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The future of Anglicanism is confessional

Its global churches have a choice: contemporary revisionism or the “historic faith passed down from the Apostles”


The future of Anglicanism is confessional
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The majority of the world’s Anglicans have issued a stunning rebuke to the Church of England and by implication to all other “progressive” Anglican churches. In February, the Church of England voted to bless same-sex civil unions. This move stopped short of wholly approving same-sex marriage, but if anyone thought this would be a happy compromise, they were quickly shown otherwise.

The Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches, a group representing more than 50 million Anglicans in more than 25 nations, immediately issued a statement declaring that the Church of England had “departed from the historic faith.” Importantly, the GSFA not only identified the Church of England’s position on sexuality as the problem but indeed the larger question of moral and theological foundations. The GSFA states that, in contrast to the Church of England, it bases its own understanding on the historic Anglican formularies. With this statement, the GSFA has declared that Anglicans worldwide are a confessional church.

The future of orthodox Anglicanism is confessional.

The presenting issue for the divide in global Anglicanism is the controversy over same-sex marriage. The Episcopal Church in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada were well ahead of the trend, embracing same-sex marriage and even the ordination of openly practicing homosexuals decades ago. The Church of England is late to the party but is now ready to join the trend. To cynical onlookers, this is just the latest example of how liberal Protestantism invariably caves in to the pressures of modernity. But with Anglicanism the situation is different. And the difference is in Anglicanism’s global character.

In God’s ironic providence, the national church in England became sort of an imperial church, establishing “Anglican” parishes across Africa, Australia, Asia, and the Americas. And now in a second twist of providence, many of these churches are saving the international communion from the mother church. Indeed, those churches based in the Southern Hemisphere, and especially Africa, have proved the most doggedly traditional. They will not change their faith or their practice. They have stood their ground against the more powerful Western forces, and now they are explicitly stepping up to take on worldwide leadership.

More than just battling sexual immorality, however, the GSFA has pointed to the deeper source of the problem.

More than just battling sexual immorality, however, the GSFA has pointed to the deeper source of the problem. They have declared that “the Church of England has departed from the historic faith passed down from the Apostles.” And they have identified this historic faith as “the 39 Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal and the Book of Homilies.”

This is an incredibly important statement because Anglicanism has not always been so clear about its doctrinal commitment and identity. Indeed, Episcopalians in the United States have more or less rejected the 39 Articles. Very few of their ministers have even read the Book of Homilies. In the 20th century, it was entirely common to hear or read Anglicans saying that Anglicanism is not a confessional or doctrinal religion. Instead, they would point to their affection for liturgy or their commitment to a sense of moderation and politeness. These were what it meant to be Anglican, they would say. And so the march toward doctrinal and moral apostasy went largely unchecked. Any ministers who tried to check it usually found themselves marginalized and eventually disciplined.

But now, the majority of the world’s Anglicans have said otherwise. They have shouted “enough” on the matter of sexual immorality, and they have also pointed Anglicans to a fixed doctrinal confession. The historic Anglican formularies are the foundation of the newly emerging global Anglican fellowship.

The older Western Anglicans still have power and influence. The Church of England can boast 26 million members. The Episcopal Church in the United States still claims 1.6 million. But these churches are clearly in decline. The median age of an American Episcopalian is 69. The Anglican Church of Canada, if it continues its current trajectory, will have zero members left by 2040. The Church of England will no doubt carry on with much larger numbers, but it is very obviously a house divided. Will its conservative members remain or exit toward those groups aligned with the “new center” of the Anglican Communion?

The future of any particular Anglican church is difficult to predict, but the larger dynamics are clear. For Anglicans, the choice is now between the contemporary revisionism of Western culture or “the 39 Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal and the Book of Homilies.”

Steven Wedgeworth

Steven Wedgeworth is the rector of Christ Church Anglican in South Bend, Ind. He has written for Desiring God Ministries, the Gospel Coalition, the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, and Mere Orthodoxy and served as a founding board member of the Davenant Institute. Steven is married and has three children.

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