Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Changeless, the Changeable, and the Changing: Thoughts on the Future of Anglicanism(s)

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Changeless, the Changeable, and the Changing: Thoughts on the Future of Anglicanism(s)

Article excerpt

Anglicanism has long been a communion containing within itself a diversity of theological opinions and various worship styles, which have often been characterized as "parties." In recent years diversity has been stretched to the breaking point, such that many groups of "Anglicans" have felt unable to continue to participate in the Communion. Cultural diversity has also emerged as Anglicanism has moved beyond being an "English" church and has taken root in various parts of the globe. This essay explores what might still be held to be "changeless," what needs to change, and what is actually changing in the way Anglicanism is expressed, especially in the non-Western world. The author expresses the hope that Western Anglicans can begin to learn from their non-Western neighbors.

It is a privilege to be asked to speak on this rather daunting topic of what is "changeless, changeable, and changing" within Anglicanism. I believe that I have been asked to speak partly because I represent a segment of the Anglican community which describes itself as "conservative evangelical." I am happy with that label, although in this country I find that it is often misunderstood. "Evangelical" has to do with the gospel, and a conservative is committed to preserving certain things. I really would prefer to be known as a "conservative evangelical liberationist" since the terms "conservative" and "evangelical" do not seem to convey the necessity of a commitment to the transformation of the world in the name of Christ. Let me begin by attempting to outline a few Anglican kinds of "difference" which exist today.

Kinds of Anglican "Difference"

Diverse understandings of what it means to be an Anglican have long divided the Communion into "parties" (low, middle, high, catholic, evangelical, broad, charismatic) in both Britain and North America. In some parts of the world member churches of the Communion have been (to some extent) spared the trouble of party politics because they were evangelized by missionaries with a strong affiliation with one party. Hence Kenya and Uganda are evangelical because their missionaries were from the Church Missionary Society (CMS), and Ghana is catholic because their missionaries were from the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG). Not every country in the world is so cleanly divided, of course, and with increased travel and ease of communication these neat boxes are breaking down.

But the formation of parties is not the only way that Anglicans have expressed their differences. Sometimes Anglicans have settled their disputes through some form of schism. We should never forget that although John and Charles Wesley remained Anglican, the Methodists did not feel welcome to stay in the fold. The formation of the Anglican Mission in America (AMiA) as a union of some nonWestern Anglican leaders with some American Anglicans with the explicit purpose of both preserving things which are in danger of being lost and also of spreading the gospel in an Anglican form within the United States-but unhindered by the perceived shackles of ECUSA-is only one example of how Anglicanism is fracturing. A search of the Internet will reveal that there are today in North America at least thirty groups of Christians claiming to be "Anglican" which are not in communion with Canterbury. The oldest, of course, is the Reformed Episcopal Church (REC), a group formed in 1874 when George Cummins, assistant bishop of Kentucky, led a self-consciously evangelical group out of PECUSA because of a perceived growing Catholicism within the church. The REC has been a rather small group of parishes, many of them black churches, ever since, but it has seen a rapid increase in numbers in recent years. Most recent defections from ECUSA and the Anglican Church of Canada have been over the issues of the ordination of women (with mostly catholics leaving) and over homosexuality (with defections by some catholics, some evangelicals, and some charismatics). …

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