This is a collation of the first five theses of FOURTEEN THESES TOWARD REVIVING, REFORMING, AND REORDERING THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION, with Commentary.
By the Rev. Dr. Stephen Noll
THESIS 1: THIS PRESENT DARKNESS
The world of the 21st century is dominated by principalities and powers opposed to God and the biblical faith. In much of the non-Western world, enmity and persecution has come from militant religions and totalitarian regimes. In the West, postmodern ideologues have sought to overturn the biblical worldview of God as the Creator and Lord of life and death and of sexuality and marriage as His blessing for mankind and the sign of His love for the Church. In this quest, they have enjoyed apparent success (but cf. Psalm 2). Many Anglican churches and their leaders in North America and the UK have succumbed to this false ideology and are promoting its agenda.
We live in apocalyptic times. Here is a sample of headlines over the 2022 Advent and Christmas season:
- “Over 40 Christians Killed in Nigeria on Christmas Week”
- “Why Do Politicians Shy Away from the M-Word [“Marriage”]?”
- “Abortion is the Leading Cause of Death Worldwide for the Fourth Year in a Row”
- “Christian Population of England and Wales Drops Below 50%”
- “When Thinking a Prayer Becomes a Crime”
- “Church of England’s First ‘Gender-Queer’ Priest Shares Hope of ‘Normalizing’ It for Children”
- “The Death of Christianity in Bethlehem”
- “10,000+ Canadian Euthanasia Killings in 2021”
To say that we live in such a time is not to say that the Second Coming is at hand. Jesus warned us about such pre-emptive prophecy: “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matthew 24:7-8). Yet Jesus Himself and the apostolic writers do indeed interpret the signs of their time and forecast a sudden, imminent Return of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16).
The most significant geo-political tectonic shift of the last half-millennium has been the passing away of “Christendom,” that concurrence of church and state that began with the Emperor Constantine and continued in various forms through the Western and Eastern Roman Empires and their offspring in Europe and the Middle East. While the Protestant Reformation marked a division within the Western Church, the magisterial Protestant churches retained, formally or informally, the tie between “prince and priest and thrall [subjects].” Even the multi-denominational United States was considered by most of its leaders and people a Christian nation well into the 20th century, as was also the case with other nations colonized from Europe.
Today the situation of world Christianity is far different. Although the Christian Church is still large in aggregate numbers, it is no longer dominant politically in its historic territories. Indeed Christianity is now the most persecuted religion worldwide, as opposing “empires” have arisen – some old, some new, some outside, some inside the historic bounds of Christendom. Each of these empires is inspired by a worldview hostile to the Bible and the Christian Gospel.
Islam is an ancient enemy of the Church, claiming that Allah is God who has no son and Mohammed his Prophet. The term “Islam” means submission to Allah and Islamic law, and while many Muslims have coexisted with Christians in mixed regimes, this is not the case in Islamic states, and in recent years radical Islam has led to increasing discrimination and acts of terrorism, as in Nigeria. Violence against Christians has also been increasing in India, due to the rise of Hindu nationalism. Totalitarian regimes in North Korea and China, with their Dear Leader cult, also forbid or suppress Christian freedom of worship and assembly and persecute any who do not cooperate.
It is in the “developed” West itself, the cradle of Christendom, that the most remarkable attack on Christianity has taken place where, within a generation, to be a Christian has become synonymous with being a hate-monger, a racist, or a “deplorable.” The ground for this cultural shift was prepared by the secularization of the universities, media, and government and corporate bureaucracies, abetted by the leadership of many churches, where questioning the veracity of the Bible was taught in prestigious divinity faculties and preached from prominent pulpits. The present division between churches in the West and South is truly “ecumenical,” with liberal Protestants and Roman Catholics lining up with secularists and their counterparts in the Global South threatening to go their separate way.
The attack in the West has been focused on overturning Christian teaching on human nature – the very nature the Son of God assumed to save – as found in these three texts that frame the biblical worldview:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28 ESV)
And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7 KJV)
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24 NIV)
Based on these scriptural pillars, the Church has consistently opposed abortion and euthanasia, because the Lord gives the breath of life to the soul and the Lord takes it away. The Church recognizes and honours two and only two sexes, male and female, who together are made in God’s image. The Church, following the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, upholds lifelong monogamous marriage, along with dedicated singleness, as God’s norm and blessing (Matthew 19:3-12).
