Church of England

Welby breathes new life into the crumbling Anglican Communion


Anglicanism: the final frontier. These are the prophetic voyages of Justin Welby. His continuing mission: to explore strange new reconciliations; to seek out new wine and new creations; to boldly go where no archbishop has gone before.. least since the Reformation.

It has long been evident to those who have a jot of spiritual discernment or a tittle of ecclesial wit that the Worldwide Anglican Communion isn’t quite working. It is no longer so much a united worldwide communion as a parochial assembly of divided communities – disparate and factional; disjunctive and factious. The episcopal discontent is pervasive, and the theo-political disputes are legion. There’s no point pretending that we can go on like this: if Anglicans are to be honest and honourable in their fellowship, something needs to be said quite candidly. We should not play fast and loose with the Body of Christ for the sake of outward unity: either we are all transformed inwardly and strive to be one – as God is in Christ and Christ is in God – or we remodel our communion to reflect outwardly what we are inwardly: variegated, several and divergent.

That doesn’t, by the way, mean that we stop loving one another or hurl “Heretic!” at those with whom we disagree. It is perfectly possible to dissent with fondness, friendship and humble appreciation.

The Archbishop of Canterbury is not a pope: he has no infallible levers to pull and no magisterial buttons he can press. In Anglican ecclesiology, he is the Primate of All England and Diocesan of the Diocese of Canterbury: he has absolutely no authority whatsoever over the other 37 provinces or the six extra provincials, which are autonomous. Within the Worldwide Anglican Communion, Justin Welby is primus inter pares; an instrument of communion; the focus of unity. So, when that unity becomes little more than a charade, it is potentially his integrity which is dragged through the mud, and his spirituality which is tarnished – at least in the worldly soundbites of tabloid profanity. Of course, he isn’t personally or directly to blame: the churches in Africa and the United States of America are free to apply their understandings of Anglican theology in accordance with the mores and traditions of their cultural contexts. Archbishop Justin can weep, counsel and pray, but he cannot excommunicate: the Archbishops, Presiding Bishops and Chief Pastors of the various Provinces are all equal in the Communion.

But this Archbishop of Canterbury isn’t one for sweeping lost causes under the carpet of quasi-communion. He seeks a solution to the impasse and has therefore sent a letter to all the Primates. He is inviting them all to an extraordinary gathering at Lambeth Palace between 11th-16th January 2016. That’s going to be around 35-38 archbishops and presiding bishops all gathered for frank, face-to-face, full-frontal truth-telling. In love, of course, because ++Justin will be presiding, and he won’t tolerate un-Christian incivility.

They’ll be discussing what unites them and what divides them; whether the Communion ought to continue as it is presently modelled, and whether the role of the Archbishop of Canterbury needs to change. There will be no ‘Continuing Indaba‘ for the pursuit of “cultural models of consensus”, and no meditation on the mission of “mutual creative action”. The days of fudge, patch and hedge are over – unless, of course, all the gathered Archbishops, Presiding Bishops and Chief Pastors determine to ignore the pleas and prayers of the Primus inter Pares.

But (and it’s a very, very interesting ‘but’), Justin Welby has not only invited the 37 recognised primates of the Wordwide Anglican Communion: according to Lambeth Palace (..and here’s the Guardian headline..) he has also written a letter to Foley Beach. That isn’t a cruise-ship resort in sunny Florida: The Most Rev’d Dr Foley Beach is Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America (ACNA), which split from The Episcopal Church (TEC) when The Most Rev’d Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori set her face against social conservatism and theological orthodoxy on matters relating to gender and sexuality. The letter of invitation to Archbishop Foley is significant because ACNA is not a recognised member of the Worldwide Anglican Communion (according to the traditional instruments of communion and the Archbishop of Canterbury).

Yet what credible discussions may take place if he is snubbed, since ACNA is affirmed and recognised by other Anglican provinces, in particular those belonging to GAFCON?

There are clearly provincial fractures and parallel churches already operating throughout the Communion. What hath Nigeria to do with New York? We can carry on pretending while the media focuses on continuing divisions, or we can agree to differ over women’s ordination/episcopacy and homosexuality, and restructure accordingly, leaving provinces autonomous to the extent of adapting Anglican identity, and other provinces free to reject such adaption altogether in favour of a more robust approach to biblical truth. It would be the Orthodox model of ecumenism, which consists of a communion of 14 autocephalous regional churches, bound by a common ecclesial heritage, which extends even to those of irregular or unresolved canonical status.

