les Davey de France

Alan and Pat live and work in Bordeaux. Alan is a pastor and Pat was a nurse. Now we work with UFM worldwide. Read on! (If you'd like to know what took us to Bordeaux, then start with the archives from September 2004)

Monday, October 24, 2016

18 October 1966

So, about that evening in the Westminster Central Hall,

Ok, I was 7, and growing up blissfully unaware of free churches, ecumenism, potential splits, or of any of the principles involved. I've read Lloyd-Jones' address and the articles describing that evening, but that doesn't qualify me to pronounce on the Doctor's forethought, aims, practical implications or whatever. Others, more ... intrepid ... than I have made their assessments, and doubtless they were right so to do.

Stuart Olyott gave a talk recently at Christ Church Deeside, which is available here. Stuart was there that evening and he gives a very characteristically clear account of the context of the evening's address, the address itself and its consequences. He also gave me an idea of the way ahead for me in talking about that evening, namely to give my reflections and to recount my experience.

I grew up in the Church in Wales and was sent to church as a child. I must have gone fairly regularly because I sang in the choir, resplendent in ruff, cassock and surplice - a photo exists somewhere - and I can still chant the major elements of the 1662 Communion Service. We believed the facts we rehearsed in the creed, but we also believed that it was a mistake to let these things take too much of a hold in your life, so in teenage years I would feign sleep till I heard the church bell ring, and by the time I went to University I described myself as a "lapsed" Anglican.

Wales is a funny country. It has no established church, the Church in Wales having been disestablished early in the 1900s. The free churches were historically strong because of the waves of revival that swept the country in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries, but later they declined dramatically. On the corner of our street was an Apostolic church, the "Oh be joyfuls" we called them, and a friend's family went to the Salvation Army. I went along to their youth club a few times, but I wasn't really interested.

Then in 1979 I was converted. Everything changed overnight. I went with my friends to the local Baptist church. My Christian friends came from all sorts of churches: Methodist, Baptist, Anglican, house-churches, Elim, Brethren, you name it, we had it. And people's denominational background made very little difference to us at all.

Most of us attended the Baptist church while we were at University, but the Elim folk went to Elim, the Brethren went to the Brethren and some of the Anglicans went to a local Anglican church. They expressed mild reservations about the preaching, but they went anyway. Later on a vicar called Bertie Lewis came from Aberaeron to Saint Michael's and we went along to his induction (I remember giggling when the Bishop prayed, "Bless, O Lord, all those who minister in holy things." I wondered about the condition of Bertie's socks, invisible under his robes.) One Sunday night we went along again and heard Bertie preach about the centrality of the cross. "I don't mind what Bertie preached tonight", said one of my high Anglican acquaintances. "That's very big of you," I thought, but I kept my big trap shut.

As I said, Wales has had a funny Christian history, of revival and decline. The last national revival in 1904 resulted in many conversions and a lot of growth in the churches, especially in industrial South Wales. However the seminaries and theological colleges were still teaching theological liberalism, questioning the most basic truths of the Christian faith, sometimes going so far as to deny the very existence of the supernatural, reducing Christianity to a system of morality.

This meant that many Christians were to be found in churches where the preaching and teaching explicitly denied the reality of what they had experienced. People found help and support in fellowship groups that crossed the denominational boundaries. Meanwhile there were few conversions and the churches declined, "killed by degrees" people said. So by the 1940s there was hardly any denomination in Wales that had stayed entirely faithful to the gospel and its fundamental truths, though some individuals in the churches had a true and living faith and there were a few preachers who still preached the Bible, conversion and "a felt Christ". In the Church in Wales there was little of the Evangelical tradition that had existed in England. The valley I grew up in was littered with free church buildings, "chapels" we called them, some disused, some now carpet warehouses, or flats, or nightclubs, or whatever. On the way to school I can't remember ever walking past a tree, but I would pass about ten chapel buildings.

Then in the late 1940s a group of students came to faith. Some of them prepared for pastoral ministry. They went to liberal Free Church seminaries, and supported each other through it. Then they went to be pastors in liberal churches. Their group grew and became the Evangelical Movement of Wales, a movement designed to support and sustain evangelical faith across denominations. (This is a very brief and caricatural account of the Movement's origin, but you can find a proper account elsewhere.) Some churches were transformed by the gospel newly preached. Other were not. And as churches became more evangelical in their stance sometimes there was a reaction.

