By the Revd Dr Mark Pickles
The reality is that the Church of England is a ‘synodically governed’ Church. It is here that decisions that impact the whole denomination are debated and voted upon.
Here we face two problems at least:
- 1) Anyone who is ordained as a minister of the gospel because of a love for Christ and a passion for the spread of the gospel does not naturally lie awake at night dreaming of one day being elected to Synod. The natural inclination of a gospel-hearted minister is to expend all his time and energy in gospel ministry, rather than sitting on committees and engaging in long hours of debate. Thus, not surprisingly, many conservative evangelicals are reluctant to devote time and energy to Synodical involvement. Again, this is why it is crucial that we do not divorce our ecclesiology from our missiology, but rather to see that being involved in the structures, discussing, making decisions and shaping the future direction of the Church is part of gospel ministry.
- 2) Quite simply – numbers are crucial. Synodical government means that policies and decisions are implemented by voting. If those who hold to biblical truth are in a minority – they will lose the vote. It is as simple as that. Thus it is imperative that in order to ensure biblical faithfulness, we need more members of Synod who are committed to the biblical gospel. All too often, in recent years, we have been fighting a rear-guard action, trying to put out fires and exercise damage limitation. However, a vision for the renewal and revival of the denomination helps us to imagine a different kind of Synod. A General Synod filled with bishops, clergy and laity who are clearly and intentionally committed to the authority of Scripture so that all debates, discussions and decisions would be governed first and foremost by a desire to understand what the Bible says and then to implement and uphold that would be glorious indeed. Synod ought not to be an organisation viewed with distrust, tolerated as a necessary evil in which evangelicals fight desperately to limit its unbiblical decisions, but rather as the denomination’s governing body seeking the advance of the gospel. The role of well-taught, wise and biblically faithful laity is absolutely crucial here, but it is through the ministry of biblically faithful pastor-teachers that well-taught laity will be equipped to serve the Church on Synod.
This will never be the case until there are many more conservative evangelicals on Synod. That in turn, will never happen until there are many more conservative evangelicals and until they are voted on to Synod.96 That will never happen until there are many more gospel-centred churches and congregations actively involved and participating in the life of the Church. And that will never happen until there are many more conservative evangelical ministers who are at work in pioneering, establishing and securing local congregations committed to the Word of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. And that will never happen until we have many, many more ordinands.
Pray to the Lord of the Harvest for More Workers
One of the most crucial and urgent needs in the Church of England, therefore, is the raising up of godly, Bible-believing, gospel-hearted leaders. And where are they to come from but the local church? As we have already noted, Jesus said that the harvest was plentiful but that the workers were few. The solution to that, according to Jesus, is not indifference or passivity, but urgent prayer to God to raise up more workers.
Ordinands do not appear out of a vacuum. My plea is for an integrated vision for the renewal and reform of the denomination. My concern is that as Anglican evangelicals, we:
- Lack, or are disinterested in, a theological vision of historic, Reformed, authentic Anglicanism or
- Have a vision for gospel growth that is localised and parochial or
- Have a larger vision for gospel growth that is indifferent to ecclesiology and simply aims to multiply lots of ‘local Anglican churches’
- Have a larger vision for gospel growth majoring on gospel distinctives and pursues gospel growth in partnership with other gospel churches regardless of denominational allegiance.
The weakness with all the above is that there is no comprehensive vision for the renewal and reform of the denomination. Lacking such a vision, it is inevitable that we will also therefore lack a strategy. A strategy to renew and reform the denomination must be rooted in the ministry and mission of the local church, but the local church needs to have a biblical vision for the outward spread of the gospel to the ends of the earth. I am arguing that this ought to be ecclesiologically shaped, not ecclesiologically indifferent.
Excerpted from Gospel-Driven Anglicanism by the Revd Dr Mark Pickles, pages 113-114, 2017.