Conservative evangelicals in the United Kingdom - an overview by Tom Jackson
Whilst the Evangelical Alliance has promoted the evangelical wing of Christianity over a long period there have been many other allied developments in recent decades.
When in my early years living in Keswick the convention was an annual weekly event that in recent has been extended to three weeks. The Keswick Convention has been the spiritual home of conservative evangelicals for the last 145 years. It was started by two men, Canon Hartford Battersby a local vicar and Robert Wilson, a Quaker and businessman. Both had recently attended the Oxford Conference on religion from which both were inspired to start a religious gathering in Keswick in 1875. There was at the time much religious fervour in the country and in America stimulated by Robert Pearsall Smith and his wife Hannah preaching a holiness doctrine that influenced many. Both the Pearsall Smiths were originally Quakers who later became members of the Plymouth Brethren, with its strong emphasis on the inerrancy of scriptures and strict members' discipline. Robert was invited to speak at the first meeting, but illness prevented his attendance. Subsequently many speakers from the UK and America have been welcomed to lead the convention meetings who have a theological perspective as evangelicals that is fundamental to the Keswick Convention.
A close relationship exists with American evangelicals/fundamentalism, Pentecostalism and Wesleyan/holiness traditions and Keswick. It is even claimed that Quaker holiness teachers provided theological language and provided behavioural expectations in the early period of the Convention's existence. The banner ~”All One in Christ Jesus” is prominently displayed but in reality only those agreeing with the convention's ethos or those seeking the experience are represented at the meetings.
The Evangelical Alliance was a forerunner of the Convention starting in 1846 when the country was stimulated by religious fervour affecting the main Christian denominations including the
Quakers whose doctrines were in tune with the times. It was the Manchester ~Conference of 1895 when John ~Wilhelm Rowntree challenged Quakers to take into account scientific discoveries and modern scholarship in understanding the ideas and thoughts contained in the scriptures. ~This was to be a transformative occasion for the Religious Society of Friends but there were still some who
were retaining their quietist ways when the emphasis was on involvement in society.
Whilst the Evangelical Alliance has promoted the evangelical wing of Christianity over a long period there have been many other allied developments in recent decades. John Stott, a rector at Langham Church, was a prominent Anglican leader espousing evangelicalism through teaching ministries. Rev Nicky Gumbel, at Holy Trinity, Brompton started Alpha courses with the object of bringing in those unchurched and those with little understanding of the bible. Through this approach and through literature Alpha has become world-wide and generally supported by some of the mainline churches. The present Archbishop of Canterbury participated in the course in his earlier days.
Evangelicalism has been further stimulated with the “planting “ of the Kings Church in many towns throughout the country. Recently the Gorton Monastery was the venue of Pentecostal worship by this Christian group where freedom, spontaneity, exuberance, and joy are characteristic. Also evident is clapping, dancing and raising of hands in prayer. Certainly different from more traditional expressions in most mainline churches. Each church acts independently and is non-denominational but with links to the Evangelical Alliance. its message like other evangelicals is belief in the supreme authority of both the old and new testament as the written word of God, the incarnation of God's eternal son, the Lord Jesus Christ, his atoning sacrifice and his bodily resurrection. A fundamentalist approach is evident often led by a leader displaying an authoritarian outlook rejecting modern biblical scholarship and scientific thought.
However it has to be acknowledged that at a time when traditional churches are declining in membership the Kings Church appeals to many young and some older people, who find satisfaction in the atmosphere of lively modern songs/ modern hymns accompanied by electronic music, drums and guitars much in the tradition of West Indian music. Individual salvation is at the heart of the message, but a former leader of the Evangelical ~Alliance, Clive Calvert ,speaking a few years ago at the Keswick Convention claimed that modern evangelicals had ~”lost hold of the preaching of the Cross and what the Cross actually means”, going on to say social action is not the gospel but a gospel without social action lacks the demonstration that should automatically be there in it !.
Mainline churches have been able to hold on to most members having a strong evangelical persuasion but tensions have been exposed when the church leadership has decided to embrace many human issues such as gay marriage leading to threats to leave to join a more conservative evangelical community. The recent decision by the Methodist Conference on gay marriage has proved to be a stumbling block to some evangelicals. A significant divide on sexuality has existed for many years between progressive Christians and conservative evangelicals having a literal interpretation of scripture.
In fact a major dispute arose some years ago when the Rev Martyn Jones, a charismatic.evangelical preacher suggested that all evangelicals within the mainline churches should come together in one large communion, opposed by the Rev John Stott who was persuasive in encouraging Anglicans to remain in the church. Another issue for evangelicals has been the coming together of mainline churches, including the Quakers,to be part of the ecumenical movement, having a more outward looking pastoral approach to many problems in the world and where academic doctrinal issues have become of less importance. Marginalisation of the poor, inequality, war and peace and climate crises are the problems that engage the ecumenical movement recognizing that salvation must embrace the wider context of God's whole creation as well as that of the individual.
When Jesus said I have come that you might have life and have it more abundantly, human and animal life and creation were included and embraced.
A Quaker, formerly a Methodist.
A retired chartered accountant.
Formerly a councillor in Middleton and Mayor of Stockport.
V.S.O. inKiribati and Maldives