Choose this day which mainstream you will serve!

Feb 24, 2017 by

A view from the USA. By David Handy, for Anglican Mainstream.

The recent joint statement by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York is truly alarming.  ++Justin Welby is certainly no (former TEC Presiding Bishop) Frank Griswold, much less as blatant a revisionist as Katharine Jeffers Schori, but those of us who spent years in TEC can recognize a similar fundamental strategy at work here.  It’s not hard for us to see in this well-intentioned but misguided letter a similar profound confusion over what really matters in Christianity and in Anglicanism.  The fact that both ++Welby and ++Sentamu come from evangelical backgrounds and retain a personal evangelical flavor shouldn’t deceive us, or lull us into complacency, or a naïve trust that everything will work out all right.

I believe the fundamental root problem is that the leaders of the C o E are simply loathe to admit the obvious, which is the devastating fact that the C o E is doomed as a state church.

We are faced with a momentous crossroads decision in Global North Anglicanism that usually goes unspoken and unacknowledged.  But we need to face that fateful fork in the road with clear heads and a very firm resolve.  This momentous decision is the far-reaching choice between affiliating ourselves, as individuals, as congregations, as dioceses, and as national church bodies with one of two mutually exclusive mainstreams.

Will it be the secular cultural mainstream of contemporary Western society, or will it be the authentic theological mainstream of historic, biblical Christianity?  Because the sad fact is that the two rivers are now radically at odds, and are daily diverging farther and farther apart.  And the post-modern, aggressively secularized, pluralistic, antinomian, sexually permissive mainstream of Western civilization is headed straight for a very dangerous waterfall (like the Niagara or Victoria Waterfalls in size and peril).  The stakes could not be higher.

As Moses challenged the People of God to a momentous Either/Or choice in the plains of Moab before entering the Promised Land in Deuteronomy 30, or as Joshua likewise challenged Israel to make a similar Either/Or decision before his death in Joshua 24, so the faithful servant of God and leader of God’s covenant people must be willing to summon the people to a polarizing choice.

See, I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse.  Choose life, that you and your descendants may live!”  That’s what Moses said, according to Deuteronomy 30:19.  (But, some will surely object, “That’s so divisive!”).

Choose you this day whom you will serve!” said his successor (Joshua 24:15).  Will you serve Yahweh, or will you serve the pagan gods of the people in whose midst you dwell?  “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD!”  (But some will protest, “That’s intolerably exclusive!”)

But the most apt biblical parallel is actually the dramatic confrontation on Mt. Carmel between Elijah and the hundreds of (false) prophets of Baal and Asherah (1 Kings 18:20ff.).  Elijah didn’t take a poll to determine what the majority of the people wanted.  He took his orders from the Lord.  Elijah took the proverbial bull by the horns (Baal was often pictured as a bull, or at least as riding one, since Baal was a fertility god and the bull was seen as a sign of virility and fertility).  He issued a clarion call to make an Either/Or choice, with momentous social consequences.

How long will you go limping between two opinions?  If the LORD is God, then follow him.  But if Baal is God, then follow him!” (1 Kings 18:21).  In effect, Elijah said, stop straddling the fence and make up your mind!  Because the fact is you can’t have it both ways.  Yahweh and Baal are antithetical to each other.  But my guess is that Archbishops Welby and Sentamu feel trapped and unable to issue such a ringing call to a decisive choice between two mutually exclusive mainstreams, or worldviews or religious systems.  This is probably for at least two reasons.

Firstly, they are well aware that the authentic Chrsitian view on matters of morality in general, and sexual morality in particular, is now very much a minority opinion in England.  The people of England have voted with their feet and abandoned the C o E in droves.  This Sunday less than 2% of the inhabitants of England will worship in an Anglican church.  That reflects a stunning repudiation of the C o E, which is no longer THE Church of England, but only A Church of a Tiny Minority of England.

