{Trigger warning- you may be triggered}


Last week (23 February) something miraculous happened. Followers of this blog will know of some of schisms that occurred in the ‘Evangelical Anglican river’ over the past 60 years.The ‘heirs to John Stott’ split first over charismatic renewal in the 1960s. This was was compounded by a divergence of praxis after John Wimber’s visit in the 1980s which helped his many grateful followers to become unanchored from Anglican liturgy, and was exacerbated irreconcilably by what I suggest were the negative outworkings of two useful, but incomplete movements: 1) the Toronto Blessing which despite many positive outcomes helped make the gospel more ‘my-felt-needs centred’ and 2) Seeker Friendly/Purpose Driven methodology that helped with strategy and leadership/managerial praxis but also made ‘success/church growth’ seem a prize worth aiming for in and of itself. All of this is outlined at length in earlier blogs in this series.

But last week the Church of England’s nosedive into revisionist theology had a peculiar side effect. It brought many streams back together into what may yet appear to be one gospel river. Not since John Collins had that uncomfortable break with Dick Lucas and John Stott in 1963 and Michael Harper left All Souls Langham Place to set up Fountains Trust can that have been so true. That first fracture took 2 decades to outwork due to a) Collin’s firm standing with Stott on all key theology (‘all of my theology is Stott’s’ he used to say), and b) a shared drilling in evangelical theology and praxis that dated back to camps and christian unions, and was outworked in bible based expositional teaching preaching for a verdict, personal daily devotions, and one-to-one ‘personal work’ i.e. evangelism. But nevertheless by the 2020s, conservative and charismatic evangelicals in the CoE barely knew each other and had little meeting grounds in common. As explained elsewhere they could even look like two completely different types of churches. HTB was ‘Pietist’ and All Souls ‘Puritan’ in Mark Cartledge’s scheme, and on top of that from c.2001-2016 onwards fairly firmly split between complementarianism / egalitarianism – albeit with the HTB network among the slowest of the charismatic groups to embrace women in ordained leadership at all levels.

Meanwhile the charismatic wing got its teeth into the pie of provisions from the CoE. One of our own – a graduate of both HTB and of New Wine summer camps, was made Archbishop, unlocking the keys to the vast Church of England reserves built up down the centuries to a current value of c. £10billion (excluding diocesan and parish properties). A percentage of the Queen Anne’s Bounty was released through ‘Strategic Development Fund’ bids and this meant there was money aplenty to receive for a flurry of missional projects, with particular pressure put on dioceses initially to replicate the HTB model of resource church in their region. In return there was subtle but acute pressure also on those diocesan ‘resource churches’ not to rock the diocesan boat – a pressure that could easily dull and silence the prophetic – but fitted with HTB’s unwavering public loyalty to their episcopal overseers that reached its zenith with the appointment of Justin Welby to ABC. Charismatics set up a highly successful training college with a broad ethos labelled ‘generous orthodoxy’ (and a seemingly abortive one that failed to get traction with the CoE Ministry Division but has thrived outside of the CoE). Charismatics got elevated to area dean, archdeacon and episcopal posts, and enjoyed patronage and profile as resource church leads / network leaders. In short, the charismatics moved from outcasts in the John Collins 1960s era to the people in power, praised and paraded as the hope of the Church to come (much to the consternation of liberals). Several got ‘broader’ as they did so, some leaving evangelical identity altogether. Complementarian conservatives on the other hand looked on from the outside as their talent pool again and again failed to be recognised by the institutional church, and became more and more used to life on the very edges of the CoE, forming ‘Gospel Partnership’ alliances with groups like the FIEC, developing their favoured college for sound Anglicans and non-Anglicans alike and sometimes even planting ‘independent anglican’ churches where dioceses would not play ball with their growth aspirations.

Where we are at today

We charismatics must be honest and put our hands up here. The current nose dive of the Church of England owes at least some of its trajectory to the Charismatic Movement in the CoE.

