Thursday, November 26, 2015

Wayfaring the Anglican Way

I originally posted this article almost 5 years ago. The photo shows the wooden poles that mark the safe route for pilgrims to the holy island of Lindensfarne across the mudflats at low tide. Lindensfarne is a tidal island off the northeast coast of England. It was a center of Celtic Christianity in the seventh century. It was also the base for the evangelization of the North of England, Mercia, and other parts of the British Isles.  

By Robin G. Jordan

Peter Toon popularized the phrase, “the Anglican Way” with his book with same title, “The Anglican Way.” I read the book what seems a very long time ago—back in the early 1980s. I think the title stuck more in my mind than the contents—the Anglican Way.

In this article I begin an exploration of the Anglican Way, as I understand it. I may touch upon some things about which Peter wrote. However, if my readers are anticipating an encapsulation of Peter’s book they will be disappointed.

The Anglican Way is not a metaled road like the roads the ancient Romans built, several courses of gravel, stones, and sand, topped with paving stones, running in a straight line and taking the shortest route between two points. Roman roads were constructed to facilitate the rapid deployment of Rome’s legions.

The Anglican Way is more like the track ways of prehistoric Britain. In some places one sees a single track; in other places, several tracks have been worn into the ground, running parallel with each other and leading in the same direction. These tracks may merge later on to form a single track again. Here and there a path may veer off and become another track way. Great Britain is crisscrossed with prehistoric track ways as it is with Roman roads and modern highways. The Anglican Way follows a particular route but it does not always confines itself to a particular track. This characteristic of the Anglican Way is disconcerting to those who like order and tidiness, everything having a place and everything in its place.

What then marks the particular route that the Anglican Way takes—why does it go in a particular direction and not another?

The Bible is the most important route marker. The Catholic Creeds, the early Church Councils where their teaching agrees with the teaching of the Scriptures, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Book of Common Prayer, and the Ordinal are also important route markers. As long as we are following particular route that they mark, we are treading the Anglican Way. We wander from the Anglican Way when we wander outside these markers.

The Bible determines the direction in which the Anglican Way goes. God has given us the Bible not only to mark the route but also to show us its beginning and its destination. The Bible is not only our map and compass, but it is also our guide.

The Bible does not work like a GPS unit. It does not say, “Turn here; turn there.” It does give us directions. They are sometimes exact directions. But often as not they are just general directions. God has given us His Holy Spirit to help us make sense of the directions and to enable us to follow them. It is not that the directions are unclear but we are prone to misreading them and going our own way.

North Americans who are accustomed to modern highways in which the route and the track are one and the same may have difficulty grasping the concept of a route that in some places has more than one track. Those who hike and backpack on backcountry trails should on the other hand have no problem. They have walked trails like what I am describing many times.

The Anglican Way does not demand an ultramontane uniformity in all things—everyone marching in perfect step, turning at the same time, blinking their eyes as if they were a one person. On essential matters such as the gospel it does require oneness of mind, unity of thought. On non-essential matters it permits freedom of conscience. As the Bible teaches, it teaches that we should show leniency in our judgment of others and their motives. As the apostle Paul wrote the Church at Ephesus, we are to be imitators of God as dear children, walking in love as Christ has loved us and given himself for us (Ephesians 5:1-2).

A lot of the conflict and confusion that we see in the contemporary Anglican Church centers on not only the authority of the Bible but also on the nature of essential and non-essential matters. There is no agreement on what is important and what is not. One group wants to make all matters secondary matters; another group wants to make them primary matters.

Discerning matters that do make a difference from those that do not is a challenge. Some matters may in isolation be matters of indifference but in conjunction with other matters may cease to be matters of indifference. This point is often missed in the debate over these matters.

The Anglican Way is foremost a way of being followers of Jesus the Nazarene, of practicing godliness and pursuing holiness. It is a way of discipleship that seeks to be faithful to the teaching of the Bible. In the Bible we find the teaching of the prophets, the apostles, and Jesus himself—the teaching of God. This teaching is not as the modernists tell us our reflection upon the divine but God’s revelation of his mind to us. In the Bible God has spoken and through the Bible God continues to speak. God is not a babbling infant whose utterances we must struggle to decipher. He speaks very clearly on those matters that relate to how we should live in harmony with Him and with each other.

The Anglican Way is also a way of being God’s temple, of being his people in whom his Spirit dwells, of being the new humanity that God has created. It is a way of being fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, of being a part of the church of which Jesus is the Head and of the body of which he is the Savior.

We walk the Anglican Way not in isolation from each other although circumstances may force us to do so. We journey to the heavenly Jerusalem in the company of fellow pilgrims and travelers. We bear each other’s burdens. We lend our strength to the weak and faltering, knowing our strength comes from God, and is not for us alone. Christ is our companion on the journey and our destination.

We do not forget that we are strangers and sojourners in the land, as were our forefathers before us. We remember that our Lord had nowhere to lay his head. He was even buried in a borrowed tomb. We give food to the hungry and water to the thirsty. We take in the stranger. We clothe the naked and visit the sick and those in prison. We are mindful that what we do to one of the least of these, we do to him.

Our Lord has given us a charge. As he called the apostles to him and made them fishers of men, we are to do likewise. We are to swell our company with those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and who believing have life in his name. God has shown us his grace and in doing so made us stewards of his manifold grace.

This is the Anglican Way. To some it may seem rather spare. The English Reformers, however, did not strip away what had overgrown the primitive and apostolic faith to let a new overgrowth to take its place. They sought not only to restore the pristine simplicity of that faith to the English Church but also to keep the Church from loosing it again. To this end they gave the Church the Thirty-Nine Articles, the Prayer Book, and the Ordinal. When we misinterpret their teaching, depart from that teaching, subtract from it, or add to it, we wander from the Anglican Way and take another path. We may walk the same route of the Anglican Way for a time but eventually that path will lead us away from its route and into a different way.

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