Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Rev. Dwight Longenecker

8/6/2008 (6 years ago)

Inside Catholic (www.insidecatholic.com)

The Anglican Communion is splitting up. Like a great ship that has hit an iceberg, the whole thing is breaking into pieces.

Highlights

By Rev. Dwight Longenecker

Inside Catholic (www.insidecatholic.com)

8/6/2008 (6 years ago)

Published in Europe


WASHINGTON, DC (Inside Catholic) - St. Peter, as the legend goes, was fleeing the persecution in Rome when he met Christ going the other way. The Lord asked him, "Quo Vadis?" -- where are you going? He might well be asking the members of the Anglican Communion the same question. Their reply would be, "We're not quite sure, Lord, but we think we're going in about five different directions right now."

In other words, the Anglican Communion is splitting up. Like a great ship that has hit an iceberg, the whole thing is breaking into pieces. This summer has seen several different events that have brought the crisis to a climax.

Before looking at those events, it is worth taking a moment to understand the nature of the Anglican Communion. The Anglican Communion is a confederation of national churches that have a shared heritage of worship and tradition from the Church of England. Its geographical makeup reflects the British Empire, as English missionaries went out to the colonies and established churches.

However, they did not establish a church with canonical and formal links with the Church of England; instead, each national Anglican church enjoyed independence and autonomy of governance. Because the Anglican Communion is a voluntary confederation of these churches, no one has overall authority over anyone else. Each national province has its own rules, its own hierarchy, and its own particular character.

Added to this is the theological complexity of Anglicanism. Since the Act of Settlement under the reign of Elizabeth I, Anglicans have agreed to disagree about matters of theology. They can be subdivided into three basic groups, with three very different theological perspectives:

The Evangelicals are the heirs of the Protestant Reformation. Their perspectives and practices are Protestant.

The Anglo-Catholics are the product of the 19th-century Oxford Movement, which sought to return the Anglican Church to her catholic and apostolic roots. Their beliefs and practices are very "catholic." They use the Roman liturgy, venerate the Blessed Virgin, practice confession, and profess to be "catholic within the Anglican Church."
The Liberals are essentially modernistic. They believe the Church needs to adapt to the age and culture in order to be relevant.

To complicate things further, for historical reasons the three theological groups have geographical territories throughout the communion. Because certain African provinces were evangelized by Evangelical missionaries, they tend to be Evangelical. Certain other provinces were evangelized by Anglo-Catholic missionaries, and they tend to be catholic. So the Anglican Church in Papua New Guinea is very Anglo-Catholic, while the Anglican Church in Nigeria is very Evangelical. The Liberals have control of the old established churches in Great Britain, Canada, and the United States.

These tensions were tolerated for many years. Anglicans prided themselves on the breadth of their church, their tolerance, and the fact that Christians from such a wide range of opinions could find a home in the Anglican Church. This was very pretty wallpaper covering very nasty cracks in the load-bearing walls of Anglicanism. Now the paper is faded and falling. The cracks are apparent, and turn out to be widening every day.

The crisis this summer was brought on by two events -- the first crisis within the Church of England itself. Since 1994, the Church of England has ordained women as priests. Anglo-Catholics have always been opposed to this innovation in apostolic orders. For the last 15 years, English Anglo-Catholics were permitted to dissent from the decision, and their parishes were allowed to opt out of women's ministry. They had their own "Episcopal Visitors" -- bishops who came in to minister to dissenting clergy and parishes.

In July, however, the Church of England's General Synod voted to accept women in the episcopate, while simultaneously ruling out any special provision for those dissenting. To be blunt, the Anglo-Catholics were told, "Women clergy are here to stay. If you don't like women bishops, there's the door."

This prompted a letter from 1,500 Church of England priests threatening to leave. At the same time, the Vatican was pondering how to reply to an interesting proposal from the Traditional Anglican Communion (TAC). Claiming to represent 70,000 Anglicans worldwide, the TAC is a confederation of catholic-minded Anglicans who, over the years, have broken away from the Anglican Communion to form their own churches. Last autumn the leaders of the TAC wrote to the Vatican asking to be received into "sacramental communion."

Exactly what they were asking for is unclear, but last month Cardinal Levada sent a response asking the TAC to wait for a more full reply. Many people hope that the Vatican will devise a way toward unity that will not only include members of the TAC but also the disenchanted Anglo-Catholics in England.

