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.