Contemporary Anglicanism

What on earth is going on in contemporary Anglicanism? Most of us are completely disinterested. Some of us are just perplexed. And we’re all fed up with the unseemly politics that makes its way onto the pages of our national newspapers. The labels applied to the sides are especially unhelpful. And it all gets a little confusing. This is an attempt to simplify what you read in the press. It’s obviously written from someone on the evangelical side of the argument who has been ‘on the edge’ of institutional Anglicanism for some time!

Essentially there are two sides in the current disagreement.

There’s a  coalition of evangelicals, charismatics and anglo-catholics  known as ‘traditionalists’. It’s not a great label. It doesn’t really do justice to who we are. You’d be hard pressed to describe most evangelicals and charismatics as traditional! What the people that use this label mean is that we’re morally traditional. We hold to the old fashioned things like gender distinction, gender roles, sexual abstinence outside of marriage and so on. Still, I think its better than being called ‘hardline’, which is what Ruth Gledhill called us in the Times on Monday. This ‘traditionalist’ coalition is made up of groups like Reform, Forward in Faith, Anglican Mainstream Church Society and New Wine. We disagree on some things, which is why we don’t join each other’s networks. I’m not in agreement with Anglo-Catholics on lots of things. I’m in agreement with charismatics on nearly everything. But I’d probably be described as a conservative evangelical. Again, ‘conservative’ is not a label I’m that keen on. I’m not massively conservative. I guess I’d be described as doctrinally conservative. But I like to think  that I’m missionally innovative. I digress. The point is that within the ‘traditionalist’ camp there’s a fair degree of diversity. But each group would argue that they are what they are because of scriptural interpretation; we justify our position scripturally. So what they believe is governed by trying to understand and apply the Bible. William Taylor explains the ‘traditionalist’ coalition using the example of a convoy of ships. For an ex-Army man this, no doubt, is a journey into the unknown. But he gets it right. Evangelicals, charismatics and anglo-catholics have decided that though we’re on different ships, nevertheless we’re a convoy heading in the same direction. We’re heading towards biblical orthodoxy and away from biblical heterodoxy! Simply put, we’re trying to steer towards biblical obedience and away from biblical revisionism.

On the other side of the argument are the liberals.  What they believe is governed by trying to understand the culture. This group is known as the ‘revisionists’, at least by me. I’m certain that they’re not a monolithic group. But I’ve not invested a lot of time in working out which groups they belong to. But Inclusive Church would be one.

The key leaders amongst the traditionalists are world wide leaders like Peter Jensen, the Archbishop of Sydney, Peter Akinola, the Primate of Nigeria and Greg Venables the Archbishop of the Southern Cone. These are the ‘good guys’. There are so many of them it’d take an age to name them. Their names can be found in close proximity to the Jerusalem Statement, which was the product from last year’s Global Anglican Futures Conference, known as GAFCON. In the UK we look to people like Paul Perkin, Vicar of St Mark’s Battersea Rise, Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe’s Oxford, Wallace Benn, Bishop of Lewes and now Michael Nazir-Ali, the Bishop of Rochester. These are the guys at the forefront of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans, known as FCA.

The ‘traditionalists’ have the gospel. And so our churches are growing because wonderfully, by God’s grace, people are being converted. And we preach the truth and so people are generous and sacrificial with the money that God has entrusted to them. And so we’re able to appoint staff quicker than ‘the system’ allows. We’re not going to wait around for Diocesan approval when there’s so much urgent gospel work to be done. And so we’ll just go ahead and appoint staff and seek ordination. In some cases, parishes are withholding their quota. Good on them. Why would you give money to a corrupt central administration that’ll use it to fund ministries which we oppose? Contention needs to have teeth. Of course, if we’re taking money from the establishment we ought to pay our dues. But we shouldn’t fund heresy. That’s disgraceful.

