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On being moderately faithful: Why Fulcrum is wrong about the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans

The Revd Charles RavenBy Charles Raven, SPREAD

Monday, 6th July, sees the launch of the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans (FCA) in Britain and Ireland at ‘Be Faithful’ in Westminster Central Hall as orthodox streams of Anglicanism unite together around the historic Jerusalem Statement and Declaration celebrated by the GAFCON delegates just over twelve months ago. For those who long for the Anglican Churches of these islands to become safe places for the gospel of Christ, this is profoundly hopeful. ‘Be Faithful ‘ is a very apt title for the day because it captures the same sense of urgency which brought so many to Jerusalem a year ago, convinced that the Anglican Communion had come to a fork in the road as historic as the sixteenth century reformation.

Although the GAFCON movement is firmly rooted in the apostolic faith and the historic reformation formularies of the Church of England, this very clarity has been very unsettling for those whose instincts are first and foremost to preserve the Church as an institution and the whole system of power and patronage which goes with it, formal and informal. The most unsettled are evangelicals who want to preserve the status quo, because, unlike liberals, they have to continually convince themselves, in the face of ever more inconvenient facts, that the Church understood theologically in terms of classic Anglicanism is more or less the same thing as the institutional Church.

This tension is clearly in evidence as Fulcrum seeks to discredit the FCA in advance of Monday’s launch, notably in Andrew Goddard’s recent article ‘Should we all join the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans?’ followed up by Bishop Graham Kings Church of England Newspaper article, prepublished on the Fulcrum website, entitled ‘Glacial Gravity or Opportunistic Autonomy’.

Goddard’s response to ‘Be Faithful’ is essentially ‘Be Moderately Faithful’. He acknowledges considerable common ground theologically and says that he will be turning up on the day, but that he will not join, setting out his reasons as a series of questions. 

Before getting to the core issues, it is necessary to deal briefly with some of the minor objections Goddard raises. For instance, he speculates on where the FCA’s funding comes from and suggests that there is manipulation. This is scurrilous. In my experience, the FCA is more interested in raising money for others than for itself and runs on the proverbial shoestring. Its events are self funding, paid for by those who attend. As one who was at the Jerusalem Conference, it was very clear that no attempt was made to manipulate or pressurise. Pre set agendas were put on one side and there was a genuine consensus borne out of worship, prayer and biblical reflection.

If Goddard is concerned about money and manipulation, he should ponder instead the implications of the American Anglican Council’s recent revelation of TEC’s hand behind the huge donation announced at the last Anglican Consultative Council in Jamaica for a communion wide ‘indaba’ project.

It is also suggested that women will be marginalised in the FCA, despite the fact that three women are speaking at ‘Be Faithful’. It is of course no secret that there are different views of women’s ministry within the FCA as there are within the newly formed Anglican Church of North America and protocols will need to be formed, but everyone can have the confidence that these will be developed within a shared biblical framework s that the question of women’s ministry will not become a kind of softening up exercise for the acceptance of homosexual practice as happened in The Episcopal Church in America.
However, Goddard’s central objection to the FCA is simply that it is not actually needed in the Church of England and what really energises it is a schismatic agenda.

Here we approach the core problem of Fulcrum, its attachment to the status quo and the consequent denial which deepens as the gap between the picture its members need to paint and the reality on the ground becomes wider and wider. We know from the Cost of Conscience survey of 2002 that from a half to a third of the Church of England’s clergy did not believe core doctrines such as the physical resurrection, the virgin birth and Christ as unique saviour. It is not good enough to take refuge behind the claim that there has been no formal shift in Anglican doctrine; the score may still be there, but many of the orchestra are making it up as they go along and will continue to do so in the absence of any effective discipline.

There is a clear liberal bias in the Church of England’s institutions. For instance, evangelical ordinands are typically made to work with people of liberal views to ‘broaden their perspective’, but it is very rare to hear of the reverse happening. This is most evident with regard to the promotion of gay relationships which is at the sharp end of what the philosopher Roger Scruton has called the ‘culture of repudiation’, systematically dismantling the Judeo-Christian tradition which has sustained English and Western culture for the past millennium and beyond. Gay organisations openly advertise in official publications, including Crockfords and the Church of England Yearbook and a number of diocesan bishops are patrons of homosexual advocacy organisations without any significant challenge.

In fact it is virtually impossible for the Church of England to take any kind of stand on this issue as the Roman Catholic Church did when its adoption agencies were threatened with being legally obliged to place children with homosexually active partners. If it did, it would be immediately undermined by its own acquiescence with the Civil Partnerships legislation of 2005 and the House of Bishop’s subsequent Pastoral letter which has jeopardised sacramental discipline by directing that enquiry should not be made about Civil Partnerships for those seeking baptism, confirmation of Holy Communion.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has reinforced this sense that the Church of England has lost its biblical rootedness, not only by his writings on sexuality, but more recently by remarks which caused widespread dismay, being understood to be a call for the incorporation of some aspects of Islamic Sharia law into the English legal system.

Not only is Fulcrum in denial about the Church of England, but it is also in a degree of denial about itself. A brief glance at its own history shows how the movement had its origins in supporting the current Archbishop of Canterbury when his controversial views on sexuality were questioned at the time of his appointment, views which have added hugely to the influence of gay campaigning groups in the Church of England and beyond. Yet Goddard quite unselfconsciously includes Fulcrum as a group ‘committed to orthodox faith and morals’ along with Reform, Church Society, Forward in Faith and others.

