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LONDON DIARY: Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and Other Observations

LONDON DIARY: Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans and Other Observations
Church of England is in such massive decline that within 25 years it will cease to exist as an institution

By David W. Virtue in London
April 29, 2012

"He who grows tired of London grows tired of life" opined Dr. Samuel Johnson. But that was in the 18th Century. Dr. Johnson would not recognize London in the 21st.

Walking through central London, about 20 minutes by fast train from my hotel in Wandsworth, (south London) one feels suddenly isolated and alone. Virtually nobody speaks English as a first language and often not at all. Almost everybody I saw or passed on footpaths or crossing London's celebrated bridges was a foot shorter, gesticulating and babbling in a foreign language, flashing iPods and cameras while pouring thousands of pounds into England's ancient tourist attractions, foremost among them being Westminster Abbey where tourists fill the coffers to keep the doors open and the ancient sarcophagi of kings and archbishops dutifully polished.

It is a place where choral services, concerts and organ recitals can be heard but not much gospel proclamation according to my friend JR. While thousands of tourists from all over the world pour into the church seven days a week, on any given Sunday a mere 200 or so turn up to worship.

This, of course, is typical throughout Britain, where churches are in massive decline and sodomy is trumpeted over salvation from many pulpits, gay rites over the church's rubrics, puffery and happy clappy instead of the Prayer Book, and psychobabble is offered up as a palliative for sin. About 1 in 60 Brits attend the Church of England. To put it another way, less than one million out of a population of 62 million have any use for the Established church - read organized religion.

Whole generations have never heard the Good News about Jesus and probably never will. Quite simply, for millions of Brits religion is simply irrelevant. Neither atheism nor the shrill cry of pansexualists is winning the hearts and minds of people; nothing spiritual is. People care more about the iPads, iPods, mobiles (cell phones), celebrities, TV personalities, and the Royals - Kate and what's his name -- regularly make the front pages. Sports heroes are preferred over the heroes of the Christian Faith (are there any today?) who have nurtured this nation for over a millennium. Sadly there are more practicing Muslims in England than practicing Christians.

It has all amounted to a massive decline in church attendance as secularism, humanism, a socialist welfare program, and trendy bishops and clergy of one stripe or another are simply too afraid to shout "Jesus is Lord" or even that He is the Church's one foundation while they are ready to roll over to pay obeisance to the latest in the cultural zeitgeist. Here, clergy fall all over themselves to accommodate to Islamists and post modern attitudes (thou shalt not wear a cross in your job or offer help to people struggling with homosexual desires) frightened of saying that Jesus is the ONLY way to the Father, declaring that such talk it is far too exclusionary, never mind that the One they dismiss as "one among many saviors" died on a very exclusive cross for their very sinful natures. Political correctness rules.

My London correspondent told me over lunch that statistics show the Church of England in such massive decline that within 25 years it will cease to exist as an institution. Some evangelical Anglican mega-churches will still be flourishing because they have a very thorough understanding of sin and man's need for salvation. As an institution, however, the CofE is running out of money. Its pension fund is in crisis and whole new generations are missing from the church. There will not be sufficient funds to support fulltime clergy in the future. Perhaps the C of E will get back to worker priests and roving evangelists with little more than the clothes on their backs announcing the Good News of the Kingdom. (In fact that is what is happening in China today that boasts more than 100 million true believers in unofficial house churches.)

Right now the Evangelicals are the only flourishing parishes in the Diocese of Southwark, where, ironically this Fellowship of Confessing Anglican (FCA) conference of orthodox archbishops, bishops and clergy met to chart the course for the Anglican Communion's future. They have decided to hold the liberal Bishop of Southwark accountable for his appointment of only Affirming Catholics to leadership positions in the diocese, leaving them unrepresented, by withholding money to the diocese. There is no punishment a bishop can mete as the giving is entirely voluntary.

Perhaps, at the end of the day it is money, or the lack of it, that will push liberal buttons. It is certainly not the need to affirm the Gospel of our Lord, or teaching 'sound doctrine' instead of the treacily interfaith, 'we won't rock' the institutional Anglican boat, the bishops imbibe once they obtain a purple shirt.

