The Jesmond Consecration

Part 1 - The following is by Dr Mark Thompson, Principal of Moore theological college, Sydney (the biggest Anglican seminary in the Anglican Communion).

In October 1517 Martin Luther began a revolution. He had not intended to do so. His concern was that the church he loved might see the danger it was in and make a stand with him on the teaching of Scripture. It was a rather innocuous act at first sight, the posting of notice of a university debate. Yet the reaction to Luther's 95 theses and the subsequent action of this faithful Christian leader in the church and university of Wittenberg demonstrated quite clearly the determination of the institution, the entire hierarchical structure extending to the Pope in Rome, to resist reformation and to continue on its path of false teaching and unfaithful practice. They would not stand with him but opposed him with every weapon in their armoury. Before long, Luther and those around him would need to train and authorise faithful leaders for the churches in Germany and elsewhere. When the institution had failed so badly and was so demonstrably committed to directions contrary to the word of God, something needed to be done. They could no longer wait for the institutional structures to embrace reform and sit again under the word of God come what may. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

500 years on there are places all over the world where a new reformation is sorely needed. The Church of England is a case in point. There are many faithful men and women within the Church of England who teach, believe, and live out the teaching of the Bible. There are many faithful vicars and church workers and at least one faithful theological college where men and women are trained for a biblical ministry in the Church of England. There are even a few biblically faithful, godly, evangelistically-minded bishops in the Church of England. The picture is certainly not uniformly black. Yet for decades the structures of the Church of England have proven resistant to reform in the light of the Scriptures. Unbelief and immorality are not challenged but excused and, more recently, embraced. When the faithful are attacked for seeking to live out the same quiet, biblical faith as the sovereign, they find little support from the hierarchy of the Church of England, and whatever support they do receive is heavily qualified. The leadership is powerless or unwilling to act. When the faithful have cried out for protection against the predatory liberalism within the Church of England, which masquerades as tolerance and sophisticated broad-mindedness, little or nothing is done. Quietly the stranglehold of unbelief on the structures of the Church of England gets tighter and tighter. The disdain with which evangelical churches and institutions are treated is obvious and the subtle and not so subtle attempts to pressure them into conformity have continued to increase. The nation needs to be re-evangelised and meanwhile the bishops seem entangled in endless debates about legalities and how they might baptise the cultural consensus. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

On 2 May the Revd Jonathan Pryke, a long serving member of the ministry staff at Jesmond Parish Church, was consecrated as a bishop in the the north of England. It was an entirely valid and legal consecration, though irregular. It was not initiated or sanctioned by the hierarchy of the Church of England. The consecrators were bishops of the Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church of South Africa (REACH-SA). The action was taken independently of bodies such as the AMiE (Anglican Mission in England) and GAFCON. It is regrettable that it has come to this, yet time and again every attempt to bring the Church of England back to the teaching of Scripture has been blocked by bishops, the General Synod, or the committees and organisations of the church. Those out of fellowship with their bishop over a number of doctrinal and ethical issues have had no support or encouragement from the leadership of the church. The so-called 'provision' for conscientious dissent has proven to be ineffectual in many cases, since it requires the permission of the local bishop who may well be entirely opposed. The faithful have waited and waited and now some have judged the time has come to act.

Bishop Pryke is a godly man who is committed to the teaching of the Scriptures. He is a conscientious Anglican who believes the classic doctrine of the church as expressed in the 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer. His godly character is attested by those who have observed him in ministry over many years. He is an entirely appropriate candidate for leadership among God's people. The consecration is valid, there can be no doubt about that. It is, however, irregular, but that irregularity is borne out of the desperate situation in which believers who remain within the Church of England find themselves.

