Unrest in Southwark – A Kuhrt Response?!

The proposed ‘Southwark Ministry Trust’ has (not unexpectedly) caught the eye of those interested in Church Politics. But it’s also caused some consternation amongst those that agree that the situation in the Church of England, and perhaps especially the Diocese of Southwark, is lamentable.

Stephen Kuhrt, the Vicar of Christ Church New Malden in the Southwark Diocese, has written a response to the proposed trust fund on the Fulcrum website.

Let me begin by saying that there are many things that I liked about the article.

First, I think he’s made a shrewd and insightful observation in his first paragraph when he writes,

It is often much easier for evangelicals to agree upon problems within the church than their solutions. This is because our understanding of such problems is usually based upon the relative consensus that evangelicals broadly possess over doctrine and ethics. Proposed solutions to these problems, on the other hand, often reveal the diversity amongst evangelicals when it comes to one particular area of doctrine: our ecclesiology or theology of the church.

I agree with that. But it remains incumbent upon those of us that agree with the issue to do all that we can not to fall out over the tactics we employ to try to effect the change for which we all hope, pray for and work towards.

Secondly, I respect him for the recent stand he’s taken within the Diocese in opposing the cause of biblical revisionism evident in the recent appointment of so many Liberal-Catholics to senior posts. Stephen writes, ‘It is for these reasons that I have been among those who have criticised the imbalance within the Southwark appointments and strongly communicated this upset and dissatisfaction to our Bishop, Christopher Chessun’. It’s not easy to contend for the truth. You get shot at. And good for Stephen if he’s willing to take the hits on this one.

Thirdly, I agree with him that there remain questions and difficulties that surround the administration and distribution of funds from the Southwark Trust Fund. Some of those questions have been addressed already and others, no doubt, are being worked out as the plan evolves. I’m sure that those responsible will carry on responding to the criticisms that come their way and clearing up any misunderstandings or misrepresentations. But he need not be unduly suspicious of the phraseology that’s been employed by the Trust in their wording of the proposals.

Fourthly, I broadly agree with him about the subsidy culture. Stephen writes, ‘I have major issues with the ‘subsidy culture’ that asks for such a crippling amount and is so discouraging to church growth’. Having said that, I’m pretty sure that Stephen would support the redistribution of income to church ministries that are unlikely ever to be self-sustaining so long as the church is involved in gospel ministry consistent with the theology of the Church of England as contained in the 39 Articles.

But I’m not completely onboard with everything that Stephen says.

I don’t think that the so-called ‘balance’ that has apparently existed in the Diocese of Southwark has been a good thing. I’d be very happy to see it lurch off in one direction, as long as that direction was towards biblical orthodoxy. My issue with the Diocese (in particular) and the Church of England (in general) is that it still offers a place for the theologically unorthodox. Consider this, if a hospital employed Doctors who administered poison rather than medicine I wouldn’t expect people to rejoice in the diversity of the staff team. False teaching is poisonous. It undermines faith. It destroys people. And its proponents are wicked. I’m not interested in a balanced portfolio of Church Ministers from differing theological positions and traditions in Southwark. I know it’s a pipe dream but I want uniformity; theological uniformity (but missional diversity) of the biblical kind. We may never see it in our day but let’s at least be clear about it!

I guess I’m just not committed to what Stephen describes as ‘principled comprehensiveness’. Or at least I’m not committed to it in the way that I’ve seen it exercised in practice. Stephen’s understanding and familiarity with contemporary church history will be better than mine and so I’ll assume that his take on Keele is accurate. But regardless of what was decided just off the M6 at the end of the sixties, I just can’t sign up to an unspecified comprehensiveness. Comprehensiveness needs to have some limits. There’s such a thing as being too comprehensive. If the Church of England is all-encompassing then it stands for nothing and it means nothing. The Jerusalem Declaration put some limits on comprehensiveness. I’d have liked something a little tighter than that but I’m happy to work with it. A friend compared it to the Elizabethan Settlement at the Reformation. I just nodded and pretended that I’d understood the reference. But it seems to me that the proponents of biblical revisionism are having a field day with our inability to apply the first part of the phrase ‘principled comprehensiveness’. And that’s my issue with Stephen’s opposition to the Trust Fund. It’s not principled. It’s probably an unfair caricature but, if I’ve understood him correctly then he’s saying we need to keep paying quota and that gives us the right to voice our complaints. That’s just so politically passive and naive. We’re getting taken to the cleaners. And we’re funding it!

And it’s also true that I disagree with the proposed methodology for change. One that was apparently agreed upon at Keele. I wasn’t there so I didn’t have any input. In fact, I wasn’t born! But where has being ‘fully involved’ actually got us? Since Keele, are we really in a better position because of the approach adopted at Keele? I don’t doubt the integrity or motives behind those who were involved. Neither do I wish to denigrate the activities and efforts of evangelical clergy and layman who got stuck into the administrative and theological structures of the Church of England. But we need to ask ourselves whether, after 40 years of this approach, the cause of evangelicalism in the C of E has been strengthened because we got involved in the Deanery Synod. Is it not the case that evangelicalism has made advances across the country because of things like the growing political influence of sizeable evangelical churches (St Helen’s and HTB in London, and St Ebbe’s and St Aldates in Oxford for example), church planting across parish boundaries (with or without Diocesan sanction), the increasing numbers of young Bible believing and Bible teaching clergy and the increasing belligerency of evangelicals who find what they need for ministry from alternative structures? But perhaps that’s a post for another time.