Equally fundamental, the Church confesses one God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth. One of the curse words in today’s Western lexicon is “patriarchy,” from which all evils are said to flow. And yet it is the Word Himself who reveals the unseen Father, it is Jesus who teaches His disciples to hallow the Name of “Our Father” (John 1:18; Matthew 6:9). I am convinced that the attack on patriarchy is not merely directed against bad human fathers – who have abounded from time immemorial – but against God the Father Himself, from whom, St. Paul says, “every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Ephesians 3:14-15).
We Christians should not be surprised that these attacks have come. Since Eden, humans have rebelled against their Maker, and since Babel, “the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed” (Psalm 2:2). The prophet Daniel foresaw history as a succession of brutal empires, culminating in an unspeakable Beast – the Antichrist – who seemed indomitable, defiling God’s Temple. Then suddenly in Daniel’s vision, God comes in judgement and the anointed Son of Man is presented before Him, “and to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away (Daniel 7:12-14). The Beast of Empire with his minions may survive for a time, but his end is sure, in the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20).
We Christians, the Church, founded on the apostles and prophets, bear witness that this judgement in history has already occurred once for all at the Cross on Calvary, through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Adam, whom God “raised from the dead and seated at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:20-21).
We Christians know we are in the midst of a spiritual battle. So Paul concludes his Letter to the Ephesians by encouraging and exhorting the Church:
Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:11-13)
Westerners have been accustomed to reading the daily news as just “one damned fact after another,” to quote a former U.S. Attorney General. But from the prophetic perspective of Scripture the mountains are full of angelic horses and chariots of fire (2 Kings 6:17). While the 20th century saw a number of secular prophets of our apocalyptic age such as George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and Philip Rieff, it was the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis who best told the “tall story about devilry” which occurs when academic “research” is untethered from the tradition of Athens and Jerusalem (see the recent book by Melvin Tinker, That Hideous Strength: How the West Was Lost).
Lewis believed – and I believe – “this present darkness” in the West is demonic. Clearly it is unbiblical and hostile to Christianity, but beyond that it is characterized by a frantic zeal that goes against all common sense and past understanding of truth, goodness and beauty. In what kind of world do mothers boast about how many children they have aborted, young women and men offer up their genitals to the surgeon’s knife or their minds to drug kingpins, and poor, troubled, and elderly souls sink into loneliness and despair, finished off by state-sponsored suicide? So many “little ones” in our day are swimming in the polluted stream of social media.
How else can we comprehend the headlines noted above? How else can we explain the Gadarene rush of Western elites into this abyss? One thing I have noticed over these thirty years of conflict in the church is that while “conservatives” often waver and seek peace and compromise, the radicals never turn back but push on to the next frontier of god-forsakenness. This is why a revived, reformed, and reordered Communion will be called to preach the Gospel, teach the basics of whatever is true, honorable and lovely, and to heal the sick in body and soul (Matthew 10:7-8; Philippians 4:8).
We live in apocalyptic times. The late Benedict XVI wrote this: “As one sees the power of Antichrist spreading, one can only pray that the Lord will give us mighty shepherds to defend His Church against the power of evil in this hour of need.” Anglicans, take note and stand firm together against the evil day.
While the Anglican Communion inherited much of its theological DNA from the classic Reformation formularies, its governing structure was determined by the colonial requirements of the Established Church of England, where ultimate authority is vested in the state. Hence from its inception, the Communion came to be defined as a loose association of autonomous “provinces,” with the Lambeth “Conference” of bishops having no real authority over member churches in matters of doctrine and discipline.
“How lonely sits the city that was full of people! How like a widow has she become, she who was great among the nations! She who was a princess among the provinces has become a slave.” (Lamentations 1:1)
I begin this piece as the news comes out from the bishops of the Church of England “Living in Love and Faith” report (20 January 2023). Although I and others saw this defilement of God’s holy estate of matrimony coming inevitably, still, as a Christian and an Anglican, I mourn for this great church and the communion of churches she fostered.
