Agenda for Renewal
The Evangelical Connexion
Free Church of England
otherwise called The Reformed Episcopal Church
"That in all things Christ might have the preeminence"
Framework of Reference for Covenanting Churches
Agenda for Renewal
"Where there is no vision the people perish"
Prepared for Convocation 2002
Adopted by the Evangelical Connexion on 10 Sept 04
Rt Revd Dr J Barry Shucksmith PhD DMin Royal Navy (rtd)
TEN PRINCIPLES FOR CHURCH RENEWAL
1. WE DESIRE to re-affirm Sola Scriptura
2. WE DESIRE to affirm the priority to proclaim the Gospel
3. WE DESIRE to re-affirm evangelical comprehensiveness
4. WE DESIRE to seek a biblical ecumenism
5. WE DESIRE to promote a traditional/biblical ethic
6. WE DESIRE to move from maintenance to mission
7. WE DESIRE and will seek a highly-trained Clergy
8. WE DESIRE to re-affirm biblical episcopacy
9. WE DESIRE greater use of our Laity
10. WE DESIRE modern but sound liturgy, as a supplement
A Body of Christians called the Free Church of England assembled and worshipped in this Country in 1844 and was registered in Chancery by Deed Poll, 13 August 1863. The historic episcopate was conferred, by the Reformed Episcopal Church, 30 August 1876, and both churches were originally similar in character and government - episcopal, liturgical and evangelical. In June 1927, the Free Church of England and the Reformed Episcopal Church united as one Church and accepted the 18 Articles of the Constitution and 126 Canons, the Book of Common Prayer (revised), with the Rubrics and Instructions contained therein, as the Constitution and Canon Law of the United Church. These are binding upon all the Bishops, Ministers, and Members of the Church and they must remain so in any new venture, or twenty-first century renewal (1).
Since 1927, the Nation and Established Church of England have changed beyond recognition. This is equally true of all the so-called mainline denominations. The Free Church of England has also witnessed steep decline and today there are only twenty-five churches and one mission church, in the United Kingdom. At the present rate of decline, the Free Church of England could disappear within two decades, leaving only a few stronger, but isolated, churches. After 8 years of talks about "talks" with the Church of England, the Convocation decided in 1997, with a 61% majority vote, that reunion with the Church of England is no longer an option. The Church of England is in more serious doctrinal and moral decline than when our Founding Fathers seceded.
Clearly, some action is needed, not only in terms of maintenance, but to strengthen what remains (Revelation 3:2), to inspire vision for new pioneer work, and to ensure a reformed, episcopal, and evangelical presence, for the next generation. We also need to take seriously the missionary mandate in Matthew 28:19-20. Without making new converts we have no future. (2) Above all else the Free Church of England, like many other Christian Institutions, needs a biblical renewal, prompted by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. These matters are in the gift of a Sovereign God. But the means given can and should be employed - a vigorous application of biblical principles at every level of church life and consistent seeking of God's face in prayer. Today, many churches try to resolve their problems by an ever-encroaching ecumenism, rooted not in biblical principles, but in visible structures. History shows this to be disastrous and productive only of more division. I commend the following ten objectives as worthy of consideration and support.
AGENDA FOR RENEWAL
WE DESIRE TO RE-AFFIRM SOLA SCRIPTURA
We are not ashamed of the Constitution of the Free Church of England. We do not believe that we are lacking something which other Churches need to give to us. We are happy to be independent of the Established Church of England and believe our forefathers to be right in their separation from the "Mother Church", even moreso in view of modern developments.
We acknowledge the Established Church of England to be a comprehensive church which (now) relies for her authority upon a threefold basis of scripture, tradition and reason. Whereas, the Free Church of England is a one-party church whose adherents must be protestant, reformed, and evangelical.
Furthermore, while valuing the Book of Common Prayer (revised), the 39 Articles of Religion, and the Apostles, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds, we believe it necessary, for survival as a denomination, to re-affirm our belief in the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as the Word of God and the sole rule of faith and practice, (3)
We also believe it essential, in view of modern trends, to re-emphasize that our church is not only singularlv evangelical, but evidently anti-tractarian.
