In days when much is in the air about schism, departure threatened of English 'rebel' clergy (no, wait, the Anglo-Catholics will never leave because of their catholic doctrine ... no, wait, the evangelicals will never leave because of their power-crazed ambitions to takeover the CofE ... confused?), it is interesting to turn to 1 John 2, its second part, and consider the response there to the challenge posed by secessionists from the Johannine community:
"They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us." (verse 19).
Who are the 'they'? Verses 22-23 imply 'they' denied the truth, in particular 'that Jesus is the Christ'; also 'This is the antichrist, he who denies the Father and the Son.'
The crucial issue, pun intended, was Christ; the doctrinal issue was christological. The rupture ripped open around Jesus and whether he was the Christ or not - with 'the Christ' including, in that lovely Johannine way, the understanding of a specific and special relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son.
Now it misreads the epistle at this point to conclude that John provides justification for orthodox Christians leaving the church in a schismatic manner. (There may be justification for that, but it does not lie here). Rather John explains, with more than a hint of sadness, that the continuity of the community has been disrupted with a certain inevitability once christological differenc had entered into the minds of the brothers and sisters.
Nevertheless much is relevant here to current issues in the Anglican Communion, and to what is being observed within the Church of England in these postGAFCON and preSynod-on-woman-bishops days. If an 'antichrist' spirit is present in the church, if basic christology is denied, if Jesus Christ is derided, disregarded or diminished, there is no surprise if division occurs in the church, whether formal, informal, or manifest in breakdown of relationships between individuals or groupings (dioceses, provinces) within the church.
GAFCON's final statement rightly noted 'another gospel' as reason for forming a fellowship of confessing Anglicans - let the arguments really begin as to whether another gospel is being preached within the Anglican Communion (i.e. TEC come forth and justify 'your gospel'), if there is but one gospel in our midst, let that become clear, and the fellowship will melt back into the life of the Communion itself.
Archbishop Rowan Williams in his response rightly noted, "Despite the claims of some, the conviction of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as Lord and God and the absolute imperative of evangelism are not in dispute in the common life of the Communion". If there is no need for the new fellowship then a thoroughgoing shared christology is precisely the reason for it. Archbishop Rowan knows his 1 John 2:19-23!
The question remains whether Archbishop Rowan is speaking accurately at this point of the state of the Communion. Even someone such as myself who attempts to take a broad-ish view of what 'the gospel' is, and how we might properly speak of who Christ is and what he has done for us - who can see, for example, the gospel present in the life of the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, as well as in Pentecostal and Protestant churches, and in a large swathe of the Anglican Communion with its rainbow of ecclesiologies - wonders whether all TEC and Canadian bishops, given some pronouncements they have made in public statements, published books and the like, are absolutely convicted of 'the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as Lord and God'.
Should Archbishop Rowan be wrong on this point, then 1 John 2 implies justification for wondering about secession within our Communion, for at least describing some parts of it as 'walking apart' from other parts, if not for forming a distinctive fellowship in our midst, and even for formalising some discontinuity of common life through the establishment of a new North American province.
A final point: herein lies reason and cause for bishops TO ATTEND LAMBETH. Despite the criticism of the 'indaba' groups for discussion and conversations, and the criticism of a lack of intention to have resolutions, Lambeth is opportunity for those sceptical of the christology of others to personally, face-to-face investigate whether or not "Despite the claims of some, the conviction of the uniqueness of Jesus Christ as Lord and God and the absolute imperative of evangelism are not in dispute in the common life of the Communion." Let Lambeth nail this matter at least!
If there is not dispute, then we have reason to stay together as we continue to work on our differences re sexuality. If there is dispute, then we have reason to walk apart as there is no fellowship effective for gospel mission when there is no agreement over who Christ is.
Bonus for those who have read to here: Gregory Cameron has delivered a superb lecture on the Anglican Communion, its history, and reason for all to commit to its future. Read it here.