Sydney is a truly great city. Last week we spent from Tuesday to Friday there, taking in many popular sites/sights and even more shops (of which there seemed to be no end). I found very little to dislike in Sydney. There were some annoying flies and one day the temperature hit 37 degrees (Celsius). But everything else was likable. Australia is the lucky country and Sydney is its star (cue outrage from commenters living in Melbourne ...). Sure, there is poverty and we saw signs of that through a few homeless beggars on the streets of the CBD. But everything else spoke of a prosperous country, attractive to a swarm of immigrants (it was difficult to ever actually hear an Australian accent) and deeply appealing through its natural gifts. Is there, for instance, a more beautiful setting for a city anywhere in the world than Sydney Harbour? (How lucky to have Botany Bay 'down the road' in which to direct cargo ships and piles of containers, keeping Sydney Harbour free for scenic views, expensive houses and flash launches!)
Thus in a context of material plenty I did a little bit of reflecting about the course of the gospel amidst its adherents called Anglicans. One thing that struck me from a very brief visit to St Andrew's Anglican Cathedral, replete with its emphasis on Bible studies and de-emphasis on communion (its table-altar was wheeled to the side of the building), was a thought about Anglican evolution.
Yes, I (and many others) are keen on a noble view of centrist or mainstream Anglicanism: Word and Sacrament, via media, moderateness rather than extremism, Communion mindedness, balance in everything. Such keenness would be perfectly satisfied with a much more monochrome Anglican Communion, theologically, liturgically and ritually.
But past Anglicanism has not spawned a present Anglicanism with family characteristics from previous generations clearly replicated in the now vast generation spread around the world. Rather, more like Darwin's account of evolution, a vast array of 'animals' now populates the 'Anglican Menagerie'. To be sure there are family resemblances, some more striking than others. But some differences are perhaps like the differences between tigers and leopards, or lions or the domestic cat: it is tempting to give the strikingly different members of the Anglican family different names!
My insight in the city of Sydney this past week about the Diocese of Sydney is that (to the extent that there is an identifiable 'Sydney Anglicanism') it should not be critiqued for its perceived shortcomings in the light of a noble view of mainstream Anglicanism. Instead it should be appreciated for what it is, an evolutionary development in Anglicanism. Ditto the strange (at times) life of my own church, ACANZP, and the various species around the world which look just a little bit odd from the noble perspective (including, these days, the C of E which looks a little bonkers for not being able to go faster towards women bishops than the Scots, Irish and Welsh)!
Thinking in this way, of course, we welcome GAFCON, and ACNA as evolutions in global Anglicanism. And, yes, just before someone hits the Comment button, TEC and its life today.
This is not to say that all Anglican animals are equal. Some have (so to speak) two legs and some have four legs. Whether we view two legged animals as better or worse than four legged animals will depend on other values. For those committed to what I have called a noble view of the Anglican mainstream, then all deviations from that stream might be viewed negatively. For those committed to the importance of local contexts shaping forms of Anglicanism then expression of Anglican mainstream might be viewed as implausible: surely, it could be said, a true grasp of the importance of context should shape local expressions of Anglicanism away from the mainstream. Further, there is always the possibility that any given evolution of Anglicanism has produced a beast which has little or no connection to orthodox Christianity (e.g. Spongism).
What might be important to consider about evolving Anglicanism is whether what has evolved is fit for survival in a changing environment. Such environments pose challenges for the life of the gospel and for the living church in those environments. Life adapts to change or dies! From this perspective it is too early to tell whether (say) the Diocese of Sydney has made the right decisions about the course it has pursued these past few decades as it has engaged with modern and post-modern, secular,materialistic Sydney. Similarly, despite some statistics pointing towards conclusions, it is likely too early to determine the success or failure of TEC as it has engaged with a changing USA or ACNA as it seeks to adapt Anglicanism differently to mutating North American societies.
Global Christianity is (arguably) facing a cataclysm of opposition. Here it may be a tide of unbelief threatening to sweep the faith before it. There it may be the direct, violent opposition of militant Islam. Nearly everywhere the idolatry of 21st century materialism draws Christians away from discipleship in gospel terms, following Jesus the possessionless Master.
Time will tell which forms of Christianity, let alone Anglican Christianity will survive. Let's be honest, no one form of Anglicanism is doing really, really well in the West. Sydney Diocese, arguably, has as good a case for predicting the survival of Anglicanism within its city as any Anglican church has in its city or region or country.
Only the fittest Anglicans will survive the cataclysm. That is, Anglicans which adapt best for the circumstances which now face them have a chance of surviving to be Anglican one hundred years from now. Those who do not attempt to adapt will suffer extinction.
One of the salutary ironies of Christian history is that some New Testament churches became extinct. Possessing an orthodox letter from Paul did not save them!