Fulfilled or Finished?

Some nice musings from Andrew Goddard on where the current furore in the Anglican Communion is taking us:

The Inclusive Church statement (written by its Chair, Giles Goddard) and the GS documents to which it responds make evident just how serious are the differences and how wide is the gulf between Anglicans. They also signal how seriously – and how soon – we may face realignments that would bring about ‘the end of the Communion’ as we know it. The differences now becoming very clear relate not only to where we go from here but also understandings of where we are and how we got here

The deeper concern expressed by Inclusive Church is clearly that “We are sleepwalking towards a new church” and “if the silent majority of Anglicans do not take action we will wake up find we have lost the Church and the Christianity we hold dear”. Here we see that many in the Western churches are perhaps only just beginning to wake up to the church that God has been building around the world in and through Anglican churches. It began to become clear at the 1988 Lambeth Conference, was very evident in 1998, and continues to grow, not least in places like Nigeria. That many are still, however, not awake to this reality is evident in the final sentence which suggests that ‘the silent majority of Anglicans’ are still understood to share a Western, broadly ‘liberal’ or ‘inclusive’, understanding of the Church and Christianity. While the claim of those in Kigali to represent 70% of Anglicans may need to be more nuanced, their vision of the Church and the Christianity they hold dear – biblically based and reformed catholic in order – is undoubtedly where the ‘majority of Anglicans’ are. It is also significantly where the majority of growing parishes and dioceses are theologically in both the US and England. Unless we in England can recognise and come to terms with (and perhaps even learn to welcome) the new reality of global Anglicanism – challenging as it may be to the remnants of our colonialist mindset – we will not recognise how God is at work among Anglicans today.

The claim that issues of human sexuality have been given a prominence within the life of the church that is unjustified, although having rhetorical force, avoids the substantive issue in dispute. It also forgets the fact that it can often be what to some are seemingly minor practices (eg indulgences at the time of the Reformation) that highlight more fundamental theological issues. Here, for many, the question is serious precisely because part of the church has determined to bless and commend patterns of behaviour which the wider church has judged to be sinful and unbiblical and many believe risk leading to exclusion from God’s kingdom. There are also deeper questions about the whole theological (or non-theological/idolatrous) culture of the American Church, powerfully examined by Ephraim Radner and Philip Turner in their recent work The Fate of Communion. Faced with such weighty issues, dismissal of these serious concerns about recent actions focussed on matters of sexuality as simply ‘contrary to the Gospel values of love and justice’ is to sidestep a whole raft of serious theological and moral questions and seek comfort and identity in shibboleths.

If it is indeed the case that the leaders of almost half the Communion’s Provinces, representing approximately 70% of Anglican worshippers, are viewed by others as engaged in a process of undermining and sidetracking the Communion by ‘a false Anglicanism’ then it would appear that some form of major realignment is going to be necessary. However, if this is ultimately becoming a question of true and false Anglicanism, perhaps it is likely that the Communion’s future lies more with the vision of those in the Global South, despite their faults and failings. Perhaps it is by listening with greater respect to their voices that we will discover where our end – in terms of our goal and fulfilment – as a Communion lies. In contrast, perhaps it is some of those in the declining churches of the West (having disregarded the mind of the Communion and breached the bonds of communion in the name of ‘autonomy’) who, in the light of Scripture and our history, risk – to adapt Giles’ words – undermining and sidetracking us, foreclosing the possibility of true dialogue by unilateral ‘prophetic’ actions, damaging the spread of the Gospel of Christ both in their own provinces and across the Communion, and potentially finishing off the Communion rather than helping it towards fulfilment.

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