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The following is the first in a series of essays on Anglican reformation by Dr. Jon Shuler.

By Jon Shuler
Special to Virtueonline
October 4, 2019

I became aware that there were stirrings of reform in the North American church in the year I graduated from college. At that time, it was being called "renewal" and the influences were all related to a Pentecostal eruption that began in an Episcopal Parish in 1960 on the West Coast. It was spreading quickly all over the country, and soon it would be called "Charismatic Renewal" to try to escape the perceived stigma of "Pentecostal." Beginning in 1967 it leapt from the Episcopal Church to the Roman Catholic Church in the USA. Before long it would spread to the world, and almost all of the historic churches that descend from the Reformation of the 16th century would be affected by it, as well as the post Vatican II Roman Church.

Central to that movement, in the beginning, was the task of revisiting the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. It is fair to say nearly sixty years later that the experience of the Holy Spirit's empowerment, as a substantial part of the Christian Life, is now considered normative. Even among movements long hostile to the experience of the early (and late) Pentecostals, the reality is no longer denied. But it can only be called normative in so far as it is acknowledged and spoken of as essential, though common biblical and theological clarity has not been achieved. Still, that the movement has changed the face of the global church would be hard to deny, especially among Anglicans. Other stirrings and movements for change had preceded it in that family of the church, but the Charismatic Movement soon eclipsed them all. And as it waxed, serious theological conflict became more common.

I entered into ministerial training the next year, and almost immediately became aware of division running through the whole Anglican Communion. My bishop had just returned from Lambeth 1968, and he was deeply concerned. The historic Faith and Order which he believed in and upheld was under attack, so he thought. His concern was not the Charismatic Movement, but the erosion of the central tenants of the Christian Faith. One year later I was studying theology in England, and it was clear to me that my former American bishop was correct. The Church of England was riven by division and theological conflict, and outright heresy was abroad in some places.

Not all was discouraging, however, as there were substantial movements for more orthodox change inside the Mother Church. Evangelicalism was clearly on the rise, in England and throughout the Anglican Communion, owing largely to the public and private leadership of John Stott. Leaders loved him or disliked him, but his influence was undeniable. Soon the confluence of the Charismatic Renewal and the Evangelical upsurge would become an unstoppable force. Before long parish after parish in England would either have a Charismatic Evangelical Curate or no Curate at all. Meanwhile the old Anglo-Catholic movement, ascendant for over one hundred years, was in clear retreat. Liberal influences and moral decline were also everywhere evident. Numbers were plummeting in almost every diocese.

Positive change was coming to the English Church, however. The Canons were revised in 1969, and pressure for liturgical updating, long repressed, was becoming more and more insistent. New services were authorized in the 1970s, and they were adopted widely. Local parish governance was brought up to date, and lay leadership was enhanced. Common Worship, published in 2000, took its place beside the Book of Common Prayer, and largely replaced it. But the traditional established forces of the Church of England were constantly seeking to manage all change, so that any deep reform seemed more and more unlikely. Governance by the General Synod, constituted in 1970 gradually exerted a stranglehold on many efforts for true revival, as it weighed every issue down with bureaucratic and institutional overburden. The House Church Movement (so called) led to many defections among leaders and laity in the 1970s & 80s, and the growing influence of John Wimber and the Vineyard subsequently spawned even more separations in the latter decade.

Parishes were being closed or consolidated everywhere, but the streams of renewal that were flowing could not be stopped. Gradually a central question for the leaders of the English Church was: " Is the local parish surviving?" A congregation that was not declining was left alone, at least till there was a change of local ordained leadership. Again, and again, at those times of transition, the moves toward renewal were impeded. Even so renewal spread, and gradually the changes began to look more and more like fundamental ones. Innovative leaders were altering worship and ministry patterns that had been settled for centuries. To an Anglican from the USA, visiting in the 1990s, some of these changes bore no resemblance to the church called "Anglican" in his home country. Here was a parish that seemed Pentecostal, there was another that seemed Baptist, and there was another that seemed just plain strange. (The recent amusement ride in the cathedral in Norwich is continuing evidence of the latter trend.) But true gospel life was nevertheless springing up in place after place.

