Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

Skip to comments.

On the Anglican Crisis
The Rev'd Dr. Leander Harding ^ | 5/31/2006 | David Scott

Posted on 05/31/2006 7:50:09 PM PDT by sionnsar



That the Anglican Communion is falling apart, and that we approach a post-Anglican era is not obvious. Several signs of growth and health exist, with many indications that the Anglican Communion is shaping itself for mission, The ten-year-old Province of South-East Asia installed, on 5 February, 2006, its Third Archbishop, Dr. John Chow. The Province of Hong Kong is newly established and has just made a very substantial financial gift to the Anglican Consultative Council. Three Holy Cross Fathers have just established a mission near Grahamstown, South Africa. Ian Earnest was installed as the New Primate for the Indian Ocean on 19 February 2006. The Anglican Church of Tanzania is raising funds to establish a new Anglican University. The Anglican Church of Canada has just elected Patrick Yu as Bishop-elect for the Diocese of Ontario. Yu received his early education in Anglican schools in Hong Kong. A delegation from the Anglican Church of Korea, including the Primate and several clergy, recently met with Archbishop Rowan Williams at Lambeth Palace. Sixty-seven women from all parts of the Anglican Communion, with 50 women from the US Episcopal Church, constituted the Anglican Consultative Council’s delegation to the 50th Session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, recently made a pastoral visit to the Province of the Episcopal Church of the Sudan and directly addressed the tragedy of Darfur. The Archbishop also recently made a theologically insightful keynote address at the 9th meeting of the World Council of Churches in Porto Alegre, Brazil. An Anglican working group for theological education, Theological Education for the Anglican Communion (TEAK), recently met in South Africa to renew theological education in the Communion, with mission as its main orientation. Taken as a whole, the 38 Provinces of the Anglican Communion shows signs of vitality and orientation to mission.

Yet, the integrity of the Communion, indeed its existence as a spiritual fellowship and part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ, is in doubt and at risk. Its status as a spiritual communion may have already ceased to exist or to exist only de jure, not de facto. Primates from the Global South don’t acknowledge spiritual fellowship with the Episcopal Church and with the Diocese of Westminster in the Anglican Church of Canada. US Episcopal Church representatives were asked to leave executive committees of the Anglican Consultative Council. In light of this, to claim that Anglicanism continues as a spiritual communion is playing lightly with language. Only because the Archbishop of Canterbury has not exercised the colonial-era rule that withholding the invitation of a Province to the Lambeth Conference excludes it from the Communion allows saying that the emperor has no clothes, i.e., that Anglicanism still exists as a spiritual unity and part of the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church of Jesus Christ. The status of the Communion is in crisis; its leaders know this; they are working and praying to prevent the factual estrangement to become official dissolution.

Church of England bishop, Stephen Sykes, Principal of St. John’s College,

Durham, and profound student of Anglicanism, has observed: organizations reflect intensely on themselves when their existence is threatened. The Windsor Report focused on the nature of communion in Anglicanism and how it might be preserved. It did not directly ask why Anglicanism should continue to exist, what its unique gifts to world Christianity might be. Yet faced with the possibility of a post-Anglican world, Anglicans should wonder if the Anglican Communion is worth struggling to sustain and promote. If so, or if we do, in fact, move into a post-Anglican era, what might be retrieved from Anglicanism for the world Church? These questions drive this essay.

Historical institutions are tough; they die slowly. The Anglican Communion may well survive the present crisis of its integrity. If Provinces in the present Communion split away or if the majority of Provinces reject one or two Provinces, Anglicanism will continue, but not as the Communion of 38 Provinces that it now is. Thus, no one knows now what the future of Anglicanism, as a Communion, will be. In this essay I reflect on what Anglicanism might contribute to a post-Anglican world Christian Church. By a world Christian Church I mean that future Church that God will use to accomplish His purposes for the world He created, redeemed and wills to bring to His perfection. I argue that Anglicanism has developed three “Treasures” having potential value for world Christianity. These Treasures are native to historic Anglicanism and would, of course, be usable only in a locally adapted form by a post-Anglican world Church. Nevertheless, these Anglican Treasures might have value for a post-Anglican, postmodern Christianity.

