The Rev. Dr. Peter Sanlon, an Anglican priest, is in sauve qui peut mode about the future of his Church. He begins his piece by quoting this passage from Ezekiel 13:
“‘Because they lead my people astray, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, “Where is the whitewash you covered it with?”
“‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: In my wrath I will unleash a violent wind, and in my anger hailstones and torrents of rain will fall with destructive fury. I will tear down the wall you have covered with whitewash and will level it to the ground so that its foundation will be laid bare. When it falls, you will be destroyed in it; and you will know that I am the Lord. So I will pour out my wrath against the wall and against those who covered it with whitewash. I will say to you, “The wall is gone and so are those who whitewashed it, those prophets of Israel who prophesied to Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her when there was no peace, declares the Sovereign Lord.”’
As an Anglican priest of Evangelical, orthodox conviction, Dr. Sanlon worries that he might be guilty of covering the Anglican Church with whitewash, and not warning his flock that the thing is structurally unsound, and in risk of collapse. He writes against false optimism:
One of the reasons we accept a faulty analysis of our situation is that we focus overly on the present situation. Clergy like me are especially prone to this. We think all is well because we are free to preach as we see fit, and have a building to work from and a vicarage to live in. We have these things now and so all is well. But faithful analysis requires that we evaluate the future. Building a sound house is a task aimed at securing a secure home fit for future generations. Look ahead ten years, twenty, thirty years. What will the House of Bishops look like? Who will be willing to come to Church of England churches? What do church laws actually say about succession of clergy appointments? A vicar may ignore their diocesan structures – but how will you get men ordained if your DDO is in a lesbian relationship (as in Southwark Diocese)? How will your church flourish if it has to tacitly support by its silence the LGBTI Eucharists in cathedrals such as Rochester?
Dr. Sanlon lists a number of signs of downward trajectory within the Church of England, and concludes that faithful Evangelical Anglicans have no choice but to “work very hard and very fast to plant churches outside the Church of England.” He means churches that use the Anglican liturgy, but that aren’t in communion with Canterbury. He writes:
In the American Episcopal Church evangelicals were saying right up the very end that the problems could still be solved by strategies that for decades had not delivered. I have shared some facts and analysis with you tonight. In the end the analysis must be a spiritual one. We need God to open our eyes to the future, to reality, to our place in it. And so I am not telling anybody to leave the Church of England, nor am I denying the value of the many good things our constituency is doing and has done. But I am begging you to start praying that God would enable each one of us to know what we should do. I am begging you to pray that if there is catastrophic spiritual ruin ahead of us, that God would open our eyes to it before it is too late. If you have not been praying with heartfelt sincerity and desperate dependence on God – start tonight.
So goes the Benedict Option with these orthodox Anglicans.
Let me put the questions to all you small-o orthodox Christians in all different churches:
- To what extent are your church or denomination’s leaders “stockpiling whitewash”? What forms does it take?
- If you were in Peter Sanlon’s position, speaking to pastors and lay leaders in your own church or denomination, what would you advise?