The Real Divisions in the Church of England

Yesterday I posted an explanation of the complex relationships within the Church of England. I explained here about Anglo Catholic, Evangelicals and Liberals. However, this is not the full story.

As usual, there is a story behind the story. The divisions between Liberal, Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical are, in many respects, only superficial and historical. The real division is between those Anglican Christians (no matter how they dress or worship) who believe that the Christian faith is a revealed religion, established by God and therefore unchanging, and those who believe the Christian religion is a human construct developed out of the circumstances of a particular historical and cultural setting.

Those who believe the Christian religion is revealed by God supernaturally also believe that the Church is essentially not of this world. They exist in this world to challenge the ways of this world. They are not supposed to be conformed to the world, but to be transformed. Those who believe that the Christian religion is revealed by God for the eternal salvation of souls see this world as needing repentance and forgiveness and salvation. They don’t mind if the world rejects them. They expect that. When asked to compromise the faith and change the faith to adapt to the world they assume the martyr’s stance. “Offer incense to idols? Bring on the roaring lions, the coliseum and the crowds.”

The second category of Christian are those who believe the religion is a human construct. They think it is the result of certain historical and cultural conditions and accidents. As it was produced by a cultural context, so Christianity has always adapted to the culture in which it finds itself. They see this as a good thing. This is their method of evangelization. They follow the lead of the current cultural climate because they see that as the way of being relevant and connecting with the people in their culture. They do not view the world as full of souls to be saved so much as a wayward child that needs educating and a little bit of discipline in order to reach his full potential. Christianity is for them, a method of personal growth and a system for societal change. It is for them more of an ideology than a theology.

The clash therefore is between those who believe the Christian religion is revealed and those who think it is relative.

This is the essential clash in the Church of England, and the vote on women bishops in the General Synod has revealed this deep fault line within the Church of England, and it is this clash of essential beliefs about what the Church really IS that is at the heart of the rift. This rift exists within the Catholic Church too, but it is especially painful for Anglicans because part of their heritage and core identity is that they are a national church. They are an established church, so their basic self identification is the second of the two choices–the church conformed to society in order to minister to society.

This is written into the Church of England genetic code. That’s how they’re wired. From the foundation of the Church of England it has been a church formed by the monarch, steered by Parliament and guided by the English culture. English vicars still love to think that they minister to “everyone who lives in the parish”. However, one of the comments from a woman who voted against women bishops yesterday is telling. She is a conservative Evangelical (and therefore of the group who thinks the Christian religion is revealed not relative) she said  quite simply and sweetly, “We are the part of the Church of England that is growing. Our churches are full. We are producing the largest number of new priests. We tithe and are therefore donating more than any other group in the Church of England.” She might also have added that it is conservative Evangelical religion which also makes up the largest part of the vast and fast growing church in the developing world.

If this is so, then the Church of England’s present crisis is not just the failure of its liberal leadership to bully everyone and push through a vote for women bishops. The crisis is a crisis of identity. Will the Church of England continue to be a church that adapts to every passing fad and fashion, or will it become a church of martyrs–a church which stands up against the trends of society and calls for repentance and a return to the gospel?

I think I can predict the answer…

Read More: The Smoke of Satan – Modernism in the Church;

What Would Rome Do?

Revealed Religion or Relevant and Radical?;

A Split is Imminent

The Coming Persecution


Apologetics 101
Idol Speculation
Is This a Miraculous Image of the Divine Mercy?
The Puri-Fire
  • Gail Finke

    “They do not view the world as full of souls to be saved so much as a wayward child that needs educating and a little bit of discipline in order to reach his full potential. Christianity is for them, a method of personal growth and a system for societal change.” Great explanation.

  • John

    Boom goes the dynamite, Father. Nail on the head.

  • flyingvic

    ‘English vicars still love to think that they minister to “everyone who lives in the parish”. ‘

    No. Anglican priests in England are required by law and by calling to offer their ministry to everyone who lives in the parish. There’s no choice or self-delusion or “love to think” here.

    And then, if a religion is “revealed religion, established by God and therefore unchanging”, how does that square with Newman’s “development of Christian doctrine”? Either something is unchanging or it may be developed.

