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The Devolving World of Anglicanism

The Devolving World of Anglicanism

By David W. Virtue, DD
August 7, 2018

"Make up your mind," Moab says. "Render a decision." - Isaiah 16: 3

It is now apparent, to even the most blind, that the Anglican Communion is now totally divided into two camps, even as there is still officially only one communion.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion office, Josiah Idowu-Fearon and assorted professional reconcilers believe that they are on the right side of history with the majority of the communion and its bishops behind them.

Together they are ramping up Lambeth 2020 as a great unifying moment in Anglican history and their hope is either to push GAFCON to the back of the Anglican bus, or under it, or simply to write it off as a "ginger group". The other hope is to nullify, or at a minimum, sideline Lambeth resolution 1.10 (by not talking about it), despite the fact that it was and is still a benchmark theological moment in Anglican history.

Clearly offended by the charge of being a "Ginger Group", but unwilling to personally smack Justin Welby over the head for his put down, the Nigerian primate and former GAFCON chairman, Nicholas Okoh, made the point that GAFCON did in fact speak for the majority of Anglicans worldwide even though they may not have a majority of the Anglican Communion's bishops.

GAFCON, which is recognized by more than 80% of the Anglican Communion, is at odds with the Archbishop of Canterbury and is increasingly distancing itself from the Church of England as they see it moving further away from Biblical faith over same-sex marriage and the ordination of women bishops.

The former GAFCON chairman Archbishop Okoh made it abundantly clear that he had no intention of pulling out of the Anglican Communion, and the reason is now obvious -- he doesn't have to. He and GAFCON own the communion. It is theirs. More than 80 percent of Anglicans are orthodox in faith and morals and most either belong to GAFCON or are sympathetic to it. There is no reason for them to leave when their patience will ultimately prevail.

Now, it is being whispered in the cloisters, perhaps there will be a split within the C of E, as Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics become increasingly marginalized in a denomination that moves further to the left and away from the 'faith once for all delivered to the saints.' Not yet, but there are rumblings of discontent that could see various evangelical groups like REFORM and AMiE coalescing around a single organization or bishop like Rod Thomas, that would undoubtedly give Justin Welby major heartburn. After all, GAFCON now has a Missionary Bishop to Europe of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), that includes Scotland. It would not be out of the realm of possibility that such a GAFCON bishop could be elected for England and Wales. GAFCON Ireland is now a reality.

But to keep the myth alive that all is well in The Anglican Communion, Welby will need to stack the Lambeth Conference deck with as many bishops from TEC, Canada and the CofE that these provinces can lay their hands on, including associate and assistant bishops. (I am sure that if he could include Heather Cook he would do so, but she is doing time and out of the picture and out of the Church. But not, of course, ANCA Archbishop Foley Beach, who you can be sure won't be receiving an invitation.) However, all the bishops from these three provinces can barely muster two million in average Sunday attendance, even though the CofE claims 25 million baptized Anglicans! Are they really Anglicans or Anglicans in name only AINO.

For liberals it's all about the number of purple shirts they can muster; for the Global South it is the number of converts to the faith who pack pews week by week that really matters.

Does anybody really think the Episcopal diocese of Northern Michigan, which has total average Sunday attendance of 471 is really a diocese or is it a Diocese in Name Only - a diocese which does not have one fulltime paid (male or female) priest! There are a thousand individual parishes larger than this entire diocese.

No matter, one must play the game of numbers, and to TEC's mind purple shirts matter more than bums on pews.

Of course, the game is not about numbers but about beliefs, and therein lies the difference with a distinction between the communion Justin Welby heads and the Anglican province Foley Beach, the new chairman of GAFCON leads.

Theology matters. The gospel first and then politics, social justice, caring for those in need, etc. Despite all the TEC talk about TEC being a branch of the Jesus Movement, with elevated talk of revival, nothing is changing. There are no headlong dashes to Sunday services by new converts, or any converts for that matter despite the bellicose preaching of Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Yelling about racism and white privilege is not moving the needle for church growth. Presiding bishops Ed Browning, Frank Griswold and Jefferts Schori never gave revival a moment's thought, relying on the continued outpouring of monies from wealthy dioceses, Trinity Wall Street, the CPF and a few wealthy Episcopalians to keep the institution afloat. These three Episcopal presiding bishops studiously avoided talk of sin and salvation, believing that the more the Church caved into the culture over sexuality issues, anti-racism talk and Israel bashing, the status quo could be maintained if not the possibility, albeit vain, of growth.

But as hymn-writer Isaac Watts noted, time like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away; they fly forgotten, as a dream, dies at the opening day. Aging Episcopalians and aging clergy -- the majority now over 62 -- will not maintain the institution beyond another decade. Even now cathedrals are being sold and the merging (juncturing) of dioceses has begun. Furthermore, the millions spent on legal fees to take back parishes is unrecoverable, and no new Episcopalians are stepping up to fill the offering plate. It is a hole TEC can never refill.

How many declarations, communiques and resolutions have the primates, archbishops and bishops issued and passed to try and keep the communion together over the ordination of women and then parsing the dark waters of homosexuality.

Thousands of words have been written on everything from the Porto Declaration, the Virginia Report, the Windsor Report, Indabas, To Mend the Net, (a booklet), a reiteration of the Lambeth Quadrilateral, Lambeth 1:10, a much-ballyhooed Covenant and finally, The Jerusalem Declaration, the cornerstone document of GAFCON.

Books could be written about each declaration and how it should be interpreted. But in the end, the communion became divided with the advent of the ACNA in North America, (the ANiC in Canada) with a failed consensus and the first meeting of GAFCON in 2008 which put the final seal on the recognition of a divided communion. Just as the veil of the temple was rent in twain signaling the death of Jesus, Gene Robinson's consecration tore the fabric of the Anglican Communion signaling the end of the communion as we know it. There are no indications that the communion will ever recover despite the will of Justin Welby.

The divide cannot be glossed over with sweet talk of "good disagreement" or talk of "inclusion" and verbal pyrotechnics by liberal primates and professional reconcilers. The birth of GAFCON has put an end to all that.

Western Anglicanism is dying even as Global South Anglicanism rises. Christianity itself is rapidly fading in the West according to regular reports from Pew, Barna and various global and church analysts. The great churches of the West, including Catholicism and mainline Protestant denominations, have failed to resist the siren call of pansexuality, growing secularism and moral relativism. Signs of its decay can be seen in emptying churches, with flailing pastors and priests focusing on myriad social issues, while people cry out for spiritual bread and go away empty-handed, turning in multitudinous directions for spirituality or God in all the wrong places. "The hungry sheep look up and are not fed," wrote John Milton.

The Benedict Option of small faithful orthodox communities bent on keeping the faith alive in some catacombs like fashion might be the only hope at this late stage in the decay of Western Christianity. Biblically faithful, doctrinally sound, sexually uncompromising, liturgically driven enclaves of believers signal the only hope of the West as we eagerly await revival fires coming from Africa or Latin America, perhaps even China itself.

What of the future, what will our Anglican space traveler find when he returns...I honestly don't know, writes theologian Stephen Noll. "But I think if enough conscientious Anglicans stand up for the truth now -- above all, for the truth of the Gospel, but also for the historic order of bishops in our tradition -- he may be pleasantly surprised to find the Communion reformed and renewed." Let us hope so.


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