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.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

General Convention

For those of you who are interested there is a report on the 10th General Convention of the UECNA posted at http://www.uecpb.angelfire.com/GC10.html

What does not come across very well in the report is the focus that we had on Mission and Evangelism at this Convention. I believe that there are two factors behind this. The first is that there are quite a few younger clergy in the UECNA who are mission-minded, rather than maintenance-minded. This represents a major shift from three years ago. Then the 'mission-minded' felt sufficiently marginalized that a number of them left the UECNA for the REC shortly after the 9th GenCon. Secondly, I think there is a general realisation in the UECNA that being God's chosen frozen is no longer enough, we have to grow in order to survive, and that this involves a measure of adoption. Please note, that I use the word adaption not change.

In 1978, when the first bishops were consecrated for the original ACNA, secularism and media technology was still only in their first flood. Since then a lot has changed, and the tide has risen much higher. The attacks made by the tiny secularist minority in the USA have grown ever more strident, and the media - especially TV - has promoted a entertainment culture that discourages serious thought - especially about the state of one's immortal soul. This does not apply only to religion. When did you last here a politician talk in a comprehensible way about issues?

Also unhelpful has been the mega-church phenomomen, which, whilst preaching a form of Christianity, tends to eschew the intellectually difficult, and fall into step with the entertainment culture. I suspect this strategy is successful with baby-boomers who at least received a veneer of 'real religion' before the entertainment culture really began to take over. For them, the spoon feeding works, and keeps them active Christians. However, it does not tend to promote profound commitment, though there is a certain element of the Walmart effect.

However, I think those who study Christianity are beginning to realize that the mega-churches, whilst having tremendous influence do not make deep disciples. Certainly a an unscientific survey of what I loosely refer to as 'Christian spam' seems to reveal an obsession on the part of Church growth gurus with deeping discipleship. Some of the big tin shed preachers I have talked to freely admit that only 5 to 10% of their people do more than turn up on a Sunday morning. This tells us that at the moment American Christianity is probaby more characterized by its quantity than its depth. That is not necessarily a bad thing, having lived in both the UK and the USA I have to say that even a veneer of Christianity makes for a far freer society.

I suspect therefore, that there is a significant group of believers and potential believers who want to connect with something deeper than entertainment religion. This bears some superficial resemblance to the situation as American Anglicans found themselves in during the 1820s and 1830s. At that time, there was a significant group of Christians who had been touched by the Second Great Awakening, but wanted something deeper. This was precisely the era when Evangelical Episcopalianism grew expontentially within the Protestant Episcopal Church. Why?

Well, the short version is that Evangelical Episcopalian offered a heart-felt religion that did not neglect the intellect, nor tip over into mere emotionalism. It was orderly and reverent, by contrat to the extremes of revivalism. It also learned to use 'the culture' against itself. Evangelical Episcopalians made use of Prayer Meetings and Street Preaching, but they centred it all in the worship of the Church, and in faithful preaching of Jesus Christ and Him crucified. They connected the religious sentiment of the day, and harnessed it to something deeper - a presentation of Christianity which was deeper being not just Biblical, but Biblical, Creedal, and Liturgical. Anglicans are uniquely placed to supply the 'something deeper' - what we are less equiped to do is tell people about it.

So far, Continuing Anglicans have tended to remain stuck in the defensive mindset that they adopted in 1977, and have made no concerted effort to Evangelize. The prevailent belief is that we just need to continue doing what we have always done until the world comes to its senses and returns to us. Unfortunately, that is a very poor mission strategy, and something that the UECNA has decided it can no longer afford to do. Over the next six months we will be looking long and hard at Mission, and seeing where we as a church have been going wrong, and how we can do better. Hopefully that will produce a plan that we can begin to impliment next year.

One last note. As always, the UECNA GenCon was more of a family get together than a meeting. I think that we are very blessed as a church to have this freedom from rancour, factionalism, and Church politics. Long may it continue!