Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Fr. David Handy - "Five Reasons Why a New Reformation is Necessary"

From November, 2007, The Reverend Dr. David Handy, PhD, offers this argument in favor of Anglican reformation and realignment. I was a newbie blogger, and had real problems with formatting this when he first submitted it. It is a long piece, but well worth reading and now 'tis a bit more readable. His five arguments are

  1. Present Anglican polity has severe design flaws.

  2. Our doctrinal boundaries are too vague.

  3. Current "Instruments of Communion" are not up to current challenges.

  4. Liturgical chaos prevents unity.

  5. Doctrine trumps polity and Scripture trumps tradition, not vice versa.


Dear Partners in the Defence of the True Gospel,

After Bishop Bob Duncan ("the Lion-hearted") made public on All Saint's Day his marvelous and bold reply to the Presiding Bishop's threats to depose him, echoing Luther's famous lines, "Here I stand. I can do no other," I waited a few days to see if anyone would take the bait and begin a new thread on how the Common Cause Partnership does indeed seem to be championing a New Reformation, with all the difficult questions that inevitably raises about the validity or necessity of schisms in the Church. No one did. So, taking the bull by the horns in my usual fashion, I am doing so myself. Although this post is quite long and complex, and although it represents a quite radical position in its advocacy of a New Reformation, I hope that even those who are deeply committed to an "inside" strategy, and in particular those who would call themselves "Communion conservatives" (similar to Bp. Howe or Sarah Hey), will at least pause and give it some consideration, As allies in the struggle for the soul of Anglicanism, we need to understand each other, even when we must in the end agree to disagree on tactics.

Indeed, as many observers have noted, this battle is much bigger than just an intra-Anglican quarrel and it extends far beyond the borders of Anglicanism. As those who contend together with orthodox believers of many ex-mainline denominations for the Faith once delivered to the saints and for the renewal of authentic, biblical Christianity in the post-Christendom West, we are waging this theological civil war on behalf of the whole worldwide Church, of all denominations (and none). So much is at stake... Although it would take a fairly long book to present adequately the case for a New Reformation, I will attempt to summarize that case here in relatively brief fashion. I will be contenting myself with simply providing illustrative samples of the major kinds of arguments that I would make in such a book (which I'm actually in the process of writing). I fully recognize that none of the five arguments that follow are conclusive by themselves. But when viewed cumulatively, I think the case is nothing less than overwhelming that a drastic, thorough-going 21st century Reformation, comparable in depth and scope to the original 16th century Reformation, is "a tragic necessity" (as the great historical theologian Jaroslav Pelikan famously said about that first one). So here goes.


1. First of all, Anglicanism is doomed to endure the agonies of a New Reformation because of severe design flaws in its current polity (or organizational structures). As we all know, Anglicanism started out as simply the Church of England. It gradually grew along with the British Empire into a worldwide network of colonial churches linked to the English mother church. In the post-colonial era it is slowly evolving in the direction of a truly worldwide "communion" of national/provincial churches who share the same heritage. But all along, it has evolved in a typically British way, sort of muddling through, with no clear constitution but rather in the English style of "common law." That is, unlike the Episcopal Church with its formal Constitution and Canons, Anglicanism as a worldwide fellowship of national churches has gradually developed its structures through the power of accepted conventions that avoid the rigidity of formal binding legal definitions. That has given us great flexibility, but it has also come at the very high cost of retaining so much ambiguity that it has left us vulnerable to the devastating, unending (and I believe unresolvable) conflicts we see today.

1A. My basic claim is that the modern Anglican Communion as we know it stands in need of drastic structural changes in both Doctrine and Discipline in order to allow it to continue to evolve into a true "communion" of churches (and not a mere loose world "federation" similar to that of the Lutherans or Methodists). That has been the goal of most Anglican leaders ever since the summoning of the first Lambeth Conference of bishops 140 years ago. But while the controversy over the skeptical teachings of Bishop Colenso in South Africa (a forerunner of Pike and Spong) was the presenting issue in 1867, that first worldwide consultation dealt with the problems of heresy and maintaining communion in a very different social context. The British Empire was in its heyday. And Christendom seemed not only as secure as ever in Europe, but it appeared to be destined to be utterly victorious all over the world. But that was then. Nowadays, it's hard for us even to imagine the Victorian world and how inevitable it seemed that "progress" would march on triumphantly and that Christianity and western civilization would completely dominate and rightly rule the globe. How radically things have changed! Today we live amid the tottering ruins of Christendom, which has totally collapsed in Europe, and is rapidly waning in America, and has almost completely disappeared in Canada. Mind you, I'm not talking about Christianity disappearing, but "Christendom," that union of Church and State which has characterized Europe for over 1,500 years. In other words, my basic claim is that the Anglican Communion as we know it was always designed and intended to function in a Christendom social context that no longer exists. The acids of secularism and pluralism have eroded the once-proud monuments of the former grand state churches of the West until all that's left in many cases is a largely empty shell. In order to adapt itself to the post-Christendom world in which we now live, Anglicanism will have to reinvent itself. And that involves such sweeping and drastic changes that this goes far beyond the mere "renewal" of Anglicanism. It amounts to nothing less than another Reformation, with all the regrettable confusion and bitter conflict that term implies. Many leaders have noted that without something like the proposed Anglican Covenant, there simply is no mechanism within current Anglicanism that would allow for the effective disciplining of a whole wayward province. As it stands, each national or provincial branch has virtually unlimited autonomy, for all practical purposes. That is, when a province like the American Episcopal Church simply refuses to heed the appeals of the Lambeth Conference or the Primates to cease and desist its promotion of the gay agenda, the rest of the Anglican Communion really has little recourse. This is a serious weakness. Indeed it is fatal. It simply must be corrected, no matter what the cost.

