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GAFCON AND VOLUNTARY GROUPS

At first glance the meeting of traditionalists in Jerusalem and its outcome seems revolutionary. In the United States, despite the origins of Anglicanism in this land, there has been a tendency to rely on official agencies of the church to get the job done. Granted there are many TEC organizations, privately run, which represent everything from Religious Orders to charitable trusts, One may find most of them listed in the Episcopal Annual. That being said, very early on, it was decided that domestic and foreign missions would be, at least in theory, the task of the entire church and not of “private” missionary societies.

Voluntary groups were a feature of the 18th Century Church. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel was founded in 1701 by Thomas Bray and chartered to provide ministry to the colonies of the New World, the West Indies and later South and West Africa, India, Australia and the Far East. I possess a pre-World War 2 edition of Crockford, which lists parishes, for instance, in India and notes the missionary society involved. The SPG (now USPG) gradually assumed a High Church and then Anglo Catholic hue.

In 1799 the Church Missionary Society was founded by Evangelicals in England and soon had work in Africa and Asia.

These two societies and a few others not only provided missionaries, sponsored bishops, helped in the creation of dioceses but also assumed positions of power particularly in those days before indigenous Provinces emerged in Africa and Asia. What is now called the Intercontinental Church Society was yet another Evangelical group with chaplaincies in Europe and work in Canada and in other parts of the world.

These worldwide groups, with offices in England, formed their own networks of missions, missionaries and sometimes whole dioceses and their bishops. They funded missionary outreach and appointed their clerical and lay workers. Sometimes there was conflict between local bishops and these appointed missionaries and at best the authority of the local church was circumscribed by deference to the body which paid the bills.

In some ways the newly formed Gafcon body resembles much more this “colonial” strategy than perhaps its organizers contemplate. The banding together of like-minded Anglicans to give mutual support and to encourage evangelism and church growth, in bodies which remain within the traditional structure of the church, but in formal and ad hoc ways exercise their own control, has been a part of the Anglican story for centuries.

What is revolutionary and perhaps troubling is the intention of Gafcon to enter existing Provinces of the Communion without the authorization or consent of the canonical bodies involved. In this perhaps crucial aspect, Gafcon is proposing to act as a church rather than as a large “missionary society” or lobby or interest group.

That such a society exhibits impatience with existing church structures is nothing new. The argument which split the Evangelical Movement in the 18th Century was not simply about “Calvinism” versus “Arminianism”, although neither title precisely fits the moment, but about whether the existing parochial structure of the church was to be respected and used, or whether to go outside that structure and create cells of converts linked in “connexion”. Gradually the Wesleyans “invaded” the structure, placing evangelism above ecclesiology. Church evangelicals remained within the structure, “converting” parishes and accepting high office.

As far as North America and perhaps England is concerned, Gafcon seems to be following the path of the early Methodists in placing evangelical strategy and need over ecclesiology. Indeed the creation of episcopal posts in the USA, staffed by bishops who are not recognized by the See of Canterbury resembles at least on the surface the practical position of Asbury and the emerging Methodist leadership in America. Asbury and his followers believed the late Colonial and early Episcopal Church to be a dying and moribund “latitudinarian” body and thought nothing of setting up their chapels within the traditional boundaries of Anglican churches. They went where they pleased in Gospel zeal.

How the Gafcon “society” develops remains in the future. How the Lambeth Conference reacts, if it has the mechanism to react at all, also remains to be seen. At least at this point, and in the area of “mission strategy” the Gafcon communique in intention signals a profound departure from traditional Anglican practice. Only time will tell how these first intentions develop in practice.

MOVEMENTS and REACTIONS

If I remember rightly one of Adrian Nichol’s beefs in his book “The Panther and the Hind” is that Anglicanism has been largely controlled by ascendant parties and has not been able to create a cohesive ‘magisterium’ or collection of precisely defined beliefs.

I am not sure that any branch of the Christian Church may escape the accusation that it has been affected by prominent individuals, groups and movements. Twas ever thus. St Paul led a movement, built on St Peter’s initial experience in reaching out to and including non-Jews. (That in this there is a similarity with present TEC policies ignores the rather basic fact that non-Jews were typified by their race, or perhaps lack of race (!) whereas today the focus is on groups identified by behavior. And of course behavior is not in itself a bar to incorporation. We baptize babies before behavior of any significant form develops. It is what we do about behavior, as best we can, in grace that matters. It is what we do not only as individuals but as corporate entities that matters. I have always thought that a besetting sin of Evangelicals is not their ability to diagnose sin but their real or apparent demonstration that they are above the sinner.)

