Lambeth (a meeting of Anglican bishops once every 10 years) concluded this week. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams issued a statement pleading for the American Episcopals to put a moratorium on ordaining gay bishops (as they did in 2003 with Gene Robinson). The statement was mildly remarkable compared to the lack of any calls for restraint in the past from Williams. The statement however, is unremarkable in resembling anything like a functioning church’s government. This is because the Anglicanism suffers from two major areas of impotence in dealing with this crisis.
The first is a lack of ecclesiology the Reformers thought was a vital sign of a true church. Most have heard of two marks of the true church in Reformation theology: Word and Sacrament, I.e. the preaching of the word/gospel and the right administration of the sacraments. Few realize both Lutherans and Reformed also have a third mark, namely church discipline.
This doctrine can be seen in passages such as Matt 18:17 and Rom 16:17-18, yet the glaring deficiency is clearly seen in this situation in the Anglican Church in 1 Tim 5:19-20:
“Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.”
The problem with the Anglican Church is either the lack of will or lack of structure to enforce church discipline. Until Robinson and those who ordained him are disciplined, I fear we must consider the Anglican Church at the least, cripplingly defective, and at most not a true manifestation of the church on earth.
The other major defect in Anglican theory and practice that has become evident in this process lies in the ecclesiology introduced by Anglo-Catholics. Many Anglo-Catholics are the ones most upset by this situation, yet the Oxford movement led many Anglicans to the conclusion that the church is defined principally by apostolic succession of bishops and thereby, the church was kept from error. Yet, this situation has revealed the defectiveness of such an ecclesiology. If an apostolic bishop contradicts Scripture and tradition, what becomes of the church?
The Anglican Church turned to the Catholic tradition to right itself in the 1800s. Today, those wishing to remain true to the catholic faith of the Church of England would be better served by turning back to Reformation principles. Namely, the Anglicans should heed the principles Luther held to when he stood his ground declaring that the church is defined by the word of God and the Gospel, and not that the church defines the gospel – it has not been given any editorial authority to change the faith “once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3)
God save what is left of the church in the Church of England…