Yesterday afternoon I was privileged to be present at the inaugural event the Anglican Mission in England (AMiE) at St Peter’s Cornhill. Today the AMiE was introduced to a wider audience at the Evangelical Ministry Assembly meeting in St Helen’s Bishopsgate with fulsome support from The Revd Rod Thomas, Chairman of Reform. In these two churches, at the heart of the City of London, English church leaders launched a mission society unlike any others the Church of England has seen in its long history.
The AMiE is not only committed to adventurous church planting and the re-conversion of England, but is also prepared to provide alternative episcopal oversight in cases where it is clear that diocesan bishops are failing in their canonical duty to uphold sound teaching. The key institutional innovation is a panel of bishops formed by Bishops Michael Nazir Ali, John Ball, Colin Bazley, Wallace Benn and John Ellison which enjoys the support and encouragement of the GAFCON Primates’ Council.
There should really be nothing surprising about this development. In his groundbreaking study ‘The Next Christendom’ Philip Jenkins demonstrates that Christianity must now be seen as a global faith, rather than the primarily Western phenomenon many, at least in the West, have assumed it to be. He concludes that ‘considering Christianity as a global reality can make us see the whole religion in a radically new perspective, which is both startling and, often, uncomfortable.…it is as if we are seeing Christianity again for the first time’ (p255). That global reality is now taking shape in England. With the inauguration of the AMiE, we have a movement which embodies a new vision for English Anglicans. We can now work as if seeing the Church of England again for the first time.
The AMiE’s origins can be traced back to the Covenant for the Church of England of December 2006 drawn up by a number of evangelical groupings, but it required the impetus of GAFCON to move from ideas to substantive action. For those of us used to being marginalised in the declining Western Churches, being present at Jerusalem in 2008 was indeed to see Anglican Christianity again for the first time as we came back to our reformation roots and experienced for ourselves that confidence in the Scriptures, dependence upon the power of the Spirit and missionary zeal which underpins the growth, sometimes quite astonishing, of the Global South Churches.
The GAFCON movement is a leading example of the global shift Philip Jenkins describes and it came about because the traditional Lambeth leadership of the Communion, as represented by the Archbishop of Canterbury, lost credibility as a global leadership by the persistent privileging of the dominant liberalism of the affluent Western Churches. The AMiE is simply the natural emergence of global Anglicanism in Dr Williams’ backyard.
Does this mean that the AMiE is therefore, in the rather loose sense that the word is commonly used, ‘schismatic’? The answer from today’s press release would be seem to be an emphatic ‘no’. We are told that the AMiE is ‘a society within the Church of England dedicated to the conversion of England and biblical church planting’ and ‘is determined to remain within the Church of England.’
At first glance, this sounds rather like trying to have your cake and eat it. While it is still possible in some dioceses for orthodox parish churches to flourish, they do so despite the institutional direction of travel. How is it possible for a confessing missionary movement, operating within the framework of a global vision for the re-evangelisation of the West, to describe itself as ‘within the Church of England’ when the leadership of that Church has itself been a major contributor to the doctrinal and moral confusion which has fragmented the Communion? And to be quite specific, in what sense will churches and clergy who are under the oversight of the AMiE’s panel of bishops rather than a diocesan bishop be ‘within the Church of England’?
There are no direct answers in the AMiE press release which has of necessity to be brief and there is no doubt much detail to be worked out, but I think we can join some of the dots. The logic seems to be the same as that of the Jerusalem Statement and Declaration which affirmed that the GAFCON movement was very firmly staying within the Anglican Communion, but would not allow biblical conscience or mission to be held captive by the discredited Lambeth governance structures. It is worth quoting a section of the Jerusalem Statement at length:
‘Our fellowship is not breaking away from the Anglican Communion. We, together with many other faithful Anglicans throughout the world, believe the doctrinal foundation of Anglicanism, which defines our core identity as Anglicans, is expressed in these words: The doctrine of the Church is grounded in the Holy Scriptures and in such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the said Scriptures. In particular, such doctrine is to be found in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, the Book of Common Prayer and the Ordinal. We intend to remain faithful to this standard, and we call on others in the Communion to reaffirm and return to it. While acknowledging the nature of Canterbury as an historic see, we do not accept that Anglican identity is determined necessarily through recognition by the Archbishop of Canterbury.’
It must be in this sense that we understand the AMiE not be breaking away from the Church of England. The doctrinal foundation expressed in this statement (‘The doctrine of the Church is grounded in the Holy Scriptures….’) is exactly the same as Canon A5 of the Church of England, its ‘Canon of Canons’. In staying true to this statement of Anglican identity, it seems to me that while the AMiE is declaring that it is not leaving the Church of England, such institutional loyalty must be understood as secondary to and dependent upon confessional loyalty. In fact, true loyalty to the Church of England requires that the confessional statement of Canon A5 takes precedence.
Such determination not to be domesticated by church leaders who fail to uphold Anglican doctrine and morality was very obvious in the service yesterday . At this ‘Service of Celebration and Recognition of those Ordained’, we welcomed and received three young clergy of the highest calibre who had found it necessary to go to the extreme lengths of being ordained in the Kenyan bush because the English diocesan bishop concerned had refused to give any assurances that he would uphold biblical teaching on homosexual practice .
Moreover, the press release makes it clear that the AMiE will continue to facilitate alternative oversight where necessary and the diplomatically factual comment that ‘The launch of AMIE follows four and a half years of discussions with senior Anglican leaders in England about ways in which those who are genuinely in need of effective orthodox oversight in the Church of England can receive it’ clearly invites the conclusion that those talks got nowhere.
So just as the GAFCON movement effectively claimed to redefine the Anglican Communion by staying in it – and has followed up words with deeds – the commitment of the AMiE to stay within the Church of England amounts to a claim to be redefining what we mean by ‘Church of England’. And it is important to note that there is no novelty involved in this redefinition. If we find ourselves seeing for the first time what the Church of England could become, it is because the global context has enabled us to articulate a vision and strategy for the twenty-first century which is faithful to the teaching of the Anglican Reformers.
Revisionists will no doubt express various degrees of outrage at the emergence of the AMiE, but it is in fact a godly and gracious initiative which offers some hope that the Church of England may yet avoid the same fate as TEC. This week’s deeply disingenuous compromise by which the Church of England has accepted that clergy in Civil Partnerships (which mimic marriage and are legally understood to be same sex sexual unions) can be bishops as long as they are celibate is just one more sign of the Church of England’s slow death and its chronic tendency to surrender biblical truth to the prevailing culture. Receiving the AMiE as the new wineskin of global Anglicanism could very well be its last chance ’to wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die’ (Revelation 3:2).
23rd June 2011