But the liberals have the positions of power. The vast majority of the college of Bishops, the Archdeacons, Rural Deans and so on will either be liberal or will be happy to work with those of a liberal theological persuasion. The ‘traditionalists’ are massively under-represented. That’s not true across world wide Anglicanism. The vast majority of world wide anglicans are orthodox. That’s why the shift in power has begun to move away from Canterbury to the Southern Hemisphere. Faithful Anglicans across the globe are dismayed at what’s originating from the birthplace of Thomas Cranmer. Though ‘revisionists’ have the power in the Church of England, it doesn’t actually belong to them. It belongs to the  ‘traditionalists’. The ‘revisionists’ are like a cuckoo that has moved into another bird’s nest, kicked out the incumbents and made itself at home. The ‘traditionalists’ are simply doing nothing more than reclaiming what’s rightfully theirs.

The situation is further complicated by a group of evangelicals who claim to agree with the traditionalists on biblical ethics, the importance of mission and on many aspects of the gospel but disagree with their methods. This is a split amongst evangelicals. It’s sometimes ugly and always regrettable. Often the family fights are the worst. This one gets pretty bad and it’s played out in the blogospehere. Broadly speaking, on one side there are the conservative evangelicals and on the other there are the liberal evangelicals.  The liberal evangelicals can’t stomach the ways in which conservatives seek reform within the denomination. They think we bully people that don’t agree with us by calling their evangelical credentials into question and insensitive proactivity in our church planting. They really don’t like it when evangelicals disregard Episcopal authority. Ruth Gledhill calls them moderate evangelicals. I’m loving these labels! They’re reasonable, restrained and sensible. They don’t cause issues. And so many of them get ‘promoted’. Why would you ‘promote’ a ‘conviction’ evangelical whose conviction has teeth when you can appoint a ‘concession’ evangelical who can accommodate his convictions without causing a problem. And so, Graham Kings, one of the main voices at Fulcrum has recently been recently appointed as the Bishop of Sherborne. He may well agree with the ‘traditionalists’ on many things, especially on sexual morality. But for him the conservative disregard for church order is unforgiveable. For the liberal evangelicals the important thing is to maintain unity. I think I’m being fair in saying that, in effect, they place church order above gospel convictions. They’d dispute that because they want to be regarded as evangelicals. I just think that’s the obvious conclusion to draw from their actions.

Everyone thinks the big issue between the two sides is homosexuality. But it’s not. That’s just the presenting issue. It’s over the place of the Bible. ‘Traditionalists’ believe that you should do something because the Bible says it, even if the culture doesn’t approve of it. ‘Revisionists’ say that we should do what the culture says because that’s the prevailing view, even if the Bible says that we shouldn’t. Homsoexuality just happens to the issue over which the culture and the Bible currently disagree. In the past it was women’s ordination. In the future they’ll be other things. But as long as both these sides seek to reach a conclusion on these matters from different perspectives there’s no hope of agreement. We’re talking about two different religious systems that are implacably opposed. I can’t see this ending well.

Of course, being a liberal evangelical is an inherently unstable position! I don’t mean to be rude. Not this time anyway! But at some point these guys, and I count a few as friends, have got to realise that their liberalism compromises their evangelicalism and their evangelicalism tarnishes their liberalism. They’ll have to decide. They can’t have it both ways. They can’t play both sides. And when they end up siding with the ‘revisionists’ and attacking the ‘traditionalists’ you’ve got to wonder whose side they’re really on.

23 thoughts on “Contemporary Anglicanism

  1. David Baker July 9, 2009 / 11:17 am


    Can I just say this is one of the best and most succinct summaries of the current situation I have come across.

    Well done – it’s most helpful! And it deserves a wide audience.

    Warm regards

    David Baker

    (ex Emmanuel Tolworth – now in East Dean, near Eastbourne)

    • theurbanpastor July 9, 2009 / 11:19 am

      That’s kind David, thank you. Hope that you’re well and flourishing in East Dean.

  2. andybeingachristian July 9, 2009 / 3:07 pm

    Thanks for this Perks – really helpful to know what’s going on. Funny to see Greg Venables on the list – one of my dad’s best mates from uni – he was apparently the hippy guy in CU playing ‘Here Comes the Sun’ on his guitar in the corner!!