Already there have been threats of legal action and the accusations and denunciations have begun. Of course it is permissible for evangelical Anglicans in England and elsewhere to conclude 'I would not have done it that way'. We must not copy the tactics of coercion used by others and insist on a uniformity of opinion. Nevertheless, the impasse between evangelicals (often labelled 'conservative evangelicals' in the UK) and the church hierarchy could not continue forever. Something has had to be done and now a group of faithful men and women have acted. Even if I wish there had been another way to do this, I still want to pray, encourage, and support those who have been courageous enough to act. In particular, I want to support Bishop Pryke in prayer. I will pray that he will provide the kind of leadership that has been lacking in the Church of England and that he will provide effective pastoral care for those who have felt stranded and isolated within their own church.

There were those in Luther's time who thought 'now is not the time' and 'we can still work within the existing structures' and 'it's not as bad as you make out'. Yet he — with all his flaws — was God's instrument in bringing lasting and beneficial change to the Christian churches. The biblical gospel was recovered and, though it was not called this at the time, a work of re-evangelising Europe was begun. We can look back from 500 years on and say 'Yes, it was the time'. My hope is that we will look back at the events of last week and give thanks to God that this was a pivotal moment in a movement that sees the gospel, and the Lord of the gospel, honoured and treasured again throughout England.

Part 2 - A comment by David Holloway - vicar of Jesmond

What is at stake in Jonathan Pryke's consecration which has received widespread support and approval, such as expressed by Mark Thompson? So why has there been some, even libelous, opposition? It is not enough to say it was "irregular" as contrary to church regulation, for it was not: rather it was "irregular" as being unique and to which regulation did not apply and so for which it was praised by one mainstream bishop. Nor is it enough to say the opposition was because of "fake news", which there has been and caused by some dubious intentional ambiguity. Nor is it enough to say it is because of the surprise caused by necessary confidentiality. Nor is it enough to say it is because it was without the formal support (from the need for confidentiality) of both GAFCON and AMiE, since it had their informal support with members wanting it to go ahead but not wanting to say so publicly. What, then, is the issue? I believe it is very significant as relating not only to the Church but also the State and relevant for our thinking at this time of a General Election. The issue, I believe, is the loss by senior leadership in both Church and State of what social-scientists are having to call "classical authority". And Jonathan Pryke in a minor way is not only exposing this loss but seeking to model a way of rectifying it and by following the Celtic tradition appropriate to the North East of England. But critics are wrong-headedly judging Jonathan Pryke against the roles, and so requirements, of mainstream Church of England bishops which are irrelevant in this case. Therefore, such opposition is through a misjudgment.

Classical or traditional authority has evolved in Western society from the Greco-Roman and Christian traditions. It is where authority is based on the notion of a common unifying vision. It is, therefore, distinct from domination on the one hand and persuasion on the other - from militaristic tyrants whose authority is from enforcement through the gun, or charismatic dictators who use illiberal oratory and then manipulation – like Hitler. But in our Western liberal democratic tradition political and governing authority in both Church and State has been until recently to procure a common unifying vision, which in Europe has had a Christian foundation. However, the secular "religion of Me" with its pervasive individualism has led to the undermining of a common unifying vision. This has led to what is being called "a new authority". As the academic theologian Philip Turner says, "the new authority rests not upon the presence of shared beliefs and practices but upon their absence. Within modern and postmodern cultures, this new way of having authority … functions not to further what is common but to ensure a social order within which people who regard one another as strangers and potential enemies, can follow differing beliefs and ways of life without in the process doing unacceptable harm one to another." All of that is inevitable (and dangerous) in a secular State that is rejecting much of its Christian heritage, but not inevitable in the Church. But many Church of England bishops have now accepted this new authority under the guise of "good disagreement" over sexual ethics. However, like the sale of indulgences for Luther, this is both symptomatic and a fundamental doctrinal matter which according to the established law of the land could be judged heretical, cf. Church of England (Worship and Doctrine) Measure 1974 (5.1), Paul (1 Cor 5.9-13) and the letter of the risen Christ To the Church in Thyatira (Rev 2.18-26).

So please pray that Jonathan Pryke's consecration, with his assent to the wording of the Church of England's biblical Canon A5, is, indeed, part of a new reformation for the good of Church and Society and, above all, for God's glory.

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