By Robin G. Jordan
In this article we will examine three additional trends that have a strong likelihood of affecting the future of historic Anglicanism in North America. The first of these three trends is the shapelessness of contemporary evangelicalism in the North American Anglican community. Other terms that might be used to describe what passes for evangelicalism in the North American Anglican community are vague, nebulous, indistinct, and formless. Contemporary evangelicalism is so amorphous that it is questionably “evangelical” from a traditional Anglican evangelical point of view. It has few if any of the distinguishing characteristics that have historically marked out the boundaries of classical Anglican evangelicalism and set it apart from other schools of thought in Anglicanism. Rather it incorporates many beliefs and practices that are essentially incompatible with traditional Anglican evangelicalism. In the nineteenth century such latitude in belief and practice was associated with the Broad Church movement and liberal evangelicalism.
David Irish posted this description of traditional Anglican evangelicalism on his web log, Ontological Goo.
In the C of E and the C of I traditional evangelical Anglicanism (at least historically speaking) is clearly defined. The Scriptures are the final authority in all matters. The Three Creeds and the XXXIX Articles define the biblically derived summations of precise Christian doctrine. The BCP, ordered after the received theology of the Creeds and Articles, defines matters liturgical. Ceremony and clergy attire is traditionally evangelical, Morning Prayer and monthly communion…no bells or incense…no sacrificial vestments. The XXXIX Articles are more than minimally assented to, they are believed wholeheartedly. In earlier times English and Irish evangelicals would have read Cranmer, Ridley, Latimer, Ussher, and Ryle, and would unreservedly agree with Dean Litton’s assessment that (quoted by Dean Paul Zahl, in his work ‘The Protestant Face of Anglicanism’), “The Anglican Church, if she is to be judged by the statements of the Articles, must be ranked amongst the Protestant Churches of Europe.”
How many contemporary Anglican congregations and clergy in North America, which describe themselves as “evangelical” can honestly say that they fit this description? How many, if they do not use the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, use services in modern English, which adhere to its biblical and Reformation doctrine and respect its liturgical usages, and not the High Church Anglo-Catholic 1928 or 1979 Prayer Book.
The second of these three trends is that conservative evangelicals in the North American Anglican community are fragmented, isolated, scattered, weak, and visionless. Classical Anglican evangelicalism experienced something of a revival in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. However, what seed that the birds of air did not devour fell on rocky ground and sprung up only to be scorched and to wither away. Or it fell among thorns and the thorns have choked it. Instead of a harvest of a hundredfold, sixtyfold, or thirtyfold, all we see is a few struggling plants. If the seed has fallen into fertile soil, it has yet to bear fruit.
The third of these three trends is the lack of a strong voice in North America in support of authentic historic Anglicanism. The voices championing Anglo-Catholicism, liberalism, and Ancient-Future/Convergence/three streams theology are, on the other hand, very strident. They demand attention and they receive it. A part of the problem is that the Protestant character of historic Anglicanism embarrasses North American Anglicans. This embarrassment led to the Episcopal Church’s removal of “Protestant” from its name. The appeal of the phrase “Reformed Catholic” that the late Peter Toon popularized lay in its denial of the Protestantism of historic Anglicanism. However, historic Anglicanism is not only Protestant but also it is evangelical and Reformed. To deny these aspects of Anglicanism is to refuse to accept the defining characteristic of Anglicanism in terms of its doctrine and teaching, and therefore is in reality a rejection of Anglicanism itself.
This leads us to the twelfth and final major trend that can be expected to affect the future of historic Anglicanism in North America. This trend is the pronounced tendency to redefine Anglicanism and to reinterpret Anglican Church history to substitute for historic Anglicanism views that “are alien intruders into the classical Anglicanism that arose in the sixteenth century.”
All these trends are like pieces in a jigsaw puzzle. As each piece is put into place the picture begins to take shape. The last piece has been fitted where it belongs and we now have a complete picture. It is not a pretty one. In fact, it is grim and disturbing. Indeed I hope that it is grim and disturbing enough to penetrate conservative evangelical complacency.
Unlike the picture in a jigsaw puzzle, this picture can be altered. We must look at those parts of the picture where it is possible to introduce change. Introduce change in one part of the picture and only that part of picture may change. Introduce change at several places and the entire picture will change.
Some of us have only a few years of our allotted span remaining to us. Sitting around on our thumbs, waiting for someone else to do something is not the best use of that time. We need to take action while we can do so. It does not do any good to beating up ourselves for what we have not done. The past is the past. God is a god of opportunities. Every day he offers us new opportunities. Let us not waste them.