13 thoughts on “Unrest in Southwark – A Kuhrt Response?!

  1. Lauri Moyle May 17, 2012 / 6:31 pm

    One persons theological uniformity is another persons missional uniformity etc.

    Do you think that your stridency and the stridency of others like you, who want theological uniformity (defined by the Jerusalem Declaration, no matter what!) has alienated or to use the metaphor above poisoned anybody? I say this as somebody who has been marginally alienated by an ecclesiology influenced by modernity and personal liberty I have experience in CoMission.

    I say modernity and personal liberty (at least in some aspects of your blog post) is the starting point of your appeal against Keele. You say “One that was apparently agreed upon at Keele. I wasn’t there so I didn’t have any input. In fact, I wasn’t born!” *Chuckles to self* (Presumably?!)

    Now, I am not necessarily in agreement with the Eastern Orthodox Lady who when asked about when she became a Christian said “800 years ago.” But there is something sobering about her answer when it comes to a broader understanding of unity within the body of Christ, one which I think is sorely lacking in those so stridently calling for a return to orthodoxy. Whose Co? What Mission? Bunch of boisterous “men’s men”.

    It’s hard to measure the impact of Keele, but the work going on in evangelical churches you mention might be thriving because of Keele! I know of people who left the CofE when Lloyd-Jones called for separation, who could have done more significant work for the Gospel in the CofE than out, and left and their work languished.

    Modern Theology has been developing for at least 200 years if not more. Forty years a piss-poor measure of time in comparison, not least because there are some excellent developments within the CofE in the last 10, which are being ignored by you, and that saddens me.

    • Ed Drew May 18, 2012 / 12:54 pm

      Lauri,

      Is your reply really in response to Perks’ blogpost? Your comments don’t seem to really be engaging with what he’s saying. I agree you’ve taken direct quotes but its as if you’ve imagined what he means by them.

      Do you really want to be so aggressive against Perks’ relatively even- handed post? Let’s be honest, Perks has it in him to really rant when he wants to! Of course Perks is coming from his own perspective, but he is clearly deliberately trying to be balanced to show that there is a broad evangelical concensus. Would you not want to agree with that, even briefly?

      You can comment however you wish, but it appears a little as though if Perks said grass was green, you’d come out fighting.

      • Lauri Moyle May 18, 2012 / 3:52 pm

        Ed, I agree that this post was relatively even-handed but for the use of the poison metaphor, which wins nobody any friends and is actually profoundly alienating. If you have to get along with the people you ostensibly espouse to be in the same church with (like it or not they are institutionally at least very much a part of the CofE) and also ask them for the use of their buildings they have legal authority and responsibility for, then saying such things is not helpful.

        There is a broad evangelical consensus which I never denied. Something is not right in the Dioceses of Southwalk. The Jerusalem Declaration is a nifty document. GAFCON excites me (and terrifies me at the same time for reasons which I am not going to go into now).

        The point to my response’s and the broader thrust of contention that I have with Richard is one which relates to ecclesiology and practice. Yesterday I wrote encouragingly on his blog on the mission so I think your comment about the grass being green is a little off hand. Granted I often do not appreciate his tone or how he chooses to write about some of these things without caveat (and my nature is to probalamatize black and white or polarized comment).

        I might not have made myself as clear is my thoughts where in my mind, but I think there is enough to go on in what I have written on this post to make head and tale of what I mean and what I am getting at, particularly if you did read Kuhrts piece.

        It does talk about what “comprehensiveness” means within the context of the “principled comprehensiveness” Richard mentioned, but did not quote.

        Kuhrt said: “Part of what the ‘comprehensiveness’ side of this involves, however, is an equal commitment to remaining fully embedded within a diverse church…” and that “The understanding of the evangelicals who gathered at Keele, however, was that this situation [revisionism in the churches upper echelons] would only change through their being fully committed to involvement in the church’s structures and accepting the frustrations and disappointments, as well as the successes and opportunities, that would result from this.”

        Kuhrt therefore does say what comprehensiveness means (in the sense that you stay within the institutional structures of the institution you are a part of) and requires commitment to principles that are already written into the fabric of the Church of England, particularly as Keele happened at a time when “the Church of England was far more liberal with creedal orthodoxy amongst its bishops, for instance, being far weaker than it is today.”

        The questions I asked are not rhetorical questions and therefore I was challenging Perks to argue why he though Keele was irrelevant or non effective. Or why 40 years is a good measure, rather than lets say 200 years. This is an institutional behemoth we are talking about here, after all.

