Bishop of London Warns against “Rootless Evangelicalism” to U.S. Traditional Anglicans

on January 31, 2012

Orthodox Anglicans gathered last weekend at the “Mere Anglicanism” Conference in Charleston, South Carolina to ponder revival and the future of the global Anglican Communion.  One English speaker accused the U.S. Episcopal Church of separating “the Gospel of salvation from Social Gospel.” Other speakers included the former Bishop of Rochester, the Archbishop of Jos, Nigeria, and the Episcopal Bishop of South Carolina.  Bishop of London Richard Chartres warned against “rootless evangelicalism” in contrast with the Anglican tradition’s “full symphony.”

Held at the historic St. Philip’s Church, the event was founded by committed Anglicans such as retired Episcopal Bishop C. Fitzsimmons Allison who “believe that educated, authentically discipled, and active Anglicans—both lay and clergy—are central to the efforts to reform and renew Anglicanism in North America.” This year’s conference, entitled “The Once and Future Church,” sought insight from the past to help with revival and mission in the future.

As could be expected in a symposium upholding revival, low church enthusiasts attended in full force. The Rev. Dr. Richard Turnbull of Wycliffe Hall at Oxford commended the English awakenings of the 1700s and early 1800s. Turnbull described these evangelical stirrings as “deeply and essentially Anglican.” Both the Wesleyan and Wilberforce eras witnessed a “recovery in intense piety in personal devotions,” a “rejection of superficiality,” and a “rediscovery of the teachings of the Reformation.” Looking at such luminaries as the Wesleys (“Methodist was lower case m before upper case”), Whitefield, Grenshaw, Shaftsbury, and Wilberforce; the Oxford professor highlighted the tension between “freedom and order.”

“The episcopal office can allow radical methods within an established church,” Turnbull asserted. The 19th century revival in particular had “a vision of the transformation of society, not just individual salvation.” Turnbull considered a separation of the two as problematic.  And he accused the U.S. Episcopal Church of separating “the Gospel of salvation from Social Gospel.”

As Vice Chancellor for the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee, Dr. John McCardell offered a more American perspective. Recalling the 1831 South Carolinian Beaufort Revival, McCardell described Presbyterian preacher Daniel Baker, who preached in both Episcopal and Baptist churches, inciting conversions, abolitionist sentiments, calls to ordained ministry, and even mission work in China. This Beaufort Revival occurred in a “time of crisis.”  McCardell suggested today’s America, amid economic turmoil, may once again be ripe for a flourishing piety.

Not all the speakers at Mere Anglicanism were revivalists.  High-churchmen addressed sacrament and liturgy. Bishop of London Richard Chartres discussed the church’s story in the book of Acts. “We are given in Acts a picture of an expanding church,” he noted.  “The missionary imperatives are immense.”  Chartres is most recently widely known for having conducted last years’ British royal wedding.

“Memory and mission go together,” Chartres asserted, “Traditionalism shows the fear to go beyond mere repetition…We build upon the foundation of the Word made flesh.” Later Chartres recalled the life and ministry of Henry Compton, an earlier Bishop of London who helped establish the church in South Carolina (which celebrates its tercentennial). Chartres drew several lessons from Compton’s example. For example, today’s electronic communication threatens the “intensely personal approach” that made Compton so effective. “The speed of communications is not conducive to profound community,” Chartres complained. He praised liturgical corporate worship, proclaiming that the Anglican Communion united around “a common liturgical tradition” and had “an identity…that appeals not just to the cerebellum…but to the whole body.”

Chartres thought that Anglicanism will hold an advantage over nondenominational evangelicalism in the coming years since Anglican belief and practice are “founded on Scriptures, interpreted by tradition,…and guided by the Spirit-filled continuity of the church’s life.” Rootless evangelicalism is “distressing” because “there is too little Bible in it.” When British evangelicals rely on “portions of the Apostles,” religion is often “reduced to certain ideas in the mind” rather than the full “mosaic of Scripture.” This “entire symphony” approach, as exemplified in a faithful use of the lectionary, avoids “tyrannizing over the text of scripture and analyzing the text.” Chartres explained, “We need to put ourselves under the judgment of Scripture. We must not be selective in tyrannizing over the text with our eyes. What is appealing today may not be food we need later in life.”