But more importantly, it’s because the Archbishops know full well, as members of the House of Lords, that the Christian voice in Parliament is also very definitely a minority voice.  And the bottom line isthat the C o E is still, at this point, an established church.  Alas, that is its Achilles Heel.  State churches exist to bless and certify the rightness of the political and social order.  The C o E is no different.  It exists in order to sanctify the powers that be in England, to assure everyone that the status quo has God’s approval and blessing.

That’s what state churches have always done, since at least the time of Emperor Theodosius in the late 4th century.  He completed the revolution begun by Constantine.  If Constantine made Christianity legal (in AD 313) and implicitly treated it with imperial favor by his lavish gifts to build beautiful church and so on, then Theodosius brought the process full circle by starting to persecute everyone who wasn’t at least a nominal Christian (AD 396).

So another way of sharply stating the dilemma that the leaders of the C o E face is this way.  Choose you this day which side you are on!  Will you be faithful to the classic, historic, Christian faith, rooted in the authority of the apostolic tradition, enshrined in Holy Scripture and Holy Tradition?  Or will you instead cling to the obsolete, rigid old institutional wine skins of “The Church of England,” rooted in the authority of the secular powers that be?

Because the harsh reality is you can’t have it both ways anymore.  This is the awful dilemma which the English archbishops face.  It’s a No Win situation for them.  And this terrible but predictable letter is a dead giveaway as to which road they are going to take.  They are doing the easy thing, going with perpetuating the illusion that the C o E can be the authentic expression of Christianity in England, and at the same time still be respected and applauded by the ruling establishment.

Historically, the record is all too clear.  State church arrangements are always bad for the Church in the long run.  They always end up favoring the interests of the state at the expense of the Church.  It doesn’t matter if the state church is Lutheran, Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Presbyterian, or Anglican.  All the state churches of Europe, without a single exception, have suffered badly over the last century or so, as European civilization has moved farther and farther from its Christian roots.  The only thing worse than a state church is an ex-state church that still pretends to be a state church!  (In effect, this amounts to having all the liabilities of a state church, with none of the benefits).

Alas, ++Welby and ++Sentamu are living in a fantasy land, where they vainly imagine that two mutually exclusive worldviews, value systems, and social mainstreams can peacefully co-exist, even while those two cultural mainstreams (the authentic Christian mainstream and the secular one) continue to diverge ever farther and farther apart.  Moses, Joshua, and Elijah knew better.

But you may ask, is it even conceivable that conservative Anglicans in England could make the revolutionary shift away from being a part of the English establishment?  They are conservatives, after all.  Is it even possible to imagine that significant numbers of orthodox Anglicans would be willing to suffer not only the dis-establishmnennt of the Church, but also to endure being forced, against their will, into the hard place of beginning to be actually anti-establishment Christians in England?

I firmly believe the day is coming and will soon be here, when the biblically faithful Anglicans in England will be reluctantly forced to take an openly adversarial stance against Parliament, contending against the social, economic, and academic establishment in England.

It’s no wonder that ++Welby and ++Sentamu shrink back from that terrifying prospect.  But in so doing, they are acting the part of Neville Chamberlain instead of Winston Churchill.  They are pursuing a hopeless strategy of mere appeasement, which never works.

The key question then is this: What will the orthodox Anglicans in the C o E do?  Will the C o E break up, as large numbers of them insist on being faithful to the Lord rather than trying to waver or “limp” between two opinions?  Could Anglicanism in England experience an even worse division than TEC did?  Will there be a bitter and very ugly divorce?  Or perhaps will there be a polite and well-mannered one (in a very English way)?  Do the conservatives in England have the necessary courage to refuse to follow the lead of the Archbishops and take an uncharted path?  Who can say?

This much however seems clear.   Whether things carry on as they are, or whether there is a massive split, you can blow taps for the C o E.  Its doom is sealed.

Rev’d  Dr. David Handy is a priest and writer in Richmond, Virginia, in the ACNA Diocese of the Mid-Atlanctic.

Editor’s note: Thanks to Barbara Gautier for drawing this piece to our attention.

Related Posts


Share This