Giles Fraser: Evangelicals cannot serve two masters

20 November 2008

Evangelicals have been doing some much-needed soul-searching. Meeting at All Souls’, Langham Place, in London last Saturday, 400 Evangelical leaders resisted the plans of their more conservative brethren to align themselves more fully with the alternative Church of the Global Anglican Future Conference (GAFCON).

This is a welcome thing because those of us who are not Evangelicals need to know that those who are retain some basic loyalty to the Church of England.

Here is an example of why. At this meeting of the National Evangelical Anglican Consultation (Comment, 14 November), Canon Chris Sugden proposed that Evangelicals “will keep formal administrative links with the formal Church of England, but our real identity is with Global Anglicanism, as defined by the Jerusalem statement and dec­laration”.

The text that comes to mind is from Matthew 6. “No one can serve two masters, because either he will hate the one and love the other, or be loyal to the one and despise the other.” It is good that Dr Sugden’s proposal got the cold shoulder.

Yet the question of loyalty runs deeper. We are often told that it is the job of a bishop to be a focus of unity. Apparently, this is a significant factor in determining appointments. What, then, are we to make of the comments by the Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Revd Wallace Benn, last weekend, that the modern Church is now “infested with liberal theo­logical waywardness”? “Infested” . . . like rats or cockroaches? This is not the talk of a bridge-builder.

Then there is the question of money. For too long, rich Evangelical parishes have been allowed to bully others by threatening to withhold their parish share. Some parishes have carried out their threats, and set themselves up as independent self-financing churches, effectively raising two fingers to the rest of the diocese.

For years, some Evangelicals in the C of E have regarded themselves as a Church within a Church. This is unacceptable. Either they must play a full and loyal part in the life of the Church, or they must take up their rod and go fish from another boat. If all they want is a pension plan and a stake in the kudos of the Established Church, then that is a shoddy basis for an ecclesiology.

I want Evangelicals to remain in the Church. Their energy and commitment to mission brings much that is good and necessary. But we cannot tolerate the presence of a body that wants to destroy what it feeds off. Last weekend’s meeting was a step in the right direction. But there is still a long way to travel.

The Revd Dr Giles Fraser is Team Rector of Putney, in south London.

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