Monday, December 3, 2018

A new reformation?

Various convulsions in global Anglicanism over the past two decades or so, allied with a number of changes in Christianity (marked by conceptions such as "post-Christian", "post-evangelical" and by various shifts in ecumenical alignments and allegiances) have raised here and there commentary on the matter of whether we are undergoing another "Reformation". And the "we" can refer generally to Christianity (perhaps with subsidiary arguments about such major convulsions occurring roughly every 500 years) or, in some discussions, to Anglicans.

That is, splits in the Anglican Communion, the formation of GAFCON, etc are global Anglicanism undergoing a significant re-formation, comparable to the significance of the English Reformation itself, in which the Anglicans of the 16th century forged both a new governance for themselves and purified its doctrine of unscriptural accretions while retaining all that was good and true in doctrine and in practice from the ancient, universal church.

Now, we do not yet know how we will see these matters 100 or 300 years hence, so it is too early to make the call whether we are or are not undergoing a reformation which is comparable to the English Reformation.

But yesterday, participating in a well attended worship service in a parish which has recently experienced disaffiliation of congregational members and its vicar departing to form a new Anglican church, this thought struck me ...

In the history of Anglicanism there have been disaffiliations which, essentially, have been "new formations" rather than "reformations": Puritans and Dissenters leading to the modern Baptist church, Methodists, Plymouth Brethren are the most notable such new formations.

I further thought that these departures represent (it could be argued) an Anglicanism that could not contain the movement which moved towards disaffiliation and an objection to the breadth of Anglicanism that would not narrow itself to conform to the tidy uniformity of belief and practice which those disaffiliating required.

The former - as I understand it - especially applies to the formation of the Methodist church and the latter to the separation of Puritans and Dissenters from the Church of England. (I am less aware of the precise circumstances under which the Plymouth Brethren were formed.)

Now, of course, a very precise difference between these historic new formations and the current situation is that everyone is determined to remain "Anglican"!

But it does seem to me that while we may yet see a reformed global Anglicanism - say, 50 years from now, there is one Anglican Communion which is conformed to the Jerusalem Declaration doctrinally speaking and, perhaps, is united by an elected Primate as the focus of global unity - a different scenario is possible.

In that scenario, the broad Anglican Communion cannot contain GAFCON as a movement within it and GAFCON's objection to the breadth of the Communion means that, in the end, there is a parting of Anglican ways.

Now, and this is very important, a further thought is this: from an historical perspective, we can say that God has blessed all God's Anglican and Anglican-at-root churches: Anglicans, Methodists, Baptists, Brethren have all flourished.

Whatever the future historical judgement of the present time is, reformation or new formation, there is no need to be anxious about whether God is at work in all our midsts!

Certainly, from my own experience of yesterday, being present in four different events across four different parishes in our Diocese, I have no doubt that God is at work among us.

Note to commenters: please discuss this post without discussion of You Know What. That matter - again - has been discussed very thoroughly a couple of posts below this.

Update: after posting the above, I came across this interesting reflection on Anglican/Episcopal life in North America by Benjamin Guyer.


Jean said...

Hi Peter

I thought the original Methodist split was more a case of the COE not being able to contain the breadth of the thinking of the Wesley brothers primarily rather than the other way around. My understanding was John Wesley was called to account for his original way of getting ordination of Ministers for America so the people there could receive communion and continuing on they were even less approved off once they started open air preaching, alongside taking outreach meetings to blue collar workers. Although they sort to remain a part of the Anglican Church Even at the end of his life Charles Wesley chose to be buried in an Anglican cemetery. I am open to being corrected.

The disaffiliation happening in recent times appears to be quite a different story with a ‘choosing or desiring to leave context.’ I grieve for the pain this causes especially to the Parishes that end up splitting and yet I can understand both rationales. Being (just) in a generation where denominations have less pull than they used to and being comfortable in a variety of Church settings; this perhaps is a different form of reformation. One where commitment as a Christian is not tied to a particular Church per se.

If anyone has time I do love listening to Fr. Cantamalessa speak on church unity and ecumenicalism.

All the best

Father Ron Smith said...

Jean said:

" Being (just) in a generation where denominations have less pull than they used to and being comfortable in a variety of Church settings; this perhaps is a different form of reformation. One where commitment as a Christian is not tied to a particular Church per se. "

The only problem with this open-denominational detachment, Jean might lie in the fact that one's faith has to be rooted in a particular community in order to receive authentic nurture.

My own leaning towards universal Catholicism - and its liturgical formulae - allows me, in certain circumstances, to enjoy sacramental worship in both Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. However, if I were to constantly move between them, I would feeI I was being disloyal to my own roots in the Anglican Church.

