President’s Address — Dr Mark Thompson at the 2012 ACL Annual General Meeting
Posted on August 9, 2012
Filed under Sydney Diocese
“For seven years I have been the President of the League, and as you know, tonight that privilege and responsibility will pass to another.”
It has been a remarkable privilege to be the President of the ACL over the last seven years. It has been a turbulent time in one way or another, but through it all the ACL has become stronger, clearer in its goals, more effective in communicating with Sydney Anglicans and evangelicals all over the world, and we have continued to enjoy the confidence of by far the majority of the Sydney synod. With very few exceptions, our recommendations in the synod and standing committee elections are followed and our nominees almost always succeed. We have held a number of impressive meetings and conferences, probably by far the most successful has been the Financial Priorities Conference held in February this year. Together we have been responsible for all of this. It has not been the work of one man or even just two or three people. It has been the work of the entire Council and of the League’s membership in general. Above all, it has been the undeserved blessing of God, who has enabled us to maintain this fellowship prosecute our common mission.
I have always believed that the ACL and its work is vital to the continued health of this diocese, and through the diocese the continued health of evangelical Anglicanism worldwide. The seemingly mundane work of recruiting, nominating and promoting gospel-minded, appropriately skilled members for the boards and committees of the diocese has resulted in a cohesion and corporate vision that is rarely found in Anglican circles. Where evangelicals have not been willing or able to organise themselves to engage the structures of the denomination, they have almost inevitably become victims of it. We can never afford to let our guard down, relax and assume that with ‘our man in the white house’ all will be fine. The institutional structures we create, like everything about us, have an inbuilt bias towards sin. They do not automatically promote the gospel and the health of the churches. That takes deliberate, proactive effort. I know I’m not alone in this conviction. Your membership of the League and the tireless efforts of the Council are testimony to the fact that you see the need and are willing to meet it.
Over the past year I’ve been putting my mind to the distinctives of our great diocese. Many of you will know that in a series of blogposts I have sought to explore some of the more important of them.
First, our biblical confessionalism — we take the reformation summaries of the faith seriously, especially the 39 Articles of Religion, the Anglican doctrinal statement, but we subject everything, even our own convictions to the authority of Scripture.
Second, our conviction that the local congregation is the centre of diocesan life. The priority of the gathered people of God in each place throughout our geographical area is almost always under pressure from centralism — that’s the nature of the beast when it comes to denominational life. But we do not recognise another ‘centre’ than the local congregation. Our diocese is a fellowship of churches — not, I would say quite emphatically, a network of ministries. The local church is the centre.
Third, our convictions about the complementarity of men and women and what this means for the appropriate exercise of Christian ministry by persons of either sex. Our diocese has insisted on the equal value and dignity of women and women’s ministry but has decided against the ordination of women as elders or presbyters, let alone as bishops. Many of us would want to go further and insist that teaching a mixed congregation should always be the responsibility of a male elder. Others are not so sure. However, we all recognise we have gone beyond the ordination debates and are now seeking to flesh out what it means to say that men and women are equal but different.
Fourth, our commitment to the priority of the word of God in the life of the Christian congregation and as the means by which God executes his purposes in the world. We put great emphasis upon biblical preaching — we always have — but the ministry of the word is not narrowly constrained by the twenty-minutes or so of public exposition on a Sunday. The word of God, and the proclamation of the word of God, gives a particular character to all Christian ministry as it does to all Christian living.
Fifth, our global vision. This has always been a part of life in Sydney. We began as a missionary diocese, we have continued with a missionary vision. We know that people without Christ are lost and facing judgement and so we want the world to hear of Jesus and what he has done to effect our salvation and give us new life. The importance of CMS in the life of our diocese is difficult to overstate. Add to that the new dimensions of our involvement with the world that have come as a result of the gifts of our present archbishop and our participation in GAFCON.
Sixth, our evangelical episcopate. For obvious reasons, there is a lot of talk just at the moment about what we want in a bishop or an archbishop. Much of it, I say with some trepidation, is deeply confused. From time to time we fall into the trap of thinking that if only we get the right man as our bishop then the future will be guaranteed. Let’s get an inspiring man of vision. Let’s get someone with an impressive record of church planting. Let’s get a real leader. Let’s get the sharpest thinker, the most able administrator, the man with the most statesman-like presence. We look for the messiah and forget what happened to the real one when he came. We mustn’t put our trust in princes or bishops. Nevertheless, we can look back on the last two hundred years and thank God for bishops and archbishops who were gospel men first and foremost, who took seriously their promises to guard the faith and drive out false teaching, and who provided the most conducive atmosphere for the real leadership of those serving in the parishes of the diocese to flourish.
Seventh, our recognition of the value of theological education. The simple truth is that the future of our diocese, under God, is not determined by what goes on in Greenoaks Avenue (Darling Point) but by what goes on in Carillon Avenue (Newtown). The theological education of men and women in this diocese is second to none in the world. Of course it’s not perfect. Nothing is. But Moore College has served our diocese these past one hundred and fifty-six years by making every effort to equip men and women with the most important resources they will need to face the complexities and challenges of ministry today and the new challenges and opportunities of tomorrow. In this diocese we have not taken that for granted. We have recognised the value of theological education and sought to guard Moore College as a treasure we cannot afford to lose.
These seven things are not all there is to say about us. There is much more. Yet I am sure these are some of the most important things. And if we are not explicit about them, if we do not spell them out and keep insisting upon them, if we do not explain to each new generation of ACL members and councillors, then we will find ourselves sliding into other ways of thinking, making other commitments, giving other things priority. The ACL exists to defend and extend that gospel inheritance which we received hard-won from those who came before us. Archbishop Marcus Loane is reported once to have said, ‘We are in danger of forgetting at what cost Sydney was won for the evangelical cause and how easily it could be lost’.
For seven years I have been the President of the League, and as you know, tonight that privilege and responsibility will pass to another. There are many people who I want to thank, people who have shouldered the responsibility with me and shared the vision over the last seven years. I particularly want to thank the executive: Robert Tong, Laurie Scandrett, John Colquhoun, Bruce Ballantine-Jones, Warwick de Jersey, Nigel Fortescue, Matthew Whitfield and Scott Blackwell. Their support, encouragement and counsel has been invaluable. I want to thank Colin Mackellar, for tirelessly working behind the scenes and keeping our website out there as a valuable resource for us and for other evangelicals around the world. I want to thank Elisabeth Arnett — Elisabeth not only organises the synod dinner each year, she has helped in a myriad of little ways to make up for my shortcomings and ensure that things run smoothly. And I want to thank the Council, the outgoing Council of 2011/12 and the six councils who have preceded it. God has used you all mightily and I thank God for each one of you.
I should make clear that I do not want to back a way a single millimetre from my commitment to the League and its work. I remain ready to serve on the new council in any capacity this meeting should decide and to provide whatever assistance and support I can to the new president. The ACL must get clearer and stronger. I cannot envisage a time when we will not be needed. But we must be, as we have always been, first and foremost a Christian organisation. We must pursue not our own agenda, but Christ’s; not rely on our own power, but Christ’s; not build our own kingdom, but Christ’s. We must pray as well as plan. And I trust that when we are long forgotten, the evangelical ministry we have worked to defend and extend, protect and promote, will be even stronger and more effective than it has been in the past.
Mark D. Thompson
Anglican Church League
9 August 2012.