1B. Here are a few illustrations of what I mean. First of all, the Windsor Report pins its hopes on the Archbishop of Canterbury exercising his right to decline to invite scandalously wayward bishops to the Lambeth Conference or other pan-Anglican gatherings. It is plain, however, that this is an inadequate means of discipline. Even if +++Rowan Williams were much more willing to withdraw some of his invitations to Lambeth than he is, it would still be clearly inadequate. True believers in the gay cause (like bishops Chane, Bruno, Shaw, or Canada's Ingham etc.) would still flout the Communion leadership, take this minor slap on the wrist and continue on their merry way, even basking in the glory of being "persecuted" as all prophets are for their "prophetic" ministry. Much sterner measures are needed to be able to enforce discipline.

1C. Second, the proposed new Covenant is likewise plainly inadequate. It too has no real teeth. And the reason is obvious. It wasn't designed for the purpose of clarifying Anglican doctrinal boundaries (it doesn't even explicitly mention the issue of homosexuality and deliberately adds no new doctrine). Nor is it intended to enable the Communion to exercize real discipline. Instead, like the Windsor Report that recommended the adoption of such a Covenant, it was fashioned with one end in mind, namely, to maintain "the highest degree of communion possible." That is, the Covenant is heavily biased toward maintenance instead of mission, and in favor of insitutional unity over theological unity, and implicitly treats schism as worse than heresy. The Covenant is designed for fostering unity, not orthodoxy. The Covenant never even addresses the fundamental problem, the existence of two mutually exclusive and rival religions trying to co-exist peacfully under one organizational roof. Bishop Peter Lee of Virginia was indeed speaking for the broad central mainstream of western Anglicans when he made his infamous remark that if you have to choose between tolerating heresy and schism you should always choose heresy. The proposed Covenant, like the Windsor Report before it implicitly adopts the same outlook. When Archbishop Williams gave the Windsor Commission its mandate, he specifically made it clear that this blue-ribbon panel was not to rehash the question of whether Lambeth 1998's Resolution 1:10 was right and binding or not. Given the presence of theological liberals on that panel, they couldn't have produced a consensus document otherwise. So what else would you expect in democratically produced, committee consensus documents? The eight western provinces (England, Scotland, Ireland, Wales, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the U.S.) have enough wealth and clout to prevent any truly meaningful Covenant from being adopted. To trust in such a futile, consensus-based approach that can never succeed in imposing real discipline on wayward provinces is to lean on a broken reed. It will never work. The process is guarranteed to prevent such discipline from happening.

1D. Third, the whole Windsor Report process (like the earlier Virginia Report process before it) still takes for granted the traditional role of the Archbishop of Canterbury as the focus of unity within the Anglican Communion. Alas, growing numbers of us are coming to the sad but inevitable conclusion that this is simply an obsolete idea that only perpetuates the dysfunctional nature of current Anglicanism. The problem isn't simply a personal one; it's systemic and inherent. Even if George Carey were still Archbishop of Canterbury, or another orthodox bishop like him, the fundamental problem would be that no one who is stuck in the position of upholding a crumbling national state church can simultaneously also lead a post-Christendom international fellowship of ex-state churches and non-state churches. It's a total conflict of interests. Moreover, it is grossly unfair and unwise. Why should the growing, thriving churches of the Global South have to look for direction and help to the leader of a sick and dying parent church? No Fortune 500 corporation would make the Chairman of the Board (much less the CEO) an automatic position that went to the head of its oldest division, even if it was a failing division that was losing money badly. That makes no sense at all. In other words, the problem isn't so much that the ancient throne of St. Augustine of Canterbury is occupied by a theological liberal like Rowan Williams, the problem goes much deeper than that. The problem is that Cantaur still represents the old Christendom world. Canterbury represents the old broken down marriage between the Church and the English state that has already ended in a de facto separation and will probably soon end in a de jure divorce in England, just as it already has everywhere else. And in a post-Christendom world, that is a FATAL weakness. We can't be dependent on a secular and increasingly anti-Christian English parliament and prime minister to choose the chief pastor of Anglicans worldwide. It's time to start thinking outside the box and to be more creative.


2. Historically, Anglicans have always been rather vague and fuzzy about the limits of orthodoxy. But it's never been nearly this bad. Even at the time of the Protestant Reformation, the 39 Articles of 1563 never had the clarity and internal consistency of the earlier Lutheran creed, the famous Augsburg Confession of 1530, or the precision of the much later and far more detailed Presbyterian creed, the Westminster Confession of 1648. Indeed, deliberate doctrinal ambiguities abound in our heritage. Take, for example, the famous (or infamous) compromise about the words of administering the bread and the wine in the Elizabethan prayerbook of 1559, which simply slapped together the quite Catholic-sounding formula of 1549 ("The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life") with the ultra-Protestant version of 1552 ("Take and eat this [undefined] in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart, by faith, with thanksgiving"). The two were never synthesized, but have remained in constant tension ever since. That is part of the characteristic style of Anglicanism, the genius of English religion, so to speak. I welcome and relish that. But things have gotten out of hand.