  3. andy July 9, 2009 / 6:45 pm

    A brave attempt but it is sadly only quaint how you present the situation as us and them, two sides, balck and white, liberal or traditional.

    Pretty much every academic discipline, political group or organisation- even the BNP- have given up on that kind of anachronisitic, simplistic and unhelpful rhetoric except perhaps when arguing in the media- unless that was the point of the article….

    True explanations are never as simple as this and conflicts are never solved from this devisive kind of basis of understanding. Can you think of an example? It is certainly not an accurate reflection of evangelical heritage-see the evangelical revisionists leading the way on slavery for instance or debt?

    It seems the article is designed to make people say I with Paul or I am with apollos. Sad really when you think about the lack of creativity or restorative approach to understanding that hasn’t changed in 2000 years. Such an obvious age old trap to fall into.

    Unity, btw, is a far more biblical principle than sexuality, both of which most ‘liberals’- see the new conventions study guide for example- consider deeply from the basis of scripture just as’ traditionalists’ do.

    It is very convenient to think they dont and that the trads have the gospel where the liberals have culture but this is in fact not really true and never has been.

    Think smarter. harder and more creatively- the answer will never be this easy…

    • theurbanpastor July 9, 2009 / 8:44 pm

      Thanks for your comments.
      I’m sorry that my summary was too simplistic for your tastes. I get the feeling that you’d give me an A+ for effort for C- for attainment!
      I agree that as soon as anyone starts to simplify the issue then some of the nuance of the argument is lost. Simplicity and complexity are unhappy bedfellows. Others can do the nuance, I thought I’d have a stab at simplicity. I tried to represent the ‘parties’ fairly.
      The purpose of the article was to try and help people who weren’t at all familiar with every twist and turn of the arguments to make sense of what’s going on. I’m looking forward to reading your attempt! Go for your life!
      I think you may have misunderstood the factionalism of 1 Corinthians 1. As I understand it, the divisiveness wasn’t strictly over theological issues but instead identifying witha cause. I’d put my money on the fact that Paul, Apollos, Cephas and Jesus would be conservative evangelicals! I may get some grief for that comment!

  4. andy July 10, 2009 / 5:37 pm

    Youre probably right but lining up behind the right bishop does seem a bit like this.

    Bishop Alans blog put my point much better today:

    Nobodaddy, (the character in Blakes God painting) deals in Certainty not Clarity, Ideology not Mystery, Status not Reality, Politics not Truth, Control not Trust. He is less than half the truth. He uses words as weapons, not the creative impulse to make the world

    I am sure you werent doing this but weve got to go further esp since youre post was quoted on the FOCA website which is attracting lots of interest.


  5. sarah July 10, 2009 / 9:29 pm

    It was a good attempt at explaining the different camps but it is also diffcult to be truly fair when you have opionion and a view on subject.

    I know I find it diffcult but that’s because I classify myself as a liberal evanlegical and this fits in with my world view and to be fair my feminist streak. But I do think you can be liberal and a christian-as the core of being a christian is about your relationship with Jesus.

    But I do think that the church should try to be ahead of the culture curve rather than trying to push it backwards. What are the next hot issues?-what is the church’s stance on these? This is the questions you should be asking.

    If we still tried to live in the first century, would women be able to have a good education, vote, be financially independent through work? What about aspects like slavery, discrimination, democracy, capitalism. Progress and then acceptance of the new and it become a part of the culture is not neccesarily a bad thing.


    • theurbanpastor July 11, 2009 / 7:02 am

      Thank you for your comments.

      I’ve suggested that within contemporary anglicanism there are essentially two religions. One that seeks guidance about faith and practice from the Bible and one that seeks it from the prevailing social context. One want to bring the culture back to the Bible in order to please God. The other wants to bring the culture into church in order to win applause from the world. Those are two very different approaches.

