Reformed Seminary, College, Free Sermons, Scholarly Resources, and Overseas Missions Opportunities
United Kingdom - England, Wales, Scotland
The Union Flag is the official flag of the United Kingdom as united, and also serves as the only official flag of Northern Ireland. It is made from an amalgamation of the crosses of St Andrew (representing Scotland), St George (representing England) and the St Patrick (representing Ireland).
Dr. Stephen P. Wescott,
Weston-super-mare near Bristol
An introduction to the situation in the U.K.
1: Background and History (just below)
To modern Americans who believe in the Reformed faith, the concept of England as a true ‘mission field’ may seem a strange, perhaps even a shocking concept. Certainly Britain, like America, has largely reverted to paganism and modern, ‘post-Christian’ culture, and every inhabited location is, in a sense, a ‘mission field’. But at home we tend to regard this as ‘evangelism’. Benighted foreign lands need ‘missions’. In the Christian West we need more evangelism. What is more, Britain is, for some Reformed and especially Presbyterian Americans, their ancestral home, the place where their Puritan and Presbyterian roots mainly lie. No-one wants to hear that the ground their roots sprang from is dry, dead, barren soil, today. Britain is the land where great works of the gospel have been performed, a relatively small group of islands whose history is indelibly intertwined with the progress of Bible Christianity across the world.
The gospel early settled and thrived in Roman Britain, and here it kept a simplicity and apostolic purity as the churches at the heart of the Roman Empire became more and more corrupt and hierarchical. Here the Celtic Church shone in the darkness of the collapse of Rome, and evangelised pagan Saxons and Druidical Irish alike, and spread the gospel into Western Europe again. Here Medieval darkness and superstition was first illuminated by the ‘proto-Reformer’ John Wickliffe, and the Bible first offered to the people in the English language. Here the great Reformation took root (more thoroughly in Scotland than England) and here godly martyrs were faithful unto death in the reign of Catholic Mary.
In England the uncompleted Reformation gave rise to the whole Puritan movement along with a spiritual literature that enriches the Reformed Church and is blessed to believers to this day. In addition, it was responsible for seeding the New World with the gospel in the hands of the Pilgrim Fathers. And, as Paul would say, ‘time would fail to tell’ of the later Puritans of England and Covenanters of Scotland, of the ‘great awakening’ and the apostolic labors of George Whitefield and others here in Britain and in colonial America (further strengthening the spiritual unity across the Atlantic), of the modern missionary movement springing up in England under Carey and others, and quickly taken up by faithful brethren in America, of the marvelous ministry of Charles Spurgeon in London, and the amazing faith and answers to prayer of George Muller, here in Bristol. Take any good Reformed booklist, or visit any good Reformed bookstore today. See what a proportion of the great Calvinistic Classics: Reforrners, Puritans, Victorian evangelicals, lived served and died in this much favored gospel land of Britain, and who ‘being dead yet speaketh’ in their sought-after writings today. Surely this Britain, surely England, cannot be thought of in terms of a ‘mission field’!
YES: IT IS!
Skepticism, humanism, evolutionionism and the devastating effects of two World Wars turned what Spurgeon noted as the ‘down-grade’ into a landslide, then an avalanche, away from the gospel. Today even nominal Church going is at an all-time low in England. The state Church of England is openly apostate and humanistic, following every whim of secular ‘political correctness’ in a desperate attempt to appear relevant, whilst becoming daily more a subject of ridicule in popular thought and the media. Other once great evangelical denominations, Baptist, Methodist, Congregational are all liberal and ecumenical, and flirting with Anglicanism and through Anglicanism with Rome . ‘Evangelicals’ there certainly are, and they crave for and gain much publicity. They are tolerated in Anglicanism and the denominations, and even in Roman Catholic churches! Today ‘evangelical’ is simply a synonym for ‘charismatic’, and we must remember that the whole charismatic ‘Alpha Course’ program, that openly aims to identify all ‘evangelicalism’ with ‘Pentecostalism’ originated here in England, in London. The percentage of the population identifying themselves as ‘born-again’ Christians is at an all-time low, and the vocal majority of those claiming the faith are advocates of a modern heresy.
IS NOT THIS A MISSION FIELD?
