Monday, February 08, 2010
Trends in the New Anglicanism in North America
By Robin G. Jordan
In the days before the establishment of the Anglican Church in North America Archbishop Robert Duncan, then Moderator of the Common Cause Partnership, talked about the inadequacy of the old Anglican settlement and the need for a new one. Bishop Duncan did not go into great detail as to why the old Anglican settlement was inadequate. Presumably those whom he addressed were supposed to be fully informed on the subject. He did not offer a vision for a new Anglican settlement. Rather he stressed that change was needed and he and his fellow Common Cause Partnership leaders were ready to join with the global South primates to bring about this change.
In this article I look at a number of trends in the beliefs and practices of the Anglican Church in North America. These trends offer some clues to the emerging new Anglican settlement in that body. It would not be accurate to describe these tendencies as representing the direction in which the Anglican Church is moving worldwide. The Anglican Church in Canada and the United States has its own unique history, as do the Anglican Churches in other parts of the world. The North American Church has to a certain degree marched to the beat of a different drummer throughout its history. It has in the past influenced the direction of world Anglicanism (albeit not always in the best direction). More recently it has become a warning to Anglicans around the world of the dangers of liberalism and post-modernism. Yet there is also a lesson that they can learn from the direction that a part of that Church—the Anglican Church in North America—has taken in reaction to liberalism. This direction also has its dangers.
1. One of the trends in the Anglican Church in North America is a renewed emphasis on the so-called Anglican middle way, or via media. The emphasis on this theory of Anglican identity is in part pragmatic due to that body’s theological make-up.
The theory of the via media was first propounded by John Henry Newman in his Lectures on the Prophetical Office of the Church. Newman’s reading of history, however, was faulty. He was very selective in his use of the writings of the Caroline divines, choosing passages from their works that appeared to give strength to his claims but which, when they were read in context supported a different view from Newman’s.
Newman was also extremely sympathetic to Roman Catholicism. At the same time he had a very low opinion of the English Reformers. The via medi as he portrayed it did not run equal distant between the extremes of Roman Catholicism and Protestantism but ran very close to Roman Catholicism. Newman eventually rejected the via media theory before submitting to the Church of Rome and the Pope.
Frederick Denis Maurice reworked the via media theory into a form that made the theory more influential. Maurice argued that the Catholic and Protestant strands in the Church of England, while contrary, were also complimentary. They both maintain elements of the true church but were incomplete without each other. He maintained that through union of these opposites a true catholic and evangelical church might come into being.
In the twentieth century Maurice’s via medi theory and a number of strands of Anglican thought that derived from it were given wide currency in The Episcopal Church. A number of books led Episcopalians to believe that Anglicans had always seen their tradition as a via medi between Catholicism and Protestantism. Anglo-Catholics recognized in the popularity of the via medi theory a way to move the Anglican Church in Canada and the United States in a more Anglo-Catholic direction in doctrine, order, and worship. Liberals argued that their view of Anglicanism as a wide diversity of beliefs and practices, including theirs, was a natural outgrowth of the Anglican middle way. A broad comprehensiveness was characteristic of the Anglican via media.
Proponents of the Ancient-New Church and the convergence movements argued that God is bringing a third strand into the Anglican middle way—Pentecostalism. Three theological “streams” are converging in the global Anglican Church to form one might “river.” This view enjoys considerable popularity in the Anglican Church in North America, which is seen as where this convergence is taking place in Canada and the United States. Archbishop Duncan appealed to this view of the AC-NA in his address at the inaugural Provincial Assembly, claiming that God is creating in the AC-NA a church that is truly Catholic, truly evangelical, and truly Pentecostal.
The new AC-NA website on its “About the Anglican Church in North America” page contains the Common Cause Theological Statement that quotes with obvious approval the following words of Archbishop Geoffrey Fisher:
“The Anglican Communion has no peculiar thought, practice, creed or confession of its own. It has only the Catholic Faith of the ancient Catholic Church, as preserved in the Catholic Creeds and maintained in the Catholic and Apostolic constitution of Christ’s Church from the beginning.” It may licitly teach as necessary for salvation nothing but what is read in the Holy Scriptures as God’s Word written or may be proved thereby. It therefore embraces and affirms such teachings of the ancient Fathers and Councils of the Church as are agreeable to the Scriptures, and thus to be counted apostolic. The Church has no authority to innovate: it is obliged continually, and particularly in times of renewal or reformation, to return to “the faith once delivered to the saints.”
The statement concludes with these words, “To be an Anglican, then, is not to embrace a distinct version of Christianity, but a distinct way of being a ‘Mere Christian,’ at the same time evangelical, apostolic, catholic, reformed, and Spirit-filled.”
In the second half of the twentieth century Steven Sykes was a strong critic of Maurice’s theory and its various derivative strands of Anglican thought. Among Sykes’ criticisms was that an implied proposition of via medi theories is that there is no body of distinct Anglican doctrine beside the doctrines of the universal church. This proposition, he alleged, was used as an excuse for not undertaking systematic doctrine at all.