Almost fifteen years ago, shortly after GAFCON 2008, I hosted a meeting of the Gafcon Theological Resource Group in Uganda. In my opening remarks, I warned that the Church of England was heading down the same road as the American Episcopal Church. Here are the milestones on that road:
- In 1979, the General Convention stated: “we reaffirm the traditional teaching of the Church on marriage, marital fidelity, and sexual chastity as the standard of Christian sexual morality.” The House of Bishops reaffirmed this position in 1990, noting that “not all members of the church agree with this position.”
- In 1991, following the ordination of an openly gay man by Bishop Walter Righter, the House of Bishops initiated a study process called “Continuing the Dialogue,” which undermined the traditional teaching, even as further rogue ordinations continued. In 1996, conservative bishops sought to discipline Bishop Righter for violating his ordination vows and church canons, but the church court acquitted him. There were no further trials.
- In 2003, after most of the American bishops had denounced Lambeth Resolution I.10, the Episcopal Diocese of Vermont elected V. Gene Robinson, an openly practicing homosexual, as bishop, the General Convention approved his election, and he was consecrated by the Presiding Bishop. This act led to a series of fruitless meetings of the “Instruments” of the Anglican Communion, which in turn led to GAFCON 2008 and the formation of the Anglican Church in North America.
- In 2012, the Episcopal Church approved same-sex “blessing” rites and added “gender identity” to the non-discrimination requirement for clergy and lay leaders.
- In 2015, when the U.S. Supreme Court approved same-sex marriage, the Episcopal Church immediately approved rites for same-sex marriage. So from 2015, it became illegal for bishops or vestries to oppose legally married or LGBT candidates for any office in the Church.
- In 2020, when Bishop William Love challenged this ruling in his diocese, he was overruled and soon thereafter left the Episcopal Church.
When I concluded my remarks about such a trajectory, the representatives from the Church of England vehemently objected to my warning and said that the Church of England would never go down that road. Would they had been right!
Now that which I and others feared has happened. The Church of England is proposing to bless in God’s name a practice that is consistently and explicitly condemned in the Old and New Testaments, which is contrary to nature and to the universal tradition of the church, which overturns the teaching of the Prayer Book (“avoidance of fornication”) and the Ordinal (“drive away from the Church all erroneous and strange doctrines”), and which spits in the face of Lambeth Resolution I.10 and those members of the global Anglican family that hold it as true and authoritative. By adopting “Living in Love and Faith,” the Church of England has broken faith with the Communion and is making its bed with the Episcopal Church and before long it will erect the final milestones on the road to perdition.
At the global level, the current Archbishop of Canterbury protests that he has no authority to interfere in the affairs of the “autonomous” provinces of the Anglican Communion and, conversely, that these provinces have no authority to interfere in the autonomy of the Church of England. This being the case, he claims, the only option facing those who oppose the new Anglican way is “walk together” in “good disagreement.”
While it is true that the Communion was founded on an imperfect basis, with Lambeth not being a true council and Canterbury having no “legal” power of enforcement, nevertheless it got along reasonably well for more than a century until the rise of radical theologies in the 1960s and the moral practices in the West that accompanied them. At Lambeth 1998, these divergences came to a head, with the large orthodox majority laying down a moral norm regarding sexuality and marriage.
Is there any way that the Archbishops of Canterbury could have averted the division that followed on from 1998? I think they could have. Although the office of Archbishop of Canterbury has been accorded a bully pulpit as “first among equals” and “focus of unity,” along with the purported authority to recognize who is “in communion” and who is not, each occupant of that office has failed to exercise this authority decisively. Had George Carey called on the dissenters from Day One to uphold Communion teaching (or else!), had he supported the two Global South Primates who proposed a disciplinary framework in 2002, the division and realignment in North America might have looked quite different. Had Rowan Williams not reneged on his promise at the 2007 Dar es Salaam Primates Meeting to discipline the Episcopal Church, the Global Anglican Future Conference and Lambeth 2008 might have been less confrontational. Had Justin Welby deigned to notice Gafcon (at all) and act on its plea to invite ACNA bishops to Lambeth 2020, a united Global South, absent three African provinces, might not have been dismissed so peremptorily.