The three “Treasures” I identify will, of course, not be new to those who have experienced “the Anglican way.” Such novelty would count against their being Anglican Treasures — institutions developed in the history of the Communion, which might transcend their historical roots. If these Treasures exist, we inherit them from the past, we should respect them in the present and we can, in the uncertainty of the present, commend them for a future Church that might exist in a post-Anglican world.

No one who knows me can rightfully accuse me of Anglican sentimentalism or nostalgia. My test for identifying Anglican Treasures is whether these aspects of Anglicanism ring true when tested against the Bible generally and, specifically, whether these three aspects of Anglicanism appear usable for obeying the Great Commission of our Lord, to go to the ends of the world and preach the Gospel. Assessing historic Anglican institutions should be guided and judged above all by two criteria: faithful worship of God, the Holy Trinity, and obedience to Jesus’ Christ’s Great Commission. What in Anglicanism might serve the worship and mission of Christ’s Church in our postmodern, global world? That, I believe, is the right question.

Anglicans who take these two norms to heart will always ask how those who are not Christians, to whom God sends believers on mission, perceive them. Christian mission, like mature human relationships, require asking not just how the other seems to me but how I look in the eyes of the other. A church fit for mission should not be perceived as absorbed in fighting over the religious institutionalizing of Modernist, western values like autonomous individualism, narcissistic self-expression, romantic self-actualization, or reduction of Christian teachings and moral practices to western secular world-views and norms. Granted, the postmodern, global world may well be ruled by western-style market capitalism. And, the US, the European Union and England will continue to push, by exhortation or by force, western democratic institutions and western understandings of human and civil rights, where these are not institutionalized in the rest of the world. Already, however, the western origin of these values, their self-contradictory nature, the economic self-interestedness of their western promoters, and the neocolonial character of their propagation is being resisted by the non-Western world. A postmodern Christianity, governed by the Great Commission, should not equate Christian faith and practice to this western, secular agenda. The causes of the present crisis I describe below could give African, Asian and Middle-Eastern Christians and non-Christians the impression that to be Anglican means conforming to western, modern norms of expressive individualism, romantic love and emancipatory autonomy. A mission motivated Christianity, a postmodern Christianity, should be concerned about this.

A test case for thinking about a postmodern Anglicanism and postmodern world Christianity is Mainland China. From the toils of their history, Chinese people have experienced western Christianity, including Anglicanism, not only as a blessing but also as an extension of colonial domination and exploitation. They experienced Anglicanism specifically and western Christianity generally as an external force riding on the back of western military might and economic interests. A rising nationalism and increasing global influence will mark China for the next fifty years at least. How will a world Church, with or without Anglicanism, serve Christians in China, that land ruled by an officially atheist government ideology, that land whose government insists Chinese Christians be self-governing, self-supporting and self-propagating, that land comprising one fifth of the world’s population, that land slowly emerging as the next global power? Above all, how can Christians outside China listen to and learn from Chinese Christians? These are questions a missionary church should be pondering and using to assess their own heritage.

In this light, I identify in this essay three Anglican Treasures that might serve a future in which the Anglican Communion no longer exists, or exists in a very different form. In so doing, I continue, in a very minor and inadequate way, an Anglican discourse that Stephen Sykes calls a “vigorous apologetic tradition” begun in the sixteenth century by John Jewel. Past Anglicans have championed the strengths they found in Anglicanism while in no way denying that other Christian traditions have great Treasures that should grace any future world church.

The Present Crisis

My purpose in this essay is to identify three Anglican Treasures that might find a transformed place in a postmodern Anglicanism or in a post-Anglican Christianity. My chief purpose is not to describe the present crisis. That was well done in The Windsor Report. The context of reflecting on Treasures in Anglicanism, however, is the present crisis. Some readers may think that speaking of a post- Anglican Christianity is alarmist and overly dramatic. Some Anglicans may simply be uninformed about the reason for all “the fuss” and, if they have “inkling,” may assume that Anglicanism will, as it has in the past, “somehow muddle through.” They may well be right. But such readers should at least read one summary of the historical context of the current crisis.

The threatened de facto or de jure dissolution of the Anglican Communion has occurred because of specific official decisions of the two western Provinces Communion, the chief cause being decisions by the US Episcopal Church. But the present Communion crisis is the third of three relatively recent communal traumas.

