Anglican Communion, Church of England

Future of the Church of England

Found this article on virtueonline.org.

For those of us who are joining or are already apart of the C of E this raises some interesting points.

You can either read it on virtueonline.org or below.

The Church of England’s Global Anglican Future

By Charles Raven
Special to VirtueOnline
www.virtueonline.org
January 11, 2008

Dr
John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, was ‘Anglican of the Year’ according
to the Church of England Newspaper’s end of year survey of some one
hundred members of General Synod, the Archbishop of Canterbury coming
in second place. It may have helped that Dr Sentamu is not averse to
the occasional dramatic flourish.

Earlier last month he
removed and cut up his dog collar while live on BBC 1’s Andrew Marr
show, saying he would not replace it until Zimbabwe’s President Robert
Mugabe had left office. He said that Mugabe had “taken people’s
identity” and “cut it to pieces”, and so in protest he would cut up the
symbol of his own Anglican identity.

Much as we should welcome
any protest against Mugabe’s appalling regime, it is difficult to
escape a certain sense of unease about this gesture. Condemning that
which everyone else is also opposed to and for which you have no
responsibility earns you effortless approval, but would it not have
been much more genuinely prophetic if Dr. Sentamu had used the occasion
to acknowledge the historic crisis engulfing the Anglican Communion?
Making the same gesture as a promise of his personal commitment to
restore the defaced identity of the Church of England in accordance
with its classic formularies would have cost him popularity at home,
but would have done much to restore his credibility with the Global
South.

So while Anglican Evangelicals may be inclined to see Dr
Sentamu’s popularity as a sign of success, in fact the reverse is true.
Like many of his fellow evangelicals, he is unwilling to face the
uncomfortable realities bearing in upon the Church of England and I
believe that much of the apparent progress made by evangelicals in the
Church of England will soon be revealed as more apparent than real.
Without help from the Primates of the Global South, the Church of
England is going to end up on the wrong side of the fault line which is
opening ever wider through the Communion as we enter 2008.

Nearly
a quarter of a century ago what was to become a persistent weakness of
the evangelical movement in the Church of England was revealed – an
unwillingness to take action and break fellowship with ungodly leaders.
Shortly after becoming Bishop of Durham in 1984, David Jenkins
notoriously denied the physical resurrection and the virgin birth, yet
continued to be accepted by most evangelicals as a bishop in good
standing.

As an ordinand at an evangelical theological college
in Durham during this period, I expected peers and tutors to respond
with dismay, but instead the typical reaction of was one of weary
tolerance. Subsequently much of the evangelical movement in the Church
of England adjusted to living with an ever increasing level of
compromise. Creedal statements became in practice optional and little
of substance was done to counter the loss of doctrinal integrity – a
survey conducted by Cost of Conscience in 2002 revealed, for instance,
that a third of the Church’s clergy doubted or disbelieved in the
physical Resurrection and only half were convinced of the truth of the
Virgin birth. And once the creeds have been emptied of shared meaning,
biblical morality shares a similar fate.

Despite attempts by
some stronger minded Evangelicals – and Anglo-Catholics – to reverse
the revisionist programme, there is a structural bias which continually
hinders. The price of the undoubted privileges of being the Established
Church is subordination to a pervasive libertarian political culture.
This has long been recognised as a factor in senior appointments and it
is widely acknowledged that the House of Bishops supported the
Government’s landmark Civil Partnership Legislation in 2005, which gave
homosexual couples the same legal recognition as marriage, through fear
that otherwise they might loose their place in the House of Lords. Of
course, a church that has spiritual power and conviction should be able
to transform the culture rather than be overwhelmed by it, but the
Church of England has lost its grip on the common doctrinal identity
which could alone be the source of such strength.

Such
compromise leads inevitably to confusion. This principle is clear in
Proverbs 25:26 ‘Like a muddied spring or a polluted well is a righteous
man who gives way to the wicked’. In an increasingly hostile cultural
climate, doctrinal compromise leaves the Church very vulnerable. In
‘Anglican Difficulties: A New Syllabus of Errors’ (2004) Edward Norman,
former Chancellor of York Minster and a Fellow of Peterhouse, Cambridge
observes ‘Institutions need to protect themselves from their
ideological adversaries or they will be taken over by them or swept
aside.

