Friday, 12 February 2010

The Last Anglican

According to a report (click on post title to read) from the Canadian newspaper the Globe and Mail, "if present trends continue", by 2061 only one Anglican will be left in Canada!

The report indicates that all Christian churches in Canada are experiencing decline, with the exception of the Roman Catholic Church, whose small increase in nominal membership is attributed to immigration. But, it notes, the Anglican situation is aggravated by the decrease in Canadian "tribalism", i.e. Canadians of English descent no longer necessarily identify with a church seen as a local branch of the Church of England. There is also a marked de-confessionalisation, more often referred to as "post-denominationalism" by the sociologists of religion, which means that church bodies cannot rely on the future loyalty of worshippers as they did in the past.

Now, while those two factors may partly explain the decline of Anglicanism in Canada, I don't "buy" the argument that this is the whole story. While I am not intimately familiar with Canadian church life, I personally think the decline has a lot to do with the process of liberalisation that began in Western churches in the 1960s (and let's also acknowledge the antecedent liberal movements in the late 19th century and the
1920s, which weakened the doctrinal foundations of the mainstream churches across the world) which resulted in the abandonment of the proclamation of the Gospel as the raison d'etre of the church and the accompanying adoption of social democracy as an ersatz religion. The Canadian churches were at the forefront of this movement. (Not that social democracy is necessarily a bad thing per se, my point is that its promotion is not the church's calling - if the mainstream churches ceased their preoccupation with social democratic causes, social democracy would still be furthered by others, but if the church ceases proclaiming the Gospel...?)

The links between doctrinal and numerical decline have been the subject of several studies in recent decades, ever since the phenomenon first appeared, going back to Dean Kelley's Why Conservative Churches Are Growing, published in 1972, which looked at the phenomena from the other side of the equation. A more recent popular study is Thomas Reeves' The Empty Church, The Suicide of Liberal Christianity.

Possibly still the best theological study of the corrosive nature of Liberalism's impact on the faith of mainstream churches is the book written by a partisan in the heat of the second battle over liberalism in the 1920s, the American Presbyterian scholar J. Gresham Machen's Christianity and Liberalism. The fact that Machen's passionate work is kept in print by Eerdmans is testimony to its enduring value. Machen's thesis was that Liberal Christianity, far from being merely a necessary and justifiable accomodation of orthodoxy to the demands of the modern world, was in fact a different religion entirely. His is an incisive argument worth reading (an on-line version is available here: - provision of this link is not an endorsement of the website in general).

Whatever the causes of Anglican decline in Canada may be, one thing seems clear, the accomodation of the church to the liberal agenda of the wider society, which was originally proposed as an antidote to irrelevance, seems to contribute to decline rather than provide a panacea against it. The Anglican Church of Canada, like mainstream churches elsewhere which have diluted their message with liberal theology, has ended up maintaining the form of religion, but denying its power.

Will the last Canadian Anglican to leave the church please switch out the lights?

Note: The term Liberalism as used in this post does not refer to the generous and open spirit which has underwritten the good fortunes of Western society over the last several hundred years and to which all civilised men and women aspire, but rather to the paradoxically narrow and intolerant ideology which is subversive of all order and true liberty in the world, and which, in the church, openly challenges the authority of God's Word in the name of a humanism severed from the transcendental values which alone can guarantee human liberty.

Postscript: "If present trends continue", by 2061, every Anglican in Australia will be an Evangelical connected with the Sydney Archdiocese. Almost all other Australian Christians will be Roman Catholics. The Lutheran presence will be even more negligible than it is now..."if present trends continue". May God help us!


mattias said...

Pastor can you cite your source for the belief that all evangelicals in Australia will be Sydney Anglican affiliates ,and the rest RC cHRISTIANS. i wonder where that would leave the UCA( gone?) the Baptists/Church of Christ/Pentecostals -especially this latter group seeing as they have the big mega churches in Oz. I would have thought that the LCA will go on smaller against the Anglicans and RC but still a viable presence.Perhaps more so in South Australia and parts of QLD

acroamaticus said...

I've based that prediction on the general census figures for the last 109 years, which show that Roman Catholics have increased their membership as a proportion of the general population by c. 3% over that time, while Anglicans and 'Other Christians' are shrinking quite markedly (Anglicans -22%; Others -13%). I don't claim to be a statistician, it's a general prediction based on these trends.
Lutherans, btw, experienced 0.3% growth between 2001 & 2006, Baptists +2.5, Orthodox +2.5%. Oriental Orthodox and Pentecostals both experienced +12% growth, but the overall numbers in all these groups (all c. 200 000) are pretty small in the larger scheme of things, so it's difficult to know just what that means for the future.

The Anglican figures are skewed because they don't distinguish between styles of churchmanship -anglo-catholic, high church, or evangelical. Given that the only section of the Anglican Church in Australia that is growing numerically is the Sydney Archdiocese, or individual congregations associated with it but located in other dioceses, it stands to reason that "if present trends continue" eventually most Anglicans in Australia will be Evangelicals, as the high and anglo-catholic sections of the church are shrinking drastically, and we may even see sections of these groupings go across to Rome in the future.
Yes, I think the UCA will largely disappear, with the exception of the evangelicals, who may align with the Sydney Evangelicals.

Mathias said...

Thanks for that breakdown pastor. The oriental orthodox-Syriac Orthodox, Coptic Orthodox, Ethiopian Orthodox, Eritrean Orthodox, Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church ,etc growing? I wonder if the Eastern Catholics, are also the growing part of the RCC.
I would hope that new migrants from africa would also contain Lutherans.but interesting that it will be the anglican evangelicals who have the greatest number of Proddies. Perhaps as Canterbury wanes-if not rescued-that the See of Sydney could be a centre of world Anglicanism.

acroamaticus said...

I have no hard data, but I suspect the growth of the Oriental orthodox would be entirely from immigration, particularly from India.

Yes, the Lutheran Church has several congregations of African immigrants, and not only in the big centres but also in places like Shepparton. Interestingly, in several major cities, we also have Chinese speaking congregations that have sprung up over the last ten years almost entirely from missionary work among already settled immigrants. I think these two missionary endeavours account for our modest statistical growth recently. Our total of 'census Lutherans' is around 250 000, those connected in some way with teh church are about 90 000, and average attendance on a Sunday across the LCA could be as high as 30%, which is not bad, relatively speaking (RCs and Anglicans would be below that in percentage terms).

One thing we mjust remember with projecting statistical figures from the past intot he future is that it doesn;t take into account what God can do to being about renewal. That's why I always add, "if present trends continue". Who knows if they will? Only the Lord of the Church, in the final analysis!

Matthias said...

yes only the Lord of the Church knows and without wanting to be labelled Dispensationalist ,perhaps by 2061 we will see Him in Person.

acroamaticus said...

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!