Thursday, September 18, 2008

Into Africa: The Future of Anglicanism

Can you still call something "Anglican" if the English have abandoned it? Can you still call something "Christian" if it has abandoned Christianity? A couple of recent articles, by Travis Kavulla in National Review and here compel me to wonder about the Church of England and where it may be headed.

Touted as both a Reformed and Catholic denomination, the Anglican church has a long history as the "Mother Church" that became the religion of the British Empire and spread all over the world. Today it is the third largest Christian denomination (behind Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy) and counts 77 million people in its ranks. Interestingly, it bills itself as a "worldwide, unified communion" of churches -- but nothing could be further from the truth.

In England, Anglicanism is officially the state religion where the British government still has a hand in appointing bishops. And, as you can probably imagine, when a politically-correct government meets a miscreant religious bureaucracy, there isn't much theological independence or orthodoxy allowed. Because the Anglican church is a worldwide church, this serves only to institutionalize a worldwide theological menagerie of nonsense that starts at the top.

The church is headed up by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, the chief bishop and principle leader of the Church of England. And there the nonsense begins. Williams, among other things, can't understand the tendency among Christians to consider homosexuality unBiblical. On his view:
" ... a church that accepts the legitimacy of contraception, the absolute condemnation of same-sex relations of intimacy must rely either on an abstract fundamentalist deployment of a number of very ambiguous biblical texts, or on a problematic and nonscriptural theory about natural complementarity, applied narrowly and crudely to physical differentiation without regard to psychological structures."
Williams has also argued that theology should have a place in the debate about the nature of civil law. That sounds good. But in February, 2008 Williams suggested that this meant that England should adopt a "parallel jurisdiction" of the civil law for Muslims. Being the official spokesman for the official church of England, and carrying all the moral authority that goes with that position, the British government recently (September 14, 2008) took Williams up on his suggestion and, "quietly (key word) sanctioned the powers for sharia judges to rule on cases ranging from divorce and financial disputes to those involving domestic violence."

As if that weren't enough, the same day Williams decided it was high time we all apologized to Charles Darwin for doubting him all these years. Said Williams:
"Charles Darwin, 200 years from your birth [in 1809], the Church of England owes you an apology for misunderstanding you and, by getting our first reaction wrong, encouraging others to misunderstand you still ..."
No, this is not an excerpt from a Monty Python skit.

Meanwhile, over in the American branch of the church, things are no better. The U.S. Episcopal Church (TEC) has shrunk by 10% in the last five years. This is a church that is a poster child for the tendency of a "seeker sensitive" mindset becoming a seeker-centered cave-in to the culture. Morality dies a not-so-slow death when affirmation and self-esteem comprise the cornerstone of your "theology." As one critic of the TEC, Reverend David Short, puts it, TEC is a church where you can "... come as you are, stay as you are, and we'll have a big party celebrating who you are."

This sounds like a far cry from the Biblical call to discipleship and transformation of the heart based on the universal human condition of rebellion against a holy God. The proof is in the pudding:
The TEC is one of the few churches that can boast a bishop who openly disbelieves the divinity of Jesus Christ and woman priest who is also, she says, a Muslim.
Uh huh.

This is also the church that produced Gene Robinson, bishop of New Hampshire. Mr. Robinson is a gay, divorced, openly partnered man -- and serves with the blessing of, you guessed it, Rowan Williams.

So one might wonder if there are any actual promoters of orthodoxy in the Anglican Church.

Yes, there are.

Some 200 congregations have left the American TEC due largely to the Bishop Gene Robinson issue. Fighting tooth and nail, the TEC has done everything in its power to stop the exodus (it's a Biblical word that might not ring a bell with the geniuses in Canterbury) from the American church. This has included changing signature cards on the rebel churches' bank accounts to stop their ability "to make payroll or pay utility bills" or taking out $2 million lines of credit for the sole (this sounds like a Biblical word but it's something completely different) purpose of suing the breakaway churches. It is ironic that one of the congregations being sued in this manner is the former parish of George Washington.

Despite all these ethical efforts on the part of TEC, there is no stopping the flight to orthodoxy. More than 1200 Anglicans, including more than 300 bishops from Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe and American attended a June conference in Jerusalem to organize the separation from the Episcopal Church in alliance with the African branches of the worldwide church.

Funny how things work out. Africa was once the destination to which missionaries from England brought the gospel. As one of the leaders of the African church, Benjamin Nzimbi, Archbishop of Kenya, put it:
When I think about the missionaries coming to Kenya, and the pains they went through -- many died, they faced all sorts of challenges, all the while remaining faithful to the Gospel, I cannot think of anything else but to remain in this faith.
"Remaining faithful to the Gospel" -- Now there's a quaint thought. Maybe Archbishop Nzimbi can use that as a recruiting slogan for the missionaries he sends out to the soon-to-be-deceased, secular bureaucracy formerly known as the Church of England.

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