The Church Society met on Saturday 26 May, at Oak Hill College, for its yearly conference and annual general meeting (AGM).
James Crabtree, chairman of Church Society Council, opened the conference with a brief exhortation from 2 Corinthians 6. After mentioning the apostle Paul’s extraordinary trials, he reminded us that we too need God’s enabling power and gifts, if we are to stand firm in today’s difficulties. We too, like Paul, can rejoice in our trials.
Justification by faith
Following James’ introduction, Rev. Dr Mike Ovey, Principal of Oak Hill, spoke on the topic ‘Justification now — the Reformation doctrine and true Anglicanism’.
Mr Ovey stated his desire for Oak Hill College, that it would be known as a ‘justification by faith alone college’, because this Reformation doctrine is consistent with true Anglicanism. Other types of Anglicanism not holding to this truth are ‘cuckoos in the nest’.
He outlined the context in which we, as contemporary Anglicans, find ourselves. Many problems that we face in the Church of England revolve around issues to do with sexuality, ethics and gender.
According to Mr Ovey, these ethical issues have come to the fore because of the CofE’s failure to contend for the great Reformation doctrines at an earlier period.
Once we were a denomination familiar with Reformation thinking, but now there is a widespread basic ignorance of such thinking in Anglican pews and pulpits — even evangelical ones.
This ignorance has been accelerated by two errors arising within the church: the New Perspective and a wrongly perceived irrelevance of classical evangelical teaching, whether of penal substitution or the doctrine of justification.
He then described what we mean by justification by faith alone by looking at its Reformation context. He used the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector to show the distinction between someone trusting in grace and works, and someone trusting in grace alone for their salvation.
Mr Ovey said Jesus’ law-keeping was perfect and expressed itself in staggering other person-centred love — love to the Father in perfect obedience and love to humanity.
Because Jesus’ acts of obedience are counted as mine, my acts of obedience can add nothing to his.
If Jesus is characterised by this other person-centred love, then so should his followers be. Self-love is profoundly anti-God.
Mr Ovey explained how, in a way similar to mediaeval Roman Catholicism, the New Perspective undermines the traditional Reformation doctrine of justification, by starting with grace but maintaining by works. However, our works are still imperfect and anything we add to Christ’s works would simply sully what he has done for us.
After this talk, the society held its AGM, during which Lee Gatiss, director-elect, outlined his strategy and goals for the Society when he takes up his new role in January.
Following this brief presentation, Duncan Boyd, council member and chairman of the Society’s Keep Marriage Special campaign, described several ways in which we could support the campaign.
The AGM also held a council election with several members added. The council consists of people in all kinds of ministries, lay and ordained, with a spectrum of ages from those in their 20s to those in their 70s.
Following a short break, John Richardson spoke on the title of his book published last year, A strategy that changes the denomination.
Mr Richardson first outlined the reasons why the first National Evangelical Anglican Congress (NEAC), held at Keele University in 1967, had failed to transform the CofE. Although there have been many thriving evangelical Anglican churches since 1967, the structure of the CofE as a whole has not been transformed in the way envisaged at Keele.
A better approach would be to follow the recommendations of a church report published in 1945, entitled Towards the conversion of England. Although this report had its imperfections, it set before the church the right goal, in terms of desiring to see the conversion of the nation.
Sadly, that report’s recommendations had not been acted upon, partly due to the death of Archbishop William Temple, the report’s key architect, and partly because the CofE devoted the following decade to revising its canons and liturgy, rather than embarking on the evangelism the report had envisaged.
Overall, the conference was an encouragement, as Mr Ovey reminded us of the gospel of grace, the only saving gospel, and Mr Richardson exhorted us to show more concern for the CofE as a whole, if we want to see real gospel transformation and the nation won for Christ. CDs of both talks are available from Church Society.