Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The Future of Anglicanism

The seeming collapse of attempts to start an Anglican Ordinariate in Canada following some unfortunate remarks by Archbishop Hepworth have got me wondering about that old question - whither Anglicanism? It seems to me that yet again, no matter how hard the Anglo-Catholics try to make themselves acceptable to Rome, they are still met with the same response - convert! I hope that those Anglo-Catholics who sincerely believe that the Pope is the Head of the Church on earth do convert, because it will simplify matters back here in Anglicanland.

In the USA it seems that there are three strands to the Continuing Anglican movement that I would loosely characterize as being Moderate Evangelical, Old High Church, and Anglo-Catholic, though I suspect that a lot of folks would not use my labels, but there you go. To a greater or lesser extent all three depend on the Church as whole having a strong ANGLICAN identity with which to interact, and react. However, Evangelicals and Anglo-Catholics tend to emphasize only those elements that they like - basically the Articles in the case of the former, and the BCP and the appeal to the Fathers in the case of the latter. Old High Churchmen have the fault that they tend to be rather insular and self-sufficient - but maybe that is not altogether a bad thing.

So, in what does the Anglican identity lie?

First and foremost, the Anglican identity is an expression of the Church Catholic - that congregation formed by Jesus Christ through His Apostles to be His Body. In terms of defining what that body believes we rely on the Bible, the Creeds, the Councils of the Undivided Church. This appeal has been one that has been made by Anglicans right from the beginning. Archbishop Matthew Parker told his clergy to interpret he Articles and Injunctions 'in the most Catholic sense.' Hooker, te Caroline Divines and the High Churchmen of the eighteenth century all wrote with one eye fixed on the Early Fathers. The Oxford Movement also appealed to the Father, as did the more learned of Anglican Evangelicals. Unfortunately, modern Episcopalianism seems to regard the Fathers as some dead dude who wrote about Chrstianity a long time ago, and only reference them when it suits ther revisionist agenda.

To me, the second plank of the Anglican identity is Common Prayer. In the sequence of Reforming measures introduced between 1534 and 1553 the first BCP comes third or fourth. The idea was to put the liturgy into English; to simplify it so everyone could participate; and to cleanse it of those elements at variance with the Scriptures and the Fathers. Unfortunately, during the second phase of the Catholic Revival, some began to argue that the BCP was incomplete when compared to the modern Roman Liturgy which in their minds had become normative. This led to them adding to the BCP on their own authority - something which, from the catholic point of view, was strictly a no-no. These additions were eventually codified in the form of the English, American, and Anglican Missals, to which the Bishops wisely did NOT authorize for the use of the whole Church. At the end of the day the Catholic Liturgy of that branch of the Church Catholic denominated 'Anglican' is the Book of Common Prayer in the edition authorized by the General Synod or Convention of the Province involved.

Thirdly, the Articles of Religion. Now I know a lot of Anglo-Catholics reach for the gin when I mention the Articles, but there are one of the defining documents of the Anglican Reformation. Unfortunately, some of us have been conditioned to reject them without making a serious examnation of their contents. The major roblem comes from the fact that they dea with the controversies of the mid-sixteenth century, and their theological currency is one that we use little today, but they are none the less instructive. The first thing thing that has to be remembered is that they do not explicitly deny any doctrine maintained by the first Seven Councils. Secondly, the Church has always demanded that, like the BCP, they be interpreted in 'the catholic sense.'

Fourthly, the Anglican Continuum preserves the Apostolic Ministry of (male) deacons, priests, and bishops. Like the Roman Church we can trace the mainline our orders back through the centuries to the fourteenth century - which is a couple of hundred years further back than Rome. Furthermore we have no evidence to suggest that there was a break in the succession then, or, as the Romans allege in 1559. We can therefore regard it as reasonably certain that our Orders go back to the days when the Apostles prayered over and then laid hands upon the men they sent out as overseers, elders and servants of the Church, just as they in turn had received the Holy Spirit and been sent out by Christ Himself. However, I would at this point like to remind you that you can have the most impeccible Orders in the world, yet it is worthless unless you also believe, live and preach that Catholic and Apostolic faith that was committed to your keeping at your ordination.

What I am suggesting here is that Anglicans have an inherently Catholic identity that is not to be found in its imitation of that eccentric Communion headquarted in the Vatican, but in its own Liturgy and Articles. The future for Anglicans lies not in becoming something, but in being what we already are - the English reform of the Catholic Church. This concept of Reformed Catholicism is one that was dear to the Reformer, the Caroline Divines, the Georgian High Churchmen, the Tractarians, and to good churchmen and women in every period of the Church's history. Reformed Catholicism is also the key to our future as one strand of the Church Catholic. We need to give up being embarrassed by our Anglican-ness and proclaim that which we have received.

If I have a vision for the coming Continuing Anglican Church it is that we stop looking over our shoulders and start looking only on Jesus Christ. Less poetically, we need to stop worrying about the fact we are different to Rome or Orthodoxy and just get on with being the Catholic Church of the English (-speaking) People. Of course our apeal is wider than that, and we must always be ready to embrace those who share the Reformed Catholic ideal whatever their language, but we need to be aways mindful of the fact that our roots lie in the Church of St Patrick and St Augustine; the Venerable Bede and Alcuin; of Cranmer and Laud; Simeon and Keble, and the untold millions who have found the most perfect expression of Catholicism to lie within her walls.

After four hundred years in which we have been in some sense "the Establishment" either by law or by culture, or in both, we are now in an era where we have to make our way by our profession of the Faith once delivered to the Apostles. We need to become a Missionary Church and an Evangelizing Church that exalts Jesus Christ - 'the way, the truth and the life' - in all that we do and teach. Cleaving more closely to Christ is the only way in which we can hope to overcome the challenges posed to the Truth by both secularism and Islam.


  1. Despite a few typos, this is a fantastic summary! Thank you!

  2. As usual, a very informative post. I look forward to perusing your Central Churchmanship reading list.

  3. Hello Bp. Robinson,
    I tried to come up with two modest proposals that involve nominal tampering. I doubt they have much merit, but they pertain to clarifications over BCP, 39 Articles, and St. Louis Affirmation. I've really tried thinking about this in a constructive way. I hope it's not too idiosyncratic or shameless plugging, but there might be a nugget or two to gleam. The first is adding an asterisk like the ACC has already done to Section V of the Affirmation. It's half-way down the post:St. Louis

    It seems like St. Louis churches are free to clarify. If it pleases you, how might we get some history on the ACC's asterisk (did a bishop do it?, etc).

    Secondly, there seems to be some traction and precedent for Solemn Declarations in Continuing churhces. Note the recent participation of the Christian Episcopal Church at Victoria. They seem to have a Fort Worth Declaration or varient of the 1983. I especially like the APA's Declaration which includes the "spirit of the St. Louis Affirmation". Both are examples and precedents of how St. Louis and 39 Articles might be related. Again, scroll half-way down: Solemn Declarations

  4. The St. Louis Declaration has to be edited to be a genuinely Anglican document and not an Anglo-Catholic document. It excludes Protestant Anglicans (High and Low) with several of its statements.

  5. In 2014 "Anglo-Catholics" must accept that, at least in the First World, the Anglican Communion does not want you, they want lesbian bishops who say abortion is a sacrament.