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Alienated Anglicans Starting Afresh
Anglicans who have left the Anglican Church of Canada and are seeking to be recognized as a new Anglican “province.” Faith Today interviewed Charlie Masters, their general secretary.

Twenty-seven parishes have left The Anglican Church of Canada in recent years to form the Anglican Network in Canada (ANiC). Together with a coalition of about 100,000 conservative Anglicans in the United States and Canada (The Common Cause Partnership), they are seeking to be recognized as a new Anglican “province.” Charlie Masters is executive archdeacon and national director of ANiC and general secretary of Common Cause. He spoke to Faith Today associate editor Karen Stiller about the state of the Anglican Church and what other Evangelicals can learn from it.

Charlie Masters
Photo courtesy Bryan M. Hunt www.huntimages.com and www.huntmedia.ca.

Karen Stiller (KS): Charlie, your headquarters is located at the Crossroads Centre, which some might argue is the hub of one part of the evangelical subculture in Canada. How are you perceived as an Anglican within the evangelical community?

Charlie Masters (CM): As things unfolded over the past six or seven years, in many cases it was the evangelical community that was the big support, particularly for clergy. It was a Baptist church that first housed a group in New Westminster that walked [away from the Anglican Church of Canada]. It was a Baptist church that said “Come and have your meeting.” The pastor said “We stand with you.”

When ANiC joined The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada (EFC), we recognized, for instance, that even as we are committed to biblical orthodoxy in Anglicanism, there would certainly be some folks who are High Church Anglo-Catholics who would not be comfortable calling themselves Evangelicals. But they agree with the statement of faith.

The EFC was a body we could say yes to as a statement of faith and feel grateful to be numbered with those constituents, denominations and groups. We felt very comfortable we were part of that movement and valued the EFC representation in Ottawa. We can see only positives in being part of this community of ministries where we know people are praying for us. We are very committed to being here.

KS: There is the idea that gets floated around that what the mainline churches in Canada are dealing with now will hit the evangelical churches a decade or so down the road. Do you think that is necessarily the case?

CM: That’s a very interesting question. I have two invitations to speak on “standing for truth” – one in Edmonton, one in Kitchener – both sponsored by evangelical groups. I think what I’m being invited to address are lessons learned that might avert the need for such an occurrence in evangelicalism. But the facts are that evangelicalism, like any movement, is vulnerable. If our mistakes, like a failure to be vigilant, and some of our successes can be helpful, I would be very happy. Sometimes in evangelicalism you hear rhetoric that was happening within our church 30 years ago that appeared to be enlightened but, in fact, represented a drift from biblical truth.

It’s extremely difficult to be both alive and hold to something historic. Inevitably it feels as if something has to give. We think we have to help God out a bit! I think it’s a church history fact that you tend to let go of things that you think might be problematic to the public. So, within the famous discussion about same-sex unions, the church has allowed the culture to be the filter through which they determine what is true and right – instead of Scripture. It is well-meaning but disastrous.

KS: What is the big deal about samesex unions?

… the Scriptures … are absolutely consistent about what they have to say about homosexual sex …

CM: Maybe I could start by saying that, if you were going to choose an issue that could divide compassionate, gracious people, this would be the best one you could imagine. Because the fact is that the Scriptures, Old Testament and New Testament, are absolutely consistent about what they have to say about homosexual sex – it is always presented negatively and as contrary to God’s will. To get to the point where you say “We should bless this” and thus affirm it is a kind of holiness, then you have to choose to ignore the Scriptures. This suggests that the compassionate thing is to affirm people in the situation in which they find themselves if it is sufficiently compelling instead of believing in the transformative power of the Gospel to take what we all are – sinners who have all kinds of needs and desires contrary to God’s will – and believe that God can change us and make us new people.

KS: Charlie, what have you learned through this struggle that Evangelicals in their own denomination or tradition can learn from?

CM: Two things, both very scriptural: preach the gospel in season and out of season, and guard the good deposit. The fun part is preaching the gospel; the unfun part is being perceived as being narrow for trying to protect something.

Sometimes in our quest to be winsome and open and approachable we can let go or not give adequate strength to things that are absolutely essential. Our people need to learn to be truly biblical, where they can discern between Christian words that have been given different meaning and the word that is the Word.

There is an assumption in the Bible that there is a cost, some kind of suffering, if you walk for Christ. I think evangelicalism, in its better days, when it was fairly respectable to be an evangelical Christian, can work pretty hard at not suffering.

