Next week in Canterbury cathedral the worldwide Anglican Communion will split into two factions. Except this is not quite correct – for the fact is that the church has split already. Next week’s meeting, called by the Archbishop of Canterbury, will at last formalise the split.
The reason for the division is said to be the widely different teachings on sexuality among the churches, and particularly on the subject of homosexuality. This is true, but it is only part of the truth.
The fundamental cause of the split is much broader and deeper and involves not just the matter of sexual morality. It is ethical, certainly, but it is also theological, doctrinal and cultural. In truth, it is an unbridgeable division between traditionalists and modernisers or, to put it bluntly, between believing Christians and secularising liberals. I must apologise here for some terminological inexactness: “Liberal” in this context does not mean “broad-minded, live and let live”; it connotes a theological cultural hegemony which has adopted the secular mores of western societies and which therefore has rejected the historic Christian faith. This account of the matter is not merely my opinion: the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, used his final sermon to tell us, “The church has a lot of catching up to do with secular mores.”
And these secular mores are not the same thing as historic Christianity. In fact, they are its antipathy.
The fact is that the European and American churches have already caught up with secular mores. Many African and Asian churches reject modern secular mores. And that is the fundamental cause of the split which already exists de facto and which will be formalised at next week’s meeting when Archbishops from believing churches in Uganda, Kenya, Nigeria, South Sudan, Rwanda and Congo are likely to walk out.
“There’s going to be a lot of drama,” said a senior C of E source. “It’s 90% likely that the six will walk out. If we get past Tuesday, we’ll be doing well.”
Of course, the mass media will focus all its attention on the widely differing views on homosexuality among the churches. A typical headline will announce: CHURCH SPLITS OVER GAYS.
But to claim that the cause of division is disagreement on the ethics of homosexuality is as if we should say that the cause of the First World War was the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand. The assassination didn’t help, but the deep causes of that war were international tensions and disagreements which had been brewing for decades.
And that is the case with today’s division among Anglicans worldwide.
For decades the western churches have come more and more to believe less and less. When I say churches, I mean, of course, the elites – bishops, synods and the like with their self-important commissions and reports – who rule these churches. They have demythologised the gospels and they no longer believe in the credal doctrines concerning the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, Ascension and the Second Coming of Christ. They also reject the miracle stories in the Bible. The traditional Christians believe that these teachings mean what they say. The liberal elite reduces them to metaphors in which, for example, the bodily Resurrection of Jesus didn’t happen but means a feeling of new life; the feeding of the five thousand didn’t happen either, but is an acted parable about sharing.
Really, in the Anglican Communion today, there are two creeds.
The believing Christians hold fast the historic creeds and the traditional understanding of the New Testament account of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We know what these creeds say, for they are written down and have been said daily by the faithful for centuries. So far as I know, the creed of the liberal elite has never been written down, but if it were to be, it would go something like this:
“I believe in God, but only in the metaphorical sense that the doctrines of the secular Enlightenment, Darwin and modern science will allow. I believe in Jesus Christ who was a very special person who went about preaching the gospel of social conscience. I believe in equality and diversity. I believe in climate change. Most important of all, I believe that those who do not believe these things have a lot of catching up to do with what we moderns with our secular mores believe.”
So there you have it: the story behind the headlines.