A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
13th June 2008
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You can't split a marshmallow. You can melt it. You can even cut it. But, marshmallows are too malleable to be split. Something has to be brittle to split.
So there will be no split in Anglicanism. It is just not the kind of thing that is open to splitting.
The heat of the society in which we operate may melt us. Outside forces can even cut into us. But we have no mechanism to split even if we had the desire to do so.
Here is the strange strength and weakness of Anglicanism. Having resisted the tyranny of Roman rule, Anglicanism could not replace it with Lambeth rule. Thus each national church is free to follow the Lord Jesus in their own culture.
Anglicanism has expanded and developed in much the same way as a family. Over generations we have gradually changed and drifted away from each other. Cousins know that they are related but have never met. Second, third and fourth cousins do not share the same culture or even speak the same language. They do not even recognise each other as relatives. It is not that families split—they just grow apart.
Sometimes families fight. There are divorces and sibling spats. There are members who refuse talk to each other or visit each other's house. Sometimes this is justifiable because of unsociable, even criminal behaviour. Often the fight is worse than the issue over which they are fighting. But unlike disputes with neighbours or at work, you can never leave relatives behind. There is no mechanism to “de-brother” or “de-sister” your sibling. Even with divorce, splitting is near impossible. Marriage intertwines our lives over children, friends, families and property. It is nigh impossible to unwind it completely.
Recent actions of some Anglicans have loosened the family ties. Certain relationships are now untenable. Some joint family activities have been undermined. But the communion is not split—just weakened further and melted a little more into the morass of society around it.
Two such related actions have been the unrepentant consecration of an openly practicing homosexual man as a bishop in USA, and the consecration of a woman as a bishop in Perth.
In some ways they appear different. One is about behaviour, the other about gender. One affects the world wide family, the other the Australian branch.
In other ways they are related and their effect on the Anglican family is the same. Both place the “rationality” of modern culture above the word of God. Both are intentional departures from the practice of the church over centuries. Both aim to change and “reform” the church. Both cut deep into the family unity, making certain joint activities impossible.
Sadly, the Lambeth Conference is no longer viable. If those who consecrated the bishop in the USA are present, then those who see the consecration as promoting sin should obey the Bible and not fellowship with them. Thus many bishops this time are not going to Lambeth to meet the rest of the family.
The Archbishop of Canterbury had to choose whom to invite. He tried to be diplomatic and basically invite everybody—but that was never going to work. He chose to welcome the unrepentant sinners and so excluded the faithful. It is not the end of the family. The Lambeth Conference is only a once every ten year get together of bishops. It is not the essence of the family.
The consecration of women bishops is a much more serious rent in the family fabric. For it institutes into the national church a practice that the Bible explicitly prohibits. It strains long-term relationships for it forces us either into conformity with the new order or into partition so as to protect the old.
This was the consequence of the ordination of women as presbyters in the 1990's. The consecration of women as bishops only pushes the partition wider and deeper. The whole family is reshaped into “no go zones”.
There is no longer one interchangeable and recognized ministry across the nation. Some people ordained and consecrated in one diocese are not recognised or able to exercise their ministry in another. The family has spread further apart and can have less to do with each other in the future.
Wherever these changes in practice enter, those who oppose the changes are persecuted into conformity or forced to leave. However, some parts of the family, some parishes or dioceses, have resisted these novelties. In those places people are allowed to continue without change.
There is nothing new in this. In the nineteenth century, the Anglo-Catholic (commonly called the high church) movement forced all kinds of changes upon the communion. Many parishes and some dioceses (like Sydney) resisted those novelties.
The latest novelties are very serious. They are damaging the family as a whole. They have already involved appalling and unconscionable persecution of faithful Christians.
We are still family—just more distant than we used to be. There are still matters of common concern to which we have to attend. But these become more limited in scope. They usually deal with legal matters, especially concerning common property and constitutional issues. They are hardly the basis for a Christian family.
The marshmallow of Anglicanism is melting a little further into the surrounding culture. But remember the words of the Apostle: God’s firm foundation stands, bearing this seal: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Let everyone who names the name of the Lord depart from iniquity.” (2 Timothy 2:19).