But they would not. Instead they avoided confrontation by means of “processes” with high-sounding titles (“Windsor,” “Covenant Working Group,” “Living in Love and Faith”) which were guaranteed to avoid hard decisions and even to push forward the progressive agenda with “smooth talk and flattery” (Romans 16:18).
Of course, the Church of England has its own peculiar problems, being yoked to a state whose current ideology is contrary to the historic Christian faith. How this will ultimately play out, I do not know. What I do know is that in choosing “autonomy,” the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury have forfeited their authority to lead the Anglican Communion. What a tragic loss this is!
Two hundred years ago William Wilberforce, the crusader against slavery and social reformer, wrote: “We live in difficult times. We have all the marks of a declining civilization. Pray that the God who hears and answers the prayers of His people might intervene on behalf of our country and bring a spiritual renewal that might save the nation.”
I am proud of the Anglican heritage. I would choose no other way of following Christ. I love the moderate yet biblical formularies and liturgy, the poets and apologists, the cathedrals and parish churches, the English hymnody of Watts and Wesley, Neale and the Gettys, the mission history which flowed from England to the ends of the earth.
Many, many Anglicans worldwide feel likewise. One of my colleagues at Uganda Christian University, the author Timothy Wangusa, penned several affectionate yet ironical vignettes when he was a student in England:
When therefore I consider the towers, the underground tubes, and the slot machines that man has made, what is God, that man should regard him? Oh, it is Sunday, and time for Church.
I knelt by you. Sang with you.
And the bread that we break,
And the cup that we bless
Passed from you to me.
Then we reached for our umbrellas
And passed out into the rain
Quietly. Separately. Quickly.
But this Sunday morning it is a South Korean missionary preaching at St. George’s parish church, near Leeds infirmary: “And if England will not re-awaken to its former calling and to the fear of God, then I am afraid that GB (Great Britain) will soon become SB! [Small Britain]” How outrageous! More discourteous than prophetic, you might say. What a missionary to the mother of missions!
For those of us who grieve, even from afar, over the state of the Mother Church, the question arises: when will the Lord “restore the fortunes of Zion” (Psalm 126:1)? It is encouraging no doubt that William Wilberforce’s prayer for England was answered in part in the following century with the abolition of the slave trade and the promotion of moral and social reforms – and the great missionary expansion. This is what I call a “Hezekiah moment,” as when King Hezekiah on his sickbed “turned his face to the wall” in repentance for Judah’s faithlessness and God granted a stay of judgement (2 Kings 20:1-11). But this stay was followed by a century of even worse idolatry – including child sacrifice – under his son Manasseh; and when Hezekiah’s righteous great grandson Josiah sought to reform the nation once again, he was cut off in battle because of the sins of Manasseh. This time, God said, “I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, ‘My name shall be there’” (2 Kings 23:26-27).
Are we at such a “Josiah moment” today? God only knows. May He have mercy on the Ecclesia Anglicana. And on the Anglican Communion.
THESIS 3: THE FAILURE OF COMMUNION GOVERNANCE
Over the past century, the Anglican Communion has grown exponentially in numbers in the Global South while declining in the West. Although the “Instruments of Unity” appear on paper to give representation to the newer churches, in practice the Communion bureaucracy in England – the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Communion Office, and financial backers in New York and London – run the show.
It is something of a miracle that an Established national church in England became the “mother” of a communion of churches “from every tribe and language and people and nation,” proclaiming an eternal Gospel to the principalities and powers of the modern world. Even as Britain rose to become an imperial power, there was no necessity that its form and substance of Christian faith, worship and order would be inherited by in its dependencies.
And, truth be told, it was not the King or Parliament or the Bishops or the Archbishop of Canterbury who were primarily responsible for the fruit of Anglican mission. The primary movers of mission were voluntary societies, preeminently the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) and the Church Missionary Society (CMS), along with others, who recruited missionaries and missionary bishops and who promoted and funded evangelism, education, health and welfare throughout the emerging communion.
