Anglicanism in 2016

Now that the Primates’ gathering in Canterbury is over, we have a chance to digest what just happened.  The Primates of the Anglican Communion (a Primate being the leader of a whole Province, such as the Anglican Church of Uganda, the Church of England, the Episcopal Church USA, etc.) met for five days this week and released this statement.

primates2016-group

Photo from AnglicanNews.org

If I might summarize it, there are two major dynamics that stand out.  First, there is the desire to save the Anglican Communion and keep it together; second, the doctrine of Holy Matrimony has been reaffirmed to be the union of one man and one woman.

Outcomes

These two dynamics clash with one another when it comes to The Episcopal Church (USA), because it has officially changed its definition of marriage to allow for same-sex unions.  Other provinces, especially Canada, have been moving in this direction too, and already allow same-sex blessings in many dioceses (local regions led by individual bishops).   But because TEC is the only one that has officially changed its definition of marriage, it’s the only province that was singled out for some form of discipline.

This is the most publicized outcome of the gathering of the Primates – the disciplinary measures placed upon the Episcopal Church.  Basically, they’ve lost their vote in official Anglican Communion gatherings and committees, though they can still participate and speak.  It’s like grounding a child – they’re still in the house, but not allowed to effect their opinions.  They have not been excommunicated, they have not been kicked out; merely placed on probation for three years to rethink their position.

Reactions

Initial responses from the Episcopal bishops have been largely whiny, if I may be so blunt.  In their eyes, they have done nothing wrong; indeed, as far as they are concerned, they are being picked on by a bunch of conservative Africans.  If you look through the comments posted on the Episcopal News sites’ reporting of this event, the racism showed against Africans is quite astounding.  If you read the biographies of the various Primates, you’ll find that the African leaders are no less well educated than their American and English counterparts.  By contrast, I can’t help but point out that the previous Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church had a PhD… in oceanography.

Turning closer to home (from my perspective), Archbishop Foley Beach has made his brief report on the meeting.  He points out that the sanctions against the Episcopal Church are “not strong enough,” and he notes his disappointment that the Canadian province dodged the same sanction because although most of their dioceses allow same-sex blessings, their province as a whole hasn’t gotten around to changing their official definition of marriage – yet.

the Laundry List

A lot was left unsaid, untouched, and un-dealt-with at this Primates’ meeting, which are still serious issues in the Anglican Communion.  This is not an exhaustive list:

  1. TEC and the Anglican Church of Canada have both carried out lawsuits against congregations that tried to leave, suing to keep their property even if they had nobody to repopulate those buildings.
  2. TEC has carried out lawsuits against dioceses that left them.
  3. Many congregations, and especially clergy, have been deprived of their properties, homes, and livelihoods due to these lawsuits.
  4. Not only have same-sex unions been authorized in several Anglican provinces, but actively homosexual individuals have been ordained as clergy, even as bishops.
  5. Most disappointingly, outright heresy has been tolerated, accepted, and promulgated – most notably Arianism (the rejection of the divinity of Jesus) by bishops like John S. Spong and Katherine J. Schori.

All of these points are violations of biblical teaching to which the Anglican tradition is supposed to be bound.  The last one is also a violation of the Creeds, which is another layer of “fail,” as my generation would put it.

The proper result of these actions should be expulsion, I think.  Many biblically-faithful Anglican provinces have already cut ties with the American and Canadian provinces.  And as a result they created the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) to replace them.  It was very interesting that the Primate of the ACNA was invited to participate in this meeting.  It shows that there is a recognized political legitimacy to the ACNA by the Anglican Communion, even though we’re not an official province thereof.

Anyway, that none of these issues were dealt with by the Primates is disappointing but understandable.  They are serious issues, and the members of the Anglican Communion cannot be fully in Communion with one another unless and until these issues are dealt with and “godly order is restored” (as the Archbishop of Uganda demanded early in the week).  But it is also understandable that they couldn’t get to these issues – there was a lot of catching up to do for many of the Primates, and the extent of the Episcopal Church’s apostasy (plus the progress down the same slippery slopes made by a few other provinces) is not something that can be addressed simply and quickly, unless there is a strong and godly leader presiding over the meeting.

the Archbishop of Canterbury

That brings me to my last comment on this whole deal… Archbishop Justin Welby has made a very interesting move here.  He has always been branded as an Evangelical Anglican, though his actions and public statements have always put him more on the revisionist or liberal side of things.  Unlike his predecessor, he has a desire to accommodate Evangelicals and was willing to take more drastic action in order to keep the Communion together.

I applaud his brilliant efforts – I honestly completely expected the Primates meeting to fail, even though I joined with thousands of others in prayer that God’s will be done and orthodoxy prevail.  Somehow he kept (almost) everyone at the table, and long enough for them produce an official statement, and actually taking some sort of disciplinary action against somebody.  Does this mean we can trust him as a biblically faithful Anglican leader now?  Sadly, no, I don’t believe so.  He knew that he had to do something against the Episcopal Church or he’d lose the majority of the Communion.  His openness to blessing same-sex unions in England and his aggressive pursuit of normalizing woman bishops puts many Evangelical Anglicans and Anglo-Catholics on edge.

But for the moment, he took a step in the right direction.  For that I am very thankful.  Plus, he’s even open to working with us, the ACNA.  We’re not about to jump in and join the Communion officially any time soon; the laundry list above must be dealt with first.  As with Christ in Gethsemane, we cannot trade integrity for acceptance.

So what now?

A three-year period has been given for the Episcopal Church to recant their errors.  Initial responses from their bishops suggest that such repentance is not remotely on their minds.  So when the Primates meet again next year, it’s anyone’s guess what will happen.  If TEC openly defies this little slap on the wrist like a spoiled child, the Primates might take further action.  If TEC quietly plays nice, they might wriggle themselves free of their situation and the Anglican Communion will continue to disintegrate around them.  Only time will tell.

In the meantime, there are two observations that I would like to make.

  1. The prayer efforts that were undertaken before and during this Primates meeting was incredible.  God heard our prayers, (some of the) heresy was rebuked, a potential way forward has been opened.  We must take this to heart, and continue to pray for the Primates of the Anglican Communion.  Church politics is confusing, complicated, and (for many people) quite dreary to read about.  But the ramifications of what goes on at the international level can be huge, and so we must continue to hold up in prayer all who bear the solemn burden of Christ’s Church.
  2. Regardless of how things go in the realm of church politics, the mission of Christ’s people remains unchanged.  We in the ACNA are called to reach North America with the transforming love of Jesus.  Whether the Anglican Communion is healthy or sick, we continue to do the work God has given us to do – to teach the faith, to worship the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, and to lovingly serve the world as Christ loved us.

We have much to give thanks for, and much need to continue to petition our Lord.  Let us be busy about our Father’s things.

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About Fr. Brench

I'm an Anglican Priest and a sci-fi geek. Therefore, I write about spiritual formation, theology, biblical studies, and Doctor Who. But I keep those blogs separate so I don't confuse too many people!
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