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You do not represent me

Covenant cartoon

For the last few years, my wife and I have attended the New Wine summer conferences. Ostensibly, at first, because our church decamped to Somerset for two weeks every Summer, we have become regulars in the team that corrals 500 ten and eleven year olds per week.

I’ve been impressed with New Wine generally speaking. I like their emphasis on the Spirit of God as well as the word of God and when I first attended they were a great example of people trying to be both Anglican and charismatic and evangelical (I appreciate not everyone there was Anglican but that is certainly its base).

I was at one of those Summer conferences when I first felt God might be calling me to the ministry and, indeed, I came to Ridley Hall in part because of Chris Cocksworth, our principal, who I’d known from the Liturgical Commission but also from seeing him at New Wine and looking after one of his sons for a week.

New Wine have an ordinands network and fairly recently I signed up. It maybe because of my familiarity with them, but of all the different groups in the CofE, they are a network with whom I feel a lot of affinity.

A couple of years ago, at New Wine, I listened to Mike Breen give an incredibly rich series of talks on the subject of Covenant and learnt a massive amount from this evangelical former leader of the massive St. Thomas’, Crookes. I had heard him speak about it previously when I was in Sheffield when he spoke at the Christian Union there but that week at New Wine was a great opportunity for him to expand on that short talk and I would thoroughly recommend the CD if you can still get hold of it.

I am paraphrasing to avoid making this post even longer than it is, but as Mike explained it, he noted that in biblical times, a covenant was made between two persons who would shed a lot of blood (of animals), arrange the body parts in a kind of corridor and then make various vows before they would walk through the passage of carcasses and stand at the opposite ends, making vows and symbolically showing by their exchange of places how they were taking on covenantal responsibility for the other. We get a hint of all this in Genesis 15.

Last week, a group of evangelical leaders met with the Archbishop of Canterbury and delivered a ‘covenant’ (their words) for the Church of England.

Ordinarily, I wouldn’t give two hoots what people like Reform and Anglican Mainstream get up to. Maybe I should but life is too short. However, I was particularly concerned to see John Coles of the New Wine Networks on the list of people who attended the meeting. Since he was at Sheffield doing his PhD around the time I was there as an undergrad, I was also disappointed to see Mark Stibbe (now at St. Andrew’s Chorleywood) on the list of signatories.

Dave Walker, who penned the brilliant cartoon reproduced above, also noted that Richard Turnbull was present and as he is principal of Wycliffe, he also sort of represents the theological colleges and Ridley amongst them. It has to be noted that Richard Turnbull is listed as a signatory as Chairman for the Church of England Evangelical Council and not as Principal of Wycliffe and I am not aware of any official involvement from Ridley in the matter so I am going to focus on New Wine and on the signatories who really should have known better in my opinion – John Coles, Mark Stibbe and even the legend that is John Stott; all of whom have gone down massively in my estimation for putting their signature to this rubbish.

Given that these evangelical leaders are so concerned with “a commitment to the biblical truths on which the Anglican Communion is based”, I would like to know on what basis their use of the word “covenant” in any way reflects the biblical teaching on covenant or indeed, as Mike put it, how their covenant reflects a symbolic exchanging of places – taking on a responsibility one for another? How can they possibly believe that they are in any way showing themselves committed to anyone else in the broad theological spectrum that is the Anglican church? How are they showing the love of Jesus towards fellow members of his body?

I would like to call attention to two American priests who sum this up well from different angles. Nick Kniseley posted in the Summer and noted in regard to the ability to listen:

“It seems to me that if we are serious in our belief that the Holy Spirit acts within the Church to lead us into all truth, then we have no alternative but to listen to see what the Spirit is saying to us in the lives of Gay and Lesbian people. I have no doubt that there is great learning here. I do not presume to know what that learning is. I am, however, reminded of a quote I heard in a favorite sermon: “Listening conversation that starts with a predetermined outcome is neither conversation nor is it listening.”” (my emphasis)

Secondly, Rick Lord (whose blog I only discovered today) talks of his commitment to love and relationship:

“Yes, there are evangelical priests who love the Episcopal Church and who remain faithful to its doctrine, discipline, and worship. I’m one of them. Yes, there are matters in our family over which I am deeply vexed. But for me, relational unity precedes doctrinal unity, a conviction grounded in the writings of St. Paul (see 1 Corinthians, chapter 12).” (my emphasis)

To Mr Coles and all of the rest of you who attended that meeting and signed that covenant, when you go in to meet the Archbishop and present him and the entire Church of England, let alone the Anglican Communion, with a threat to take all your money away and all the other threats your covenant contained, you do not represent me.

When you try to backup your threats by substantiating the number and population of charismatic and evangelical churches in the Church of England, you can at least subtract one because YOU DO NOT REPRESENT ME.

Apparently, I am not alone either. Fulcrum’s initial response turned their nose up at your efforts while Tom Wright’s response (also on the Fulcrum web site) is pretty much required reading for all evangelicals who are trying to make sense of this whole situation.