That Anglicanism has been changed and challenged by persons and movements is a given. The second part of Nichol’s indictment, that we have not been able to assemble a mutually acceptable core doctrinal position is more difficult to answer. But that is not my point this morning.

I seem to remember reading somewhere the startling thought that in the bust up between Arius and Athanasius, Arius was the conservative. I mulled that about a bit when I read it. It hit hard. I certainly believe that St Athanasius was right about the nature and Person of Christ. He was right to defend Nicaea. I can say the Creed attributed to him without crossing my fingers. So what did the comment about Arius being the more conservative of the two mean?

In the first lesson at Mattins this morning, Moses is confronting Dathan and company and as I read the passage from Numbers 16 the thought occurred to me that Dathan was pretty conservative. Wasn’t it Moses (and his Ten Commandements) who was pretty out front there? The Jewish people had managed quite nicely without Commandments and a Tabernacle up until then. They had managed without a formal “Aaronic” priesthood.

Perhaps the pre-Nicaean Church, with its seemingly “broader” spectrum of beliefs about the Nature and Person of Christ had been less divided than that which was emerging in the Conciliar period? I certainly know Episcopalians who suggest that to be the case. I think they are wrong but they make a case. It is a very conservative case.

In the 1870s the Diocesan Council of the Diocese of Virginia issued a statement deploring “ritualism” and particularly the use of the Sacrament of Penance. For a few years before that the Evangelical Party had become more and more incensed (pardon the pun) about the Oxford Movement. Indeed the Evangelical party may have become the “Evangelical Reaction”. There’s something extraordinarily stimulating about the Evangelical Revival in Anglicanism in the 18th and early 19th Century on both sides of the Atlantic. I would say the same about the Oxford Movement and gladly claim them both as being part of my spiritual DNA. But when these parties took to confronting each other, and later not only confronting each other but battling the next ascendent party, the Liberals and later what I might call the “1960s Party” what emerges is not so stimulating and often self-destructive and destructive of the church and its unity.

As I write the Evangelical reaction to “Western 1960s religion” in Anglicanism is meeting in Jerusalem of all places, a city whose recent history is one of division and death, of implacable enemies, Jews and Palestinians in mortal combat over a few square miles of territory. The site is not propitious ground for people who talk of being a movement but not a schism. True there are a few rump Anglo-Catholics at the GAFCON meeting yet the manifesto produced as a theological and strategic manual for the GAFCON conference might have been written by 19th Century Virginian Evangelicals or even JC Ryle itself (except for the short passage on Anglo-Catholicism which would have enraged the old Bishop of Liverpool and undone his gaiters.)

Is GAFCON a movement or is it a reaction? Time will tell. However as I have remarked before its reliance on structure, inherited from organizations like the Network and perhaps “Common Cause” would suggest that rather than being a movement, as in going forward, it is a reaction or a retrenchment.

Certainly, at least in my opinion, orthodox Anglicans have monumental excuse to be reactive, to circle the waggons and defend themselves. Particularly in TEC the life of anyone or any institution claiming to live into the Gospel as the Anglican Tradition has received it has been fraught with peril. But have the losses we have sustained been largely the fault of “The 1960s Religious Establishment” or of our own lack of enthusiasm? The Evangelical and Oxford Movements were not activities of the official church or its structures and agencies. Men and women engaged themselves in study, prayer, evangelism and teaching, took incredible risks, bucked the Establishment and under God did marvels. Neither party proposed anything new. They revived things old, but did so in the power of the Trinity. Some people gave up and left Anglicanism but on the whole Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics were passionate about the unity of the Church.

I would also add that as one reads the on-line blogs, the present Establishment in TEC is sounding just as reactive as the GAFCON grouping and some even contemplate a North American or Pan-American post-Anglican Communion, not yet as organized perhaps as GAFCON, but perhaps in the works. Others speak of the Episcopal Church (worldwide) as a communion within the Communion. In that claim there are echoes of GAFCON. What was a movement forty or so years ago is looking more and more like a reaction. The fire has gone out in its belly. So now they use what power they have, invoke the Canons and discipline to silence their critics.

Will the Lambeth bishops, meeting next month, do any better? Certainly a time of Bible Study, reflection, corporate prayer and discussion can do no harm to our bishops, if the demons of structure, process, system and organization, synonyms for placing form instead of content are resisted. Exorcising such demons will be no easy matter for a Communion which has more and more relied on committees and process as its essential Instruments of Unity. Yet I can think of few occasions in the history of the church in which bishops led the revival and restoration of the church.

But what of core doctrine? More later.

