Last weekend, the Senior Pastor of Christ Church Balham (“CCB”), The Rev. Andy Palmer, announced that CCB is joining the Free Church of England (“FCE”), an Anglican denomination with Evangelical roots which is recognised by the Church of England and in communion with the global Anglican GAFCON movement. The stated aim in doing so is to, “help us secure the gospel ministry here in Balham for generations to come, and send many more people into full-time paid gospel ministry”.
Rev. Palmer emphasised that CCB is not leaving the Co-Mission church-planting movement in London, but continues to greatly value and fully participate in Co-Mission. Indeed, in my role as Executive Director of Co-Mission, I have been fully consulted throughout their deliberations.
CCB was planted in 2002 as part of the emerging Co-Mission network with an Anglican Evangelical pattern of ministry, but has never joined the Church of England. CCB has now chosen to steer a different course in joining the FCE.
It should be emphasised that Co-Mission is a fellowship of interdependent churches which encourages its plants to participate fully as Evangelical churches in the life of a denomination, while respecting the integrity of each church to determine its own alignment. CCB has chosen to join the FCE, while other Co-Mission churches have been planted within the C. of E., the Anglican Mission in England, the FIEC, the Grace Baptist Movement or with other networks such as Acts 29. We welcome this diversity of affiliation so long as our churches remain committed to our uniting statement of faith and partner generously together in Biblical patterns of gospel ministry. It should be noted that, contrary to some early reports, while The Rev. Palmer himself remains an ordained and licensed C. of E. presbyter. CCB has not left the C. of E. because it was never previously part of the C. of E.
All our churches will want to congratulate CCB in reaching their decision prayerfully and in unity and will respect their reasons for doing so. In particular their anxieties about the theological trajectory of the Diocese are shared by many, and their desire for the oversight of an Evangelical Bishop and for ministers in training to be selected, trained and available for deployment beyond our Co-Mission network in Evangelical roles is to be commended.
However, the decision of CCB should not be interpreted as a signal that other Co-Mission churches are likely to follow suit. Our C. of E. churches in London Diocese have enjoyed an increasingly fruitful partnership in the London Plan mission of the Diocese, free to proclaim our orthodox Biblical faith. Even in Southwark Diocese, for many years more hostile to Evangelical faith and church-planting, there is emerging a welcome spirit of co-operation from the Diocese expressed in the provision of Evangelical oversight from Bishop Rod Thomas and church-planting encouraged by Bishop Ric Thorpe.
Nevertheless, this decision does illustrate the depth of anxiety among those leading thriving and multiplying Evangelical churches in Southwark Diocese about current and potential obstacles to Evangelical ministry and reveals that continuing down the “liberal” path of doctrine or practice contrary to Scripture within the Church of England may prove intolerable.