example of people trying to be both Anglican and charismatic and evangelical (I appreciate not everyone there was Anglican but that is certainly its base).
I was at one of those Summer conferences when I first felt God might be calling me to the ministry and, indeed, I came to Ridley Hall in part because of Chris Cocksworth, our principal, who I’d known from the Liturgical Commission but also from seeing him at New Wine and looking after one of his sons for a week.
New Wine have an ordinands network and fairly recently I signed up. It maybe because of my familiarity with them, but of all the different groups in the CofE, they are a network with whom I feel a lot of affinity.
A couple of years ago, at New Wine, I listened to Mike Breen give an incredibly rich series of talks on the subject of Covenant and learnt a massive amount from this evangelical former leader of the massive St. Thomas’, Crookes. I had heard him speak about it previously when I was in Sheffield when he spoke at the Christian Union there but that week at New Wine was a great opportunity for him to expand on that short talk and I would thoroughly recommend the CD if you can still get hold of it.
I am paraphrasing to avoid making this post even longer than it is, but as Mike explained it, he noted that in biblical times, a covenant was made between two persons who would shed a lot of blood (of animals), arrange the body parts in a kind of corridor and then make various vows before they would walk through the passage of carcasses and stand at the opposite ends, making vows and symbolically showing by their exchange of places how they were taking on covenantal responsibility for the other. We get a hint of all this in Genesis 15.
Last week, a group of evangelical leaders met with the Archbishop of Canterbury and delivered a ‘covenant’ (their words) for the Church of England.
Ordinarily, I wouldn’t give two hoots what people like Reform and Anglican Mainstream get up to. Maybe I should but life is too short. However, I was particularly concerned to see John Coles of the New Wine Networks on the list of people who attended the meeting. Since he was at Sheffield doing his PhD around the time I was there as an undergrad, I was also disappointed to see Mark Stibbe (now at St. Andrew’s Chorleywood) on the list of signatories.
Dave Walker, who penned the brilliant cartoon reproduced above, also noted that Richard Turnbull was present and as he is principal of Wycliffe, he also sort of represents the theological colleges and Ridley amongst them. It has to be noted that Richard Turnbull is listed as a signatory as Chairman for the Church of England Evangelical Council and not as Principal of Wycliffe and I am not aware of any official involvement from Ridley in the matter so I am going to focus on New Wine and on the signatories who really should have known better in my opinion – John Coles, Mark Stibbe and even the legend that is John Stott; all of whom have gone down massively in my estimation for putting their signature to this rubbish.
Given that these evangelical leaders are so concerned with “a commitment to the biblical truths on which the Anglican Communion is based”, I would like to know on what basis their use of the word “covenant” in any way reflects the biblical teaching on covenant or indeed, as Mike put it, how their covenant reflects a symbolic exchanging of places – taking on a responsibility one for another? How can they possibly believe that they are in any way showing themselves committed to anyone else in the broad theological spectrum that is the Anglican church? How are they showing the love of Jesus towards fellow members of his body?
I would like to call attention to two American priests who sum this up well from different angles. Nick Kniseley posted in the Summer and noted in regard to the ability to listen:
“It seems to me that if we are serious in our belief that the Holy Spirit acts within the Church to lead us into all truth, then we have no alternative but to listen to see what the Spirit is saying to us in the lives of Gay and Lesbian people. I have no doubt that there is great learning here. I do not presume to know what that learning is. I am, however, reminded of a quote I heard in a favorite sermon: â€œListening conversation that starts with a predetermined outcome is neither conversation nor is it listening.â€” (my emphasis)
Secondly, Rick Lord (whose blog I only discovered today) talks of his commitment to love and relationship:
“Yes, there are evangelical priests who love the Episcopal Church and who remain faithful to its doctrine, discipline, and worship. I’m one of them. Yes, there are matters in our family over which I am deeply vexed. But for me, relational unity precedes doctrinal unity, a conviction grounded in the writings of St. Paul (see 1 Corinthians, chapter 12).” (my emphasis)
To Mr Coles and all of the rest of you who attended that meeting and signed that covenant, when you go in to meet the Archbishop and present him and the entire Church of England, let alone the Anglican Communion, with a threat to take all your money away and all the other threats your covenant contained, you do not represent me.
When you try to backup your threats by substantiating the number and population of charismatic and evangelical churches in the Church of England, you can at least subtract one because YOU DO NOT REPRESENT ME.
Apparently, I am not alone either. Fulcrum’s initial response turned their nose up at your efforts while Tom Wright’s response (also on the Fulcrum web site) is pretty much required reading for all evangelicals who are trying to make sense of this whole situation.
At times in the last few years, I’ve struggled with my evangelical background. I’ve even railed against it on this very blog in the past. However, this term at Ridley, particularly in Chris Cocksworth’s lectures on Eucharistic liturgy, I’ve discovered more about what it means to be both Anglican and Evangelical and I’m growing more comfortable with the labels once again. I am pretty sure about ancestors in the faith who wore both labels would turn in their graves at the actions of the ‘covenanters’.
It leaves me deeply concerned at their motivations and (I don’t say this lightly or easily) their sense of security in the gospel. I have to ask of these ‘covenanters’ as Paul Roberts does in his brilliant lament for Evangelicalism:
“Do you still believe in the gospel? Or are you so concerned about the purity of the Church that youâ€™ve made the gospel a function of ethics or ecclesiology.”
and again from Paul’s take on this whole mess:
“So whom will the Lord send? Who will be his messengers? Those who answer that call will be the true evangelicals of the future. As for you, unless you urgently change your ways, it is now long past the time for you to surrender that once illustrious name.”
I’ve been deeply, deeply unimpressed by all this. More than that, I’ve been deeply, deeply saddened. So what do I intend to do? Well, for one as a fairly recent member of New Wine, I’ll be making sure they know that I’m not happy for them to be ‘representing’ when there was zero consultation in the matter. I’ll also query the whole thing with Ridley although I am pretty sure they weren’t involved.
Lastly, I am going to keep doing what I believe we’re all called to do. To listen, to love, to live in unity with one another… even the signatories of this covenant (if they are prepared to live in unity with me)… to treasure the body of Christ and its well-being. As Paul Roberts describes it “to try and discover that outward-focus, creativity and adaptability which was once the hallmark of Evangelicalism”.
*** update, 09/01/2007 ***
At the first meeting of the new term, Chris Cocksworth, the principal here at Ridley Hall, confirmed that Ridley had not been consulted at all on the covenant document and that he felt it was misguided. He said more but I don’t feel at liberty to say more than that given that his comments were addressed to us as students.