Our local city is Bristol, the capital of the West of England, long England’s second greatest city, a place with a rich evangelical history, about one and a half hours journey by car or train west of London. Long known as ‘the city of Churches’, this conurbation of approximately one and a quarter million souls is littered with the debris of earlier faith in the form of empty, derelict churches and chapels, or churches made over into residential apartments, shops, garages, warehouses, Muslim mosques and Hindu temples. In this great modern city and its suburbs today I know of only ONE congregation that is evangelical, reformed, and paedobaptsist! And that church, in a residential district near the heart of the city, has an average morning attendance of TWELVE, and evening attendance of SIX people! Taking all churches that preach a saving gospel in a broadly ‘Calvinistic’ way, (Reformed Baptist, Plymouth Brethren, Independent Evangelical, even some Methodist and Anglican exceptions) I doubt whether 1,000 to 1,500 folks hear the word regularly in the greater Bristol area any Sunday, and whole housing estates and suburbs have no evangelical witness of any kind.
IS NOT THIS A MISSION FIELD?
And what kind of a mission field is England today? The answer has to be a peculiarly hard and difficult one! The classic missionary arriving in a third-world culture learns the language and then sets out with a brand-new, exciting message of salvation. Folks (like those Athenians of old) always want to hear something new. But here is a land, a culture, a people, that has known the gospel (on and off as one might say) for approximately eighteen-hundred years! Living in the cultural wreck of the Victorian evangelical high-water mark, people think that they know ‘all about Christianity’, and looking about them decide that it is very much a thing for religious cranks, a comfort for the very elderly, but basically something that has had its time and is hardly relevant to their lives today. What can break through this cultural hard-shell and gain the gospel a fair hearing today? New methods? Entertainment? Meeting the people on their ground and then introducing a measure of ‘religion’? All have been tried and failed. The only answer is the old, unchanging one: preaching fearlessly the whole council of God, of sin and its eternal consequences, of the need for repentance, of saving faith in an atoning Savior. And to this must be added the Bible, and the Bible alone, regulating worship and practice. In other words we must recover the genuine article and thereafter we can get again to that Apostolic, Reformation and Puritan understanding of the faith, the more success we are entitled to expect.
To do this the great need is for preachers.
That is, thoroughly Calvinistic heralds of the gospel, church planters, church builders.
We can only look for these (until we can again train our own men) from overseas Reformed and Presbyterian Churches: perhaps active ‘retired’ men, possibly ministerial students seeking experience, perhaps others who would work and train ‘on site’ over here. In a word we need missionaries.
England is a mission field. It is a needy mission field, and a potentially difficult mission field. But it is potentially a very rewarding field, not spreading but restoring the gospel.
The blatant visible apostasy of modern England is, praise God, not the whole story. God is faithful even when men and societies are faithless, and He certainly preserves a remnant, even if for the ‘fathers’ sake’. Around 1950, in England, the average Church attendance was far higher than today, through habit and formalism, but the loss over the half-century has been that of ‘dead wood’ anyway. Scotland at that date was spiritually sounder than England , and Ulster ( Northern Ireland ) sounder still, whilst England had its notable beacon lights such at Martyn Lloyd-Jones in London. From these reformed enclaves sprang the ministry of the ‘Banner of Truth Trust’, and its amazing publishing career. Puritan reprints and sound modern reformed works began to be bought and read again. Through this means, and others who followed Banner’s lead, a quiet leaven of Reformed teaching spread across the nation. By 2000 there were, and are, a sub-strata of Reformed believers throughout England . But the tragedy is that there is no Reformed, paedobaptist, Church to which they can adhere! Typically such folks, individuals, couples, the occasional family, either remain unchurched, or attend ‘unsuitable’ gatherings for the sake of fellowship: usually keeping their convictions quiet ‘for the sake of peace’. It is impossible to guess a number for such folks: potentially they are all those who buy and read Banner, Puritan and Reformed literature (for no-one can avoid the contrast between what they read of in the past, and the situation about them today!)
With the spreading Reformed constituency ‘out there’, there been no attempts to rebuild a visible, vibrant, Reformed/ Presbyterian witness again? I know of only two: a magazine was published in Bristol called ‘The Presbyterian’ which sponsored a local ‘ Bristol and Bath Presbyterian Fellowship’ in this part of the English West Country, and later this evolved into the nation-wide British Reformed Fellowship (B.R.F.). The B.R.F. does not intend to gather or plant churches, but rather to be a medium of contact for scattered Calvinists across the nation, and help them to mutual support and fellowship. Nevertheless it’s membership role could be the nuclei for new local Churches, especially if members are willing to relocate where necessary to form core groups.