2A. I contend that the problem is that this celebrated "comprehensiveness" was always more driven by political expediency than by authentic religious motivations. The historical record is quite clear, and exceedingly awkward and embarrassing to earnest Christians. The famed tolerance of Anglicanism has always been, at heart, based on the inherent political need of a state church to try to encompass the whole society, or as much of it as is humanly possible. The inevitable result of this marriage of convenience between church and state is that the church becomes swallowed up as a mere department of the state. In a Christian civilization, the secular realm ends up winning in the long run every time. It happened everywhere in the Old World, from the Catholic countries in southern Europe to Lutheran Germany and Scandanavia, Presbyterian Scotland and the Netherlands, or in Anglican England. The whole point of a state church (in the view of rulers from Constantine on) is to give religious sanction to the state and to help unify it. This was certainly true in the formational time of Henry VIII and "good Queen Bess" (Elizabeth I), and it has remained true ever since. From Thomas Cranmer's rather servile submission to Henry and his daughter Mary up to this very day, the English Church has been subordinated to the State and has been dreadfully conformed to the prevailing culture among the ruling elite. It was so here in Virginia from the start as well. The first Anglican priest came as a commercial chaplain, hired by the profit-seeking Virginia Company and he was closely allied with the aristocrats who were among the adventurers who landed in Jamestown 400 years ago. 'Twas ever so.

2B. But if the 39 Articles were themselves rather ambiguous (e.g., concerning the highly disputed nature of the sacraments and especially regarding the then vexing issue of predestination, which gets the longest treatment of any article of faith), their current status and authority is far more ambiguous still. As everyone knows, in our American BCP of 1979, the grand old 39 Articles are relegated to a mere appendix among other "Historical Documents." Suffice to say that since the famous Catholic Revival, beginning with the Oxford Movement of the 1830s and 1840s, the doctrinal boundaries of Anglicanism have expanded greatly and become far more blurred. Anglicanism has become a true Protestant-Catholic hybrid, and not merely a liturgical variation of pure vanilla Protestantism. Needless to say, Anglo-Catholics find a highly Protestant document like the 39 Articles quite unsatisfactory. But this has upset the delicate balance in classical Anglicanism, which carefully pitted a rather catholic liturgy against a quite protestant creed.

2C. I believe the real problem is that we have come to make a religious virtue out of a political necessity. The compromises of the 16th century are no longer necessary in our radically different social context. Liberated from the shackles of having to be a state church that futilely tries to include all citizens in one big roomy tent, we are now free to clarify our doctinal convictions as never before. Let's take advantage of this great opportunity. The inevitable result, of course, will be that by drawing a clearer circle, we will be excluding a lot of people who are currently within the Anglican fold. Well, so what? That is what creeds always do. All the first seven ecumenical councils, and many lesser ones of less renown, clarified the doctrinal boundaries of the Church by addressing the controversies of the time. It's time to bite the bullet and have the courage to do the same in our own day. As Karl Barth helped the Confessing Church in Germany to face the heresies inherent in Naziism by helping produce the famous Barmen Declaration of 1934, so we need to have the courage to stand up against the prevailing ideological currents of our secularized and relativistic culture, which is almost as hostile to real, biblical Christianity as was that of Nazi Germany or Communist Russia (though of course in more subtle ways). The instincts of the American Anglican Council were correct back in the mid 1990s when John Rodgers helped draft the well-known Statement of Faith that it has used ever since. This is the way the one, holy, catholic, and (not least) apostolic church has always acted. We have always clarified the continuity of apostolic doctrine with new and fresh statements that spell out the difference between orthodoxy and heresy as necessary from time to time. This is one of those times. 2D. We need a new Anglican creed! And the proposed Covenant doesn't even come close to doing the job. The whole Windsor approach is wrong-headed, because it aims at a very one-sided goal, namely promoting "the highest degree of communion possible," without simultaneously promoting the highest degree of theological clarity possible. "Possible" in this case means without excluding large portions of the present Anglican Communion. But that is to beg the question and assume the answer in advance to the very point in dispute. Bishop Tom Wright, an admirable man of integrity, a devout evangelical, and a world class biblical scholar, has called the famous Windsor Report "the gold standard" in contemporary Anglican thought. Of course he is hardly unbiased as a leading figure in the Windsor Commission on Communion that produced it. Unfortunately, it seems to me that Windsor just produced the kind of Anglican fudge that such international commissions always do. Such a compromise document can never resolve a deep seated conflict between two rival religions such as we are witnessing today. Oil and water simply don't mix.


