jQuery Slider

You are here

Can the Anglican Communion be Saved?

Can the Anglican Communion be Saved?

By David W. Virtue, DD
June 23, 2020

Two eminent Anglican doctors of the Church, one a Brit and the other living in India have come up with the theory, (idea if you will) that the Anglican Communion could be salvaged. COVID-19 signals a way forward for conflicting groups to stay in the Anglican Communion, remaining as one Communion in keeping with Christ's prayer for unity found in John Ch. 17, they write.

Canon Dr. Vinay Samuel and Canon Dr. Chris Sugden believe that the three groups - The Lambeth group, GAFCON and the Global South group of Primates hold in their hands an opportunity to show the world. Their belief is based on how the British Empire became the Commonwealth of Nations, maintaining fellowship with one another based on historic and cultural ties embodied in the person of the British monarch.

They believe that COVID-19 is a fresh start and clean slate which could apply to the Anglican Communion as a whole?

But how realistic is this?

VOL believes that this is a flawed proposal for the following reasons.

Firstly, the Commonwealth of Nations has strict rules that all 53 members must abide by and while they have no legal obligations to one another, they are connected through their use of the English language and historical ties. Their stated shared values of democracy, human rights and the rule of law are enshrined in the Commonwealth Charter.

The Anglican Communion is a loosely bound group of provinces with unenforceable, but generally accepted rules regarding the Holy Scriptures, tradition, liturgy and more. There is not a valid comparison between the two organizations.

Here are other reasons:

1. You cannot square the circle at this late date in the Anglican game. Events have gone too far for rapprochement of any kind.
2. Secondly, the present Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, shows no interest in rapprochement with either the ACNA or GAFCON. He has referred to GAFCON in demeaning terms as a "ginger group." In fact, he will not even recognize ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach as a legitimate Anglican. That poses a major problem.
3. GAFCON was set up as a rescue operation for orthodox Episcopalians in the Episcopal Church and the ACoC. While that rescue operation is no longer necessary as new Instruments of communion have been established by GAFCON, there is no going back or undoing what has been established.
4. By spending millions on litigation, TEC and the ACoC have shown that they are not remotely interested in reconciliation with the ACNA or ANIC. Any notion of a "commonwealth" would mean that Presiding Bishop Michael Curry would have to recognize the ACNA as legitimate Anglicans. To date he has not done so. He is more interested in suing for properties he regards as TEC's. The courts of late seem to be showing that they don't agree with him.
5. Lambeth Resolution 1:10 remains a sticking point with both GAFCON and the Global South who are saying that this resolution is non-negotiable and that sex can only be expressed by a man and a woman in marriage. By refusing to enforce the strictures set up by this resolution on homosexual practice, Welby has shown he is firmly on the side of Western revisionist Anglicans. It is why GAFCON primates and bishops will not attend the next Lambeth Conference in Canterbury. They will hold their own version in Africa.
6. Welby shows no interest in settling with the ACNA, Curry would never permit it and he needs TEC 's money and North American influence.
7. Homosexuality is now openly accepted and promoted, including homosexual marriage in a number of Western, pan-Anglican provinces. Money is being used to spread that word in Africa and abroad.
8. ACNA Archbishop Foley Beach has called the west "neo-pagan". He is on record as saying moral practices that were once believed to be sin and an offense to God are now really taught and embraced as Christian in the name of love, compassion, unbridled acceptance. "I cannot be a part of such forsaking of Christian teaching and morality." He has called it an "abomination". He has said that parts of Western Anglicanism have gone off the Biblical reservation. "To remain in the Episcopal Church is on some level affirming the direction the church has taken whether I agree or not. To remain in the Episcopal Church is to pretend that I am not a participant in this abomination before the Lord." He would never accept a "Commonwealth" notion.
9. GAFCON and other orthodox leaders have repeatedly called western pansexualists to repent of their ways, but that call has gone unheeded.
10. Western provinces maintain this is a justice issue and they will never back down.
11. Any settlement such as these two gentlemen propose would sooner or later be compromised by one side or the other and it would all collapse.
12. It's a bit like ARCIC (Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission) talks which have gone nowhere for more than 50 years.
13. Unlike the secular proposal these two men recommend, this is a case of spiritual warfare and there is no biblical precedent for compromise. None. "Can two walk together except they be agreed?" Amos 3:3
"Have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness..." Ephesians 5:11
"Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers..." II Corinthians 6:14
14. The unity Jesus describes in John 17 is not a unity achieved by legislation. It is a unity of nature because it is comparable to that of the Son and the Father. It is a spiritual unity not denominational.
15. Eventually Western Anglicanism will die out and GAFCON and the Global South will own the Anglican Communion, what's in a Commonwealth for them.

