Last November, Justin Welby, 56, Bishop of Durham, was appointed to serve in the role of Archbishop of Canterbury in the worldwide Anglican Church. Welby serves as the 150th Archbishop of Canterbury, and succeeded Rowan Williams who retired this past December after serving in this role for 10 years. It has been noted that Welby “is regarded by observers as being on the evangelical wing of the Church, closely adhering to traditional interpretations of the Bible with a strong emphasis on making the Church outward-looking.”
Today Welby officially takes this most senior post in the Anglican Church in a ceremony at Canterbury Cathedral.
Writing of this change last November, Carl Laferton, senior editor of The Good Book Company, took the opportunity to address some important denominational lessons we can learn from “The Rusty Anglican Auto.”
Often when one looks outward at others, one does not engage in sufficient introspection. One might notice other rusty cars, but not the rust on one’s own car. The rust among the Anglicans Laferton explains as “declining numbers, massive money problems, increasingly marginalized, and tearing itself apart over the issues of homosexuality and women bishops.”
Though he acknowledges the Anglican vehicle moves, it is slow, rusty, with too many passengers and not enough drivers. What has caused these problems? Laferton is clear that it is a matter of the gospel:
The easy answer: the church lost the gospel. Waves of pragmatism, liberalism, and “Anglo-Catholicism” (a blend of Roman Catholicism and Anglicanism) have swept through the church, leaving wreckage in their wake. . . . But the actual cause is slightly more subtle. Anglicans still talk about the gospel, a lot. And mission. And even about being evangelical—the new archbishop self-identifies as an evangelical . . .The denomination never lost the words. But it lost the biblical content. In order to keep unity among people who differ over essentials, Anglicanism has increasingly emptied key concepts of their content. . . . Once the biblical gospel is no longer a church’s raison d’etre, it looks for another one. And almost always the reason becomes the church itself.
Laferton addresses how Anglican Evangelicals will likely respond. He also draws three important lessons from the Anglican experience that those in other denominations can learn if they are determined, by God’s grace, not to follow a similar path.
1. Don’t assume the gospel, and don’t stop showing that it’s the biblical gospel.
Assuming the gospel leads to losing the gospel. One generation loves the gospel; the next assumes it; the third doesn’t know it, but thinks it does; the fourth leaves the church.
2. Don’t prize unity over truth.
It’s easy to be overly divisive, to split off from a denomination because we disagree over secondary matters (or because we disagree over what the secondary matters are). . . . But there’s an equal and opposite error, too, that Anglicanism teaches us. Unity has been prized above truth.
3. Remember that times change, and churches must change with them.
Healthy churches don’t hold fast to what used to work; to how we used to be; but instead hold a Bible in one hand, a newspaper in the other, and work out how to show and communicate the eternal gospel in this particular time and space.
If your denomination can still accelerate, can change direction as necessary, and has godly leaders who are passionate about the biblical gospel in the driving seat, give great thanks to God for his mercy. And pray to God for your brothers and sisters who sit in rustier cars. After all, God can restore rusty panels, and build new cars out of old ones.
I give thanks to the Lord for His grace and mercy evidenced in the EFCA. We remain the Evangelical Free Church. Yes, the gospel is in our name. But more importantly, we are committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ in doctrine, in proclamation and in practice. Join me in giving thanks to the Lord!
If we ever compromise the gospel, though we may retain the Evangel in our name, we will be a name only for we will no longer be part of the true church created, formed and shaped by the gospel of Jesus Christ. Join me in prayer that we will remain tethered to the text and grounded in the gospel!