3. The Virginia Report accepted by the 1998 Lambeth Conference identified four "Instruments of Unity" in the Anglican Communion. A review of their historical evolution is telling. The oldest of these and the most universally recognized is the Archbishop of Canterbury as the chief focus of unity. The next to emerge was the Lambeth Conference, which has met once a decade since 1867. Named for the palace of the Archbishop of Canterbury and summoned by him as "first among equals," this now traditional gathering has always been seen as a purely advisory group that meets for mutual consultation, but has no jurisdictional powers (i.e., it's not a synod or real church council). The other two have only emerged in recent times, during the last forty years. First came the Anglican Consultative Council after it was called for by Lambeth 1968, and then the Primates' Meeting, authorized by the Lambeth Conference of 1978. But though it emerged last, the Primates' Meeting is by no means least in importance. Indeed, the Windsor Report makes the Primates the key to future hopes of maintaining unity within the highly diverse Anglican Communion. And they were the group that Archbishop Williams summoned for consultation after the crisis over the election of Gene Robinson erupted in 2003. But can this plan possibly work? Can the Windsor proposal of relying on the Primates to accept "the enhanced responsibility" that Lambeth 1998 called them to undertake actually work?

3A. I submit that the Windsor proposal is completely unrealistic and unfeasible. There are several reasons for this. First, the Primates' Meeting is too large and diverse. It would be completely unwieldy as well as impossibly expensive for 38 leaders from around the world to morph into a real governing body. "The Primates' Meeting" is just that, an occasional meeting. It is designed, like the Lambeth Conference and the larger Anglican Consultative Council, simply for consultation. In other words, the current Primates' gathering has the modest purpose of fostering better communication, improving mutual understanding, and increasing cooperation. That's why it includes all 38 provinces on an equal basis, despite the tremendous differences between them in size, maturity, and strength. If all they are doing is consulting with each other, then it makes sense for tiny provinces like Korea, Scotland, Pakistan, Myanmar, or Wales to have equal representation along with the giant provinces like Nigeria, Uganda, and Kenya. But this would obviously prevent the Primates from functioning effectively as a governing body; it would be grossly unfair to the large provinces. The leaders of the liberal western churches are well aware of this fact, and they will fiercely resist making the Primates body or the larger pan-Anglican ACC truly representative, because it would drastically dilute their numbers and reduce their already waning influence. The liberals are always complaining that the ACC is the only one of the four Instruments of Unity/Communion that includes priests and laity and is thus truly representative of the whole Church. They have a point, but the more important point is that the ACC, like the Primates' Meeting, is heavily weighted in favor of the smallest provinces. That ignoring of disparity in size especially works in the favor of the eight western provinces, which are dwarfed by the largest ones in the Global South (even the mother church, the Church of England is only half the size of the Anglican Church of Kenya when you consider actual communicants, and that leaves out massive Nigeria and Uganda).

3B. Perhaps we'll have to create some kind of bicameral legislative body someday, balancing one chamber where representation is equal and unrelated to size (like the U.S. Senate) with another more democratic one that represents Anglican believers instead of provinces or dioceses (like the Congress). But the real key is to move in the direction of trans-provincial legislative, executive, and judicial authorities. Many will object that the creation of such centralized international authorities would be Romish and "unAnglican." I say that this widespread fear is mostly a hangover from our state church heritage that is now obsolete. It isn't so much unProtestant as unEnglish and unChristendom-like, which is another matter completely. Above all, it can't be considered unbiblical, and there is ample precedent in patristic times for such international councils issuing canon laws and not merely meeting for mutual consultation. Personally, I earnestly hope some smaller elite body of Primates that is roughly representative of the whole fellowship of Anglican believers around the world will emerge out of this crisis that can take a MUCH "enhanced responsibility" for the life and welfare of the whole Anglican Communion. That would not be some sort of capitulation to a Roman style curia as a another recovery of our rich patristic heritage (from which we inherited the three-fold ministry and from which so much of the modern liturgical renewal movement comes).


4. As mentioned earlier, classical Anglicanism, as defined by the charter documents of the English Reformation, features a careful balance between the Book of Common Prayer on the one hand, with its rather Catholic nature and leanings, and on the other hand, the quite Protestant 39 Articles and the two authorized Books of Homilies, which are likewise highly Protestant. Especially since the rise of Anglo-Catholicism over 150 years ago, this balance has been disrupted and largely lost. As the 39 Articles of Religion and the Books of Homilies have effectively disappeared from use in much of the Anglican Communion, the balance has tipped in the direction of the Prayerbook and Episcopacy, our more catholic elements. But this imbalance has been greatly aggravated by other modern factors. More than any other tradition in the Christian world, Anglicanism has become ever more dependent on our liturgical heritage to hold us together. More than any other denomination or fellowship of churches, the famous principle of lex orandi, lex credendi, ("the law of prayer is the law of belief") is applicable and determinative for us. In the absence of a functioning creed or a living magisterium (contemporary teaching authority), how we pray really does express and shape how we believe. Consequently, liturgical revision is absolutely crucial for Anglicans. The liturgy is not only our primary doctrinal authority, it's virtually our only one. Hence the passionate intensity of such matters among us.

4A. Yet as Philip Turner has often and rightly pointed out, a great deal of our trouble in the Episcopal Church stems from the fact that our public liturgy and our "working theology" no longer match. In fact, often they are glaringly at odds these days. By "working theology" I mean what people actually believe, as manifested in things like clergy sermons, parish newsletters, diocesan resolutions, outreach activities, or other forms of observable behavior. For example, clergy frequently preach sermons that simply give expression to the social platitudes of the era, which these days includes unabashed declarations of moral relativism and theological universalism. The appointed lectionary readings may have included a fierce denunciation of idolatry from the Old Testament or a difficult saying of Jesus from the Gospels that calls people to radical discipleship, but the preacher will substitute a bland message of "radical hospitality" that calls for the "full inclusion" of marginalized groups as if toleration was the greatest of virtues and intolerance was the worst of sins.

