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July 8, 2013


Ah, the Anglican Communion—Again

Finally surfacing again after a long spell of litigation, I came across two blog posts that deserve juxtaposition. Both have to do with the perceived future, such as it is, of the amorphous entity known as “the Anglican Communion.” Since I am an Anglican Curmudgeon, it seems fitting to weigh in.

The first post, by the Rev. Canon Mark Harris, follows a theme he has sounded on several earlier occasions. Entitled “GAFCON II: will it spell the end of the Anglican Communion?”, it treats the question it poses as purely rhetorical. All churches who remain in communion with the See of Canterbury will remain in the Anglican Communion, Canon Harris says, and neither ECUSA nor the Anglican Church of Canada have any plans to withdraw from that communion. And if the members of GAFCON do so, well—too bad, but it won’t mean the end of “the Anglican Communion.”

Contrast to this the second post, by the Rev. Dale Matson, entitled “GAFCON II: a Way Forward for Anglicanism.” In contrast to Canon Harris, Fr. Matson views the picture from the standpoint of one who is in ACNA. He sees the group that will be gathering at GAFCON II this next October in Kenya as the true future of the Anglican Communion. While the Archbishop of Canterbury is trimming his Church’s sails so as to remain abreast of Britain’s popular culture, the Archbishop of Kenya (who heads up GAFCON’s Primate Council, and who is hosting the conference) is sailing against the popular winds, and holding fast to traditional Anglican teachings on marriage, priests and homosexuality.

As a side note, it may have been simply fortuitous that the Anglican Archbishop of Kenya was backed up in his stance by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Nairobi, Cardinal John Njue, who told President Obama in no uncertain terms that his ideas on same-sex marriage were a non-starter among Africans:

“Those people who have already ruined their society…let them not become our teachers to tell us where to go,” said Njue in response to Obama’s statements promoting same-sex marriage. “I think we need to act according to our own traditions and our faiths.”

There is clearly a division among faiths occurring, which is based on a similar division among cultures. The Anglican Communion, such as it was, was a brave attempt to bridge cultures under the banner of one faith, ultimately stemming from the Church of England. But with that Church now splintering over the issue of women in the episcopate, and the majority’s treating the issue as one of straightforward “civil rights,” can the admission of openly noncelibate gays and lesbians to the Church’s episcopate be far behind? After all, that issue will be debated in the Church on that same ground of “civil rights,” which the English Archbishops recently cited in Parliament to support the measure allowing same-sex civil marriages.

And there you have it. For America, Canada, Britain, and many other European countries, it all boils down to “equal civil rights” for all, regardless of gender or sexual orientation, and their country’s churches feel bound to mirror, and thus to honor, in their own structures that which the legislatures (or judges, as in America) have decreed.

But for traditional Anglicans, including those in GAFCON, the Church is the keeper and guardian of the faith, and is not free to jettison Holy Scripture in an effort to accommodate the society in which it finds itself. For them, the concept of “civil rights” has no meaning in the context of the Church, where God’s laws, and not man’s, are paramount. No one has any “civil rights” before God, and consequently changes in Church doctrine and worship are not a simple matter of majority vote, as I explained at length in this earlier post.

As I observed in the post I just linked, ECUSA, ACoC and perhaps soon the Church of England, are following the steps to differentiate themselves from the broader stream of the faith, much as the churches in Syria and Egypt did in the fifth century: “it’s déjà vu all over again,” as Yogi Berra would say.

The Anglican Communion is no longer a functioning group; its “Instruments of Unity” are broken. To be sure, the Anglican Consultative Council still meets, and maintains on its Schedule of Members even those Provinces who no longer send delegates. Likewise, the Primates’ Meeting is now attended only by those who side with the “let’s keep pace with society” crowd; the same was largely true of the Lambeth Conference of 2008, and no doubt will be even truer of the next one (if it even takes place).

