Cracks in the Anglican Cathedral

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Cracks in the Anglican Cathedral

Two issues are combining to make the already-loosely confederated Anglican Communion even looser.

It’s a bad time to be Anglican. Christianity is way out of style in Britain, morality has dived out of the dumpster and into the gutter, and the next generation of Britons is the kind of group you’d like to stay on the other side of the street from. British society in general is a heavyweight contender for the world title in almost every vice: youth violence, teen pregnancy, drug addiction, divorce, sexually transmitted diseases, babies born out of wedlock, whatever.

And we’re not even going to talk about the economy. Or the weather.

It’s no fun to be a Christian in a post-Christian society, it seems. Especially not an Anglican. In fact, there are now more churchgoing British members of the Catholic Church—historically the sworn enemy of the British throne—than there are regularly attending Anglicans, although the nation has far more professing Anglicans. This, in spite of Anglican initiatives to boost attendance numbers with nightclub chaplains, Internet congregations, and one church built on a floating barge. The Church of England and its worldwide Anglican affiliates have definitely been in a slump.

But now, they’re in an earthquake.

Tremors Over Tradition

Over the past few years, there has been a whole lot of shaking going on inside the Anglican cathedral, and now the cracks in the tremulous organization are yawning open into broad crevasses.

In 1994, liberal church leaders approved and began ordaining female priests, a practice disapproved by conservative “traditionalists” who cite biblical verses describing a supportive role for women. Scores of members, including about 500 priests, broke off from the church and joined the Roman Catholic Church. Others landed elsewhere.

Anglicans as a whole accepted the idea, but a gigantic portion of the church has remained staunchly opposed to women filling these offices, and in some cases has refused to recognize them—a division compromising the structural integrity of this nearly 80 million-member organization.

The church’s resulting loose beams and crumbling pillars are once more in full view now that the spotlight is again on female ordinations—this time as bishops. The decision of whether or not to ordain female bishops was made Monday of last week at York. Liberal Anglican leaders accept women priests and that they should progress to higher ranks. Anglican traditionalists do not, and 1,300 clergy members warned they would walk out over it. Some liberals refuse to allow a compromise where traditionalists could opt out of recognizing clergywomen. But traditionalists want to be able to ban women priests and bishops from entire dioceses. Conservatives even look as though they are ready to form an alternative church.

Just before the general synod vote in York, when the women bishop contention was burning its hottest, a proposal was even put forward to create “super bishops,” which would administer parishes that refused to accept a woman priest and wanted to opt out. When that “rescue package” did not pass, other restrictions were offered. The church already has lower “flying bishops” from an earlier compromise, which brings them in to minister to a diocese that rejects women priests.

After a tense session, church leaders voted in favor of women bishops.

Now, as church officials rush around couching the controversy in terms meant to head off a groundswell of mass defection, the rumblings are, in many ways, just beginning. Maybe a floating Anglican church isn’t such a wild idea after all.

But as this deep fissure of women ordinations races across the cathedral wall, it heads for an even wider gaping fracture that could by itself crack the church wide open.

Seismic Schisms

In 2004, open homosexual Gene Robinson was elected bishop of New Hampshire, a divorcee whose assessment of the usefulness of his marriage was that it was “inextricably tied up with having children” and who, before “marrying” his male partner earlier this year, said, “I always wanted to be a June bride” (Times, April 28).

“I suspect that a lot of people are uncomfortable with me using the word ‘bride,’ a word associated with women as property, to describe a man,” Robinson said. “Is calling myself a ‘bride’ offensive because it relegates a ‘privileged’ man to the status of a woman?”

Many members were outraged at the man’s consecration, saying that the Bible condemns homosexuality.

