Jesus warned the Church of two things in particular. It would always be under attack – both spiritual and political, and that some of that threat would come from within the Church just as much as without.
That’s the context of the struggle going on throughout the Anglican churches is what is called the 'Communion'. The Church of England is the missionary birthing church, but there are something like 80 million Anglican around the world. Only 600,000 of them are left in the C of E.
But progressive Anglicans in America and England in particular, have taken the view that what scripture teaches about sexuality is not as clear as people thought it was, and that the ethics of progress and equality should be allowed to give us new rules to judge erotic and amorous relationships.
Most of the rest of Anglican Christians think that this new paradigm is a direct attack on a number of important elements within the Church. It’s obviously a direct attack on the authority of scripture, but it also preferences social justice against spiritual purity, and raises a political idea of inclusion higher than Jesus' teaching about discernment and dividing sheep from goats and wheat from tares. Practically, it muddles up gender roles, which have always been highly charged with symbolism carrying revelation.
In my view the new secular agenda of equality and inclusion, began with feminism and developed into gay rights. Its supporters see it as an engine of social justice; its opponents see it as Cultural Marxism opening up another ideological front against the Church, after a century of full frontal persecution by economic Marxism failed to wipe the Church out.
Biblically orthodox Anglicans saw the writing on the wall when changes to the gender of priesthood and then bishops were changed. Partly because so many of the new women bishops supported gay marriage (raised on a simple diet of equality trumping all other values), it was clear that Anglicanism was going to succumb either to the spirit of the new culture of homosexuality, or to the letter. There were different judgements about at what point a schism would be effected, but all the orthodox agreed that the red line was the sanctity of marriage itself.
If your bishop has gone after a false version of the Gospel, find one who hasn’t!
A moment of schism has come, or rather is expected to some with a decision in a Church meeting (or Synod) in June this year. It will come not in the C of E, but in the Episcopal Church of Scotland – Anglicanism north of the border.
Now if you are an Anglican you need not only Jesus and Holy Spirit with the Bible and the Eucharist to be a practicing Christian, but you need bishops too. Bishops are the successors of the Apostles, going back in a direct line to witnessing the reality of the resurrection, and committed to living out and guarding the integrity of apostolic and biblical teaching. They ordain valid priests to celebrate the Eucharist and confirm committed adults. So, what happens when your bishop gives up on apostolic teaching?
In Church history, the answer was 'find an orthodox one'. These struggles aren’t new. A large group of Christians who demoted Jesus to less that the Incarnate Word of God in the first millennium, the Arians, posed the Church with a similar dilemma. If your bishop has gone after a false version of the Gospel, find one who hasn’t!
So, back to today. In my view, the progressives should be seen in a similar light to the Arians. They want to downgrade Jesus’ teaching on marriage as between a man and a woman. In doing so, they downgrade Jesus himself. Welcome to the ‘new Arians.’
A group of orthodox Archbishops (unhelpfully called Primates – don’t go there – another story- nothing to do with Darwin) around the world came together in the face of this taking place in America. They called themselves a Global Anglican Futures Conference, inelegantly shortened to GAFCON.
They have just been presented with a report that informed them about half a dozen new Anglican Church plants who needed a permanent bishop. Up until now they have been relying on a retired C of E bishop who was hauled up on disciplinary charges by the C of E for looking after them. At the same time, there will now be congregations in Scotland who will be out of fellowship with their bishop, once the Church decides to go down the route to gay marriage.
The GAFCON primates have decided to appoint a bishop to look after both groups.
But this is just a rehearsal for the real fight around the corner. Neither of these groups are under the direct jurisdiction of Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury. So they have just stopped short of throwing down the gauntlet of the tragedy of ecclesial civil war with the Church of England. But they are firing a warning shot across his bows.
He has been slowly but surely moving the C of E in an equality-inclusive/secular friendly direction, giving out increasing signs that he is moving towards gay marriage.
Among Anglicans in England we are on the cusp of a new reformation. Welby is the equivalent of the Pope presiding over a Church increasingly set against faithfulness to Scripture, and the GAFCON primates are limbering up to nail some theses to his door. Only these theses will come not in the form of paper and nails, but in the form of a handful of new bishops, consecrated to look after Anglicans who put obedience to the Gospels before institutional identity.
All this has happened once in the USA already over the last 30 years. There, new orthodox bishops preside over a new faithful Anglican Church that is converting people and growing, while the old progressive one runs out of steam (or Spirit.)
In the face of a Church of England determined to follow secular ethics, and running out of both people and money at an alarming rate, many think that the reconfiguration of a biblically refreshed Anglicanism cannot come soon enough. The GAFCON Primates have just taken the first step.
Gavin Ashenden has worked as a Vicar, University Chaplain and lecturer, BBC broadcaster, author and newspaper columnist. He writes a regular column for the Jersey Evening Post and lives between Shropshire and Normandy. For more information, visit his website ashenden.org
Premier Christianity magazine will be publishing a variety of opinions both online and in print regarding GAFCON's latest statement