Evangelical Christians defend Jim Packer over suspension threat

Reform, an evangelical group within the Church of England, has hit out at the Bishop of New Westminster in Canada for threatening to suspend respected evangelical theologian Dr Jim Packer from ministry after he sought the oversight of the Primate of the Southern Cone.

The 81-year-old British theologian is the author of one of the best known books on Christianity, "Knowing God", and Professor of Theology at Regent College in Vancouver.

Dr Packer's church, St John's Shaughnessy, at which he is honorary assistant curate, voted in February to leave the Diocese of New Westminster and continue instead under the oversight of the Bishop of the Southern Cone, the Most Rev Greg Venables after the New Westminster Diocese voted in favour of giving same-sex blessings.

The Bishop of New Westminster, the Rt Rev Michael Ingham, has issued a "Notice of Presumption of Abandonment of the Exercise of the Ministry" to Dr Packer and three other clerics in the church, reports Church Times.

The Chairman of Reform, Rod Thomas, pointed in a letter to the newspaper this week to the "huge sense of outrage" that the notice has caused across the Communion, "especially among evangelicals in the Church of England", he said.

"We are all indebted to Dr Packer for his monumental contribution to our understanding of Christian doctrine. To treat such a scholarly, godly and elderly man, who has been a key evangelical leader for over half a century, in this mean-spirited and aggressive manner is deeply upsetting," continued Mr Thomas.

Reform said that in the current controversy over homosexuality "it is becoming increasingly apparent that there is no room for middle ground".

The group also hit out at the Lambeth Conference at the same time as welcoming the alternative Global Anglican Conference being held in June in the Holy Land for conservative Anglicans.

"It is all the more regrettable that a number of English dioceses are offering 'Lambeth' hospitality to the very people who are responsible for opposing faithful Anglicans - and in some cases dragging them through the courts -in the USA and Canada," wrote Mr Thomas.

"Some dioceses are also discovering that they are having to pick up a bill amounting to tens of thousands of pounds to support the Lambeth conference - a bill which ultimately will be shouldered by hard-pressed parishes.

"What a relief it is to know that GAFCON points to an alternative vision of the future for Anglicanism."

Bishop Ingham, meanwhile, said that he was not "bringing charges" against Dr Packer but simply acting according to ecclesiastical procedure, according to Church Times.

Dr Packer has until 21 April to appeal against the notice.