With a deep disagreement about the fundamental reality of marriage, where to now for Anglicanism in Australia? It seems a schism between progressive and conservative Anglicans is certain; their worldviews and values are completely at odds.
The conservative Sydney diocese of the Australian Anglican Church has been dealt a blow by renegade bishops on the issue of homosexual marriage. The bishops rejected a statement on the matter by a vote of 12 to 10. The statement affirmed biblical teaching on the issue, but progressives within the church seem to think they can improve on what Scripture teaches. Three key points of the statement are these:
- The faith, ritual, ceremonial and discipline of this Church reflect and uphold marriage as it was ordained from the beginning, being the exclusive union of one man and one woman arising from mutual promises of lifelong faithfulness, which is in accordance with the teaching of Christ that, “from the beginning the Creator made them male and female”, and in marriage, “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (Matthew 19:4-5)
- The solemnisation of a marriage between a same-sex couple is contrary to the teaching of Christ and the faith, ritual, ceremonial and/or discipline of this Church.
- Any rite or ceremony that purports to bless a same-sex marriage is not in accordance with the teaching of Christ and the faith, ritual, ceremonial and/or discipline of this Church.
While the house of laity voted 63 to 47 in favour of this statement, and the house of clergy voted 70 to 39 in favour, the bishops won by exercising their veto power. One news report says this about the vote:
Australia’s Anglican bishops have thwarted an attempt by the powerful, conservative Sydney diocese to have the national church affirm that marriage is only between a man and a woman, prompting dire warnings from Sydney’s archbishop that the unity of the Australian church is in peril.
The bishops voted against Sydney’s statement by 12 to 10, vetoing what would otherwise have been clear support for a rejection of gay unions from the laity and clergy at a meeting on Wednesday of the church’s general synod, a national congress of ordained and lay Anglicans.
The issue of same-sex marriage has splintered Anglican churches around the world. Any formal division in Australia could trigger an ugly showdown over who owns valuable assets, which, in Sydney, range from 200-year-old churches to sprawling schools.
As the synod prepared to vote, the Archbishop of Sydney, Kanishka Raffel, warned that if the “unremarkable” statement affirming the traditional view of marriage did not pass, then something was “fundamentally awry”.
“The Australian church is looking to see whether the faith and practice of this church has changed,” he said. Raffel named the many international jurisdictions in which the issue had split Anglicans. “It has proved to be the case that when statements like this one have failed … then some Anglicans have found their conscience has not allowed them to continue fellowship,” he said.
I have been warning for decades now that such splits were inevitable once we jettison biblical teaching in favour of radical woke agendas. One such piece I entitled, “Churches Will Be Trashed When Marriage is Trashed”.
To Stay or to Go?
I have written before about various divisions and splits within churches and denominations. The question always arises: Do the faithful stay and fight in such situations, or have things gotten so bad that leaving an apostate institution is the only viable recourse? As I said in one of those articles:
So the constant question for such groups is this: should we stay and fight the liberalism, or leave and form a new body? This is a very difficult question to answer. I suppose the short answer is to simply seek God with all one’s heart, and seek to discover what His will is in the particular situation.
Presumably God will call some to remain and seek to bring the erring group back to its biblical roots. Then again, in other situations, God may call some to leave, because there is either no hope of reform, or remaining behind may result in contamination and corruption.
So Australian Anglicans must prayerfully and carefully weigh up their options on this. One Anglican who certainly has done so is Mark Durie, a Melbourne-based pastor and academic. He has just penned a very important piece on this vote in particular and the issue of church splits in general.
It is well worth reading in full, but here are some choice quotes from it. He notes how entrenched theological liberalism is in Western denominations:
Despite appearances, this church division is not just about sex. In One Faith No Longer: The Transformation of Christianity in Red and Blue America, American authors George Yancey and Ashlee Quosigk recently argued that progressive and conservative Christians now differ so profoundly that they can no longer be considered members of the same religion.
The fundamental issue is different systems of meaning. Progressives value a humanistic, post-Enlightenment ethic of social justice, downplay the idea of exclusive truth, and seek a flexible and inclusive theology. On the other hand, conservatives find their identity in obedience to a supernatural God revealed in the Bible, adhere to a historical theology which encompasses sexual ethics, and emphasise the supremacy of the Bible in forming doctrine.
Growth vs Decay
He reminds us of the truth that conservative churches are growing while liberal churches are declining:
Much secular commentary has assumed that the conservative side of this divide is doomed to cultural irrelevancy and decline. In fact, the opposite is true, as theological progressivism is everywhere associated with denominational decline, while conservatives thrive.
An example can be seen in North America, where the continuing Episcopal Church, which has embraced same-sex marriage, is in steep decline while the breakaway Anglican Church in North America, which maintains a conservative position, is growing rapidly.
In Australia, the contrast between theologically conservative and progressive Anglican dioceses is stark, as revealed in a 2014 General Synod report on denominational viability. At the time of the 2011 census, the conservative Dioceses of Sydney and Armidale had, respectively, 9.7% and 7.9% of census Anglicans in church on any Sunday, while progressive Brisbane and Perth managed to attract to church only 2.1% and 2.6% respectively of census Anglicans.
The current dominance of conservatives at the Australian Anglican General Synod reflects their greater success at retaining and growing their membership. For example, the Brisbane and Sydney Dioceses historically have had approximately the same number of nominal Anglicans as measured by census responses, but by 2011 conservative Sydney had more than five times the overall Anglican attendance of progressive Brisbane.
He looks at what will happen with Australian Anglicanism:
The fundamental unit in the Australian Anglican polity is the diocese, so ultimately each diocese, together with its bishop, will have to choose its own path. Because of the ubiquitous pattern of progressive decline, it seems unlikely that progressives will ever gain numerical dominance in the General Synod, at least not in this generation.
Up to this point, progressive-dominant dioceses have been exercising restraint, to varying degrees, but as they come to terms with the growing conservatism of the General Synod, their consciences will lead them to ignore or modify national Anglican protocols, first through passive resistance in church discipline, and then through open action.
He concludes with these sobering words:
A structural split in the Australian Anglican Church now seems inevitable. The ideological split is already entrenched, and will not go away. It arises from a deep clash between the values of the Enlightenment and a biblical worldview. The only question is how the schism will play out and how wastefully destructive it will be.
The most sensible and forward-looking thing would be an orderly separation, with assets — both human and material — graciously and fairly divided. Yet Australian Anglicans are far from ready for this. Denial about the reality of the situation in which Australian Anglicans now find themselves seems so entrenched that the process of division will be drawn-out, acrimonious and bitter.
In any case, the eventual separation will happen, come what may.
At the very least, we can ask God to protect this and other denominations from what so often seems to be inevitable rebellion, decay and apostasy.
Originally published at CultureWatch.