A few days before the first Christmas only a few knew anything was going to happen of note, and no one knew that the end of an era and beginning of an aeon would take place in Bethlehem. The end was near and what would emerge was unknown.
Reading a little about Luther last night reminds me that at another point in history, in the history of the church, one man made a huge difference. Not only did he trigger the European Reformation, he spawned a global church (these days, set of churches) bearing his name. In a lesser way, Cranmer became a towering figure in the change from the catholic Church of England to the catholic and reformed Church of England. Before each character arrived on the scene, the end was near for the old order, and what would emerge was unknown.
Are we at a similar point in the history of Anglicanism? The order we know is about to become the old order. New wine can only be contained in new wineskins. I raise this question - not the first time an Anglican has raised it since 2003 - because I am deeply troubled that I cannot raise the question of Anglican unity here without response that 'unity' is 'imposition of unity' or 'institutional unity' and we do not want that. To say we are 'Anglican' yet have no shared enthusiasm across the 'Communion' for Anglican 'unity' is, frankly, a travesty in respect of New Testament teaching on the church as the body of Christ. To raise barriers to progress to unity by, say, invoking the spectre of an unholy trinity of an Anglican version of papacy, curia, and magisterium is a failure to engage with the challenge of being one Anglican Communion. To continue to assert national sovereignty of member churches of the Communion is to work with half a loaf of ecclesiology: the other half is true interdependence in the body of Christ. To claim that there is only one church of Christ (true) and then offer nothing more than 'prayer' to progress the unity of the visible expressions in our world of that one church is - I think, but I think St Paul would agree - a loss of nerve, vision, and will. My question is this: can we expect a Communion of churches to remain intact when it is both generally divided and even divided on what it means to be united? With no shared vision of our future together why would we expect to remain a Communion?
Here I am proposing that the present Anglican Communion, visibly falling apart, will continue to do so unless it finds the will to do otherwise. The end is near but what will emerge is unknown. My surmise is that a Luther or a Cranmer is going to arise in the next fifty years. There will be a new wineskin. Even my musing about 'Three Federations' a while ago was a musing about one old wineskin transmuting into three old wineskins.
Note carefully, however, the difference between Luther and Cranmer and the new wineskins that followed them in Germany and England. Before the former there was no Lutheran church and after there was. Before the latter there was one form of the Church of England and after (and after the temporary Mary Tudor reverse) there was another form of the English church. Will a new Anglican Communion emerge, or another church altogether?