The Archbishop of Canterbury will doubtless take counsel from his episcopal peers so that the Worldwide Anglican Communion can flourish and fulfil its vocation to preach Christ and him crucified. In a world beset by burning, beheading, rape, torture and torment, with Christians being slaughtered and systematically cleansed from the Middle East, there are clearly more urgent tasks facing the Church than that of sustaining an ecclesial structure which is no longer fit for purpose.

The age of the Imperial Church is over: neither the evangelisation of the world nor the re-evangelisation of the West will be achieved while Christians are captive to their constitutional formulations more than the Word of God. We need to decide where the Anglican Communion is going, and we need to agree that it’s got to go somewhere that it isn’t presently going. This is about humble hearts and discerning minds and witnessing to the gospel; not pussyfooting around with primate protestations about who’s in and who’s out and whether the canons should henceforth be gender neutral. If the Worldwide Anglican Communion cannot come together to fulfil the Great Commission, it is time to acknowledge that the season has turned, and that the Worldwide Anglican Communion might become the Worldwide Anglican Communities – each an autocephalous service of prayer for the contextual work of mission.

This is a bold, prayerful initiative by Justin Welby, based securely on the ecclesial principle of subsidiarity, bound entirely by the collective spiritual authority of the Worldwide Anglican Archbishops, Presiding Bishops and Chief Pastors. You may portray this as reformation, abolition or dissolution. It may lead to bemusement, dismay or confusion. But the misinterpretation or disinformation ought not to deflect from the reality that families sometimes grow apart. Justin Welby has no power or authority to reform anything: he is breathing new life into an ailing, infirm and perhaps incurable body. It’s worth a prayer.

  • Inspector General

    It’s entertaining stuff, Cranmer! The CoE pursues and achieves yet another divisive issue, the latest being women bishops, then calls a meeting to discuss world wide Anglican togetherness. Brilliant, and all done without the slightest trace of a smirk on those newly earnest faces too!

  • Jill

    It is so good that Abp Foley Beach has been invited. That will annoy the revisionists. This sentence, too, is guaranteed to make them very cross:

    ‘Our way forward must respect the decisions of Lambeth 1998, and of the various Anglican Consultative Council and Primates’ meetings since then.’

    Some other bits I am not quite so sure about, but we shall see. This has to be the best attempt yet, (better than the interminable ‘indama’ anyway) but we will have to see.

    I was at GAFCON, and witnessed for myself the movement of the Holy Spirit. Whether he will make his presence among so many dissenting voices is another matter.

  • MisterDavid

    Inviting ++Foley makes good practical sense, since many/most of the Global South primates would not attend otherwise.

  • thebandthatneedsnointroduction

    Plenty of astute observations in here and certainly worth praying for the ABC and the Primates as they gather. I wonder if you’re not underestimating the ABC’s role in all this. While he is not a pope nor does he lead a magisterium, he does have the power to convene Communion gatherings and determine who’s on the invitation list. Given the self-select model of the Covenant has been rejected, that power will become increasingly important, as you noted in the invitation of Abp Foley Beach. Also, his influence is significantly greater than his actual power, even in those Provinces that emphasise their autonomy.

    • Phil R

      Yes like he could invite the just the ACNA from N America

      Bold move? Perhaps, but might just save the communion and the Anglican Church.

      Does it have it in him?

      Sadly for the future of the Anglican Church.


  • Dreadnaught

    A truly spirited riposte which if I may be permitted to say so that if I was Anglican would heartily endorse with the same conviction. ++Welby has inherited a hornets nest not of his making and I admire him as a thoroughly decent example of a man conviction, experience and Englishness.
    The world is indeed an a great mess of confusion and indecision of what to do to tackle the barbarity and misery abroad and in our own personal spaces. We are facing dare I say it a more pernicious ideological enemy than anything dreamed of by any 20th Century aggressors.
    Sadly where once our national religion was a homely benign calling and instilled in us as children it has though its desire to treat all religions as equal. It has allowed itself to be sucked into a downward spiral of decline by denying the veracity of its own history and contemporary relevance in a society now deformed beyond recognition within a couple of generations of social engineering.
    Keep on Cranmer. Keep on Welby and let those true Anglicans heed your words and take on as their own, the spirit of Henry 5th in his address to his English troops.

  • Linda Woodhead

    I agree. A bold move by Justine Welby. But if Orthodoxy is the model, there can be no primus inter pares. There has to be real autocephaly. This is not what is being envisaged, which is to be a looser arrangement than before but with ++Canterbury having a beefed up role as focus of unity. Good idea. But incompatible with also being primate of England. Given how impossible the role of ABC ALREADY is – as Rowan and Justin say – this is the perfect opportunity to separate primacy of Communion from that of England. That would be the truly ‘postcolonial’ solution and would solve the problems you mention – allowing the many separate integrities to flourish. Nigeria need no longer be yoked to England or vice versa.