4B. For too long, the liberalizing leaders of the Episcopal Church have tried to deceive our fellow Anglicans around the world into thinking we weren't that different by pointing to the orthodoxy of our liturgy, and the continued use of the Apostes' and Nicene Creeds. The problem really isn't the 1979 Book of Common Prayer (contrary to the shrill cries of Peter Toon and the ultra-conservative Prayerbook Society types), the problem is that so many clergy and laity simply don't believe the words they pray anymore. This is particularly evident in the growing use of unauthorized liturgical materials, which is reaching epidemic levels in some places in the Global North (including Australia and New Zealand, which of course are geographically in the southern hemisphere). Prominent examples would include same-sex blessings (SSB's) in liberal dioceses, inclusive language liturgies of various sorts, and free adaptations such as the notorious bidding that shocked visiting Irish bishop Harold Miller when he ran across it out on the West Coast last year: "God is in you." "And also in you." "Let us pray." Such blatant pantheism is grossly contradictory to our Anglican heritage, but it is happening nonetheless. And "Sophia" (Wisdom in Greek) is increasingly worshipped in various places as a feminine alternative to traditional Trinitarian language that calls on God as Father and Son.

4C. This again points to a deeper, underlying problem, namely the utter captivity of so much of western Anglicanism to an increasingly unChristian and even anti-Christian culture. During the long reign of the state church in the West, we sought to Christianize the culture, but nowadays it's clear that the culture is shaping the former established churches more than vice versa. This has subverted the church in countless ways, not the least of which involves the corruption of our public worship by all sorts of syncretistic practices. For example, Gene Robinson is not the only cleric by any means who has devised his own divorce liturgy, to help people through that wrenching time of crisis. But can a Christian church, much less an Anglican one, actually celebrate a liturgy of divorce?

4D. Thus, the problem is at least two-fold. First, there simply must be a way of ruling out the kind of wild, unchecked liturgical experimentation that currently goes on in much of the western world, often with sympathetic liberal bishops turning a blind eye and implicitly encouraging it. This means there must be a way of restoring liturgical discipline, and thus putting the Discipline and Worship back in the familiar vows of commitment to "the Doctrine, Discipline, and Worship" of the various Anglican churches. Second, there must be some kind of international check on the liturgical excesses of the member provinces of the Anglican Communion. Thus, for example, the Primates have stepped in and asked the American bishops to swear that they won't authorize any SSB's. But as we all know, the House of Bishops essentially refused when they met in New Orleans, hiding behind the linguistic loophole that no bishop has officially "authorized" any public rites for blessing same-sex unions but explicitly admitting that some bishops do in fact permit them and they only agreed "as a body" that they won't authorize such SSB's until General Convention may approve such rites in 2009! Since then, various liberal dioceses are now openly calling for outright defiance of the Primates' request (e.g., Ottawa and Montreal in Canada, and the Diocese of California [San Francisco]). In so doing, these North American dioceses have chosen autonomy over catholic order and interdependence. That is not true Christian freedom and responsible missionary inculturation, that is simply stubborn willfulness that insists on its own way (contra 1 Cor. 13) and a deplorable lack of true love. Liturgically, we are stuck in the miserable, untenable situation described by the last verse in the Book of Judges, when, because there was no king, "everyone did what was right in his own eyes." That's what happens when there is no real authority or discipline; anarchy prevails and utter chaos reigns. But as 1 Cor. 14 insists, God is not a God of disorder, but the source of peace and harmony.


5. Over and over the same fruitless argument has been repeated. The leaders of the Global South (or the Younger Churches) will criticize the innovations gaining ground in the secularized West (or the Old Churches), seeing them as betrayals of biblical Christianity, and the "progressives" will reply that these young upstart churches need to mind their own business and take care of their own problems. Besides, they'll say, the (backward) Global South leaders just don't understand how our polity works, or how our enlightened cultural situation mandates these dramatic alterations in traditional morality or doctrine. This doesn't apply just to the homosexuality issue, but also to other disputed things like divorce and remarriage, or inclusive language, or whether Christ is actually the universal savior or there may actually be other ways to salvation than through faith in Christ. Whatever the presenting issue may be, the underlying issue is whether Scripture will become dominant once again, or whether the West will continue to stress church tradition or human experience instead. Put another way, will biblical doctrine finally trump eccesiastical polity or vice versa? It's a classic power struggle, the growing South against the dying North, and in a very significant way, it's also on one sense a replay of the old Reformation fight between Protestantism (Scripture) versus Catholicism (Tradition/Order).

