As we look ahead to the coming year, what may happen to the Church of England – and indeed to the wider
Predicting the future outside the pages of Scripture is a notoriously unwise thing to do. Not, of course, that this has
stopped some from trying. According to American pastor F. Kenton Beshore, for example, the second coming of Jesus will be between 2018 and 2028, with the rapture by 2021 at the latest.
So hold on to your hats, everyone.
Well, who knows? Maybe Pastor F (as we might call the good Reverend Beshore for short) will be proved right. Or maybe not. Undeterred by all those who have gone before him and got it hopelessly wrong, F reckons it's all got to kick off within a generation of the founding of the modern State of Israel in 1948, with him calculating a generation as between 70 and 80 years. He's not one for vagueness, our F. Needless to say, he's not Church of England.
As a good Anglican, however, I specialise in vagueness, especially when it comes to any attempt to forecast the future.
So here, rather than any firm predictions, are simply some questions – questions that may shape how 2020 unfolds in
relation to the Church of England, and, to a certain extent, the wider Anglican Communion.
1. Can the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) unite people in vision, strategy and action?
Some of what happens in the Church of England in 2020 will depend on the CEEC. In recent years it has shown a desire to up its game, provide a clearer vision and leadership, and has some good and sharp minds on it. But I think even its biggest supporters would admit it still has a little way to go. Can the CEEC continue its upward trajectory in 2020? Let us hope so; it is certainly heading in the right direction.
2. Will Anglican evangelicals be successful in co-ordinating and electing candidates to General Synod?
Nominations for the 2020-25 Synod, the Church of England's 'parliament', close in August this year, with
elections in October. The Evangelical Group on General Synod (EGGS) has produced a helpful leaflet. Meanwhile, liberal groups are busy organising as well. The battle for the heart of Anglicanism will be bitterly fought, if with a veneer of Christian-speak about love.
3. Will the 'Living in Love and Faith' report express a Biblical view of love and faith?
Living in Love and Faith is the C of E's long-awaited document on sexual issues etc, designed, as Bishop of Coventry Christopher Cocksworth put it rather oddly, to help us all with our loving and 'with our sexing'. (Yes, he really did say that). Well, it may express a Biblical view of love and faith – but probably alongside other views together with calls for ongoing dialogue, effectively making orthodoxy optional. What happens after that?
4. Will the Global South, Gafcon and EFAC movements be able to co-operate more closely?
Gafcon is, according to its website, 'the Bible-based global movement for Orthodox Anglican gospel mission'. The Global South movement of 25 of the 39 Anglican provinces, meanwhile, is summed up by Wikipedia as having 'theological conservatism on matters of sexual ethics and life issues, and by their Evangelicalism in churchmanship'. Meanwhile, the Evangelical Fellowship of the Anglican Communion (EFAC) says it wants to 'win the world for Jesus Christ by upholding the biblical gospel through the Anglican family and beyond. We are Bible People. Gospel People. Church People.'
These three organisations each have their own histories, distinctive emphases, and reasons for existing. Anglican
evangelicals will be hoping they can deepen ways of talking with each other and, where possible, working together.
5. What will happen at Lambeth 2020?
Justin Welby's Lambeth Conference for worldwide Anglican bishops takes place in July-August. (The conferences started in 1867, and have been held occasionally since then, roughly every decade). Who will go? Who will boycott it Will anything of note happen or will it be all talk?
6. How will the Gafcon Primates' Conference affect Lambeth 2020?
Gafcon's 2020 bishops' conference takes place in June, shortly before Lambeth. It has been designed for any Anglican bishop to attend – although it originated in a desire to lay on an event specifically for bishops unable in conscience to attend Lambeth. Held slightly cheekily a few weeks before Lambeth, how will each event shape the other? Will some bishops attend both?
All that said, however, the future is unpredictable. We should expect the unexpected. Our friend, Pastor F, believes the '144,000' in Revelation are '144,000 Jewish Billy Grahams'. The mind boggles. But whatever happens, the future for Anglicanism will probably turn out to be stranger and less predictable than we most likely all imagine.
David Baker is a former daily newspaper journalist now working as an Anglican minister in Sussex, England. Find him on Twitter @Baker_David_A. A shorter version of this article appears in the new edition of Evangelicals Now.