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To Affinity and beyond

A new name for the British Evangelical Council

The British Evangelical Council (BEC) has a new name - 'Affinity', with a subtitle, 'Church-centred Partnership for Bible-centred Christianity'.

The British Evangelical Council (BEC) has re-invented itself. Its re-launch took place on March 25 at a smart London hotel, with a swish DVD presentation and reporters from national daily newspapers present.

It has a new name - 'Affinity', with a subtitle, 'Church-centred Partnership for Bible-centred Christianity'. It also has a new director - Jonathan Stephen.

With over 1,200 congregations al-ready involved, the future possibilities for Affinity are promising. Jonathan, still part of the pastoral staff at Carey Baptist Church in Reading, will promote Affinity as a rallying point and a means to provide a national voice for biblical Christianity.

The mission statement of Affinity covers five broad areas: to promote unity and godliness across churches and Christian organisations; to support the planting of Bible-centred evangelical churches across the denominations; to engage publicly with government and the media from a biblical perspective; to advance theological understanding and the acceptance of biblical Christianity in the nation; and to express unity and fellowship with like-minded churches worldwide.

Christianity, clear & solid

It is a big vision and at the press conference some searching questions were asked, which Jonathan Stephen handled with skill. One reporter asked if Affinity would regard Roman Catholics as Christians. Jonathan replied that, though, no doubt, many individual Catholics had a personal faith in Christ and were true Christians, Catholicism as a system did not stand for the biblical gospel. 'Aren't there other agencies with similar agendas to Affinity?' Yes, and, wherever possible, Affinity will seek to operate in tandem with them. While wanting to work closely with Evangelical Alliance, and warmly commending much of the work it does, nevertheless, Jonathan Stephen said that many EA churches were dominated by the experiential side. While Affinity rejoices in Christian experience, 'we want to define Christianity more clearly, more solidly'. In particular, Affinity highlights the crucial issue of the place of the Bible in the churches.

Jonathan Stephen spoke of a fundamental fault line which runs through all the churches, both evangelical and charismatic, and through the denominations. That fault line concerns whether or not we believe Scripture to be inerrant and whether or not, in practice, we take it as our 'supreme authority as the only rule of faith and practice'. It is this emerging fault line which is of the greatest significance for the future, especially in our postmodern world. Speaking to Jonathan privately, he gave the impression that it was because of this fact that the bold step to drop the word 'evangelical' from the title of the organisation was taken. The meaning of the word has been undermined so much in recent years that it fails to convey a clear message and in many circles is no longer clearly associated with biblical authority.

Modest name

The new name epitomises the new approach. Affinity implies 'a shared, underlying inclination'. It is a modest name, which is one of the reasons it was chosen. It acknowledges the reality of the state of the church. It recognises the fractured state of affairs, but nevertheless aspires towards unity. With this in mind it was good to see many leaders, both Free Church and Anglican, giving their backing to Affinity. Jonathan Stephen said that he very much wanted to 'develop the Anglican dimension'. This is not a totally new departure, but does represent quite a change from the early days of BEC.

The BEC came into being 50 years ago as a unifying and representative organisation for churches that wanted to stand together for the biblical gospel and stand apart from a false ecumenism which downplays the primacy of truth. That this stance has been essentially correct is corroborated by the weak and confused state of broad 'evangelicalism' in the UK today. However, the BEC had its failings. In the days when Dr. Lloyd-Jones was its leading light, it did much good.

But, since his death in 1981, BEC became rather moribund. While the spiritual darkness in Britain became ever more dense, something needed to be done. Recognising the need for radical change, a day conference was called by the BEC executive in March 2002. Those who were there have spoken of a palpable and unprecedented sense of the moving of God at that conference. So many people had been given the same vision for the way forward. 'It was a remarkable 24 hours.'

What next?

The next step for Affinity is to get its message and enthusiasm to the grass roots in the churches. One of the problems with the old BEC was that it operated rather as an umbrella organisation, and was viewed by many as a 'tier too far', above their church leaders and denominations. It rather lost touch with individual believers at the local level.

The excellent DVD presentation available to churches will go far to making an initial appeal to the church members. Everyday Christian people speak on this presentation and voice many of the concerns which all of us feel about the state of the nation, the fact that the TV nearly always represents evangelicals in a bad light, and portrays Christianity as a white middle-class affair, when in fact the church is burgeoning all over the world except in the West.

Breakthrough?

Whether or not Affinity can make a breakthrough for solid evangelicals and become a clear, winsome and reasoned voice in the nation, especially the media, is critical. If this can be achieved, then it will win the hearts of many Christians and become a powerful catalyst for the resurgence of Bible-centred Christianity in our land. Jonathan Stephen and his helpers face a mighty task and need our prayers and support. Who knows what God is able to achieve when Bible-centred Christians stand together, one in heart and mind?

JEB

Affinity invites questions, ideas and feedback - Affinity, PO Box 2119, Reading RG1 7WS (tel. 023 8046 6235, email info@affinity.org.uk). Churches or Christian organisations wishing to find out more about partnering with Affinity should contact the Director, Jonathan Stephen (email director@affinity.org.uk, tel. 0118 956 9103).

John Benton