In the twentieth century the Anglican Communion already struggled through two crises, both originating in ECUSA. In these crises, hundreds, if not thousands, of Anglicans, both lay and ordained, gave up on Anglicanism. These crises were the decision in the Episcopal Church, then in the Church of England, and subsequently, in other Provinces of the Communion , to ordain women to the priesthood and the episcopacy. Many have left the Anglican Communion over this issue.

A second issue, in the 1960s and 1970s, was revision of the Book of Common Prayer, both in the Church of England and The Episcopal Church in the USA. Some Anglicans, including some Episcopalians, see ECUSA’s 1979 Book of Common Prayer, revising the 1928 BCP, as a destruction of the genius of the classical (i.e., Book of Common Prayer, i.e., the BCP in its 1549, 1552, 1559 editions. None voice this complaint more articulately than spokespersons for the Prayer Book Society of the USA.

However, the issue at the time of this essay, the most recent precipitating issue, is the theological, canonical and liturgical decisions concerning homosexual orientation, same-sex partnerships and same-sex practices..

One of these decisions occurred in August 5, 2003: the election, as Bishop of New Hampshire, a self-professed homosexual man, who, having divorced his wife and left his family home and children, lived with and continues to effusively affirm his sexual partnership with another man.

A second decision was the ECUSA General Convention Resolution (C051) in August 2003, recognizing that local faith communities may develop and use liturgies blessing same-sex unions, thus implicitly approving of sexual partnerships outside of heterosexual marriage.

A third decision goes further back, and may be forgotten even by most Episcopalians. It emerged from the ecclesial trial of Bp. Walter Righter, of the Diocese of Newark, New Jersey. Righter, who was assistant Bishop to Bishop John Spong, now retired, was brought to ecclesiastical trial on the charge of violating church teaching by ordaining a gay man in his diocese. The ecclesial court of the Episcopal Church acquitted Righter of all charges in its majority decision. One of the bases given for that decision was that the Episcopal Church has no core doctrine that applies to the practice of human sexuality. At face value, this declaration means the Episcopal Church has no core doctrine about God’s creation of humankind as male and female, about Christian marriage, about homosexuality. Because (allegedly) the Episcopal Church has no core doctrine that applies to ordaining a practicing homosexual, the majority decision argued that Bishop Righter’s actions could not violate any church teaching. Another implication of the assertion that the Episcopal Church has no core doctrine on marriage and sexuality is that that any Episcopalian can teach whatever he or she wanted about human sexuality and call it “Episcopal teaching,” because the speaker happened to be an Episcopalian.

As a result of these actions, lines of deep alienation have recently developed within many Provinces of the Anglican Communion and among Anglicans within the Provinces. On the one hand, the larger Anglican Communion has distanced itself from the Episcopal Church. On the other hand, many traditionalist Episcopalians feel deeply alienated from the Episcopal Church and even from Anglicanism. And, finally some liberal or progressive Episcopalians wonder whether the Episcopal Church should cut its ties from the “traditionalist” Communion to better affirm and promote justice and love for homosexual persons.

Some specifics

i. Anglican leaders both inside and outside the Episcopal Church correctly charged The Episcopal Church with violating Resolutions about sexuality made at the 1998 Lambeth Conference in Resolution 1.10 and made by the Primates Meeting in Oporto, Portugal, in 2000, that stated the “Communion’s collegial opposition to any change in the universal teaching of the church on matters of sexuality.” Relevant also is Resolution (34) of the Anglican Consultative Council, urging “dioceses and individual not to undertake unilateral actions or adopt policies which would strain our communion with one another.”

ii. The Anglican Consultative Council, one of the four Instruments of Unity in Anglicanism, (with the Lambeth Conference, the Primates Meetings, the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury) at a Nottingham meeting in June, 2005, asked the Episcopal Church members to leave the council and its central finance and standing committees.

iii. Several Provinces of the Anglican Communion, for example, the Diocese of Nigeria, have declared the Episcopal Church persona non grata, and will not recognize it as part of the Anglican Communion. Some of these Provinces in the Anglican Communion have threatened not to come to the next (2008) Lambeth Conference if the Episcopal Church is invited to attend as a member of the Anglican Communion in good standing.

This impaired relation of the Episcopal Church to the larger Anglican Communion has deeply troubled many individual Episcopalians and congregations.