5A. What will carry the day in the end, the Bible or contemporary secular post-modern culture? Since post-modernism privileges personal experience and rejects all objective, universal authorities, it is clear what direction western culture is heading. The question is, does western Anglicanism have the strength to resist those overpowering cultural currents or will it helplessly conform to the ways of the world? Given our accommodationalist state church heritage and the evidence we see all around us, the answer seems obvious. There is no hope, humanly speaking, of transforming the Episcopal Church by working from within. The rot and decay are too far advanced. At the national level, the battle is clearly lost, as the last few years have increasingly proven. So if the Old Churches are largely lost (though of course pockets of health remain in many places where orthodox parishes and clergy continue the fight faithfully, bravely staying at their posts), if, I repeat, most of the American, Canadian, Scottish, Australian and other western Churches are fatally compromised by a deadly infection of heresy, what then? Can the Anglican Communion as a whole yet be salvaged? That is now the great unsolved question. A very serious and lethal infection is attacking the worldwide body, and its theological immune system is very weak. Will the leaders of the Communion have the courage and necessary surgical skill to amputate the diseased limbs before the whole body is poisoned to death, or will the cancer/gangrene win the race and kill the patient first?

5B. At the moment a great deal hangs upon what the Archbishop of Canterbury decides to do. Will he continue to dither and delay, or will he finally, reluctantly decide to erxercise some kind of discipline on the recalcitrant liberals in the West? At this point, no one knows. But ultimately, there are powerful cultural forces at work that may simply make him irrelevant. To use a historical analogy, it was indeed tragic that at the time of the Reformation the papacy was in the hands of some incompetent and unworthy men, corrupt Renaissance patrons of the arts and rulers of a petty earthly kingdom (the papal estates). But even if Erasmus or Robert Bellarmine, the great Jesuit apologist, or the godly Francis de Sales (Bishop of Geneva) had been pope, the Reformation would still almost certainly have happened. Things had simply passed the point of no return.

5C. I believe the same is true today. For example, the consecrations of Martyn Minns, Bill Atwood, and John Guernsey, and the firm statements of CAPA about the conditions under which the African provinces will or won't come to Lambeth seem to show that the Rubicon has already been crossed. In the end, we aren't dealing with matters where personal factors are primary, so that the outcome depends on who is Archbishop of Canterbury, or Abuja, or Kampala, or whatever. No, there are extremely powerful cultural currents at work here, greater than any man (or woman). And behind these clashing cultures, these incompatible worldviews, there are ultimately the supernatural powers of heaven and hell, God and Satan, locked in their relentless war for the souls of humanity. 5D. Or to put it another way, using the terms with which I started, this is in many ways a hidden clash between the dying old Christendom (in the West) and the emerging new Christendom (in the South) that is rapidly taking over its place of leadership in the world. Philip Jenkins, the distinguished and prolific professor of religious history at Penn State (and a devout convert to Anglicanism) has described well the explosive growth of Christianity in the Global South as "The Next Christendom," in his rightly celebrated book by that title. The Christendom era is over in the West, though it may only be starting in the southern hemisphere. Thus, I see this as "A Tale of Two Christendoms." One is perishing; it is old and feeble, and it will not rise again. But the other is just getting going, and it's future is bright. If that sounds triumphalistic, I don't intend it that way. For it is also a cautionary tale. Just as Gentile Christianity soon supplanted Jewish Christianity, and then just as European Christianity came to dominate the Middle Eastern Christianity from which it had sprung, or just as Latin Christianity came to dominate Greek Christianity, or Protestantism supplanted Catholicism in northern Europe, so today we are witnessing a momentous and major transition that is unstoppable. Christianity is coming of age in the Global South, with incalculable consequences that are only beginning to appear. And who knows how long its run may last? In the end, however, Christians of all times and places have been citizens of a heavenly realm, and "resident aliens" (1 Peter) wherever they may live on earth.


But nowhere is that shift in the Christian center of gravity from North to South more visible than in the Anglican Communion. As Archbishop Henry Orombi of Kampala has proudly and rightly said, "The day of British hegemony is over." If so, that in and of itself means that a major Reformation is already underway in the tradition that looks to England as the mother church. Indeed, the appropriateness of the very name "Anglican" may someday be called into serious question (and perhaps sooner rather than later if Canterbury sides openly with the heretical liberals in the West and the Communion splits in half). The Ecclesia Anglicana is not what it was in the days of the Venerable Bede in his isolated medieval monastery,or in the days of the Elizabethan Settlement as England was just rising to world greatness, or in the heyday of the British Empire under Queen Victoria, when the sun never set on her dominions. Now that a majority of Anglicans worldwide no longer have English as their native tongue and aren't of Anglo-Saxon descent, a new name may eventually commend itself, though I can't imagine yet what that might be. Post-English, or post-western Anglicanism may perhaps catch on in a future transitional period. Global warming appears to be a verifiable scientific fact, though it remains quite debatable how much we humans contribute to it through the creation of greenhouse gases like carbon monoxide. We'd like to think, however, that we had some control over it, and so we prefer to convince ourselves that if we only cut back on car emissions and industrial pollution and such things that we can prevent the catastrophes that some foresee if the polar icecaps melt significantly. Al Gore even got a Noble Peace Prize lately for his high-profile crusade to reverse global warming. The Peace Prize? Come on. That may be a suitable illustration of how captive the cultural elite in western civilization is to the politically correct views of our time. How easily we award ourselves honors for being "prophetic" and for advancing social "progress!" In a similar way, I suggest that the polarization of Christianity between the post-Christendom Old Churches of the West and the pre-Christendom New Churches of the Global South is at least as strong and unstoppable asgobal warming. The last time we saw a change of this magnitude within the Christian world was in the 16th century, when the Protestant Refomration tore the fabric of Europe as well as Christendom apart. I firmly believe, with growing confidence each month, that we are in the early stages of what will likely prove to be another great reformation, of equal intensity and equally dramatic consequences. This 21st century Reformation may well create divisions that will be as bitter and deep as those between Protestantism and Catholicism. But it should also end up being just as life-giving and beneficial. People will naturally evaluate this New Reformation very differently, just as they do the first one. Some will regard it as a band and a great curse, while others believe it entirely justified and celebrate it as a blessing. Some will interpret it as a terrible tragedy, and others as a regrettable necessity, or even hale it as a divine victory. I believe it is both a grim tragedy and an utter necessity, but I choose to accent the positive side. In the final analysis, I prefer to echo Jaroslav Pelikan's balanced assessment of the original Reformation and to call this profound transformation now underway in world Anglicanism "a tragic necessity.".