Again this has been expanded on at length in previous posts, but consider again the headlines: Liturgical bonfires that have replaces the collect for purity / confessions of the BCP with a ‘good evening my name is, it’s great to have you here, isn’t Jesus wonderful, lets sing 6 songs about his love for me’. Scriptural incontinence as we replace the public reading of Scriptures and expositing book by book, with a few favourite verses that build up a preconceived idea of God’s goodness and how that can make my life worth living today. ‘Preaching the positives’ to the exclusion of gospel challenge. Domesticating evangelism so that congregation members are only equipped to bring someone to a course (and how many do?) and not lead someone to Christ themselves. Changing conversion (dying to sin, rising to Christ) into either a ‘relationship with Jesus’ (in an era where relationships are a swipe left/right disposable commodity) or an ‘experience of the Spirit’ without anchoring that into bible based discipleship. Self-editing out ethical teaching. Editing out eternity teaching. Editing out original sin and the depravity the Anglican prayer book talks so clearly about. Focusing on Me. An outrageously inflated opinion of our own expected growth curve based on sparse/misleading evidence (spin) and the revival is around the corner trump card, massive over optimism about the human condition, over optimism about our potential to shape (ecclesiastical) power without being corrupted by it.

It is we who have departed from teaching the whole counsel of God in so many churches, we who have ‘preached the positives’ to the exclusion of Gospel challenge, we who have cosied up to power and thought that if we just hang in there (compromised) we can be ‘in it to win it’. We who have encouraged a light weight culture of so-called prophesies that are more often than not little more than glorified ‘spiritual thoughts’ and at times, as we saw at General Synod, used to justify moving into a lifestyle of intentional sin. ‘God told me to’ has become the even bolder version of ‘Did God really say..?’ making God the author of sin, not just someone who was a but negligent about explaining the rules. Have we have domesticated Wimber’s agenda and spent his legacy on what does not satisfy?

And so a spirit of confusion has understandably taken over much of the Anglican Evangelical church. The term evangelical has been rejected by many – both before and after the irreversible damage to the label in the UK from the USA supporters of Donald Trump. This is sometimes because of a desire to connect (and market) beyond that field, and partly because if Evangelicalism is Crucicentric, Conversionist, Activist and Biblicist (in Bebbington’s scheme) many of our churches are only one out of four from the analysis above, with the cross no longer central, conversion replaced with a disposable relationship, and the bible re-interpreted through such a prism that the whole character of our jealous and holy God is rarely unleashed on a consumer of charismatic churches. So much is this true that it comes as an awful shock to those drip fed a ‘Jesus loves me just the way I am’ diet to discover that the God of the New Testament and the Old is one who when you really see him leaves you in humble awe and holy fear and desperate to change, as per Peter when he encounters Jesus at his boat that first time. Of the four marks of evangelicalism then all that is really left is activism, albeit there is a lot of that.

When John Wimber came and inspired so much of the church into mission and church planting he also came with a message: “God wants his church back.” “I’ve seen what you can do, John” he felt God say, “Now let me show you what I can do”. Have we?

The reality is the Anglican Evangelical church needed Collins, Harper, Wimber and dare I say it the experience of the Father’s love that melted so many hearts at Toronto and helped head religion connect with heart, and brought healing and restoration for many a spiritual orphan and boarding school survivors who were often in key roles in the CoE. The tragedy in all my analysis is that this injection of life which has done so much good somehow got dislodged from the firm foundations of Stott’s All Souls Langham Place, which is where it all began for so many. Even new converts at HTB in the 1980s often came to faith on missions or were discipled by bible readings at camps or Christian Unions that owed everything to this evangelical river. A Brompton magazine in the early 1980s interviews a young Ken Costa who talks of John Stott as his greatest influence. Of course we’ve discovered in recent years some of the horrors associated with one camp, and cultural issues with aspects of conservative evangelicalism. And no wonder God wanted to breathe in fresh winds of his Spirit from overseas to help cleanse that shed out. But nevertheless the grounding those leaders got gave them a normative theology and praxis to build on. A disciple making legacy and they were keen and equipped to espouse that.

