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The Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church of Australia is unique in Western Anglicanism in that the majority of the diocese is Evangelical (Low Church) in nature, and committed to Reformed and Calvinist theology.
The Diocese stretches from Lithgow in the west, the Hawkesbury River in the north and nearly to Batemans Bay in the South. It encompasses Australia's largest city as well as the city of Wollongong. It is, geographically, one of the largest Anglican dioceses in the world. Because of its historical link with the founding of Sydney and Australia in 1788, it is also one of the most wealthy Anglican dioceses in the world, rivalled probably only by the Diocese of New York.
Since the beginning of the 20th century, Evangelicals within the diocese were concerned about growing Anglo-Catholicism and Modernism within the church and fought very hard to preserve Sydney's Evangelical nature. Out of this came the Anglican Church League, a body of evangelicals who worked within the politics of the diocese to further their evangelical cause. Their main aim was to ensure that the Archbishop would, at the very least, promote evangelical belief and theology over and above all other expressions of Anglican thinking.
The Sydney Diocese has changed somewhat since the early 20th century. A reliance upon outsiders for resources meant that many of the priests and bishops were trained and sourced from England. By 2004, however, Moore College, the official Theological college (seminary) for Sydney Anglicans, had in excess of 400 students studying for the ministry, many of whom would end up in a ministry outside the ecclesiastical and geographical boundaries of the Sydney Anglican Diocese.
There are considerable organisational differences between the Sydney Diocese and those in England. These differences promote a uniformity in practice and style of preaching throughout the Diocese.
Because of Sydney's commitment to Evangelical theology and practice, many non-Evangelical Anglicans within the diocese have felt threatened and isolated. These include not only churches that are committed to an Anglo-Catholic style of liturgical practice and more theologically liberal understandings of the Bible but also those churches which, while committed to Evangelical theology, continue to maintain robed priests, traditionally structured services and traditional hymns.
Sydney's relationship with other Australian Anglican Dioceses has always been problematic. The result of this has been a passive antagonism towards Sydney and a reluctance to allow Sydney-trained Priests into their own dioceses. This antagonism has been reciprocated by Sydney's own hard-line attitude towards any non-evangelical priest who wants to minister in Sydney.
Perhaps the most visible difference between Sydney and other Anglican dioceses has been its unwillingness to allow the ordination of women to the priesthood. This issue is an indicator of Sydney's difference in ecclesiology and theology to other Anglican dioceses. For the majority within the Anglican Communion, the central act of worship is the celebration of the Eucharist. The Eucharist can only be presided over by an authorised priest. For many of those who, throughout the Anglican Communion, have opposed the ordination of women, the gender of the priest who presided at the Eucharist has been a major issue. But in The Sydney Diocese the gender of the person who presides at the Eucharist is of less significance. The matter is much more one of headship in the management of the church and in the preaching and teaching which is central to Evangelical ministry.
In Sydney, Calvinist and Reformed theology places a much lower emphasis upon the Eucharist, which is celebrated far less often during church services than in other dioceses. Moreover, the whole system of Catholic order is in the process of being questioned within the Sydney diocese, with the three-fold order of Deacons, Priests and Bishops being largely ignored in practice. Because of this, Lay presidency is being seriously considered, whereby the Lord's Supper (an evangelical term for the Eucharist) could be celebrated by Deacons and even unordained church members.
The reason for Sydney's strong opposition towards the ordination of women is based mainly upon the teachings of The Apostle Paul in respect to the understanding of the Greek word kephale (κεφαλη) mentioned in Ephesians 5:23, as well as the prohibition given to female teachers in 1 Timothy 2:11. Sydney's continued stand on this issue has been a source of bitterness for a significant minority within the diocese, as well as a major cause of enmity between Sydney and the diocese in Melbourne. In the latter case, the Sydney Diocese attempted by litigation to prevent the diocese of Melbourne from ordaining women as priests, arguing that Melbourne was an "off-shoot church".
Sydney Anglicans have often been described as Fundamentalist and sect-like by its opponents, but these terms are unhelpful in describing the differences. Fundamentalism, while taking the Bible at face value, has always been anti-intellectual. By contrast, Sydney Anglicans are encouraged to study and use their intellect so long as they continue to hold on to the central truths of the Evangelical faith. Moore College, the theological seminary for Sydney Anglicans, is staffed by evangelical academics who have completed post-graduate work at Oxford University, Cambridge University, Yale and Princeton among others.
Sydney Anglicans have also successfully resisted the influence of the Charismatic and Pentecostal movement. Because evangelicals take the Bible, rather than personal experience, as the sole authority for faith and belief Charismatic and Pentecostal Christians have not always felt welcome within the church.
