Gafcon? The long night of the soul for the Anglican Church

On August 5 1973, when I was 21 years old, I gave my life to the Lord Jesus Christ and became a Christian. I was led through the sinners prayer by a glittery eyed young man in the back room of the Assembly of God in Lower Hutt despite my great intellectual doubts about the whole exercise. My intellectual doubts have, in some senses, continued unabated ever since, but one thing I can't deny. Whatever happened on that Sunday night worked. I was ushered into a personal relationship with God which has also continued unabated ever since. The persistent lived, felt experience of another - not a something but a someone - began at that moment.

We Christians proclaim and live a paradox. We claim that Almighty God has lived amongst us in the person of Jesus and that through his life, death and resurrection we can enter a knowing, experiential relationship with God. Yet, even the briefest reflection on who and what God is should convince us that God is unknowable.This paradox accounts for much in our faith: the fluidity of thought, practice and belief. It lies behind our conception of God, framed as another paradox: three persons in one being. It is, to use a cop out phrase, a mystery of faith, and one which the congregations I first joined avoided like the plague. Unable to deal easily with paradox, the Assembly of God, then the New Life Centre escaped into an easy, but false certainty. They were comforting places for a troubled young man (which I was) but an extremely discomforting one for an intelligent young man (which I was). I might, after a short spell, have retreated from the stifling sense of certainty by deserting the faith altogether, as the overwhelming majority of those converted around the same time as me have done. Instead I found Anglicanism.

There are personal and accidental reasons I became an Anglican, but really, it was the grace of God, for here was a church founded on paradox. We began with a group of faithful divines seeking to realise the new knowledge of the reformation and a randy king seeking to annul his marriage for political reasons as well as prurient ones. We were shaped in the tension between Catholic and Protestant, between presbyterian and episcopal. Held together by agreement on the Lambeth quadrilateral over time we formed a pragmatic amalgam of churches which not only recognised the paradox at the heart of Christianity but lived it. No not just lived it, celebrated it. With the security of our founding principles and methods of worship, we could allow for a variety of thought and a freedom of expression which would have (and in fact did) blow lesser churches apart.

Our robustness has not proven infinite however. A group of Anglicans is at this moment eating their in flight meals as they wing their way homeward from Jerusalem, having spent a week penning this statement . The evangelical part of our paradoxical church have had it up to here with the liberal part, and with many of their concerns, I heartily concur. Sunday school syllabuses that look like warmed over social studies. Worship that seeks so hard to tick all the boxes for the cause du jour that it forgets to mention Jesus, except to drag him out for a bit of proof texting. Theology that seeks to dispense with God altogether. Schmaltzy modern hymns which wring hands over our feelings but not much else. I can't stand it either. But I'm no more enamoured of the church proposed in the Gafcon final statement.

I don't know what on earth they think they're making but it's not Anglican. By plumping for one pole of the continuum they are dispensing with the very thing which makes our church unique and makes it great. We are the spark that leaps across the gap between two electrodes. Over the years the names on the electrodes change, but the spark: that produced by living in the tension of paradox, has remained. It can't remain if you opt for one pole or another. If I'd wanted to stay with evangelical certainty, I would have remained a Pentecostal: I would have been better paid and worn a finer class of suit. Now I am left with a dilemma. As our church divides, as it surely must despite the Gafcon hand waving, which side do I go with? The liberal rump, now unfettered by conservative reticence? You've got to be kidding! The Gafcon conservatives, with their stifling self perceived certainties? No thank you! I have about ten years to go before retirement. Perhaps if I hunker down in St. John's Roslyn and pay all that stuff no mind, I might just make it through before I have to make that sort of choice.

I read that the Gafcon declaration was passed with singing and worship. I hope it was loud enough to mask the real noise being emitted: the sickening crunch of ice on metal and the sound of a hull being ripped open. The Titanic, also, split in two on its way to the ocean floor. I don't think it mattered to many of the passengers which half of the ship they were on.


Anonymous said…
... Oh Kelvin- your insight is awfully true. Does the N.Z. Anglican church have any autonomy? Can anything be done differently in this little neck of the woods?
Peter Carrell said…
Hi Kelvin
Excellent post - and especially great image about the spark between the electrodes. (Perhaps Benedict XVI would agree and observe that the Catholic church has always thought we would be short-lived!?).
One way forward is for a conversation which rounds up those who are unattracted by the liberalism you so wonderfully capture in your description and uninspired by over-certain evangelicalism. There might be more of us willing to live with a broad Anglicanism than currently meets the eye!
Anonymous said…
Hi Kelvin,
I was thinking of these matters as I did my walk this morning. I believe in God who was and is intimately involved with his people. I believe Jesus rose from the dead - in a physical way. I believe the Holy Spirit is God present with us. I hold these beliefs while having nothing to do with the back-to-some-previous-century statements of Gafcon. Or to put it more sharply, is it possible to believe Christ is Risen while having nothing to do with opinion which is very close to voyeurism made hopefully respectful by applying ecclesiastical cosmetic?
I hope it is.
Thank you
Bill Schroeder
Anonymous said…
"The Titanic, also, split in two on its way to the ocean floor. I don't think it mattered to many of the passengers which half of the ship they were on."

No, what mattered was whether RMS Carpathia received the signal. It did.
Anonymous said…
Icebergs are not a hazard in Africa. They are a threat to shipping mainly in the chilly North Atlantic - but they have been spotted off Dunedin too.
Anonymous said…
As often for me, I'm late. But I have been enriched by what I've read on this blog, so here goes. I'm intrigued by your insight, Kelvin. I came to Christ in a Prebyterian church, but have been Pentecostal for the last 18 years. I rather think that the Pentecostal movement is too young to develop the understanding of the uncertainties in living in Christ, but that is where it must inevitably head. If it is to flourish and not heave too many passengers overboard, the depth of the mystery that is living in relationship with Jesus Christ must be grasped. Yet, while it is a mystery, it can be lived, it can be experienced. I suspect that we Pentecostals have a similar journey before us as that confronting our Anglican brothers and sisters.

Peter Ross