2. Another trend is an appeal to antiquity. There is a tendency to seek refuge from the liberalism of the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church in the doctrines and practices of the first millennium of the Christian Church. In his address to the inaugural Provincial Assembly of the Anglican Church in North America, Archbishop Duncan stressed the necessity of “regression,” of backward movement, in response to the crisis of liberalism. The doctrines and practices of this period it is argued are more Catholic and therefore more orthodox. This is similar to the reaction of the nineteenth century Oxford movement to the liberalism of its day. It is also argued that returning to these doctrines and practices is the key to the kind of church unity needed to keep liberalism from overtaking Christianity. The Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Churches, which retain these doctrines and practices, are presented as models of conservatism. The appeal to antiquity is uncritical. There is greater concern for catholicity than apostolicity. An important historical test of the apostolicity of doctrine and practice for Anglicans—the Bible—is given short shrift.
3. A third trend is a stress on ecumenism. This appears to be motivated in part by a desire for recognition. It is not a broad ecumenism that includes the Reformed Churches. It extends only to the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. Here again there is a preoccupation with catholicity as opposed to apostolicity.
4. A fourth trend is the confusion of conservatism and traditionalism with apostolic doctrine and practice. There is a naïve assumption that because the doctrines and practices of the Roman Catholic Church and Eastern Orthodox Church are conservative and traditionalist, they must be apostolic. The result is a very uncritical acceptance of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox doctrines and practices that are inconsistent with the Bible. This is interpreted as the Holy Spirit uniting the Church. Yet I must wonder whether the Holy Spirit who is the Spirit of Truth would be uniting the Church at the expense of the truth.
There is a similarity between this particular interpretation of developments in the Anglican Church in North America and the liberal interpretation of developments in the Anglican Church of Canada and The Episcopal Church. In both instances God, we are assured, is doing a “new thing.” We are witnessing a prophetic movement. In both instances this “new thing” involves the disregard of the Bible.
5. This tendency to take a subjective approach to contemporary developments and to interpret them as the work of the Holy Spirit on the basis of their fulfillment of the aspirations of those interpreting them can be described as a fifth trend. There is also a similarity between this subjectivism and the views of the sectarians that the Thirty-Nine Articles describes as “certain Anabaptists.” These “Anabaptists” gave much greater authority to personal revelations from the Holy Spirit than to the Scriptures. Sectarian error was of great concern to the English Reformers as was Roman error. They saw the Holy Scriptures, interpreted by Scripture and reason, as a safeguard against both forms of error.
6. A sixth trend is a propensity toward ritualism. The video of Archbishop Duncan’s enthronement documents this tendency. In the opening procession almost all of the American bishops are wearing copes, stoles, and miters and pause at the entrance of the church to dip their hands in a pool of “holy water” and to sign themselves with a cross. After his induction Archbishop Duncan stands at the “altar rail” in front of the church with his chaplain flanking him, carrying his crosier, so that the congregation can come forward, pay him homage, kiss his ring, and receive his archiepiscopal blessing.
The tendency toward ritualism is evident even in the churches that are “contemporary” in their style of worship. The latter in the Anglican Church in North America is more likely to be convergent—blending traditional and contemporary forms of music; Anglo-Catholic vestments, ornaments, and ceremonial; charismatic expressiveness; and twenty-first century technology. Traditional Low Church worship like that which has been seen in mainline Protestant churches for generations is rare.
This ritualistic tendency is largely a carryover from The Episcopal Church. Anglo-Catholic ritualism has influenced that church for over a hundred and seventy-five years. Both the 1928 Book of Common Prayer and the 1979 Book of Common Prayer, which are also used in the Anglican Church in North America, encourage an Anglo-Catholic ritualistic approach to worship. A large segment of the AC-NA clergy and laity is traditionalist Anglo-Catholic.
7. A seventh trend is that the English Reformation and the historic Anglican formularies are dismissed as things of the past. I have had at least one AC-NA priest tell me that contemporary Anglicans are superior in their understanding of the Bible and theology than their sixteenth century counterparts. His statement did not surprise me. He had originally been an Episcopal priest and that attitude is widespread in The Episcopal Church.
The old Anglican settlement gave a very large place to Scripture. The Bible was the test by which everything was tried—doctrine and practice. Article 6 states, “Holy Scripture contains all things necessary to salvation: so that whatsoever is not read therein, nor may be proved thereby, is not to be required of any man, that it should be believed as an article of the faith, or be thought requisite or necessary to salvation.” Article 34 states, “It is not necessary that traditions and ceremonies be in all places one or utterly alike; for at all times they have been diverse, and may be changed according to the diversity of countries, times, and men's manners, so that nothing be ordained against God's word.”
Latitudinarianism in the eighteenth century, Anglo-Catholicism in the nineteenth century and liberalism in the twentieth century have eroded the place of Scripture in Anglicanism. The trends we are seeing in the Anglican Church in North America are also greatly weakening the place of the Bible in that body.
The emerging new Anglican settlement in the AC-NA shows no evidence of being an improvement upon the old Anglican settlement. Rather than being at the forefront of a new reformation, the AC-NA appears to be at the very front of a new counter-reformation. Biblical Anglicanism has no prospects in the AC-NA. Biblically-faithful Anglicans outside of North America who have given their support to the AC-NA are going to discover this unpleasant fact to their great consternation in the days ahead.
Posted by Robin G. Jordan at 8:10 AM