On the other hand, if our Churches were to become officially united in sacramental fellowship, I would feel able to communicate fully in both traditions - BUT, I would still want to fellowship mainly in one particular Church Family into which I have entered as a member, with all the rights and responsibilities of membership. I could never be a 'Floater' - with no roots in a particular community.

Basically, I believe, as obviously does Peter our Host, that all who can confess Jesus as Lord in their lives, by giving Jesus their whole-hearted devotion, that we are interconnected. The Body of Christ contains many adherents without the need to use the same 'brand-name'. That's why I question the desperate claims of GAFCON and FOCA to retain the name 'Anglican'- which originated in the Reformed Church of England - while yet separating themselves out from the Church of England by raising up their own 'Jerusalem Statement of Faith', which is not the Lambeth Quadrilateral to which the actual Anglican Communion Provinces are conjoined (including our own Province of ACANZP).

Jean said...

Hi Ron I agree with the need for nurture within a community of faith and don’t advocate floating between churches on a regular basis or making decisions about which Church to attend lightly - roots are important! However, with a commitment to Jesus as being the most important, I don’t see a life-long commitment to a denomination as a given. For example if the only church left in my community is of a different denomination I think I would choose this over travelling each Sunday; I have also met many people in the Anglican Church who ‘come from’ denominations across the board including many clergy, and many married people of different persuasions who come from different traditions.

So... I wouldn’t term it open-denominational detachment (which sounds more like a medical diagnosis) rather an openness to change if the Spirit so leads; for God works through all his Church (es).

Jonathan said...

The interesting reflection you mention at the end of the post is very interesting indeed - as are the comments in response...

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

In all branches of history, the data press us to distinguish between what the founders and exemplars of a tradition thought that they wanted, perceived, could have done, or did, and what we reconstruct as the most usual desires, circumstances, options, actions, and effects of their movement. In controversy about a tradition of any kind, it is not unusual for the proponents to cite their heroes' ideals and for their critics to talk about what the followers have actually done to life in the streets. In different and characteristic ways, each is somewhat naive about human knowledge and action in the labyrinth of time. Wise peacemakers try to integrate with binocular vision what most partisans suppress or ignore.


Glen Young said...


Perhaps after the Poe's latest comments in "Strengths of Vocation", published this week by Claretain Publications; CAFCON more truly belongs in Catholicism than Anglicanism.

Unknown said...

For now. Peter, I just see the secularisation of Western societies affecting all of their religious traditions, often in divergent ways.

The Church of Cockaigne, for example, has not only a spirited minority demanding an official BCP rite for BOTH (Blessing of the Hounds) for parish fox hunts that they view as honouring the Downton Abbey roots of all Anglicans, but also another, no less outspoken minority that refuses to be associated with such an abomination of cruelty to animals. As most in the wider Communion can see, both the fastidious adherence to even silly old customs and also the restless search for moral high ground with an inspiring view reflect one generation's fragmented search for its social role as a church in a thoroughly secular land. No soul will be saved by this debate, and the majority of communicants is beyond bored with it. But unlike their friends in Parador, they cannot free themselves from overlong debate on any topic by petition. And so, on and on it goes...

This is not to say that there are no ideas crackling in the air that could strike some place like lightning, sparking deep adaptive change there that we might call Reformation. But for now, only outsider movements are free from most churches' overriding preoccupation with keeping their restless incumbent members.


Bryden Black said...

Two key things about the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, need to be factored in here: he rode his horse through the parish of England reading Augustine; and he died a self-confessed CoE clergyman. That is, he appreciated what his roots were that fed into his own identity, enabling his vocation’s fruitfulness.
Now; whether there are any genuine parallels between the likes of this split in the 18th C, when the hierarchy were just plain deaf, dumb and blind (ref Isa 40-55) to what the Holy Spirit was doing in their midst, and our own I am unable to divine. That is, I doubt very much whether there’s a reformation occurring in our western Anglican midst: not enough digging into the “fontes”, rather just grabbing the flotsam passing by, resulting in bits of flying jetsam from Pandora’s box. Meanwhile, mercifully, the church in the Majority World is getting on with the mission of the Gospel. Mercifully too the dogs at least are getting some crumbs falling from the table ...

Jean said...

I agree Bryden I am rather fond of the Wesley brothers spiritual testimonies. Of course they had it a little easier re denominations than us colonials, with a major denomination originating from each European immigrant community and remaining in existence, while our collective national identity for pakehas has largely merged into one as nzers. In other circumstances I may have ended up as a Presbyterian with my Scottish family roots, Roman Catholic with my Irish roots or Methodist with roots from my other English family connection. But it seems for at least three generations the maternal line has borne the stronger faith influence so Anglican it is 😌.