    • Phil R

      “Nigeria need no longer be yoked to England or vice versa”

      I thought that this was the whole point of a Church. That we were brothers and sisters in Christ?

      Clearly if we went along your road we would no longer have a communion. Or rather we would have a communion but each section able to set its own rules.

      It would be like living in a house with no father figure, no rules enforced and everyone free to do what they like with no regard for anyone else.

      There are plenty of examples of this in the Bible. It in variably leads to a decline and moral corruption. Invariably this corruption affects others and in the case of Israel, eventually the whole nation until it is dealt with.

      So why would anyone want to propose this unless further decline and immorality was was their aim?

      • Linda Woodhead

        “No longer do I call you servants; for the servant knoweth not what his lord doeth: but I have called you friends.”

        • Phil R

          Out of context as might be expected.

          Try the verse proceeding

          “You are my friends if you do what I command.”

          I wonder why you did not quote the whole thing?

          • Linda Woodhead

            Exactly right, I assumed you would know the whole passage, sorry: You are my friends if you do what I command you. I don’t call you servants any longer, because servants don’t know what their master is doing. Instead, I call you friends, because everything I heard from my Father I have made known to you

          • Phil R

            I clearly made assumptions so apologies are offered.

            However, I now do not understand your point in quoting the passage in the relation to my comment or the article.

      • chiefofsinners

        The early churches were loosely aligned, with occasional pastoral letters from Jerusalem or visits from apostles but mostly running their own affairs. Centralised control of the minutiae was never an option. Those who try it cause division. It’s the job of the Holy Spirit, not the AoC. Each local church has leaders to guard doctrine. Let each decide how it relates to others.

  • bluedog

    A visionary initiative from ++Justin Welby, Your Grace. He is to be congratulated for confronting the reality of the Anglican Communion and for trying to build a more relevant model for the churches within. May he succeed, for we need him to do so.

    • Martin


      Welby find his time better spent condemning those who seek to move from Scripture as authority to Society as authority. There is no unity between darkness and light. He is destroying what he seeks to save.

  • Don Benson

    There is no easy way to put this, but the sad truth is that when you neglect to defend your doctrine and concentrate instead on diplomacy you end up losing out on both counts.

    Jesus said that Christians would be identifiable by the way they loved each other; that love is only possible because of the love that Christians have for Jesus, and He said that those who love Him would keep his commandments. So doctrine matters and it has to be right at the centre of who we are and what we believe and what we do. This is no dry and miserable enforcing of harsh dogma; it is love for those things God ordains for our flourishing.

    Until we can unite once again around our orthodox and well tried doctrine (something which we should love just as the psalmist did) we cannot expect to love each other. So let us support our Archbishop in this latest endeavour and pray that a renewed spirit of eagerness to seek out and love the laws of God draws us closer together in the coming months.

    • Phil R

      In the meanwhile our brothers and sisters die because the Christians dying are orthodox, are black, are poor and the leaders of the Church are weak.

      And hate orthodox Anglicans.

  • David

    I applaud the spirit of realism and honesty that appears to motivate this initiative. The time for academic fudge and dither, beloved of previous Archbishops, must be declared as over. Where there are serious doctrinal and other disagreements, let them be openly stated and noted. There is an honesty and dignity in doing that.

    Although embedded organisationally within the contemporary C of E, I feel more in common, theologically and spiritually, with my fellow Reformed, orthodox and conservative Anglicans in Africa, North America and Australia, than many liberal Anglicans in England. True Protestant and Catholic Anglicanism lives on within the C of E, indeed they glow brightly; but at present they are set within a sea of liberal revisionism, with its “progressive” theology, always influenced by the ever changing social and political mores of the day. But as throughout history, orthodoxy will survive the ephemeral.
    “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”

    • There’s a very moving Catholic hymn with the verse:

      “The stars shine only in darkness,
      and in your need, I give my peace.”

      God requires sincerity and a contrite, humbled heart from both His Church and individuals .

      • David

        Yes that is always true, Jack.

  • carl jacobs

    The important question isn’t who he invites. The important question is who will come. The Anglican Wars are pretty much over. The liberals in the West, (and, no, ‘heretic’ is not too strong a word for them) drove out orthodoxy – and not just in matters relating to gender and sexuality. They also drove out orthodoxy in small insignificant areas like Theology Proper, Christology, and Soteriology as well. They don’t represent a legitimate form of Christianity let alone Anglicanism. What reason is there to sit down and talk with them? The bonds are shattered and there is no desire to rebuild them. Frankly, what reason is there for those orthodox who have been invited to talk with the CoE since it will be indistinguishable from TEC inside a decade.

