Charles Lewis—Sorry Prof. Hunter, but Anglicanism is not dying

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Prof. Hunter may be right about the Anglican Church in Britain today. But there is a problem if his readers confuse what is going on in Britain — or Canada or the United States, for that matter — with the reality of worldwide Anglicanism.

First, Anglicanism is not dying; it is growing at a stupendous rate in Africa, where more than half the world’s 80 million Anglicans live. Philip Jenkins, the distinguished professor of history and religion at Pennsylvania State University, has estimated that by 2050 there will be 150 million Anglicans in the world, “of whom only a tiny minority will be White Europeans.”

Second, while it is true some Anglicans are defecting to the Catholic Church there are also conservative Anglicans who are leaving their national Churches — such as the group in Canada that separated itself from the Anglican Church of Canada — but remain aligned with the global Church and seek oversight from orthodox African Anglican bishops. This group has little interest in becoming Catholic. If anything, they want to be more Protestant and put the Bible at the center of their lives....

Read it all.

Filed under: * Anglican - Episcopal- Anglican: Commentary

5 Comments
Posted November 30, 2010 at 7:40 am [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. MarkP wrote:

Can someone tell me (or direct me to a resource that would tell me) why the Anglicans are doing so well in Africa? I was listening to a BBC interview with Martin Minns the other day, and it occurred to me that this is a key question I really don’t know the answer to. I presume it’s not because of their stand on any of the hot button issues we think of as “tearing the communion apart”. African Roman Catholics and Pentecostals must agree with the African Anglicans on sexuality, the Bible, and the place of the Buddha in the grand scheme of things. Minns talked about the great gifts that Anglicanism has to offer the rest of the church—so what are these? What is identifiably “Anglican” that encourages an African to choose that church over any other?

Or is it that the growth is happening in places where the Anglican church is the only Christian church in town (in other words, Anglicanism is getting the credit for the strengths of Christianity that all Christians share)?

November 30, 9:14 am | [comment link]
2. Pb wrote:

The growth is in the pentecostal and charismatic parts of the church worldwide. Read The Holy Spirit in the 20th Century by Vinson Synan.

November 30, 10:40 am | [comment link]
3. Jeremy Bonner wrote:

Mark,

I wonder if some (not all) of the success is part of a wave effect. If one makes a comparison with the Second Great Awakening, one can see that denominations that wholeheartedly embraced the Awakening tended to grow faster than those that didn’t and they were much more inclined to cooperatively focus on the unchurched than to compete with one another. That also seems to be the case in much of the Global South, where practical ecumenical cooperation is widespread.

Of course there are overtly Anglican components - the East African Revival, for example, although more than fifty years have passed since that was at its height - as well as an institutional heritage that the younger charismatics lack, but I agree that in many cases it probably isn’t the specifically ‘Anglican’ ethos that is foremost in drawing newcomers into relationship. Of course, this isn’t a new development, if the words of the Bishop of Zanzibar almost a century ago are any guide: 

The second incident that lends support to my contention is the Conference of Protestant Missions with the Church Missionary Society at Kikuyu, British East Africa, in June 1913.

In that Conference two Bishops and several priests of the Ecclesia Anglicana committed themselves to a temporary Federation of Missionary Societies, with a view to the establishment of a new, united protestant Church of East Africa and Uganda.

The doctrinal basis of the present Federation is, I gather, likely to be taken over by the new Church. It involves the acknowledgment of the Bible as the supreme rule of Faith and Practice, in accordance with which we may suppose so many different Missions exist side by side; it requires an acceptance of the Apostles’ and Nicene Creed, not as a supreme rule but merely as a general expression of belief; and emphasizes the absolute authority of Scripture as the Word of God, and the vital importance of belief in the atoning death of Our Lord as the ground of forgiveness.

Meanwhile, pending the formation of this new Church, the two Bishops and the Heads of four protestant missionary societies have pledged themselves

(a) to recognise common membership between Federated Churches;

(b) to establish a common form of Church organization;

(c) to admit to any pulpit a preacher recognized by his own Church;

(d) to admit to communion a recognized member of any other Church;

(e) to draw up and follow common courses of instruction both for candidates for baptism and candidates for ordination.

And as a pledge of good faith, and with every appearance of heartfelt joy and gratitude, the Bishop of Mombasa celebrated the Holy Communion, on the last evening of the Conference, in a Presbyterian Church, and admitted to communion as many of the delegates of protestant societies as cared to present themselves.

I venture to say that there has not been a Conference of such importance to the life of the Ecclesia Anglicana since the Reformation. For it has brought us to the parting of the ways that we have so long dreaded and sought to avoid.

The differences between the catholic and protestant interpretations of the formulas of the Church are so well known to us that we hardly need explain them. As was said above, the Ecclesia Anglicana has always desired to find room for those who otherwise must pass into schism, and their translation of privilege into right has so far been accepted popularly in England that we, who claim the older interpretation as true, have suffered much at their lips. To-day we are justified. For in British East Africa and Uganda the protestantizing party has developed itself with a grim logic, in warm-hearted love of souls, and at Kikuyu announced clearly the Deposit that it was prepared to make over to the new African Church.

