One important aspect of our National ministry is to keep an eye on the ever-changing theological landscape of the UK and help our churches to navigate current and emerging issues. In light of this, John Stevens tells us a little bit about the FIEC Theological Team.
The FIEC was established in 1922 out of a vision to support and encourage the work of independent evangelical churches that did not belong to the “sectarian” denominations. One key need identified was to provide theological support to church leaders. E J Poole-Connor, writing in 1941, explained that the Fellowship…
“...offers assistance to younger brethren, or those whose theological training has been somewhat inadequate, by advising them in regard to pastoral practice and helpful courses of study” (Evangelical Unity, p185).
Today many FIEC ministers enjoy a far better theological training than was possible in the first half of the Twentieth Century, as there are a number of solid conservative evangelical seminaries and Bible Colleges they can attend. However there is a still a great need to provide theological support to our church leaders. Some have not enjoyed the opportunity of good theological training, and even those that have need help with keeping up-to-date with theological trends and developments. Quite a number of churches do not have a full-time pastor, and their elders value theological guidance.
This work is now being taken forwards by the revitalised FIEC Theological Team, which met last week. The team is chaired by Paul Mallard, and consists of Andy Gemmill, Bill James, David Shaw, Tim Smiley, Greg Strain, Richard Underwood and myself. We are delighted that Mike Reeves (Head of Theology for UCCF: The Christian Unions) is serving as an external consultant to the team, helping us to keep abreast of emerging trends in theology.
The Theological Team has six main aspects to its work:
- First it provides theological advice and assistance to the Trust Board when requested. The Theological Team was recently asked to help draft the revised FIEC statements on Gospel Unity and Women in Ministry.
- Second it will produce a bi-annual bulletin on recent trends in theology, suggesting key books and articles for pastors to read. This will help busy church leaders navigate through the mass of material available and enable them to prioritise what is most helpful and essential.
- Third it will seek to encourage the development of a robust theology of independency for the United Kingdom by drawing together a team of our leading thinkers and encouraging them to write and publish in this area.
- Fourth it is going to commission a series of brief and accessible papers setting out the different views held by FIEC churches on matters of doctrine and church practice that fall within the freedom of the local church afforded by the Doctrinal Basis and our FIEC policy statements.
- Fifth it will seek to ensure that the various training institutions and courses attended by our ministers are delivering theological training appropriate for ministry today.
- Finally it will contribute to the FIEC Leaders’ Conference, providing a School of Ministry that will help pastors to engage with contemporary issues. This year Bill James, Mike Tindall and Dan Strange will be presenting papers examining the church’s relationship with the state and the world. You can find more details about our Leaders’ Conference here.
We had a very encouraging and inspiring meeting. It was interesting to hear how the “new perspective” on Paul is being replaced by an emphasis on salvation as rescue from powers and authorities which marginalises personal salvation and justification. We spent considerable time thinking about the pressures faced by pastors ministering in a culture which is deeply apathetic towards the gospel, when there seems to be relatively little growth and conversions are few and far between. We believe there is a need to have a robust theology to sustain ministry in the face of such discouragements.
We hope that over the next year we will make considerable progress in achieving our aims, and that as a result churches and pastors will be strengthened and encouraged in their work and we will be able to continue this key aspect of the vision of our founding fathers for the Fellowship. Please pray for our Theological Team in their crucial role.