Anglican unity and diversity: centrifugal or centripetal?

Apr 16, 2015 by

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[James Paice, Vicar in Southwark Diocese, reflects on 1 Timothy 6:20-21]
Many members of the church have commented to me about how much they enjoyed hearing Archbishop Foley Beach this last Sunday:  his sermon; the answers he gave to our questions; and of course his powerful testimony.

Who can forget the opening lines of the latter ?

– That he grew up in a broken home, and that on his twelfth birthday, his mother was arrested for drugs, and went to prison.

– He was converted as a teenager, and now he is Archbishop  !

But as I commented at the time, that is what God does: Jesus is in the redeeming and transforming business.  To his glory!

On Sunday evening the Archbishop asked me to organize a time for him to meet with some clergy and so I organized a dinner that we might have an opportunity to talk to him about our concerns about how things are in England, and hear about how things are developing in the Anglican Church in North America.

Since that time, I have been reflecting on the difference between what is appening in ACNA, and what we are experiencing in our Diocese, and in the Church of England nationally.  And what has come to me is this:

what is happening in ACNA is centripetal;

what the CofE is doing is centrifugal.

Let me explain what I mean.

We are all familiar with centrifuges of one kind or another:  a centrifuge is where something is rotated, and the objects inside of it, are spun outwards:  for example, a washing machine, a tumble drier. The clothes are spun and centrifugal forces fling them to the outside of the drum, to expel the water.  In a centrifuge, things are flung to the periphery.

That is what is happening in the Church of England. And in my our own Diocese in particular which celebrates diversity. Not diversity of style, but diversity of doctrine –  belief. The Diocese proudly celebrates ever increasing diversity. It is THE key word used as all Diocesan events: diversity. It is never fails to be used.

What the diversity is, is never mentioned. But I can mention them:

Gay blessings; Islamic worship in a church; God addressed as Mother;

whatever is the latest fad or fashion or someone’s bright idea.

The more diversity the better. There seems to be no limit to it. And so what you get between churches is ever increasing distance, with each new innovation, as the churches of the Diocese are flung out from one another, away from the biblical Gospel.  Increasing distance; increasing alienation.

In one of our local Deaneries now, the clergy principally no longer meet as a chapter, because their views are so diverse; instead the only way the Deanery can function is by like minded clergy meeting in cluster groups to support one another.  The Deanery as a supportive spiritual fellowship has broken down, precisely, because of doctrinal diversity.

It will no longer hold together.  At least they are honest:  in my own Deanery, a good number of people have simply stopped attending.

In contrast, what the Anglican Church in North America is doing, and what GAFCON is doing,  is centripetal. Not flinging things outwards.  But drawing things in to the centre. Like dust being drawn up into a tornado.

But what is that centre? Is it a particular person’s version of the faith? Is it the personality of one Archbishop? Is it the the narrow agenda of a particular group of Archbishops, as many in the liberal media would want to portray it ?

No. What is at the centre is the Bible: the Bible as authoritative for all faith and conduct; the Bible as its own interpreter, rather than being read through the spectacles of superelevated human reason and contemporary secular culture.

In addition,  the Anglican 39 Articles of religion are being reasserted as being at the centre:  it is those Articles that makes us specifically Anglican Christians rather than Baptist or Pentecostal or Presbyterian Christians.

The Bible and the 39 Articles of Religion (and the Anglican liturgy based upon the Book of Common Prayer) is what unites us as Anglicans. And so if we want to be Anglican, and properly Anglican, and recover Anglicanism, we need to get back to that centre.

And like the spokes on a bicycle wheel come closer to one another, the closer they get to the hub, so Anglicans are drawn closer to each other, the closer we come back to the historic core of our faith. How is that? Because as our own dearly loved practices are brought under the scrutiny of the Bible and the Articles, we are all refined and reformed, in our doctrine and in our practice, whether we be Anglo Catholic, evangelical or charismatic.  False doctrine is shed.

None of this is new of course – false doctrine. The apostle Paul in our verses tells his protege Timothy to guard what has been entrusted to his care. The message of the apostolic Gospel. Because it had already become corrupted. Because false knowledge was passing about and being propagated by those who called themselves Christians.

And the apostle says, of such people, ‘in so doing have departed from the faith’. They had been flung outwards. Away from the message of salvation.  And from salvation itself. And that is why ultimately these things matter, and are worth arguing about;  why they desperately matter.

We are not arguing about minutiae or secondary matters. A false Gospel does not save eternally. Instead it is the blind leading the blind into a ditch called Hell.

Let us not be like that, flung outwards. But let us, rather, be drawn back to the centre: to the Bible, to the Jesus of the Bible, and reacquaint ourselves with the documents of our church, the 39 Articles and our liturgy which has historically been so based upon Scripture. And we shall find what it is to have real unity with other Anglican Christians. And have real joy in that, as I am finding with my American brethren, this week.

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