Oak Hill has always trained both Anglican and Independent students for ministry, as a matter of principle. We work that way because we believe that gospel people need to do things together.
It makes good sense. Even though we come from very different churches, we know we will be working alongside each other throughout our ministries. Today’s evangelical churches, whether they’re Independent or Anglican, are working much more closely in their local communities, and so it’s good for the future ministers of these churches to start talking and working things out together during their training.
One of our students says: ‘I’m probably on the opinionated side of independency! But coming here has taught me to have an open heart to my Anglican brothers and sisters. After all, we’re going out to proclaim the same gospel, and to obey the same great commission of Jesus, even though our ecclesiology is different.’
Our aim is that our students will remain distinctively Independent or Anglican, and maybe become even more so. This can only happen when we agree on the essentials, the things of first importance. Our primary concern is commitment to the scriptures and to the gospel. But preparing for leadership in a particular church means you have to think specifically about issues such as ecclesiology, church governance, baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
The way we facilitate this at Oak Hill is by providing core modules, common to everyone training for pastoral ministry (both Anglicans and Independents), which include biblical studies, biblical languages, doctrine and church history. Alongside the core modules, students choose either the Anglican or the Independent training track. We want our students to understand and be convinced by why they are Independent or Anglican. Our experience is that studying side by side is very creative and helps everyone to work out, ‘Why am I this and not that?’
‘It’s one of the strong points of Oak Hill,’ says one our students. ‘It helps you sharpen your own position, while being open to discussion and challenge. There’s a sort of mutual sharpening in our thinking, and also an opportunity for grace, so we can say that we disagree on this particular issue, but we agree on the big, gospel issues. That opportunity for grace is something you don’t get in all colleges.’