The Anglican Church is facing a schism. Or has the schism, in reality, already occurred?
According to Wikipedia, the Anglican Communion, which consists of the Church of England and those churches in other countries that are in full communion with it, has 80 million members.
Statistically-speaking, the name “Anglican,” as in “England,” is a misnomer. It should be more properly named the “African Communion.” As historian Philip Jenkins has noted, the typical Anglican is not a middle-to-upper-class Englishman, but instead, a poor African woman.
Demographic diversity poses no threat to the Anglican Communion. On the contrary, it has revitalized Anglicanism even as membership and participation has declined precipitously in England and North America. What poses a major threat, however, is theological diversity, a.k.a., apostasy and heresy, courtesy of the American Episcopal Church.
A recent story in Britain’s Daily Mail told readers that Church leaders from Africa and Asia, led by Bishops from Nigeria, Kenya, and Uganda, “are threatening to walk out of a crucial meeting chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury unless American bishops drop their support for gay marriage.”
Now it’s important to be clear on what’s meant by “support for gay marriage.” In July of last year, a few days after the Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell, the Episcopal Church in the United States of America or ECUSA voted to allow its clergy to perform same-sex “weddings.” It also changed its canons, substituting “couple” for “man and woman.”
Thus, ECUSA explicitly repudiated the millennia-old biblical teaching that marriage is the union of one man and one woman.
According to the Daily Mail, African and Asian Anglicans have lost patience with the Archbishop of Canterbury’s “refusal to discipline the liberals for ignoring official policy urging them to refrain from creating gay bishops or approving gay marriage without widespread agreement.”
To understand why the bishops have lost patience, you need to go beyond the headlines and understand that what the Daily Mail calls a “row” is not about what Jay Richards calls the “pelvic issues” – it’s about the authority of Scripture.
For the African and Asian bishops, the “pelvic issues” are merely the most visible symptoms of the repudiation of biblical authority in all aspects of church doctrine and practice.
Jenkins tells the story of an African and American bishop in a Bible study. While the African bishop “expressed his confidence in the clear words of scripture,” the American bishop “stressed the need to interpret the Bible in the light of modern scholarship and contemporary mores.” This prompted the African bishop to reply “If you don’t believe the scripture, why did you bring it to us in the first place?”
In addition, there’s a kind of heretical tail-wagging-the-orthodox-dog element to this story. The African Church dwarfs the English and North American churches. Of the estimated 80 million Anglicans in the world, 18-20 million are Nigerian, 4.5 million are Kenyan, and another 9 million are Ugandan. That’s 40 percent. If you take actual church attendance into account, the size difference is even starker.
Benjamin Nzimbi, the former primate of the Anglican Church in Kenya, once said, “Our understanding of the Bible is different from them. We are two different churches.”
Nzimbi’s comments echo that of 20th century Presbyterian scholar J. Gresham Machen, who, in reference to his modernist Christians opponents, wrote, “liberalism not only is a different religion from Christianity but belongs in a totally different class of religions.”
Now, nearly 100 years after Machen, the question remains: Do we believe the Bible or not?
Anglican Agonistes: A Breakup in the Works?
Click on the links below to get a copy of Machen's book, Christianity and Liberalism, available at the online bookstore, and to find more information on the divisive issue confronting the Anglican Church.
Christianity and Liberalism
J. Gresham Machen | Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company | May 2009
Stoyan Zaimov | Christian Post | January 4, 2016Believing in the Global South
Philip Jenkins | First Things | December 2006