Monday, August 15, 2011

An Interview with Affinity Director Peter Milsom

GD:  Hello, Peter Milsom and welcome to Exiled Preacher. Please tell us a little about yourself.

PM: I grew up in Cardiff where I attended Park End Presbyterian Church. After working for an insurance company, I trained for the ministry of the Presbyterian Church of Wales and was ordained in 1973. My first pastorate was in Mancot in North Wales. With real sadness, I resigned from this denomination and my ministry in Mancot at the end of 1974 and began a church planting ministry in the Deeside area. I have good friends who continue to serve in the Presbyterian Church. During the early years of this new ministry I worked as the Head of Religious Education at Henry Meoles senior secondary school in Wallasey. In the 1980’s, whilst continuing my ministry in Deeside, I was involved in the planting of a new church in Bala. In 1993 I moved to Malpas Road Evangelical Church in Newport.

Since 1997 I have been the Director of UFM Worldwide, a mission agency which works closely with local churches. UFM missionaries serve in 30 countries across all continents and one of my responsibilities is the pastoral care of the missionaries. I have had the privilege of visiting many countries which has given me insights into the work of God’s Kingdom around the world and the cultural diversity of the Church. The work of taking the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the peoples of the world, with the help of the Holy Spirit, requires the combined efforts of all of the Lord’s people.

I am convinced of the importance of evangelical church unity and its significance for our witness to the Gospel. I believe it is important for these convictions to be expressed in tangible ways. Disunity undermines the credibility of our witness to people who are searching for God and need to know the truth. I have worked out my convictions about evangelical church unity in practical ways. The church in Deeside became a member church of the British Evangelical Council, which is now Affinity, in the late 1970’s. For many years I was involved with the ministries of the Evangelical Movement of Wales and was the Executive Chairman of the EMW in the early 1990’s.  In the mid 1980’s I was involved, with others, in the formation of the Associating Evangelical Churches of Wales which brings together 60 evangelical churches in Wales. In the late 1980’s I served on the organising committee of the Grace Baptist Assembly and chaired two Assemblies. I have also served on the Council of Global Connections and have chaired the Affinity World Focus Team since its inception.

GD:  Give us a potted history of Affinity.

PM: Affinity continues the work of the British Evangelical Council. The Council of the BEC adopted the name Affinity in 2004, when Jonathan Stephen became the first Director. The BEC began in 1952 as a fellowship of evangelical churches which were not part of the World Council of Churches. In the late 1960s and early 1970s the BEC grew as some churches left the major denominations because of the growing influence of liberal theology, especially amongst the leaders of those denominations.  The churches which left the denominations recognized the importance of expressing their commitment to evangelical unity through belonging to the BEC. Affinity is a church-based body. Since 2004 evangelical Christian agencies have also become Affinity Associates. This includes Bible Colleges, publishers, and mission agencies.

GD: What is the purpose of Affinity?

PM: Affinity is an expression of evangelical Christian unity. Everyone who belongs to Affinity is committed to the Bible, as the authority for all we believe and do, and to the church, as the means by which God’s purposes in the world are accomplished. We are responding to the prayer of the Lord Jesus in John 17 “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”  We believe that Jesus prayed for a visible expression of the spiritual unity all Christians have because we are “in Christ.” Unity amongst true Christians makes our witness credible to the world and is essential if the Gospel is to be taken to the whole world.  We are a partnership of churches and Christians who are committed to the Gospel. We welcome fellowship with all who are committed to the Lord, the Bible, the Church and the Gospel.

GD: Affinity seemed to begin with a bang and then (almost) peter out with a whimper. How do you plan to rejuvenate Affinity as a focus for Evangelical unity in the 21st century?

PM: Affinity continues the witness of the British Evangelical Council.  The purpose of the new name and re-launch in 2004 was to challenge evangelical churches and Christians to become more actively involved in evangelical unity. Affinity now includes Christians and churches in the UK and Ireland so the word “British” needed to be changed. Affinity also includes a number of evangelical agencies involved in a range of significant ministries including pastoral and leadership training, publishing and world mission. This partnership between churches and evangelical agencies is important because the 21st century presents challenges which we need to address together. The need is urgent. I am keen for Affinity to enable all who belong to it, and others who may join us, to work together on a Gospel agenda. We are living in a secular society and are witnessing the decline of Western civilization. We need to stand together in Gospel partnership. A new generation of younger leaders needs encouragement and younger people generally need to be evangelized. It is important for evangelical Christians not to think of Affinity as “them” but “us” and to get involved. I am always glad to hear from people who want to work out what it means to be “in Christ” together with other churches and Christians.

GD: Why should Evangelical Churches and Church groupings affiliate to Affinity rather than the Evangelical Alliance?

PM: We recognize the excellent work done by the Evangelical Alliance, which is a bigger organization than Affinity. There are certain things which are distinctive of Affinity. We are committed to the Bible and to the church. The Affinity Council consists of church leaders appointed by the various church groupings to which they belong. Everyone who belongs to Affinity is committed to upholding and proclaiming the vital truths expressed in our Doctrinal Basis. In recent years some evangelicals have begun to question key doctrines, for example, the authority of the Bible, justification by faith, substitutionary atonement, the uniqueness of the Gospel, and eternal punishment.  We take biblical truth very seriously. The affects of embracing non-biblical, liberal theology can be seen only too clearly in the tragic decline of the major Protestant denominations in Britain today.  We recognize the major issues facing evangelical churches and Christians in the major denominations, especially the Church of England and the Church of Scotland. We want to do all we can to encourage and help our brothers and sisters in those denominations in their stand for the Lord and for the Gospel.

