“There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.” ~ C S Lewis
Interesting – and wonderful – things are happening in the Anglican Communion. I’ve been slow to acknowledge – actually, slow to see – that these are not isolated events, but part of a wider movement.
There are a couple of things I want to say about some of these recent developments. Some of it is on the more sorrowful side, as we see ugly outpourings of bitterness, misrepresentation, and ill-will from some quarters (sadly, from the leaders of the Church to which I belong) as they see the reach of their power shrinking and God’s Church growing beyond it. But that can wait. First, I want to hesitantly and cautiously invite you to rejoice and give thanks. I’m hesitant and cautious only because I’m only just beginning to see and to realise how good these developments are – I am sure that my confidence will grow.
If you have any interest in the Church of England and the broader Anglican Church, you could be forgiven for thinking that it is a Christian Church that is committing a slow but ever hastening suicide, as though it is doing its darndest not merely to erase any point of difference between itself and the world, but at times to be nmore woke and worldly than the world, as though we couldn’t possibly have the world being more worldly than the Church.
The Church knows that it is in trouble, regardless of how often or how quietly or loudly its spokespeople admit it. For genuinely committed Evangelical Anglicans, those committed to the authority of Scripture and not merely to the companionship or inspirational nature of Christ but rather to his outright Lordship, it looks for all the world like an outright crisis. With a more vacuous and worldly belief and practice comes declining numbers. Why would young people remain in or join an organisation that offers virtually nothing they can’t get at the local LGBT support group or the youth wing of the Green Party? With declining numbers comes increasingly difficult finances, and with an aging faithful core and a fleeing youth, money or no money, the future does not look bright.
Andrew Sabisky described the 2017 General Synod of the Church of England thus:
But the most significant thing about the Synod was the manner in which it was conducted. The bishops stayed largely silent as Synod did theology by endless anecdote. The only notable episcopal contributions came from the liberal northern prelates (especially Paul Bayes of Liverpool). An outburst of anti-capitalism from the Archbishop of York provided comedy value amongst the general dour air of neo-Puritanism. The monotonous drumbeat of socialism and sexual liberalism was only broken by the ecumenical contribution of Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church, who warned Synod that it’s bad for PR and the soul to spend so much time talking about sex. His plea fell on deaf ears.
Leading conservative Synod members seem to have left in a state of mind verging on despair. They have suffered no major defeats, but seem confident that it’s only a matter of time. The general consensus is that the “middle third” of Synod has no more appetite for gruelling fights or media uproar, and will quietly acquiesce to liberal demands for church blessings of same-sex marriage, to be shortly followed by same-sex marriage itself.
Progressive Anglicans in New Zealand have made it abundantly clear that they don’t want a Jesus they have to follow. They want a Jesus who follows them.
As you may know, the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia (ACANZP) has fared no better. Its Synod have been used as tools by liberal Anglicans to continually transform the Church into something that, quite simply, resembles themselves rather than resembling the Church. It now allows for the blessing of same-sex unions (with the approval of the Bishop), and nobody really doubts that the process of transformation will continue. They are not yet at the point the Episcopal Church in America is at, where an openly lesbian Bishop called abortionists “modern day saints” and was appointed president of the National Abortion Federation, but if this trajectory continues, I’d just say “give it time.” Progressive Anglicans in New Zealand have made it abundantly clear that they don’t want a Jesus they have to follow. They want a Jesus who follows them.
Just as it looks as though the Anglican Communion is tying a millstone around its neck and throwing itself into the ocean, a light shines in the darkness.
But. Just as it looks as though the Anglican Communion is tying a millstone around its neck and throwing itself into the ocean, a light shines in the darkness. It has been building for a while, but it has only now started making enough noise in my vicinity that it has caught my attention. As some have noticed, the more radical liberal Anglican movements – especially the Episcopal Church, but more broadly, too (including here in New Zealand), are suffering a blindness. They really are not seeing how their continual efforts to drive the church off the path of the historic Christian – and Anglican! – faith is creating space for others to step in and occupy that path instead.
