The Rise of Neo-Paganism
Any discussion of Anglicanism in our present context must include the rise of neo-pagan Anglicanism in many Anglican churches around the world, especially in the West. This movement has created a battle raging worldwide for the soul of the Anglican expression of Christian faith. Like other times in the history of the one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church, many leaders in the present-day Anglican Church have drifted away from their biblical roots, catholic heritage, and evangelical zeal. They have been enticed by the philosophies and moralities of modern culture. Affronted by what they see as the rigidity of biblical morality, many Anglican leaders have accepted uncritically certain social-scientific assumptions at odds with the biblical vision. As a result, they have undermined the authority of the Old and New Testaments, and called into question the historic underpinnings of the Christian faith. This has created unprecedented conflict and dissension in their churches. Anglican leaders themselves have lamented this “tearing [apart of] the fabric of the Communion at the deepest level” (Primates’ Meeting, 2003).1
This departure from the “faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3) has created an ecclesiastical war within the Anglican Communion. Revisionists have battled those who adhere to the historic and catholic teachings and practices of the Christian faith. The consequences of this conflict have been manifold: the loss of the anointing of the Holy Spirit for many congregations; a distorted gospel message presented to an unbelieving world; the loss of millions of dollars of historic church assets and buildings; millions and millions of dollars of sacred monies redirected to pay legal and court fees; public division and scandal in churches (local, national, and international); and an increase in the persecution of Christians throughout the world.
Anglicanism—with its rich heritage of biblical scholarship, liturgical formation, profound music, uplifting architecture, missionary success, and deep spirituality—is on the brink of succumbing to a cultural correctness which academic elites and the political left have tried to impose. Brandishing economic rewards (which create economic dependency and therefore slavery) and threats of institutional disloyalty, Anglican progressives have introduced an ever-expanding neo-paganism into the worldwide Anglican Communion.
Historic Structures with Newer Beliefs and Practices
What do I mean by neo-paganism in Anglicanism? I am referring to a modern form of Anglicanism that performs the historic forms of worship within historic Anglican structures while embracing beliefs and practices that Christians once considered pagan. Theological beliefs once deemed unbiblical and even heretical are taught as Christian doctrine, and moral practices once seen as sinful and offensive to God are now taught and embraced in the name of love and compassion. No one is excluded from the kingdom of God, as God’s love conquers all, which is a new form of the old heresy of universalism. Theologies and moralities from which one was once required to repent are now welcomed as Christian.
They still speak of Jesus, the gospel, and the Spirit, but the meanings of all these words have changed drastically.
These Anglican progressives believe (mistakenly) that science has shown us that biblical theology and morality are simply vestiges of ancient patriarchy and therefore need to be removed from the life of the church. They have embraced the new pluralism’s demands for personal rights, radical inclusiveness, and nondiscrimination in a way that erases emphatic biblical distinctions, granting to these modern concepts more authority than the historic teachings of the Bible and four thousand years of Judeo-Christian tradition. This is a counterfeit Anglicanism. It rejects the breadth of classical Anglicanism’s catholic, evangelical, and charismatic traditions. It repudiates orthodox belief and practice that come from the plain teachings of the Bible, the historical catholic faith, the English Reformation, the Oxford Movement, and the Book of Common Prayer. Oddly, it even denies the Anglican tradition’s history of offering a contextualized countercultural witness. Neo-pagan Anglicanism seeks to draw people into the church by accommodating non-Christian beliefs and practices prevalent in the culture. Progressive Anglicans think this will grow their congregations, but in almost every case, they have been proved wrong.
Neo-pagan Anglican theology and morality are now being taught as normal Christianity in certain provinces of the Anglican Communion. I am not suggesting this is being done overtly. Pagan deities are not being explicitly commended in churches and cathedrals. Or, if they are, this is very rare. Rather, what I am suggesting is that the real danger has come in through the back door. Liberal innovations in theology and sexual ethics are pushing Anglicans toward an understanding of God, gender, and sexuality that has more in common with pagan theology and ethics than with historic Christianity. But progressives have been clever in all of this: they have changed the theological content of belief while maintaining the facade of orthodoxy. They still speak of Jesus, the gospel, and the Spirit, but the meanings of all these words have changed drastically. As the apostle Paul wrote two thousand years ago, they preach “another Jesus . . . a different spirit . . . [and] a different gospel” (2 Cor. 11:4).
- “This Will Tear the Fabric of Our Communion,” The Guardian, October 16, 2003, https://www.theguardian.com/uk/2003/oct/17/gayrights.religion.
This article is adapted from The Future of Orthodox Anglicanism edited by Gerald R. McDermott.
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