Peet DickinsonLast week the 38 leaders, known as Primates, of the 38 member provinces of the national churches around the global Anglican Communion met in Canterbury under the leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. This was a meeting of extreme importance because many speculated that, depending on how things went, it could mean an irrevocable fracture in the Communion.

The main presenting issue, which is rooted in a much deeper issue of forsaking Biblical authority and the historic Christian doctrine of marriage, is the decision on the part of the Episcopal Church here in the United States and the Anglican Church of Canada to endorse and indeed bless same sex marriage. The Episcopal Church went one step further than the Church of Canada by actually creating rites for same sex marriages, but both have been advancing this agenda ever since 2003 when the Episcopal Church approved the election of Gene Robinson, a non-celibate gay man, to become bishop of New Hampshire. So, there is a great tear in the fabric of the Communion, and as attempts to repair the damage (The Windsor Process, the Primates Communiqué from Dar es Salaam, etc.) have been futile up until now, the relationships within the Primates were at the breaking point and the future of Anglicanism was very uncertain.

Over the last two years, Justin Welby, made his way around the Communion and met with every Primate to determine just how precarious the situation was, and came away from those meetings with a deep understanding that he alone could not bring unity. So, as the Primates gathering approached, the calls for prayer and a powerful movement of the Holy Spirit were urgent.

I think it is fair to say that what came out of this meeting is a true answer to prayer. If it’s not a new day for the Anglican Communion, it’s at least a very different day for the Anglican Communion, and perhaps the kind of re-boot that was desperately needed. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the Primates have taken a big step towards being instruments of unity for Anglicanism once again.

So, what happened? The primary topic for discussion chosen by the Primates was the recent action of the Episcopal Church at its General Convention in 2015. What came out of that discussion was a decision to censure the Episcopal Church for its actions at its General Convention last summer in making official rites for same sex marriage. It was almost universally felt amongst the Primates that there should be some kind of consequence for what the Episcopal Church and the Church of Canada have done to so painfully tear the fabric of the Communion, but there was some question as to what that consequence should be. Here’s what the Primates decided and presented in their communiqué:

Addendum A

  1. We gathered as Anglican Primates to pray and consider how we may preserve our unity in Christ given the ongoing deep differences that exist among us concerning our understanding of marriage.
  2. Recent developments in the Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage. Possible developments in other Provinces could further exacerbate this situation.
  3. All of us acknowledge that these developments have caused further deep pain throughout our Communion.
  4. The traditional doctrine of the church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union. The majority of those gathered reaffirm this teaching.
  5. In keeping with the consistent position of previous Primates’ meetings such unilateral actions on a matter of doctrine without Catholic unity is considered by many of us as a departure from the mutual accountability and interdependence implied through being in relationship with each other in the Anglican Communion.
  6. Such actions further impair our communion and create a deeper mistrust between us. This results in significant distance between us and places huge strains on the functioning of the Instruments of Communion and the ways in which we express our historic and ongoing relationships.
  7. It is our unanimous desire to walk together. However given the seriousness of these matters we formally acknowledge this distance by requiring that for a period of three years TEC no longer represent us on ecumenical and interfaith bodies, should not be appointed or elected to an internal standing committee and that while participating in the internal bodies of the Anglican Communion, they will not take part in decision making on any issues pertaining to doctrine or polity.
  8. We have asked the ABC to appoint a Task Group to maintain conversation among ourselves with the intention of restoration of relationship, the rebuilding of mutual trust, healing the legacy of hurt, recognising the extent of our commonality and exploring our deep differences, ensuring they are held between us in the love and grace of Christ.

Because the Church of Canada has not officially voted on the issue of rites for same sex marriage, they did not receive sanctions. They are, however, voting on the issue at their upcoming general synod, so perhaps this action by the Primates will give them a strong warning of what will happen if they approve the rites.

It’s also very significant that Archbishop Foley Beach, the Archbishop of the Anglican Church in North America, was given not only seat, but also voice and vote at the meeting. It’s also noteworthy that when it came time to vote on the sanctions for the Episcopal Church, Archbishop Beach recused himself from the voting as a matter of conscience. I encourage you to watch the video interview below with Archbishop Beach about his experience at the Primates meeting.

There are some who do not feel that this sanction was strong enough because it lacks language of demands for repentance. That being said, I feel this discipline by the Primates is extremely significant, and we must give thanks to God for the way he has moved so mightily and helped the Communion to hold together. He does not seem to be through with us yet!

I urge all of us to continue in our prayers for the Anglican Communion and for the Episcopal Church. This is no time for triumphalism, but is a time to be humble and earnest in our desire to see our former denomination repent and return to the Anglican fold for the sake of all the souls who will be harmed if they are continually led down an unbiblical path.