In the Anglican Church of Canada (ACC) we found ourselves in a position where all our instincts said “Don’t go there” on this issue because it’s going to cost you. But, to date, I would say I am not aware of any who have taken the stand to secede from their previous church and join the ANiC who have regretted it. They felt it was something they had to do, that they had no choice. That having been costly, it was a good thing.

KS: What do you think will happen in the next five years for ANiC and for the ACC?

CM: I’m hesitant to speak much about it but I think the direction of the two will become clear. We should never give up praying for the renewal of the ACC.

As time goes by, what is important to ANiC and what is important to the ACC will become clear. As to us, I hope we will continue to grow. I hope we will be planting churches. We are trusting that we will be part of this North American province. It will be an encouragement to us to be part of a very credible body of believers, and we will have something to contribute as well.

My personal motivation has not been merely standing for truth but the belief that there would be a harvest on the other side.

That there would be an opportunity to be unencumbered in the preaching of the gospel. That you could actually be strengthened by your fellow clergy, by your bishop, by the organization in filling the Great Commission.

I pray that Anglicanism will take its place in the Body of Christ in Canada, because I believe there will be a segment of the population that cannot be reached by anyone else. And that is what motivates me.

KS: Charlie, even as an Anglican myself, I am confused by the sheer number of groups and acronyms within the Anglican renewal movement in Canada. Can you help our readers understand?

CM: Well, there is a question as to whether we’ve made what was simple complicated or whether our structures have just reflected the complexity. I think it’s the latter. Unity is not based on strategy – we are one in Christ. But when things are going badly, people come to very strong conclusions how to respond to the need.

Early on, Essentials [the movement from which ANiC grew] concluded there were two necessary strategies: to call the ACC from within back to its biblical orthodoxy and to live with the distinct possibility that the ACC would not repent and respond.

There needed to be a way for people to remain connected to the Anglican communion but outside the ACC – generally, these are Anglicans who have concluded renewal from within will not happen and that we are losing too much ground from a mission perspective if we don’t take some action.

We’ll be part of a church as opposed to a group sponsored by a group overseas.

But I agree, when you put all the groups together with all their acronyms, it’s bizarre. It’s precisely that problem that makes the province so important.

We’ll be part of a church as opposed to a group sponsored by a group overseas.

KS: Can you explain this new ecclesiastical province?

CM: As it became clear things were going badly in Anglicanism in North America, various churches that had disassociated themselves from the ACC were being given care by various primates and bishops internationally, so the fragmentation of orthodox Anglicans was becoming more and more of an issue.

In 2004 and 2005, the leaders who were offering that care made it clear they were not prepared to be used as a means for groups to get their own turf within the North American scene but were only doing what they were doing as an emergency measure. They called on orthodox Anglicans to come together in common cause and make sure they were pulling together and not pulling apart.

There was an acknowledgement that now was the time for a North American province to form and The Common Cause Partnership was called to be the means through which a plan, canons and a constitution could be drafted.

KS: Clearly not every orthodox Anglican congregation has taken the path your group has. Some have not officially joined up with your movement. has that been a disappointment?

CM: When I’m thinking well, I don’t feel let down. I recognize this is an issue of call. I come from a diocese where it wasn’t such a difficult decision to make. It was clear to me that I needed to be in ANiC. But because we are sinners, we are all prone to thinking others are dropping the ball and that if they only joined us things would be perfect.

Most people, when they think soberly, acknowledge this is a very tough call for people. And it is a decision that literally every Anglican needs to make.

Grace needs to be offered in abundance to allow people whom you know are in the Lord to make their conclusions.

If you don’t support one another you just become bitter. And who wants a denomination founded on bitterness?

KS: Speaking of bitterness, this is a debate that seems to be built upon the issue of blessing same-sex unions – a very emotional issue for some. How negative does it become?

CM: I think it hasn’t remained entirely civil because there are court cases going on. There have been regular calls for calmer heads to prevail. In ANiC we are trying very hard to move on from the struggles of the past few years and how we feel about the ACC. We believe that, if our movement has validity, it will be in the preaching of the gospel and people coming to Christ and becoming disciples of Jesus. We’ve tried to deal with the reality of legal battles but not to emotionally or spiritually overwhelm the real call, which is to build the Church.

There are still churches making their decision whether or not they want to leave the ACC and join ANiC. But we’re not hiding in the bushes looking for unhappy people to try to persuade them. We’re turning our attention to church planting.

KS: Thank you, Charlie.

Karen Stiller is the associate editor of Faith Today.

Originally published in Faith Today, March/April 2009.

 

 
 
 
 

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