If the Anglo-Catholics are furious about the feminist agenda of the liberal Anglican establishment, the Evangelicals are just as mad about the homosexualist agenda. When the Episcopalians consecrated Gene Robinson as the bishop of New Hampshire in 2003, there was open revolt: Bishop Robinson was not only a practicing homosexual, he divorced his wife in order to live with his boyfriend. (This summer the two were "married" with Robinson gushing, "I always wanted to be a June bride!")

The no-nonsense Evangelicals from the developing world joined forces. Soon, parishes in England and America were voting to pull out of allegiance to their dioceses and form new non-geographical alliances with African bishops with whom they shared Evangelical, Bible-based theology and a rejection of homosexual behavior. Lawsuits started to sprout as wealthy and powerful parishes (and even whole dioceses) tried to pull out of the Episcopal Church and take their property with them.

Which brings us to the second big event this summer -- the once-a-decade Lambeth Conference. This conference gathers the world's Anglican bishops in Canterbury to discuss the needs and mission of the Anglican Communion. But this year the Evangelical bishops mounted a counter-conference in Jerusalem the week before Lambeth. Furthermore, even though Bishop Robinson was not invited, over 200 bishops (nearly a quarter of the world's Anglican bishops) boycotted Lambeth.

The Archbishop of Canterbury attempted to come up with a "covenant" that everyone would sign, basically agreeing to disagree. The Episcopalians would promise not to consecrate anymore homosexual bishops and stop performing homosexual weddings, while the Evangelical conservatives would agree to stop poaching parishes and dioceses. But the only ones who would agree to such a covenant were the wishy-washy bishops caught in the middle who wouldn't take these drastic steps anyway.

It's hard to see the silver lining in this cloud, but there is some good coming out of this year's Anglican wars. First of all, the battles are taking place because people actually not only believe something passionately, they are prepared to fight for it. The Evangelicals really do believe the Bible, and that God disapproves of homosexual behavior, no matter what Western society says.

Anglo-Catholics really do believe in the apostolic church, and that women priests are an impossibility. Likewise, Liberals really do believe that it is God's will for the church to liberate women and homosexuals. In this relativistic age, the fact that Anglicans believe anything at all is encouraging.

This summer may well go down in Anglican history as the summer of clarity, for the present crisis has helped all three groups to see both themselves and their fellow Anglicans more clearly. Liberals are starting to realize that the Anglo-Catholics and Evangelical conservatives are a very different sort of Christian, and not just because they have a different taste in worship.

Likewise, Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics are realizing that they and the Liberals are operating from totally different philosophical and theological assumptions. As one Evangelical bishop said as he came out of yet another "dialogue" with Liberals, "The discussion was like trying to play tennis with someone on an adjacent court."

This realization has also led to the acceptance of an even starker reality: that the Anglicans' historic attempt to make room for everyone has reached its end. The elastic has been stretched as far as it will go, and the only thing left is division and formal schism. The senior Church of England bishops of Winchester and Exeter actually proposed that the Lambeth Conference should end with a formal declaration that a split was happening, giving traditional Anglicans a way forward.

Finally, as Anglicans view themselves and their church more clearly, they must also start to see the larger issues more clearly. Liberals, Anglo-Catholics, and Evangelicals are all beginning to acknowledge the mammoth in the chancel: the question of authority in the church. All three groups are asking, "How do we decide these issues? Where is the authority to exercise discipline? Where is a structure or an institution that can bring us to unity of belief and practice?"

While, sadly, most of them will avoid the obvious conclusion that the Catholic Church is the only institution that can offer them that authority, an increasing number will not -- and the banks of the Tiber are getting crowded with those who are contemplating the swim.


Rev. Dwight Longenecker is a former Church of England minister. He is chaplain to St. Joseph's School, Greenville, South Carolina. Visit his blog at www.dwightlongenecker.com.

---

The mission of InsideCatholic.com is to be a voice for authentic Catholicism in the public square.We believe that truth is both attractive and compelling and that in the marketplace of ideas, it will invariably win out.



