The Authorised Version? – GAFCON and the Anglican Ordinariate

Charles Raven writes:

It is sadly ironic that on the first day of the year which marks the 400th anniversary of King James’ Authorised Version of the Bible, which has had such a profound impact on the English speaking world, three Church of England bishops were received into the Pope’s Anglican Ordinariate in Westminster Cathedral. The fact that the Ordinariate is described as ‘Anglican’ while having no authorization from the Church of England or the wider Anglican Communion is a reminder of just how bold a stroke this is. There are now two fundamentally different forms of Anglicanism in England itself, one of which is part of the Church of Rome.

The clear implication of this initiative is that the Church of England has finally lost any claim to theological integrity. With the growing acceptance of the feminist case for women bishops, the toleration of active homosexuality amongst the clergy and general doctrinal incoherence on the ground it is in no position to be a credible partner in Benedict’s vision for the re-evangelisation Europe. Although Rowan Williams in his New Year address spoke warmly of the King James Bible as that which had given our society a ‘big picture’ to live by, he seemed unaware that the ‘big picture’ of the Anglicanism he represents is hopelessly confused in modern Britain – presumably not least on the part of the 24 million baptised members of the Church of England who hardly ever enter a parish church.

The urgency of the situation is underlined by the news today that the number of converts to Islam in the UK now exceeds 100,000 and most of these are young white women. Julian Mann sees this apparently surprising fact as entirely predictable, writing ‘ It is not surprising that Islam is proving attractive to white women in their twenties. What woman in her right mind wants to bring children into the self-destructive values vacuum of the permissive society, particularly if she has had first-hand experience of it?’

The question posed by the Pope’s action is this: do we conclude with the departing English bishops that after some 450 years the Anglican experiment has failed – that without connection to the Church of Rome it is unsustainable – or is there still the possibility of renewal and reform from within the Anglican Communion? Wherever it might come from, the response needs to be equally bold because the crisis in the Church of England and the governance of the wider Communion is so severe. George Conger

has noted in his review of 2010 that ‘The true issues dividing the church….are becoming clearer. The fight over homosexuality, while still bitterly waged by the combatants, is slowly giving way to a new fight over the nature of truth and divine revelation’. So Gene Robinson and others are advocating the idea that the Holy Spirit can lead us into new truth which may well depart from established doctrine, and hence TEC’s unconquerable confidence that it has a prophetic mission of radical inclusion which overrides established biblical teaching and morality.

In the face of such a challenge boldness is essential. Orthodox Christian faith is apostolic, which means that we see ourselves as those who are commissioned by Jesus Christ and will one day have to give account. We are not at liberty to tread water or be diverted into endless dialogue with those who have clearly abandoned that commission. For the apostle Paul, close to the end of his earthly life and ministry, keeping the faith is inseparable in his mind from running the race and fighting the good fight (2 Timothy 4:7). Apostolic faithfulness calls for daring and unrelenting drive, especially on the part of those entrusted with spiritual leadership.

Without this future orientated sense of urgency and accountability, the present structures of the institutional church can loom too large. In his article ‘How shall we Hope for the Anglican Communion?’ Dr Ephraim Radner of the Anglican Communion Institute bemoans the ‘ecclesial disarray’ of the Anglican Communion and urges the Global South Primates who are conscientiously staying away from this month’s Primates meeting in Ireland to think again. Despite recognising the tendency of TEC, especially in the person of its Presiding Bishop, to adopt the role of self appointed prophet, he writes ‘the issue is not to ask TEC and the Presiding Bishop to deny her own convictions or their clear and public articulation. What is at issue – and where hope in this matter is located – is the form of such conviction for a Christian’.

It is difficult to interpret this as anything other than saying that it is acceptable to hold to false teaching as long as one does it in a polite and undogmatic way that concedes the possibility of change. This is precisely the approach that Dr Williams has adopted and has led to the Global South’s loss of confidence in his leadership through a persistent failure to authorise any effective discipline, even when it became clear that TEC was absolutely determined to press ahead with its revisionist agenda irrespective of opinion in the wider communion with the consecration of Mary Glasspool – a message underlined by the ‘marriage’ of two senior TEC female clergy at the Cathedral Church of St. Paul in Boston on I January.

In these circumstances, placing hope in dialogue is not only futile, it is also dangerous. It perpetuates a sham which only serves to provide continued endorsement to TEC/ECUSA. As A S Haley

has acutely observed, ‘if the Communion becomes the metaphorical equivalent of Tintern Abbey — the picturesque ruins of a grand structure which once resounded in the praise of God — then so much the better, as far as ECUSA is concerned. It can claim to be “in communion” without having the bother of any actual relations to maintain.’

So how to prevent the Anglican Communion from becoming ‘picturesque ruins’? The future lies with the Global South Primates, specifically the GAFCON Primates who have courageously committed themselves to the Jerusalem Declaration as a confessional standard which has greater gathering authority than the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury. The same pressures which have led to the emergence of the Anglican Ordinariate constitute a case for the intervention of the GAFCON Primates, a fact which they acknowledged in a statement of 20th October 2009, the same day that news of the Pope’s initiative was made public. A GAFCON sponsored mission in England would be an ‘authorised version’ of the Ordinariate because while not part of the Church of England, it would be indisputably Anglican in both faith and order. And quite apart from its evangelistic potential, simply by its presence it would bear witness to the continued existence of a confessionally faithful Anglican Communion – in other words, that the Archbishop of Canterbury and the failing Lambeth institutions he presides over are no longer decisive in defining what it means to be Anglican, even in England itself.

It may be that one reason Anglican Evangelicals in England tend not to see the need for alternative structures quite so clearly as Anglo-Catholics is because of their success in establishing large strategic congregations in major cities and towns. Invaluable as these churches are, they have not been able to change the overall culture of the Church of England in which classic evangelicals are routinely marginalized. In contrast, a GAFCON authorised mission with their weight behind it, even if they continued within the formal structures of the Church of England, would be a powerful witness that the Anglican experiment is not yet over – in fact after 450 years, it could be emerging as a truly global Communion for the first time.

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