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SYDNEY: Man the lifeboats! The Lambeth Decision

SYDNEY: Man the lifeboats! The Lambeth Decision: Refining or Redefining Anglicanism?

A special briefing hosted by the Dean of Sydney, Phillip Jensen. Sydney's Bishops are not attending Lambeth - so what do we do?
http://your.sydneyanglicans.net/sydneystories/lambeth_lifeboat/ March, 14, 2008

St Andrew's Cathedral, Chapter House

Speakers:

Phillip Jensen - Should we break fellowship? Why? When? With whom?

Mark Thompson - What has happened in World Anglicanism to bring us to this point?

Robert Tong - What can Lambeth achieve?

Russell Powell - What is GAFCON all about?

We are currently witnessing a dramatic 'rescue operation' in North America to save those drowning in a 'disaster' caused by a pagan heresy.

"It's a little like an undersea earthquake has happened offshore-and the earthquake is high on the Richter scale. And you don't see immediate results from the earthquake until sometime later-when a tsunami wave washes onto shore, with devastating effect."

These are the words of David Short, rector of St John's, Shaughnessy in Vancouver.

They come from a DVD (excerpts on u-tube) also featuring world famous author and theologian J Packer, made for the benefit of members of their parish as they faced a vote to 'realign' from the Canadian Anglican Church to an Anglican Province in South America.

Same-sex blessings, Short says, is "the tip of the iceberg".

The key concerns are "the uniqueness of the Lord Jesus Christ [and] the authority of scripture".

The theology pushed by Short's diocesan bishop, Michael Ingham, is described by the bishop himself as pluralistic and has been categorised by some commentators as 'panentheism' closer to Hindu monism than Christianity.

In his Easter 2005 message he approvingly quoted Diarmuid O'Murchu saying "we should stop thinking of God as a supernatural Being located outside the universe... we should think of the universe itself as a pulsating, vibrant dance of energy alive with benign and creative potential in which God calls to us from within, not without."

Indeed as Jim Packer says on the same video, the current struggle in Anglicanism is unique in church history; the closest comparable situation, he says, occurred in the fourth century, when the Arian faction of the church denied "the truth of the Trinity."

Shock at attack on Jim Packer

As a result of their convictions, Professor Packer and former Sydney minister David Short are facing church legal charges - widely reported as 'suspension' from ministry.

But the charges are more akin to 'defrocking'.

As reported on this website, members of St John's Shaughnessy in Vancouver voted overwhelmingly on February 13 to put themselves under the oversight of Bishop Don Harvey from the Province of the Southern Cone (the Anglican Church in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Paraguay and Peru).

In response, the Bishop of New Westminster, Michael Ingham sent a letter to the clergy of St John's, which a diocesan spokesperson has confirmed was a "notice of presumption of abandonment of the exercise of ministry".

There has been an extraordinary outpouring of shock and anger from evangelicals around the world - and beyond Anglicanism - at the move against the famous theologian Jim Packer.

Ted Olsen from Christianity Today writes that the action 'has potential to make non-Anglican evangelicals worldwide more interested in the Anglican crisis'.

In Sydney, Anglican Church League President Dr Mark Thompson released a statement of 'alarm' at the Bishop of New Westminster's threat to revoke Professor JI Packer's 'spiritual authority as a minister of Word and Sacraments'.

"Professor Packer, one of the leading Christian voices of the twentieth century, is amongst those who have voted to stand with authentic and orthodox Anglicans rather than those who have undermined biblical truth over many decades and most recently by their innovations regarding homosexual practice. As one of these he has now become a target for revisionist aggression. Once again the intolerance and anti-liberal heart of liberal Christianity has been exposed."

It is very telling that even Fulcrum - the voice of so-called 'moderate' English evangelicals such as Elaine Storkey and NT Wright, has responded to the shock at Jim Packer's treatment.

"Bishop Ingham has now written to Dr Packer and other clergy serving a Notice of Presumption of Abandonment of the Exercise of the Ministry," writes Andrew Goddard in Fulcrum. "He has reportedly been told that unless he disputes these facts his spiritual authority as a minister of Word and Sacraments conferred in ordination will be revoked on April 21, 2008...

"While Ingham's actions are therefore shocking and revealing of the seriousness of the situation in his diocese, they are simply the inevitable canonical consequences within the ACC of the actions taken last month by Dr Packer, Revd Short and others. They did not relinquish their ministries under canon XIX. They did not presumably for the simple reason that they wish to continue to exercise the office and spiritual authority as ministers of Word and Sacraments conferred on them in ordination..."

Anglicans worldwide to blame

For Goddard, the central cause of the current crisis has been the failure of world Anglicanism to take decisive action in over six years.

"The failure of the ACC and the inability of the wider Instruments to address the problems caused by Bishop Ingham (for at least the last six years and arguably longer) have resulted in a situation where Dr Packer (and many other good evangelicals and others) are no longer able to accept his jurisdiction. However, as committed Anglicans, he and they have now placed themselves under a godly ordinary and chief minister to whom they can in good conscience submit."

And most significantly Goddard calls on all 'moderate' Anglicans to publicly support Packer and Short.