Secondly, there is the ‘Evangelical Presbyterian Church in England & Wales’ (E.P.C.E.W.) formed in the early 1980’s with the help and encouragement of the Presbyterian Church in America. This group seeks to re-establish a Presbyterian presence in England (& Wales) in principle, but from the start it’s chosen approach was to woo existing independent Churches into a co-operative effort. As a result its few congregations have no uniform platform or stance on issues such as praise (hymns or psalms only) or Bible versions. It’s ethos is more ‘lowest common denominator’ and as much ‘liberty’ as possible, in contrast to a ‘Jus Divinum’, ‘Regulative Principle’ stance. The result has been that the E.P.C.E.W. is not strikingly different to existing independent evangelical churches, and has not grown significantly over the years. It’s major accessions have been two Churches in Cardiff, Wales, that seceded from the Calvinist Methodist denomination there (hence the change of name to include ‘England & Wales’), whilst its English congregations are geographically isolated one from another. Most of the scattered Calvinists are beyond travelling range of the few E.P.C.E.W. churches, even assuming that they could agree with the stance taken on Bible versions and praise in the nearest congregation. We are still as Reformed a ‘mission field’ as ever as we move further into the 21 st century.
When the Bristol & Bath Presbyterian Fellowship was formed in the early 1980’s an effort was made to contact and seek support and recognition from existing Westminster Standard Presbyterian and allied Reformed Churches and ministries across the globe. One fruit of this was contact with Reformation Christian Ministries (R.C.M.) in Florida, and the establishment of a United Kingdom ‘office’ of R.C.M. Later the R.C.M. team, in association with the British office, developed Reformation International Theological Seminary (R.I.T.S.) with the aim of providing ‘mission field’ theological Reformed training anywhere in the world. R.I.T.S. provides a key element in the potential revival of Presbyterianism in Britain.
A revived Reformed, Presbyterian, Church in England would thus be a very ‘ancient’ Church. It would claim spiritual descent from the Apostolic and Celtic Church in Britain, via Wickliffe and the Reformers through the great Puritan days and the Westminster Assembly. In no way are we intent on forming a ‘new’ Church after our own pattern. The reality is that the Puritan-Presbyterian Church was crushed by force (2,000 pastors ejected from the State Church in 1662) and driven underground by persecution. We simply wish to raise that fallen standard again and apply its foundational principles to the 21st Century, and thus, new. A revived Reformed, Presbyterian Church in England would thus be also a very ‘new’ Church, as recent degenerate generations have seen no such thing, and as we are free, within our Standards, to explore the Scriptures and are not bound by ‘practice and tradition’. We can seek to follow our godly forefathers in doing all things “according to the pattern shown in the Mount”. There is little to demolish before breaking ground and building, and that is an exciting prospect!
To build we need:
One or more pioneer congregations. We have a worshipping family group here near Bristol, and are in contact with like-minded groups holding Bible study meetings with a view to becoming the nuclei of Churches in Exeter and elsewhere. These are geographically near enough to form a pioneer presbytery!
Here we need a preacher to lead our meetings. In Exeter a potential leader requires some extra theological training. Both groups need some recognition and temporary oversight by an existing (U.S.?) Presbyterian denomination, something for which we have made arrangements. But, given such help and oversight we have R.I.T.S. to provide all the ministerial and other training we need! With two small congregations, covenanted together and in place, we can then reach out to all the scattered Reformed folks and would-be Presbyterians, beginning with those on the membership lists of the British Reformed Fellowship. Wherever there are men willing to train, and willing to lead small groups we can provide training through R.I.T.S. Like the Apostolic Church over again these would have to be ‘tent-maker’ ministries, with the men working full or part time in secular employment for their own support, and training and church planting and church leading as well. Also like the Apostles many groups would be small and meeting in private houses, and scattered Reformed believers might be periodically visited by such pastors, “breaking bread from house to house” to provide sermons and ordinance to those with no other means of Reformed nurture. Where possible larger congregations would be gathered, with a more visible presence, and (God willing) the ability to maintain their pastor and family without secular employment. By such means the Reformed faith might spread again, quietly and effectively, across England and the British Isles . And it need hardly be said that such a (biblical) pattern of growth through the elements of 1) ‘distance learning’ ministerial training of the soundest Reformed kind, 2) benevolent oversight by an existing denomination, 3) ‘tent-maker’ ministries at least to start, and 4) taking the gospel and ordinances to the people and encouraging them to relocate where possible to form core groups, is a pattern that might be reproduced anywhere in the world.
Some of these elements are, providentially, in place. The need is great, the opportunities obvious, the rewards exciting. Are there preachers of like conviction willing to heed the call, to catch the vision, to labor along with us? Are you ‘early retired’ from the ministry, but still anxious to serve? Or a ministerial student willing to work and learn as you gain experience? Or are you experiencing a call to minister, but lacking the opportunity so far?
Consider England , and COME OVER AND HELP US!
Stephen Westcott, June, 2008.