Saturday 12 January 2008

Raven Interventionin'

The better known Charles Raven (1885 - 1964) was a liberal theologian and socialist combined with being a naturalist. He was Regius Professor Emeritus of Divinity, Cambridge. Charles Raven the evangelical is now Senior Minister of Christ Church Wyre Forest, an independent Anglican congregation. This one has commented before on the Church of England, most notably against its compromise with the Civil Partnership Act, and he left the Church of England after falling out with the Bishop of Worcester, Dr Peter Selby, in 2002, over the issue of homosexuality (See Doug Chaplin's informative biography- scroll down to his comment).

Now, from his independent stance, he writes about the Church of England saying that there should be intervention from the Global Anglican Future as posted by David Virtue on 11 January 2008 and reproduced at Anglican Mainstream. Presumably his church would join a new alliance.

As he rightly identifies, the effect of the GAFCON initiative is that the Church of England will be on, for him:

...the wrong side of the fault line which is opening ever wider through the Communion as we enter 2008.

He recalls what he called a weary tolerance about David Jenkins in 1984 when he was at an evangelical theological college in Durham. He sees that over time the evangelical movement in the Church of England has adjusted to living with an ever increasing level of compromise.

Some of this is because of establishment, and he claims that to keep their access to the House of Lords the House of Bishops supported the Government's landmark Civil Partnership Legislation in 2005. He thinks they did so because the Church of England lost its grip on the common doctrinal identity which would lead it to transform culture rather than be compromised by it. At the heart of this is the problem with its evangelical movement:

...a movement which set out to restore the Church's biblical and Reformed identity is itself becoming an ideological shambles. Despite growth in numbers, the movement is severely weakened by division, inconsistency and lack of overall vision.

Reform and Church Society have maintained themselves but Alpha has partnered itself with a college that is an initiative of the Bishops of London and Chelmsford, the latter being a Patron of Changing Attitude.

The division among evangelicals is further illustrated by Elaine Storkey alleging discrimination against her own 'open evangelical' stance by the 'conservative evangelical' leadership of Wycliffe Hall.

This division and weakness then affects the Church of England, but now there is GAFCON on the way that may force what the Archbishop of Canterbury will not do; indeed he reminds readers that GAFCON has happened because of the invitation of TEC bishops to the Lambeth Conference who approved Gene Robinson's election as Bishop of New Hampshire in 2003.

It leaves what he calls the revisionists with the Mother Church of the Anglican Communion. On Virtue Online and on Anglican Mainstream this article refers to the Archbishop of Canterbury as a "false teacher". Its bishops follow culture; its evangelicals are fragmented. Therefore, he says:

The urgent need of the Church of England, therefore, must then be for overseas intervention by orthodox Primates who are willing unambiguously to break fellowship with the current Archbishop of Canterbury and act jointly to initiate a new Global Anglican missionary movement in England.

This is, in my view, a necessary step for the boundary crossers: to declare the Archbishop of Canterbury as an heretical teacher and to ally him and the Church of England along with The Episcopal Church. They have to do this to justify to themselves creating something like the same Convocation structure that was set up for the United States, or perhaps some other form of intervention via an international bishop or two.

He thinks GAFCON makes the intervention global, rather than by one Church over another Church in parallel examples. This is an important argument, and mirrors the strategy of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who has wanted to centralise the Instruments of Communion. Such a supposed co-ordinated international intervention is therefore a parallel structure, and therefore an alternative Communion. It must be so, by the logic of this argument. This would be:

...a formidable challenge to revisionist bishops as they could not question the Anglican credentials of its members nor convincingly represent them as belonging to some sectarian tendency. The aim should not, of course, be to destroy the Church of England as an institution, but to come alongside and stimulate evangelism...

Of course they would question its sectarian tendency. It is all based around Reform and Church Society compatible people, along with hardline bishops and provinces. He then says:

the groundwork for such intervention has already been accepted by the signatories to the Covenant for the Church of England published in December 2006.

Well, talk about sectarian! This was purely sectarian, and something of a rushed joke. It had all the hallmarks of lack of consultation and assumed support that was not present (as with Jerusalem). It had an atmosphere of bullying too, that has come to be part of the GAFCON experience so far (as with Michael Poon).

This Charles Raven recruits Michael Nazir-Ali into being a critic of the Archbishop of Canterbury, calling him revisionist; and says that Nazir-Ali and up to a quarter of English Diocesan bishops will avoid the Lambeth Conference. In other words, Nazir-Ali is being set up to lead the intervention into the Church of England via a:

'Macedonian call' to the GAFCON Primates to 'come over and help us' (Acts 16:9).

That Charles Raven is identified as being in the Worcester Diocese shows something of the GAFCON adventure and intentions to intervene. Of course he is not part of the Worcester Diocese as he is not an Anglican in the Canterbury Communion. Interventions will either be from outside the Canterbury Communion, or illicit. GAFCON meets before, not after Lambeth, so by the time of the Lambeth Conference in July 2008 - and it is irrelevant what Lambeth decides, if it decides anything - GAFCON will be setting itself up for interventions, probably as a new Communion, though it may take a Lambeth Conference to respond.

If Lambeth thinks that by tightening up doctrine and centralising the Communion it will attract these folks back then it will be foolish - they won't even let other members of the Global South queer their pitch, nor other evangelicals. So perhaps Lambeth 2008 ought to let these people go and re-establish the Communion on the principles on which it has always been established: autonomy and breadth, worship that leads to theologies, and bonds of affection rather than this descent into division and documents.

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