These societies were motivated by a sense of obedience to the Great Commission of the Risen Christ to “make disciples of all nations,” and they saw their role not as benefactors but as fellow sinners and servants, even martyrs of the living God. Most notably, CMS under Henry Venn promoted the “three self” philosophy of mission, aiming at building up “self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating” churches. The success of this strategy, however imperfectly implemented, helps explain why it was that when the sun set on the British empire, Anglicans worldwide did not pack up and go home, because they were home. Anglican Christianity had become indigenous, and before long national bishops, clergy and lay leaders took up the mission and the churches grew and flourished.
The global communion is a many-splendored thing, extending “o’er each continent and island,” with variegated cultures and languages and disparate economic and social conditions. In fact, the designations “global South” and “two-thirds world” are at best a generalization. What has divided “the West” from “the rest” has been a clash of worldviews, in which human sexuality in God’s image is the presenting, though hardly the only, issue.
The clash of worldviews at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 revealed a failure of governance rooted in the founding of the Anglican Communion in 1867. Most of the churches at the first Lambeth Conference were colonial churches, and the bishops were English or North American. This constituency remained predominant until the 1960s, when “autonomous” provinces began sending indigenous bishops. Even then, their representation was marginal.
According to Joseph Adetiloye, the Primate of Nigeria:
In 1978 I waited at the microphone, and I was the first black African bishop to address the Conference. I told the assembled bishops that I was the first to speak, and it had taken until 1978 to be recognized, but in 1988, the assembly would listen to what the bishops of black Africa were saying. Further, by 1998, what African bishops had to say would chart the course of the communion.
It would be easy to attribute Adetiloye’s predicament to racism or cultural arrogance, but in fact, I think it was reflective of the emergence of a “Lambeth bureaucracy” after the Second World War. With Europe devastated by the war, the Episcopal Church stepped forward to bolster the Communion establishment as an “executive bureaucracy,” with a kind of managerial control articulated by the social theorist Max Weber and introduced in the United States and in the Episcopal Church in the early 20th century.
In the case of the Communion, the executive hierarchy rests ostensibly in the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), an assembly representing the various Anglican provinces but actually in the Anglican Communion Office (the Secretariat) in London. Not surprisingly, the first three Secretaries General of the Communion were Americans, from 1969-2004; they have been succeeded by two hand-picked “company men” from Africa, who do not represent their local constituencies. This bureaucracy came to be called an “Instrument” of the Communion, along with the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Lambeth Conference.
By the 1970s, many Anglicans became concerned that the Communion bureaucracy was superseding the “inherent authority” of bishops and in particular of the Primates of the Global South. This led to the establishment of a Primates Meeting “for mutual counsel and pastoral care and support of one another and the Archbishop of Canterbury.” The Primates Meeting came to be called a fourth “Instrument.” What was not clear was how this inherent authority was to interact with the de facto control of Communion Office, which organizes and finances the meetings and other affairs of the Communion.
Thus we come to the puzzle of Communion governance: finance. The annual budget of the Communion Office (2019) is about $2.3 million, largely funded by the Church of England and the Episcopal Church USA. In addition, Trinity Church Wall Street in Manhattan, which boasts “inclusiveness” as a core value, has been a benefactor to churches in the Anglican Communion, funding development grants for projects in the developing world. While it is simplistic to draw a straight line from money to influence, neither is it irrelevant in explaining the direction taken by the Communion bureaucracy in its manipulation of and opposition to the churches of the Global Communion.
The collision of the “Instruments” was to become pivotal at the Lambeth Conference in 1998 over human sexuality and the division between the Global South and the West that followed.
THESIS 4: LAMBETH 1998
The 1998 Lambeth Conference provided the first real test of the capability of Communion structures to deal with heretical teaching and practice. In Resolution I.10 on Human Sexuality, an overwhelming majority of bishops stated that homosexual practices were contrary to Scripture and “could not be advised.” After twenty-five years of controversy and many Communion meetings, Western churches continue to spurn this Resolution and have now formalized ordination and marriage of self-styled LGBT persons. These churches and bishops remain prominent members in the Communion in good standing.
