What Does It Mean To Be Anglican in Australia?
[Editor´s Note: This item is posted on the website of the WRF because its author is an individual member of the WRF and because the item will have considerable relevance to our many members in Australia and, indeed, to ALL of our members in various denominations around the world.]
Readers of The Australian may be puzzled by the announcement of a new Anglican Diocese of the Southern Cross. Claims of schism in the Anglican Church of Australia and even the absurd claim that the new Diocese is a cult, by one retired bishop, have only exacerbated the confusion.
What has happened is simply this. A number of Anglicans in a church in Queensland, including their minister, have decided that on a matter of principle they can no longer remain in the Diocese of Brisbane, which is part of the Anglican Church of Australia. Rather than wanting to change church affiliation to another Protestant denomination, they wish to remain Anglican. How can they do this in the Anglican Church of Australia, which is governed by 23 geographic dioceses? Simply stated, this is not possible.
The Diocese of the Southern Cross was therefore launched as a lifeboat for those who wanted to remain Anglican, yet could no longer remain part of the Anglican Church of Australia, due to the teaching of their bishop.
Having two parallel Anglican Churches in one country is not a new idea. In Europe, there have been two different Anglican Churches operating for years, one aligned to the Church of England and the other aligned to The Episcopal Church (USA). In South Africa over a hundred years ago, the Archbishop of Canterbury established the Church of the Province as a separate entity from the existing Church of England in South Africa. The latter remains to this day under its new name of REACH-SA (Reformed Evangelical Anglican Church of South Africa): two parallel jurisdictions.
In more recent days, new Anglican Churches have arisen in Canada, USA, Brazil and New Zealand. The Diocese of the Southern Cross is similarly a new Anglican Diocese in Australia, which happens to encompass all of Australia. The Anglican Church of Australia has not split. It still remains as 23 dioceses across the nation. However, there are now two parallel Anglican Churches in Australia.
So what makes a church Anglican? An Anglican Church is one which confesses the faith of the apostles, grounded in the teaching of Jesus Christ, which was restated at the time of the English Reformation. Its founding documents are the Bible, as God’s authoritative word, the 39 Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer.
The Diocese of the Southern Cross is confessionally Anglican in its adherence to the same Fundamental Declarations that the Anglican Church of Australia have in their constitution. It is not a cult. While it is currently a fledgling diocese, with one bishop and only one congregation, as others join the Diocese, a Synod will be formed and the Synod will elect its own bishop. It is not a new denomination, but a fresh expression of Anglican faith and doctrine in Australia.
Why the need for a new Anglican Church? This has come about because there has been a growing trend among some bishops of the Anglican Church of Australia to lay aside the clear teaching of Scripture on a number of issues, but especially in the sphere of sexual morality.
The egregious comments of Luke Timothy Johnson have sadly infected the thinking of a number of bishops in the Australian Church.
I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the scriptural statements condemning homosexuality—namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.
A recent example of this thinking is found in the Archbishop of Brisbane’s recent address to his Synod, where he endorses this viewpoint.
[T]he biblical presuppositions no longer stand therefore the moral rules based on those presuppositions and rationale no longer must be regarded as prescriptive and we have the responsibility to revisit in our own generation questions about what responsible, holy, life-giving sexual expression looks like today consistent with abiding biblical values of justice, compassion and love.
In other words, we can lay aside the moral imperatives of the Bible, on the grounds of our experience and the cultural context in which we live, as long as it is consistent with ‘justice, compassion and love’.
The problem with this position is that it is in flagrant opposition to the promises any member of the clergy (including bishops) make at their ordination as priest.
Will you faithfully and humbly minister the doctrine, sacraments and discipline of Christ, as he has commanded and as this Church has received?
Moreover, the New Testament does not allow us to use the word ‘love’ in an unbridled manner. It is not sufficient for a husband to commit adultery by engaging in sexual relations with another woman, while he is still married. The simplistic claim that his extra-marital liaison is an expression of ‘love’ does not justify his actions. This may be acceptable in parts of Australian society, but it is not acceptable in God’s church. The New Testament makes demands of followers of Jesus.
Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. (Hebrews 13:4)
The apostle John expounds love in simple terms.
This is love: to obey his commands. (1 John 5:3)
It is not for Christians to cherry pick the commands of God or to determine a priori what love is. God is love. He is the fountain of love. God’s love for all people is part of our gospel, but the love of God constrains us to walk in accordance with his commands.
At the recent Lambeth Conference, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury affirmed the validity of the 1998 Lambeth Conference declaration that homosexual practice is “incompatible with Scripture” (Resolution 1.10). He further added that, for “a large majority” of conservative Anglicans, questioning biblical teaching was “unthinkable”.
The Diocese of the Southern Cross likewise upholds this resolution, as does 75% of the Anglican Communion, but regrettably, a number of bishops of the Anglican Church of Australia do not. Not only did these bishops vote in favour of the blessing of same-sex marriages at the recent General Synod in Australia, many also signed a statement at the recent Lambeth Conference affirming the holiness of committed same-sex marriages. These bishops are not only out of kilter with the majority of Anglican clergy and laity across Australia, but out of kilter with the vast majority of the Anglican Communion. The Diocese of the Southern Cross, on the other hand, is in alignment with the vast majority of the Anglican Communion
We live in a pluralistic society in Australia. We acknowledge that the Commonwealth Parliament has changed the definition of marriage. However, we believe that this is not God’s design for humanity. Yet God’s love is offered to all. We welcome into our Church all people without exception, including those who are same-sex attracted. Everyone who comes to Christ needs to repent of their failures and their sins. We are all guilty before a holy God. Yet the gospel is God’s offer of forgiveness and wholeness, a new way of living, in accordance with his commands. This is the heritage of the Anglican Church, which the Diocese of the Southern Cross espouses.
If the leadership across the Anglican Church of Australia had remained true to this heritage, there would be no need for the establishment of a new Diocese. If the leadership of the Anglican Church of Australia returned to the teaching of their historical roots, the Diocese of the Southern Cross would cease to exist.
Congregations in the Anglican Diocese of the Southern Cross have a charter to bring the good news of Jesus to all in their community. While we recognise church attendance is down across the nation and the recent census has seen a decline in those identifying as Christian, the words of G K Chesterton are worth repeating:
The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting; it has been found difficult and left untried.
The Rt Rev Dr Glenn Davies is the Bishop of the Diocese of the Southern Cross (Australia) and an individual member of the World Reformed Fellowship