We are the church

On August 12, 1941, at two months old, I was carried across the street in my home town by my parents to All Saints Anglican Church, to be baptized. At age fourteen I reaffirmed my baptismal vows when I was confirmed by the Bishop. A few months later I committed my life to Christ during a mission at All Saints Church led by J. Edwin Orr, Robert Doing, William Dunlap and Corrie ten Boom.

I was nurtured in the theology of the Anglican Evangelicals and the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. This history, while valuing the traditions of the Church of England with its Reformation theology, was not narrowly denominational. I was not taught that my denomination was superior to others. The Gospel was common to all the churches. We did not practice closed communion but welcomed all who were baptized to the Lord’s Table.

My devotional life was fed by Scripture Union notes which were written by a variety of church leaders. Every summer I went to Crusader Camp which was an Evangelical organization in high school for all Christians and seekers. At the University of Canterbury I joined the Evangelical Union of the InterVarsity Fellowship and attended their conferences. I was invited to fill the pulpit as interim minister to my home town Presbyterian Church before I was ordained.

After completing my liberal arts undergraduate and theological graduate degrees I served my first ministry in the heart of the West End of London at All Souls Church, and was chaplain of the Polytechnic of Central London, now the University of Westminster. Then I became Dean of Christian Life at Gordon College in Wenham, Massachusetts, an interdenominational Evangelical undergraduate college where I led chapel worship for students and faculty from all traditions. After serving as assistant to an Episcopal bishop and three Episcopal congregations I am now pastor of an interdenominational congregation.

I mention all this history because, while I have valued my Anglican heritage, it has never prevented me from serving wherever the Lord has called me, and has never limited my appreciation for other traditions. The attitude that one ordination is superior to another, or that one form of baptism is acceptable and another isn’t, or one church government is more scriptural than another, or that one liturgy is more spiritual than another, is to me terribly narrow-minded and Pharisaical. Coming as I do from a democratic background I tend to react against any form of ecclesiastical hierarchy that seeks to control others rather than serve them. While I was raised in a denomination with bishops I am afraid that my experience of them has not always been positive, in fact many of them have been hindrances to the mission of the Gospel.

Emil Brunner, in The Misunderstanding of the Church, argues that the institutional church as we know it, which has developed over the centuries, is not the same as the early fellowship of Christians in the Body of Christ which we see in the New Testament. “The institutions which we call churches, have built up the shell in which this precious kernel has been contained and preserved.” But it is not identical with the Christian community. He claims that, “Not the hostility of the unbelieving world, but clerical parsonic ecclesiasticism has ever been the greatest enemy of the Christian message and of brotherhood rooted in Christ.” He makes the case that the concept of ordination is not to be found in the New Testament. Something I have always believed.

The church of the New Testament is to be found in a loving community of believers, filled with the presence of Christ and the power of the Spirit. It is not the sole possession of the institutional bureaucracy of Roman Catholicism, or the dogmatic watchdogs of the statements of faith and order of Protestantism. This may be why the fastest growing segment of Christianity today is to be found in nondenominational churches.