"[The words] - "a priest of disciplined life, personal spirituality and great teaching capacity" - apply also to Dr Packer, Revd Short and the others currently facing charges of abandonment in Canada. It would therefore be a great encouragement if leaders within the Church of England, in which Dr Packer was ordained and whose life has been nourished by his writing and ministry over many decades, could publicly support him and others like him at this time," Goddard says.

"They can and should do so even if, like many of his fellow Canadian evangelical Anglicans, they would not personally have taken the steps he has felt it necessary to take at this time to fulfil his ordination vows to "banish and drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines contrary to God's Word; and to use both public and private monitions and exhortations, as well to the sick as to the whole, within your Cures, as need shall require, and occasion shall be given"

The Dean of Sydney, Phillip Jensen says for our part, Sydney Anglicans must do something concrete to support the Canadian evangelicals.

"In a shrinking world we cannot allow leaders like Jim Packer and David Short to be under attack, as they are, without taking some responsibility to declare our beliefs clearly."

However as Dean Jensen admits, the question is: "What is the best way to do that now?"

Special briefing at Cathedral

The Dean of Sydney, Phillip Jensen, is inviting all Sydney Anglicans to a special briefing session this Friday afternoon to consider the implications of the latest developments in the Anglican Communion, including the Sydney Bishop's decision not to attend the Lambeth conference. (details in fact box)

"It is essential that we consider our Bishops' decision to not attend the Lambeth Conference this year," says Dean Jensen. "This briefing will not only provide us with biblical insight but will also give historical and legal background to their decision."

Dean Jensen says it's important that all Sydney Anglicans take an interest in the current crisis.

"This is a defining moment in the history of our denomination. It calls upon us to stand up for what we believe. As Evangelical Anglicans we need to be clear on how to apply our commitments to the authority of Scripture to the future of world Anglicanism," he says.

The briefing is aimed at 'anyone who can get Friday afternoon free'.

"This is for people who do not know a lot about Lambeth and who want to understand why our Bishops, backed by Standing Committee, have acted as they have. But it is also for people who already have an understanding of Lambeth and want to think through the implications of our Bishops not going," says Dean Jensen.

"It is easy for us to hide behind or to criticize the decisions of our bishops. But it is a moment when those of us who agree with them stand with them, and those of us who are uncertain where to stand find out the facts."

Canadians to the civil courts?

Grasping the central facts can sometimes be quite tricky.

The disputes are often legally complex, often further muddied by media spin.

An article published by CanadianChristianity.com last week appear to confirm that the Diocese of New Westminster will claim it had a legitimate right to the St John's parish property.

The acting bishop of New Westminster, Peter Elliott, says diocesan officials have "a duty to protect the assets of the diocese. The parish was set up as part of the ACC (Anglican Church of Canada); the heritage of St. John's is to be a parish of the ACC. The Diocese of New Westminster is the local manifestation of the ACC; parishes of the diocese are within this structure."

However he added: "The question of property is speculative at this point."

A spokesperson for St John's, Lesley Bentley, also told CanadianChristianity.com, that while the parish has access to a legal fund of $1 million, they remain hopeful it won't be needed and they will avoid the civil courts.

"No diocesan money was used to build the church. Our legal team is convinced we will be able to keep the building," Ms Bentley says.

She added: "[The ACC] has shrunk across Canada by 30 percent over the last 40 years. They don't need our space."

But it looks like a long, hard fight.

Bishop Elliot says the Diocese of New Westminster is sticking to its guns.

"General Synod of the ACC supported a resolution saying the blessing of same-sex unions was not against the core doctrine of the church. It is considered a secondary issue."

Larger perspective on events

As Dean Phillip Jensen says, the Friday briefing is also a welcome opportunity to gain some perspective on the unfolding events in North America.

It's absurdly difficult to keep abreast of the latest twist and turn in the unfolding saga, let alone fully grasp the implications of each event.

What does it mean for evangelical Anglicans to so closely align with traditionalist Anglo-Catholics? How will the ongoing realignment impact Anglican church life here in Sydney?

Indeed, just as I was putting the finishing touches to this article, I read that the Bishop of San Joaquin (California), John-David Schofield, formally resigned from the The Episcopal Church on March 7.

Bishop Schofield had been charged with the 'abandonment' of the communion by presiding bishop of The Episcopal Church, Katharine Jefferts Schori, after his whole diocese voted to align itself with the Province of the Southern Cone.

Are these 'realignments' permanent? Will there ever be reconciliation?

In his resignation letter to Bishop Schori and the other American bishops, Bishop Schofield argues that the decision to find a 'safe harbour' with the South Americans was made on an 'emergency, temporary and pastoral basis'.

He concludes:

"Immediately after the Diocese of San Joaquin voted to accept the invitation of the Southern Cone, the Annual Convention was greeted by these words of Archbishop Venables: "Welcome home. And welcome back into full fellowship in the Anglican Communion." It is my hope and prayer that one day The Episcopal Church will hear these same words...The Episcopal Church and Bishop Schori will remain in my prayers and the prayers of all parishes and missions in the Diocese of San Joaquin. The door of reconciliation will always be open."

END

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