One situation resulted in the formation of the church where I became pastor in North Wales. A handful of churches in an area which had not been touched by revival in past centuries called evangelical pastors. One man saw his church transformed by Bible truth. People were converted. Attendance grew. A prayer meeting was started. The Sunday School grew. People gave generously and the church's books were balanced. There was real new life. Then came the five-yearly inspection of the church. The people were excited. For once there was really good news! However, the report that was produced was extremely critical. For example, the church had ceased to hold sales of work and jumble sales! The new life of the church was ignored, even despised. Some people reacted angrily. "Now, calm down, remember we are Christians." said the pastor. "So you are saying that we are not?" said the inspectors.

Misunderstanding grew and relationships became more and more difficult. Five pastors from the area came to the conclusion that the struggles they were experiencing within their denomination were an obstacle to the real work that they had been called to. Some resigned, found work and then later started new churches. Others left accompanied or followed by groups of church members. In this way five new churches started, each taking the name "Evangelical Church". The desire was to unite Christians around the centrality of the gospel and to reach those who had never heard the gospel.

By 1990 there was a network of independent evangelical churches across Wales as well as evangelical ministries and churches within the historic denominations. Some of the independent churches were Baptist, others called themselves simply "Evangelical Church". Disappointed with theological training in the liberal seminaries, the Evangelical Movement organised a Theological Training Course, designed to train pastors, but which did not offer any paper qualifications. There was a general distrust of denominations, and some people, with fresh wounds from battles fought with denominational authorities, had a kind of allergic reaction even to the word "denomination". The informal support of the Evangelical Movement of Wales, which organised conferences, pastoral fellowships, pastoral training, youth camps, and ran bookshops and generally did sterling work to sustain evangelical faith across the denominations generally worked very well. Christians considered that, whatever their convictions about baptism and church government, the truths of salvation conceived by the Father's plan, achieved by the Son's cross, and applied by the Spirit's power were of greater importance and crossed all denominational barriers.

However a desire for closer relationships between churches, for greater cooperation and for a more visible gospel unity led to the formation of the Associating Evangelical Churches of Wales, a grouping of about 60 or so evangelical churches all of whom hold firmly to one of the reformed confessions of faith, usually from the Westminster family (Westminster, Savoy, 1689) or the 1823 Calvinistic Methodist Confession of Faith.

This is the context in which I grew up as a Christian. It's a context where:
... gospel unity trumps denominational unity
... evangelical Anglicans are mostly an English phenomenon
... people move quite easily between denominations
... few think of themselves as Baptists, Presbyterians or whatever
... church life is easily complemented and unthreatened by fellowship and activities between churches
... cooperation with, for example, student Christian groups is often very easy and positive

Now, in France, I find myself in quite another context.

For example, during a difficult period here when we tried to take refuge in one local Baptist church I was seen as a threat, largely because our team of missionaries had worked with a Presbyterian church. In our discussions we just didn't understand each other's point of view at all. Well, I think some of us did, but not enough of us.

Again, people feel constrained to belong to a denominational group, be it Baptist, Presbyterian, etc. It was recently suggested that Bordeaux Church join one of the Baptist denominations, a group which is currently unrepresented in Bordeaux. I am not convinced that this is the path of wisdom for us!

On the other hand, within certain of the evangelical denominational groups the pressure of pluralism is nevertheless very present - by which I mean the view that the gospel is wonderful, and to be evangelical is important, but there are also other non-evangelical forms of Christianity which are equally valid, equally salvific and from which we can learn and which we can blend with biblical spirituality. This is obviously toxic. To admit anything other than the gospel as salvific is to deny the gospel. To redefine the gospel is to deny it. And that, it seems to me, is much more serious than to differ on questions of church government or baptism.

And so we relate easily and positively to the CNEF, the Conseil National des Evangéliques de France. One friend said, "Ah, you're joining with the arminians!" Another friend finds the presence of the charismatic and pentecostal churches a problem. I rejoice in the shared real evangelical faith AND in people who have read and who hold to their evangelical confessions of faith.

I realise that I have made very little direct reference to Lloyd-Jones' address whatsoever. However I hope that you can see how the historical context of the address, its influence on those who heard it and subsequent events have both shaped the world I grew up in and the way I see the world in which I now serve.

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