Truth has no built in device by which it is always
recognized as truth: it requires institutional embodiment’ (p14). The
sad irony of the Church of England’s Evangelicals is that a movement
which set out to restore the Church’s biblical and Reformed identity is
itself becoming an ideological shambles. Despite growth in numbers, the
movement is severely weakened by division, inconsistency and lack of
overall vision.

A few recent examples serve to illustrate the
point. Anglican Mainstream UK, an orthodox network of networks, was
formed in 2003, precipitated by the proposal to make Canon Jeffrey
John, a leading proponent of same sex relationships, Bishop of Reading.
After a successful campaign the appointment was withdrawn, but later
that same year the Archbishop of Canterbury was invited to open the 4th
National Evangelical Anglican Congress in Blackpool and was warmly
applauded, despite sharing the same theological convictions about same
sex relationships as Canon John.

While a growing number are
now recognisng that the Archbishop of Canterbury is incapable of
providing sound leadership Reform and Church Society have managed to
sustain a consistency and clarity. Both groups opposed the appointment
of Rowan Williams as Archbishop of Canterbury.

More recently,
the Alpha Course movement based at Holy Trinity Brompton has partnered
with a new theological college, St Mellitus which is described as a
personal initiative of the Bishops of London and Chelmsford.

While
the Alpha material teaches a biblical view of homosexuality, the
current Bishop of Chelmsford is a Patron of Changing Attitude, a
campaigning gay/lesbian group and there are a growing number of clergy
in Chelmsford Diocese who are therefore not prepared to receive his
ministry.

Participants on the Alpha Course could therefore
feel some understandable confusion. Coming right up to date, Elaine
Storkey, a leading member of the liberal leaning evangelical group
‘Fulcrum’ having already having won a £20,000 award for unfair
dismissal against Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, is now seeking to extend the
scope of religious discrimination law by arguing that it can be applied
within a religion, in her case alleging discrimination by the
‘conservative evangelical’ management at Wycliffe Hall against her own
‘open evangelical’ position – a grievous example of how evangelical
compromise leads to the hardening of division, not to mention the irony
that someone who has sought to champion Christian values in the public
sphere is opening the way for the secular ‘rights’ culture to trump
Christian conviction by suing a bishop (James Jones, Bishop of
Liverpool and chairman of the college council).

Despite this
disarray in England, the wider picture of the Anglican Communion is
becoming clearer as the Lambeth Conference approaches and will force on
the Church of England the very choices its leadership has been trying
so hard to avoid.

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s determination
to invite the TEC bishops who approved Gene Robinson’s election as
Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003 and his failure to exercise any form of
meaningful discipline has precipitated the GAFCON gathering in
Jerusalem just weeks before the Lambeth Conference.

The extent
of the alienation from Canterbury felt by many in the Global South was
reflected in the Rwandan Bishop’s communique of 19th June 2007
announcing their decision not to attend Lambeth 2008 in which they
stated that the Archbishop of Canterbury had issued invitations ‘in
complete disregard of our conscientious commitment to the apostolic
faith once delivered.’

The existence of these two conferences
and their timing exposes the reality that the Anglican Communion as
presently constituted attempts to hold together an unstable amalgam of
the genuine, Reformed Western Catholic Christianity, and a
pseudo-Christianity which owes far more to secular humanism than Jesus
Christ. Despite the misgivings of some within the Global South, GAFCON
clearly has momentum and credibility as a genuinely global movement
already representing most African Anglicans, Sydney Diocese and the
Province of the Southern Cone. It is therefore inevitable that there
will be a battle for the Anglican ‘franchise’ and it will greatly
strengthen the claim of the revisionists if they can claim the Mother
Church of the Communion as one of their own.