The majority of churches in the fifth century went on without the Syrians and the Copts; the majority of the former Anglican Communion will do the same today, without ECUSA and her allies—and if need be, without the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England. I am not sure that the continuing group will even want to call itself by the name “Anglican,” since they may prefer to leave that word to characterize those who have pulled apart to remain behind. If the group no longer is headed even nominally by the Archbishop of Canterbury, then what would be the point of keeping the name?

We are in a time of fracture and transition, but these events are nothing new. They have happened before, and doubtless will happen again. The final stages of separation will have been reached when all in the one group—and not just some outspoken bloggers—say “goodbye and good riddance” to those in the other group.

I am not sure how the Church Catholic—the one Jesus and His disciples bequeathed to us—will manage to overcome this latest setback to its unity. But because it is the Church, I am certain that it will. I may not be around to see what emerges from the turmoil, or I may not recognize it immediately, if I am there. Those who are so fortunate will know it by the fruit it bears, in being guided by the Holy Spirit, and may draw their strength from its survival against all the forces arrayed against it.


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18 comments

Very thoughtful words, Mr.  Haley. I agree that the true Church/Church Catholic will survive in some form. I am hopeful that some who identify themselves as *Anglican* will be part of the Church when our Lord returns. In the meantime, the Anglican Communion is already re-forming itself with GAFCON, ACNA, and independent dioceses such as mine (SC) that are recognized by the majority of the Anglican Communion as being true Anglicans. Personally, it would not bother me much if GAFCON went ahead and formed their own communion with a primate say in Jerusalem. That would put Bishop Mouneer Anis at the front of the line for that bishopric. Whether he would want the job is another matter entirely.

[1] Posted by SC blu cat lady on 7-8-2013 at 04:23 PM · [top]

I’d like to point everyone to Kevin Kallsen’s interview of Dr. Gerald Bray last week. Dr. Bray compares CoE’s relations to TEC and Africa. I was heartened to hear the supposed pull the global south churches appear to have at the parish level in the CoE. Nevertheless, it’ll be interesting to see the Communion’s reaction to whatever happens at GAFCON II.

Here’s the interview: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0BZPb9DFavU

[2] Posted by Chris Walchesky on 7-8-2013 at 08:45 PM · [top]

Mr. Haley,
Thanks for the thoughtful article and for mentioning my piece on Soundings. The Kingdom of God has both wheat and tares.

[3] Posted by Fr. Dale on 7-8-2013 at 10:08 PM · [top]

“No one has any ‘civil rights’ before God”.

I wish I had thought of that!  Great quote, great and insightful article.  Thank you, Mr. Haley.

[4] Posted by Fr. Chip, SF on 7-9-2013 at 08:09 AM · [top]

‘No one has any “civil rights” before God.’
Mr. Haley, what a wonderful bumper sticker.

[5] Posted by Carpe DCN on 7-9-2013 at 09:06 AM · [top]

The majority of churches in the fifth century went on without the Syrians and the Copts; the majority of the former Anglican Communion will do the same today, without ECUSA and her allies—and if need be, without the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of England.

As an orthodox Anglican I agree with what you are saying, David, although some will take issue with the analogy you have used.  In “The Lost History of Christianity’ Philip Jenkins points out that east of the Roman Empire the Jacobites and Nestorians were not insignificant in number and made up the majority.

[6] Posted by Ross Gill on 7-9-2013 at 09:43 AM · [top]

Sorry, I meant Alan, not David.

[7] Posted by Ross Gill on 7-9-2013 at 10:30 AM · [top]

Ross Gill, I suppose if you count Brazil, Mexico and the other ECUSA allies, along with ACoC, you might also say that they represent the majority of Anglicans in the Americas. Just as the Jacobite Syrians and the Nestorians were a minority among all 5th-century Christians, however, ECUSA et al. are a minority among today’s Anglicans.

[8] Posted by A. S. Haley on 7-9-2013 at 11:12 AM · [top]

Given that the Church of the East (“Nestorians”) and the Oriental Orthodox (non-Chalcedonian) Churches have issued, with the Orthodox Churches on the one hand and the Roman Catholic Church on the other, joint statements on christology in the last couple of decades (with all sides admitting that a great deal of the fifth century problem was semantic and political, not actually theological), I’m also not sure that they are such a good analogy for revisionists - other than their withdrawal per se from the mainstream of Christian orthodoxy at the time.

