Letter from Australia
For the sake of the Gospel
ONE OF THE THINGS that happened in Australia as elsewhere during the ordination of women debate was that capital "R" reformed evangelicals of the Sydney kind and Anglo-catholics found themselves opposed to "liberal catholics" and "liberal evangelicals", discovering that the so-called extremes of Anglicanism have a lot more in common than either group has with those "in the middle". During this period some real friendships were forged and relationships of trust established -much to the discomfort of our liberal leaders. ("Disgraceful" was what one of them said to a number of people about one of us being seen at the 1998 General Synod chatting informally with the Rev'd Bruce Ballantine-Jones, President of the Anglican Church League, a much feared but secretly admired association of Sydney evangelicals!)
There is still considerable mistrust to be overcome in some circles. After all, it is an historical fact that over the years a good deal of evangelical energy has been expended in attempting to wipe Anglo-catholics out. It is also true that by and large Australian Anglo-catholicism never really had the evangelical streak which ran through the catholic movement in England and in the Americas. This is probably due to fact that generations of antipodean Anglo-catholic clergy spent their whole ministries reacting against the incredible strength of Sydney Diocese, which to this day contains half of Australia's regular churchgoing Anglicans.
Now, however, Sydney evangelicals and Forward-in-Faith catholics focus on our shared commitment to the Faith once delivered to the saints. For us, the Faith is something given by God and not made up as we go along. "We witness to a revelation" can be said by evangelicals and catholics alike. And even if we seriously diverge in the areas of ecclesiology and sacramentality, we hold in common great foundational doctrines such as the Trinity, the Incarnation, the saving death and real (historical) resurrection of Jesus - the selfsame doctrines that now die the death of a thousand qualifications within first world Anglicanism as a whole.
THE BIG QUESTION
Can Evangelicals and Anglo-catholics work together so as to renew our church's fidelity tothe Gospel? That's a big question, a question that has been exercising a handful of Brisbane Anglicans as we look to the election of a new archbishop in the foreseeable future. So it was that 25 Clergy and lay leaders from Anglo-catholic and Evangelical parishes met for a seminar with Dr Bill Atwood a couple of months ago.
I had kept in touch with Bill since the 1998 Lambeth Conference where his organization "Ekklesia" shared the FiF office facilities. His ability to network people of different backgrounds in the interests of the Gospel and the Faith was as impressive as the warmth of his character and his propensity for making friends. When he said that he had a few days to spare following Christmas with the Goodhews in Sydney and when he was due in Tanzania, and that he would be willing to come to Brisbane, we snapped him up for Saturday 6th January.
Bill began our seminar with a talk based on Psalm 46:4, "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God". He likened the various Christian traditions to streams of this river, with particular reference to how powerful it is when the truly evangelical and the truly catholic flow together. His presentation was peppered with personal stories which had us laughing and crying as he shared very deeply the dealings of God in his own life.
Bill rightly described the seminar as a landmark event. He reports one senior priest as saying, "In forty years ordained ministry in Brisbane, this is the first time I have sat down at the table to engage in ministry with some of these blokes from the 'other camp.' It's high time something like this happened."
Those who gathered to hear Bill were inspired to meet regularly and to work out a basis on which to co-operate for the sake of the Gospel in the Diocese of Brisbane. At a recent meeting, this Mission Statement emerged:
i) We agree to pray and work together to uphold faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour as revealed in the Scriptures and classical Christian Orthodoxy and to advance the proclamation of the Gospel in the Diocese of Brisbane.
ii We accept the historic Anglican Statement known as the Chicago Lambeth Quadrilateral of 1888 as a theological statement that will enable us to work together respecting each other's theological emphases. This historic document affirms:
(a) The Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments as "containing all things necessary to salvation," and as being the rule and ultimate standard of faith.
(b) The Apostles Creed, as the Baptismal Symbol; and the Nicene Creed as the sufficient statement of the Christian Faith.
(c) The two Sacraments ordained by Christ Himself (Baptism and the Supper of the Lord) ministered with unfailing use of Christ's words of Institution, and of the elements ordained by Him.
(d) The Historic Episcopate, locally adapted in the methods of it administration to the varying needs of the nations and peoples called of God into the Unity of His Church.
iii) We agree to encourage each other to be faithful followers of Jesus and to affirm each other in spite of our theological differences.
iv) We agree to develop Christ-like loving relationships by nurturing a sense of cooperation between us, by showing concern for one another and by praying for one another.
v) We agree to pray and work together to influence the election or appointment to positions of authority and leadership in the Diocese of Brisbane people who will uphold faith in Jesus as Lord and Saviour as revealed in the Scriptures and Classical Christian Orthodoxy and who will advance the proclamation of the Gospel.
Those who have been part of this process are deeply grateful to Dr Bill Atwood for his inspiration and guidance. We have the sense that he came among us at just the right time; and we believe that by praying together and working together in the spirit of our Mission Statement, we will, by the grace of God, have an impact on church life in Brisbane out of all proportion to our numerical strength.
David Chislett is Rector of All Saints ; Wickham Terrace, Brisbane in the diocese of Brisbane. He is National Secretary of Forward in Faith, Australia. The Director and National Secretary of Forward in Faith, UK will be visiting Australia in July this year as guest speakers at the Forward in Faith National Assembly, and observers at the meeting of the General Synod of the Anglican Church of Australia as it decides the matter of women bishops
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