Comments


More Europe

Evangelical, Missionary Pope Francis Calls Europe to Return to Jesus Christ and Christian Roots Watch

Image of The European Parliament building

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

I believe that Europe has many resources for going forward. It's like a sickness that Europe has today. A wound. And the greatest resource is the person of Jesus. Europe, return to Jesus! Return to that Jesus whom you have said was not in your roots! And this is ... continue reading


Father William Nolan appointed by Pope Francis as Bishop of Galloway Watch

Image of

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Pope Francis has appointed Father William Nolan, vicar general of Motherwell, as Bishop of Galloway. Father Nolan says he is "over-awed" by the appointment. He has served in the parish of Our Lady of Lourdes, East Kilbride, for 20 years. Nolan will replace ... continue reading


Rome's Colosseum to host cultural events again Watch

Image of Occasional concerts are held inside the Colosseum but the rebuilding of the arena's wooden flooring would allow more frequent events.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

It once hosted bloody sports galore, with gladiators fighting to the death as well as Christians being thrown to the lions. Now, Rome, Colosseum will begin hosting less blood-soaked events. Italy's culture minister has given the green light for special events ... continue reading


Pope Francis appoints Robert Sarah to head the Vatican's congregation of liturgical practices Watch

Image of Robert Sarah, the 46-year-old president of the Pontifical Council Cor Unum, has been named by Pope Francis to head a congregation on liturgical practices.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Cardinal Robert Sarah of Guinea has been appointed the new head for the Vatican congregation that oversees and determines the liturgical practices of the Catholic Church world wide. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Pope Francis made the appointment on November ... continue reading


SCARY VIDEO! What the heck blew up in Russia's sky? Was it a meteor or something stranger?! Watch

Image of A still taken from footage of the phenomena that took place in Russia on November 14.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

What was the mysterious phenomena that occurred in Russia and was witnessed and captured on camera by dozens of motorists? It appears that nobody knows for sure, and even experts are left scratching their heads while they struggle to find reasonable explanations. ... continue reading


Who really was Jack the Ripper? New evidence points to one man Watch

Image of A criminologist from England may have new evidence that points towards the real identity of Jack the Ripper.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

A new theory about the identity of infamous 19th century London serial killer Jack the Ripper may explain why the murderer was able to elude contemporary and modern authorities for so long and escape justice. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Dr. Gareth Norris, a ... continue reading


Which countries drink the most beer? Our list may surprise you! Watch

Image of Beer is one of the most widely consumed beverages in the world.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Who still drinks beer?  Beer is one of the most widely consumed beverages, behind water and tea.  Beer is also a Catholic tradition, alongside wine-making, and has been widely practiced in monasteries, especially in Europe. Now, a list has emerged detailing ... continue reading


To raise money for the poor, Pope Francis to raffle gifts Watch

Image of The tickets are only a modest 10, but this includes a new Fiat Panda 4x4, with all optional extras.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Talking the talk, walking the walk: Pope Francis has done it again. The pontiff is raffling gifts that have been given to him in order to raise money for the poor. Posters announcing the raffle have gone up all over Vatican City. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic ... continue reading


Russia could destabilize Eastern Europe if Ukraine left unchecked, Merkel warns Watch

Image of It's exceedingly tough talk from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She says that Russia's annexation of Crimea and subsequent destabilization of eastern Ukraine

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

It's exceedingly tough talk from German Chancellor Angela Merkel. She says that Russia's annexation of Crimea and subsequent destabilization of eastern Ukraine "called the whole of the European peaceful order into question." Adding to the gloomy outlook was a ... continue reading


The Pope Who Builds Showers for the Poor under St Peters Rattles our Comfort Zones Watch

Image of Pope Francis embracing Jesus in the face of the poor

By Deacon Keith A Fournier

Those who love the poor - like Jesus loved the poor- are an instruction manual for the rest of us. They are a sign of the kingdom, making it present in their wake. We have such a man in this Pope named Francis. He recognizes that poverty is more than a lack of ... continue reading


All Europe News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, Revelation 18:1-2, 21-23; 19:1-3, 9
1 After this, I saw another angel come down from ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 100:2, 3, 4, 5
2 serve Yahweh with gladness, come into his presence ... Read More

Gospel, Luke 21:20-28
20 'When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for November 27th, 2014 Image

St. James Intercisus
November 27: James was a favorite of King Yezdigerd I of Persia and a ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter