The Anglican Communion as a Post World War II Phenomenon.
The modern quasi-institutional entity, the Anglican Communion, is mostly a product of post World War II realities. It is after that war that there began to be the great surge towards national independence, the end of colonial church structures, extensive work by local missionaries for local expansion, and finally the rapid expansion of Provincial churches within the Anglican Communion. Almost everything about the modern Anglican Communion, save Lambeth and the work of various missionary societies that gave the patina of internationalism, is a product of post World War II concerns.
The Role of the English Missionary Societies in the spread of Anglicanism.
Prior to the Second World War the Anglican Communion was visibly present in the gathering of bishops at the Lambeth Conference, in the person of the Archbishop of Canterbury, and in the work of various societies that linked the work of one Church to that of a missionary territory or another church. The Missionary Societies provided the means by which general “Anglican” theological, moral and social positions found their way into the development of new Churches being formed all over the world. The Missionary Societies, working in turn with mission agents of the various churches, had the major voice in ecumenical strategies for evangelism and mission.
Unlike the “instruments of communion” that reflect a wide variety of viewpoints throughout the Anglican Communion of Churches, the mission societies were often able to express themselves in ways that carried sharper theological and strategic viewpoints. This is particularly true of the mission societies of the
The two primary ideologically differentiated societies – the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (SPG) 1701 and the Church Missionary Society (CMS) 1799 – arose about one hundred years apart in
Almost all that can be said about those differences without going deep into their histories ends up being caricature, but perhaps it is illustrative to life a paragraph from the “about us” pages of their web sites to show the differences between them:
From the USPG website: The United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (USPG) enables people to grow spiritually, to thrive physically and to have a voice in an unjust world.
As an Anglican mission agency, we do this alongside churches and communities around the world, providing the resources - people, money and ideas - that they define as necessary to meet local needs.
Our work involves pastoral care, social action and supporting training programmes.”
From the Church Missionary Society Website:
“Jesus said: "Go forth to every part of the world and proclaim the Good News to the whole creation." CMS is a pioneering mission community with roots dating to 1799. We long to see the transforming fullness of Christ unfolding in every culture and we are committed to serious and sustained cross-cultural engagement.
We strive to share the love of God with all peoples and to gather them into the fellowship of Christ's Church.
That means that all members of CMS try to participate actively in Christian mission wherever they are, in their home country or overseas.”
The two statements are quite different: still, they both are statements of Christian organizations and most of the time tolerant Church of England folk would admit that.
With the USPG site, one has to look elsewhere on the welcoming page to find the clear reference to the Good News in Jesus Christ. It is there in the logo: “Living the Gospel” and when you click on the video Jesus Christ is named clearly as the source of authority for the work done. It is not an embarrassment or an afterthought. It is simply a given. USPG would have us understand that mission grows from a community already committed to the Gospel.
With the CMS site, one cannot avoid the link: “Jesus said: "Go forth to every part of the world and proclaim the Good News to the whole creation." (Mark 16:15) This quote establishes the biblical mandate for the work of mission – howbeit from a source that is often considered the voice of the early church rather than the voice of Jesus. It is of course a parallel to the Great Commission statement in Matthew. But the CMS call to mission begins by establishing its authority, not as a “company” or corporation doing Gospel work, but as an outgrowth of a command from Jesus Christ.
Well, however the differences played out, my experience of the results was to meet Kenyan, Rwandan, Ugandan, Central African, and Nigerian church leaders and to hear them volunteer to me (without any lead in question on my part) that they were CMS or USPG, or sometimes one of the smaller agencies, all from the Church of England. The reader might want to check out the various mission agencies in
Again, it is not possible to avoid caricature, but with in very broad outlines, the CMS missions produced churches that were more evangelical – seeking transformation by conversion, conversion expressed in a change in moral condition, and USPG missions produced churches that were less evangelical and often more concerned for incarnational transformation, expressed in a life of prayer that lead to social action. The history of these two organizations also reflects the growth of empire at different stages: the SPG initially drive by the desire to provide churches for church adherents in the colonies, and CMS with its roots in the anti-slavery movement and its growth in the English evangelical ascendancy in the mid 19th Century was closely identified with British colonial practice. SPG started with ministry to the colonialists, CMS started with ministry to the colonized. Now, in a post colonial world both, along with the general missionary engagements of the Western Christian churches are subject to wide spread criticism for continued colonial attitudes.
This backfires at times, particularly when the critique comes from those who were raised up in various countries with the expectations of close and supportive ties between church and state. The colonialist expectations that commerce, government and church would be closely tied gets transferred by some into similar internal relationships among church, state and commerce reflecting the adaptation of so called “imperial tendencies” within new Provinces and their leadership.
Knowing that anything said about these organizations is likely to involve a gross exaggeration, and understanding that not being English can lead to a misread of deeper divisions, I none the less want to risk suggesting the following:
(i) The distance, in the Church of England, between those who work for personal transformation by conversion and those who work for social transformation by incarnational living, was reflected in the major mission societies.
(ii) That distance, in a reasonable read of history, marked two quite different reformation understandings, puritan and a more broadly inclusive reformed ‘liberal’ model. It is hard to characterize this second form, except to say it was catholic but not as defined by a magisterium but rather by a national sentiment for the provision of religious life, or, as the puritans discovered, by the sentiments of the Monarch.
