Two Ways News
Two Ways News
And that's why Anglicanism is divided

And that's why Anglicanism is divided


I wrote about being a ‘conservative’ a few weeks ago, and now the evil Anglican conservatives are at it again.

Forming breakaway ‘churches’. Causing material harm and distress to LGBT people by blatantly refusing to agree with them. Engaging in schismatic actions that miscellaneous bishops sadly shake their heads at, and purport not to really understand (which would be hilarious if it weren’t so disingenuous). And so on.

When friends and family ask me what’s the story with this new ‘Diocese of the Southern Cross’, I tell them that they’ve got to understand the background. The Anglican denomination has been home to two different and incompatible belief systems for decades now.  

Some people limp between these two opinions; others try to find a way to live and let live. But allowing for all the variations of individual circumstances, and all the ways in which the world is a complex place, when it comes down to it, there are still two fundamentally opposed religions at work within Anglicanism, and the current disputes are just the latest manifestation of this fact.

JI Packer once summarized these two belief systems as ‘objectivist’ and ‘subjectivist’ like this:

[The objectivist position] is the historic Christian belief that through the prophets, the incarnate Son, the apostles, and the writers of canonical Scripture as a body, God has used human language to tell us definitively and transculturally about his ways, his works, his will, and his worship. Furthermore, this revealed truth is grasped by letting the Bible interpret itself to us from within, in the knowledge that the way into God’s mind is through that of the writers. Through them, the Holy Spirit who inspired them teaches the church.…

The second view applies to Christianity the Enlightenment’s trust in human reason, along with the fashionable evolutionary assumption that the present is wiser than the past. It concludes that the world has the wisdom, and the church must play intellectual catch-up in each generation in order to survive. From this standpoint, everything in the Bible becomes relative to the church’s evolving insights, which themselves are relative to society’s continuing development (nothing stands still), and the Holy Spirit’s teaching ministry is to help the faithful see where Bible doctrine shows the cultural limitations of the ancient world and needs adjustment in light of latter-day experience (encounters, interactions, perplexities, states of mind and emotion, and so on). Same-sex unions are one example. This view is scarcely 50 years old, though its antecedents go back much further. I call it the subjectivist position. (Briefing 204, March 2003, p. 17; reprinted from Christianity Today)

This is typical Packer. Thoughtful, careful, comprehensive, and crystal clear in highlighting the issues. But it’s very English and polite all the same.

I wonder if we could express it a bit more … vividly. If I were one of those old-time, African-American preachers, who liked to use the same rhythm and structure for an escalating series of comparisons, I might flesh out the differences between these two belief systems more like this:

There’s one religion based on an objective revelation;
There’s another religion based on a subjective implication;
And that’s why Anglicanism is divided.

There’s one religion in which the Bible changes human culture;
There’s another religion in which human culture changes the Bible;
And that’s why Anglicanism is divided.

There’s one religion that is inflexible about truth but flexible about human traditions;
There’s another religion that is flexible about truth but clings to human traditions tenaciously;
And that’s why Anglicanism is divided.

There’s one religion that puts the highest value on listening to God’s word;
There’s another religion that puts the highest value on listening to each other;
And that’s why Anglicanism is divided.

There’s one religion about God seeking the lost;
There’s another religion about the lost seeking God;
And that’s why Anglicanism is divided.

There’s one religion that calls me to repent from my sin;
There’s another religion that tells me I can stay as I am;
And that’s why Anglicanism is divided.  

There’s one religion that believes that God knows the truth about men, women and marriage because he created all three;
There’s another religion that believes that there’s no solid truth about men, women and marriage because all three can mean what we say they mean;
And that’s why Anglicanism is divided.

There’s one religion that the mainstream media loathe and oppose;
And there’s one religion that the mainstream media tolerate and occasionally support;
And that’s why Anglicanism is divided.

There’s one religion that looks plain and unimpressive but trusts the power of God;
There’s another religion that has the gawdy appearance of godliness but denies its power;
And that’s why Anglicanism is divided.

There’s one religion that is seeing churches grow and lives transformed;
There’s another religion that is seeing churches die and lives unchanged;
And that’s why Anglicanism is divided.

Some of these comparisons are admittedly a bit fruity—but then again, that’s how preachers preach!

There are two religions within Anglicanism, although not everyone recognizes it. In fact, there are many good people, sitting in dying churches all around Australia run by proponents of the subjectivist version of Anglicanism, who don’t really know what’s going on or how much they are being misled.

But there are certainly subjectivist leaders who do know exactly what is going on, who occupy positions of power in various dioceses around Australia.

That’s the other piece of background to understand. Within Australian Anglicanism, there are 27 dioceses (each of which is a geographically based group of churches). Each one is independent in its governance, with representatives from the various dioceses getting together occasionally in a national synod. (The national body has very little decision making power.)

So if you’re an objectivist church or pastor in a largely subjectivist diocese, with subjectivist leadership, things can be tricky—and sometimes vice versa, although that is typically less of an issue.

This is why the new ‘Diocese of the Southern Cross’ has been formed. It’s like a virtual diocese for objectivist Anglicans who are finding it increasingly impossible to minister with integrity in dioceses run by subjectivists—especially given the determination of some of those dioceses to go their own way on issues of same-sex unions and human sexuality.

It’s not creating a split. The division has been there and operative for many decades, and this is but the latest expression of it.

In the end, we can’t avoid the reality that there will be alternative views and false teaching in these last days. But we can and should avoid fellowship with them (as 2 Tim 3:5 says). The two ultimately cannot mix or compromise. In fact, if they do, it ends up as a victory for subjectivism.

Hence, this new safe-haven diocese for objectivist Anglican churches. Like most central, denominational kind of things, this new diocese is unlikely to do much to grow the gospel or see real change in churches. But in providing support and encouragement for sometimes beleaguered ‘objectivist’ churches to persevere, it’s doing a good thing.

We should support it.


I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I was about to announce some imminent changes to The Payneful Truth. I’m nearly ready to do that. Hopefully next week!

Two Ways News
Two Ways News
Gospel thinking for today, with Tony Payne and Phillip Jensen.