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Anglican identity and the quest for integrity

Anglican identity and the quest for integrity
The birth of St Augustine's Douglas on the Isle of Man

By Gavin Ashenden
May 20, 2016

God acts in history. The Bible is the record of a God who intervenes and acts. He makes Himself known and He rescues. One of the great signs of hope throughout history is the way in which God has renewed His Church.

But the Church can sometimes be an ungrateful patient, resisting the new life, the purification, the straightening of what was perverse. The lesson of history is that where the Church is so determined to resist the Holy Spirit, God plants His new life outside the doors of the building - if the doors remain locked shut in His face.

One can go back throughout history charting these movements of renewal and rebirth. But perhaps not enough people read history, and it has been rightly said that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

It would be warming to think that the Church of England had enough memory to have learnt from the birth of Methodism. Then, a moribund C of E, heavily influenced by the culture of the rather detached, cerebral deism of the 18th century, had lost the vigour and life of the Holy Scriptures. It had become perfunctory and rather hesitant about the sacraments. And the God who intervenes produced people of the calibre of the Wesleys and Whitfield to set fire to the hearts of people who had become formal and dull.

But the culture of the kingdom of heaven always stands in opposition to the culture of the what St John called 'the world'. The Church of England decided it preferred the culture it was immersed in, to the fresh wind of the Holy Spirit. Wesley did all he could to remain an Anglican, to renew the Anglicans and refresh the Church of England, but was in many cases literally locked out of the church and churches.

Inevitably, when challenged about their allegiance to a culture that was at odds with the Scriptures, the bishops and the establishment tried to shut Wesley up, to close him down, preferring the moribund to the miraculous.

And so Methodism was born, tragically, forced to flourish outside the Church of England.

If the eighteenth century is too far away, we could try the 20th. The American Anglican Church, 'The Episcopal Church' was also captivated by its surrounding culture. Not deism this time, but relativism. 'All ways are equally valid', a kind of narcissistic existentialism.

It preferred the war between the genders launched by feminism to the revelation of the way in which God used gender in St Paul and the Scriptures. It threw off the ethical constrains of how sex was understood and used, and made the Bible captive to culture rather than the other way round.

A people who do not believe in heaven and hell, have little to evangelise about. A Jesus 'who soothes your life style choices' is not the same as a Jesus who saves and rescues. And so the Anglican Church in America began to die, and continues to shrink.

Anglicans who refused to give up their allegiance to the Bible and the quest for the Holy Spirit rather than the 'spirit of the age', tried to reconnect the Church to her integrity, but as the bishops adopted their secular culture, and the Synods reshaped the Church to mirror secularism, many Anglicans left, to begin again.

They left to order to be free to read and preach the Scriptures, to celebrate valid rather than impaired sacraments and to invoke the Holy Spirit instead of the 'spirit of the age'. Those who left formed the Anglican Church in North America. It grows and flourishes.

In England, the C of E is inexorably following in the footsteps of TEC. The first step was the ordination of women to the priesthood and episcopacy, breaking the patterns of biblical and apostolic gender relations. And following the imposition of 20th century culture, the next step of reconfiguring marriage to remove child bearing as its central expression and replace it with homosexual intimacy follows.

Around the country, Anglicans who want to put the Holy Spirit before the 'spirit of the age' are asking what they can do and where they can go?

They might want to look at the example of a pioneering priest who with his congregation has decided that integrity is more important that institutionalism.

In the Isle of Man, a community of Anglicans has taken the decision that they can travel no further with the Church of England.

The Rev'd Dr Jules Gomes who was Canon Theologian at the Cathedral and Vicar of Arbory and Castletown has decided that struggling with a church hierarchy who were antithetic to orthodox Christianity, left him in a spiritual and organisational dead-end.

He and his congregation have walked away from the building, and more importantly walked away from the secular culture of the Church of England to start afresh as the Anglican Church of St Augustine in Douglas.

When the bishop of Sodor and Man wrote to the newspapers to complain that this pioneering congregation had no right to call themselves Anglican, since they had repudiated his authority, he had to be reminded in print that Anglicanism is a way of being Christian that stretches far beyond the Church of England. It neither depends on him or the C of E. Only a minority of Anglicans across the world belong to the Church of England.

Many people think that Anglicanism was born out of Henry the 8th's quest for a royal annulment. In fact Henry was a good Catholic, all he wanted was to be rid of an uncongenial pope. When he died the country was still Roman Catholic. Anglicanism was born out of the struggle to bring the Bible back into the hands and the hearts of the people who loved Jesus in the following century.

There are several characteristics of being Christian in the Anglican way, which include the historic 39 Articles and the contemporary Jerusalem Declaration, both of which St Augustine's Douglas have adopted. But at the heart of Anglicanism is the reclaiming of the Bible in a Church modelled on the Apostolic shape that the early Church gifted to future generations.

There is great unrest at the roots of the Church of England as its General Synod and its dioceses move further away from their allegiance to the Bible. There is a disquiet that the Archbishop of Canterbury when asked about his position on biblical ethics by the London Spectator, makes being present at the hypothetical gay marriage of his children his priority.

The Church of England is chaplain to the nation. It is at present faced with the question 'what happens when the nation you are chaplain to no longer wants to be Christian"? It is having to choose between soothing the secular taste for spirituality, or being true to its roots and its Founder.

There are many congregations asking themselves if they can remain within the Church of England with its new secular culture of gender and sexuality.

Dr Gomes and his Christian community have shown them how the answer to this question can be solved.

As the Church of England faces a demographic and financial collapse in the next decade, St Augustine's Douglas may represent the pattern for a future for vibrant, faithful, orthodox Anglicanism in these islands.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Gavin Ashenden LLB. BA. MTh. PhD. is Vicar of St Martin de Gouray in Jersey, the Channel Islands (just off the French Normandy coast), where he also writes a weekly column for the Island newspaper, the Jersey Evening Post. Trained at Oak Hill Theological College he became Senior Lecturer in the Psychology of Religion at Sussex University. He is a Chaplain to the Queen and from 2008-2016 was a Canon Theologian at Chichester Cathedral. As a broadcaster he hosted a BBC Religion and Ethics show for 4 years (2008-2012) which had 100,000 listeners across the South East of England, and presented the BBC podcast on Religion and Ethics. He is the author of a number of books and essays on the Oxford Inklings.

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