What is the future of the Church of England?
What is really going on in the Church of England today? Ahead of the Lambeth Conference 2022, God’s Church for God’s World pulls together a rich tapestry of voices from all major Anglican evangelical networks to explore both the current state of Anglicanism and its future in the UK.
Offering a rare blend of theological reflections and behind-the-scenes stories from evangelicals (both clergy and lay people) serving in the Church of England, this collection of essays reveals the tumultuous nature of recent Anglican history, and how disagreements on issues such as sexuality, marriage, and the ordination of women have riven the Anglican Communion.
Although honest about the challenges facing evangelical Anglicanism, God’s Church for God’s World is also full of good news stories, and incisive explorations from its contributors about how to pursue unity and mutual flourishing in a broad church, while holding firm to the truth of the Bible.
A Changing Communion
The Reverend Canon Dr. Andrew Goddard kicks off God’s Church for God’s World by tracing the history of the Anglican Communion, shedding light on its global nature, and exploring the creation of GAFCON (Global Anglican Future Conference), as a response to substantial portions of the church changing their stance on issues such as sexual ethics. A veteran commentator on Communion Affairs, Goddard offers a careful historical perspective.
‘Catholic is not a dirty word’
For many evangelical Christians, their reasons for remaining in the Church of England are pragmatic, rather than theological. In his chapter Keeping evangelicals catholic and the catholic church evangelical, The Reverend Dr. Thomas Woolford explains why, while evangelical Anglicans often merely see the Church of England as ‘best boat to fish from’ in terms of its influence and community link, they should remain for convictional, rather than practical, reasons. He calls us to pursue unity and truth even when it’s uncomfortable and we are tempted to the ‘greener’ pastures of independent churches, or wholly evangelical denominations.
Dr. Woolford also reminds us that catholicity – from the Greek ‘kata holis’; ‘wholeness’ – of the Church of England (wrongly misinterpreted as being related to Roman Catholicism), is vital to its spiritual health, and does not compromise the fundamentals of the evangelical faith.
What does it mean to be an ‘evangelical’ Bishop?
Bishops are a core part of Anglican Identity, with episcopacy set as one of the four points of the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral (an articulation of Anglican doctrine). In a key chapter of God’s Church for God’s World, editor Adam Young talks to four serving bishops and asks them several questions, including: ‘What does it mean for you to be an ‘evangelical’ bishop?’ The answers, which include references to the supreme authority of the Bible, and the calling for every bishop to fulfil the commission given and promises made at ordination, emphasise the importance of serving and advancing the gospel.
Ordained, evangelical, and female
In her chapter Blissful ignorance, mutual flourishing: an evangelical woman in the church, the Reverend Esther Prior from Zimbabwe details how her conviction that God was calling her to ordained ministry clashed with those who read passages such as Timothy 2:9-12 as a universal rejection of female leadership in the church, sometimes in ‘excruciatingly painful’ ways. At the heart of Reverend Prior’s chapter is a call to mutual flourishing between those of egalitarian and complementarian views, as we pursue the first-order call to spread the gospel and make disciples.
Following this theme, The Reverend Sophie Bannister’s description of struggling to button her cassock over her pregnant stomach introduces a fascinating chapter on the challenges faced by evangelical, ordained women in the Church of England. Reverend Bannister introduces The Junia Network, a system of support which is often the one place where evangelical, ordained women ‘don’t have to explain themselves’.
‘Come and be desperate in a desperate province’
The final part of God’s Church for God’s World explores evangelical Anglicanism outside the Church of England, with compelling insights into the situations in Scotland and Wales. Dean Aaron Roberts describes his curacy within the Church in Wales, where evangelicalism has, at best been an influential minority, and issues a powerful call for evangelicals to come and serve within the Church in Wales, because ‘God may move in mighty power’, in ‘desperate and unfavourable times’. David McCarthy recounts his rocky experience of leaving the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) after it officially changed its teaching on marriage. We also see that ‘Anglicanism’ has a much broader reach than just those in direct communion with the Archbishop of Canterbury, as Peter Sanlon describes the range of alternative Anglican structures outside the Church of England.
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Written by: Emily Beater