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.