In the early 1990s, Reg Burrows’ Anglican congregation in Newcastle was wrestling with deep questions about its relationship with the Church of England. This followed the denomination’s consecration of female vicars and its general marginalisation of evangelicals. Signposts from the past consists largely of addresses that Burrows delivered to his church during that period.
As the subtitle indicates, many Christians have pondered, debated and even fought over similar questions throughout the centuries. Burrows looks back to church history to help discern the way forward.
He does a great job. After a fairly pedestrian summary of the Reformation in Europe, five masterly chapters examine contrasting approaches to association with non-evangelicals. These include the magisterial Reformers vs the orthodox Anabaptists; Richard Hooker vs Walter Travers; the conformers vs the ejected ministers of the Great Ejection; Ryle vs Spurgeon; and, finally, Stott vs Lloyd-Jones.
The reader is led gently but compellingly toward the conclusion that both the author and his church reached prior to departure from the CofE.
The next five chapters address the dangers of contemporary Anglican liberalism and Anglo-Catholicism. Criticism of fellow Anglican evangelicals is also found: ‘We have been negotiators rather than reformers’ (p.174), too ready to concede the biblical faith as merely one particular ‘emphasis’ rather than the exclusive, life-giving gospel.
The closing chapter is a thoughtful piece, arguing for a closer relationship between baptism and church membership. John Bunyan’s ambiguous policy on this issue is used as a case study.
Signposts from the past would be valuable to church leaders and to Christians re-thinking their denominational allegiance. In a day when we are encouraged to foster more organisational ties with evangelicals in mixed denominations, Burrows urges us to be clear and consistent in our ecclesiology. It is stirring to read the words of a man who really did draw a line in the sand.
The book does contain some typos and errors. Also, despite its recent publication, it suffers from already being 20 years out of date!
It would be interesting to read the author’s reflections on more recent developments in his old denomination. But, with some updating and tighter editing, Signposts from the past would be worthy of a much wider mainstream publication.