Martyn Minns–The Church is Flat: A New Anglicanism

In his book The World is Flat, Thomas Friedman explains how our world has shrunk. Thanks to instant information and rapid transportation, hierarchical structures have been flattened.

One global organization that should be ideally positioned for this transformation is the Christian Church. The genius of its founder was that it was designed to be “flat;” small groups with a common vision, a common language of faith, and international networks that crossed national boundaries. As often happens, initial flexibility was soon lost and replaced by more predictable and controllable structures and the early vision forgotten while waiting for another fresh wave of inspiration and creativity.

We are witnessing such a new wave. A prime example is the Anglican Communion – an international community of more than 75 million in 164 countries, ordered into 38 separate provinces.

In the good old days mandates, money and missionaries flowed from the traditional power base of London and, more recently, New York to their grateful recipients in the developing world. But that is all changing now and we have, as noted Penn State religion and history professor Philip Jenkins describes it, ‘A New Christendom’ where much of the energy, leadership and vision now come from the Global South. The old ways of doing church are being shaken and we are rediscovering what it means to be part of a truly global community.

One example is the birth of the Convocation of Anglicans in North America, or CANA. It was first conceived as a way to provide a safe harbor for Nigerian Anglicans who no longer felt welcome in The Episcopal Church because of its deliberate distancing from traditional mainstream Christianity but now includes a growing number of other Anglican congregations from across America.

This realignment isn’t simply about issues of human sexuality but on the other much more basic questions such as the role and authority of the Scriptures and the uniqueness of Jesus Christ. It is part of an emerging movement of formerly Episcopal churches and new congregations, which are breaking out of their hierarchical straightjackets and connecting directly with other parts of the Anglican Communion. What unites them is a vision for global Christianity; a commitment to a common language of faith and abiding friendships that connect across challenging cultural divides.

Read it all.


Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, - Anglican: Analysis, Anglican Identity, CANA, Global South Churches & Primates

9 comments on “Martyn Minns–The Church is Flat: A New Anglicanism

  1. KAR says:

    Boy, I wonder if +Minns will have Os Guinness give an in-depth critique?

    (Sorry, slight in-joke, Os Guinness has a talk he gave about the challenges for the Church in the age of Globalization, used much of Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat as his frame work to work off in a similar way Alister McGrath challenged Dawkins’ book. Os’ favorite word was modernity in that talk (I grew a little weary of it). So Os Guinness’ bishop using Friedman’s work as a spring board struck me with an element of irony — I laughed).

  2. Jordan Hylden says:

    I think it’s fair to wonder what sort of Anglicanism we will have once we break from “old ways of doing church” and remove our constricting “hierarchical straitjackets.” One of the tenets upheld by the Chicago-Lambeth Quadrilateral is the historic episcopate. But it seems like +Minns is here envisioning a “new” way of “doing church” that is not episcopally governed.

    I’d propose that theological conservatives can admire +Minns’s stands on many subjects and yet remain nervous about this sort of thinking.

  3. Bob Maxwell+ says:

    If one views the ecclesiology of the church from the medieval paradigm of the Archbishop at the top with the Lord Bishops at the next level, the Deans at the next level and the parish Rectors at the base, then Jordan Hylden’s nervousness is well grounded.

    If one views the Body of Christ without the traditional aristocratic hierarchy and instead sees a living patristic model of the Bishops as Christ Centered and Christ empowered servant leaders with the Archbishop in collegium with the Christ centered Diocesan Bishops in the province and the Diocesans and Suffragans in collegium with the priests and deacons of the diocese, then you are much closer to the vision of +Minns.

    One of the misunderstandings that TEC has of the GS bishops is that ++Nigeria, ++Rwanda, ++Uganda, ++Southern Cone, and ++Singapore lead as monarchs. As I’ve followed the action the past five years, each of these leaders stands united in a Collegium of Bishops. Have you noticed how their statements are unanimous? And, from what I have read, not a one of these bishops is a “wimp” or “Yes man.”

    May God bring that kind of ecclesiology into our midst.

    This fulfills the CL Quadrilateral call for the the historic Episcopacy, only it is modeled on that of the Apostolic Fathers of the Patristic age and the Missionary Bishops of the Global South.

    Thank you for posting this, Cn Harmon.

  4. Kendall Harmon says:

    Jordan I believe you are reading into this something that isn’t there. The way CANA was founded, no matter what you think about it, was quite synodically and painstakingly. I think that is reflective of Martyn’s way of operating, including many years in the diocese of Virginia at great cost to himself and his parish when he stayed under authority that increasingly made it difficult for him and his parish.

    The questions he wants to raise are about geography, and they need to be thought through.

  5. seitz says:

    From Scotland–it should be remembered that there was nothing particularly less in the realm of ‘hierarchical straitjackets’ in Celtic Christianity. It was not that geography was not determinative, but rather that Scotland had no clear reason to honour this dimension only, in the light of *its own distinctive geographical character and the challenges there* — a context without obvious parallel in the modern US. Does one think that Abbots from religious Orders (who oversaw this) were less ‘episcopal’ and less interested in what is here subsumed under ‘hierarchical straitjackets’? I doubt that. New occasions teach new duties, to be sure. But let’s not romanticise former systems and, more importantly, their challenges and our own, distinctive to each age. I see nothing particularly compelling about a Bishop saying that his exercise of power is more effective and/or less powerful. Every episcopal appeal must size up the present mission challenge. In our present, this means coordination with the Instruments of Communion, representing the widest mission at its most visible form. Let these missionary Bishops, in their totality, in their manifestation in the Primates Meeting, be our guide. In Christ.

