Anglican Communion is Worth Fighting For, says Conservative Head

2004 has been undoubtedly a tumultuous season for conservatives, moderates and liberals alike in the Anglican Communion. The year began in the bitter aftermath of the Episcopal Church USA (ECUSA) bishops’ decision to ordain an active homosexual as bishop, and it continued with the subsequent severance of “communion” by dozens of conservative Anglican bodies. The Canadian Anglican Church also began blessing gay unions, and the Church of England itself was on the verge of electing an openly homosexual priest as the bishop of Reading.

Following such developments, the Communion released a study – the famed Windsor Report - on maintaining the historic ties that bind the international Anglican churches together. However, the report’s call to communion also seems to have fallen on deaf ears, with bitter homosexuals saying they will no longer remain as “second class citizens” for the sake of unity, and with concerned conservatives saying they will not exchange social leniency for scriptural authority.

Philip Giddings, the head of the conservative Anglican group Anglican Mainstream, released a commentary on the situation, encouraging those who suggest the “Anglican Communion may split” to “remind ourselves how the Anglican Communion came into being.”

“Some argue that just as Britain replaced its lost Empire with new friends in Europe and the USA, so the Church of England could replace its global Communion with narrower relations with other European and North American churches engaged in mission to the same type of culture,” he added.

But, according to Giddings, this argument “raises two critical issues.”

“First, it is quite clearly accepting a racist separation of white Christians, mostly rich in this world’s goods, from black and brown Christians,” he said. “Second, it assumes the state of the Church of England and the state of the Anglican Communion can be separated.”

He emphasized that the battle currently undertaken is not in regards to the two aforementioned issues, but rather “over authority, and particularly over what is biblical teaching and orthodox Christian faith and practice.”

“The Anglican Communion, then, is worth fighting for – and so is the Church of England,” he concluded. “And not because of their history, but because they both stand in the authentic scriptural tradition, faithful to the apostolic witness.”

The following is the full of Phillips’ statement, as released by the Anglican Mainstream:

With the reactions to The Windsor Report suggesting the Anglican Communion may split, some people in the Church of England are asking what is the point of belonging to the Anglican Communion any more. They say it is only the religious left-overs of the British Empire. Although of doubtful historical accuracy the challenge does raise a question which has to be answered.

First, we need to remind ourselves how the Anglican Communion came into being. It is the product of a major expansion of the church which began in the seventeenth century and took off in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. That expansion was rooted in a voluntary movement which, significantly, also sought to change social conditions in Britain while campaigning against the slave trade. The nineteenth century mission movement originated from a major Christian revival and cultural revolution in British society. The slave owning and trading nation of 1780 had become a leader in ending the slave trade by 1832.

But the expansion happened in a variety of ways. In some contexts empire and the missionary movement were able to work together - for example in expelling slave traders from the West Coast of Africa. In other contexts, such as India, representatives of the empire opposed missionary work. The gospel was incarnated in different ways in different places, but it was the same gospel of the same Lord with local churches in every part of the world being in fellowship with each other.

In the Anglican Communion, then, we have a global church. It is a church which unites rich and poor, slave and free, brown, yellow, black and pink in one church tracing its roots directly back to the apostles. And by it the Church of England gains a global dimension. All Christians need this global, cross-cultural dimension to their discipleship if they are to be complete in Christ. Paul was adamant that the sign that the cross had been effective in overcoming hostility between divided groups was a Christian community made up of Jewish and Gentile Christians. (Ephesians 2-3).

Yet some argue that just as Britain replaced its lost Empire with new friends in Europe and the USA, so the Church of England could replace its global Communion with narrower relations with other European and North American churches engaged in mission to the same type of culture. This would avoid, it is said, the messy complications of accommodating people whose perspectives are based in very different cultural contexts.

This sort of argument raises two critical issues.

First, it is quite clearly accepting a racist separation of white Christians, mostly rich in this world’s goods, from black and brown Christians, mostly poor in this world’s goods, some of them desperately so.

Second, it assumes the state of the Church of England and the state of the Anglican Communion can be separated. Yet the very issue which threatens to break up the Communion also threatens the break up of the Church of England. The divide is over authority, and particularly over what is biblical teaching and orthodox Christian faith and practice. If we desire the unity of the Church of England, we should also desire the unity of the Anglican Communion on the same grounds (truth and obedience) and for the same reasons (to witness to the gospel). To say we can accept the break up of the Anglican Communion and yet still retain the unity of the Church of England ignores the fact that there are very many churches, clergy, lay people and institutions in England which will go with the orthodox majority of the Anglican Communion. Forced to choose between Uganda and the revisionists in ECUSA, many will choose Uganda.

It is important that our House of Bishops in January and General Synod in February are under no illusions about this. To accept the break up of the Anglican Communion, because some provinces wish to remain in fellowship with the revisionists in ECUSA and some not, will mean also accepting the break up of the Church of England. For that same division over authority and orthodoxy is already present in England.

The Anglican Communion, then, is worth fighting for – and so is the Church of England. And not because of their history, but because they both stand in the authentic scriptural tradition, faithful to the apostolic witness. Bearing witness in that way means sharing in God’s mission to all the peoples of the world, not just to those who inhabit the part of it which is England and North America. Our true inclusiveness rests on being faithful to that apostolic witness: God, we remember, so loved the world.