Anglican Communion Leaders Gather in London
Anglicans do not have a pope. The Anglican Communion consists of nearly 40 self-governed national churches, or "provinces," throughout the world which all descend from the missionary activity of the Church of England. The head of that church, the Archbishop of Canterbury, holds a position of honor among the leaders of the other national churches expressed in the Latin phrase primus inter pares, “first among equals.” He is the head of the mother church and as such he wields considerable relational influence. But he cannot tell the other churches in the Anglican Communion what to do, nor can the Church of England itself dictate to her daughter churches, all of whom have come of age on their own.
Actions of some of these Anglican provinces in the West over the past decades have challenged Christ-centered fundamental orthodoxies of not just Anglicanism, but of the Christian faith. Strong and growing Anglican provinces mostly in the Global South (places like Nigeria, Kenya, and Southeast Asia) have boldly called these churches to repentance, and in some cases have formally severed ties with them after years of enduring broken promises and ridicule. Despite these formal divisions, all of these bodies remain in full fellowship with the Church of England. This state of affairs is not sustainable, as the Global South leaders have always maintained, and now the Church of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury have now finally said so. That is why Canterbury has called this meeting, to discuss what happens next.
Our national province, the Anglican Church in North America, is a potent expression of this crisis. We were called into existence by the Anglican provinces of the Global South, and our Archbishop, Foley Beach, was ordained by no fewer than nine Primates of the Anglican Communion. The Archbishop of Canterbury does not recognize Archbishop Beach’s ministry as “Anglican,” yet he has invited him to attend nonetheless because of what his ministry says about the Anglican Communion.
As I hope is clear from this lightning fast summary of the state of our global fellowship, this meeting next week is certain to be historic. The Anglican Communion is the third largest communion of Christian churches in the world, behind only the Roman Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, and what happens to us matters to the church universal. A lot is on the table, no less than whether the revealed Christ continues to be the ultimate head of the Anglican Communion. Are we answerable to him, or to the passing fads of a secular culture? Will the Anglican Communion survive this test to her most treasured possession, the pearl of great price, or will some of its members be allowed to continue to sow poisonous snares in God’s harvest with impunity? Will repentance reignite the flame of faith which once warmed us all, or will a new global fellowship be born which bears the banner of the Risen Christ while unrepentant false teachers, however opulent their flowing episcopal gowns, are severed from the Vine to wither? The Global South maintains there are no other options. We will soon find out.
May Christ continue to reign supreme through his Word in his church.