What do the Scottish Independence referendum and the Anglican Church have in common?

To the great relief of some and the consternation of others (on both sides of the border), Scotland have voted “no” in the independence referendum. The status quo is maintained and we remain the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Whether it was fear of the unknown (or, fear of troubling knowns), the lack of a positive vision for an independent Scotland or simply that many Scots are more conservative than they let on, it is clear most did not share the belief of the Scottish National Party that Scotland is better as an independent nation. Sadly for those seeking independence, a referendum of this order comes around once in a lifetime and, for them, it seems the boat has sailed.

It occurs to me that discussion within Anglicanism mirrors, on some level, the Scottish independence debate. Calls for a mass exodus of bible-believing evangelicals from the Anglican communion have certainly been around for decades (possibly centuries). Yet, evangelicals within Anglicanism – despite their own growing discontent over an increasing number of issues – continue to hold fast their denominational allegiance.

Perhaps, like Scotland, it is a lack of any positive vision that is the stumbling block. It is one thing to heed the voice of Martin Lloyd-Jones and remove oneself from Anglicansim but it is quite another to do it without any positive vision of what to do thereafter. Breaking ties with all one has ever known is not as straightforward as one may think. There are a handful arguments advanced for remaining within the denomination which, without similar positive reasons to leave, mean making the break is not the no-brainer it seems to those of us in the Free Church.

Maybe it is simply a fear of the unknown (or, certain concerning knowns). Not only is it unclear what some would do after their disassociation but there are some known problems associated with leaving. Buildings, land and stipends are often tied up with being part of the wider Anglican communion. It would be no small step of faith to remove oneself from the denomination and trust that buildings, land and stipends (not to mention a raft of other things) will follow suit.

Alternatively, the issue may be one of timing. Many evangelical Anglicans I meet speak of “now as the right time” to begin making a stand on X, Y or Z issue. What is rather unfortunate is that Lloyd-Jones encouraged evangelicals to leave Anglicanism decades ago based on a commitment to the gospel. Today, discussion centres on issues of headship, female ordination and homosexuality rather than the gospel itself. Like it or not, even if evangelical Anglicans now decide the church has taken a step too far, it will be cast as a separation on the current issues, not on theological concern for the purity of the gospel.

As with Scottish Independence, the opportunity to make a stand on the right issue tends to roll around but once. Unlike Scotland, evangelicals within the Anglican Communion could still leave the denomination if they so choose. What is less likely is that they will be able to do so on both the issue, and the terms, they might like.