At times in the last few years, I’ve struggled with my evangelical background. I’ve even railed against it on this very blog in the past. However, this term at Ridley, particularly in Chris Cocksworth’s lectures on Eucharistic liturgy, I’ve discovered more about what it means to be both Anglican and Evangelical and I’m growing more comfortable with the labels once again. I am pretty sure about ancestors in the faith who wore both labels would turn in their graves at the actions of the ‘covenanters’.

It leaves me deeply concerned at their motivations and (I don’t say this lightly or easily) their sense of security in the gospel. I have to ask of these ‘covenanters’ as Paul Roberts does in his brilliant lament for Evangelicalism:

“Do you still believe in the gospel? Or are you so concerned about the purity of the Church that you’ve made the gospel a function of ethics or ecclesiology.”

and again from Paul’s take on this whole mess:

“So whom will the Lord send? Who will be his messengers? Those who answer that call will be the true evangelicals of the future. As for you, unless you urgently change your ways, it is now long past the time for you to surrender that once illustrious name.”

I’ve been deeply, deeply unimpressed by all this. More than that, I’ve been deeply, deeply saddened. So what do I intend to do? Well, for one as a fairly recent member of New Wine, I’ll be making sure they know that I’m not happy for them to be ‘representing’ when there was zero consultation in the matter. I’ll also query the whole thing with Ridley although I am pretty sure they weren’t involved.

Lastly, I am going to keep doing what I believe we’re all called to do. To listen, to love, to live in unity with one another… even the signatories of this covenant (if they are prepared to live in unity with me)… to treasure the body of Christ and its well-being. As Paul Roberts describes it “to try and discover that outward-focus, creativity and adaptability which was once the hallmark of Evangelicalism”.

*** update, 09/01/2007 ***

At the first meeting of the new term, Chris Cocksworth, the principal here at Ridley Hall, confirmed that Ridley had not been consulted at all on the covenant document and that he felt it was misguided. He said more but I don’t feel at liberty to say more than that given that his comments were addressed to us as students.

Comments

Tom Allen
Reply

A very encouraging post for someone who would not call myself an evangelical but believes that evangelicals are a vital part of the breadth of the Church of England. I have been particularly concerned about the involvement of theological colleges and their staff over the past three or four years with people training at Wycliffe who seem to leave with no real sense of the breadth of the Church of England – and if they have not gained that before going to college they start their ministies with a very limited view of the Church. I doubt that this kind of thing would have occurred at Ridley or Wycliffe under their previous principals and hope that it remains the same today. Blessings to you. Glad to have picked on Rick Lord he writes the most wonderful posts
Tom

David
Reply

Thanks Tom – I think it does remain the same today at Ridley. I feel like I had a pretty broad experience before I got here because of my old job, but the Cambridge Theological Federation and our good friends across the way at Westcott help to keep us at Ridley broad!

Nick Knisely
Reply

A lovely post David – thanks for writing it. I continue to believe that only the way for the Communion to get through this difficult moment is be exceedingly humble with each other, and to remember that we’ve been down this road before in our history.

I’m reading the book “God’s Secretaries” about the translation of the KJV and am being struck again and again with the simularities in the CofE of that time and the Communion of our day. I never thought I’d find King James a sympathetic figure, but I do now. (And even find myself identifying with him amazingly enough.)

Mouse
Reply

Well put, David. I doubt that Ridley has any part in this either. I read the covenant via the Fulcrum site with disbelief – it reminded me of the way that Richard Dawkins has a go at religion, so biassed and off beam that it discredits itself with any thinking person. That said, during my time at Ridley I have drifted further towards the centre ground re evangelicanism so perhaps I am biassed to start with, although I would accept the label still in the sense that I think that scripture and a personal commitment to Christ are central to being a Christian. There is no way that I would want to be put in the same box as those who produced this covenant.

Ann
Reply

Thanks for the idea of exchanging places in Covenant – I see it as sort of along the lines of “walking a mile in another’s moccasins” as we say in Wyoming.

David
Reply

Why can’t I write as well as Andrew Goddard’s analysis of events? Go check it out – it’s worth the read and crystallizes several key issues in this whole covenant business that are worth taking the time to consider.

Richard Frank
Reply

As an ex-Ridley-ite myself, it’s good to hear the old place is still as good as ever (I was there in Graham Cray’s time). I’ve been biding my time and trying to read all the good stuff on this (including this excellent post – thanks!) before posting on my church blog, but I do feel very sad about it all. I also feel rather cross at what has been done apparently in my name (as a member of the New Wine Networks).

I love the cartoon too – I was thinking of using it to pass round to all those I know in the New Wine network asking them to contact John Coles if they disagree – it’s only fair that we actually make our voices heard on this.

Best wishes – and thanks again for the post.

Rev Sam
Reply

Thanks for this. I come from the other wing, and for various reasons (see here) have only recently got to know evangelical theology in the last two or three years – but one of the major influences, and big ‘breaking down of barriers’ books, was Cocksworth’s book on Evangelical Eucharistic theology. People like him and Tom Wright seem wonderful, with a profound awareness of evangelical history and orthodox theology; these “covenanters” precisely the opposite.

