The Episcopal Church (TEC) is the liberal part of the Anglican Communion which administers the region occupied by the United States of America. On January 14, 2016, it was announced that the Primate's Council of the Anglican Communion had voted to discipline TEC. As readers might guess, the matter involved same-sex "marriage." The action taken would be like the Seventh-day Adventist world church in some way disciplining the North American Division.
The Anglican Communion has significant worldwide distribution and no small membership. Globally, Anglicans number 85 million. The minority of Anglicans live in Western nations where there is some acceptance of homosexual practice. Most of these have a dominant demographic with a birth rate below replacement level. Meanwhile, the Church is growing in Africa. The largest concentration of Anglicans is found there.
Anglicans have neither pope nor magisterium; the Communion is led by its primates. For centuries the chief primate has been the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is first among equals. Governance for the Anglican Communion is provided by its 38 primates. The church is very loosely organized, and there is no obvious means of enforcing discipline. These facts make what happened on January 14 all the more surprising.
The Archbishop of Canterbury had called a special primates meeting in a last ditch attempt to preserve the communion from schism. Recent decades had seen a great fissure open in the communion. In Britain and America, the church has been deeply washed in the current trends of the culture. The remarkable decline is reflected in many ways, one being the aggressive advance of a homosexual agenda inside the Communion. In particular, many homosexual church members believe they should be able to "marry" a partner of the same-sex, and have made it their project to have their perceived "right" enforced in not just the culture but also the Church.
TEC leaders were in the forefront of clergy surfing this cultural wave. And so, Gene Robinson, a gay Anglican living with a same-sex partner, was consecrated bishop of the diocese of New Hampshire in 2004. A simmering stew now became a boiling pot on a hot burner. Discontent in Africa and America accelerated. Years of fruitless protest against Western apostasy seemed to have fallen on ears that refused to hear.
Decisions made by the primates in key ecclesiastical meetings were not obeyed. The Anglican communion was in unravel mode.
In 2008 GAFCON was formed, the Global Anglican Future CONference, representing some 35 million "active Anglicans" mostly from Africa. A historic meeting was held in Jerusalem, in which it was declared that unity with the Archbishop of Canterbury was unnecessary for Anglican identity. The “Jerusalem Declaration” essentially set up a parallel structure with doctrinal particulars marked out. It was a turn away from hierarchy to confessionalism. Marriage only between a man and a woman was affirmed. The declaration also stated "We reject the authority of those churches and leaders who have denied the orthodox faith in word or deed." (Interestingly, many United Methodists appear to be traveling a similar path, discontented with the unwillingness of the UMC General Conference and local conferences to uphold the teachings of its General Conference session voted positions. The 2016 UMC GC session to be held in Portland, Oregon may be the finale for the Methodist dispute. But we digress.)
GAFCON also called for the formation of a new Anglican province in North America. That is how the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA) was born. The apostasy of TEC led to turmoil, pitched legal battles over property, and the departure of hundreds of congregations. Many church members are content to lose all rather than be run over by storm trooper clergy. Since 2009 the ACNA now numbers 983 congregations and over 100,000 members. The ACNA is not presently recognized by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
But TEC leadership plowed on relentlessly moving farther from the rest of the Communion. On June 29, 2015, the TEC in General Convention adopted protocols for the blessing of same sex "marriages". In North America, gender confusion was now full grown. The Anglican Church of Canada is scheduled to consider the same this year.
The January 14, 2016 meeting of Anglican primates issued a declaration stating among other things "We acknowledge God’s creation of humankind as male and female and the unchangeable standard of Christian marriage between one man and one woman as the proper place for sexual intimacy and the basis of the family." This is exactly contra the position of TEC.
What does the Anglican Communion's Primate's Council disciplining of TEC mean? For a period of three years, TEC is not permitted to represent the Anglican Communion on ecumenical or interfaith councils; TEC clergy during the three years are not permitted to be appointed or elected to any internal Anglican Communion committee; during the three years TEC will not take part in any decision making in the Anglican Communion. This might not sound very tough to a Seventh-day Adventist, but in the Anglican mindset these consequences are very painful. Ecumenical hobnobbing is very important to a body like the Anglican church, and not being involved in decision-making for three years will be damaging to initiatives certain leaders would have preferred to advance within the communion.
The ACNA's Archbishop Foley Beach was invited to participate in the Primates meeting. The GAFCON primates recognize Foley Beach as primate for the ACNA. The interesting piece to this is that, with TEC unable to vote for three years, the way is open for ACNA to be joined in full to the broader Anglican communion. TEC and ACNA would overlap geographically. The situation is electrified. What will happen to TEC?
What has just happened in the Anglican Communion is surprising, even shocking. Pro-gay Western Anglicans are howling. Many are shouting that TEC's disciplining by the primates does not matter. They say they will carry on as before and influence the communion to be more loving.
Archbishop Michael Curry of the TEC said, “It means that we have more work of love to do, and that work of love is helping our story and the story of many faithful Christians who are part of our church who may be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, helping their stories be told and heard. And it really may be part of our vocation in the Episcopal Church to bear witness to that. . . we do not give up. . . we will continue being who we are. . .” (see video).
Only time will tell what happens for the Anglican Communion. One point of interest is that although before the meeting it was anticipated that no action would be taken against TEC and that the GAFCON primates would walk out in protest, they did not walk. They stood their ground. TEC was disciplined.
The scene is an important one for Seventh-day Adventists. The ways the Anglican Communion and the Seventh-day Adventist Church function are very different. But the fact that the Anglican Communion has imposed church discipline on what is roughly its equivalent of an Adventist Division is striking. If in 2016 even a loosely connected liberal denomination can impose discipline, what about the much more closely interconnected Adventist Church?
The leaders of the Adventist Church have many options to deal with a runaway Division (which certainly the North American Division is). Consider where we are. After the world church has spoken in San Antonio, ordinations of women are being conducted in the Division. Some conferences are inflating the “commissioned” credential to practical equivalence to the ordained minister. In California at least one “transgendered” person has been appointed to serve as elder. The Division is silent. A radioactive tomorrow is being made a radioactive today. Many members are at their limit.
Adventists should pray faithfully for the leadership of the Church. Anglican primates stood their ground. Can we do less? Adventist leadership holds two major meetings each year, Spring and Autumn Councils. All the transgressions mentioned in the previous paragraph have occurred since 2015 Autumn Council.
Spring Meeting 2016 is coming.