I need to say at the outset that I am not an Anglican and while I know a fair bit about Anglicanism, both historically and what is happening in the worldwide Anglican communion today, I do not claim to be an expert, but I am an interested onlooker keen to see unity in a church, albeit one that is not my own, rather than schism, and effective ministry rather than it being consigned to irrelevance. In my community activism, I find myself rubbing shoulders with Anglicans of all shades and some of them are friends and confidants. I also find myself being attracted to many aspects of Anglicanism.
One of my particular interests is church history and trying to figure out what has happened and why, ever since the church was born on the Day of Pentecost somewhere between AD 30 and 40. I have long grown out of the disdain I had as a teenage zealot, influenced by the Plymouth Brethren, for churches seen as apostate and therefore not to be taken seriously. One of the surprises on attending university and joining the Christian Union was to discover kindred spirits who happened to be Anglican. While these tended to be Evangelical in outlook, I also found a degree of commonality among High Church (Catholic) and even more Liberal leaning folk. I recall with a degree of amusement that one of my supervisors when studying church history as part of a much later degree saw the three church factions (Evangelical, Liberal and Catholic) forming unholy alliances among themselves against the odd one out in order to further some agenda and how the Anglican church was remarkably adept in pulling together the three factions, all of which are significant players within worldwide Anglicanism, for the sake of unity and the common good.
While I have no doubt relationships between the different factions in Anglicanism have been strained going right back to Reformation times, when I survey the international picture (e.g. the gulf between many African and many North American churches), the national picture (e.g. with rows over attitudes to same sex relationships, responding to the issues of the day and the various emphases on the message that needs to be proclaimed) and locally (a microcosm of the national picture and one where a great deal of variance can be discerned), I am under no doubt that the strain being felt is as great as it ever was. I am left wondering when something is going to give and the already seen split in the Anglican church will just become greater and whether we are about to see the breakup of the church. From a public perspective it looks as if it will come down to an irreconcilable rift between factions who see gay sex as sinful and those that want to embrace fully and unreservedly those in same sex relationships. My own analysis is while all this is true, and despite all the talk that has gone on, there is still room for dialogue and also there is more to it than the issue of homosexuality. Yet what is at stake is being faithful to the gospel the church needs to proclaim.
I have recently been alerted to the fact that next week an important conference will take place among leaders of the worldwide Anglican communion. Check out here, here and here, but the upshot of all these reports, coming as they do from different angles, is that the conference is an especially important one and without wanting to be over-dramatic could even veer toward being make or break for the future of the church. It would be imprudent if I were to predict an outcome, although my natural instinct is not to raise peoples hopes given some of the positions being posted are irreconcilable and yet polarized. While impasse may well be the outcome, the good news is all the factions in the debate regarding the future of the Anglican church will be turning up at perhaps the last chance saloon where it can be forged, what right now appears an unlikely way forward, which is to appropriately honour the true head of the Church (Christ) and the gospel the church should be proclaiming. On reflection, that has always been the issue and just maybe it has never really been resolved and it needs controversy for this to be faced.
I also don’t feel qualified to say what should happen, especially if the breakthrough I would want to see but do not expect to see, regarding a return to biblical orthodoxy, does not materialise. Already we have seen some leaving the church disillusioned that error is allowed to continue unchecked and others who may feel similarly adopting strategies whereby they can practice according to their conscience and yet remain Anglicans. While my own position might cause me side with traditional orthodoxy, as I consider my own particular interest concerning social justice I recognise there is much more to the faith than how orthodoxy is perceived in several quarters. Sound theology should consider the full spectrum of issues facing us, and many of the social justice concerns that have often been flagged by the liberals need to be properly addressed, with truth, justice and righteousness being at the fore of what the church stands for, and in all humility. Sadly, given the many issues the church needs to address, likely many will not be dealt with. The reality may be that my early mentors were right and a break away by those who feel compromising essential truths to be too high a price to pay for continuing the centuries old Anglican practice of fudging of issues will eventually happen, the question being when?
I would not want to downgrade the importance of what is being attempted. Ever since the Council of Jerusalem (described in Acts 15) where it was deemed that Gentiles did not need to become Jews first in order to become Christians, councils and conferences have played an important part in re-establishing the role and values of the church in the culture it finds itself. Right now the church is under attack by secularism and islamification and what we are seeing is an aching void as Christianity is ditched. While the church is being increasingly sidelined by the culture, there are encouraging signs of it bucking the trend and many individual Anglican churches making a difference in their communities. The need for a clear and true message is glaring and so is unity among true believers. The old adage “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity” is as important now as ever, as is the bible exhortation to earnestly contend for the faith that has been given to the church, which is more than difficult if there isn’t agreement on what constitutes the gospel. As in so many happenings in the world right now, I will watch what is happening as Anglican leaders meet, with great interest, hoping against hope, confident that Christ will still build His Church as He promised He would, and this irrespective of whatever outcome arises out of this conference.