There have been moments across the last several decades when a clear choice has been presented to faithful Christians still within the Church of England. Most of those arose from specific actions or comments of those outside the CofE who reacted to what was taking place within the CofE—though some came as a result of faithful pastors leaving the CofE.
Among the most well-known instances is when Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones gave a talk to the National Assembly of Evangelicals on 18 October, 1966. Briefly, Dr Lloyd-Jones gave an address in which he, rightly in my view, called for evangelicals to pursue visible unity with other evangelicals. He criticised Anglican evangelicals for their failure to unite with evangelicals outside the Church of England. He also criticised them for compromising through their continued involvement in what was then (as now) clearly a ‘mixed denomination’—one in which they continued alongside people who were both doctrinally and spiritually unfaithful. Although being chairman, the Revd John Stott altered the course of the conference and publicly responded to Dr Lloyd-Jones’ remarks, resisting his claims and his appeal to Anglican evangelicals. Had people thought rather more doctrinally however, more biblically, and less denominationally, that would have been a moment when the truth challenge presented by Dr Lloyd-Jones could, or even should, have precipitated dramatic change, and many departures from the CofE.
Later, in 1994, several faithful men, led by the Revd David Samuel, founded the Church of England Continuing at a meeting at St Mary’s, Castle Street, Reading. The given reasons for this move were as a reaction against the use of contemporary-language liturgies (particularly the 1980 Alternative Service Book) and the recently approved ordination of women as priests. There were many other biblical and doctrinal matters that lay behind their action. The bottom line, however, is that this was another opportunity presented to faithful Christians within the CofE to step away from a body which was rapidly moving away from any pretence at fidelity to the Scriptures. It was one not taken.
Historically, there were many other small denominations which were begun by those who had the desire to uphold the Protestantism of the CofE, but who had found it impossible to do. Amongst them there were the Reformed Episcopal Church, which came into being in the UK in the 1870s; the Free Church of England, which had begun formally in 1863 and which would be the most significant. After they conjoined in a new body in 1927, their gradual declension from theological and doctrinal Protestantism became obvious, and today they are a thoroughly ‘mixed denomination.’ At the time of their founding though, most especially in 1863, an opportunity had been handed to Protestant clergy and believers in the CofE to join a body which was both viable as a denomination, and faithful to Scripture.
None of these opportunities were taken, and it seems that ‘doctrinal red lines’ have simply been redrawn by the overwhelming majority of CofE evangelicals. Across the years, since I was brought to saving faith, I have had many discussions with current CofE clergy in which I have raised this issue. But the response has always been a clear statement that they were prepared to redraw such red lines as often as was necessary to enable them to remain within the CofE. One example is someone who declared themselves evangelical, yet when pushed, accepted a woman as minister in a second church over which he had responsibility: ‘She’s under my authority, so the people there are under my authority.’ Such semantics do the gospel truth no favours, and it is no surprise that after retirement, this man began to attend a church with a woman vicar.
One by one, the biblical teachings that should underpin the CofE have been attacked by godless people. One by one, they have been twisted, altered and removed. And each time another part of the Protestant faith has been dismantled, the overwhelming majority of CofE ministers and people have found ways to justify remaining within a boat no longer headed for Christ, but for perdition.
After coming to faith, I briefly spent time within the CofE, but soon realised that the compromises required to do so were unacceptable. Even in a genuinely conservative evangelical CofE congregation, the idea of being part of a larger body whose ministers openly included those who were Romanists as well as those who were unbelievers was impossible for me. The spiritual and doctrinal direction being taken by the CofE was clearly fast travelling away from fidelity to Scripture.
In these last few days, that direction has taken yet another step. It is even clearer (as if the fog had not lifted decades ago) that Isaiah’s dire warning is to be directed at the institution of the CofE: ‘Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!’ Isaiah 5:20.
The last twenty years have seen the Bible’s teaching about morality rapidly thrown aside by those leading the CofE. Openly homosexual ministers, living with their ‘partners’, have been commonplace, without any comment, discipline or chastisement from those tasked with keeping the CofE faithful. Archbishops have openly sorrowed about the lot of the active homosexuals who have demanded that the CofE depart from biblical teaching and adopt godless secular behaviours. The Church of England has failed to make clear that it does not believe young children should be affirmed in a transgender identity. It has ordained, and kept within its ministry, those who claim to be ‘non-binary’.
And now it is preparing to abuse God’s Word further by allowing, permitting in church, blessing in church, ‘same-sex relationships’—that which God’s Word clearly states is sin (Romans 1:26–27, 1 Timothy 1:10, 1 Corinthians 6:9, Jude 1:7, let alone the Old Testament teachings). The Archbishop of Canterbury has wrung his hands about this decision, but then has said that he ‘celebrates’ it. The ‘Bishop’ of London has said that homosexuals may ignore the Ten Commandments, and no longer need to be chaste in order to lead godly lives. The ‘Bishop’ of Bristol has gone further, ‘I further support a change to the law that would allow for the marriage of same-sex couples in church, and regret that this proposal does not extend that legal change.’ And the Archbishop of York has said, ‘When we see a committed, stable, faithful relationship between two people of the same sex, we are now in a position where those people can be welcomed fully into the life of the church on their terms.’
Archbishop Beach of GAFCON has said that their decision went against the consensus of the Body of Christ from every tribe, tongue, people and nation alive today, which is true, but that it goes against God’s Word is even more of a condemnation. And in all this there are still evangelical ministers within the CofE sitting on their hands, staying put, seemingly searching for yet another way to justify remaining in what is clearly no longer a Protestant denomination. Fidelity to the teaching of God’s Word should be their directing principle; standing apart from those who compromise, twist, and pervert God’s truth should not be a difficult choice; and yet they remain with a denomination which is in my view clearly institutionally apostate. And by doing so, they say to the onlooking world that these things do not matter, that biblical morality is simply a matter of opinion, and that they are one in faith with those who distort God’s truth into an unrecognisable and utterly godless form. ‘Where to now’ for these men? Will they stay on this sunken ship? Or will they lead their people out of the desert, and into the way of truth?
I close by repeating some words of Dr Lloyd-Jones from 1966, which are as relevant to this situation as they were to the events he then addressed. ‘What then are evangelicals to do in this situation? I reply by saying that we must heed a great injunction in Revelation 18:4: “Come out of her my people!” “Come out of her, my people, that ye be not partakers of her sins, and that ye receive not of her plagues.” Come out of it!’
Revd Dominic Stockford, PTS Chairman