Joseph Fromm said...

Dear Fr. David,
As a Catholic Christian, I have to point out a few things. It is important to point the English reformation started because of Henry's desire to marry Ann Boleyn. The next twenty years of blood shed and confiscation showed the world that the English reformation was a political movement and not a religous movement. I am not saying that Christian protestants can not achieve Salvation. I am saying that the reformation was unnecessary for Christian protestants to acheive Salvation.

TLF+ said...

Welcome, Joseph, and God bless you.

On the one hand, there is some agreement (perhaps a bit hidden) between Fr. David and you. Anglicanism's current problems stem in large part from a failure to maintain aspects of Catholic order (and, it should be pointed out, Reformed theology as well).

At the same time, "Henry VIII started the English reformation" is not accurate. Yes, his marital hijinks were a precipitating event for rejecting papal authority in England...but the English bishops, clergy and people who favored reformation had been "thinking reform" and interacting with continental reformers for some time.

The title "Defender of the Faith," still held by British monarchs, was given to Henry by the Pope for Henry's resistance, in writings and in action, to the reformers! Also, the whole business of annulments and royal justifications was "normal business" for the Catholic Church in those days.

But, yes, the mainly political (and less theological) way that Anglicanism split from the Pope still haunts us today.

Alice C. Linsley said...

The 1549 "The Body of our Lord Jesus Christ preserve thy body and soul unto everlasting life" and the 1552 "Take and eat this in remembrance that Christ died for thee, and feed on him in thy heart, by faith, with thanksgiving", represent the twin poles of Anglicanism: catholic and reformed. Yet this seeming contradiction would not have been obvious to the average worshipper. When he heard those words he didn't ask "Now is this Catholic or Reformed?" He just knew the catholic tradition which taught that Christ is real and present, and he believed it because he knew that he received Christ's Body and Blood in the Eucharist and he never suspected that the Church would teach him something contrary.

Anonymous said...

Cranmer did not mean to enunciate a catholic belief at all, he was a confirmed and articulate Zwinglian, the 1549 Book was not intended to be a Mass. It is time for the Anglicans to return to the rock from whence they were hewn. In the meantime the bishops are merely rebels preaching obedience.

Anonymous said...

The Henrician Church was not catholic, it was Lutheran without Justification by Faith, the Royal Supremacy and the theology of the King's Book both repudiated traditional catholic teaching.

Anonymous said...

You would find it very dificult to find a modern historian, secular or religious, who maintained that the English clergy and people wanted the Reformation in the 1530's. The weight of evidence in Haigh, Duffy, Scarisbrick, not to mention Elton, MacCulloch, and Hughes is quite compelling.

TLF+ said...

I've also read compelling arguments that Mary, had she not been so "bloody" in her methods, might well have reestablished Roman Catholicism.

But that doesn't undo my original point. Henry VIII did not "create" Anglicanism. There were English bishops, clergy and people who were in favor of reformation, even if they were not the majority. There were all kinds of Continental influences, including Zwingli and Luther as a couple of comments mention.

Several comments have focused on the "Henrician" church, but Anglicanism as expressed by the BCP, Articles of Religion, Books of Homilies and key preachers & teachers is Elizabethan.

Anyway, I would like this thread to shift back to Fr. Handy's arguments about the Anglican future (if there is one) rather than our various takes on history. I appreciate the Roman Catholic perspective but for many Anglicans (especially some of the most vital provinces) the RC church is not the way forward, whatever historical claims it makes.

Anonymous said...

Those who wanted Protestantism in the 1530's were a tiny minority, the important factor was that Thomas Cranmer got the favour of Henry VIII. Elizabeth's church was regarded by all other Protestant Churches as a Protestant Church. Read MacCulloch for the details. Probably the best future for the Anglican Church is to go back to its original Protestant heritage and unite within its bounds the Congregationalists, the Baptists, the Methodists and all other Protestants, shrugging aside the Patristic Protestantism of the 17th century and the Tractarian attempt to undo the Reformation.

TLF+ said...

Indeed, Diarmaid MacCulloch is a fine historian, and his work on Cranmer is an amazing eye-opener (he pretty well disproves that myth about Cranmer sneaking his wife around in a trunk).

