Anglicanism and the Pope: Is Reunion About to Happen?

The Times of London reports in today’s edition (www.timesonline.co.uk) that proposals to reunite Anglicans with the Roman Catholic Church are to be published later this year. Senior bishops of both churches are involved in these proposals and have written a 42-page statement through an internal commission of both churches. The statement urges exploration. Catholic bishops, according to The Times, are preparing a formal response.

The issue that presently divides the worldwide Anglican communion is gay ordination. This issue reflects a long downhill slide in the Western church that has led toward radical rejection of both biblical and historical authority. There is a deep longing among many conservative Anglicans for some form of churchly authority that can stop this awful slide.

There are 78 million Anglicans worldwide and over one billion Catholics. The Anglican Church’s credibility is being undermined in a world that many believe, and I include myself, needs a strong witness to historical Christian unity. This new report comes from the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission for Unity and Mission, begin in 2000 by Archbishop George Carey, himself an evangelical Anglican. Working with Carey was Cardinal Edward Cassidy, the head of the Vatican’s Council for Christian Unity at that time. Both men were seriously engaged in ecumenical discussions with evangelicals during their years of service.

This new document admits that there is “imperfect communion” between the two churches presently but it also says there is enough common ground to make this new “call for action.” In considering the primacy of the Pope the document suggests that this could be a potential value for renewed unity since the Protestant position offers no obvious way to solve these vexing issues of moral compromise. Anglicans are urged to pray for the Pope during intercessionary prayers in the liturgy and Catholics are urged to pray publicly for the Archbishop of Canterbury. This is a step that most should be willing take in good conscience in today’s moral and spiritual climate.

But, the question persists: “Would Anglicans be willing to submit to the Pope?” It is true the Anglican Church was formed under the authority of a secular king, who ditched his wife and wanted the church’s support for his actions. But it is also true that Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, in God’s gracious providence, had a different vision and it was his vision that came to fruition in due time. He saw a spiritually renewed church, submitted to the authority of Scripture alone, devoted to reading the Holy Scriptures in both public and private life, committed to daily prayers and to regular sacraments. This is the core of healthy and true Anglicanism, i.e., Thomas Cranmer’s vision of the church as built around his Prayer Book and his Protestant vision of authority.

If Anglicanism accepts the papacy’s authority it will be required to assent to the infallible dogmas of the Roman Catholic Church, which include both the immaculate conception and the  bodily assumption of Mary, doctrines strongly rejected by Protestants and Eastern Orthodox Christians as extra-biblical.

Solving the issue of gay ordination is an issue that entails a double-edged sword. Rome might allow married Anglican priests, as it already has in some who have joined the Roman Catholic Church, but it would never allow women priests. The Christian Church is, in a truly Protestant view of things, about freedom within the Holy Spirit’s ministry without a hierarchy that leads to one final human voice over the whole.

The Gene Robinson consecration will finally destroy the Episcopal Church in the United States. It is only a matter of time, maybe a decade or two, maybe a century, but its vitality will be gone in due time. The solution of rejoining Rome in its present state, with its extra-biblical dogmas, as much as I applaud real ecumenical efforts, will never work for serious evangelicals. There are still a good number of them in the Anglican Church, in fact they appear to be in the majority in the worldwide Anglican communion.

Many conservative Catholics who commented on The Times Web site noted that their Church was founded by Peter and the Anglican Church was founded by a secular king. They simplistically argued that only way to reformation is to “come home.” One Anglican responded by saying “The Queen is the governor of my church and that is the way it is going to stay.” I rather doubt that this vision will last in the long run too, for entirely different reasons. In this case radical conservatives on both sides are likely to be proven wrong. But real compromise is not possible either if the evangelicals are to remain faithful to their truly held Anglican beliefs and the Catholics to their faith.

The sad state of the Anglican Church should grieve all who truly love Christ’s kingdom, Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant. The extra-biblical doctrinal additions of the Roman Catholic Church cannot be affirmed at the end of every communion service by conscientious Protestant evangelicals. It just will not happen. While I applaud these discussion I suggest we are a long way from meaningful union. You can’t run until you can walk, you can’t walk until you can first crawl, and serious discussion about these matters is just now at the crawling stage. I expect some kind of informal Catholic and evangelical dialogue to continue in the coming years but even the majority of Anglicans are unlikely to go along with reunion with Rome under the papacy as we now have it. For my Catholic friends, I would remind you that John Paul II actually opened the door to a discussion about what it would take for the papacy to cease to be a stumbling block to ecumenism. I would suggest this discussion will have to precede others and this will likely take years unless the Spirit does something rather remarkable. Meanwhile, we must pray for one another and retain our own faith in good conscience. Giving away biblical doctrinal distinctions is not an option but this is precisely why the gay ordination debate is so vexing to those Protestant groups that have already officially surrendered to an anti-biblical stance. 

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