You might protest that it is going too far to talk of priests, bishops and archbishops as "unbelievers", but is it? St. John Chrysostom is thought to have said that the road to hell is paved with the bones of priests and monks, and the skulls of bishops are the lampposts that light the path. Does any orthodox Anglican bishop believe that bishops John Shelby Spong or Gene Robinson are Christians?

Lastly, one should never presume on the goodness of God. Scripturally, heresy and apostasy will exclude you from the kingdom. "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb. 10:31)


Where now for the Anglican Communion?

Vinay Samuel and Chris Sugden
June 20, 2020

Covid-19 has prompted many thoughts about what life could look like now that we have been forced to abandon, for a while, uninterrupted global travel, foreign holidays, and despite the foreshortened lives and devastated economies, enjoyed with the earth and its airspace, a sabbath of sabbaths.

Lambeth 2020 and GAFCON in 2020 postponed gatherings that would have signaled the continuing tear in the fabric of the Anglican Communion. Does this postponement and the pandemic crisis signal a possibility of different opposing groups in the Anglican Communion finding a way of remaining in one Communion both seeking and showing the unity Christ prayed for the church? Seeking the unity of the Church has always been a key commitment of the Anglican tradition. Might there be space for thoughts about what the Global Anglican Communion might look like?

Three groups

There are three distinct groups in the Anglican Communion. The Lambeth group under the Archbishop of Canterbury holds the historic status of leading the Communion. The Instruments of Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Lambeth Conference, the Primates Meeting and the Anglican Consultative Council (of bishops, clergy and lay people) facilitate its common life and are expected to maintain its unity. They have struggled with the challenges of unity in the light of the break in Communion between provinces that seeks to maintain a biblical and historic view of marriage, which is still the teaching of the Communion, and those who have openly flouted this teaching.

The GAFCON group attempted to support the instruments of unity in restoring discipline on ethical and theological matters which they see as central to the identity and witness of the church. But they appear to have lost faith in the Lambeth group in spite of the leadership of the current Archbishop of Canterbury who is recognized as orthodox in his theology.

The third group is the Global South group of Primates who take the same theological positions as GAFCON, but believe that their group should continue to work with the instruments of the Anglican Communion, particularly the Lambeth Conference under the Archbishop of Canterbury.

We are often told that everything has changed in the light of Covid-19 and that we need to start with a clean slate in many areas. The Church of England has announced a commission, to be chaired by the next Archbishop of York, to examine its diocesan structures and use of buildings. A review has also been launched into the workings of the Anglican Communion Office to determine new operational priorities. The Secretary General, Dr Josiah Idowu Fearon, said: 'It is clear that the assumptions and priorities of the past are not the assumptions and priorities of the future.' The final report will be produced by the end of August.

Does this fresh start and clean slate apply to the Anglican Communion as a whole?

We believe it does. We suggest that each group does not remain rigidly in its legacy institutional positions but begins to explore how staying together in one Communion may be achieved. If some feel that the point of no return passed a while ago, can they reflect again? If a group feels that conversation is futile as there is little possibility of staying together, they also need to think again.

Is there any way forward?

Might the future require a transition like that from the British Empire to the Commonwealth of Nations? In the latter, no longer do the politics and policies of the United Kingdom direct the policies and governance of up to 50 nations. The nations of the Commonwealth direct their own affairs, but maintain fellowship with one another based on historic and cultural ties embodied in the person of the British monarch.

Would such a model fit the Anglican Communion, whose member churches have always had links with the states they are in for principled and not solely pragmatic reasons, believing that their calling is to serve the common good and wider community?

What would these new relationships in the Anglican Communion look like? No one knows. It is not in the nature of negotiations to know.

The winds of the Holy Spirit are blowing many people into the Kingdom, particularly in Africa where GAFCON is based. The same Spirit can enable the church to discover and demonstrate a unity that will enhance its mission to draw more people to Christ.

Anglicans should pray fervently that its bishops and leaders are led at this time to address the need for unity in the Anglican Communion.

Canon Dr Vinay Samuel is a former General Secretary of EFAC and Canon Dr Chris Sugden is a trustee of EFAC. Both were involved in arranging the GAFCON 2008 Conference in Jerusalem.

Get a bi-weekly summary of Anglican news from around the world.
comments powered by Disqus
Trinity School for Ministry
Go To Top