Posted by: stpowen | November 1, 2017

The 1721 Initiative

Ephesians 4:11-16.  ‘And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, until we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the Head– Christ…….’

There is a new movement in Christian unity being promoted in Britain.  This is the 1721 initiative https://1721.org.uk/  based on our Lord’s prayer for unity in John 17:20-23.   Its stated objective is to ‘spread unity between different churches and Christian groups across the UK.’  Its chief achievement seems to have been to unite various professing Christian conferences and festivals together, but it also seems to have the support of various denominations and to be spearheaded by the Evangelical Alliance.

The idea is that all evangelicals should repent of their differences and unite around the E.A. ‘Basis of Faith’ http://www.eauk.org/connect/about-us/basis-of-faith.cfm , that churches supporting the initiative should display the 1721 logo and pledge to work together.  It all sounds rather super.

My unease stems from a number of sources:

First, the abridged nature of the E.A. basis of faith.  It is not that it is heretical in any way, but it is very brief.  For example, Article One states the truth of the Trinity, but it does not mention the distinction of the Persons.  It does not support the modalism which is the default position of so many professing Christians, but neither does it challenge it.  This is further seen in Article Three which covers the authority of the Bible.  It reads,   ‘The divine inspiration and supreme authority of the Old and New Testament Scriptures, which are the written Word of God—fully trustworthy for faith and conduct.’  My problem here is that the Bible is made the ‘supreme’ authority, not the sole authority, and that there is no mention of the sufficiency of the Scriptures.  It is far too easy for churches to pay lip service to this article and yet to give authority to other voices, such as fallen human reason or extra-biblical prophecy.  It will be remembered that in Revelation 13:11, the beast out of the sea had ‘two horns like a lamb and spoke like a dragon.’  It claimed the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb, but spoke the words of Satan (Rev. 12:9): ‘Did God really say……./’  The E.A. Basis of faith is a ‘lowest common denominator’ document; it is not in any sense heretical, but it is quite insufficient to guide the Church of Christ in these difficult times.  Something firmer and stronger is required, but, alas, the constituent bodies would not be able to accept it.

Secondly, my own experience with churches adhering to the E.A. basis of faith causes me concern.  I was a member of such a church for many years, becoming more and more concerned as the Gospel was increasingly sidelined, and the preaching became less and less Bible-centred.  It is some years since I attended that church, but although it contains several fine Christians, I do not believe the Gospel is truly preached there these days. Yet its membership of E.A. goes completely unchallenged.  I believe that the E.A. membership contains many churches of this sort.

Thirdly, I was involved at one time with an initiative to provide a Christian worker to the local secondary school.  All members of the committee had to accept the E.A. basis of faith.  However, these same members eventually voted to remove that requirement and open the organization to members of Churches Together.  There was no commitment among E.A. members to their own published standard.  The school initiative was never hugely successful, but now, in my opinion, is more a hindrance than a help in bringing the Gospel to the local schoolchildren.

Fourthly,  most E.A. churches are deep into Churches Together.  In my experience their commitment to evangelicalism is no more that skin deep.  If the promoters of the 1721 Initiative vowed to end their association with C.T. that would be a forward movement, but no such action is proposed, nor will it be forthcoming.

Let me say at this point that I am in no position to judge every church that is a member of E.A., and nor do I wish to do so.  I’m sure there are many excellent, conservative, Bible-believing churches within its ranks.  I am merely giving above my personal experiences.  I do not believe them to be unique, but I shall be very happy to learn that they are less common than I fear they may be.

Fifthly, the organizers of Word Alive separated themselves from Spring Harvest some years ago precisely because of the latter’s alleged lack of commitment to Biblical standards.  Now, both organizations are joined together in this new initiative.  So what has changed?  Has Spring Harvest raised its standards of Gospel faithfulness in recent times, or will the organizers of Word Alive be repenting publicly of their erstwhile judgemental separatism?  I think we should be told.

I am all for love and cooperation between Gospel churches.  As a member of a FIEC church I am committed to it, and my church has cooperated with two E.A. member churches in recent times.  These churches were ones we knew well and we were confident that they shared our commitment to Biblical faithfulness.  But the way to Gospel unity does not lie in a downgrade of doctrine to a lowest common denominator; surely Church history teaches us that?  I quoted from Ephesians 4 at the head of this article.  The way to unity is in ‘the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry’ and ‘the edifying of the body of Christ, until we all come to the unity of the faith……’ (Eph. 4:12-13).  In other words, ordinary Christians need to be taught to a higher standard rather than having the level of doctrine reduced to a point where important truths are sidelined or forgotten.

 

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Responses

  1. Thank you for your post. It was purely providence that I stumbled across it today. I had been reading a book on Elizabethan persecution over coffee and was reminded of your blog (the clue was the name!) and decided to take a look.

    I can answer one of your questions about 17:21. The initiative came out of some gatherings that were held to try to re-engage with more conservative evangelicals, in which I took part. I made the point that there could be no unity without agreement on the core issues of doctrine, and especially highlighted the suspicion and division that had been caused by the failure to tackle the controversy over the atonement prompted by Steve Chalke’s book, and why that was so offensive to us.

    It was as part of these discussion that the representatives of Spring Harvest apologised to Word Alive during a prayer meeting for the way that they had treated them. By this stage Malcolm Duncan was chairing Spring Harvest and he would certainly uphold the historic evangelical theology of the cross as a propitiatory atonement. There was therefore reconciliation between Spring Harvest and Word Alive over the key theological issues that had divided. 17:21 developed out of the suggestion of the leaders of Word Alive and Spring Harvest that they express a common unity in the core truths recovered at the Reformation, although it was taken on by others and eventually took a slightly different shape.

    It is very significant and deliberate that the statement of unity written for 17:21 expressly mentioned the atoning death of Christ, and that “In Christ Alone” was sung alongside this at all the participating festivals, as this states categorically that the death of Christ satisfied the wrath of God.

    I hope that this helps explain the background context. It is not private because Steve Clifford mentioned it (though not in as much detail) at Word Alive 2017 when we took part in 17:21.

    Every blessing

    John

  2. Hello John,
    thank you for your post. It has relieved one of my concerns; I hope the others may be resolved as easily.

    I will only say that warm words and reconciliation among leaders are one thing. A real change of heart and doctrine among churches within E.A. is another. I see no sign of it. I seem to hear the voice of Spurgeon in my ear: beware a downgrade!


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