We believe it necessary to forge a new identity, by subjecting all we do, as individual churches and as a denomination, to biblical scrutiny. This is only to be what we profess to be, in our Constitution.
WE DESIRE TO AFFIRM A PRIORITY TO PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL
After the general principle of soli gloria - to glorify God, we see it as the church's primary function, to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ. Today, there is confusion as to what this is. For some, it is a programme of social action, for others a man-centred self-improvement, for many modern evangelicals it has become a simple decisionism. Yet, according to the Roman and Galatian Epistles, the gospel is the righteousness of God in Jesus Christ. This is something which God does, not ourselves, to be received by faith. In a sentence, it is justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. The Prayerbook and 39 Articles bear witness to this and so has the Free Church of England for over 150 years. We believe it necessary to re-affirm this truth.
WE RE-AFFIRM OUR EVANGELICAL COMPREHENSIVENESS
Evangelicalism has always been comprehensive in its churchmanship. A HISTORY OF THE FREE CHURCH OF ENGLAND takes note of the evangelical revival and the variety of instruments used by Almighty God (4). Among those mentioned are Whitefield, Grimshaw, Romaine, Rowlands, Berridge, Venn, Harvey, and Fletcher. The Countess of Huntingdon Connexion is also acknowledged as part of our history. Again, variety of belief and expression is noted here. What is not allowed is sacerdotalism... ‘a principle equally precious to the Free Church of England, because no less preservative against the assumptions of sacerdotalism, is the maintenance of pure sacramental doctrine' (5).
As already noted, we wish to maintain our church as anti-tractarian but positively evangelical. We cannot endorse anglo-catholic, central church, or simply, low-church views, unless by low-church, we understand "evangelical". The Free Church of England is not a (smaller) clone of the Church of England. Our forefathers did not have to secede to preserve high, central, or low views, but, as the legal case against James Shore proves, to maintain evangelical integrity.
We believe, without promoting the evangelical nature of our denomination, we have no future and, therefore, to be "evangelical" is not only to be faithful. It is to survive and grow.
WE WISH TO SEEK A BIBLICAL ECUMENISM
The present Ecumenical Movement is preoccupied with seeking unity without biblical and doctrinal consideration. Its emphasis is upon visible organic union which must end, by its very nature, in reunion with Rome. Those who have engaged in the process have already conceded a great deal of ground. For example, the Church of England has just published its Report, THE GIFT OF AUTHORITY, in which the universal primacy of the Pope is accepted.
We desire to have relationships with all evangelical Christians who are committed to the same position on Scripture as ourselves. We see no logical reason, for not embracing evangelical nonconformists, like ourselves, as well as Anglican evangelicals worldwide. We would like to reach out to such bodies as Sydney Diocese, Australia, the Church of England in South Africa, the Church of Uganda, Reform UK, Church Society, etc. etc.
WE WILL SEEK TO MAINTAIN AND PROMOTE A TRADITIONAL/ BIBLlCAL SEXUAL ETHIC
In the last two decades there has been abandonment, among episcopalians, of moral and sexual ethics as we have always understood them. We wish to identify with the growing number of biblically-committed Christians who feel it necessary to re-state the teaching of our Lord and the Apostles.
1. That sexual intercourse should take place only between a man and a woman who are married to each other.
2. That fornication, adultery, and homosexual acts are sinful in all circumstances.
3. That Christian leaders are called to be exemplary in all spheres of morality, including sexual morality, as a condition of being appointed or remaining in office.
4. That the Church is called upon to show Christ-like compassion to those who have fallen into sin, encouraging them to repent and receive forgiveness, and offering the ministry of healing to all who suffer physically or emotionally as a result of such sin (6).
