Is a New Anglican Communion in the Making?
By David W. Virtue
The pieces of the Anglican puzzle are beginning to fall into place and the puzzle is beginning to take shape - for many, a new shape altogether.
The first born ecclesiastical child from the Anglican womb was GAFCON, the Global Anglican Future Conference the orthodox Anglican answer and response to the Lambeth Conference.
This movement, though unrecognized by the Lambeth Conference and the Anglican Consultative Council, represents fully two thirds and more (approximately 40 million) of the entire communion of 55 million Anglican Christians. They are mostly evangelical with a minority of Anglo-Catholics. (This figure, discounts the 26 million Church of England followers who are baptized Anglican at birth, but who make no later claims to being Christians, hence the 80 million is deemed fictitious.)
By contrast, the Lambeth Conference represents one third of The Anglican Communion with about two-thirds of its bishops.
This week in Bedford, Texas, The Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) was born amidst calls for a new reformation, renewal, evangelism, discipleship and, on the darker side, a rejection of The Episcopal Church's "gospel" of MDGs, continuing lawsuits and hostility from a church that many believe has lost its moral and theological way.
ACNA claims 100,000 Anglicans in 700 parishes with some 28 or more dioceses. It is bigger than the Anglican provinces of Wales and Scotland. It has a clear understanding of mission, evangelism and discipleship. Being gospel driven, it will only grow, much to the annoyance and chagrin of The Episcopal Church that hopes it will split over issues and become another splinter operation, much like what followed the 1977 St. Louis Convention. At that time, four priests announced they were leaving TEC over women's ordination and, over time, morphed into a Heinz 57 Varieties of Anglo-Catholics, most of whom will not engage each other in meaningful unity talks.
That movement failed to coalesce into a single province with a single overarching archbishop and one House of Bishops. ACNA has done precisely that. It has even pulled in Forward in Faith North America, who will consecrate their own bishop making them a full constituent member of ACNA.
ACNA has been well planned and well executed. It has received the imprimatur of a number of global Anglican Primates adding legitimacy to its existence and continuance.
While those Anglican jurisdictions who have joined together will maintain, as it were, dual memberships (CANA, AMIA et al), they have come together, not to bury their differences, but to come under a single umbrella of Anglican orthodoxy. Is it a perfect union? By no means. The issue of women's ordination remains a thorn in the side of this movement, and does not seem likely to be extracted any time soon. Archbishop Robert Duncan said on two occasions (Bedford and Plano) that God will sort it out, and one hopes He does.
But that might not be the biggest issue at all. The powerful, uniting service at Christ Church, Plano, was barely over when an evangelical bishop whispered in this reporter's ear that there is an ecclesiastical tug of war brewing over Anglo-Catholic verses Evangelical dominance of the new province. Time will tell.
Clearly, Archbishop Duncan has his work cut out for him. Both sides must work together to avoid a such a situation. The new province could devolve into schism before it is off the ground.
Three things, however, need to be said at this point. Duncan has shown great leadership to date and a good deal of humility in drawing together 28 dioceses. That is no small feat. Many believe he has done the nearly impossible. The canons and constitutions quickly passed indicate that compromises could and were made. The focus on the mission of the church (the gospel first) and centrality of the local church to do mission without a top down ecclesiastical hierarchy is a reverse model from that of The Episcopal Church. That may be its strongest feature.
Thirdly, the continuing presence of Bishop Jack Iker of Ft. Worth, Texas, and Bishop John-David Schofield of San Joaquin, two leading Anglo-Catholic bishops in America to have left TEC, speaks volumes about their willingness to let the issue of women's ordination ride, refusing to let it become a province dividing issue. (This has met with a good deal of hostility from other smaller Anglo-Catholic jurisdictions that have excoriated these Anglo-Catholics for compromising on this issue.) The Bishop of the Episcopal Missionary Church (EMC), The Rt. Rev. William Millsaps ripped Duncan in an open letter for compromising over the ordination of women. http://tinyurl.com/m9hc6k
For all its problems, the ACNA ship has set sail and there is no turning back.
Next week in London, another significant occasion will occur in the life of the Church of England. A movement calling itself the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) will be launched amid signs that the Church of England is in desperate shape and in fast decline.
The Rt. Rev. Paul Richardson, assistant Bishop of Newcastle, wrote in "The Telegraph" this week that Britain is no longer a Christian nation. The latest figures reveal a continuing annual decline in Sunday attendance running at around 1 per cent, resulting in a church that can survive for no more than 30 years. He says its leaders are not prepared to face that possibility.