GD: How do you see the role of Affinity with respect to the relationship between Evangelical Nonconformists and our Evangelical Anglican brethren?

PM: In 1992 I was the chairman of the BEC Council when the first Church of England congregation was accepted into membership of the BEC. Then and now we do not require a church to have actually seceded from their denomination in order to join Affinity. We recognize that some churches believe that they should continue to witness actively to the truth within their denominations. This is important for all evangelical churches which are within a denomination, whether nonconformist or Anglican. Affinity embraces a variety of churches. There are differences amongst us on matters such as the form of church government and baptism. We are united on the basis of the fact that we are “Evangelicals”. Our commitment to our fellow evangelicals is more important to us than our commitment to an historic ecclesiastical tradition. We welcome fellowship with all, whether nonconformist or Anglican, who are Gospel people and are actively witnessing to the Gospel within their denomination.

GD: Is separation from the “mixed denominations” still a live issue?

PM: Recent events within some of the main denominations mean that separation is a live issue. This is true, for example, for some in the Church of England and also the Church of Scotland. The agenda of liberal theology is being pursued relentlessly by denominational leaders. They are determined to pursue policies and practices which are a denial of biblical authority and cause real problems for evangelical churches and pastors. We are keen to do everything we can to strengthen the hands of those bearing witness to the truth within the mixed denominations and, should they decide to separate, to encourage them to seek fellowship with other evangelical churches in Affinity.

GD: I notice that Affinity’s theological journal, Foundations is now available for free online. What might readers expect from the journal?

PM: The first online edition of Foundations, our theological journal, was published in May this year. As an online journal it is now available, free of charge, to church leaders and Christians around the world. Foundations is an international journal of evangelical theology. Its aim is to cover contemporary theological issues by articles and reviews, taking in exegesis, biblical theology, church history and apologetics, and to indicate their relevance to pastoral ministry. Its particular focus is the theology of evangelical churches which are committed to biblical truth and evangelical ecumenism.

GD: A number of people were slightly bemused when the British Evangelical Council was relaunched as Affinity. Any plans for another change of name?

PM: It has taken a little time for people to get used to the new name. We have no plans to change it. One of the big challenges we face is to work together as churches and evangelical agencies in an increasingly effective partnership for the Gospel.  Affinity is not about something that other people do for us but what we, as the Lord’s people do together.

GD: If time travel were possible, which figure from church history would you most like to meet, and what would you say to him/her?

PM: I recently enjoyed reading Jonathan Aitken’s biography of John Newtown, “From to Disgrace to Amazing Grace.” I would have liked to know John Newton and to have talked with him about his experience of God’s grace and how that had made him a warm and committed pastor of the Lord’s people. 

GD: What is the most helpful book that you have read in the last twelve months?

PM: I enjoyed reading “Son of Hamas.”  It tells the amazing story of how Mosab Hassan Yousef, the oldest son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, a founder member of Hamas, became a disciple of Jesus. It encouraged me to see how the Holy Spirit works to bring people to faith in seemingly inaccessible places.  Mosab Yousef’s experience of the love of God for him and his attempt to obey Jesus’ teaching that we should “love our enemies” is a great challenge to us as evangelicals. It is an excellent book and you won’t need to sell your shirt to buy it!

GD: What is the biggest problem facing Evangelicalism today and how should we best respond?

PM: There are many big challenges facing us as Evangelicals today. It is so important that we face these challenges together. We need to resist the increasing fragmentation amongst us. Paul’s challenge in 1 Corinthians, chapter 1 is relevant to us today, “Is Christ divided?” In my early days in the ministry we wanted to encourage each other as evangelicals across the denominations. We were warm-hearted towards each other. Since then, various factors have divided us from our fellow evangelicals. It is very serious matter. It is vitally important for us to “make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.”  We must “accept one another just as Christ accepted us, in order to bring praise to God.” The divisions amongst us undermine the credibility of our witness to the Lord and hinder the task of taking the Gospel to the world.  One of the immense privileges of being a Christian is that, because we belong to the Lord and are “in Christ”, we have a real and eternal fellowship with all our fellow Christians. The great divide in the world is between those who are “in Christ” and those who are not. The great desire and prayer of all Christians is that people around the world will be rescued from the dominion of darkness and be brought into the kingdom of the Son he loves. Affinity is one expression of our unity in Christ and of our passionate desire to express this tangibly so that the peoples of world might believe in him.

GD: Thanks for that, Peter. Good to see you at the Aber Conference last week. 

Peter Milsom will be preaching at Penknap Providence Church's anniversary service on Saturday 3rd September, 4pm. 


Ben said...

I seem to detect a distinctly postmodern approach to church unity and the Biblical doctrine of separation in your interviewee.

That's just my own interpretation, of course. Others will have an entirely different and I'm sure equally valid view.

Guy Davies said...

I'm not sure that I'd associate PM with postmodernism, Ben.

Richard Miles said...

I know Peter Milsom, and he is certainly a gospel man. His vision for unity would be a Biblical one.