Some Episcopalians will not acknowledge the authority of the ministry of their own bishop and request another bishop to perform confirmations. Other parishes have joined a network of other parishes outside inside and outside their dioceses. These people have not given up on the Episcopal Church as a part of the Anglican Communion. But their relation to their own Province in the Anglican Communion is impaired. Still other Episcopalians perform a kind of internal immigration, reducing their effective interest in and commitment to church matters to their local Episcopal diocese or local Episcopal parish; they spiritually or psychologically ignore the larger Episcopal Church.

Some Episcopalians, both as individuals and as whole congregations, have completely disassociated themselves from the Episcopal Church and aligned themselves with other Anglican Provinces. These Episcopalians have given up on the Episcopal Church as part of the Anglican Communion.

Finally, some Episcopalians have left the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Communion all together and joined one of the other great historical Christian traditions, such as the Roman Catholic Church or one of branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church. They have given up on the Anglican Communion as a part of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church. They are post Anglican Christians.

The Very Rev. Paul Zahl, Dean of Trinity School for Ministry, in Ambridge, PA, expressed the distrust and misgivings about the Anglican Communion that many people feel. In the context of speaking about the lack of a central authority for theology and discipline in Anglicanism, Zahl is quoted as saying, “This whole crisis has revealed a very serious deficiency in the character of Anglicanism…, a constitutional weakness, which this crisis has revealed, which may in fact, prove to be the death of the Anglican project—the death at least informal terms, of Anglican Christianity”.

Finally, we should mention the alienation from the Anglican Communion from the side of the supporters of Gene Robinson’s consecration. Some of his supporters believe that the issue at stake is celebrating and honoring human love as an expression and sharing in God’s love. They hold the following doctrine: where two adults, whatever their sexual orientation, love one another and want express their love physically, God is “sacramentally” present and honored. Besides the imperative to honor and celebrate such love, these members of the Communion also insist that honoring justice is at stake. Society, shaped by traditional Christian condemnation of homosexuality, persecuted and punished homosexual persons, driving them to suicide, excessive drug addition and to promiscuity. This oppression continues. In the name of love and justice, these Anglicans think it may be time for the Episcopal Church to reject its membership in the Anglican Communion.

The authors of the The Windsor Report asked the Episcopal Church to express regret for actions that violated the conscience of other Anglicans. In response, the Episcopal Bishops merely apologized for any unintended pain.

Presently, the Episcopal Church’s House of Bishops has just completed and published, in the pre-2006 PECUSA General Convention “Blue Book”, a new Report. The Report has been described by one Church of England Bishop as ambiguous in some of its key language and subjective in what is being asked for. These evasive responses by the official Episcopal Church to the call of the larger Communion to adhere to former Anglican Resolutions on these issues may, in hindsight, be counted as the willingness of ECUSA leadership to cut their ties with the larger Communion in the name of “justice and love.” This Report may be a document paving the way to a Post-Anglican world. Thus the estrangement from Anglicanism comes from both sides of the current debates about sexuality, from the “traditionalists” and the ‘conservatives.”

The Three Treasures

With this quick sketch of the crisis context of the Communion I turn to identifying three Treasures in Anglicanism worth protecting, promoting and preserving through this crisis for the postmodern Anglicanism or a post-Anglican Christianity. These three Treasures are the dispersed Anglican style of governance, three specific features of the Book of Common Prayer and respect for the traditional Anglican culture of intellectual inquiry and teaching and learning. These Treasures have their roots in the Renaissance-Reformation era in which the Reformed Church of England began was born. All three Treasures share in what Anglicans call “comprehensiveness or being a church of the via media. My thesis in this essay is that these Treasures could transcend their historical origins and in some form serve a postmodern Anglicanism, an Anglicanism standing in critical, dialogical relationship to its past, or might serve a post-Anglican world Church.

I. Treasure One: Dispersed Governing Authority

We begin with church governance, that aspect of Anglicanism subject today to sustained critique from both within and outside the Communion. By “Church governance” I mean Anglican polity, the way the church is organized as an institution to run its regular business, to determine its forms of worship, to make its corporate decisions about ecclesial discipline, Christian doctrine and to relate itself as a church body to other Christian Churches and to the wider world public.

The governing authority of the Anglican Communion has been described as dispersed. The foci of Anglican dispersed authority are the Archbishop of Canterbury as primus inter pares among all Anglican bishops, the Primates of the 37 Anglican Provinces; each bishop in his or her own diocese; diocesan synods, caring on the work of each diocese and meeting annually, and Provincial Synods or General Conventions, meeting, for example, triennially.

