In June of 2002, the synod of the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster (in Vancouver, Canada) voted to authorize a service to bless same-sex unions. J. I. Packer was among the synod members who walked out in protest, and he explained why in an article for Christianity Today. The lede summarized his rationale: “Why did I walk out with the others? Because this decision, taken in its context, falsifies the gospel of Christ, abandons the authority of Scripture, jeopardizes the salvation of fellow human beings, and betrays the church in its God-appointed role as the bastion and bulwark of divine truth.”
On Feb. 13, 2008, Packer’s church, St. John’s Shaughnessy in Vancouver (at 760 members, the largest church in the Anglican Church of Canada), voted to leave the ACC and to align with a more orthodox branch in Argentina: the Province of the Southern Cone.
On Feb. 22, 2008, Michael Ingham, Bishop of the New Westminster Diocese, sent a letter to Packer (who has been an honorary assistant at St. John’s for over 20 years) and other clergy serving a Notice of Presumption of Abandonment of the Exercise of the Ministry under Canon XIX, based on (1) publicly renouncing the doctrine and discipline of the Anglican Church of Canada; and (2) having sought or intending to seek admission into another religious body outside the Anglican Church of Canada.
If they do not dispute these facts by April 21, 2008, their authority as ministers of the Word and Sacrament (conferred at their ordinations) will be revoked.
Ted Olsen writes: “Frankly, this story isn’t terribly newsworthy in the traditional sense. It’s predictable, and any suspension would be irrelevant. Packer will continue his ministry just as he has been doing since he left the diocese.” Olsen continues: “The possible suspension of Packer may create a bit of a problem for both the Archbishop of Canada and the Archbishop of Canterbury given the reaction that could be expected from many parts of the Communion. It also has potential to make non-Anglican evangelicals worldwide more interested in the Anglican crisis. ”
St John’s put together a DVD (perhaps an hour and a half in length) for their congregation to explain what has happened and why. Journalist Susan Martinuk interviews the rector, Rev. David Short, and Dr. Packer.
The DVD has been broken into 10 parts and posted on YouTube (you can view all of the videos here.)
Because, frankly, I have not been very familiar with the Anglican structure and the ins-and-outs of the controversy, I took a few notes on Rev. Short’s interviews, which may be helpful as a kind of Anglican Reallignment Crash Course for Dummies:
All the different Anglican churches in an area gather in a diocese; over the diocese the head pastor is a bishop. In a geographical area (like British Columbia) a group of dioceses form together, and one of their bishops is elected to be archbishop. Canada together is called a province, and one of the archbishops is elected to be a primate. Each province has a primate. The primates meet once every two years. The Archbishop of Canterbury is “first among equals” and calls together the Lambeth Conference.
The Anglican Communion is a global body made up of 38 interdependent provinces (i.e., national churches). (Canada is a province; the US is a province; Kenya is a province; England is a province; New Zealand is a province; etc.) The global communion is, at it were, 38 ships that are all chained together in the historic faith that we have received in the Scriptures, that is expressed in the creeds, in the formularies of the Anglican Church. We are a flotilla of 38 ships sailing toward, say, England. Since 2002, two of the independent provinces [US and Canada] have decided that we are going to sail in a different direction, say, Australia. So the chain that binds all these provinces together is being stretched and stretched. The ships are calling on two of the ships—Canada and the US—to turn around and head in the historic direction that the church has been heading.
In 2003, the primates said that if Canada and the US continued, they will have torn the fabric, broken the chains—so much so that many of these provinces have said we are going to have to cut the chains and allow those two ships to go their own way. The polite Anglican language to speak about that is “to walk apart.”
Many of us in Canada and the US don’t want to go to Australia. We believe that the direction set for us in the Scriptures and in the historic church is the right direction and God has not changed his mind. We want to be part of the global communion, sailing in this direction.
What’s happening now is that a number of orthodox groups are being forced out of their provinces in Canada and the US, and the other provinces are coming along and saying, “You belong to us”—building links and chains, saying “We will take you with us.” A little bit like a rescue option. It’s unprecedented. Never before have two provinces sought to move away from the communion theologically, and never before has there been a rescue mission for those who want to belong to the rest of the church.
In the view of the majority of the communion, schism has taken place. 22 of 38 have indicated “completely broken” or “impaired” communion with Canada and the US. The reason it’s taken 5 years to fall out is because the global communion has (rightly) wanted to be as patient and gracious and careful as possible, calling for moratoriums on same-sex unions. There is still the possibility that the churches in Canada and the US would turn back.
Same-sex unions is really an iceberg issue. 19/20 of the iceberg is below the water. Several issues rise above the water (same-sex blessings; the uniqueness of the Lord Jesus Christ; etc.) What drives this disagreement is a different view of God, of the Bible, of what Jesus came to do, of what the church is all about. That’s below the surface of the water. It’s not so much interpretation of the Bible; it’s the authority of the Bible—how the Word of God functions in the life of the ordinary believer.
Here are the clips from the interview with Packer:
Implications for the Church
The Future of the Church