The threefold episcopal polity defended by the Church of England at the time of the Reformation, and defended by all her progeny, has yielded no ground in conflict for the past five centuries. Indeed, what has clearly happened has been the elevation of this pattern into a rigid institutional commitment with less and less connection to its most ancient roots, let alone an understanding of the 16th century attempt to reform it. Meanwhile, in those parts of the world which are most developed, the demographic data reveal that the Anglican churches are everywhere in decline. In some countries precipitously. Could there be a connection between these realities?
Reading the New Testament suggests that when the gospel is preached and lived with authenticity the life of God’s people flourishes. Church History reveals the same truth. The natural conclusion from those facts suggests that something is wrong in the Anglican Family. But what is it?
The life of Christ’s Church is predicated upon one simple foundation: the gospel of Jesus Christ is true. Christ is risen from the dead, and the Holy Spirit has been poured out upon all believers. Submission to the revealed will of God and his Christ is the evidence that one is grafted into the body. The multiplication of true believers is the evidence that disciples are being made and the kingdom of God is being extended on earth. Leadership in the church that is not producing those outcomes is leadership that is not aligned with the will of God. Some would even say that the Anglican experiment in reformed catholic faith and order has failed. But has it? Can these bones live?
The biblical narrative reveals again and again that God can intervene when all human hope seems gone. To suggest therefore that the end has come, when there remain thousands upon thousands of congregations scattered throughout the Anglican world, in nation after nation, is surely a sign of little faith. A saving remnant may certainly exist in place after place. But to presume God’s blessing on our extended community, rather than to mourn and grieve over our condition, is surely a sign of sin.
Our Lord Jesus has taught us that to follow him would lead to trials and tribulation. He clearly predicted that the road that leads to life would be narrow and hard, and few would choose to travel it. But for those called, it was the glorious path to all that was truly worthwhile. The question that remains is this: Will the rising generation of leaders turn their faces toward the Son of God, and submit to his leadership?
Organized churches do not die quickly. they fade away inch by inch. Hundreds of small denominational groups and networks are hanging on throughout the world. Even once great church movements and communions are shrinking rapidly in many places. New believers, when they are added, are being added far too slowly to offset the inevitable. But will the leaders who hold positions of prestige and power, with worldly respect and secure pensions, pay the necessary price of reform?
Next Week: Local Leadership Reform? A Proposal.