“If you have your truth and I have my truth you end in chaos,” Chartres warned.  “Truth as my possession is a route to idolatry,” he observed, “There is a confidence to engage with other people with other people if we engage all of Scripture.”

Several speakers sought a strong foundation upon which to expand the church. Former Rochester Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali traced the earliest of Anglican mission work in the early Middle Ages in his message: “Amnesia and Anamesis: How We Lost Our Way.” He showed how Great Britain featured two prongs of mission: the Celtic and the Roman. The roaming Celtic ideal was flexible yet unpredictable; the Roman approach was interested in institutions and structure. The Celts inclined themselves to accommodate culture while the Romans tended to pit Christ against cultural evils. Both complemented each other and helped re-evangelize Western Europe. This helpful tension continues through the present day. Nazir-Ali praised Christianity’s ability to “translate” into many cultural contexts while still providing a strong base to staunch societal evils.

Similarly, Trinity School for Ministry Dean the Very Rev. Dr. Justyn Terry called for improved education standards for Anglican ministry. He encouraged his brethren to “live right-side-up in an up-side-down world.” He touted efforts at Christian education in home schools, Christian private schools, colleges, and universities. Despite the onslaught of secularism and criticism, Terry urged, “Now is the time for a higher level of education, not a lower one.”

Not all was comfort and refreshment in Charleston.  Many attendees also expressed their concerns for the Anglican Communion’s future. In a particularly moving presentation, current Episcopal Church Bishop of South Carolina Mark Lawrence worried about schisms within the Anglican tradition. He noted that six overlapping bishops claim apostolic authority in the case of high-churchmen and the historic episcopate in the case of low-churchmen. He sarcastically asked: “Will the real bishop of South Carolina please stand up?” In addition, he urged: “We evangelical Anglicans need to realize that the church is not merely some appendage attached to the Gospel.”

In a question-and-answer session, Bishop Nazir-Ali stated that the Anglican Covenant, a document intended to strengthen accountability within the communion, would probably not pass. “The first three theological principles outline a wonderful doctrine of ecclesiology,” he recounted, “but the fourth principle totally undoes the previous statements.” Heterodox dioceses likely will not submit to its authority thanks to the ratification procedures. After warning about “autonomy without accountability,” Lawrence hoped unity would be accomplished through the “Holy Spirit working through mutual relationships.”

The conference concluded with a rousing lesson from Archbishop Benjamin Kwashi of Jos, Nigeria. In his evening homily, he boldly announced: “The Gospel is not some cooked-up story. It is not man-made…Jesus’ call to the world is about God’s mission of salvation!…The heritage of our tradition of the Gospel of Jesus Christ!” Kwashi exclaimed:  “Jesus is not laughing at the [secular] West. He is not laughing at the Muslims. He is saying, ‘O that someone would go to bring my message of salvation.” He noted:  “It is the one activity that God has promised that He will honor.”

Apostolic succession is more than an academic claim, but is also a living dynamic reality,” Kwashi declared.  He further asserted, “Preaching and taking the Gospel to the world is non-negotiable.” He cited past Anglican missionaries to his home country: “Were they crazy? No! They knew something that we have forgot.”

The attendees of Mere Anglicanism face grim circumstances. Schism threatens to tear the communion apart, especially due to the aggravations of the Episcopal Church’s loosened sexuality and doctrinal standards. Western churches are plagued by theological liberalism and shriveling memberships.  In the face of these concerns, Bishop Chartres’ words grant a ring of hope: “The Holy Spirit does not leave Himself without a witness in the direst circumstance.”

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