About a year ago my assistant Pastor and I looked to read a book on the theology of being an Independent church (not a part of a denomination and having no external authority over us) but were dismayed to see that there seemed to be no such book, especially for the British context. So it was with great excitement that I saw that the FIEC (Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches) was realising such a book at their Leaders conference this winter.
‘Independent church: Biblically shaped and gospel driven’ is compiled by John Stevens, and includes essays by church leaders such as Bill James, Adrian Reynolds, Graham Beynon and others. It is published by the FIEC in partnership with 10ofthose publishing.
This book is a compilation of essays on the theology and life of Independent churches in the UK. It is specifically written about the FIEC and is a very contemporary snap shot of the FIEC as it stands today. The contents are:
- 1: What is Independency? (John Stevens)
- 2: An Independent Theology of the Church (Robert Strivens)
- 3: Independency in History (Ken Brownell)
- 4: How Does Independency Avoid Isolationism? (John Stevens)
- 5: Independency and the State (Peter Comont)
- 6: Does Independency Have to Be Congregational? (John Stevens)
- 7: Can Independency be Confessional? (Bill James)
- 8: Independency and Preaching (Adrian Reynolds)
- 9: The Role of Elders in Independent Churches (Andy Hunter)
- 10: How Can Independency Generate Gifted Gospel Workers? (Trevor Archer)
- 11: How Can Independency Support Pastors and Hold Them Accountable? (Richard Underwood)
- 12: What is the Role of Women in Independent Churches? (Mark and Rachel Lawrence)
- 13: Church Discipline (Graham Beynon)
- 14: Independent Church Leadership (Ray Evans)
- 15: Independence and Mission (Andy Paterson)
- 16: The Vision of the FIEC for Independency in Britain (John Stevens)
I found the book extremely helpful in clarifying the theology of Independence, the history of Independent churches, and how the FIEC functions today. If you want to know why some churches are not in a denomination, this book is for you. One of the difficulties with any book that is a collection of essays is that it changes pace and style and if not edited well can be rather repetitive. I notice with this book that John Stevens ‘complied’ the book and is not credited as an ‘editor’. This is the only frustration with the book. There is only so many times you can read an introduction to John Owen or the Savoy Declaration. However, it didn’t distract too much.
There are clear highlights in the book that really encouraged and enthused me. Here are a few:
- Reading the history of Independent churches made me proud to be an Independent Church minister. Our history is longer and deeper than many assume. Ken Brownell writes about the suffering that our forefathers endured for not being a part of the established church and asks why they were willing to die for their convictions. He answers, ‘they believed that the honour of Jesus Christ as head of his church was at stake.’
- I was really challenged by Bill James chapter on Independent churches and Confessions of Faith. I loved his defence of using Confessions as thus: ‘Confessionalism is simply a matter of openness and transparency regarding our theological convictions’. As a result we are now reading through the Confessions in our weekly Pastors meeting.
- I thought that Andy Hunters chapter on eldership – which is vitally important in an Independent church – was gold dust. I would urge every elder to read this chapter.
- Graham Beynon is one of my favourite writers and he did not disappoint in his chapter on church discipline. The cost of the book was more than covered with this chapter. Listen to his clarity and timely wisdom: ‘Passing verdicts on people’s behaviour and excluding them from church membership is seen as the worst form of judgementalism today. Rather than an act of love, it is perceived as an arrogant power play, attempting to force people to conform. We must recognise this cultural setting and its influence within the church.’
This book is a good defence of Independency and has some excellent essays on specific aspects of church life. It was very helpful on clarifying how the FIEC view themselves and the future of the church. It would be good to see the book edited before the Second Edition. But apart from that I am extremely grateful to the FIEC and 10ofthose for producing a much needed book.