    The fire is gone. The desire to engage is gone. The desire to defend the institution is gone. It’s a spent force. The combatants have turned their backs and will all seek their own paths. There is only rubble and a small collection of English Church bureaucrats who still want to preside over the institutions they cherished for so long. They live in a burned out shell of a building, and pretend that it can still be called a palace. What was is no more, and will never be again.

    That’s what heresy unchecked can do to a church. It perhaps could have been stopped a decade ago. But the AoC didn’t want to stop it. And this is the result of his folly.

    • A very similar spiritual war has been quietly waged in Roman Catholicism for over a century and has become acute since Vatican II and now with Pope Francis opening up questions (“pastorally”) that have been definitively and irrevocably settled (doctrinally).

      When emotion and sentiment become detached from biblical and theological reasoning, and the Natural Law, then evil has its day. Jack has said it before and will continue saying it: Lambeth Conference 1930.

      • Anton

        And will continue to be challenged, for there is nothing unbiblical about marital barrier methods of contraception which is what you are referring to.

        • When you use the term “biblical” you omit the authority given to the Church to understand and interpret the revelations contained therein and the use of reason in discerning Natural Law as it applies, in this case, to sex. We in the West are living with the fruit of separating the gift of conjugal union from co-operating with God in procreating.
          Have you actually read Humanae Vitae or Casti Connubii on the nature of marriage, sex and procreation? If so, what specifically do you find “unbiblical”?

          • Stephen

            I hope you would read the bible not as historical book but Divine revelation set forth for life and ministry than all this other books. The original manual by the manufacturer of the institution of marriage is The Holy Bible.

      • Anton
        • Unlikely … Pope Francis’ style is not that of a theological or cultural warrior who confronts evil in an adversarial way.

      • James M

        The heretics in the CC, regardless of whether they Popes or Cardinals, need to be told to repent – or leave. Bishops who do not believe the Faith are not fit to be bishops. Who they may be, is irrelevant. I think the practice of baptising infants as a matter of course has the effect of filling the Church with discontented non-believers, which is insane. How can a Church filled with unbelievers preach Christ ? What absurdity !

    • Jill

      You are right, of course, carl. Who will come? The Global South bishops have steadfastly refused to engage with what they see as Western heresy, and as long as ‘facilitated conversations’ continue (which, as we all know, means ‘we will keep on and on until you agree with us’ from the revisionists) I can’t see why they should come.

      Kudos to Justin for trying, though. The downside is that if the Africans don’t come it will be widely perceived that it is they who are responsible for the split whereas the opposite is true.

  • Martin

    Perhaps Welby needs to take to heart what Paul wrote in the Holy Spirit:

    Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,
    I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
    Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
    and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
    and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
    says the Lord Almighty.
    (II Corinthians 6:14-18 [ESV])

    There will always be those who are, in reality, ravening wolves, we aren’t called to make our peace with them, rather to expel them from the Church. If a man cannot wholeheartedly agree to the thirty nine articles, what place has he as a minister in this church. A woman, of course, has no such place.

  • Kevill Davies

    In the recent past, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said that he sometimes doubts that God exists and Pope Francis has suggested that we might need to rethink how mankind conceives the Almighty. Could it be that both leaders recognise that in the twenty-first century adjustments to old concepts need to be made and Justin Welsby’s plan might be a step in that direction.

    And he needs to. Picture these two scenarios.

    In the first is an omnipotent, loving and merciful God who fills mankind (made in his own image) with his Grace so that everyone understands his Word, without misinterpretation, and all sing from the same hymn sheet.

    In the second scenario, men (mostly) fashion their God according to their history and tradition with a religion that reflects their culture, usually at variance with other tribes and peoples. They justify their faith with ambiguous scripture using arguments that are at best exercises in semantics.

    Now, be honest with yourself, which scenario best fits what we see in the world today? Wherever I look in the world, particularly the Middle East, I see no sign of that merciful and loving God described in scenario one. I doubt I’m the only one.

    • grutchyngfysch

      Could it be, perhaps, that looking on the Middle East you see the consequences of government done in despite of God Almighty, and that it is the fruits of disobedience which are on display.

      Light has no communion with darkness – understand that, and you are far less likely to be surprised when darkness fails to illuminate anything.

  • len

    Only the Holy Spirit can breathe Life into dead bodies (if the Church would only allow Him…..)

  • Stephen

    I hope you people are really sincere with this move. I hope this is not Jacob Voice and Esau’s appearance. You guys should first of all go back to God in repentance for misleading the Body of Christ which He purchased through his precious blood. Enough of this your liberal theology born out of revisionist agenda empowered from the pity of hell. One thing is certain, you shall all give account of your stewardship .