WE RECOGNISE THE NEED TO MOVE FROM A MAINTENANCE TO MISSION - MENTALITY
We consider, there is an urgent need to investigate how we can "revive" the dying churches in our Denomination and also inspire new work. We do not have the time for the luxury of ecclesiastical introspection which invariably leads to division and even schism. This means, for example, challenging the stronger churches to look outwards, encouraging Free C of E members to consider starting a home meeting where they live, investigating the possibility of scattered members starting a work, producing helpful material on how to “grow” a church, and creating a category for mission stations, or pioneer works, to be in recognised fellowship, until able to apply for full membership.
WE RECOGNISE THE NEED TO PROVIDE BETTER TRAINING FOR OUR CLERGY / READERS ESPECIALLY IN-SERVICE TRAINING
No episcopalian Church can be better than its clergy. We believe in an educated and biblically-literate ministry. We desire to raise the standards for ordination and to encourage more serious study, especially in the field of biblical theology.
We want to promote, by internal circulation, informed papers on historical, biblical, theological, ethical, pastoral, and contemporary subjects, and train the clergy we already have, to a more effective and wider-ranging ministry.
WE WISH TO RE-AFFIRM THE VALUE OF EPISCOPACY BUT NOT AS SIMPLY AN ADMINISTRATIVE / POWER STRUCTURE
It is quite clear, from our Lord's washing of the Apostles feet, that ministry is about service, not power. Our forefathers were most astute in adopting a form of episcopacy which majors on the preaching/pastoral functions and which is emphatic in declaring, *we adhere to episcopacy, not as of divine right, but as a very ancient and desirable form of Church policy'. We desire to see much more team spirit among the bishops; for the time being, the removal of diocesan boundaries, and consultation with all the clergy. This means a much more practical outworking of our claim to uphold "primus inter pares". We also wish to have one means of selecting future ordination candidates and Convocation involved in their authorisation.
A MECHANISM TO INVESTIGATE GREATER USE OF OUR LAITY AND POSSIBLE RESTRUCTURING IN CERTAIN AREAS
The Body is not one, but many (7). While preserving the use and ministry of Lay Readers, we desire to encourage greater involvement of our gifted lay people. For example, does the General Secretary have to be ordained? Are there denominational administrative tasks which could be taken over by a lay person? In everything, we wish to see more openness and accountability, as scripture requires. We would like to consider the possibility of a Bi-Annual Convocation and to introduce more informed debate and longer discussion on the issues of the day. This also means using the present committees, or new committees, for in-depth study purposes and using our most articulate members, lay and ordained.
THE PROVISION OF MODERN LITURGY TO SUPPLEMENT THE TRADITIONAL, WITH CONVOCATIONAL APPROVAL.
The majority of our clergy are over the age of 60 years. Very few future clergy are likely to be 1662 (revised or otherwise!) clergymen. The modern generation are not attached to the traditional Prayerbook, as many of us are.
There needs to be a mix of liturgy - one mandatory traditional service each Sunday. But there is also scope for experimentation/use, on a regular basis, of modern liturgy. This could mean using, for the time being, AN ENGLISH PRAYERBOOK(8), or we should ask someone / some committee to provide modern liturgy, as a matter of urgency.
A denomination, committed solely to traditional language, cannot survive another decade. What we need is modern liturgy, soundly written, and in keeping with the doctrine and spirit of our Prayerbook and Articles of Religion. This is not to replace what we already have, but to supplement it.
I submit these ten propositions/principles, not as an end in themselves, but as the beginning of a process to renew and revitalise the Free Church of England, for the 21st Century, to ensure a continuing evangelical episcopalian witness, independent of the Church of England, and to be more effective as a "Gospel" Church.
Rt Revd J Barry Shucksmith
Convocation - Free Church of England
(1) Constitution and Canons, Free CofE, pages 3-6
(2) Matthew 28:18-20
(3) Constitution, Free CofE, Article 1 (1) page 13
(4) A History of the Free Church of England (1994) pl9
(5) A History of the Free Church of England (1994) page 26
(6) The Reformed Episcopal Church - Statement on Sexuality
(7) 1 Corinthians 12:12
(8) AN ENGLISH PRAYERBOOK Church Society (1994) published by Oxford University Press