Three of the most prominent evangelical groups in the UK are merging in a major change to the conservative Christian landscape in Britain.
Reform and the Fellowship of Word and Spirit will come under the banner of the Church Society, a traditionalist Anglican group headed by the Revd Dr Lee Gatiss. The move was made in light of 'the challenges of the present time' as many conservative evangelicals feel the Church of England is on a liberalising trajectory towards accepting same-sex relationships.
Dr Gatiss hailed the change as the 'biggest thing to happen in the Anglican evangelical world here [in the UK] for 25 years' as he celebrated the coming together.
'I rejoice greatly and am so grateful to God that Anglican evangelicals in the UK are combining their strengths to stand firm in the Church of England,' he said. 'This is a huge story and counters the fiction that orthodox groups are fragmenting and leaving. We're not. We're coming together like never before, as the times demand.'
A letter explaining the decision will be sent to members of the groups later this week and they will be asked to attend an AGM in May to vote in the new Church Society council which is expected to represent the different groups.
Rod Thomas, the bishop of Maidstone and a leading member of the Reform Council, greeted news of the merger with 'real enthusiasm and hopefulness'.
Bishop Thomas was appointed in light of legislation to allow women bishops — a move largely opposed by conservative evangelicals. He said: 'Our new context means that we need to focus our efforts, unite our endeavours, and ensure we maximise the usefulness of our resources.'
Canon David Banting, a prominent member of the Church of England's ruling general synod and former chair of Reform, said divisions among evangelicals 'are little short of scandalous or irresponsible'.
'At a time when even our best Bishops talk of the debate about gender and human sexuality as a tsunami, our divisions and separateness from fellow conservative evangelicals are little short of scandalous or irresponsible. The need for unity of fellowship and purpose with bodies like Church Society and Fellowship of Word & Spirit is urgent and overdue,' he said.
'Such unity is good in itself, good for our networks, good for the times, and good for our standing and contending shoulder to shoulder in the advance and defence of the gospel. I whole-heartedly support this proposed merger.'
Rev Dr Rob Munro, chair of the Fellowship of World and Spirit, said that 'at a time when our nation is rapidly rejecting its Christian inheritance, and the Church of England is in a crisis about its convictions and influence, there has never been a greater need for those committed to biblical truth to unite together, enabling our message to be heard with greater clarity and power'.
He insisted: 'This isn't "politics"; it is better living out the theological vision we proclaim, for the sake of the church and our nation.'