As I said in footnote 7, above, precisely the absence or lack of a singe person or group empowered to declare what is Anglican teaching on matters doctrinal and ethical is deemed by many today as the cardinal weakness of Anglican governance. The Communion may not survive this weakness. Yet the dispersed governing authority in Anglicanism is, for other reasons, one of its Treasures. Church governance in Anglicanism holds together the Catholic Order of a three-fold ministry in apostolic succession with the important biblically -based emphasis on the laity as an essential part of the whole people of God.

Anglican polity has its roots in the early church, and perhaps even as far back as the New Testament period. The “orders” of Anglican Churches consist of laypersons, deacons, priests and bishops. The bishops stand in historic succession back to the first Apostles. This allows them to be symbols of and active agents for preserving, promoting and protecting the faith and practice of the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church.

Thus, none of the English Reformers thought they were starting a new Christian Church. They believed they were reforming the One, Holy, Apostolic, and ancient Catholic Church that had been in England since the early Irish missionaries brought it there. Thus, when Pope Leo XIII declared Anglican Orders “absolutely null and void” Anglican bishops responded by defending the validity and integrity of Anglican Orders in a learned and crushing response.

However, Anglican Church government is also Protestant in that real authority is given not just to the ordained, and certainly not to one person at the top of a clerical hierarchy, like the Pope. Authority in the Anglican Communion is dispersed and shared. It is shared between bishops, clergy and lay people when they meet in General Convention or in diocesan synods. It is shared when laypersons are given voice and vote on important committees in the congregation, at the level of the diocese and at the level of the national churches. It is shared by giving authority not only to the bishops gathered at Lambeth every ten years but also to the Anglican Consultative Council and to the heads (The Primates) of each of the 37 Provinces of the Church. In Anglicanism, authority is collegial and shared among the ordained and the laity.

Someone may argue that retaining the office of bishops in apostolic succession is ecumenically divisive and does not serve the modern ecumenical movement. True, some Anglicans, for instance, John Henry Newman, made bishops in apostolic succession the essential mark of the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church, and this mark, he came to believe, could with certainty be found only in the Roman Catholic Church. But one can defend the value of bishops in historic succession as of the bene esse of the church (the well being of the church) without holding that they are of the esse (constituting the essential mark) of the church. It would be a fully Catholic argument to say that the center of Christian identity and a Christian community is to be sought in the rite of Baptism, not in the office of Bishops in historic succession.

The central role of laity in the Church of England shows itself the greater role State involvement plays in its affairs and the ascendancy of lay authority, embodied in the sovereign or Parliament, within the one Christian commonwealth. For the English Reformers, as for Richard Hooker, there was one Christian Commonwealth, divided into clergy and laity. The sovereign was a “sacred lay person.”

The essential place of laity in the church is reflected also in the second Treasure we discuss next, in the The Book of Common Prayer (BCP) . The BCP is printed in the language of the people, whether that is English, Spanish, German, French, Chinese or Japanese or Portuguese. This gives the Laity real power and importance in the church. Very early in the Reformation in England, the English Bible was widely distributed throughout England. Lay people who could read could compare what their priests were saying in the pulpit with what the Bible said. This gave laity real power and place in the church. The Prayer Book puts the prayer life and worship life of the church into the hands of the Laity and not just into the hands of the Ordained. This says, symbolically, that the Laity is just as important as the clergy in the total worship life of the Church.

Why is this dispersed governing authority and sense of membership in worship a Treasure worth keeping in a postmodern Anglican Communion? One reason is the emergence of a new goal of the ecumenical movement. The future of the ecumenical movement is towards unity with variety. The old Roman Catholic ecumenical goal that everyone would join the Roman Catholic Church is passé. So is the Protestant goal that all Christians in the historic catholic traditions should see the errors of their ways and become Lutherans, Calvinists or Baptists. The new ecumenical vision is of one Christian community where historical traditions, such as the English, the German, the African, and eventually, also the Asian, are valued and affirmed. In the new ecumenical vision, these differences and organic traditions are not seem as competitive and mutually exclusive but as complementary, reciprocally completing. The Anglican dispersed governing authority presently holds under one roof both the Catholic tradition of Episcopal, apostolic leadership and an effective role for laypersons in the leadership of the church. This comprehensive, “via media” model of governance could offer the world church an example to emulate.

