Crisis in the Anglican Church

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In recent years the Anglican Church has received very little good publicity in the press. In the UK weekly church attendance has dropped below a million, and worldwide the church has been bitterly divided over the issues of homosexuality and the ordination of women priests. Newspaper headlines during the past month, however, have suggested that the situation has suddenly and dramatically deteriorated, with words like “schism” and even “anarchy” being used.

The Episcopal Church in the USA

The present trouble centres on the Anglican Church in the USA. Last month saw the election of the first woman, Katharine Schori, Bishop of Nevada, as Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in America (a position which makes her equal in status to an archbishop). Her election took place at the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, held at Columbus, Ohio. She is known to be firmly on the liberal wing of the Church, with the Times commenting: “The election will be welcomed by campaigners for women’s ordination, and will be seen as a boost for campaigners in the Church of England, which is due to debate women bishops at a meeting of the General Synod next month.”

The same article claimed that conservatives, on the other hand, have reacted to this new development with dismay. The president of the traditionalist American Anglican Council, David Anderson, was quoted as saying that her election “will exacerbate the troubles” of the church, and he pointed out that in addition to her support for the homosexual “agenda” in America, as a bishop she had also “voted against a document that upheld scripture as necessary to salvation”. Traditionalists have already made it clear that they will not accept her authority.

“Two irreconcilable positions”

In a frank interview, Michael Nazir-Ali, the bishop of Rochester, told the Daily Telegraph that divisions between the conservatives and liberals now represented “two irreconcilable positions and you have to choose between them. The right choice is in line with the Bible and the Church’s teaching down the ages, not some new-fangled religion we have invented to respond to the twenty-first century… If you move in that direction you become a kind of options Church, where you live by preferences”.

As we stand at a distance and witness these developments, we see a sad sign of the times. The current problems of the Anglican Church in many ways mirror those of Western society itself, as moral standards decline, church attendance decreases, there is less respect for the authority of scripture, and “every man does that which is right in his own eyes”. These are challenging times for disciples of Christ as the increasingly wicked world around us inevitably impinges on our lives.

While our understanding of scripture and the teaching of the true Church would no doubt differ from that of Michael Nazir-Ali, we can certainly echo his comment quoted above. “The right choice” is indeed to hold fast to Bible teaching, to those eternal and unchanging truths revealed to us by our Heavenly Father. We do not “live by (our own) preferences” but “by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). It has ever been so!

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