      In reply to your observations about transforming society it’s probably worth saying that those changes were ‘demanded’ by biblical teaching; in other words the Bible finds it intolerable that women and men are not treated as equal in status and so it’s a good thing that an unbiblical culture was changed. That’s an approach that’s entirely consistent with evangelical faith. We want to see the culture transformed along biblical lines. But that’s not what’s being proposed at the moment; largely because the power brokers in the Church of England aren’t massively interested in being biblical.

      When a society fears God and biblical authority is accepted, change will come. That’s not happening a whole load at the moment. The liberal agenda appears to be reforming the church in a non-biblical but worldly direction. That’s seen perhaps most clearly on the issue of sexual morality. The Bible is unmistakably clear on the issue of same sex sexual activity; known in short as homosexuality. What the Bible says about homosexuality and what the culture says about homosexuality are two very different things. The Bible prohibits same sex activity but our culture endorses it. The Bible calls it sin and the culture calls it a lifestyle. Somehow we need to affirm those that face the temptation of same sex attraction without affirming their sin. But what we can’t do is what J.I. Packer calls ‘the sanctification of sin’. Seeking the acceptance of same sex sexual activity is not the same as seeking the abolishment of slavery. That’s one cultural change that we therefore need to resist, not encourage.

  6. D. Philip Veitch July 11, 2009 / 2:53 pm

    (1) Simplistic with too much clutter.
    (2) Yet, the effort is there, with truth lurking amidst the clutter.
    (3) Western Anglicanism is too weak, in my humble estimation, to be of concern, interest, or sustained analysis–unless one is an academic. Canterbury’s days of influence are over.
    (4) As far the US goes, it’s over except for a small band of 100,000 or so under Archbishop Duncan. These are Episcopal-lite with leaders trained in the weaknesses of their seminaries. The US has 250 million or more and there are no long lines to attend Anglican services.
    (5) 5-7% of Brits worship each Sunday.

    Interpretation: It would appear that God has, in large measure, withdrawn His redeeming Spirit and humans, left to themselves, do what they do–forget God and craft idols.

    Application: Exercise caution, read widely (the Bible especially), remember the elect will not be lost, and rejoice in the situtation—as did Jesus when rejection confronted him (see Mt.11.25-30 and especially the Lucan parallel).

    • theurbanpastor July 11, 2009 / 4:13 pm

      Thank you Philip – nice to have my work marked! It shows you care! ‘Truth with clutter’; I can live with that.
      Thanks for your reminder that the Lord is King, that He will save His elect and that we must resolve to study the scriptures.
      You may be right about the future prospects of the C of E and God’s judgement upon it. I’m just not sure that we can say that with any degree of certainty since the Bible doesn’t. So I’d want to be cautious about the strength of your prophetic word. Either way, I’d like to go down ‘fighting’. And I’d like to go down, if that’s what’s going to happen, looking after the fine Christian men and women that God has entrusted to our care.

  7. andy July 11, 2009 / 10:06 pm

    ooh the baited hook.

    Many people do not think the Bible is as clear as you make out on homesexuality. Many DO take a lead from the prevailing culture but many others come to this position from scripture via a +different+ interpretation. That is obviously a problem for those of either view who find it hard to accept that others can interpret the text differently. This is however a fact we must learn to live with.

    Thats it from me!!


  8. neilrobbie July 20, 2009 / 6:59 am

    Hi Perks

    I really like your summary of the problems and camps in contemporary Anglicanism.

    You have used the language of unity under the authority of the bible. I think that simplification is unhelpful as it singles out Christ as Prophet and Lord but overlooks his office as High Priest.

    I believe we need to use the language, reflected in the Jerusalem Statement, that “traditionalists” are united under Christ as Prophet (his word is true – Article 2), King (he rules as Lord through his word- Article 5) and High Priest (he died for sinners – Article 5) as well as a bunch of Anglican stuff about foundational documents and order.

    To save space, I’ve blogged on the effects of overlooking anyone of Christ’s offices as Prophet, Priest and King. and believe that many of our problems are caused by conducting our debates apart from Christ.

    Your bro


    • Lauri Moyle May 23, 2012 / 9:11 pm

      This needs more response Perks.

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