THE FUTURE of the Anglican Church lies in new territories and old teachings, according to several speakers at a conference hosted by Regent College in Vancouver.
Clergy and ordinands from Canada and the United States came to discuss The Future of Anglican Ministry from May 12-15, at an event organized through Regent’s Anglican Studies program.
Dr. George Egerton, a history professor at the University of British Columbia and editor of the conservative publication, Anglican Essentials, delivered the keynote address. Statistics show a decline in the number of people who attend Anglican churches in the so-called First World, he said. The church has responded to modernity by revising its theology and accommodating the culture, but despite these adaptations, the church remains marginalized, he said.
Dr. Egerton warned of “a very real and imminent danger” of schisms within the church, which he said could only be avoided by reaffirming the central tenets of Angli-canism. Many seminaries, he said, had become “waste-lands of mediocrity” that no longer offer a distinct moral point of view.
But there are also signs of hope, he said. He identified the signs as a resurgence of evangelicalism, the Essentials movement of which he is a leader, the widespread acceptance of the Alpha program even in liberal churches, and the “exemplary” theological leadership of bishops from Africa and Asia, as evidenced at the 1998 Lambeth conference.
Commenting on the recent renegade ordination of two conservative U.S. priests in Singapore, Dr. Egerton said missionary bishops are an “alarming innovation,” but the censuring and exiling of orthodox bishops would be worse.
The Anglican Studies program began four years ago in response to a demand from students who wanted their training at Regent to qualify them for ordination in the Anglican church, said Dr. Don Lewis, who oversees the program. The qualifications a candidate for ordination must meet vary from bishop to bishop, but Dr. Lewis said there has been “a growing acceptance” of the evangelical school’s program among Canadian bishops.
Ten of Regent’s Anglican Studies graduates were ordained in the past two years, he added. “If we’re doing an average of five a year, that suggests we’re having some impact,” he said. “I hope that number goes up much higher. And the reason for that hope is that we attract high-quality candidates for ministry that bishops are interested in looking at.”
Rev. Harry Robinson, chaplain of the Anglican Studies program, told the conference preachers need to embrace the foolishness of the cross, rather than “reduce the gospel” to terms that are acceptable to “the prevailing wisdom of the age we are locked into.”
In his lecture, Rev. James Packer emphasized the centrality of the Bible and called on Anglicans to be “soaked in the Scripture.” Anglicanism, he said, is characterized by its biblical foundation and its Reformational and liturgical heritage, as well as its pastoral ethos, rational temper and commitment to episcopal leadership.
Dr. Packer criticized what he called the “revisionist eccentricities” of the past two centuries and said some parishes are suffering because their clergy were educated in modern theological schools that emphasize unorthodox doctrines.
In an interview afterwards, Dr. Packer declined to name a specific school or issue where leaders had become too unorthodox. “We were deliberately not more specific than our words suggested,” he said. “Our conference was intended to be encouraging and visionary. It wasn’t intended to be polemical, or to get bogged down in secondary matters.”
Rev. George Sumner, principal of Wycliffe College in Toronto, compared the gospel in modern culture to treasure in earthen vessels, and said the two need to be kept distinct. Evangelists who use marketing techniques to spread the gospel need to “borrow and sift” what is good in the culture, while “allowing the unique logic of the kingdom to prevail,” he said.
Dr. Sumner said the church needs to devote more attention to its mission to the outside world, and less to its own self-maintenance. Christians will have to proclaim news, he said, but they must not forget the news they are proclaiming: “In our own time, theology has been reinvigorated, not by a new idea, but by reclaiming the Trinity.”
Archdeacon Rodney Andrews, prolocutor of General Synod and rector at St. Anselm’s in Vancouver, said afterwards that he was impressed by “the faith and the obvious commitment” of the conference’s participants, as well as by the variety of bishops who came from across Canada. “Frankly, I couldn’t put all those bishops in one theological camp,” he said.
Archdeacon Andrews added that, although he saw a number of people at the conference who work with aboriginals, he would have liked to have seen more aboriginal people themselves.
Dr. Lewis said the approximately 150 people who attended the conference were almost triple the number he had anticipated, and based on evaluation forms returned, he estimated between 80 and 100 of the attendees were lay people seriously considering ordination. Peter Chattaway is an associate editor with BC Christian News.