Genesis 19 and Jude 7 describe how God felt about Sodom and Gomorrah, specifically the homosexuality there. God condemned a man lying with a man as with a woman in Leviticus 18:22-23 and 20:13. 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 warn that neither “effeminate, nor abusers with themselves with mankind … shall inherit the kingdom of God.” Romans 1:26-27 call men burning in lust for one another “that which is against nature.” 1 Timothy 1:9-10 label “them that defile themselves with mankind” as “ungodly,” “sinners,” “unholy” and “profane.”

Robinson and his supporters say these scriptures are negated or outweighed by the Bible’s call for “love”—defined, by Robinson and his supporters, as carte blanche acceptance and tolerance.

“Well, in the eyes of some in my church, it’s a sin,” he said. “And in the eyes of others in my church, it’s not. And one of the great things about the Anglican tradition and the Episcopal Church in particular is that we have always disagreed about various and sundry issues, and yet come together around the altar rail.”

What do they come together over? Anglicans themselves have to be asking that question.

Those who hold to more biblical views on homosexuality stand on shaky ground inside the Anglican Communion. The church has already accepted homosexual members living in rejection of these scriptures and has gotten used to it. Long ago it ordained its first openly homosexual priests; Robinson has been openly homosexual and in the priesthood for two decades. The issue at hand lately has been whether a homosexual should be bishop, and, as far as official business goes, voters approved that four years ago.

But not all Anglicans have accepted homosexual clergy. And the issue is now loudly rumbling its way back to front and center, with Robinson choosing to enter a civil union with his current “partner,” Mark Andrew, in June, and to speak in London two days before the once-a-decade Lambeth conference, to which he was not invited in an attempt to appease the Anglican conservatives still holding out against homosexual clergy. Robinson is gong to Canterbury during Lambeth anyway to protest.

Now, these two divisive fissures have met. Above them, an enormous section of the Anglican Church is precariously poised, ready to break apart from and collapse the structural integrity of the organization as a whole.

Fractious Fellowship

According to one of several archbishops challenging the Anglican leadership over liberal theology, the church is “in chaos” (Telegraph, July 1). It’s true. Robed rectors, primates, reverends, very reverends, right reverends, most reverends and all other types of reverends are scrambling around the fallout, bandaging the rupturing church with delays, concessions, opt-outs and other compromises, some almost as wild as the nightclub chaplain idea.

Scores of organizations on several continents are affiliated or loosely affiliated with the Anglican “Communion,” a term that means unity. It’s anything but.

Anglicanism, a pseudo middle road between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, is a complex concept in the first place. Millions of people identify themselves as Anglican. However, not including 20 or so large “Continuing Anglican” churches that have broken away from the main body to continue keeping various doctrines it has left behind, the term “Anglican” serves as catchall for an assortment of different church entities around the world loosely bound by a set of common beliefs and apparently inadequate “instruments of unity.”

It’s amazing to see how divided one church can be. Some Anglican churches are self-governing, some are sort of self-governing bodies within self-governing bodies. Some meet at certain conferences, others meet at different summits. Some break away or try to break away from the liberalizing direction of the main body, saying “Our fellowship is not breaking away from the Anglican Communion.”

Biblical phrases come to mind. Jesus Christ, in prayer: “That they all may be one; as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us: that the world may believe that thou hast sent me. And the glory which thou gavest me I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one: I in them, and thou in me, that they may be made perfect in one; and that the world may know that thou hast sent me, and hast loved them, as thou hast loved me” (John 17:21-23).

Not much room for opt-outs, especially considering 1 Corinthians 1:10, or 1 John’s admonition that true believers should be unified around a specific, righteous way of life.

Anglicans have no central authority to sort this mess out. Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams is the closest thing they have to a pope, but he is merely thought of as a “moral authority” and has no actual power outside of the Diocese of Canterbury. And with Williams, installed in 2003, saying evolution is compatible with creation, creation should not be taught in schools, and Islamic sharia law should be accommodated in the UK—not to mention his liberal stance on women ordinations and homosexual ordinations—even that symbolic authority is crumbling.