    By contrast, to preach the eternal Gospel in terms that the modern generation and its culture will understand – as you yourself, Father, use internet blogging to proclaim the faith – that does not necessarily mean that people “adapt” that Gospel in a way that makes it “relative” (as you use that word).

    Your division and categorisation of the CofE is too simplistic by half.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    To answer your points:

    1. Use new methods of communicating the gospel is very different from changing the message itself. One may use new new methods to tell the old old story.
    2. You are correct that doctrine develops. If nothing changes we have an ossified religion as in Eastern Orthodoxy. If everything changes we have the extremes of modern Protestantism. Newman outlines the correct criteria for the development of doctrine. Women’s ordination violates those criteria, and this has been pointed out by the definitive statement on the matter by the Holy Father.
    3. I am the first to admit that there are good arguments for the ordination of women. When I faced this debate twenty years ago I saw good Scriptural, theological, traditional, psychological and social arguments for the ordination of women. I saw equally good arguments on the other side. This is precisely what caused me to search for a voice of authority that was bigger than the Church of England, older than the twenty first century, more far reaching than the narrow, blinkered and educated elite that ruled the Church of England and deeper than the societal trends determining the debate. This is what led me to the Catholic Church.

    People said to me after my conversion, “What will you do when the Catholic Church decides to ordain women?” My reply was, “Rejoice.”

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    BTW, I find it interesting that it was the conservative Evangelicals who brought down the women bishops measure. It is easy to classify them as wacky fundamentalist conservative fuddy duddies, but there churches are usually the ones with the most up to date technology, the most up to date communication methods, the trendiest new programs and the most relevant and approachable means of evangelization. It seems to me that if anyone in the CofE has a claim to be relevant, radical and up to date it’s them–not a load of aging liberals.

  • Fr Levi

    Simplistic? Impossible not to be in a few hundred words … probably even a book-length treatment would only begin to scratch the surface. That doesn’t make Father Longenecker’s short treatment of the issue unfair or inaccurate.

  • Mary De Voe

    Dear Father Longenecker: The Catholic Church will ordain women when God reveals Himself as a woman. When priests start calling God “our Mother”, I usually write to them and address them as : Dear Mother so and so, and enclose a copy of the letter I sent to the bishop. Mother Angelica of EWTN said: “If God wanted you to become a priest, you would have been born a man.”

  • Jerry Woods

    The liberals subject Tradition to the democratic process and don’t get the result they want.
    “For tis the sport to have the enginer Hoist with his owne petar”.

  • James

    Amen, Mary.

  • Ka Kan

    Good points, going back to the word of God stated in the Bible, i agree this is not a book to bow to fashion with women church leaders and it is all too clear it is their disagreement is with the God almighty. With recent view on gay marriage in church and women as Church leaders this is all political and not Gods words. Who is powerful enough to change the Bible (Gospel Gods words) and challenge God? They should read the Bible. If it would be ok by God these views would have been pointed out by some one clever on chapter and verse in the Bible. Would it really have taken over 2000 years to support gay marriage in churches and high ranking women priests?

  • heirsinhope

    Spot on! Totally spot on! This is why, in response to my question, did the AC believe in Christ’s return?, my New Testament professor said that the consensus was if Jesus were returning, he’d have done so by now. At that moment, I saw immense despair & knew something was seriously wrong. Christ was missing; not too long after that, I returned to the Catholic Church. Yes, there is a split in the Catholic Church but the Authority is for Holiness is impossible in the Liberal Anglican Communion. Thank God some in the Anglican Communion want holiness – I hope they return to the Catholic Church soon.

  • Fr E Whelan

    Is not the real problem the fact that despite claims to the contrary the “Church of England” is NOT a Church?

  • polycarped

    Agree with you completely. Fr Longenecker’s fundamental points and distinctions here are right on the money.

  • Matthew the Wayfarer

    Doesn’t matter. I hear Parliament has already decided to over ride the vote and declare Women Bishops a done deal effective immediately is not retroactively. So……. there they go again. Established churches are so great aren’t they? Will the Ango-Catholic remnant and the Evangelical majority bail out then? I think not! Cowards living in modest comfort never do the right thing.