The FCA is the brainchild of GAFCON. They invite individuals, congregations, dioceses and even whole provinces to join. All members have to do is assent to the Jerusalem Declaration and the goals of the FCA as a mandatory step.
This may rule out the vast majority of the Church of England who still think that Jerusalem will be built on England's green and pleasant lands, but the FCA people know better. They are signaling very politely, as only the British do, that the CofE is a theologically and morally spent force and it is time do something about it. FCA is the answer.
Their list of speakers includes a number of Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical Bishops who will launch FCA, much as ACNA had. They include five bishops: among them Dr. Michael Nazir Ali, the very evangelical and able Bishop of Rochester and Bishop John Broadhurst of Fulham, a leader in the Forward in Faith, the Anglo-Catholic movement in the UK. Other speakers include Wallace Benn (Lewes) an evangelical and a leading US Anglo-Catholic Bishop, Keith Ackerman. They will lead sessions on how FCA is a catalyst for united mission, ministry and focus for both orthodox Anglicans, be they evangelical or Anglo Catholic.
So it is clear that evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics can work together to make common cause over the gospel and much more.
This united front is being created as the result of the apostasy of both The Episcopal Church and increasingly The Church of England over pansexuality, a loss of faith among its bishops and clergy, little or no evangelistic focus and an unwillingness to see how bankrupt Anglicanism has become in the UK.
It is further acerbated by Dr. Rowan Williams' lackluster leadership (ACC-14 in Jamaica was a total debacle) and his inability to offer any real leadership except on social issues like the environment and the rise of the British National Party, while turning a blind eye to the Episcopal Church and Anglican Church of Canada's sexual permissiveness in the sacristy and pulpit. Williams, has both infuriated and galvanized Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics to act. And act they have.
Another factor in all this is the complete failure of the so-called inside strategy to succeed. It has collapsed amidst growing lawsuits, and hardened lines over pansexual behavior and same-sex rites, now sure to pass at GC2009.
The solemn but farcical triumph of sodomy (same sex rites) in all its bedroom and ecclesiastical forms only awaits signatures from the House of Bishops and House of Deputies. This will be followed by orgiastic cries of joy from The Rev. Susan Russell (Integrity) and Dr. Louie Crew, Integrity (Emeritus) who now believe the Kingdom of God can be ushered in by the fairies ably assisted by angels of the LGBT movement and perhaps Sufi the Rumi for good measure.
This failure of the inside strategy was revealed this week by the Bishop of South Carolina, Mark Lawrence who conceded defeat on the issue, announcing that while he would send delegates to GC2009, he would not send Kendall Harmon, his canon theologian, to whisper in our (media) ears that if we just wait out one more general convention, the orthodox will prevail.
He has conceded defeat for any hope that The Episcopal Church can be saved. "The cause of biblical orthodoxy within TEC is no longer a realistic thing to strive for...Politically speaking, we have lost the day," he wrote in a letter to his diocese.
What now for him and his diocese? He swore almost eternal fealty to Mrs. Jefferts Schori to get the job as bishop (after the second try), so what will he do now? He says he will stay in TEC. You can be sure that the revisionist ecclesiastical necklacing by TEC leaders of orthodox dioceses will only continue and become more strident after GC2009.
What is very clear to this writer is that a new Anglican Communion is slowly being born. It has been pushed over the last decade by the strident evangelical voices of the Global South and by such evangelical lions as Peter Akinola (Nigeria), Henry Luke Orombi (Uganda), Benjamin Nzimbi (Kenya) and Emmanuel Kolini (Rwanda), to name but a few. (Nzimbi laid hands on Duncan in Plano).
They have had enough of TEC, the ACofC, and, increasingly, the Church of England with its lackluster leadership out of Lambeth.
There is no formal structure for schism in The Anglican Communion. We do not have a pope, there is no Magisterium. There is no common set of canons and constitutions to which all can adhere, but the authority of the Archbishop of Canterbury has been shaken to the core. Williams is desperate to keep it altogether though he admitted in Jamaica that he might not be able to do so.
What is now clear, however, is that the Archbishop of Canterbury's authority is so seriously diluted and dissipated that he has been rendered impotent and irrelevant. ACNA, the new 39th province of the Anglican Communion, doesn't need his or the Anglican Consultative Council's approval. Why ever would they seek it?
For all their faults, strains and apparent weaknesses, GAFCON, ACNA, FCA and FIF international are the future of the Anglican Communion. Their train has sounded the final blast and it is "All aboard." for a new gospel driven day in the Worldwide Anglican Communion.
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