A man for all seasons
The media frenzy that sprang up when Dr Rowan Williams announced his resignation as Archbishop of Canterbury seems to have died down — for now. But amid the speculation over who would fill his episcopal shoes, little attention has been given to the necessary qualities of the next archbishop.
What the Anglican Communion needs now is decisive, biblical leadership. This is not only the view of British evangelicals generally, but of significant numbers of senior Anglican clergy and members of Synod.
There are many names in the frame for successor, ranging from Richard Chartres, Bishop of London, to the flamboyant Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu. But whoever takes over as the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury — and head of an 80-millionstrong Communion — faces a difficult task, as the fabric of the CofE is steadily tearing apart.
Within weeks of the announcement, two senior dioceses (Oxford and London) added their votes against the Anglican Communion Covenant (ACC). The Covenant, formulated in 2004, may be theologically weak, but it was some attempt to set boundaries to protect traditional belief and practice among the Communion’s 40 member churches.
Former bishop of Rochester and evangelical Michael Nazir- Ali says, ‘I am disappointed the ACC, even in its watered-down version, failed to gain the support of the CofE’.
In his tenure Dr Williams has walked a tightrope. The general public sees the CofE as the benchmark of Christianity in the UK — as does the Government, largely. So, from a purely political standpoint, it is necessary to unify the Communion when lobbying Parliament.
However, the ordination of women has already sent dozens of Anglican clerics into the Roman Catholic Church; disputes over homosexual partnerships has caused the liberal wing to go its own way; and Dr Williams’ wavering support of credal and historic Protestantism has earned him severe criticism from the more evangelical wing of the Church.
Alison Ruoff, long-standing member of Synod, said, ‘The Church has really gone in a most liberal direction. Many churches have gone away from Bible truth and that’s to the detriment not only of the CofE, but also of the nation.
‘Dr Williams is a kind, wise, warm, godly man, but had he stood up and been counted as a leader, the CofE would be in a different place from where we are now’.
Chris Sugden, spokesman for Anglican Mainstream, said, ‘The leadership needs to be more consultative, and will require a clear, unambigous setting out of the truth of the gospel and assurance of its saving power’.
It is apparent that the man who will be the new Archbishop of Canterbury will need to be a man of conviction.
Mr Sugden added: ‘He needs to have angel Gabriel-like qualities! The role will need courage. He needs to be a man of profound biblical faith, classic doctrine, with the ability to discipline or enable discipline of those provinces and dioceses that do not adhere to Anglican worship, doctrine, evangelistic outreach and loving service’.
The new man must also be thick-skinned. As Dr Williams once said, ‘He needs to have the hide of a rhinoceros’.
Commenting on the BBC, Max Wind-Cowie, head of the Progressive Conservatism Project at think-tank Demos, said, ‘Dr Williams has shown himself to be incapable of holding the Communion together, both domestically here in the UK and globally’.
One senior member of Synod commented: ‘As far as I’m aware, the last Archbishop of Canterbury to be martyred was Thomas Cranmer, who went to the stake in 1556. But these are dark days for the church in the West. If the Anglican Church in our land is to have any future, then it needs a remarkable leader’.
Any candidate must not only keep the peace and lead the CofE, but also be ready to make a stand against the Government, when necessary.
One member of an Anglican organisation told ET, ‘It’s sad that usually it’s only when they retire that former archbishops become more politically active and biblically sound. We need someone to be both while in the position’.
Steve Clifford, director-general of the Evangelical Alliance, said, ‘With the Government determined to push through legislation redefining marriage, his successor must be prepared to engage in debate with the Government on issues of public concern.
‘This makes the appointment of deep significance, not only for the Anglican Church, but for the nation. We look forward to a successor with whom we can stand united in the years to come’.
Speaking on behalf of Christian Concern for Our Nation, Andrea Minichiello Williams said, ‘For too long the Church’s voice has been muddled, indecisive and confusing to the public on the critical issues of our time, especially the place of Jesus Christ in the public square.
‘Our country needs a church leader who will contend for biblical truth in every area of life, commend Jesus Christ, and provide direction for our society’.
He must be a voice for morality and ethics too; not just on matters of abortion and homosexuality, but on all the moral principles laid down in Scripture.
A senior cleric in the CofE said, ‘He should be a man who will confront the culture in the UK. Even when the Christian faith is acknowledged, what the gospel stands for is diluted. So any sort of biblical morality has been almost entirely excluded from the bedroom and is being removed from the boardroom.
‘A new archbishop must stand up for what Scripture teaches, as truths to be lived out in our lives. He must be prepared to take the good news of Jesus out from the church into the shopping mall, the dole queue and the football stadium — he needs to be a missionary archbishop’.
Lee Gatiss, director-elect of the Church Society, told ET, ‘The next Archbishop of Canterbury needs to be a man who publicly and persuasively articulates — and privately believes — the Reformed and evangelical faith.
‘This is epitomised in the 39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer. We would like to see someone who values this precious inheritance of biblical faith more highly than mere institutional unity with those who preach a very different, and very worldly, message’.
Man of God
Scripture tells us that the Lord’s servant must ‘not be quarrelsome, but be able to teach’ (2 Timothy 2:24). He must correct his opponents with gentleness — but correct them he must.
Mr Gatiss added: ‘This is the 350th anniversary of the 1662 Book of Common Prayer. It would be fantastic to have an archbishop who is comfortable with the solidly evangelical theology so brilliantly communicated through this stirring and remarkable book’.
Ultimately, whoever takes the post (York and London are current bookies’ favourites! Or it could even be someone from outside the UK) must put God first. As the Bible so often reminds us, a leader must be ‘a man after God’s heart’.
As one Anglican canon commented: ‘The main item on his agenda should be to do God’s will and preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is vital to remember that even at their best, the denominations only approximate to God’s eternal kingdom. ‘Churches exist for God’s kingdom, not the other way around. The new archbishop must be God’s man first and an Anglican second’. Amen to that!