(iii) It is the broadly ‘liberal’ church model that constitutes the church of the Elizabethan compromise. But the compromise has never lead to a melding of the two streams of thought. The divisions between the two approaches continue into this day, domestically, as a major division point among individuals, congregations and dioceses. More importantly, those divisions carry forward into the former mission fields, now Provinces of the Anglican Communion.
(iv) The Church of England’s internal battle between neo-puritan evangelicals and liberals is “the Church at War” that Stephen Bates holds at the center of his book. It is close to tearing the Church of England apart and is only a close second to what seems to be a form of benign neglect as the most often stated reason for the predicted demise of the CofE.
(v) Both of the major mission societies in
Given something like this as a basic framework, I believe we must address the possibility that the whole of the “mess” that constitutes the Anglican Communion as it currently exists is a product of unfinished business within the Church of England, unfinished business that occupies Anglican bodies throughout the world.
Acquired Ecclesial Dysfunction Syndrom:
In no way do I want to suggest that this unfinished business is any longer solely in the purview of the
It is also important to state at the outset that there are remarkable missionaries from all of these organizations, persons who incarnated the presence of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. One of the true wonders of missionary efforts by the Church of England’s mission societies, the Episcopal Church and other western missionary organizations is that the Gospel gets transmitted almost in spite of the imperial linkages that accompany them.
Two quite educated and articulate bishops from
The variations in the theme as presented in the work of the Domestic and Foreign Missionary Society of PECUSA.
Churches that owe their beginnings to work by American Episcopalian Missionaries did not seem to have the same evangelical – liberal (although that term is not quite right) split. As organizations such as the South American Missionary Society and Sharing Our Ministries Abroad entered the picture this changed. But at the outset the
Following World War II, and in particular following the increasing social activism of the Episcopal Church during the time of the Viet Nam War and the Civil Rights Movement, several smaller mission societies were founded in the Episcopal Church, often with roots in English evangelical societies. These were often formed in the belief that the Episcopal Church, through DFMS, was failing in either its evangelical responsibilities or was suffering a failure of nerve. The South American Missionary Society (1976) is one such example.
As the accelerated push for greater inclusion continued, admitting persons previously considered unacceptable or second class into the leadership of the church, seemingly without reference to matters of conversion, these US mission societies aligned themselves with conservative evangelical leaders in the US and abroad and with similar organizations of persons in England. These newer mission organizations were willing to “take sides” in the emerging clashes between evangelicals and liberals in the
A number of these
The DFMS, on the other hand, attempts to represent the mission interests of the whole of the Episcopal Church, both evangelical and conservative as well as the more liberal and progressive. The DFMS has tried not to present itself as the equivalent of the ‘liberal’ mission agencies of the Church of England.
The result of the separation between the evangelical / conservative groups (which often think of themselves as orthodox) from the DFMS, the alignment of those groups with their equivalent agencies in England, and their continued close association with Global South evangelical / conservative agencies and Provinces, has contributed to the perception that the Episcopal Church’s missionary efforts are NOT inclusive of evangelical / conservative perspectives. They are inclusive, but not doctrinally ordered to the satisfaction of those perspectives.
The close connection of “realignment” agents – the Anglican Communion Network, the American Anglican Council, the Anglican Mission in America, the Common Cause Partners, etc – with these mission organizations has had the effort of identifying the US conservative / evangelical missionary efforts with the CMS tradition in the Anglican Communion, and thus with “CMS” churches in Africa and SAMS churches in Latin America.
Admittedly this sketch is limited in its scope, but it points in the direction of a direct question to the Church of England Missionary Societies, namely, “Are the English
If so, perhaps the Episcopal Church might consider the possibility that it is catching a second wave of missionary infection, whereby the conflicts within the Church of England are carried over into the Episcopal Church by “foreign” mission societies. SAMS, Sharing our Ministries Abroad (SOMA), AMiA, ACN and now CANA (the Convocation of Anglicans in North America) are in this instance carriers to
The cure may well be to let the infection play itself out. There is no reason to suppose that the evangelical /conservative groupings (the realignment crowd) represent any more than ten to fifteen percent of the Episcopal Church. Let them hold to their so called biblical based morality which gives no evidence in the past of being against slavery, and little evidence in the present of being against physical punishment of children, subjugation of women, exclusion of women from office in the church, sexual expression outside narrow limits within marriage, criminalization of all consensual sex outside marriage between a man and a woman, and severe limitations on freedom of speech and religion.
The rest of us, the overwhelming majority of the people of the Episcopal Church, will continue to argue our way forward to the new possibilities and insights that God presents in the interchange of understandings of faithful believing that are expressed in Christian assembly. We will believe that God will so direct our doings, and so correct our errors, that we can continue to be a faithful community embracing a wide diversity of opinions.
The realignment crowd will try to make the issue one of what it means to belong to the Anglican Communion. We will make the issue one of what it means to be faithful to God’s call to us. The realignment crowd will try to infect us with the dysfunction within the Church of England in the hope for a coup d’eglese. We must counter by saying we will have none of it.
I am, and have always been, committed to being part of the Anglican Communion. But that commitment is not as great as my commitment to being part of a missionary community always willing to grow in its inclusiveness by its willingness to be informed by both “domestic and foreign” concerns, and by the witness of faithful Christians within its common life.