Anglicanism’s woes and the future of Christianity
Are we watching a church prepare for spiritual death?
The Church of England has entered a new chapter of her history. The straining seams that have held that denomination together are fast giving way as her bishops propose a policy of blessing same-sex unions. This branch of Christ’s Church has had its fair share of conflict. Be sure that this fight over sexual morality will prove historically far-reaching and significant.
It is likely that faithful and theologically orthodox Anglicans in the Church of England are approaching a sort of final showdown with revisionism and fatal moral-theological compromise in that venerable church. Theological modernism almost always starts with casting doubt on the authority and reliability of the Scriptures and doctrines deemed “offensive” to contemporary ears. But it always ends with pushing for another religion altogether that is clearly at odds with historic and authentic Christianity.
It suppresses the “faith once delivered to the saints” and instead champions a counterfeit deeply devoted to progressive political aims and sexual permissiveness. And, for the Church of England, this has been a long time coming. While in past generations her scholarly clergy were often swift and sound when it came to refuting false doctrine, a theological liberalism has certainly taken root and taken over the denomination like a cancer.
One revisionist bishop, John Wigorn, wasn’t shy about the heritage he had received from his liberal forbears, including the Rt. Rev. Charles Gore of Lux Mundi fame. Gore helped found the Liberal Catholic Movement, which maintained the aesthetic values and some theological hallmarks of Anglo-Catholicism while embracing the higher criticism of the Bible coming out of Germany. This was a horrifying about-face, since the first luminaries of the Oxford Movement, particularly E. B. Pusey, were strident opponents of the higher critics. Gore and his colleagues faced backlash, which Bishop Wigorn lionizes and identifies with.
The Liberal Catholics and other Modernists grew in the Church of England and came to dominate it. Ultimately, unbelief with regard to the Bible’s truthfulness flourished, especially during and after the World Wars. The immense pressure of a secularizing British culture didn’t help things.
Revisionists in the Church portray themselves as saving Christianity from itself, purifying it of the impurities of morality and the supernatural. But even TV sitcom writers knew that “modernists” were and are actually unbelievers.
Unbelieving false teachers will not accept or obey God as He has revealed Himself, and so they make an idol they call the Lord and worship it. They can refashion and reshape it as they please. And what pleases them are socially acceptable sins. Their renunciation of Scripture’s reliability allows them to ignore the Bible, conveniently citing it for their progressive social causes but ignoring it for doctrines and morals that would kill their pride or harm their social status. The reality is that false teachers and their followers do not fear God. Instead, they fear the consensus opinion of the scientific community, the academic world, the social upper crust, or the populace at large.
This ugly truth is hidden by talk of “walking together.” It is managerial boilerplate that feebly justifies membership in a Province with irreconcilable differences. When the archbishop of Canterbury and other leaders trot out this rhetoric, they generally reduce Anglicanism down to placating partisans. It all downplays God’s authority as revealed in Scripture and ignores the historical Anglican Formularies of the Book of Common Prayer, Ordinal, and the Thirty-nine Articles, with the Book of Homilies serving as commentary on those other Formularies. In these, Anglicans find their theological inheritance and shared devotional life, which is visibly evidenced by the episcopal laying on of hands. As we are finding out, severing Anglicanism from its own roots results in grisly ecclesial death.
Even “good” Anglicans struggle under these tradition-rejecting illusions, which often are at play when we trot out elevator speeches about “three streams,” the “three-legged stool,” and “via media.” These tropes indulge the feminist his women’s ordination, the Ritualist his monstrances, the ex-evangelical his rejection of inerrancy, and the enthusiast his abandonment of Cranmer’s historic Prayer Book and classic Anglican hymnody—all while keeping homosexuality at an arm’s length for a few decades. The placation (and even celebration) of irreconcilable principles and practices isn't integral to the Anglican project. It’s inhibitive. It corrodes the Anglican Way of being a Christian into a halfway house to Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and liberalism.
Soon, depending on what happens at the General Synod, it is likely that orthodox Anglicans in England will hit the ecclesiastical lifeboats in various ways. They join fellow Anglicans across the globe braving the deluge of revisionism. Will we actually prove faithful? Or will we flounder into fatal compromises that bring us to the same destiny as the Church of England’s current leadership? In language any Anglican should understand, O God, make speed to save us.
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