The miner’s son & the Established Church – a prophetic tale

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There have been a number of very moving tributes to Melvin Tinker following his death last week – I wrote some initial thoughts here.

These tributes have quite rightly born tribute to an outstanding Christian minister and an inspiring friend to so many who knew him.

But although the evangelical world is coming to belatedly realise that Melvin was indeed something of a hero for the Gospel and evangelical ministry, there are two aspects to his life which have not yet been given the attention they deserve and which I wish to address here in this longer piece.

The first is his judgement that the Church of England had lost its competence to act as an agent for the Kingdom of Heaven and the Gospel, and was beyond repair; and the second was the willingness of the evangelical and wider ecclesial community to place social snobbery above their professed passion for the Kingdom.

The issue of whether or not evangelicals could work in the C of E in good conscience or to good effect was raised a generation ago. During the 1960s, there was a famous debate between Martyn Lloyd-Jones and John Stott over whether or not faithful Christians could and should still be members of the Church of England. Lloyd-Jones called evangelical Christians to leave a church that was in his view fatally compromised, while Stott called them to remain.

Looking back, at that time in the 1960s Stott was clearly right, and a whole generation of evangelical ministers worked to great and honourable effect in subsequent decades.

The problem then lay in part with the perceived disbelief of some prominent bishops and theologians like John Robinson and subsequently David Jenkins. Stott was right because these men were mainly aberrational and the liturgy, creeds and ecclesial structures remained in place. There was an apostolic continuity of core Christian belief.

That the occasional maverick was ever seduced by a combination of 19th century German theologians and 20th century scientism and psychology did not damage the foundations of the Church; even if they were a considerable irritant and offence to the Gospel.

What Melvin saw before many was that progressive politics, and the way it distorted theological integrity, was a totally different challenge. It was not confined to mavericks, but would undermine the foundations that the Church rested on.

He saw more quickly than most that the capitulation to the hydra-headed pollutant of progressive values, wrapped up in the lethal weapon of cultural Marxism, was a poison that would destroy the integrity of the Church and render it spiritually infertile.

This was not obvious to many, particularly since the opening salvos of progressive modulation were wrapped in what looked to many as a benign feminism that it was becoming anti-social to resist.

The implications of choosing between the biblical patterns of gender relations, particularly as expressed by St Paul, and progressive feminism were not clear to many. However, a large part of the evangelical constituency began to practise a diluted and deformed theory of the authority of Scripture, and operated a sliding scale of relativistic authenticity for the New Testament.

Melvin saw and commented on the two dangers this posed. The first is that having given up St Paul on the theological implication of gender relations, there was no mechanism for maintaining the authority of Scripture beyond a scale of personal preferences. And the second was that the Christian worldview provided by Jesus and Paul could or would be replaced by a secular alternative provided by the cosmetically attractive value system that cultural Marxism was smuggling in.

With meticulous clarity, and in his last major book, drawing on the theology and analysis of CS Lewis, he explained how the Christian West was involved in a life or death struggle with a form of cultural Marxism propagated by the Frankfurt school.

He was one of the most powerful and prophetic speakers at the GAFCON gathering in Jerusalem at 2018 and delivered a paper of historic importance.

He documented the origins of this new value system that the Church was carelessly taking on board at the instigation of the secular progressives and warned of the dangers of failing to exercise the gift of spiritual discernment.

He demonstrated how serious and damaging it was that the Church of England has swallowed wholesale the new world inspired by the Frankfurt school, and how this would radically change the nature of the Gospel and the Church (as indeed it has done in a remarkably short time.)

He was one of the many voices warning that the degree of neo-gnostic corruption flowing from progressive values had already problematically corrupted the Church of England beyond repair.

It was this issue of ‘beyond repair’ that caused the English evangelical community at GAFCON in Jerusalem such trouble. It was the recapitulation of the 1960s debate, but with different elements.

Few of his audience in Jerusalem wanted to hear that the C of E was beyond repair. Rather wearied and saddened that so many could not or would not hear of the danger they were in, Melvin did all he could to communicate his vision, analysis and discernment.

Many orthodox Anglicans, both evangelical and Anglo-Catholic, and including those beyond England endorsed his view. But convenience and dependence on the C of E led many to close their ears and minds.

It was about this point Melvin sped up his own preparation to lead his congregations outside the Church of England towards an Anglicanism with episcopal oversight outside the C of E (and GAFCON) that would retain its evangelical and reformed credentials.

Such was Melvin’s clarity of thought, theological maturity and experiential authority that the question that arose was why he had been unable to persuade more of the evangelical community of this thesis that the C of E was beyond repair?

Vested interest was certainly one reason. The inconvenience of taking him seriously was another. But it seems very likely that it was also because of two serious flaws that evangelical Anglicanism suffers from: social snobbery and indefatigable party spirit – or ‘clique Christianity’ as it has been called.

Conservative evangelicals were characterised by a series of groups that had overlapping adherents and exhibited vigorous party spirit, but they were dominated in London by a mixture of two power centres: St Helen’s Bishopsgate and Holy Trinity Brompton.

Melvin, as a miner’s son, and whose successes had been located in the north of England, could never escape from the impression that because he had neither the accent nor social credentials or patronage to gain acceptance in either of these circles, he was therefore held at arms’ length by groups which valued social connection more than spiritual integrity and effectiveness.

It may be no accident that HTB produced Justin Welby given all the incoherence and relativism that has flown from his episcopate and appointments system, while questions have been asked of St Helen’s amid the scandal surrounding Jonathan Fletcher and his acolytes, and the subsequent scandal of the truth being buried behind a wall of the clique coterie.

One of the great mistakes made by GAFCON and the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) as they set about creating the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) was that they listened exclusively to the judgements, preferences, prejudices and sadly gossip of this small rich clique in London, and ignored the otherwise obvious stature and experience of those beyond it, but in particular, Melvin Tinker.

The implications of this failure of judgement will shadow their project for years to come, and may even prove fatal to its success.

Melvin had been greatly helped by bishops in the Reformed Anglican Church of South Africa during the period in which he grew increasingly disenchanted and mistrustful of the bishops and senior clergy who ran his own diocese. Looking beyond the evangelical clubs and coteries of London and subsequently GAFCON, he set about trying to create with others fraternal evangelical cooperation between the different independent Anglican jurisdictions beyond the UK to avoid the schisms and destructive power-broking and in-fighting that had caused such trouble in the US.

Melvin’s legacy will prove to be rich and multi-faceted. As a faithful, effective, kind and compassionate Christian whose sharp intelligence was matched by a hospitality of heart, he acted as both prophet and pastor. The challenge his passing leaves the Anglican evangelical community is to renounce party spirit, repent of social snobbery and face the implication of his judgement that the Church of England is ‘beyond repair.’

Dr Gavin Ashenden is a former chaplain to the Queen. He blogs at Ashenden.org