Monday, August 23, 2010

Historic Anglicanism Today: A Faith of Many Expressions?

By Robin G. Jordan

We often hear or read the argument that there are so many expressions of Anglicanism that it is impossible to define Anglicanism. But I suspect that those making this argument do not really want a concise definition of Anglicanism because it might exclude them. A broad, vague definition of Anglicanism or no definition at all is preferable since it will make room for all the groups that claim to be authentically Anglican.

“Anglican” and “Anglicanism” are terms that were not used until the nineteenth century, and what they mean and to whom they apply have been controverted since that time. During the period from the Elizabethan Settlement to the early nineteenth century the Church of England was described as the Protestant Church of England, the Protestant Episcopal Church of England, the Protestant and Reformed Church of England, and the Reformed Church of England. What defined the faith of the Church of England were the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion of 1571, The Book of Common Prayer of 1662, the annexed Ordinal, and the Books of Homilies of 1547 and 1571, interpreted in their intended Protestant sense, the Canons, and various Acts of Parliament. If anything can be classified as classical Anglicanism, it is the faith that they define. It is unmistakably Protestant and Reformed.

In the nineteenth century the “Tractarian and Anglo-Catholic ideologists,” as J. I. Packer describes them in The Thirty-Nine Articles: Their Place and Use Today, “got down to their self-appointed task of trying to change this identity,” to use Packer’s words (p. 35). They were unapologetically Roman Catholic in their sympathies and introduced Roman Catholic doctrine and practice into the Church of England and her daughter churches. The dogmas of the Council of Trent and the innovations of Roman Catholic Church since the Reformation, they claimed, were the Church of England’s true heritage. After they muddied the water, the once pure stream of Anglicanism has grown more turbid since. It has become like the Mississippi River as it flows into the Gulf of Mexico, fouled by all the impurities that have been dumped in the river upstream.

The determination of whether a particular expression of Anglicanism is genuine should be based upon the extent that it is rooted in this faith and gives expression to it. This is the wellspring from which the Anglican stream flows. The further a particular expression is removed from classical Anglicanism, the less it is authentically Anglican.

The application of this principle in a survey of the Anglican Church in Canada, Anglican Church in North America, the Continuing Anglican Churches, and The Episcopal Church I hazard would reveal that substantial number of the bishops, clergy, and congregations of these supposedly Anglican bodies are marginally Anglican at best. The Thirty-Nine Articles were never given a central place in the teaching and life of The Episcopal Church and they are certainly not a living formulary in the other churches. The service books used in North America are far removed from the Prayer Book. Even 1928 Prayer Book and the 1962 Canadian Prayer Book are in their doctrine.

What I see in North America today is a number of ecclesial bodies that brand themselves as “Anglican” but if classical Anglican is used a standard by which they are tested and measured, they do not merit that brand name. Some individual bishops, clergy, and congregations in these bodies may be more Anglican than others but the number of these people is not large enough to qualify the whole body as Anglican.

Obtaining the recognition of the Archbishop of Canterbury and even the recognition of the global South Primates is like obtaining the stamp of approval of a product-rating agency for purity. However, they are product-rating agencies that do not have objective criteria for their determinations and do not actually subject the product to testing and analysis. They depend upon the assurances of the company marketing the product. The global South Primates have not sent teams of inspectors to all the churches in the ACNA to determine their purity anymore than the Archbishop of Canterbury has to the churches in the ACoC and TEC.

The Task Force for drawing up a new catechism is surveying the clergy and congregations of the ACNA regarding their beliefs. It would be interesting to see the survey questionnaire they are using and the results it yields.

Anglicanism, that is, the faith of the Protestant and Reformed Church of England and its formularies, faces a bleak future in North America. Only a small number of bishops, clergy, and congregations in the ecclesial bodies that identify themselves as Anglican are interested in its survival. The rest could care less. They are perfectly happy to be one of the many expressions of an indefinable Anglicanism, which is so nebulous that one might argue that anything that we want to call Anglican is Anglican. Some people already do.

Those who are happy to be one of the many expressions of an indefinable Anglicanism need to face up to the truth. They are not really Anglican. They are certainly not Anglican in the sense of their acceptance of the authority of the Articles, which Being Faithful: The Shape of Historic Anglicanism Today maintains is constitutive of Anglican identity (p. 35). It further holds that the 1662 Book of Common Prayer is central to the common identity of Anglican Christians (p. 46). This may apply to the provinces outside of North American and even to the ACoC but it certainly does not to TEC and those who left that province and formed the ACNA. Few people in the ACNA and TEC are acquainted with the biblical and Reformation teaching of the 1662 Prayer Book. The PECUSA began moving away from the 1662 Prayer Book tradition with the inclusion of the 1764 Scottish Non-Juror Prayer of Consecration in the 1789 Prayer Book.

Paul Zahl coined the term “contemporary Episcopalianism” for what passes as Anglicanism in TEC. He thought that it was a more accurate description of the faith of twenty-first century Episcopalians. I would suggest that there are two varieties of this faith—one is conservative and is found in the ACNA and the other liberal and found in TEC.

There was real hope in the very early part of this decade that the new Anglican province that would be formed in North America would return to the Articles and recognize and affirm them for what they are—“a faithful testimony to the teaching of Scripture, excluding erroneous beliefs and practices and giving a distinct shape to Anglican Christianity” (Being Faithful, p. 36). The 1662 Book of Common Prayer, adapted to a North American cultural context, and available in traditional and contemporary English, would be the starting point for a new Prayer Book tradition in North America. There would be a rebirth of the faith of the Protestant and Reformed Church of England in Canada and the United States.

This is not going to happen in the ACNA. Only the bishops of the ACNA know in what direction they are taking that body and from all indications it is not in that direction. This should not be surprising. How many of them have drunk deeply the sparkling pure water of Anglicanism near its fountainhead? Most of them come from TEC where the stream of Anglicanism is polluted and toxic. A small number come from churches that are not even nominally Anglican. They cannot be expected to lead a revival of classical Anglicanism in North America.

The plight of Anglicanism in North America is so disheartening that it is causing good men to fall into despair. The prospect of the complete demise of the faith of the Protestant and Reformed Church of England in North America looms large in their minds. Yet there is hope. God has preserved a remnant that have not bowed a knee to Baal and whose mouths have not kissed his idol, as He did in the day of the prophet Elijah. Some are scattered throughout ecclesial bodies that identify themselves as Anglican. Others sojourn in other church bodies or are churchless. They share a common desire to see the pristine stream of Anglicanism to flow anew in North America, welling out of the ground of the holy Scriptures, bubbling with the life of the Holy Spirit, and charged with the gospel of grace, and to offer its refreshing water to the thirsty, the water that is life because it comes from Christ. It is the water that Christ alone gives that becomes in those who drink it a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life. (John 4:14). God is calling this remnant to unite together to maintain a genuine Anglican witness in North America that is faithful to the Bible and the Reformation, and to give the historic Anglican formularies their proper place in that witness as God’s gifts to the Church of England when He brought her out of the darkness of superstition and ignorance into the marvelous light of the gospel, and a God-given heritage to her children.

1 comment:

Reformation said...

Robin says:

"Those who are happy to be one of the many expressions of an indefinable Anglicanism need to face up to the truth. They are not really Anglican."

Ahem, ahem, precisely. They surely are not 1662 BCP Churchmen or Articles-Reformed men.

"It is what it will be, but not what it once was."