This present darkness and the Crisis of Contemporary Anglicanism: Thesis 1

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This is the first of FOURTEEN THESES TOWARD REVIVING, REFORMING, AND REORDERING THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION, with Commentary.

Thesis 1

The world of the 21st century is dominated by principalities and powers opposed to God and the biblical faith. In much of the non-Western world, enmity and persecution has come from militant religions and totalitarian regimes. In the West, postmodern ideologues have sought to overturn the biblical worldview of God as the Creator and Lord of life and death and of sexuality and marriage as His blessing for mankind and the sign of His love for the Church. In this quest, they have enjoyed apparent success (but cf. Psalm 2). Many Anglican churches and their leaders in North America and the UK have succumbed to this false ideology and are promoting its agenda.

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COMMENT

We live in apocalyptic times. Here is a sample of headlines over the 2022 Advent and Christmas season:

  • “Over 40 Christians Killed in Nigeria on Christmas Week”
  • “Why Do Politicians Shy Away from the M-Word [“Marriage”]?”
  • “Abortion is the Leading Cause of Death Worldwide for the Fourth Year in a Row”
  • “Christian Population of England and Wales Drops Below 50%”
  • “When Thinking a Prayer Becomes a Crime”
  • “Church of England’s First ‘Gender-Queer’ Priest Shares Hope of ‘Normalizing’ It for Children”
  • “The Death of Christianity in Bethlehem”
  • “10,000+ Canadian Euthanasia Killings in 2021”

To say that we live in such a time is not to say that the Second Coming is at hand. Jesus warned us about such pre-emptive prophecy: “For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains” (Matthew 24:7-8). Yet Jesus Himself and the apostolic writers do indeed interpret the signs of their time and forecast a sudden, imminent Return of the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:16).

The most significant geo-political tectonic shift of the last half-millennium has been the passing away of “Christendom,” that concurrence of church and state that began with the Emperor Constantine and continued in various forms through the Western and Eastern Roman Empires and their offspring in Europe and the Middle East. While the Protestant Reformation marked a division within the Western Church, the magisterial Protestant churches retained, formally or informally, the tie between “prince and priest and thrall [subjects].” Even the multi-denominational United States was considered by most of its leaders and people a Christian nation well into the 20th century, as was also the case with other nations colonized from Europe.

Today the situation of world Christianity is far different. Although the Christian Church is still large in aggregate numbers, it is no longer dominant politically in its historic territories. Indeed Christianity is now the most persecuted religion worldwide, as opposing “empires” have arisen – some old, some new, some outside, some inside the historic bounds of Christendom. Each of these empires is inspired by a worldview hostile to the Bible and the Christian Gospel.

Islam is an ancient enemy of the Church, claiming that Allah is God who has no son and Mohammed his Prophet. The term “Islam” means submission to Allah and Islamic law, and while many Muslims have coexisted with Christians in mixed regimes, this is not the case in Islamic states, and in recent years radical Islam has led to increasing discrimination and acts of terrorism, as in Nigeria. Violence against Christians has also been increasing in India, due to the rise of Hindu nationalism. Totalitarian regimes in North Korea and China, with their Dear Leader cult, also forbid or suppress Christian freedom of worship and assembly and persecute any who do not cooperate.

It is in the “developed” West itself, the cradle of Christendom, that the most remarkable attack on Christianity has taken place where, within a generation, to be a Christian has become synonymous with being a hate-monger, a racist, or a “deplorable.” The ground for this cultural shift was prepared by the secularization of the universities, media, and government and corporate bureaucracies, abetted by the leadership of many churches, where questioning the veracity of the Bible was taught in prestigious divinity faculties and preached from prominent pulpits.

The attack in the West has been focused on overturning Christian teaching on human nature – the very nature the Son of God assumed to save – as found in these three texts that frame the biblical worldview:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28 ESV)

And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul. (Genesis 2:7 KJV)

That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24 NIV)

Based on these scriptural pillars, the Church has consistently opposed abortion and euthanasia, because the Lord gives the breath of life to the soul and the Lord takes it away. The Church recognizes and honours two and only two sexes, male and female, who together are made in God’s image. The Church, following the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ, upholds lifelong monogamous marriage, along with dedicated singleness, as God’s norm and blessing (Matthew 19:3-12).