First (not necessarily chronologically first) there is the Anglican Church in North America, or ACNA. ACNA was founded in 2009 in North America, but it was – at the formal level – something of a church plant from the existing Anglican Church in the Global South. It’s a bit complicated for a short summary, but the gradual dying of the orthodox segment of the Episcopal Church saw moves like Ugandan Anglican Archbishop Henry Luke Orombi consecrating a Bishop in the USA to function as a bishop in the Anglican Church of Uganda, ministering to conservative Episcopal Christians in America. One of the Remaining orthodox Bishops in the Episcopal Church, Robert Duncan, Bishop of Pittsburgh, spoke in favour of the move, and himself became Archbishop in ACNA in 2009. Today ACNA includes more than a thousand congregations across the United States, Canada, and Mexico. It’s important to not forget that when we talk about “conservative” Anglicans or “conservative” Episcopal Christians, we aren’t talking about some new variety. Conservative Anglicans are just Anglicans who haven’t embraced liberal theology or practice, but remain as Anglicans were before such movements began – committed to the authority of Scripture and to the notion that Christianity is something to which we conform ourselves, rather than something that we need to keep up to date, ideologically speaking, to take account of whatever year it currently is. As ACNA describe themselves:
Members of the Anglican Church in North America are in the mainstream, both globally and historically, of Christianity – the biblically-faithful way of following Jesus and being part of the “One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.” As Anglicans, this orthodoxy is defined by and centered on our church’s classic formularies – the Book of Common Prayer, including the Ordinal, and the Thirty-nine Articles – which all point back to the authority of the Holy Bible and articulate foundational principles of the Anglican tradition throughout the world. We wholeheartedly embrace the The Jerusalem Declaration, the founding declaration of the Global Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans.
And what is this “Jerusalem Declaration”? That brings me to the next movement in Anglicanism, GAFCON. GAFCON stands for Global Anglican Future Conference. The movement is often referred to by this name, or as the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. It formed in 2008 within – and not outside of or in addition to – the Anglican Communion, when Anglican leaders from around the world wanted to unite over the concern that Anglicanism in some quarters was turning away from its biblical and conservative heritage. Far from being a movement that sought to leave Anglicanism or set up an alternative to it, the movement sees itself, correctly, as an orthodox Anglican movement as opposed to a revisionist one. The proclamation of their commitment to Orthodox Anglicanism is here. At that first conference in Jerusalem in 2008, the Jerusalem Declaration was issued. It’s a statement that positions the movement as orthodox and Anglican, and as affirming the historic Christian stance on human nature, marriage, and sex, an area where liberal Anglicanism has turned away from historic Christian and biblical teaching.
GAFCON now has a presence in New Zealand, in the form of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans in New Zealand (FCANZ), with the consecration of Jay Behan as Bishop in 2019. The consecration was carried out by senior clergy from throughout the orthodox Anglican world, the lead being taken by ArchBishop Foley Beach from the Anglican Church in North America, as well as ArchBishop Glenn Davies from Sydney, with participation from many more, including a number of bishops who are in full fellowship with Canterbury (and therefore, interestingly, with the Anglican Church in Aotearoa New Zealand and Polynesia), evidence of the enormous breadth of the Anglican movement towards orthodoxy. Even though GAFCON represents the faith of the significant majority of practicing Anglicans, more Anglicans still are supportive of that orthodox and of GAFCON.
Then there is the Global South. In simple terms, liberal Anglicanism is a product of white affluent culture. The Anglican Churches of the Global South – Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean – as a rule did not follow this path. We sometimes think of missionaries as people who go into the Global South. This is still true in many cases, but in some ways the reverse has become just as true. Most of the clergy who met in Jerusalem in 2008 were from the Churches of the global South.
Salvation did not come out of the west, it was born in Bethlehem. The redemption and transformation of the Anglican Communion, so it seems, is coming once more from the non-white world.
I mentioned earlier in passing that the majority of Anglicans are with this movement, rather than against it. I didn’t realise this until recently. I was taken by surprise when I read the recent communiqué from the Gafcon Primates Council, which noted that “Our provinces and branches represent 50 million of the 70 million active Anglicans of the Communion.” That’s just over 70%. I commented on this to somebody recently (it’s best that I don’t say who), and I remarked that the white, middle class progressives are just not representative of Anglicanism as they might once have been. He immediately replied – “No, I hear that the average Anglican is now a 19-year-old African woman.” Don’t be put off by the highly visible death of Anglicanism over the last few decades in New Zealand, or in America or the UK, for that matter. Salvation did not come out of the west, it was born in Bethlehem. The redemption and transformation of the Anglican Communion, so it seems, is coming once more from the non-white world. And it in spite of the death throes of the liberal Anglican resistance, it’s spreading.
There is renewal afoot in the Anglican world. There has been for some time. Although the headline grabbers in New Zealand, as in the USA and the UK, are the liberals who are deflating the Church (or at least the part of the Church under their control) out of both relevance and existence, God is doing the opposite.
I am belatedly thankful and hopeful.