  6. Tom Roberts says:

    I’ll have to think about the implications here some more, but I like +Minns’s basic point. If you dispense with the hierarchical ecclesia until you are left with just the orders that the NT describes, then you are left with a structure that does not prevent VGR or +Minns from attending its councils. Of course, either or both of them or even vast numbers of other bishops might leave or be asked to leave shortly after the council started. But that is the way a flatter structure would work. Eventually, the real church is justified by its mission and faithfulness to that mission. What has been occurring lately is that publicity hounds like VGR have been taking advantage of ecusa’s lack of discipline and autonomous stubbornness to draw attention to their cause celebres. The result is a caucas race of Communion events and non judgements, as in the Panel of Reference’s inability to do anything of substance, while the hierarchy smiled benignly. So perhaps we need to dispense with those barren fig trees that call themselves bishops or diocesan and provincial staffs that have proven themselves incompetent overseers.

  7. john scholasticus says:

    ‘The genius of its founder was that it was designed to be “flat;” small groups with a common vision, a common language of faith, and international networks that crossed national boundaries.’

    Perhaps we might think a little about this. Presumably he’s talking about Jesus rather than Paul. But there are (I believe) very few NT scholars who would endorse this description, whose last phrase is surely all too obviously ‘designed’ to justify CANA and its supporters. Something fishy here.

  8. Jordan Hylden says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments, folks.

    Yes, that’s just what I was getting at. I think that +Minns’s logic points towards a situation where it can make a good deal of sense to “dispense with those barren fig trees that call themselves bishops,” in favor of a “flat” church defined by “faithfulness to its mission.” I have a great deal of respect for that position; it’s what I grew up with. It’s behind the Evangelical movement in many ways, and praise God for the fruit that it has borne.

    For me, the odd thing here is that in large part I became Anglican because of its historic committment to catholicity and life together in communion. I came from a great little confessional free-church denomination– Free Lutherans, we called ourselves. But I came to worry about the way in which our discernment of truth depended upon ourselves, in isolation from the rest of the Catholic Church. And in my evangelical youth group, I wasn’t sure that we were really “united” with the other Evangelicals in the way we thought we were. Of course we were in prayer and fellowship and friendship, but then we all went to different denominational churches on Sunday. “What’s up with that?” my non-Christian friends would say. Well– what IS up with that? How do we justify our various stands on the Augsburg Confession or the Westminster Confession or the Thirty-Nine Articles or believers’ baptism or baptism in the Spirit or…?

    I could go on, but I’m not unique here by any means. These are the traditional Catholic questions– how do we discern truth? How are we to answer Christ’s prayer that we all may be one? And eventually, I became yet another evangelical on the Canterbury trail as a result.

    So, with all that as a background… that’s why I’m nervous when I hear people saying things like “Christ didn’t die for a structure,” and “formerly episcopal churches,” and “breaking out of a hierarchical straitjacket.” No, Christ didn’t die for a “structure,” but that’s misleading. Think of that wonderful old hymn, “The Church’s One Foundation”: “With His own blood He bought her, and for her life He died.” Christ didn’t die for a “structure,” but He did die for the Church– and we are His body on earth. How we live together matters, a lot.

    And historically, the way in which the Church has come to balance the demands of diversity and unity is through episcopal governance in apostolic succession. That’s how we decided upon things like the canon of Scripture, the doctrine of the Trinity, the historic creeds, the Chalcedonian understanding of the person of Christ, and so on. Or rather I should say: That’s how the Spirit led the Church to discern the truths of revelation as found in Scripture. I don’t think we’re really free to depart from that as a general principle. And I’m concerned that essays like this one from +Minns point in that direction.

    I’d love to see him reassure people like me on this point, Fr. Kendall, but as of late, +Minns has been doing and saying some things that seem to stand in some tension to Canterbury and the Primates. Incidentally, I think it also might be worrying to notice how his arguments can sometimes sound a lot like the way in which 815 justifies its own rejection of the Instruments of Communion.

  9. Tom Roberts says:

    Jordan H.- A few determinants to ponder wrt your questions.
    The theologically sound “The Church’s One Foundation” was written in a similar situation, and refers not to the foundation of an ecclesia but to the foundation of a spiritual organism that may or may not be manifested in particular ecclesiastics, such as +Colenso. It’s point, if one looks at the situation within which it was written, is “what is the point of the Church” and it ignores the fact that its leaders can be dead wrong in their actions. Its intent is to marginize +Colenso’s heresy by noting how +Colenso had violated the Church’s orthodox foundational beliefs. You might note, it is not an appeal for ecclesiatical action by the Anglican hierarchy, and instead depended on the opprobrium of the orthodox believers to effect its goals.
    +Minns and the fellow travellers of CANA in general are in the same general position today. As opposed to 815, CANA is not solely justified on the basis of internal arguments over canon law, but rather on the orthodox foundations of scripture, Tradition, and reason. The way that +Minns would have a church discern such a foundation is not via a dried up ecclesial process, but rather through its life and mission. As you note, CANA’s position at first appears indistinct from 815’s as it appears that you just have two sets of clerics arguing over ecclesiatical structures.
    But this is the same tenor of argument as Christ and John the Baptist had with the ecclesial status quo in Palestine of their day. Now we can see that that old argument symbolized much greater issues and the resolution of how the Hebrew ecclesia was to be replaced by a new church was an organic part of how Christ was changing the world sacrificially. But many, if not most, Jews of the time saw this as simply another sectarian dispute signifying nothing more than a few unfortunate crucifixions or stonings when matters got out of hand (in the mode of Josephus’s commentaries). With hindsight, and perhaps spiritually enhanced intuition, we see matters differently.