It was at this time that the impact of Holy Trinity Brompton, the venerable HTB, began to be widely felt in England and globally, as the small group ministry there was reconfigured and repackaged as "The Alpha Course." By that time Charismatic Renewal, neo-Evangelical theology, Alpha and "Wimberization," in a dynamic dance, were transforming the life of the Church of England. Rare was the growing parish that was not being conformed in some measure to these forces. Still institutional entropy, to say nothing of outright hostility to orthodox biblical themes within some corners of the establishment, was holding significant change back. Publicly and privately.

When the liberal catholic Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie retired in 1991, the naming of the evangelical Bishop of Bath & Wells, George Carey, to succeed him was like a lightening strike on the mountain to those who had been praying and working for renewal. Known to be a supporter of both the Evangelical and Charismatic movements, and previously Principal of one of the more biblically sound theological colleges, there was joy in many hearts when his unexpected appointment was announced. With his leadership at the top, there would be lasting change in the Church of England and the Anglican Communion, or so many thought.

The late Peter Drucker once is reputed to have said: "Culture eats strategy for breakfast." It soon proved true of the Carey archiepiscopate. Powerful forces, in church and state, conspired to hold back any significant strategy of structural or doctrinal reform during those years, in spite of the archbishop's efforts. Notwithstanding his bold call for a Decade of Evangelism in England, and then to the wider Communion, much of the Anglican community in the developed West continued its precipitous fall. George Carey was unable to prevent it, even with the best of intentions.

And then a bold man surfaced on the world stage of Anglicanism. A former Medical Doctor, now a bishop, had been elevated, in 1994, to the position of Archbishop in the newly formed Anglican Province of South East Asia. Archbishop Carey had even presided over his installation. Since before becoming a bishop in 1992, Moses Tay had seen clearly the evidence of the moral and doctrinal error creeping into the Anglican Church in the West. His Diocese of Singapore was an exceptionally vital and growing one, with a strong missionary heart and charismatic fervor. But in 1997 Moses Tay became a problem for the Anglican Communion.

Having been to a gathering of bishops called the "Anglican Encounter in the South," held in Malaysia, and attended by almost all the global bishops whose churches were growing, Archbishop Tay came away distressed. An agreement had been reached before the meeting that any communique from the bishops would represent consensus, and the one finally spread to the world had twelve points that all had agreed to. It was called the Kuala Lumpur Statement. It was a new framing of historic Anglican orthodoxy concerning biblical authority and sexual morality, and it was a bold shot across the bow of the Anglican family. But there had been a thirteenth point put forward which was not agreed to by all, but which Archbishop Tay thought was critical.

He left the conference and immediately gathered the bishops of his province, and they soon adopted the thirteenth point for South East Asia. They declared themselves to be out of communion with any part of the Anglican Communion that did not embrace the published statement. The lightning strikes now truly did begin to fall, in country after country. The Diocese of Singapore, the Province of South East Asia, and Archbishop Moses Tay had become the center of a global storm. That storm has not subsided twenty-two years later.

From 1997 onward what had been called "renewal" began to take a back seat to struggles over long suppressed doctrinal and moral concerns, and new structural alignments - for the sake of the mission of the gospel - started forming. Soon they moved rapidly to the forefront of the entire communion. Everything began to change.

A New Anglican Reformation had begun.

Jon Shuler is an Anglican priest who lives in South Carolina. Since 1994 he has given global leadership to NAMS (New Anglican Missionary Society a church planting community serving on every continent. He is also Executive Director of AAi (Anglican Associates, inc.) a ministry focused on training church planting leaders. He holds a PhD in Church History from the University of Durham, Durham, England. He was made a Canon Missionary of the Diocese of Sabah by the late Bishop Albert Vun. His weekly blog "Canon Fodder" is found at www.jonshuler.com

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