This is difficult to square with the evidence. In practice, Fulcrum’s position seems to be rather ambiguous. When Christina Rees, one of the founders of Fulcrum , was asked in an interview in 2006 about what she thought Jesus’ attitude to various groups within the Church today would be, in answer to the question ‘And actively gay bishops like Gene Robinson, would he have minded them? ‘ she replied “No, not if they were in a faithful relationship, of course not.”

And while in May 2006, Goddard wrote ‘The official position of the Church of England, the Anglican Communion, and Fulcrum (”In the much-contested area of sexual ethics this means that the proper context for sexual expression is the union of a man and a woman in marriage”) clearly makes it impossible for them to support IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia)’, the gay lesbian pressure group Changing Attitude saw things rather differently, claiming in its annual report of December 2006 that ‘At a meeting held with a view to creating a church IDAHO (International Day Against Homophobia) day, those present agreed that a distinctive church movement would be more appropriate. Leading evangelicals from Fulcrum have joined members of CA, the Clergy Consultation and the European Forum to develop the proposal.’ (emphasis added)

It should be very obvious that there is therefore a need for a Confessing movement in the Church of England. It’s primary purpose must be prophetic, holding up the mirror of God’s Word to a deeply compromised Church and while structural separation should never be an end in itself, it may be a consequence if there is not repentance and reform.

Unable or unwilling to recognise the depth of the crisis, Andrew Goddard has however to look for an alternative explanation for the GAFCON movement and the launch of the FCA. He finds this by confusing core intention with possible consequence. He interprets the FCA as schismatic because he cannot see any other interpretation of the need to align spiritually, even if not formally, with the global GAFCON movement. But if the Church of England and the existing Instruments of Unity are discredited and failing, then this is the obvious course of action to maintain spiritual integrity.

It is also claimed that the FCA will be ‘separatist’, setting up parallel structures, because it includes ’separatist’ clergy. I can write with some authority on this as I am one of them! In fact only two of us are mentioned, the other being Tony Jones of Christ Church Durham, and we appear to be the tail which will wag the officially non-separatist FCA dog. It is flattering to have such influence attributed, but perhaps Goddard is reluctant to acknowledge how many others are in a similar situation because that actually adds weight to the case that the Church of England is in serious trouble. Without having to think too hard I can bring to mind nine more ‘separated’ Anglican clergy leading congregations and rather more in impaired communion.

The idea that we set out with the primary purpose of separating from the Church of England really does not stand up to examination, especially when it is borne in mind that to leave the institutional structures means financial insecurity and losing your home and church building.

In my own case, my congregation was in impaired communion with the previous Bishop of Worcester because of his outspoken rejection of Lambeth 1.10 and we acted in accordance with the principle recognised formally at last year’s Reform Conference in Resolution 2 which stated ‘This conference recognizes that when bishops accommodate themselves to heretical teaching they deny the faith and therefore abandon their sees.’ We no longer recognized the bishop’s spiritual authority, but did not abandon the parish church and the Church of England. I only left the building after receiving a letter which threatened me with prosecution under the Ecclesiastical Courts Jurisdiction Act 1860 if I continued to minister in the parish church. It was then quite clear that the Church of England had abandoned me, rather than me abandoning it!

Goddard’s charge of separatism – somewhat implausible on a practical level in any case – reveals again the underlying assumption that matters of faith and matters of church order do not come into serious conflict. But the institutions of the church cannot simply be assumed to be apostolic and bishops do not exercise an authority which is independent of the authority of the Scriptures and the Church’s own historic teaching. The schismatic are the ones whose teaching or actions cause the schism, not the ones, like myself, who stand in the place that Anglicanism has always stood. The FCA as a confessional body recognises this truth and that does not make it schismatic – it simply reveals who the true schismatics are.

It is encouraging to see that Andrew Goddard has adopted a very different tone from that of Tom Wright, the Bishop of Durham, who last year castigated the GAFCON leadership as ‘super apostles’, using the Apostle Paul’s designation for the false teachers of 2 Corinthians chapters 11 and 12. Yet the underlying problem remains. Fulcrum is ultimately a distraction because it defines itself politically, as holding the centre ground. But preoccupation with this kind of ‘centre’ means that the gospel itself is no longer central since the Church’s chronic inability to go against the grain of the surrounding culture leads to the centre being pushed continually in a revisionist direction.

This is well illustrated in Graham Kings’ article ‘Glacial Gravity or Opportunist Autonomy’, echoing Goddard’s central themes, in which he sees the Anglican Covenant process as glacial – slow, but ‘reshaping the landscape’. What he seems to have missed is that this glacier is rapidly melting back and another very large chunk fell away at the last Anglican Consultative Council in Jamaica. It is going nowhere. And the reason it is melting is not because of GAFCON’s ‘opportunist autonomy’ but because too many in the Covenant process want the autonomy to reinvent Christianity behind the façade of Anglican validation.

Paradoxically, although he thinks he can detect forward movement in the Covenant glacier, he seems oblivious to the movement of a much larger glacier, that of the secular humanism which is so effectively reshaping the moral, spiritual and cultural landscape of the West and which Fulcrum seems powerless to resist. So yes, we should all join the Fellowship of Confessing Anglicans because quite simply this is the body made up of those willing to make a stand and they can do so in partnership with the great majority of Anglicans around the globe.

Charles Raven
2nd July 2009

 

 


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