This week the Synod of the Diocese of Sydney meets. There are the usual household chores to undertake like setting the budget and receiving reports. There are the matters of larger concern that are before us, especially those created by the Diocesan Mission that we committed ourselves to last year.
However, this year the synod is meeting under the threatening storm clouds of the worldwide Anglican Communion. In London this week the Primates of the national churches will be meeting to consider the future of the Anglican Communion.
Anglicanism is very hard for the outsiders to understand. It is not a centralised hierarchical organization like Roman Catholicism. While it has the appearance of such hierarchy and centralised power it is really a loose federation of churches.
Each parish within the constitution of the church can act with independence. Each diocese is really responsible for its own affairs. The national churches have differing constitutions and powers. The Primate of Australia, for example, is the chairman for the national synod but has no particular right to speak for all Australian Anglicans or any power to implement anything outside of the agenda of the General Synod. The Archbishop of Canterbury similarly has no power in the international church let alone a particular diocese.
We are all held together by a common ancestry and culture. This culture was liturgical, but since the end of the Second World War that common liturgical pattern has been completely lost. The culture was theological but the arrogant disregard of the 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer means that theology no longer holds us together either. For a long time there was a common ministry, but the ordination of women to the priesthood and the consecration of women to the episcopacy mean that there is no longer a commonly respected and received ministry. Generally, there has been an agreed moral and ethical lifestyle that has been an expression of our common culture, but that too has come under attack, not just in varied practice but also in complete disagreement as to what is right or wrong.
Within a diocese there are legal and financial bonds in sharing the same organization and office bearers as well as owning property in common. But this is to reduce our fellowship to the lowest common denominator.
Internationally, and even nationally, the movement towards the dissolution of the Anglican Communion has been gathering momentum. It is not a desired or theoretical movement it is just that there is less and less holding us together. One of the privileges and blessings of being Anglican is that we have never been a centralised institution ruled by power, but a loose federation ruled by the word of God.
But there is the problem. We have not been ruled by the word of God for some considerable time. Modern liturgies have moved away from the teaching of scripture. Theological novelties have denied of the Word of God. The ordination and consecration of women was undertaken in opposition to the Bible. Now the moral teachings of the Bible are not only denied in practice but also denounced in theory.
So how can the Primates give us leadership? The desire to stop this dissolution by asserting some centralised power (e.g. the meeting of Primates or the Anglican Consultative Council) is very attractive to some. But such a move would further undermine the very nature of Anglicanism and could gain no consensus from the membership. The leaders of Anglicanism have lost so much credibility that they are hardly likely to be given new and greater power by the membership. Some of these Primates have created the problems – with their liberal theology, their public relations experts and their political machinations – they are not going to be the solution.
It is only by repentance and a return to the core values of Anglicanism, the gospel of our Lord and Saviour, delivered once for all the saints as expressed in the Scriptures, that we have any hope of keeping in fellowship with each other. This must be a matter of prayer for all Anglicans.
The gospel and Christianity are greater than Anglicanism. If those with some responsibility for this communion will not act rightly the Spirit of the Lord will move on and leave the communion as another powerless form of religion. In the meantime, God’s people will meet in Anglican congregations and in congregations outside of Anglicanism as they always have.