Presbyterianism in England Today ( Part 3)
In 1986 the first London Presbyterian Conference was held at Cole Abbey, then the home of the London Free Church Congregation. Their then minister, John Nicholls was one of the speakers together with Donald MacLeod and the late Edmund Clowney. I do not remember which speaker presented a vision of a new Presbyterian denomination in England which had unity and diversity, one which was faithful to Scripture and the Westminster Standards but where there might be diversity in worship. The possibility was of local congregations where in different places there might be exclusive psalmody, or psalms and hymns and worship songs too.
As a result of this conference, in 1987, the Presbyterian Association in England was formed. At Cole Abbey, the conference committee met with representatives of several small groups of Christians and churches to form the PAE. Two of these groups and one of the churches were to become EPCEW congregations. To my regret, my own denomination was not invited to join in with the planning of the PAE.
In 1992 the PAE was helped by David and Barbara Cross, missionaries from the Presbyterian Church of America, PCA. David went to work church planting in Chelmsford. He was later to serve as EPCEW presbytery clerk. There was help too from the Evangelical Presbyterian Church of Ireland who had the initial care of their Blackburn congregation.
In 1991 an interim presbytery was formed with congregations in Blackburn, Cambridge, Chelmsford, Durham and Hull. Work was undertaken on a Book of Church order so that in 1995 a full presbytery was in working order in England. In 2000 two churches in Cardiff joined them making it the Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England and Wales. There are now also congregations in Bury St Edmunds, Cheltenham, Gateshead, Solihull and Tranas, Sweden. In Lodon there is a congregation comprised largely of Brazilians with ministry in Portuguese and English. The EPCEW is committed to church planting and continues to partner with missionaries from the PCA.
The EPCEW and IPC are both Westminster Standards denominations. We enjoy good fraternal relations and have twice had joint meetings of our presbyteries. Where do we differ? What keeps us apart?
I think in part some of it is our differing histories. One sees the IPC as coming from the L’Abri stable and EPCEW more from Banner of Truth. I see our denominations as two overlapping circles with some of us in the overlap keen to see organisational unity in the future but we both have segments in our circles wary of the other group. IPC with its background has not been so keen on precision in our denominational structures. Though an older grouping than EPCEW it took us much longer to produce any Book of Church Order. If you examine the two BCOs I do not think you will find many differences of substance. One would be the EPCEW has the traditionally rigorous academic requirements for ministers. The IPC is more relaxed. We certainly have most things in common theologically and practically. Both work with the PCA and its MTW missionaries. Some might say the numbers of Americans working with IPC gives them a large influence but the IPC now only co-opts American church planters as non-voting presbytery members.
Both denominations are committed to the spread of the gospel and the planting of more Presbyterian churches. I pray that we will grow together into unity.