[9] Posted by Todd Granger on 7-9-2013 at 08:45 PM · [top]

And perhaps the biblically orthodox group with elect to use the name “Reformed Catholic” instead of Anglican?

[10] Posted by Todd Granger on 7-9-2013 at 08:47 PM · [top]

When Scripture has been abandoned, when the 39 Articles of Religion have been forgotten and when Indaba has replaced the English Parliamentary System of conducting meetings, you might wonder just what is Anglican about the Anglican Communion.

[11] Posted by Betty See on 7-9-2013 at 10:43 PM · [top]

Yes, Todd Granger (#9), the point of the analogy is not to “assist” the revisionists (i.e., make them appear “good” through its use), but solely to demonstrate how the path they are treading out is by no means new, and that its “goodness” vel non is not a given, from the point of view of centuries of Church history.

“Reformed Catholic” is certainly an option for the orthodox group, but I would also suggest that they consider calling themselves “Apostolic Catholic”, if they truly hark back to the creeds and worship of the earliest definable “Church Catholic.” However, all today must admit that ACNA and its satellites are somewhat removed already from any such idealistic conception, so that we cannot ignore what has happened since the Fourth Council—and indeed, must take what since has happened into account in any reformulation of present orthodoxy.

My point in the post, however, was not to lead us into such unchartable theological waters, but merely to point out that divisions in the Church Catholic, while always regrettable, are nothing new under the sun.

[12] Posted by A. S. Haley on 7-9-2013 at 11:04 PM · [top]

If I became a member of a congregation of the ACNA I would expect to continue in the Anglican way and expect that the ACNA would continue to teach and lead in accordance to their founding statements.
I can easily become a member of The Eastern Orthodox Church or the Roman Catholic Church and I don’t think the ACNA is in competition with either of these churches for members so from the point of view of someone who is only a member of a congregation I have to say that this insistence on (Roman Catholic or Orthodox Church) Orthodoxy is somewhat bewildering.

[13] Posted by Betty See on 7-11-2013 at 11:39 AM · [top]

[10]  “Reformed Catholic?”  Possibly, and that means we would be called the ‘Reformed Catholic Communion.’  It would take some getting used to for many provinces, but it is an interesting idea nevertheless.

[14] Posted by cennydd13 on 7-11-2013 at 07:40 PM · [top]

What is wrong with the name “Anglican Church in North America”? Doesn’t our Anglican heritage, tradition and belief in Scripture mean anything? It certainly does to Gafcon, are we going to just toss them aside?
Where are you going to find congregations of people who think of themselves as “Reformed Catholics”? Doesn’t the Roman Catholic Church consider itself reformed since Vatican II?
Please don’t fix the Anglican beliefs that have sustained us, they are not broken.

[15] Posted by Betty See on 7-11-2013 at 08:31 PM · [top]

Betty See,
Your comments in 13 and 15 have me confused.  In 13, you indicate you are not in ACNA (“If I became a member….) and in 15, you imply you are in ACNA (“What is wrong with the name “Anglican Church in North America”? Doesn’t our Anglican heritage, tradition and belief in Scripture mean anything? It certainly does to Gafcon, are we going to just toss them aside?”).  Are you in a continuing Anglican entity outside of ACNA? None of my business, of course, just trying to figure out where you are coming from in all this.

[16] Posted by tjmcmahon on 7-11-2013 at 09:14 PM · [top]

#[15] “Doesn’t the Roman Catholic Church consider itself reformed since Vatican II?”

No. Not the way that non-RC western christians mean “reformed”.

[17] Posted by Ed the Roman on 7-12-2013 at 05:07 PM · [top]

I believe the name ‘Anglican Church in North America’ would still apply if there were to be a ‘Reformed Catholic Communion’ of which we were to be a member province.

[18] Posted by cennydd13 on 7-12-2013 at 05:42 PM · [top]

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