DAILY DAILY

Very close to the church I served in Brighton, England was a department store named “Hanningtons”. Next to its main door was a plaque in honor of a Hannington who met his death in 1885 in a part of Africa we now call Uganda. The Hanningtons were Nonconformists but James and his parents became Anglicans just before James went up to Oxford. James Hannington became a “Church Missionary Society” missionary in Africa and in 1884 was consecrated as “Bishop of Eastern Equatorial Africa” a see with somewhat imprecise borders and few if any parishioners. The CMS was a stoutly “evangelical” missionary society at odds with the Anglo-Catholics whose group was called “The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel.” In typically Anglican fashion, those on the extreme edge of these theological and spiritual groupings within the Anglican comprehension formed even more precise organizations. The CMS spawned the “Bible Churchman’s Missionary Society” while the SPG created “The Universities Mission to Central Africa.” It is futile to begin to fathom contemporary African Anglicanism without remembering its roots. It’s not a long history. Hannington was martyred during the lifetime of my grandparents.

Hannington’s episcopate was short lived. He was captured by the tyrannical and perverted Kabaka of Buganda, Mutesa and with his companions were tortured and executed. The following year, on this date, 32 young men, who had spurned the king’s sexual advances and clung to their CMS faith, were put to death cruelly. Some of these martyrs were Anglican and some Roman Catholic.

When the late pope, Paul VI canonized the RC Ugandan martyrs he made mention of their Anglican companions. His remarks signalled something of a breakthrough in Anglican/Roman Catholic relations.

I have no idea whether this is true or not but I was taught as a young boy that the Ugandan Anglican martyrs died singing one of Sabine Baring Gould’s hymns -he wrote “Onward Christian Soldiers”- which begins with the words, “Daily, daily sing the praises/Of the City God hath made;/In the beauteous fields of Eden/Its foundation-stones are laid.” Each verse finishes with the chorus “O, that I had wings of Angels/Here to spread and heavenward fly;/I would seek the gates of Sion,/Far beyond the starry sky.”

Each time we sang that hymn, my imagination soared as I contemplated the brave Ugandans as they gave their life for Jesus. Whether they sang this hymn or not, it’s a good story. I have a feeling that my own vocation in part was nurtured by the story.

The Ugandan church demonstrates the truth of the old saying “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Only a few decades ago the Archbishop of Uganda, Janani Luwum was assassinated by Idi Amin a tyrant perhaps more bloody than Kabaka Mutesa.

The present leaders of the Ugandan Province of the Anglican Communion have decided that their church is longer in full communion with the Episcopal Church. (Whether a Province in the Communion is competent to take such an action is another matter; our communion as Anglicans is symbolized not by inter-provincial accords but by our common communion with the See of Canterbury.) One gathers that this does not mean that all Episcopalians are no longer in communion with Uganda. There’s some complex ecclesiology here and one perhaps may say gently that ecclesiology has never been a strong point of evangelical theology just as evangelism sadly remains a weak part of our own collective psyche as Episcopalians.

The story of the Ugandan martyrs and of the very large Christian community which grew from the sacrifice of James Hannington and the young martyrs should not be obscured or forgotten in the miasma of contemporary controversy. British Christians have long forgotten their own martyrs who died at the hands of Anglo-Saxon and Viking raiders. While there are many saintly Americans in our Episcopal story, not one, to my memory, was martyred for the faith in Colonial or post revolutionary America. Perhaps it is because Anglicanism took root over here fairly easily that we have appropriated words like “suffering” and “sacrifice” and applied them to lesser painful states.

Perhaps we just don’t “get” the history which precedes the positions Ugandan, Nigerian, Kenyan and other Anglicans take as they view our small Province and some of its actions because “our light afflictions” pale before the nobility of sacrifice demonstrated by indigenous African Christians and yes even now maligned figures like Bishops Hine and Frank Weston and many others, who travelled thousands of miles, lived lives of self-denial, and brought medicine, education and faith to converts and non-converts alike. Were they allied to colonialists and imperialists? Indeed they were. Should they have stayed at home and left Africa to the Africans. or Africans to the governmental colonists? That is one of the “ifs” of history about which enough time hasn’t elapsed to perhaps make a balanced judgement. Yet James Hannington and his successors were followers of Jesus and were obedient to his instructions. They went and baptized. They went and preached. They broke bread and blessed wine “in remembrance” and they sought to extend God’s love even in losing their own lives. In so doing they were faithful to our Lord’s essential commandments.

We too are called to such an obedience. Faith is not extended by structural, political or legislative strategies but by lives committed to obedience.The next time I find myself grumbling about “persecution” I’ll try to remember Hannington and the Ugandan martyrs and pray that my “light affliction, will win so great a prize.”