I’m a church plodder too

A great article on why Anglicanism is worth it: Back to the Future. Reforming the Church of England – Learning from the past.

Some choice quotes:

The Church of England, as we heard last year, is not halfway between Rome and Geneva; it is halfway between Luther and the Anabaptists, which brings you to Calvin – we stand for moderate Calvinism. We heard last year that the Thirty-nine Articles have a marvellous breadth – they are not as narrowly tight as the Westminster Confession.

So there is a breadth. We like bishops – the idea of bishops at any rate – because they are better than a committee.

But, as I said, Keele was a two-headed monster because the baton was then handed to some of the then younger evangelicals who had a different agenda. Their agenda was not so much to crusade for the Church of England to be once again Reformed, Protestant and evangelical, but to make evangelicalism an accepted stream within the Church of England, and I have had a private letter from one such. He said that in order to do that there had to be ‘compromise’ and that was something that the founding fathers had not bargained for.

In the middle of the eighteenth century, the state of the Church of England was far, far worse than it is today.

There were a number of contributing factors to that improvement, but Ryle’s theory, as a cricketer, was that it could be put down to a first eleven of eighteenth century Christian leaders, although there were other factors as well. And here are some of the marks of the people that Ryle talks about in his book. First of all, they held very firmly to their evangelical doctrine and convictions. If you had asked someone at the beginning of the nineteenth century what it meant to be an evangelical he would have said it was to be a ‘Bible person’ and ‘to be converted’, and that perception reflected the priorities of our eighteenth century heroes.

On occasion they went beyond their parishes, and Haslam (admittedly a century later) did exactly the same. I hope you have come across Haslam’s first book From Death unto Life. This recounts how he was converted by his own sermon. I quote from his in some ways more significant second book Yet not I: ‘My parish of Buckenham was but a small one. I accepted it in the hope that I might be more free to do good in the county at large, or rather in the two counties of Norfolk and Suffolk. My hope was not disappointed for I received letters from all parts inviting me to come and preach the gospel. Besides the invitations I also received letters from bishops and clergy taking me painfully to task. As to these complaints, I must say that I never intended or desired to make myself obnoxious to the ecclesiastical powers, but for all that I could not refuse the appeals which were continually sent to me. It was not pleasant to be reproved, nor can I say that my heart did not beat with some agitation when I read these letters. Bishops one after another reprimanded me and sometimes two or more at the same time.’

It was said of Grimshaw that he was marked by a rare diligence and self-denial, but he was pre-eminently a peace-maker, and he was marked by a rare humility, a rare charity and brotherly love. I take it that preachers of the gospel of grace must manifest grace in their lives. Ryle comments on all these heroes and then bemoans what he sees missing in his own day, the late nineteenth century: ‘I am obliged then to say plainly, that, in my judgement, we have among us neither the men nor the doctrines of the days gone by. We have no-one who preaches with such peculiar power as Whitefield or Rowlands. We have none who in self-denial, singleness of eye, diligence, holy boldness and unworldliness, come up to the level of Grimshaw, Walker, Venn…. It is a humbling conclusion: but I have long felt that it is the truth. We lack both the men and the message of the last century. What wonder if we do not see the last century’s results.’

We have got to control ourselves. We may indeed disagree very seriously with much of what the Archbishop of Canterbury says but it cannot be right to be rude and offensive. He never is himself. We must remain gracious. There is no place for discourtesy.

We must do church planting but, having said that, church planting can become a form of idolatry. I was very liberated at the evangelical Ministry Assembly a few years ago, which was on church planting. Dick Lucas (former Rector of St Helen’s, Bishopsgate, City of London) stood up and said that he was not a ‘church planter’, he was a ‘church plodder‘, despite the fact that St Helen’s provided one of the most innovative and effective forms of evangelism of the twentieth century. It was essentially a lay movement, which Dick would affirm, and was very remarkable indeed. Incidentally, I worked at St Helens for five years, and it was a great privilege because St Helens existed and still exists for the benefit of other churches. We are all wanting to grow, but St Helens wanted to give.

We must not lose those opportunities. It may be much slower, there may have to be little accommodations, we may have to wear robes ‘ it is very worrying if some of our young men say: ‘Oh, I can’t go there, I might have to wear robes.’ Robes are totally unimportant. We must be prepared to wear them for the gospel’s sake. Phillip Jensen (Dean of St Andrew’s Cathedral, Sydney) says that if you have the opportunity of going to a church which has not had an evangelical tradition, then what you are to do is to take the services really well, you are to preach really well, and you are to go visiting around the parish. So we must not forsake the Church of England.

Dick Lucas said to me on one occasion: ‘Why is it that some of our young men are in such a hurry?‘ He answered his own question by saying: ‘It’s because they don’t trust the Word. They haven’t read the parable of the seed growing secretly – it takes time, it takes time.’

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