Hopes for NEAC 2008:
A Personal Reflection
Next Saturday, November 15th, sees the convening of a National Evangelical Anglican Consultation (NEAC) at All Souls,
In contrast to the large-scale NEACs of Keele (1967), Nottingham (1977), Caister (1988) and Blackpool (2003), where the C stood for “Congress”, this is a one-day consultation (similar events have been organised be CEEC in the past) with a very specific focus: Anglican evangelicalism post Lambeth and GAFCON with a view to ‘shaping the future’. What, then, is the ‘state of the party’ on the eve of this NEAC and what are the issues to be addressed and possible outcomes?
NEAC offers a number of real opportunities at a crucial time in the life of the Anglican Communion:
a) Genuine consultation: There are, sadly, few opportunities for genuine consultation and face-to-face conversation along the full spectrum of Anglican evangelicals. Our growth over the last forty years, combined with the lack of recognised unifying leadership that used to be provided by John Stott, has led to greater diversification and fragmentation into different groups with various emphases. This has, particularly in recent years (arguably since women’s ordination in 1992 and certainly since the appointment of Rowan Williams in 2002), led to increasing tensions and fracture lines. These have sometimes been compounded by the desire of various evangelical sub-groups to define the centre or the boundaries and limits of evangelicalism in a way which alienates others.
b) Building great unity: One of the benefits of NEAC and ongoing consultation will be clearer recognition of the many areas of agreement and consensus across the different strands of Anglican evangelicalism.
c) Constructive engagement with difference: NEAC also provides the opportunity for an honest and constructive identification of the areas of disagreement and potential division that are found among evangelical Anglicans. These particularly focus on issues relating to women in church leadership, how to respond to the crisis in the Anglican Communion, and the extent to which the Church of England and elements of its leadership are already compromised in relation to orthodox biblical sexual ethics. It also could provide a catalyst for the renewal and/or creation of structures and procedures that will help us in the future both to build on areas of agreement and to address areas of tension in a godly, Christian manner rooted in strong personal relationships.
There are, however, a number of threats that must also be clearly acknowledged. One is that the meeting next Saturday does not achieve anything and is seen as a wasted opportunity and a failure to consult genuinely. Another, more serious threat, is that the meeting itself and its outcome (either on the day or as developed by CEEC subsequently) fuels further division, most likely through a confrontation between the more conservative evangelicals (linked to groups such as Reform, Church Society, Fellowship of Word and Spirit) who are supportive of GAFCON and other, particularly more open evangelicals (represented by most evangelicals bishops and groups such as Fulcrum), who have been cautious or hostile to GAFCON.
Commitments and hopes
What follows seeks to address these opportunities and threats by identifying and exploring five areas that will be particularly pressing in the minds of many attending NEAC and then sketching something of my own personal hopes as to what might result. At the heart of these hopes is a three-fold commitment and vision as to how we need to proceed at NEAC and in the months that will follow it:
· The need to build relationships that will allow the discernment of a consensus around the evangelical centre both theologically (as expressed in CEEC’s Basis of Faith) and ecclesiologically (where divergences are currently at their greatest)
· The need for those claiming to speak for Anglican evangelicals as a whole to address matters of controversy in a way that all ‘sides’ or ‘parties’ can feel recognises their concerns. This results in a wider ownership of a way forward together as Anglican evangelicals rather than a way forward that leads to a parting of the ways as some feel they cannot agree and so must distance themselves from and even undermine what is developed post-NEAC
· The need to avoid a repetition of the tensions and divisions that occurred before, during and in the aftermath of the last NEAC, symbolised for many in the lack of ordained women on the main platform, the launch of Fulcrum and the development of Anglican Mainstream. As someone closely involved in the birth of both groupings and whose wife is on the Leadership Team of one (along with me) and on the Steering Committee of the other, my hope is that this NEAC might begin to heal some of the wounds from the past but my fear is that it might inflict new wounds and confirm and harden historic cycles of miscommunication and distrust
In thinking what this might look like there have been two models that I have found particularly helpful and encouraging. One is the EFAC Commitment of July 2008 (and CEEC is the “English agent” of EFAC (Constitution, 3.1.4)) and the other is the recent CAPA statement of Sept 2008.
