You can't just start a church, can you?
Are you a cult?
As I write, ‘cults’ are again in the news. Cults control and manipulate their members. While they very often use the term church in the names they give themselves, they are not at all Christian churches.
But, hold on… is Grace Church a real church? Can people just start a church?
It’s an important question.
When I was growing up I had the sense that the churches in my town had been there forever. The style of the buildings, the clothes the vicars wore, the kind of words used whenever we went for a school service, the smell… it all said to me ‘very old’.
Looking back, I realise that it added to the sense that this was something that hadn’t been cooked up yesterday. That it had some weight behind it. They were trustworthy.
However, it is easy to forget that even the oldest churches we have around us had to start at some point.
The one I went to with my school as a boy was opened in 1845. The local parish church near us in Lupset was opened in the 1930s.
Often churches have their buildings deliberately designed to look older than they are so people will associate them with something very traditional and trustworthy - smart move!
So all churches have to start at some point. It just so happens that GCW started in 2015.
We might be new, but in another sense we really are very, very old.
Can anyone just start a church?
But can anyone just start a church? Who has the right to do that?
In England we have lots of different types of churches. The one we have all heard of is called The Church of England. It is what is known as an ‘established church’. It is given special recognition by our government.
But even our government also recognises that a local church does not have to be part of the ‘national church’ to be legitimate. You’ll have heard of The Methodist Church of Great Britain, and The Baptist Union of Churches, but there are many others. And there is a rich history in the UK of these churches. None of these have needed the government’s permission to start a new congregation..
So, can anyone just start a church? In theory then, yes.
But that isn’t typically what trustworthy churches have typically ever done.
Following the pattern of the New Testament, an authentic new church will usually been started by at least one, if not several, other genuine congregations.
They will very often affiliate or at least closely associate with a number of other churches.
And they will comply with government requirements for churches and charities.
Background to Grace Church Wakefield
This is the case with Grace Church Wakefield.
We are an ‘independent church’, in that we think the New Testament does not tell us local church families should be under the spiritual authority of any outside person or group.
But we were started by a church in Dewsbury that has been running from the 1970s, which itself has its roots in a group of Christians who left the Methodist movement in the middle of last century (this occurred across England as that denomination drifted away from the Bible as its authority).
Not only this, but we have strong connections with a number of other churches in our region who know us and can vouch for us.
We are a registered charity, and so have to comply with the rules governing UK charities set out by the Charities Commission.
And we’re also part of grouping of churches called The Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches. There are more than six hundred churches across the UK belonging to the FIEC, each church carefully vetted in terms of their theology, structure and practise before being permitted to join.
In fact the word evangelical, whilst sometimes unhelpful (because it is used by the British media to describe a kind of unhinged fanaticism, and in America being associated with a political ideology) here in the UK it can perhaps be useful. ‘Evangelical’ means to be people who are centrally concerned with the gospel (the original Greek word is evangel) or ‘good news’ of the Lord Jesus Christ as found in the scriptures.
Evangelicals have a long history in the UK, dating right back at least to the sixteenth century ‘reformation’, when Christians across Europe re-discovered the message of free forgiveness and reconciliation with God on the basis of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and not on the basis of our good works or moral performance.
But even further back than that, we look to the very first Christian churches in the New Testament as our model, such as in the passage from Acts chapter 2 below. In Christian terms, it doesn’t get much older than that!
Be cautious, but don't be put off
We would say you ought to be very cautious and check out carefully any group claiming to be a ‘church’. Very sadly, and to the harm of some, many unscrupulous people have used the title to their own ends, and they have little or indeed nothing to do with the trustworthy message of genuine Christianity.
We at Grace Church Wakefield hope to hold on, by the grace of God, to that original and authentic Christian message of hope that dates back to the ancient days of Abraham. We encourage you to check us out. We might be new, but in another sense we really are very, very old.
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
This episode of the FIEC's 'In:Dependence' podcast is really helpful for knowing more about the history of independent churches in the UK,