There have been attempt by certain academics (including John Shelby Spong and Sydney Morning Herald writer Chris McGillon) to link Sydney's Evangelical belief system to the growth of conservative politics, especially in America. However, a cursory analysis of leading Sydney Anglican publications (such as Southern Cross and The Briefing) shows that, while a conservative line is taken in areas of Christian belief, there is no overt support for right wing political parties or candidates. Moreover, American organisations such as Focus on the Family, and the Australian Christian political party Family First, are not overtly supported either. While it is true that Sydney Anglicanism makes a stand against issues such as euthanasia, homosexuality and abortion, there is no equivalent stance taken upon economic and political issues, including the support of economic neoliberalism. What this proves is that, while Sydney Anglicans are conservative in terms of Christian belief, they are not necessarily politically conservative.
In Australia, it is mainly the Charismatic and Pentecostal churches that have taken on board conservative politics - as shown by the rise of Family First. Since Sydney Anglicanism is antagonistic towards these church movements, it is less likely that any collaboration will occur.
Influences on Sydney Anglicanism
The Sydney Diocese has been shaped by the activities and beliefs of many influential men throughout the 20th century:
- TC Hammond was an Anglican from Ireland who moved to Australia to become principal of Moore College during the 1930s. Hammond's influence was critical as he injected an intellectual Calvinism into his students. "In Understanding Be Men", a summary of Christian Doctrine, was his lasting legacy and is still in print today.
- D Broughton Knox was Principal of Moore College from the 1950s until 1985. Along with Donald Robinson, Knox pioneered the study of "Biblical Theology" which then influenced their ecclesiology (study of the church). This intellectual rigour ensured that Moore College graduates were less likely to accommodate more Catholic practices during their parish ministry.
- John Chapman was head of the Department of Evangelism during the 1960s and 1970s. He used his ability as a public speaker and evangelist to promote church missions in their local area. Evangelism therefore became a priority within the Anglican church at around the same time as church-going became less important to mainstream Australia. Chapman's influence ensured that Sydney Anglican churches were able to mobilise in Evangelism to prevent too many people from leaving.
- Billy Graham, the American Evangelist, visited Sydney for a Crusade in 1959. Many who were converted at this crusade ended up studying at Moore College and entering the ministry, including Peter Jensen and Phillip Jensen (below). The after effects of this crusade had a permanent influence upon Sydney Anglicans who therefore put a great priority upon preaching the Gospel and calling for a personal decision of faith amongst the listeners.
- John Stott, the English preacher and former Rector of All Souls', Langham Place, visited Australia many times during the 1960s and 1970s. He introduced Sydney Anglicans to Expository preaching as the main method of preaching sermons. The result of this is that many Anglican churches in Sydney are regularly exposed to a preaching style that works through Bible passages, explains them and applies them to everyday life. Rather than preaching topical or theological sermons, Sydney Anglican preachers are more likely to preach through verses, chapters and books of the Bible in a systematic manner.
- Peter Jensen entered Moore College in the late 1960s, and was appointed Principal in 1985. In 2001 he was elected Archbishop of Sydney, and immediately called upon all churches in the Sydney Diocese to aim to reach 10% of their communities by 2012. While such a massive goal is likely to fail in secular Sydney, the result has been an unprecendented increase in church planting and related activities.
- Phillip Jensen, Peter's younger brother, became chaplain to the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in 1975 and Rector of St Matthias, Centennial Park, in 1977. He is deeply conservative in his Calvinist theology yet radical and iconoclastic in his ministry style. His work at UNSW included the creation of the Ministry Training Strategy (MTS) which took willing young men and women and trained them in practical ministry skills before then sending them to Moore College. In 2003 Peter Jensen appointed Phillip Jensen as Dean of St Andrew's Cathedral in Sydney, a move many thought of as nepotism.
Some notable bishops
- Donald Robinson, a theologian highly regarded in Sydney for his Evangelical teaching, became Archbishop in the early 1980s. He put much energy into the expanding of the church into new housing areas and in building up existent churches in populous low-income suburbs. He was strongly opposed to the ordination of women.
- Harry Goodhew, Archbishop in the 1990s, strove to heal rifts within the Diocese. He continued to promote the Archbishop's Vision for Growth founded by Donald Robinson, his predecessor. He opened pathways between the Anglican Diocese of Sydney and other churches, promoted communication between Christians and Jews and supported the Catholic-founded Cursillo movement which has rapidly expanded among more progressive Anglicans within the diocese. In order to ease the tensions involved in the debate over women's ordination, he placed a moratorium on discussing the issue for a time.