The key issues
Although they would probably rank them differently and have a range of perspectives on each of them, probably the majority of Anglican evangelicals in the CofE, faced with this CEEC-sponsored NEAC on Anglican evangelicalism post Lambeth and GAFCON, would recognise five areas as particularly pressing for evangelical witness, as potential causes of tension among evangelicals and so as issues that need to be faced.
2) Anglican Covenant
3) Support for orthodox in
4) Covenant for CofE and evangelicals in CofE seeking alternative oversight
5) The representative nature of CEEC
Of course it is vital in focussing on these five areas not to lose sight of what unites us. There is great unity theologically on a whole range of issues, notably the centrality and supreme authority of Scripture, the representative and substitutionary death of Christ, and the priority of mission (the three themes - Bible, Cross and
Although the Jerusalem Declaration and the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans based on it are the fruit of GAFCON, it is important that these three different developments of the last six months are distinguished and not treated as a single ‘take it or leave it’ package. If they are not distinguished, then it will be very difficult to avoid a division between those who wholeheartedly “take it”, those who wish to “leave it”, and (perhaps the majority) those who rather confused and still seeking to discern the full significance and implications of all that has happened since the summer.
· GAFCON: The calling of GAFCON remains a matter of division largely between those evangelicals who were invited and/or felt represented there and those (including many evangelical bishops and ordained women in the CofE) who were uncertain or unhappy about it being called and/or were not invited (or were unable/unwilling to attend). The former are clearly convinced this is a move of God that must be warmly embraced. Many others are still cautious or sceptical. Over time a consensus may be able to emerge among evangelicals that allows the positive elements to be highlighted but that should not be pressed or forced upon the whole constituency by GAFCON’s advocates but should clearly arise from within it. As with EFAC and CAPA, therefore, at NEAC a recognition of GAFCON as a very significant fact in the life of the Communion and the value of it for all those who attended is better than a definitive stance for or against.
· Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA). While the Jerusalem Declaration has received positive comments from across and beyond evangelicalism (with the Archbishop of Canterbury among those drawing attention to its wide acceptance), FCA (as the continuing institutional life of GAFCON) remains controversial and potentially highly divisive. Although its Primates’ Council has met and there are plans underway for a UK FCA, there remains much uncertainty and lack of clarity about its structure, goals and strategy and as a result a significant level of suspicion remains among many evangelicals. While NEAC should affirm FCA’s commitment to the doctrinal foundation of Anglicanism as expressed in canon A5, further institutional support at this stage from NEAC or CEEC would likely cause fractures. NEAC would therefore be best to encourage and enable further reflection on how CEEC and wider evangelicalism should relate to FCA and its developing
(2) Anglican Covenant
Mirroring in some ways the different attitudes among evangelicals to GAFCON, there are different attitudes to the proposed Anglican Covenant. Some remain very positive, others are sceptical or opposed. Such scepticism and opposition may be in principle and/or in relation to its current draft and/or in relation to its effectiveness in dealing with the crisis in the Communion and particularly
Orthodox Anglicans in The Episcopal Church (eg Common Cause and Windsor Bishops/Communion Partners) and the Anglican Church of Canada (eg Essentials Federation and Essentials Network) have responded in a variety of ways to the actions of their dioceses/provinces in violation of Communion teaching. Those different strategies have produced some tensions among the orthodox in
Despite these differences in strategy, I believe the overwhelming majority of evangelicals in the CofE would:
· recognise as Anglicans in good standing those who have been received in good standing by other provinces of the Communion because they have been unable to remain within or have been removed from office by their former province,
· assure them of prayers and continued fellowship in ministry and mission
· urge resolution of property and other disputes without recourse to secular courts
Explicit support for the creation a new province at this time remains divisive among evangelicals (though support for that as a necessity – and certainly recognition that it is inevitable - is perhaps growing). Nevertheless, it should be possible for evangelicals in the CofE to agree on the need to work for unity among all Anglicans committed to Anglican faith, order and morals and to express our desire that all such Anglicans be recognised by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the wider Communion.