        I also turn what Richard says about the effective evangelical churches on its head and say that it might have been precisely because of Keele that these churches (HTB, St Helens, Oxford churches) are able to do what they are doing now (as full members of the CofE).

        Richard might be taking all this personally. I might have already judged that what I am saying has more to do with him than with any substantive point I was attempting to make. That would be a wrong assumption. He even seems to think that I have not read his post properly. You seem to be saying that I have not read the post or that I am unfairly putting words into Richard’s mouth. I welcome either one of you pointing out to me where I may have misunderstood, or misrepresented what he says/means.

  2. LondonVicar May 18, 2012 / 6:47 am

    I think Mr Moyle’s point lacks substance.

    The Jerusalem Declaration was drawn up by 1500 delegates from the Anglican Communion, representing 80% of the Anglican Communion in total.

    It is not an arbitrary statement. Or anything particularly novel.

    It is simply a restatement of orthodox Christian belief.

    It makes no comment about church tradition, or dress, or women’s ordination,
    or other minor matters.

    It basically does for 21st Anglicanism what the Elizabethan Settlement did for 16thC Anglicanism:

    it says these are the boundaries of orthodox belief and behaviour.
    Feel free to operate within these.

    Why would we not support such a move?

    • Lauri Moyle May 18, 2012 / 10:23 am

      London Vicar, come out from hiding and let us know you. The context of my comments are as important as the content of them and there is undoubtedly much that you miss in the content of my comments because of the context. It has little to do with whether it is right to join trust or not.

      To be clear the Jerusalem Declaration is fine by me. The 39 articles would have been fine by me also. That was not the point of my comment. The thrust of that particular point was about the stridency, and lack of healthy introspection or self critical understanding when it comes to time, and history in the above post. One example where our liberal friends have been helpful to us is in helping us understand aspects of modernity which run deeply counter to a world view that is Christ centered. They may have gone too far in some aspects but…

      Doctrine cannot be released from the duty it has to those who understand it within history, inasmuch as it cannot be divorced from the Holy Spirit who helps us understand it, given the limitations and constraints of time and contexts. Constants are always in context and divorcing constants (such as those found articulated in the Jerusalem Declaration) from context betrays a loyalty to a modernistic understanding of “truth” which one can argue the early church would not have recognized.

      Perks saying he was not at Keele therefore Keele doesn’t mean that much sounds a bit self centered. What does a commitment to the Church of England look like, if it does not require any understanding or loyalty to what has come before? What does it mean for an Evangelical to love his fellow liberal Anglican? Calling them poisonous? All of what they do?

      Ill say again what i said in the first line: “One persons theological uniformity is another persons missional uniformity etc.”

      To add to context the CoMission network is strange in its formation because ecclesiastically it is completely pragmatic in its formation. It is a grouping of churches, some Anglican but not “officially” CofE, some CofE proper and some Free Church. Its preachers teach uniformity but in its association it is not uniform but diverse.

  3. MichaelA May 18, 2012 / 9:06 am

    Richard, thanks for posting this.

    Stephen Kuhrt has indeed spoken out publicly against Bishop Chessun’s appointments, and deserves a hearing. But at times his article reads as though the Southwark Trust involved schism. But it doesn’t.

    Rather, I suggest the Trust offers one of the best prospects of *avoiding* schism. It is a warning to the liberals in CofE. Hopefully they will heed the warning.

    • theurbanpastor May 18, 2012 / 9:26 am

      Thanks for your comments Michael. Stephen was interviewed on Premier Radio a few days ago and he made the important point that we do need to be careful of an ever sub-dividing schismatic tendency as we search in vain for the pure church. I think he has a point. But that’s not what’s going on here. This is conviction evangelicals saying enough is enough we need to put a stop to the runaway train of liberal revisionism.

  4. LondonVicar May 18, 2012 / 10:46 am

    I’m not calling anyone poisonous.

    But let’s call a spade a spade.

    Let’s call liberalism revisionism because that is what it is.

    Then we know what we are talking about.

    We can learn things from anyone of course.

    But we overstate the case.

    Many evangelicals have done work on social issues.

    eg John Stott, David Wells, etc.

    I don’t need to follow the Bishop of Salisbury to know the pain of gay people:
    I can learn that from gay friends or the True Freedom Trust.

    • Lauri Moyle May 18, 2012 / 2:54 pm

      Thanks, the poison comment irked me most about the above. My point about modernity is not about social issues, and its precicelly mentioning John Stott which is appropos, as he was the one behind Keele… anyway

      • LondonVicar May 18, 2012 / 3:43 pm

        sorry but i dont think I am the only one who thinks you are talking goobledegook.

        (See Ed’s Drew comment above)

      • Lauri Moyle May 18, 2012 / 3:46 pm

        somebody else mentioned verbal diarrhea. I am currently typing a response to Ed.

    • MichaelA May 19, 2012 / 9:58 am

      Hi LondonVicar,

      Your posts on the Fulcrum blog were encouraging to read.

      And I agree – evangelicals don’t need to go to the liberals to learn social action; we are doing plenty of it, here in Australia, and in Britain, and all over the world.

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