By Charles Raven
March 19, 2009
Lord Turner, the recently appointed Chairman of the UK's banking regulatory body, the Financial Services Authority (FSA) has just announced proposals aimed at restoring confidence in Britain's financial institutions and the FSA itself. Just as lack of banking discipline has led to the global credit crunch, so a lack of spiritual discipline has led to what we might term the Anglican Communion's 'credibility crunch' - the growing realisation that, in its Lambeth form, it has ceased to be a body united around core doctrine and is taking on the nature of a religious debating society.
That is not to say that the Lambeth Communion lacks beliefs, just that they are the wrong ones. Interestingly, the BBC has borrowed theological language, reporting 'Lord Turner said that too much faith had been put in the dogma that financial markets were always right and corrected themselves.' It has become clear that this ideology lured the FSA into a false sense of security so that it seriously underestimated the massive pressures building up in the global banking system and contented itself with issues of process, of legal form rather than economic substance.
Does that not sound familiar? Misplaced faith in ecclesiastical institutions and the ideology that being Anglican is defined by relationship to the Archbishop of Canterbury have led the 'instruments of unity' to concentrate on legalistic form rather than spiritual substance, with disastrous results.
With no effective restraint, a counterfeit Christianity has established itself within the Anglican Communion, pushing well beyond the boundaries of orthodox faith and morality in North America with the British Isles not far behind. Adherence to legal form means that ecclesiastical law can nonetheless be used aggressively to deprive orthodox congregations of their assets while those who encourage the law suits - some 60 in the United States alone - continue to participate in endless 'conversation'.
Does the Anglican Communion have its equivalent to the Turner Report in the Windsor Report? Hardly, because that report embodies the same fundamental flaw that Lord Turner identified in the financial sphere - a preoccupation with form rather than substance - and it is clear that any covenant which includes doctrinal discipline of any substance will not command support from revisionists and, crucially, from the Archbishop of Canterbury himself.
What the Communion does have, however, is the Jerusalem Declaration. The GAFCON movement began as a rescue mission for global Anglicanism and represents a radical return to our confessional roots. Just as Lord Turner has called the banking industry back to the basics of sound lending and regulation for long term prosperity, the GAFCON movement and its Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans calls the Anglican Communion back to sound doctrine so that it is free to proclaim a coherent gospel.
Spiritual crises may be slower to unfold than financial crises, but there are nonetheless real effects. Structures, it has been said, follow life, and equally without the life of the gospel structures can only carry the appearance of life, carried along by the fading momentum of the past eked out with whatever help they can get from the prevailing winds of popular thought.
This is precisely the point Archbishop Peter Akinola made in his opening comments for the Church of Nigeria's Standing Committee on 11th March. Reflecting on the Primates Meeting in Alexandria he held that if unity and the structures of the Communion can only be maintained at the cost of the apostolic faith then we 'risk the danger of becoming a church that has the appearance of being alive but in reality are no more than ... the 'living-dead.'
Institutional complacency is still widespread in England where the momentum of the past is especially strong. Despite the additional strains that General Synod's move towards the consecration of women as bishops has introduced, there is a tendency to think that on the whole the Anglican crisis is something which is being played out in Africa and on the other side of the Atlantic, to which the Church of England is essentially immune, but in a recent article the Bishop of Winchester, Michael Scott-Joynt, has courageously challenged this assumption.
Like Archbishop Akinola, the Bishop recognises the lesson of the Primates Meeting in Alexandria, that doctrinal division is now fundamental and unbridgeable. As this divide becomes more explicit, the Church of England will not be able to escape a fundamental choice between orthodoxy and revisionism. He fears this will be a messy distraction for those who are committed to the vital work of spreading the gospel and foresees a strong possibility that the Global South will increasingly question the appointment process and role of the Archbishop of Canterbury, as GAFCON has already begun to do, with potentially serious consequences for both Church and State.
In this situation, the English instinct to 'muddle on' is dangerous. Fundamental spiritual changes are under way in the Communion, for good and for ill, which call for the preparation of 'new wineskins', the planning of new structures of governance and mission which will be safe vehicles for the gospel.
The global financial crisis may seem more urgent than the spiritual crisis of the West, but the consequences of the former are temporal, and probably temporary, while the consequences of the latter are eternal. Yet both have their origin in a failure to recognise what really matters because of a controlling ideology. Many in the financial world, including Lord Turner himself, now regret that they did not spot what was happening earlier. Spiritually, the Anglican Communion has been given warning and a way forward. The question now is whether there is the will to act to restore the credibility of the gospel and rescue those Churches in danger of entering the long twilight of the 'living-dead'.
---The Rev. Charles Raven is Senior Minister of Christ Church Wyre Forest which is an independent Anglican congregation but located within Worcester Diocese