Waiting in the Wings

Speaking of the pope, Williams submissively kissing Pope John Paul ii’s ring and attending his funeral turned out to be a sign of things to come. Especially considering the chaos in the Anglican church(es), and that more and more followers are looking to the Vatican for firmness and strength.

The Roman Catholic Church has a straightforward approach compared to the Anglicans’ myriad negotiations, split-offs, opt-outs, votes and compromises. If the pope says do it, you do it.

All the Anglicans’ bureaucracy and not-quite-mini-churches and not-quite-in-charge leaders, their exceptions to the rule and absorption of worldly influence, has already sent thousands of Anglicans fleeing their deteriorating church.

As a result, more and more Anglicans are turning Catholic. Late last year, 400,000 Anglicans from 13 countries requested “full communion” with the Catholic Church. The Traditional Anglican Communion made the request to the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, formerly the Holy Office of the Inquisition.

Just prior to the York decision on women bishops, senior Anglican officials met at the Vatican to discuss closer ties with the Roman Catholic Church, a move that has increased speculation that whole parishes and even entire dioceses could defect to Catholicism. Bishop Andrew Burnham pleaded for “magnanimous gestures from our Catholic friends” to accommodate Anglican-to-Catholic converts, Catholic World News reported.

The conservative faction also held its own separate meeting, in Jerusalem, ahead of the landmark Lambeth Conference, which began Wednesday. It has subsequently released a “Jerusalem Declaration” decrying the church’s promotion of a “different gospel,” which says all religions are equal and Jesus is not the only way to God; calling for a competing council of Anglican primates; relegating the archbishop of Canterbury to an even less authoritative role; denouncing homosexual ordinations; and listing other grievances. It also says they are not breaking away from the Anglican Communion.

The conservative faction is said to have the support of nearly half (35 million) of the Anglican Communion’s total membership.

The Mother Church

So far, only lead shingles and the odd ornate spire have shaken off the Anglican roof; only the occasional pillar or stained glass window has fallen. So far, jury-rigging on top of jury-rigging has substituted for ideological and moral unity and kept the Anglican Church from imploding altogether. But now the entire organization is threatening to collapse. As its structural integrity weakens further, millions of worshipers will stream out of the Anglican Communion—and into the Catholic Church, where they feel they can find strength, authority and unity.

However, not all of them will do so voluntarily.

As the Trumpet wrote last year, “Indeed, biblical prophecy indicates that full unity will not be achieved purely voluntarily. At a certain point, the mother church will abandon its efforts to woo her daughters back by flatteries and instead revert to the age-old method of preserving ‘Christian’ unity by exerting physical force.” A divided Anglican Communion, which already flirts with Catholicism, would be an easy target.

To say in 2008 that the Anglicans will ultimately join the Catholic Church may seem a premature claim. To have said it in 1999 seems a little more daring. But what about 1961? In the October 1961 Plain Truth, Herbert W. Armstrong made this bold forecast almost 50 years ago: “The pope will step in as the supreme unifying authority—the only one that can finally unite the differing nations of Europe. … Europe will go Roman Catholic! Protestantism will be absorbed into the ‘mother’ church—and totally abolished.”

But even that bold claim was not the first forecast of what is becoming today’s current events. That goes back to approximately 750 b.c. The Prophet Isaiah foretold of a time when a great mother church would experience a great rebellion but then bring her daughters back under her direction. Centuries later, we are seeing Bible prophecy come alive!

The Trumpet and have written over 50 times about the Catholic Church ultimately absorbing the Anglicans. This will indeed happen, and it will presage a dark time. However, just as the Bible’s forecast of this event is proving accurate, so too will its many prophecies that Jesus Christ is about to return! In fact, Catholic dominance is a sign of Jesus Christ’s immenent coming. When He returns, He will put an end to false religion and false churches. There will be no confusion or politicking. Jesus Christ will show everyone the one way to right religion, peace, happiness—and unity, “that they may be one, even as we are one.”