Catholic and Reformed

November 30, 10:45 am | [comment link]
4. Grant LeMarquand wrote:

Dear Mark P,
Your question was forwarded to me by a colleague here at Trinity School for Ministry. I was a missionary in Kenya for some years, wrote my doctoral dissertation on African biblical exegesis and I do a lot of resource, writing, and teaching in Africa (I get to somewhere on the continent most years). ...so I guess my colleague thought that I might want to say a few words. The answer is not straightforward, neither is it a distinctly Anglican answer.
It is true that on most of the contnent of Africa (especially south of the Sahara) Anglican churches are growing. This growth can be attributed to several factors -

1. one is intentional evangelism among people who have not yet given their lives to Christ. The most obvious example of this is Nigeria. The Anglican church in Nigeria has always been ‘orthodox’ in its theology, but its growth was not very remarkable until about 20 years ago when decisions were taken to reach out intentionally to parts of the country which were underevangelized (esp the north). Since then the church has grown tremendously - interestingly not only in the North - the whole church seems to have caught the evangelistic bug.

2. Some churches (Sudan is a prime example) have grown through a combination of what were (from a human perspective) negative factors - the missionaries were expelled by the radical Muslim government and the government began an aggressive genocidal against the people of the south, most of whom were practitioners of African taditional religions, although some were Christians. In the midst of a devastating cival war that killed more than 2 million southern Sudanese, most of the south turned to the gospel. They (especially the Jieng people, better Dinka in the west) seem to have decided that the old divinities (the Jak) were not doing the job they were supposed to do (ie protect the people), so the people turned to a God who came and suffered with them on the cross. The lack of missionaries menat that Africans had to take leadership of the church and did so in ways that helped the people to understand and live the gospel in African terms. It should be noted that the Coptic Church in Egypt has been tremendously revitalized turning from an old dying church to a young and vibrant church between the 1960s (when Islam became more radicalized in Egypt) until now. Monasteries that previously had a small handful of old (and sick!) monks are now fuill and receiving novices weekly - as well as hundreds of devout Coptic visitors daily.

3. Pentecostalism, which has spread worldwide, of course, has been a focus of dynamic and excited Christian renewal in Africa. Many Anglicans (esp the Church of Uganda) have been deeply affected by the movement. It’s not all good news - some of the Pentecostal stuff in Africa is American-style health and wealth stuff and has been (I say this literally) abusive. But much of the charismatic movement and of Pentecostalism has been good news - Africans have real physical, spiritual and social needs - Pentecostalism promises that God is interested in healing, in delivering from evil spirits - as well as being interested in clean water and dealing with malaria and AIDS (yes Pentecostals in Africa talk about those kinds of things).

4. In 1910 the missionary conference meeting in Edinburgh concluded that there was hope for the conversion of much of the world - except Africa. The missionaries gathered in Scotland saw Africans as primitive and almost non-religious. They had no written religious texts and no institutions and the religion(s) they had were diverse and seemed at best superstitious and at worst occultic. Those missionaries were wrong. The African culture is deeply religious, Africans are monotheistic (although they also believe in many other spiritual belings), and they were it seems just waiting for the good news of the gospel. Some Africans were hesitant to accept the message from missionaries - probably because the missionaries wanted them to give up things in their culture that they valued in order to become Christians (read Galatians for an earlier example of this kind of cultural imposition by the so-called Judaizers…). When Africans themselves began preaching the gospel in African term, Africa responded. Their culture is good soil - as a young man (a Pentecostal) in Nigeria once said to me when I asked why the church was growing there.

5. As I hinted at briefly above, African churches of all stripes and flavours have taken tangivble needs seriously. The only modern institutions (schools and hospitals) that really function in the Congo, for example, are run tby the Roman Catholic Church. That country has never had a break and the church is the only thing that has provided any kind of hope. The same could be said about much of the continent - education and health has always been a part f missionary activity - so people have always know that Christians cared.

6. Finally, an important article by a long term Africaist, Robin Horton, entitled ‘African Conversion’ argued (several decades ago) that many Africans convert to both Christianity and Islam because those religions offer African people a story which is bigger than their local story. Christianity and Islam are both universal religions that argue that God has a claim on the whole world. Africans who in the last 2 centuries have been confronted (not always in happy ways) with the reality of a world beyond their own ethnic groups and their near neighbours have realized (not always consciously) their need to be a part of a global story. The global story provided by secular modernism provided no point of contact with African cultures - except oppressive land-and resource grabbing, and slave trading points of contact. Islam has not been as effective south of the Sahara because it imposes a particular culture and languiage (Arabic). Although Christianity has been tempted to impose western culture, the gospel is in fact translatable (see the works of Lamin Sanneh for discussion of theis concept) and has been translated by Africans in African ‘languages’ (literally and broadly understood).

I hope that this helps

Grant LeMarquand
Trinity School for Ministry

November 30, 1:04 pm | [comment link]
5. MarkP wrote:

Many thanks, Grant, Jeremy, and Pb (and to the person who passed my request along to a colleague!). Very interesting and helpful stuff.

November 30, 2:09 pm | [comment link]
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