Some of the nation's leading journalists gathered in Key West, Fla., in May 2007 for the Pew Forum's biannual Faith Angle Conference on religion, politics and public life.
Philip Jenkins, a Penn State University professor and one of the first scholars to call attention to the rising demographic power of Christians in the southern hemisphere, analyzed the ongoing schism in the worldwide Anglican church. While the dispute concerns attitudes toward homosexuality, Jenkins argues the core of the conflict lies in how biblical authority is defined. [Emphasis added.]
Will the current alliances between conservative Western and African leaders endure? Will African leaders begin to press an ultra-liberal economic agenda? Are other mainline denominations in the U.S. headed for similar splits? Jenkins answered these and others questions, while offering a fascinating glimpse into the life of African Christianity.
Read it all.
How to answer those questions? Here are my thoughts:
1. Will the current alliances between conservative Western and African leaders endure?
Given this week's developments in the Anglican Mission in the Americas, that is indeed a question. If Global South Anglicans were ever tempted to think of their western brothers and sisters as "Ugly Americans" this week's resignation of Chuck Murphy & Company from the Anglican Province of Rwanda and the events leading up to it cannot help but reinforce that impression. How will this eventually be resolved? And will this action by AMiA leaders cast a shadow on the Anglican Church in North America's relationship with the Global South? I pray not. But time will tell.
2. Will African leaders begin to press an ultra-liberal economic agenda?
No. Not in any way that will alienate them from their North American brothers and sisters. Still, North Americans need to try harder to understand the economic realities faced by those in the Global South and work constructively and cooperatively on solutions.
3. Are other mainline denominations in the U.S. headed for similar splits?
Yes. Presbyterians actually preceded Anglican splits with the formation of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) and the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. Moves by the "mainline" Presbyterian Church in the USA to ordain non-celibate homosexual clergy will only expedite the exodus, assuming that there are actually any remaining conservatives in the PCUSA who have not already left. (And, yes, I know there are some--you don't need to write.)
Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant body in the US, have seen their liberals (yes, liberals--not moderates--look at what they actually believe on all the major issues) depart into the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) has seen their conservative wing split after they followed Episcopalians and Presbyterians in ordaining gay clergy. The conservatives have now formed the North American Lutheran Church (NALC). The trend is sure to continue as other denominations face these issues.
But the critical question is the one in the title: "Is the Anglican Communion Rift the First Stage in a Wider Christian Split?"
In a nutshell, yes. Christianity is faced with a division of greater significance than the Protestant Reformation and even the Great Schism between East and West in 1054, as western, so-called "mainline" churches embrace secularist agendas and revisionist views of God, and reject biblical and historic Christian teaching on faith and morals.
There are those who will challenge me for saying this is of greater significance than the Protestant Reformation. I would say it is because they have not looked at what is really at stake. The Protestant Reformation was chiefly concerned with the nature of justification (sola gratia, sola fide) and the related issue of biblical and church authority (sola scriptura) although there were other issues as well. The division today is over the nature of God. You can follow in the direction of Sallie McFague (quoted approvingly by TEC presiding bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori, although she is far from alone among mainline leaders in embracing McFague's views) or you can hold that God has an objective identity that we know through revelation.
McFague's view is essentially this: God is a projection of our own needs, ideals, and imaginations, not a being with an absolute, objective identity that we can know. The classical Christian view is that God has an objective existence, that he has revealed himself to us in Scripture and in the Incarnation of Jesus Christ. I cite McFague, but she is only one example. The drift in academic theology from the objective to the subjective has taken place over more than sixty years. It includes Paul Tillich but goes back even farther, as theology moved from being a dogmatic discipline grounded in Scripture to a speculative discipline grounded in philosophy.
Then there is the division over the nature of the Bible. The revisionist view holds that the Bible is merely a record of human experiences of God. The Jews of the Old Testament had their guesses about God. The New Testament Christians had their guesses about God. And as these guesses worked themselves out in religious experience they became enshrined in a book. But, say those who hold this view, our contemporary guesses about God and our experiences are just as valuable as theirs, maybe even more so. This leads to the hubris that results in such statements as "The church wrote the Bible; the church can rewrite the Bible." For others it is not so much a matter of rewriting the Bible as interpreting it any way they please (they would say they are interpreting it in the light of "modern scholarship" or "contemporary experience") or ignoring it altogether.
What we are dealing with is a dichotomy as to whether Christianity is a speculative religion or a "revealed religion." In affirming revealed religion, I would point to two such unlikely allies as John Henry Newman and J. Gresham Machen. (Take time to follow the three links in this paragraph and to read both Newman's sermon and Machen's entire Christianity and Liberalism, and you'll be glad you did.)
The cry sola scriptura was once raised against a church hierarchy that twisted the interpretation of Scripture for its own ends. Today we must raise once again the cry sola scriptura against church hierarchies and liberal academia that have twisted Scripture to erect a god and a theological system that is of their own idolatrous imaginations instead of the God who was, and is, and evermore shall be, who has revealed himself in the Word of God written [Article XX] and the Word of God Incarnate, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
The Great Schism of 1054 was between two different expressions of Christianity, East and West. The Schism today is between two elements that, though they both use Christian terminology, are, in fact, two different religions.
This is a rift that has been growing for decades, perhaps for centuries, and that has resulted in two distinct (despite the attempts at camouflage) and incompatible worldviews. It is a rift that cannot be bridged because there is no middle ground. You have to choose.
I have made my choice. Hier stehe ich, ich kann nicht anders. Gott helfe mir.