Saturday, June 21, 2008

Ἡ ἀλήθεια ἐλευθερώσει ὑμᾶς

The End, Perhaps, of an Idolatrous Denomination--Can Some Good Come of it?

Most of you know the ignoble tale of the crucible in which the Church of England was formed. It is not, nor ever was, built on Simon called Peter, but instead was wrenched from Pope's grip because of the machinations of a sex-crazed sybarite of a king, Henry the notorious Eighth, who, when the Pope refused to grant him an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, broke with the Catholic Church and formed his own Church of England, with himself at the head.

England, ever separate in all things from the continent, was already somewhat dissatisfied with Rome, and had been hankering for some sort of reform since the heroic John Wycliffe in the fourteenth century. Henry, however, fought hard during his lifetime against the tide of reformation, and it was only under the reign of his daughter, Elizabeth, that the Church of England truly became Protestant.

Truth be told, Anglicanism is an oddball. However, as the Kingdom of England became the British Empire, its church was spread throughout the English-speaking world. The church did not grow because of its own merit. At first, it rode the Reformation wave. Then, it followed the ascendant British Empire to vastness.

So, we have a church with little actual merit, in my opinion. Sure, it has held great Christians--C.S. Lewis and more recently Bishop N.T. Wright come to mind--but in these cases it seems that the denomination was a hindrance, not a help, in the search for God. These men were not great Christians because they were Anglican.

Perhaps because of the blatantly un-Christian founding of the Church of England, it was one of the first denominations to liberalize. For example, it is the largest and most reputable denomination to ordain gay clergymen, even Bishops. The numbers of its attendance have slackened precipitously in the last century, and with the election of Archbishop Rowan Williams, and the legitimizing of a practice forbidden in the Bible into the very clergy, it has become increasingly irrelevant.

While the church on its home turf is liberal and, frankly, dying, in Britain's former colonial possessions--namely Africa and the United States--it remains strong. The liberals in England and to some extent in America, are clashing with the conservatives, and prospects for a mutually amicable resolution at the upcoming once-a-decade Lambeth Conference are dire.

In short, it looks like the Anglican Communion is going to split.

This is not the first time in recent years we have seen a denomination split. The Presbyterian Church split into several fragments after that church made the same rash decisions concerning homosexuality that the Anglican Church has. I have friends who go to a thriving, young, Orthodox Presbyterian Church, and one increasingly disenchanted member of the mainline Presbyterian Church in Baldwin, which has, it should be mentioned, a female "student pastor" at the moment.

But back to the Anglicans.

One figure stands in the center of this maelstrom: Archbishop Peter Akinola, Chief Primate of the 44-million member African Anglican church. His forty-four million sheep make up a hefty majority of the seventy-seven million Anglican Communion. He is a bastion of Christian conservatism, and as TIME Magazine has said in a profile of him entitled "At the Center of a Schism", a figurehead of the south-and-east-ward march of Christianity. While we bemoan the loss of Christian institutions here in the West, there are more devout Christians in Africa and China than there were in the entire world in any time period before the twentieth century.

Akinola, at least, has already given up on a united Anglican church. In a 94-page theological statement, he declared: (See the full article here.)

"There is no longer any hope, therefore, for a unified Communion ... Now we confront a moment of decision ... We want unity, but not at the cost of relegating Christ to the position of another wise teacher, who can be obeyed or disobeyed. We earnestly desire the healing of our beloved Communion, but not at the cost of rewriting the Bible to accommodate the latest cultural trend. We have arrived at a crossroads; it is, for us, the moment of truth."

I will let David Van Biema (Am I wrong in thinking that sounds like a Dutch Calvinist? Growing up with Van Roekels and TeGrootenhuises and Veenstras and Mensinks and Ouwingas and Zonnebelts and Zevenbergens and Te Slaas--not to mention the copious Van Somerens, I'm very sensitive to these things), from the above article, tell you about the nature of Akinola's seemingly divisive stance on homosexuality in the church:

"Some observers argue that, like many conservatives in the church, Akinola is motivated less by a desire for schism (or even any distaste for homosexuality per se) than by a sorrowful conviction that Robinson's [the openly gay American Bishop in the Anglican Communion; the first of his kind] ordination in the U.S., along with support in other provinces for gay unions, is the last straw in a series of offenses indicating a massive Western disregard for the authority of the Bible. They say he is not so much trying to blow up the communion as force it, by negotiation and a certain degree of brinkmanship, to rein itself in."

Whatever the outcome of this trial of the world's third-largest fragment of the catholic (small "c") church, it brings to the mind questions about the friction in the church as a whole. It breaks my heart that I am not able to honestly partake of Catholic Mass, because of their Doctrine of Transubstantiation, their Holiness of the Pope, and their Mariolatry. I cannot bring myself to endorse these things--not to mention that, according to the Doctrine of Transubstantiation, all Catholics who partake of Communion are cannibals--thank the Lord they're wrong. Perhaps I am being too stubborn.

That, however, is the problem. Every denomination believes they are right, and in matters of faith far more than matters in politics, compromise is impossible.

But does not Galatians say that "dissensions, factions" are fruits of the sinful nature? A weighty subject to take on. Far too weighty for this humble blog. All we can do is pray for wisdom.

"Ἡ ἀλήθεια ἐλευθερώσει ὑμᾶς."

"The truth will set you free."

Archbishop Akinola called this crisis a "moment of truth" for the Anglican Church. Perhaps this truth will lead to a better church; perhaps it will even set us free.


Sue said...

This post lives up to the promise of Mosings 3.1. It's cool that you threw a little Greek in there. The truth will set us free, no doubt about it.

Sola Gratia said...

Hey, Mothership. I'm glad you like the post, and I'm glad you think this lives up to the Mosings 3.1 promise. Rest assured, I have more up my sleeve.

sweetggirl said...

Yeah, IDK what to write, but the post was really great! I think that the theologian in you is coming out. ;)

Sue said...

How about a post about the recent Supreme Court decision upholding second amendment rights?

Sola Gratia said...


I've been considering it, but I don't think there's really enough material to fill a full-length post. It's pretty straightforward. However, I am thinking of incorporating some information from that into a future post about war-like Christianity and its absence in this feel-good age; and how Christians have a mandate to defend the innocent. Well, that's a possibility anyway ;)