One has only to look at the candidates mentioned to succeed Dr. Rowan Williams as the next Archbishop of Canterbury. With only two exceptions - John Sentamu, Archbishop of York and presently the favorite, and Dr. N. T. Wright, former Bishop of Durham -- the rest including Richard Chartres are moderate men of all shades of opinion, hopeful reconcilers of impossible moral and theological positions, usually too old and not deep thinkers. Graham James (Norwich) is a strongly liberal Catholic, but has no imagination and would not be acceptable to Global South evangelicals. John Pritchard (Oxford) is described as a bishop from central casting. Nick Baines (Bradford), 53, usually heads the list of younger bishops. He wins admiration for his communication skills, but has yet to prove himself as a deep thinker. Likewise Stephen Cottrell, 54, has made his name as an evangelist from the Affirming Catholic wing of the church, but is not a deep or profound thinker. He lacks the breadth of vision required for the job and, possibly unfairly, seen as too ambitious.

Christopher Cocksworth, 52, has been Bishop of Coventry since 2008. Among the younger bishops, he is a leading candidate. He is a moderate evangelical with an appeal to Catholics because of his interest in liturgy. Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin, 57, is somewhat liberal in theology but has shown a readiness to reconcile different sections of the church in the debate over sexuality. James Jones (Liverpool), 64, once a darling of the evangelicals caused dismay when he changed his views on sexuality and apologized to Jeffrey John for signing the letter against his appointment as bishop of Reading. He would be totally unacceptable to the Global South. So would they all.

Global South evangelical Anglicans treat Sentamu with great suspicion. While he is clearly orthodox in faith and morals, he is also an institutionalist and that is the kiss of death for Africna, Asian and Latin evangelicals. They see him being incapable of disciplining TEC Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori or Fred Hiltz Anglican Archbishop of Canada, whose province is now dying one diocese at a time. It is no longer just orthodox parishes that are going out of business in Canada it is whole dioceses.

At the end of the day, the Global South who number 50 million or more will stay loyal to the See of Canterbury, but not necessarily the occupant in it. They will continue to press for the uniqueness of Christ, his Person and Work and for gospel claims on peoples' lives. They will continue to hold conferences like this one - the first of many - and they will meet next year to hold GAFCON II, probably in Jerusalem, but that is not for sure. Alexandria, Egypt would be a better location in this writer's opinion as there would be less hostility from the Israelis and the nasty Jewish fundamentalists many of us encountered at GAFCON I. FCA leaders will continue to meet regularly to affirm the gospel (see Peter Jensen's piece here http://tinyurl.com/6wb7ok2) and keep punching out gospel truths to its cultured despizers as well as to fight the loneliness that often comes when the gospel you proclaim is not only hated by Muslims, Jews and secularists, but your own people, many who wear purple shirts, and are too afraid to stand up and be counted for Jesus.

The Church of England, like its counterparts in the US, Canada, Wales and Scotland, is going out of business. The Global South need only wait and they will win. Sooner or later, a man will sit on the throne in Canterbury and he will stand up and preach a sermon so unashamedly biblical that many bishops will repent, thus depriving Hell of their very skulls.

While in England I visited Oxford to see two dear friends - Canon Dr. Michael Green, an Anglican and one of the world's leading evangelists, and Dr. Os Guinness, an evangelical Anglican and one of the world's leading social critics - two Christian powerhouses whose books (between them almost 100) are keeping the faith alive around the globe. There is hardly a theme on faith, life and culture that they have not touched on. The problems of finding and keeping faith in a secularized world will be Dr. Green's 52nd book titled "Jesus for Skeptics."

Dr. Guinness drove me over to see the parish and grave of a truly famous Brit - Sir Winston Churchill. He died in 1965 and is buried with his beloved Clementine. Over the horizon from the parish church of St. Martin's, a Victorian reconstruction of 1894, you can spot Blenheim Castle - the birthplace of Churchill. Their head stone is surprisingly simple and unassuming - at his request.

Reflecting on this historic Anglican conference, there is little doubt that it marks a turning point in the road for the recovery of Reformation Anglicanism - evangelicals are once again taking back the church from its liberals, revisionists and Affirming Catholics. There will be no truck with these people. If they, Western liberals, want to remain Anglicans they can do so but they will never again find themselves sitting down with those of orthodox faith as they preach "another gospel." (Gal. 1:7)

Unless the new Archbishop of Canterbury is a true Evangelical they will not attend future Lambeth conferences, or accept the call by the Archbishop of Canterbury to attend annual primates' meeting. Those days are long gone.

A future Archbishop will only be wasting his time unless he can defend the gospel and preach a clear and unalloyed message that witnesses to a world in need of God's salvation in Jesus Christ. Nothing more and certainly nothing less.


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