So the status quo,
the kind of balancing act that the Archbishop of Canterbury has
attempted at home and abroad, will be increasingly untenable, and it is
equally clear that left to itself the Church of England’s default
position will be in the revisionist camp. It is in no position to
reform itself – it’s own Primate, the Archbishop of Canterbury is by
any sensible reading of his publications a false teacher, its bishops,
with a few honorable exceptions, are in thrall to the prevailing
culture and the orthodox, including the evangelicals, are too
fragmented and in the main too compromised to sustain reform and
renewal on the scale now required.

The urgent need of the Church
of England, therefore, must then be for overseas intervention by
orthodox Primates who are willing unambiguously to break fellowship
with the current Archbishop of Canterbury and act jointly to initiate a
new Global Anglican missionary movement in England.

The GAFCON
Primates would be the obvious point of reference so that overseas
intervention in England would be genuinely global rather than somewhat
piecemeal as has happened with the emergence of various parallel
jurisdictions in the Untied States. Such an initiative would have
credibility because it would be genuinely Anglican, yet free from the
Erastian undertow which has now become a liability to the Church of
England, and it would not be identified with any one ‘party’ or
Province, but represent a common mind of growing Anglican Provinces
around the globe.

Such a movement in England would therefore
be a formidable challenge to revisionist bishops as they could not
question the Anglican credentials of its members nor convincingly
represent them as belonging to some sectarian tendency. The aim should
not, of course, be to destroy the Church of England as an institution,
but to come alongside and stimulate evangelism, spiritual awakening in
the power of the Holy Spirit and faithfulness to the classic Anglican
formularies, setting up parallel structures where necessary, but
building strong relationships with those still within and always having
in view the long term restoration of the Church’s unity and identity.

So
how could this to happen? Much of the groundwork for such intervention
has already been accepted by the signatories to the Covenant for the
Church of England published in December 2006 which encompassed
evangelical and orthodox Anglicans of various persuasions.

There
are also signs of encouragement emerging; Reform and Church Society are
no longer alone in recognizing that the Archbishop of Canterbury is in
the revisionist camp and the Bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir Ali,
has indicated that he and up to a quarter of English Diocesan bishops
are not willing to attend the Lambeth Conference. Nonetheless, so far
few steps have been taken to put the covenant into practice – there is
a strong impression that leaders at national level are waiting for
grassroots initiatives and those at the grassroots are waiting for
national level initiatives!

To break the logjam, I believe
that we now need to look outside the Church of England and issue an
urgent ‘Macedonian call’ to the GAFCON Primates to ‘come over and help
us’ (Acts 16:9). Surely this would be fruit in keeping with repentance,
an expression of humility and an admission of spiritual poverty on
behalf of a Church which was once a hub of missionary enterprise, but
is now so signally failing to fulfill God’s purposes.

–The
Rev. Charles Raven is Senior Minister of Christ Church Wyre Forest
which is an independent Anglican congregation but located within
Worcester Diocese.

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2 thoughts on “Future of the Church of England

  1. Steven Carr says:

    Do you think the Alpha Course succeeds because it had the courage to break away from Biblically-inspired methods of evangelism, and relied on models of discourse with seekers that are not based on early Christian practice?

  2. readsmith says:

    I’m not sure what you mean by “Biblically-inspired methods of evangelism”? Moreover, the question I would have for you is: What are methods of evangelism based on early Christian practice? Personally, I believe that a move back to the catechumenate would be the way to go.
    In the end, I believe Alpha is successful for several reasons. First, it is non-threatening. Again, this is a double-edged sword. We are asking people to commit when there has been nothing asked of them. As I think Bonhoffer said, “Grace is free, but it is not cheap.” Second, Alpha has tapped into a need. Now, most of the Alpha courses that I have heard about are doing well; not as well as they once were, but “well enough.” I think that new methods are needed and that Alpha is waning. Last, Alpha is so successful because it was creative. I’m not sure it has indeed broken from “Biblically-inspired methods.” If we are to take Paul as an example, we meet persons where they are, whether that is with an idol to an unknown god or something else.

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