  • Credo

    ‘going back to the word of God stated in the Bible,’
    The well-known Catholic scholar, Raymond E Brown, in his book ‘Priest and Bishop: Biblical Reflections (New York: Paulist Press, 1970), p. 13. writes that ‘When we move from the Old Testament to the New Testament, it is striking that while there are pagan priests and Jewish priests on the scene, no individual Christian is ever specifically identified as a priest. The Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of the high priesthood of Jesus by comparing his death and entry into heaven with the actions of the Jewish high priest who went into the Holy of Holies in the Tabernacle once a year with a blood offering for himself and for the sins of his people (Hebrews 9: 6, 7). But it is noteworthy that the author of Hebrews does not associate the priesthood of Jesus with the Eucharist or the Last Supper; neither does he suggest that other Christians are priests in the likeness of Christ. In fact the once-for-all atmosphere that surrounds the priesthood of Jesus in Hebrews 10:12 -14 has been offered as an explanation of why there are no Christian priests in the New Testament period.’ Priests were a post-Constantine development.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Thanks for your interesting comment. The development of the priestly concept of ministry in the Catholic Church was not completely post Constantinian as ideas of sacrifice and priesthood are present in the writings of the early church fathers

  • Jim

    ‘The well-known Catholic scholar, Raymond E Brown’ says it all for me. He and his chums gave each other Imprimaturs in their Commentary.
    The derivation of the term ‘priest’ in English is different from the same word in the OT (kohen/hiereus) and NT where it refers to Temple priesthood.

    Our word ‘priest’ derives from Gk presbuteros via German into Old English Prester, and our ‘priest’. It is most certainly seen in the NT as are Deacons and Bishops.
    Thats why Catholic priests live in Presbyteries.

    Father Brown knew that really.

  • TimN

    Whilst it’s easy to try to put churches into boxes, I think the assumption that growing churches are in the ant-women bishops camp is far from the truth. In my Deanery the evangelicals now represent over half of the laity but less than a third of the churches. However they all voted in favour of the measure proposed. I would say that most evangelicals in the CofE are in favour (As for instance is the new Evangelical soon to be Archbishop). In our deanery, the votes against came from AngloCatholic churches which are due to be merged into other parishes as their congregations are old and dying. Most evangelicals are IMHO in favour of the move.
    The fundamental problem is that lay representatives are not elected on a “party” basis. Inevitably evangelicals are more likely to vote for each other than liberals or catholics, but many (perhaps most) of the candidates did not go out of their way to spell out their position and so may well have received most of their votes from people who opposed them on this issue.
    My personal experience would say that conservative evangelicals are more concentrated in areas of wealth and as a consequence have a higher proportion of individuals who can afford the time to stand (given it requires a time commitment of over 2 weeks a year), which leads to their relative over-representation in Synod (while mainstream evangelicals are under-represented).

    I also think your revealed/human construct is classically Catholic thinking which also fails to square with the position of most Anglicans (being quite happily reformed!). As an evangelical of course I believe the church is a supernatural gift of the Spirit. The order of the church however is a response to a changing world in the light of scripture. Many of those who opposed women bishops would happily vote for no bishops at all – you will find the strongest congregationalist tendencies in the conservative evangelicals. Luckily my Father’s house has many rooms….

  • flyingvic

    Let’s not get ahead of ourselves here in sneering and sticking the ‘Coward’ label on others. It must always be an open question, surely, whether it is right, or brave, or both, when a decision is not to your liking (a) to stay and proclaim by your presence what you believe to be the truth or (b) to leave and shout your truth over the fence. None of us knows how we will react until the moment of crisis is actually upon us.

  • Credo

    ‘ The development of the priestly concept of ministry in the Catholic Church was not completely post Constantinian as ideas of sacrifice and priesthood are present in the writings of the early church fathers’

    The antichrist spirit was already at work after Our Lord ascended to Heaven and sat down at the right hand of the Father. The ‘development of the priestly concept of ministry’ was most unfortunate and really took off when the Holy Spirit (leader of the NT church) was replaced by Peter. The Holy Spirit was quenched.