His detailing of the complex and historically influencial relationship between Henry and Cranmer is really worth reading, and I think anonymous is correct that the English Reformation could have been prevented without it.

anonymous - have you looked into any of the draft Anglican Covenant ideas that are out and about, and do you see them as having any potential for what you propose as a future?

What of a fragmentation that removes the "Global South" from communion with the Liberal Protestant/Watered-down Catholic CofE and TEC?

The most vibrant province, Nigeria, has a distinctly Anglo-Catholic bent; Sydney, a vital diocese, is the most consistently Reformed in theology and practice. Definite fissures beyond rejection of Western apostasy and indifference.

Alice C. Linsley said...

In 1523 Zwingli rejected the teaching of the Church Fathers on Baptism when he wrote, "In this matter of Baptism, all the doctors have been in error from the time of the Apostles... For all the doctors have ascribed to the water a power which it does not have and the holy apostles did not teach." And "The fathers were in error... because they thought that the water itself effects cleansing and salvation."

Here it is evident that Zwingli did not know the Fathers, or the Church's Tradition, but only what his prejudices allowed him to believe. His view of Baptism and Cranmer's are far apart. Cranmer's is closer to the Fathers of the Church, as Cranmer held some degree of appreciation for catholicity. None of the Church Fathers claimed that there was magic in the water of baptism. They all agreed that God cleanses and saves by the Blood of Jesus Christ and followed Apostolic teaching on baptism. Zwingli chose to believe what he wanted, but Cranmer's view of baptism is balanced and well within the range of catholicism.

TLF+ said...

Any thoughts on what needs to happen going forward? Division of the current AC into groupings with greater theological affinities? An Anglican Covenant? Canterbury as sign of unity or Canterbury optional?

I think Fr. Handy is correct in that the currently assumed "instruments of unity" don't serve to unify.

Matt Kennedy at Stand Firm has written some good pieces on the Biblical need for church discipline - anybody see a "go-forward" means by which Anglicanism might add discipline in defense of theological unity?

Anonymous said...

I appreciate Fr. Tim posting my LONG essay. Unfortunately, the format leaves much to be desired. If anyone wishes a much easier to read copy, just send me an email at

I won't try to interact with all the comments so far, except to take up the challenge of trying to point toward a possible way forward for orthodox Christians who still desire to remain Anglican (like myself).

The key is NOT Canterbury, which represents our illustrious past, but not our future. "Realignment" with the Global South is the only plausible way forward. But I would simply reassert here that mere "realignment" and even
"renewal" won't be enough. Our problems go too deep for that.

A New Reformation is our only hope. The great unanswered question is whether or not the Common Cause Partnership, or some larger "Camp Allen/Windsor Bishops" type group (more to the liking of the ACI), will succeed in rebuilding a workable orthodox province in North America. The dangers of fragmentation are very real. I'm keenly aware of that.

Personally, I see our best chance at recovering both apostolic Doctrine and catholic Discipline or Order to be to continue the trend toward recovering the great Patristic heritage that both Catholics and Protestants can claim as our common heritage. Tom Oden and Robert Wilken among others have been leading the way in this "Rebirth of Orthodoxy," to cite one of Oden's great books.
At least that's the path I intend to follow.

Alice C. Linsley said...

The right-believers in Anglicanism must prayerfully take the bull by the horns. I agree that the meltdown isn't all bad. There are stirrings of renewal, recommitment and most importantly, a rediscovery of Jesus Christ. Anglicans will sort it all out when they learn of Jesus on a more profound level. He is God's plan of salvation from the beginning, not a mid-course correction in history, as some seem to think.

Anonymous said...


While in agreement with almost all that you've written above, I would beg to differ on one point. I think it's a mistake to describe the Anglican Church of Nigeria as having "a distinctly Anglo-Catholic bent." Nigeria, like Kenya and Uganda, was evangelized by low-church CMS missionaries.

But you are on to something important in pointing to how it differs from ultra-Protestant Sydney. I think that's because it is African, and not predominately western or European like (Sydney) Australia. The differences between Protestantism and Catholicism seem much less important when facing the threat of militant Islam, as Nigerian Anglicans do.

I'm actually encouraged at how Anglicans in the Global South have managed to build a much more cohesive partnership between the low-church evangelical wing (old CMS areas) and the high-church catholic wing (USPG areas) than in native English-speaking regions. Both wings have a clear, definite biblical gospel to proclaim, unlike our heretical foes who substitute the false "gospel" of inclusivity and relativism.

David Handy+ said...

Well THANKS, Tim, for reposting my essay, and for taking the time and trouble to reformat it. You missed the paragraph breaks at 2D and 5D, but it's still much easier to read now. I'm embarrassed by how many typos I saw in it this time.

But I was also pleasantly surprised to find that I still heartily agree with what I wrote back in Novermber, 2007, some 21` months ago. I stand by what I wrote, and I think my predictions have been largely on target.

I'll have to find some way of actually publishing this essay. But in the meantime, I hope some new readers will offer some fresh comments on it.

And this week's big developemnt, the ELCA's fateful, disastrous embracing of the same folly and error that has wrought havoc in TEC, only seems to me to be further evidence that nothing less than a fullscale, ecumenical New Reformation is needed in our time.

David Handy+