Equally fundamental, the Church confesses one God the Father, Creator of heaven and earth. One of the curse words in today’s Western lexicon is “patriarchy,” from which all evils are said to flow. And yet it is the Word Himself who reveals the unseen Father, it is Jesus who teaches His disciples to hallow the Name of “Our Father” (John 1:18; Matthew 6:9). I am convinced that the attack on patriarchy is not merely directed against bad human fathers – who have abounded from time immemorial – but against God the Father Himself, from whom, St. Paul says, “every family in heaven and on earth is named” (Ephesians 3:14-15).

We Christians should not be surprised that these attacks have come. Since Eden, humans have rebelled against their Maker, and since Babel, “the kings of the earth set themselves, and the rulers take counsel together, against the Lord and against his Anointed” (Psalm 2:2). The prophet Daniel foresaw history as a succession of brutal empires, culminating in an unspeakable Beast – the Antichrist – who seemed indomitable, defiling God’s Temple. Then suddenly in Daniel’s vision, God comes in judgement and the anointed Son of Man is presented before Him, “and to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away (Daniel 7:12-14). The Beast of Empire with his minions may survive for a time, but his end is sure, in the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20).

We Christians, the Church, founded on the apostles and prophets, bear witness that this judgement in history has already occurred once for all at the Cross on Calvary, through Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the Second Adam, whom God “raised from the dead and seated at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:20-21).

We Christians know we are in the midst of a spiritual battle. So Paul concludes his Letter to the Ephesians by encouraging and exhorting the Church:

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:11-13)

Westerners have been accustomed to reading the daily news as just “one damned fact after another,” to quote a former U.S. Attorney General. But from the prophetic perspective of Scripture the mountains are full of angelic horses and chariots of fire (2 Kings 6:17). While the 20th century saw a number of secular prophets of our apocalyptic age such as George Orwell, Aldous Huxley, and Philip Rieff, it was the Christian apologist C.S. Lewis who best told the “tall story about devilry” which occurs when academic “research” is untethered from the tradition of Athens and Jerusalem (see the recent book by Melvin Tinker, That Hideous Strength: How the West Was Lost).

Lewis believed – and I believe – “this present darkness” in the West is demonic. Clearly it is unbiblical and hostile to Christianity, but beyond that it is characterized by a frantic zeal that goes against all common sense and past understanding of truth, goodness and beauty. In what kind of world do mothers boast about how many children they have aborted, young women and men offer up their genitals to the surgeon’s knife or their minds to drug kingpins, and poor, troubled, and elderly souls sink into loneliness and despair, finished off by state-sponsored suicide? So many “little ones” in our day are swimming in the polluted stream of social media.

How else can we comprehend the headlines noted above? How else can we explain the Gadarene rush of Western elites into this abyss? One thing I have noticed over these thirty years of conflict in the church is that while “conservatives” often waver and seek peace and compromise, the radicals never turn back but push on to the next frontier of god-forsakenness. This is why a revived, reformed, and reordered Communion will be called to preach the Gospel, teach the basics of whatever is true, honorable and lovely, and to heal the sick in body and soul (Matthew 10:7-8; Philippians 4:8).

We live in apocalyptic times. The late Benedict XVI wrote this: “As one sees the power of Antichrist spreading, one can only pray that the Lord will give us mighty shepherds to defend His Church against the power of evil in this hour of need.” Anglicans, take note and stand firm together against the evil day.

Note: See here the Introduction to the Fourteen Theses. On each subsequent week, I shall comment on one of the Fourteen Theses.

Stephen Noll is Professor Emeritus at Trinity School for Ministry, former Vice Chancellor of Uganda Christian University and author of two books and numerous articles on global Anglicanism.