Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Goodbye Evangelicalism, hello Church of England?

[The Ugley Vicar] 28 Oct 2009--Recently this blog has addressed two issues which, at first glance, may seem to be unrelated. One is the state of Evangelicalism. The other is the significance of the Vatican’s recent manoeuvres vis à vis the Anglican Communion. As far as Evangelical Anglicans are concerned, however, these issues are much more closely connected than might appear.

On the one hand, the divisions within Evangelicalism raise the question of exactly what is an ‘Evangelical’. On the other hand, the Vatican’s offer may, as a Guardian editorial observes, leave Evangelicals isolated within the Church of England, since, unlike the Anglo-Catholics, they have “nowhere to go”. Certainly one scenario being envisaged is that this development will purge at least some of the ‘bigots’ from the Church, leaving the ‘unbigoted’ majority free to introduce women bishops and, ultimately, to embrace same-sex relationships.

If this scenario is correct, then the prospects within the Church of England for the Evangelicalism of our forebears is bleak. Open Evangelicals, virtually by definition, favour the ordination of women and will welcome the consecration of women bishops. But as a ‘party’ they are defined less by their adherence to traditional Evangelical doctrines than their sitting light to them.

Meanwhile, the Conservative Evangelical response has been to close ranks and, at the same time, to look for help in the form of overseas links, such as those forged in the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans. Some even hope that such support would extend to episcopal oversight. Should it be offered and accepted, however, this would not merely isolate Conservative Evangelicals within the Church of England but might effectively remove them from it.

One is mindful of the lines from Sir Henry Newbolt’s poem:

The Gatling’s jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.

The situation seems beyond desperate. Our Evangelical unity is gone. Rome, which was for so long the antithesis of English Christianity, is offering English Christians a home. Have we not reached the time warned of by Bishop JC Ryle?

... so long as the Church of England sticks firmly to the Bible, the Articles, and the principles of the Protestant Reformation, so long I advise you strongly to stick to the church. When the Articles are thrown overboard, and the old flag is hauled down, then, and not until then, it will be time for you and me to launch the boats and quit the wreck. (Needs of the Times, in Holiness)

Maybe. But perhaps in Ryle’s warning lies the key to our problem. I may be quite mistaken, but desperate times call for desperate measures —and these seem to be desperate times. In the light of this, therefore, I want to suggest the abandoning of the Anglican Evangelical project and the consideration of an alternative.

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