Simon Heron
Reply

Thanks for that David. I have two blog posts that are partly written on this very subjest, but I got inceasingly frustrated trying to write a succinct post to sum up my own response. Maybe it’s just impossible and needs a more considered reply – as you’ve done here.
I too feel let down by people who I had looked up to and although I’ve never been to New Wine, I would have described myself as that way inclined.

All very sad 🙁

42
Reply

Christian Protexting HowTo. Links to start the thinking process…

Some links to start building up from this comment in the area of Christian Protesting. HowTo needed. wannabepriest / You do not represent me. Hat tip: You do not represent me » The Cartoon Blog by Dave Walker. God’s Politics…

Steve
Reply

I worship in a New Wine Network church, and I’ve forwarded a link to this article around to some people in our congregation. I’m concerned that there has been no conversation (as far as I am aware) about this. I know that it’s Christmas, and there’s a lot going on, and that the children’s Nativity service is not the place to bring this up, but I wonder how much the Government approach to finding ways of burying news is being creatively applied in the local church?

Simon
Reply

Thanks for this David. This sums up so much of what I’ve been thinking about the whole sad affair. In fact instead of trying to waffle about it myself on my blog, I’ve put a link to this post (hope you don’t mind).

David
Reply

Thanks Simon. I don’t mind at all – thanks for the link.

Pete Sainsbury
Reply

Thanks for this David and thanks to Graham Kings for his link to your blog from the Fulcrum site.

This whole episode is frustrating, maddening, saddening and just plain premature, all at the same time. And in regards to New Wine, there are plenty of us who feel a sense of belonging within New Wine but who disavow the current action. And this is not something new for New Wine as far as John Coles is concerned. New Wine conference attenders (certainly the leaders’ conference) have heard John hint at this kind of action before so it’s not a surprise. Some others who have an affinity for New Wine have agreed with me in conversation that New Wine has been in danger of becoming sub-denominational; this kind of end, I guess, is what has been proposed in a roundabout way through the ‘covenant.

But personally… I feel confident that the ‘covenant’ will fall. Why? Because the majority of evangelicals have concerns about the general issues that concern the drafters of the ‘covenant’ but at the same time, the majority are unwilling to express themselves in this way.

I’m sure Ridley disavows the ‘covenant’ in all sorts of ways – as a Ridleyite too, I would hope so! But I think (and hope and pray) that the current situation will give way to more reasonable and hopeful conversations.

Happy New Year to you, the wife and family!

David
Reply

Comments on this post, this discussion and this website over at Fulcrum:

http://www.fulcrum-anglican.org.uk/forum/thread.cfm?thread=2015

“Following this link led to an excellent web site, and then on to a number of sites of commited young evangelicals (some ordinands). This has fillled me with joy and hope… Evangelical young adults for a new world. Wonderful !”

leadercomelately
Reply

i was involved in new wine for about 15 years . . . i don’t agree with the covenant because, as articulated elsewhere, it isn’t a covenant – it is a sermon. Preaching at each other does not help. There is a real anxiety about a number of things going on in the Anglican Communion . . . but this isn’t the answer. The reality is, many of the leaders who speak in our name are what I would call the classic alpha male – speaking only in their name. There is a narrow, blinkered “we have the truth” perspective.

What is a surprise is that New Wine have been lumped in with those who do not think women should lead churches. This has coyly been avoided as a point of discussion as far as I am aware within New Wine – and with a growing number of evanglical female ordinands presents New Wine with a problem is that is true. I guess New Wine’s “Leaders Wives” conferences give the game away a bit.

Working across different churchmanships I see so much of Christ and the gospel in what is going on everywhere! Loving, prayerful people just getting on with it – wishing this covenant had a more loving look about it.

wannabepriest / Covenant continued
Reply

[…] However, I don’t want to focus there. I just want to follow-up my previous post by looking further at the situation as it affects New Wine, with whom I now have something of a vested interest. […]

[…] However, where I think Future of the Parish System is really vital reading and thinking is in the final two chapters which talk about ‘reconfiguring a diocese towards mission’ and ‘legal matters – what you need to know’. The anonymous vicar I mentioned earlier who rubs his colleagues up the wrong way and, moreover, one of the key issues highlighted by the recent and (imho)* misguided so-called ‘Covenant for the Church of England‘ was the issue of mission, outreach and where problems emerge between the Churches reaching out, their Bishops, issues of parish boundaries and more. […]

[…] not entirely surprised that there’s a ruckus, after Dr Turnbull was one of the signatories on my least favourite document of the year – that covenant farce. I can’t tell you how glad I was when Ridley put some significant […]

wannabepriest / Heeere’s Davey!
Reply

[…] after one or two decisions in regard to the ongoing situation surrounding the Anglican Communion, particularly this post about the Covenant, this blog seemed to attract a bit more […]

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