This wind was too much to handle for both camps eventually, but right through the 1980s and 1990s if you attended HTB you’d have heard systematic talks on bible books, famously Nicky Gumbel’s own series on Philippians or on the Sermon on the Mount which are gloriously positive, hopeful, grounded and clear. The fracture that ensued afterwards as both conservatives and charismatics got more powerful and needed each other less, was I think a great tragedy. Occasionally a minister would be brought from one stream to another to try and keep the engagement. Nicky Gumbel was particularly good at that bringing the likes of Jago Wynne and David Walker into key roles at HTB forming bible teaching, but for much of the charismatic church the success and experience culture had a grip as well.

The decision to self-edit their teaching left many charismatics churches like the ‘caged birds’ of Communist China, official churches that agreed not to teach the whole counsel of God lest it offend the state. In the UK the state + media were becoming just as demanding (and the established church was wedded to the state). Staff teams were ordered not to offend the state + media. Preachers were trained in compromise. All the time with the elusive hope that the Spirit would ‘remind’ people of things that the church had never bothered to teach them. And this was being done by a generation of charismatics who did not realise the full blessing of the Evangelical Anglican legacy which they had imbibed often before their experiences of the Holy Spirit and failed to pass that unconscious heritage on.

And so now you can easily find churches where you can ‘dry up’ (all word and no women!), where you can ‘blow up’ (all singing and self-affirming), despite most of them thinking that they are places where you can ‘grow up’ (into obedience to Christ, empowered by the Spirit, dependent on the word).

What might we do together?

At the top of this page I put:

{trigger warning, you may be triggered}.

I am not for the life of me saying that my analysis above is perfect, fully nuanced, ‘generous’, or even right in all aspects, and I hope it goes without saying that much of what we have done in the Lord’s name over the past decades has been glorious. But I do hope that the Spirit triggers something in you as you read it. Where you have the most reaction to what you read, What might God be saying to you there? Where you recognise yourself, Why? Where you want to weep, lament, moan, Why not?

Last week the Bishop of London brought the streams together in one room. From across the divides including HTB, HTB Network, Junia Network, New Wine, Re:New, All Souls, St Helen’s Bishopsgate, over 180 clergy came to a meeting billed by the Bishop as for those who were ‘compelled to resist’ the revisionist proposals from Synod. They came be counted and dozens testified to their shared and united Anglican Evangelical faith and heritage and said they were indeed ‘compelled to resist’ the house of Bishops motion. Many others sent apologies as they ran their prayer nights for revival / looked after their families / ran Christianity Explored/Alpha course.

I don’t care if we use all those labels or none. But I do know that Ezekiel was told to prophesy to dry bones twice. Through Word and Spirit in his vision a spiritually dead generation of the people of God came alive. Love or hate this message, and maybe wish it was delivered in a ‘John Collins’ sandwich with a few more positives at the beginning and end, but that’s all I have to say too after years of careful prayerful study / lament. In 2014 a Vineyard pastor from the States looked at me across the room at an HTB network retreat in Ashburnham and said ‘God is going to use your mind for this network.’ I’ve been writing and researching since then and well this is it. You can decide if it rings true or not. But this is what God has laid on my heart to say

“Come Alive” Don’t be like the Revelation churches who forsook their first love, had some along them who held to the teachings of Balaam/Nicolatians, tolerated those who mislead God’s servants into sexual immorality by calling themselves a ‘prophet’, failed to realise that they were wretched, pitiful, naked, poor and blind and stuck in a lukewarm setting.

COME ALIVE: Don’t be like Pharisees who were ‘right’ but whose hearts had not been ‘strangely warmed’.

RISE UP. ‘Be earnest and repent’: It’s time for us with our magnificent (evangelical) heritage stemming back to Wesley and Whitefield, the Countess of Huntingdon and many others to call people to conversion, to their bibles, to the cross and to see God’s Spirit poured out across the land again.

What could happen when ‘all the streams flow as one river’ again? Perhaps we’ll feel the mountains tremble…