Don’t believe what you read in the headlines. The Church of England is not on the verge of schism.
As John Bingham reported in The Telegraph (he didn’t write the headline), a group of ‘almost a dozen’ congregations are forming a ‘synod’ in order to enable those who hold to the traditional teaching – crucially – to stay in the Church of England. Peter Sanlon, the vicar who has been hosting the meeting, is quoted as follows (emphasis added):
I am not leaving the Church of England - but in order to stay, I need new partnerships and structures to discharge the mission of the Church of England, which is to bring the message of Christ to every postcode in England.
We have set these structures up in a very small embryonic form across three dioceses.
I stand by my assessment from 2014 (‘On good disagreement and the future of the Church of England’), that an actual split in the Church of England is utterly inconceivable. While it is easy for individuals to walk away from the Church of England, there is no mechanism for a whole parish church to leave while keeping their building. Those who hold to the traditional teaching, by and large, are able to just get on with their ministry, without hindrance. The cost of breaking away would be so great, and the pressing urgency to leave is simply nonexistent (for the majority), so it really ain’t going to happen.
But why are there so many reports of the Church of England’s pending split?
If the Church of England is not about to split, then why do we have so many headlines like these (taken from the Archbishop Cranmer blog)?
I think the answer is that people are quick to latch onto anything that fits in with their preconceived narratives. In particular:
- It fits with the media narrative. According to the media, the Church of England is mostly harmless (‘more tea, vicar?’), but there are some angry homophobic bigots who are always stirring up trouble and on the verge of storming out in a huff.
- It fits with the GAFCON narrative. GAFCON is an international grouping of Anglicans concerned to uphold traditional orthodoxy. Its narrative has been exported from the USA, and applied to the Church of England. In the USA, the Episcopal Church has moved in a very liberal direction, and orthodox Anglicans have found themselves forced to leave and to re-group as the Anglican Church in North America. According to GAFCON’s view of things, the same will inevitably happen in England. The Church of England is heading inexorably in the same direction, and sooner or later anyone who upholds orthodox teaching will be forced to leave. So these churches had better start getting ready: prepare the lifeboats and get on board, before the ship sinks! Hence the GAFCON response to the latest events speaks of ‘the relentless slide towards revisionism in the Church of England structures’. That’s the GAFCON narrative.
But there is an alternative narrative. For any who have eyes to see it, there are considerable signs of growth and renewal within the Church of England structures. Could it be that God isn’t finished with the Church of England yet?
I hope so. And I pray so. And I’m committed to living within that narrative, until it is abundantly clear that God has other plans.