Presbyterianism in England Today ( Part 1)
History has not been kind to Presbyterianism in England. The home of the Westminster Confession finds few churches that hold to the WCF. Why are the English averse to the best of confessions and church government? Surely not merely prejudice agaist something perceived to be Scottish or the English national trait of individualism?
In 1662 when over 2000 godly ministers were ejected by the restored Episcopalian Church of England there were places where Presbyterianism thrived. One ejected vicar, John Week’s started the first Presbyterian church in Bristol. They grew in numbers and met persecution. The building was burned, the pastor imprisoned. But it was not a hostile world which vitiated Presbyterianism in England. It was the enemy within in the form of Socinianism which eventually led many away from gospel proclamation and into Unitarianism . A small number continued faithful. There was until the last century a small Presbyterian Church of England but they merged with the Congregationalists in the sixties to form the present United Reformed Church. Though with a Barthian basis of faith saying the Bible contains the word of God, some of us think it a united deformed church.
At present England has two small denominations faithful to the WCF, the International Presbyterian Church (IPC) and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of England and Wales (EPCEW). Your correspondent serves at present as moderator of the IPCs First Presbytery in England. The roots of the IPC are with Francis Schaeffer’s L’Abri Fellowship. As the Schaeffer’s work grew in the fifties in Huemoz Switzerland, the first congregation of the then International Presbyterian Church Reformee met in the L’Abri chapel. Schaeffer may have started a world famous para-church work but he remained at heart a Presbyterian missionary. He had a vision for IPC as a unique denomination that was unlike other reformed churches, not national in character but more diverse. The second congregation was in Milan, Italy, but sadly it went Baptist. Schaeffers daughter Susan married a Cambridge graduate from the then Southern Rhodesia, Ranald Macaulay. While Ranald went on to read theology ay King’s College, London, they pioneered the English work of L’Abri in Ealing, West London. The Macaulays were at that time blessed with two small daughters. A Sunday school was started for their friends. Three mothers were converted. L’Abri students were coming on Sunday evenings. So in September 1969 the English congregation was particularised in their home and that of English l’Abri, in Ealing. Schaeffer preached the inaugural sermon and ordain Ranald and a young lecturer, Peter Gear, as the first elders. My wife and I were among the founder members. We were at that time preparing for missionary service in Nigeria.
Schaeffer had talked to evangelical Anglicans like John Scott concerning church planting. Not surprisingly they were not in favour but Schaeffer would have IPC churches planted in any country where there were no reformed denominations following what he called ‘the principle of the purity of the visible church’. The next year we went to Nigeria and the Macaulays to Greatham, the new home of English L’Abri in Hampshire. L’Abri sent Dick Keyes to work in Ealing and he became an elder in the church while Ranald and Jerram Barrs became before long, elders in IPC’s second congregation in England at Greatham. By the mid seventies Ealing had numbers greater than could be accommodated in the L’Abri house. They met in a school and looked for new premises. The local united reformed building was for sale. The IPC’s bid did not succeed. Their building was sold to become a Hindu temple.
Your writer does not believe in holy places on this earth today but would not want a place where the triune God has been worshipped in spirit and truth to be given over to false gods. In 1979 IPC Ealing was to benefit from the theology of people who do believe in holy places, Anglo-Catholic nuns who leaving their convent due to paucity of callings, wanted their chapel to continue to be used for the worship of God for which it had been consecrated,
(to be continued)