  • Micha Elyi

    Can’t find the passage in which Jesus says the Holy Spirit is the rock upon which He will build His Church. Maybe it’s in the Protestant versions of the Bible?

  • The Feds

    This picture looks like it was taken at a Halloween party in San Francisco’s Castro District!

  • Rob Kelsey

    Fr Longenecker’s article is grossly simplistic and either wrong or dubious in several respects.
    Primarily, it presents a false dichotomy. Surely the church is both revealed and culturally-conditioned? This is:
    1. Inevitable. Any human institution is bound to be culturally-conditioned. If it thinks otherwise then it is deluding itself.
    2. A good thing! It seems to me that the church should model itself on Christ, who in his dual nature was both human and divine. If the church is too human then it has nothing important to say. If the church is too heavenly then it’s of no earthly use. The church has to have a foot in both camps, as it were.
    Thus, I fundamentally disagree that the church is ‘essentially not of this world.’ It has to be, like Jesus, essentially both of this world and of the heavenly kingdom.

    I think the real division in the church is between those who see the church as a lifeboat and those who see it as a lighthouse.
    1. Those who see the church as a lifeboat, see the world as fundamentally a bad or dangerous place from which people need to be rescued. The job of the church is to get as many people into the lifeboat as possible.
    2. Those who see the church as a lighthouse, see the world as fundamentally a good – albeit flawed – place in which people need guidance. The job of the church is to serve God’s saving purposes in the world.
    I think Fr Longenecker is insufferably smug. E.g.
    1. ‘Christianity is for [the second category of Christian] more of an ideology than a theology.’ This is a lazy put-down, implying as it does that Fr Longenecker is a theologian, whereas people with whom he disagrees are ideologues!
    2. ‘English vicars still love to think …’ Do I detect a note of sour grapes here?
    3. ‘A conservative Evangelical … said quite simply and sweetly, “We are the part of the Church of England that is growing.”‘ Any church that equates numerical success with faithfulness to God has already begun to lose its way.
    Longenecker says that the first category of Christians ‘don’t mind if the world rejects them. They expect that. When asked to compromise the faith … they assume the martyr’s stance.’ The problem with this attitude is that, while appearing brave, it’s actually complacent. What if the church has got something wrong? How will it ever change for the better if, whenever people from outside the church criticise it in any way, it assumes the martyr’s stance (i.e. buries its head in the sand)? I would hope the church might be humble enough to listen to and learn from the world, as well as preach to the world.

    It sounds to me as if Fr Longenecker would prefer the Church of England to be disestablished, so that it no longer ‘conformed to society.’ I rejoice in the fact that, as the national church, we have to negotiate with society, in order to serve society better. I don’t just ‘love to think’ that I minister to everyone in the parish. I’m a parish priest, not just a church priest. The world, not the church, is God’s first love.

    Thus, I don’t agree with Fr Longenecker that the CofE’s failure to ordain women as bishops is a crisis of identity, nor that the ordination of women as bishops is a ‘passing fad or fashion.’ The CofE has decided that women can, should and will become bishops, and the CofE will be more true to its identity when that day comes. There are good, Biblically-based reasons for ordaining women as bishops, but that’s another story.

  • Ismael


    You are right The Feds! I mean, if they want us to take them seriously they should at least dress with proper lithurgical clothing, not liturgical clothing found in Uncle Groucho House of Costumes.

  • Ismael

    “There are good, Biblically-based reasons for ordaining women as bishops, but that’s another story.”
    No there are not. Unless you count gross misinterpretations on several passages…. but in that wat you can tell the Bible to say ANYTHING, really, even that Jesus is an alien (yes someone already went there).

    There are good Biblically-based reasons for NOT ordaining women, however.

    “The CofE has decided that women can, should and will become bishops, and the CofE will be more true to its identity when that day comes. ”

    That’s true. The CofE was born by rejecting some parts of the Gospel in favor of the King whims.

    Now they will reject even more Gospel in favor of the parliament whims… yes it’s consistent I must give you that!

  • http://virginmedia M. J. Swain

    If God wanted women priests, he would have sent his daughter not his son to us.

  • http://virginmedia M. J. Swain

    High church, low church; High church have resolutions AB&C. Low church is open to men & women, vicars.