So Christmas is over, New Year is over, I’ve finished my essays (*grin*) and in the rest of the Church of England, the discussion of “That Covenant” is back on the agenda after a brief football in no-man’s land-like break in hostilities over the Christmas period. Except, it’s not been all that quiet.
Giles Fraser wrote in the Church Times about how he felt about it (unsurprisingly against) while the Bishop of Willesden Pete Broadbent, and apparently one of those in the House of Bishops who had been consulted on the document, called it an own goal.
From the pro-covenant camp, Chris Sugden took things to a new low by not answering any of Tom Wright’s very valid questions but instead decided to pick holes in the Bishop’s arguments. Yes indeed, on the covenant side, we have entered tit for tat-ville and obscuring the presenting issues by calling each other names… “prefects… at an English public school”? purleease.
Just before Christmas, in a private area of the New Wine web site that is only available to paid-up members of their leaders network, John Coles gave his own personal take on the covenant. Since it is in the private area, I don’t feel at liberty to reproduce the whole thing although I will quote from it briefly below. Reading his thoughts both encouraged and disturbed me. In a key paragraph, he says:
“I was asked to be [involved], both since I lead New Wine, and since I know the situations of many orthodox charismatic church leaders around the country, some of whom are in â€˜impaired communionâ€™ with their bishop. Some think that the tone of the Covenant is too hard, and not sufficiently graceful, and I am inclined to agree. However even if I would have expressed some things in other words or ways, I am fully in agreement with the principles behind the Covenant. Last week I quoted the prophecy from Smith Wigglesworth about those of the Word and those of the Spirit coming together; my involvement in this group has been part of my attempt to live out my prayer for the fulfilment of this prophecy. I signed the Covenant on behalf of the Leadership Team of New Wine, knowing that not everyone in New Wine will agree with it, and not committing everyone to it. I also know that many in New Wine do agree with the Covenant, and are already being helped by knowing about it.”
I appreciated his comments on the tone of the wording and that he might have worded things differently. However, I was also concerned that he felt he was signing on behalf of the NW Leadership Team, knowing not everyone in NW will agree with it. John Coles might not have thought he was signing for the whole of New Wine but as the leader of the New Wine network anything to which he puts his name does carry weight for all of us in the network.
The disturbing thing is that the covenanters have tried to present something to the Church of England as if they speak for all evangelical Christians. The Anglican Mainstream website reported the meeting on December 14 and the very next day carried research that tried to quantify the size of the evangelical movement in the Church of England. The clear inference that many have drawn (from all wings of the Church) has been an effort to portray the covenant as having weight and the backing of the entire evangelical wing. Indeed, the inference seems correct when Chris Sugden quoted those same statistics in his article today.
Let me be clear that I don’t disagree with the desire to highlight the issues that prompted the Covenant. The selection of clergy, situations in which episcopal oversight and local churches are in conflict, the way in which the parish share increasingly punishes successful and growing churches and the situation surrounding homosexuality all do need our care and attention. However, I have serious misgivings about whether this covenant was the right way to go about highlighting such concerns. Either the covenanters were misguided to not realise that their involvement would not signify the support of their networks or they have been disingenuous in portraying the level of support for this “covenant” as far greater than it actually is. Either way it doesn’t look good.
Yesterday afternoon, it was announced on the New Wine network that John Coles suffered a heart attack on December 30. After a couple of days in hospital, he is now recovering at home. He is making good progress but has suspended all commitments until the end of the month/early February. I hope you will join me in praying for John’s complete recovery and for the rest of his family as they care for him. Regardless of whatever theological disputes may exist in our church, it’s such events as these that remind you of the greater love that should unite us all.
*** 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 donâ€™t feel at liberty to say more than that given that his comments were addressed to us as students.