(4) CofE and Covenant for Church of England
Two years ago, the Chair and President of CEEC were among those who signed the “covenant for the Church of England”, a document which came under rapid and stringent criticism from other leading evangelicals, notably Tom Wright, Bishop of Durham. Given this history, and the fact that the covenant never gained much wider support among evangelicals, explicit reference to the proposed covenant for the Church of England in any outcome from NEAC will inevitably be divisive. There remain, however, a number of situations (perhaps a few dozen) in various dioceses (eg Chelmsford and Southwark) where there are problems arising in relation to impaired communion between evangelicals and their bishops and/or church plants (eg related to Crosslinks) seeking some form of alternative episcopal oversight. Given this reality, evangelicals must find fresh ways of resolving these problems and not allow different reactions and different settings to increase pressure on potential fracture points. A number of evangelical bishops have been seeking to find ways forward in consultation with the authors of the covenant and their work needs to be given wider recognition and support and all involved urged to recognise the seriousness of this situation and so provide and seek diocesan and regional solutions to difficulties within the structures of the CofE in order to avoid importing the problem of boundary-crossing into the Church of England.
For some time there has been concern that CEEC has ceased to be as representative a body within evangelicalism as it has been in the past and CEEC has itself acknowledged that there are issues that need addressing here. Many evangelicals feel strongly that significant changes need to be made if it is to fulfil its stated aims and to accomplish the vision of John Stott and others by assisting evangelical unity. In particular,
· the relationship with evangelical bishops is apparently weak or non-existent
· more conservative networks are strongly represented (eg Reform, Church Society, Latimer Trust, Fellowship of Word and Spirit) and the overlap between membership of CEEC and membership of Anglican Mainstream’s Steering Committee has gradually increased in recent years in a way few people have recognised.
· it has not been able to adapt to the growing number and diversity of evangelical networks and
· it has not faced the reality of the consequent decline or even demise of the Diocesan Evangelical Fellowships/Unions that have been the historic backbone of CEEC.
Although a new constitution was adopted in 2005, major questions remain about the reform of CEEC which should soon be undertaking its five-yearly “rigorous review of its performance and effectiveness” (Constitution 6.9) and many of whose members, including key Executive positions, are due for re-election in 2010.
What might be done?
What, then, might be more concrete hopes as to outcomes of NEAC 2008? Obviously, there is a need to be realistic: the gathering will be a large one but is a self-selected group, attending an event which has been organised by a group within CEEC and with much input from the platform but seemingly minimal scope for discussion and organised feedback. Furthermore, those attending will only receive papers on the day, not in advance (although those attending have been asked to look at the Jerusalem Declaration) and no information has been provided as to how the ‘consultation’ with those attending will happen. Its ability to act as a body in any coherent or truly representative manner is thus minimal. Hence the first danger that the “consultation” will be ineffective and the second danger that the “consultation” will either be led to certain (perhaps majority but not consensus) conclusions or be used as a front for whatever decisions are subsequently taken by the CEEC Executive and Council. In the light of the analysis above I think there are five elements which would represent a successful NEAC making the most of the real opportunities and minimising the real dangers:
1. Affirmations of all that can be positively and jointly affirmed by the full spectrum of evangelicals about such matters as the affirmations in the Jerusalem Declaration, the importance of contributing to the Communion covenant process and our solidarity with all the orthodox in TEC, ACC and those in North America who are now in other provinces of the Communion.
2. A request to CEEC urgently to establish – in consultation with EFAC and evangelical bishops - a representative working party comprising members of the Council and others (as they are authorised to do in CEEC’s Constitution 6.10) in order to address other issues relating to the Anglican Communion and in particular to:
a) Prepare a CEEC submission on the Anglican Covenant to the CDG by Feb 2008
b) Make recommendations concerning the relationship between CEEC and FCA
This would enable the creation of new institutional structures to build relationships and seek a common mind rather than risk continuing down divergent paths with megaphone diplomacy between different evangelical networks and groups. It would also allow CEEC to make a considered response to the two main developments arising out of Lambeth and GAFCON. Deferring any decision on FCA would enable FCA’s
3. A request to CEEC to consult widely (drawing in evangelical bishops and others currently less involved with its work) as it reviews its structures, renews its membership and seeks better to fulfil its object. In particular consideration needs to be given as to how CEEC can in future work better to “promote effective consultation between Anglican Evangelical leaders, in order that the evangelical heritage, as expressed in the Basis of Faith, may be better applied to contemporary opportunities and problems in church and nation” (Constitution, 3.1.1).
4. A request for another National Evangelical Anglican Consultation/Congress, perhaps over a weekend, by summer 2010 in order to consider these and other matters
5. A re-commitment to face our differences and disagreements among ourselves as evangelicals and as evangelical Anglicans with non-evangelical Anglicans in a godly manner shaped by Paul’s exhortation:
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God (Col. 3:12-16).
The Revd Dr