Should the Anglican Church of Canada survive?

Published April 1, 2000

In my theological college, nearly 50 years ago, there were those with romantic notions about how wonderful it must have been to be a Christian in the early church, uninhibited by cultural restraints. It strikes me that Anglicans may soon experience more of that notion than was ever imagined.

In the Church of England, which historically has provided a uni-cultural base for Anglicanism worldwide, there are serious divisions about everything from the ordination of women to the nature of evangelism, from the translation of the Greek word ?ek? in the creed to what constitutes acceptable episcopal oversight, not to mention the questioning, both internally and externally, of that church?s political establishment as the officially recognized church and religion of the English nation.

Here in Canada our church is confronted with the sins of the fathers causing grave embarrassment and shame, not to mention a surfeit of court cases and threatened bankruptcies. Then there are the divisions over how God should be worshipped appropriately (BCP/BAS), how the scriptures should be interpreted (my way/your way), and the desires of so many to dictate bedroom behaviour for others.

Worldwide, in the diocese of Sydney in Australia there is a passion to do away with any meaningful priesthood in proposals for lay presidency at the eucharist (presently on hold). Mind you, I?m not quite sure what that does to their opposition to the ordination of women! The Archbishop of Singapore refuses to share in fellowship or even recognize the legitimacy of those with whom he disagrees.

It is not a pretty sight. The fundamental question has yet to be addressed. Can Anglicanism, as a vehicle for the gospel of Christ, survive its deeply rooted English cultural heritage as an institution of status with attendant ?rights, privileges, and emoluments thereto belonging?? Perhaps an even more important question is, ?Should it??

The answer to the second question must be held in abeyance and will depend on how the first question is dealt with by Anglicans in Canada and worldwide. Breaking free from cultural bias and restraint is not easy, but it is an essential task when that culture has become next to meaningless within the embrace of evolving times with totally different demographics and circumstances. Gothic buildings, archaic language and sociological pretensions speak more of nostalgia than of an enlivening gospel aimed at turning worldly values upside down.

We are at a stage when we need to realize that we cannot have our cake and eat it too. We cannot serve both ?God and mammon.? The choice will be costly ? either way. In choosing to serve God we may have to forfeit much that we hold dear. Our social prestige, or what?s left of it; our tax advantages, institutional and personal; our impressive buildings and real estate; our longings for worldly recognition and success. But what if we choose mammon? There is no reason for us to believe that our proclamations would not sound hollow, without true substance, in a world that has slipped free from traditional spiritual moorings and is floating unencumbered.

Before the third millennium really begins we have a year to engage in repentance, both personal and institutional. Not just in words (we Anglicans are very accomplished with words), but with an open spirit, moving from exclusive prerogatives to inclusive initiatives. As well as talking the talk of Jesus we need to learn again to walk the walk of Jesus.

In my view we need to enter the new millennium with the cross of Jesus held higher than usual in confrontation of those pursuits of power, political, economic and social, which acknowledge no rules or bounds. It could be costly but we owe it to the gospel, and to those who pursue such paths, to warn that loss of the soul is a poor reward for misadventure.

With a renewed vision of the kingdom, Anglicanism and the Anglican Church of Canada certainly should survive to offer their gifts in a revitalized church through a new apostolic age. Can it happen? I believe it can and it will. God is faithful. Canon A. Gordon Baker is former director of the Anglican Foundation and edited the Anglican Journal when it was known as Canadian Churchman.


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