A letter to the Evangelical Times concerning their criticism of the Church of England for abolishing patrons:
At long last the Anglican Church is doing away with her evil practice of having patrons lord it over churches of which they themselves are often not even members. The ET should rejoice but the ET looks upon this positive move as ´ominous` (Ominous changes in the Church of England, Jan. issue). How can this be?
Patronages, whether enforced by rich individuals, endowments or non-church-based organisations, are the curse of the C of E, often ensuring that churches receive ministers whom they do not want. A well-known example is the fate of John Newton of Olney Hymns fame. Newton was burdened with two patrons. One, Lord Dartmouth, wanted to send him off to the American colonies and the other, John Thornton, wished him to pastor a church in London. Newton, however, felt called to take up a pastorate in Yorkshire! Thornton won the day but to the detriment of sound Biblical practice. The church at St. Mary`s, Woolnoth protested that they wanted a man of their own choice and not Newton. Thornton, who held the patronage, took the matter to the House of Lords to fight for his ´rights`. He had them verified and thus installed Newton as Vicar of a church who had not called him. Does the ET seek to defend such a practice?
The author of the article is against doing away with outside influence on churches as it would give certain church officers more power. He calls this ´prelacy`. It is odd that Malcolm Watts is rightly free to promote in the ET what critics might call ´free-church prelacy` but such a concentration of inner church power in the Anglican Church is frowned on and thus willingly given over to external controlling bodies. Contrary to the impression given by the article, the vast majority of individual patrons and societies are not evangelical and enforce unbiblical practices on the churches under their control. The harm they do is enormous compared with the unscriptural practice of a few evangelical societies seeking to control churches from outside. One of the major issues Spurgeon brought up in the Down-Grade Controversy was the fact that Baptist Churches were being dominated and financed by non-church-based bodies. The Church of England is now toeing the Spurgeonic line and being condemned for it. What a pity! I had hoped that the ET would pose the question, “Now that the Anglicans are taking this most necessary step, when are Free Churches going to drop the shackles of patronages and follow suit?”
G. M. Ella