Lambeth 1998 was the last true Lambeth Conference. At the same time, the Conference marked the coming of age of the Global South churches within the counsels of the Anglican Communion. The ground for this moment had been prepared at Lambeth 1988, which had called for the Primates, the majority of whom were from the Global South, to exercise an “enhanced responsibility in offering guidance on doctrinal, moral and pastoral matters” (Resolution 18). This same Resolution called for quasi-independent “regional conferences” of bishops, clergy and laity, and in 1994, the first Anglican Encounter in the South met in Limuru, Kenya.
At the second Encounter meeting in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1997, the assembly issued a remarkably clear doctrinal and pastoral statement on human sexuality. It is worth reading in its entirety, but one notes among other things the concern of Global South leaders about authority within the Communion:
- The Scripture bears witness to God’s will regarding human sexuality which is to be expressed only within the life long union of a man and a woman in holy matrimony.
- The Holy Scriptures are clear in teaching that all sexual promiscuity is sin. We are convinced that this includes homosexual practices, between men or women, as well as heterosexual relationships outside marriage.
- We believe that the clear and unambiguous teaching of the Holy Scriptures about human sexuality is of great help to Christians as it provides clear boundaries.
- We find no conflict between clear biblical teaching and sensitive pastoral care. Repentance precedes forgiveness and is part of the healing process. To heal spiritual wounds in God’s name we need his wisdom and truth. We see this in the ministry of Jesus, for example his response to the adulterous woman, “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.” (John 8:11)
- We encourage the Church to care for all those who are trapped in their sexual brokenness and to become the channel of Christ’s compassion and love towards them. We wish to stand alongside and welcome them into a process of healing within our communities of faith. We would also affirm and resource those who exercise a pastoral ministry in this area.
- We are deeply concerned that the setting aside of biblical teaching in such actions as the ordination of practicing homosexuals and the blessing of same-sex unions, calls into question the authority of the Holy Scriptures. This is totally unacceptable to us.
- This leads us to express concern about mutual accountability and interdependence within our Anglican Communion. As provinces and dioceses we need to learn how to seek each other’s counsel and wisdom in a spirit of true unity, and to reach a common mind before embarking on radical changes to Church discipline and moral teaching.
One can, I think, draw a straight line from the language of this Statement to the Resolution which was approved overwhelmingly at the Lambeth Conference eighteen months later.
The Global South Encounters created new opportunities for conservative leaders from North America and England to meet and build bridges with their counterparts in the Global South. I note in particular the tireless work of the Rev. Canon (now Bishop) Bill Atwood of the Ekklesia Society and of Drs. Vinay Samuel and Chris Sugden of the Oxford Centre for Mission Studies – work ongoing to this day! – who sponsored a ground-breaking “Anglican Life and Witness Conference in Dallas, Texas in September 1997, with 57 bishops present, equally divided between the Global South and North.
As a veteran of the culture war in the Episcopal Church, I was asked to address the Conference on “The Handwriting on the Wall.” I concluded with this warning and appeal:
After a certain vote in the [Episcopal] General Convention that went the way of the moral innovators, someone turned to Bishop William Frey and said: “Well, Bill, I guess the handwriting is on the wall!” “Yes,” Bishop Frey replied, “and it says the same thing it said the first time.” The original handwriting was addressed to a complacent ruling class which had duped its people with idolatry. It read, Mene, Mene, Tekel Parsin: “God has numbered your days and brought it to an end” (Daniel 5:26-28).
I subtitled this talk “Why the Sexuality Conflict in the Episcopal Church Is God’s Word to the Anglican Communion,” and I conclude with a warning that failure to deal with the crisis in the Episcopal Church will endanger the unity of the Anglican Communion. Representatives from your provinces, meeting at Kuala Lumpur, have already raised the alarm in your statement on “Anglican Reconstruction.” This is a question that cannot be delayed. What will become of Anglican unity if the American church breaks into two bodies out of communion with each other, with one body officially linked to Canterbury and the other officially committed to Kuala Lumpur? If Anglican leaders look the other way in 1998, such a situation is distinctly possible.
