By Anthony Clavier
Steps by GAFCON and the Global South Fellowship of Anglican Churches to “cancel” the Archbishop of Canterbury from leadership of the Communion has threatened worldwide Anglicanism more formidably than the Kikuyu conflict of a hundred years ago. Then some African dioceses shared the Sacrament with evangelical missionaries in Kenya and incurred the wrath of the Anglo-Catholic Bishop of Zanzibar, Frank Weston.
Nowadays, inevitably, the issue is sex, and sex has become the issue able to break communion between even those who are able to maintain communion despite fundamental disagreements on such doctrinal matters as the nature of the sacraments, holy orders, and the Church itself. Those subjects, major elements in the divisions of the 16th century, seemed to have been successfully comprehended in an Anglican Communion that incorporated Catholics, evangelicals, and variations on those themes. But now it would seem not, because the decision to divide, whatever the issue, fundamentally involves doctrines of the Church, its ministry, and sacraments.
At this stage I should admit that I believe the divisions of the Church, that of East and West, and later of the West, to have been unmitigated disasters. I am an Anglican because I believe that good, even remarkable good, may emerge, by God’s grace, from disaster.
The justification for division, at least in our current conflict, seems to be based on some brief remarks by St. Paul, dealing with personal sinfulness, or at most those of a small number of people, in local churches. The Apostle never declares himself out of communion with one of the churches founded by his missionary journeys.
On the other hand, ecclesial division not only defies our Lord’s prayer for unity, but ignores a significant parable. Our Lord’s high priestly prayer, recorded in St. John’s Gospel, describes the unity of the Christian family in trinitarian terms. It is significant that Jesus does not pray that his followers be taken out of the world, but that they should be preserved from evil. Unity is not the same as a secular coalition, based on mutual agreement and opportunity. Rather it is a participation in the love that binds together Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. As such, it is a gracious and undeserved gift of communion and fellowship by the triune God, made possible by the mystical union of church as Christ’s body together with its head, Christ crucified and risen. That is what Communion means.
The parable to which I refer is the parable of the wheat and weeds to be found in St. Matthew’s Gospel. In the parable, wheat is sown by God, and weeds by the devil. At the Judgment, God consigns the weeds to the fires of hell. But note that occurs when God finally judges the world. Until then, wheat and weeds are to be left to grow together. Why? Because we are incompetent horticulturists, not to be trusted to identify, let alone uproot, weeds. In other words, Judge not least you be judged.
There is no hint that righteous Christians are permitted to migrate to adjacent fields. In any case, such a migration would be futile. Weeds migrate too.
Those who want a pure Church, who yearn for justice now, seem not to be aware that such a natural impulse is extraordinarily dangerous. Of course, those given authority must seek to reform those who err in doctrine or behavior. But Christian authority is grounded in love, and exercised by servant-sinners. The desire to judge, to usurp God’s authority, swiftly transforms the judger into arrogance and spiritual pride, to give thanks that they are not as other people are. Pride is a deadlier sin than misused sex.
If they would hear me, I would invite the GAFCON leaders to live alongside all of us who profess and call ourselves Christians. I would ask them to abandon their distaste for a worldly Church, but rather to admit their own worldliness.
At every Eucharist we kneel next to people whose sins might shock us, just as they would be shocked by our sins. Together we are fed by Jesus, and that feeding is both a judgment and a mercy. So it is daily, as the whole Church, corporately prays as one, though divided by pride and other sins. I pray that the Anglican Communion will remain in one field, for its own sake and for the sake of the whole of Christ’s Church here on earth.