Anglican update: Why the fear?

When being reminded of the deadline for my Anglican Update this month, I was asked, among other things, to stay off the already much reported topic of gay marriage. This, however, is actually quite hard to do.
One of the websites I regularly visit to get a ‘feel’ for what is going on in the Church of England is grandiosely titled ‘Thinking Anglicans’. It is resoundingly liberal in its theology and utterly persuaded of its own wisdom, but it is depressingly short on variety when it comes to content. Thus their coverage of the recent election of a new Archbishop of Sydney focussed ultimately on his attitude to women’s ordination and samesex relations. But then that is true of the website as a whole, where these two issues provide the mainstay of news and comment.
However, this is not just a problem for outright liberals. The other website I dip into for a contrary view to my own is that of Fulcrum, the open evangelical group founded back in 2003. Here there is more interest in the wider Anglican Communion, but still the focal interests are the same. Indeed, earlier this year Fulcrum sponsored a conference in support of women bishops titled ‘Church in all its fullness’. The verbal parallel to Jesus’s offer of ‘life in all its fullness’ suggests, consciously or unconsciously, the status accorded to this issue.

Church growth
The question this focus raises, however, is what else is on offer if those two issues are resolved? Recently, the General Synod produced two important documents addressing church growth: Challenges for the Quinquennium (GS Misc 1895) and Making New Disciples: the Growth of the Church of England (GS Misc 1054). Both documents are essential reading for Anglicans and, although they have their flaws, they indicate a commitment to growth that has hitherto been lacking. Indeed, during the debates in General Synod, Archbishop Justin Welby was apparently seen waving a copy of Towards the Conversion of England, and there are even rumours that this may be officially reprinted.
The problem is, as the obsession with issues of ordination and sexuality indicate, that the Church of England is simply not equipped for the task of evangelising the nation with the gospel. Not that we are in a bad position to do so. We have a vast network of buildings and personnel with an established presence in almost every community. The trouble is that, institutionally, we don’t agree on what we’re there to do or how to do it.

What are you left with?
Take away the current campaigning issues of the liberal wing and you are left with social action. Interest in spiritual matters, or even theology per se, seems to be at a low ebb — at least judging from the website of SCM, one of the oldest liberal publishers. Yet the Church of England remains dominated by liberal ideology, most notably in its official tendency to treat variant ‘gospels’ as ultimately compatible with ‘being Anglican’ and therefore indifferent when it comes to planning and policy.
Yet, in the midst of this ‘Rodney King’ theology (so named after the individual who famously asked ‘Can’t we all get along?’), there is still a suspicion of evangelicalism. As one of the documents noted above says: ‘In some circles there is a latent fear that a commitment to evangelism is about advancing Evangelicalism … This fear must be acknowledged, since it is real’ (GS Misc 1054).
The question that must be asked if we are to understand the Church of England in the present and plan effectively for its future therefore is this: ‘Why the fear and who feels it?’ If we could answer that, we’d be in a better position to plan and act.

John Richardson, associate minister of the churches at Henham, Elsenham & Ugley, near Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire

This article was first published in the September 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. 0845 225 0057