I believe that if the worldwide Communion would speak clearly and forcefully to the American Church, there might be a turning back in our Church to the faith once delivered to the saints.
The handwriting is on the wall. Please spell it out for us, by the grace of God that is given you and the help of the Holy Spirit. Thank you.
I was privileged to attend the Lambeth Conference in 1998 as an observer (see my “Lambeth Diary” here). I observed how the Lambeth bureaucracy mobilized all their usual weapons – setting the agenda ahead of time, controlling the media, and playing politics with the various study groups. Yet when all was said and done, the Global South prevailed in passing Resolution I.10 on Human Sexuality, by a vote of 526 in favor with 70 opposed.
I am not going to expound this Resolution again (see my “Lambeth Speaks Plainly” here) but simply note its fundamental premise: that the Conference “in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds faithfulness in marriage between a man and a woman in lifelong union, and believes that abstinence is right for those who are not called to marriage,” hence “rejecting homosexual practice as incompatible with Scripture [emphasis added].
Repeatedly, representatives of the Global South appealed to the authority of the Bible, and in doing so they were upholding the fundamental principle of the English Reformation that “the Church hath power to decree Rites or Ceremonies, and authority in Controversies of Faith: and yet it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written” (Article XX).
The authority of the Bible as God’s Word written for the Church is the fulcrum on which the Anglican Communion has teetered for a quarter century, with Global Anglicans standing firm on one side. The Archbishops of Canterbury, limping between two opinions and sounding an uncertain trumpet, failed to lead at the moment of crisis, assuring thereby that subsequent Lambeth conferences in 2008 and 2020 would be mere gabfests and not true councils of the Church.
THESIS 5: THE BREAKDOWN OF COMMUNION DISCIPLINE
The Communion bureaucracy has been complicit in this failure of discipline. In fact, these same practices are being condoned in the Church of England, where the Government has legalized same-sex marriage and enforced LGBT rights and promoted them across the Communion. Within a few years, the CofE will formalize these practices, and the Communion bureaucracy will insist that other Anglicans accept these practices in terms of “good disagreement,” along lines of the “Living in Love and Faith” exercise.
Common sense and family and civic life confirm the truth that doctrine without discipline is a recipe for a community in chaos. This applies as well in the community in the church where doctrine, discipline and worship aim to combine in glorifying God. According to the Book of Homilies:
The true church is an universal congregation or fellowship of God’s faithful and elect people, built upon the foundation of the Apostles and Prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the head corner-stone. And it hath three notes or marks, whereby it is known: Pure and sound doctrine; The Sacraments ministered according to Christ’s holy institution; And the right use of ecclesiastical discipline.
Thomas Cranmer’s vision was to reform the Church according to each of these marks, and he did so with the Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer. He was cut short of reforming church discipline by Queen Mary; nevertheless, the existing customs and canons of the Church and the common law of a Christian commonwealth kept the Church of England on an even keel well into the twentieth century. The same may be said of the Episcopal Church USA, whose Prayer Book and Constitution and Canons remained conservative until the progressive revolution in the 1960s. From that time on, a gap widened between official doctrine and actual practice, and attempts at discipline failed, as in the case of open heretics like Bishops James Pike and John Spong.
So it was the spirit of the Sixties rather than the Spirit of godly council that prevailed after Lambeth 1998, as a strong majority of Episcopal bishops returned home to denounce Resolution I.10, while promising to continue promoting and institutionalizing homosexual ordinations and same-sex blessings. The Episcopal bishops reminded the rest of their fellow bishops worldwide that each Province was autonomous, that “mutual responsibility and interdependence in the Body of Christ” had its limits (namely, when it interferes with my agenda), and that none of the Communion Instruments had any power to stand in their way.
This posed a dilemma and challenge to the Archbishop of Canterbury in particular, who had been declared the “focus of unity.” It also posed a challenge to the Primates Meeting, which Lambeth 1998 had reaffirmed as having an “enhanced role” in doctrinal, moral, and pastoral matters (Resolution II.6.a). Canterbury – Archbishops Carey, Williams, and Welby – failed repeatedly to uphold the inherent authority of the office and ultimately overcame attempts of the Primates to exercise discipline of those churches that openly defied the teaching of Lambeth I.10.
As reported in my Diary from Lambeth 1998, I was exhilarated with the passage of the Resolution on Human Sexuality, which Archbishop George Carey had endorsed. Two days later, I was deflated when I heard Carey fend off the sneering secular media by assuring them that the Resolution was just the first step in an ongoing consultation. Consultation is not what one offers to a rebellious teenager who has been found with pot – or a young lady – in his bedroom. Sadly, “consultation” and “listening” became watchwords of the Lambeth Establishment to the present day.
Archbishop Carey made an even more egregious error two years later, when it had become quite clear that the Episcopal Church was in open rebellion. Two Global South Primates – Drexel Gomez and Maurice Sinclair – had presented to the Primates Meeting an eminently reasonable proposal on church discipline called “To Mend the Net.” Archbishops Gomez and Sinclair, invoking their enhanced role, offered a thoughtful and careful nine-step process of discerning and dealing with false teaching and practice in a rebellious province, calling for repentance but culminating, if no repentance was forthcoming, in a replacement jurisdiction. George Carey relegated discussion of this proposal to a “fireside chat,” and from there it was deposited in the maw of the Lambeth bureaucracy, from which it never reemerged.
A three-way tussle now was enjoined between the dissident churches in North America, the Global South Primates and the Archbishop of Canterbury. This conflict became volatile in 2003 when the Episcopal Church consecrated Gene Robinson, an openly practicing homosexual, as diocesan bishop. By this time, Rowan Williams had become Archbishop of Canterbury, and he was confronted by an indignant group of Global South Primates at meetings in London (2003), Ireland (2005), and Tanzania (2007). Williams responded to the Primates’ call for discipline by establishing the “Windsor Process,” which concluded with a mild “tut, tut” for the offenders with no accountability or change required. When the Primates at Dar es Salaam finally called on Archbishop Williams to disinvite the Episcopal Church to Lambeth 2008 – a call he signed on to – he reneged and intimated that their authority had been enhanced too much. Since 2007, Primates Meetings have been orchestrated by the Communion Office.
Rowan Williams’ defiance led proximately to the Global Anglican Future Conference in 2008 (see Theses 6-10). His successor Justin Welby has followed the same script, snubbing and manipulating the Primates of the Global South and the replacement province, the Anglican Church in North America, and welcoming the increasing radicalism of the revisionist churches in terms of “good disagreement.”
Now, sad to say, the Church of England itself has joined the North American club. Justin Welby’s two-faced professions – “joyfully” welcoming same-sex blessings but refusing to perform them himself in faux deference to his role as “focus of unity,” then sheepishly claiming in Ghana “Parliament made me do it” – would be farcical if we were not dealing with a righteous God and His Holy will.
In a strange way, the actions of the Church of England and of Canterbury confirm the maxim that doctrine, discipline and worship go hand in hand. The replacement of the biblical two-way doctrine of marriage and abstinence has led to a new discipline propounded by the English bishops and a new liturgy to accompany it. Already we begin to see a new code of conduct coming whereby open opponents of the same-sex regime will be shunned.
For those Global Anglicans who have revered the heritage of the Church of England and the See of Canterbury, this is a sad progression of events. For faithful members of the Church of England, an even more painful choice is to be faced: conform with the spirit of the age or forfeit your status and property.
Such was the choice faced by the first Anglican martyrs, as expressed by Thomas Cranmer when he gave his final testament in Oxford:
This shall be my first exhortation: That you set not overmuch by this false glosing world, but upon God and the world to come. And learn to know what this lesson meaneth, which St. John teacheth, “that the love of this world is hatred against God.”
Cranmer’s final testament embodies the true love and faith that overcomes the world (1 John 5:4).
Stephen Noll is Professor Emeritus at Trinity School for Ministry, former Vice Chancellor of Uganda Christian University and author of two books and numerous articles on global Anglicanism.