Thursday 3 January 2008

GAFCON - New Reformation?

The question is raised about how much GAFCON is actually Anglican. It is intended to produce a renewed Anglicanism, a new Communion. However, if it is a New Reformation, then is it really Anglican at all? It is noted that some of the breakaway churches in Virginia, that attached themelves to Nigerian episcopal authority, have congregations of people who have come recently from many denominations.

It was back in 1989 that I gained my Ph.D from a thesis called: New Denominationalism: Tendencies Towards a New Reformation of English Christianity (University of Hull). Produced on an Amstrad PCW, I never managed to get it converted to CP/M text and then over to DOS for insertion into the Windows 95 PC, whereas I did manage this with the MA material (it taking place when I took delivery of my first PC computer with word processor). So all I have (without scanning every page of the thesis!) for the Ph.D is a summary and then its mainstream triangle summarised and, later, a revised one. The external examiner was Tony Coxon.

Basically the Ph.D was to show the characteristics and dynamics of old denominations being superseded by new ones. So Anglicanism, Methodism, URC, Baptists, were like old denominations set up according to old arguments at the time. In all of these were now divisions, according to new disputes forming groups, and the groups and their arguments exist across denominations. These are in effect pan-denominational alliances and they are proto-new denominations if held back by institutional conservatism.

As far as I know without extensively checking, not once did I refer to homosexuality. I did see the authority of women as important for dividing and allying. Nor did I take any account of Emerging Church (a moderate, creative, evangelical expression, and some intellectual content) or Radical Orthodoxy (a strange combination of non-realism and conservatism). These can both be seen as forms of Anglicanism, though Radical Orthodoxy is stretching to have expression elsewhere, such as in Lutheranism.

Nevertheless, a breakout that is based on contemporary divisions is going to be along the lines of conversionism, which is a phenomenon that runs across old denominations, or orthodox and heterodox liberalisms. Some old denominations have been less receptive than others to these tendencies, and Methodism for example has a form of presentation that peculiarly (given its history) has not attracted the charismatic movement and therefore an engine of conversionism. Thus it is becoming increasingly a sort of conserved sect, a traditionalism at least of form from which evangelicalism and liberalism as they do exist would have to break free. What would achieve this is merger with the Anglicans: alteration of the restrictive structures.

The question now is with which Anglicans would they merge? Not only does structural ecumenism allow division, but division allows structural ecumenism. Division in Anglicanism is coming first, thanks to GAFCON.

Merging with the Methodist Church became a lot easier after Anglo-Catholic traditionalism was compromised with the ordination of women. Much of the objection from episcopal absolutists was lost. However, division seems to be ahead of merging.

If GAFCON succeeds, and imports into Britain, many Methodists would want to join its evangelical expression, and so would many Particular Baptists, compatible people in the URC and so on. The Canterbury Communion would be welcoming to moderate Methodists, some General Baptists, and some in the URC. Many in the URC, even liberal, remain committed to two orders and not three of ministry, and many baptists would also reject episcopal authority and some rituals such as child baptism. So denominations still retain some specialities and characteristics, but these are old arguments.

The question is whether the episcopacy of a Reform (the group) compatible Global Anglican Communion would not view its bishops more as functioning elders than as sacrilised individuals able to harness the ongoing service of ritual power from their deposit of ordination and consecration as a focus of unity over a diocese. Reformation bishops are more like functionaries with a role, of gathering and guiding in the right belief and disciplining both belief and behaviour. They are elders. There might indeed be a cloudiness to whether these are three orders or ministry or two.

While dogmatic Anglo-Catholics are on board with GAFCON, the emphasis is placed on historical Anglicanism to which they and conversionists can agree. But there is no doubt that a type of Anglicanism is driving this, and such reflects contemporary divisions which go right across denominations. As such, a Global Anglican Communion, despite talking about historic tradition, would be new in the division of the Anglican Church, and as such the outcome could have quite a bit of ecumenical appeal.

Planting new churches would not attract Anglicans as such. It would attract conversationists: fundamentalist, charismatic and evangelical. A new Communion - a fellowship of believers - would be ecumenical from the off, even if Anglicans provided most personnel.

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