It is still not too late: the evangelical option

The GAFCON meeting in Jerusalem was two years ago and a continent away, but Mike Keulemans argues that it still offers a real framework for traditional Anglicans

Like so many other teenagers of my era, I was taught by my school history teacher that in the sixteenth century the ancient Church of our land was transformed into a national institution that was both Catholic and Protestant, or as Professor Diarmaid McCulloch might put it more accurately, both Catholic and Evangelical.

The Evangelical Anglicanism in which I grew up started with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour and then taught me that the ministry of Word and Sacrament within the Book of Common Prayer. As part of this process, I came to value the lives of great Evangelical heroes, such as Thomas Cranmer, William Grimshaw, Charles Simeon and Bishop J.C. Ryle.

Prayer Book heritage

Later on, going to college and living in other parts of the country, I came into contact with many Anglican Catholics, who also believed that we should begin with a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and then go on to develop our Christian character from the Word and Sacrament of the Book of Common Prayer. They also had their heroes – Lancelot Andrewes, John Keble, Charles Fuge Lowder and Robert Radclyffe Dolling. I learnt to value their heroes as much as my own and my Catholic friends were willing to discover the value of my heroes as well.

What I am saying is that, in our heart of hearts, both us Catholics and Evangelicals share a common Anglican heritage. It was the Book of Common Prayer, whether in its 1662 or its 1928 version, that actually secured our common purpose. One of the tragedies of the past half century has been the fact that the long process of liturgical revision has never offered us a modern language BCP.

Now at last the prospect of women in the episcopate and a host of other unbiblical and unhistoric novelties has woken up both our constituencies. Forward in Faith and Reform find themselves locked in a protracted struggle to maintain their very existence as valued members of the Anglican Church. Frankly, I would no longer wish to remain in a Church which had effectively expelled my Catholic brethren, and I suspect that most of my Catholic friends would not wish to stay in a Church without Evangelicals either. So what do we do now?

High percentage uncertain

In the course of doctoral research on the Anglican Episcopate in Mainland Britain, completed last year, I discovered that in four comparable dioceses representing the UK provinces, a total of 28% of clergy and 33% of key laity were either not certain about or clearly against the consecration of women as bishops.

It may be that in the light of these statistics, General Synod will find it necessary to create a kinder and more equitable solution for our constituency. For all of us this means nothing less than the establishment of at least one non-geographical diocese in each province.

The omens are not good, and we may have to look for viable alternatives. The Roman Catholic Ordinariate, so generously offered by Pope Benedict, may provide a welcome home for some, but I suspect that many others will not be able to bring themselves to deny the validity of their previous ministries by submitting themselves to reordination at the hands of a Church that has serious problems of its own to face. In addition, many Catholics will not want to be part of a Church that inevitably rules out a place for Evangelicals.

Evangelical umbrella

However, there is now another show in town that may commend itself more naturally to many of us. The GAFCON bishops, who represent a majority of the world’s Anglicans, as well as its most rapidly growing provinces, have a goodly number of Catholics as well as Evangelicals among their number. The Ghanaian bench spring readily to mind. Most GAFCON bishops do not ordain women to the priesthood and even among those who do, there is no appetite for consecrating women as bishops.

An understanding with GAFCON could provide us with an unambiguously Anglican future, but it would also link us organically to fellow Christians notable for their faith, orthodoxy, bravery and optimism. For us here in Britain, both Catholic and Evangelical, GAFCON could also reunite us in the Book of Common Prayer, which has been placed at the heart of this new global movement.

This would provide us with a genuine opportunity to flourish together in a Church that has renewed its focus on Word and Sacrament, which is, at it has always been, Anglicanism at its very best.

It is high time for us to place the GAFCON option alongside the Roman Ordinariate, and give each of them the careful and detailed consideration that they deserve. ND

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