In addition to a new vision of ecumenical unity, the future world church in a postmodern age must have a governing mode that balances the power of the ordained and the laity. That balance is not automatic and is not easy to achieve, even when it is striven for as an ideal. Difficult as this balance in authority may be to maintain, it will be essential for a postmodern church. Biblically, all the baptized become members of the Body of Christ. For that reason alone, all should participate fully in the governance of the Church. But in a postmodern world that is marked by an aggressive secularism and by the reawakening of mass religious movements in Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism, a clerically dominated church will be dysfunctional. Only lay persons can effectively witness to Christianity, by word and example, both in those aggressively secular societies where the educated classes deconstructs religious institutions along Marxist, Freudian or Nietzschien lines and in those societies of resurgent Buddhism, Islam and Hinduism which will persecute the church as an institution.

China is a good example and a test case for assessing the needed shape of a postmodern church. The Roman Catholic insistence that the Pope must exercise universal and immediate jurisdiction in the Roman Catholic Church has forced Chinese Roman Catholics to make an excruciating decision, resulting in the division of the Chinese Roman Catholics into “patriotic” and “illegal” parts. Chinese Roman Catholics who acknowledge the Pope’s jurisdiction violate the Self-Governance Principle enforced by China’s Communist Party on all religious bodies in China. These “papal-loyal” Roman Catholics stand in violation of Chinese law; therefore, the Chinese government can declare them outlaws, rendering them subject to discrimination, persecution, prosecution, imprisonment, torture and bribery. Those Roman Catholics who choose to accede to the Self-Governing principle, electing their own clergy and determining their own affairs, ipso facto violate the Vatican I dogma of universal, immediate and comprehensive papal jurisdiction. The Vatican sometimes excommunicates bishops elected by this “Patriotic Catholic Church.”

In contrast, the Anglican principle of dispersed authority has allowed a new Anglican Province to be established in Hong Kong, which is now part of China. Because Anglican teaching holds that the Catholic Church consists in the Bishop and his/her diocese, as a unity, Hong Kong Anglicans do not violate the Three-Self Principles of Self-Governance, Self-Propagation and Self-Support. Anglicans in Hong Kong thus remain legal in the eyes of the Chinese government and also know they are part of the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church.

II. Treasure Two: The Book of Common Prayer (BCP)

The Book of Common Prayer is a piece of jewelry with at least three valuable gems. One is the balance between sacramental participation in Christ contained in the Book of Common Prayer’s Baptismal and Eucharistic liturgies and the emphasis on the Church’s standing under the Word of God written and preached. The second gem is the balance between the ancient, ecumenical dogmas of Trinity and Incarnation of the Word and the Reformation emphasis on justification by faith through grace. The third gem is the capacity of the Book of Common Prayer to equip and enable the laity to be active agents, not mere passive receivers, in the Church’s worship.

i. Sacramental Worship and Living Under the Word of God Written and Preached.

On the one hand the ancient Catholic sacraments, especially the Dominical Sacraments of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper, are central in Anglican worship. These liturgies are printed in full in the BCP. Reverence and regard for these Dominical Sacraments, and for the sacramental rites of Confirmation, Ordination, Final Unction, Marriage and Auricular Confession marks Anglican piety as shaped by the Book of Common Prayer. But this reverence for the Sacraments is balanced by an equal dedication to standing ever anew under the Word of God, written and preached. Article XIX of the Articles of Religion defines, in the language of its day, the “visible church of Christ [as] a congregation of faithful men, in which the pure Word of God is preached and the Sacraments duly ministered according to Christ’s ordinance….”

Some Protestant Churches have sidelined the sacraments. Pre-Vatican II Roman Catholicism in practice, if not in theory, reduced the church’s worship to celebrating the Mass, the laity passive, the priest performing the most important part by consecrating the host, achieving an “unbloody sacrifice.” Anglicanism gives central place to Baptism and the Eucharist but also accords an equally central place to reading Scripture and preaching God’s Word witnessed to in the Bible. Further, the Book of Common Prayer embodies the ancient monastic tradition in its Morning and Evening Prayer, which entails serial readings from the whole Bible.

However, Anglican worship is also in other ways Protestant in character. Luther and Calvin, and the English Reformers insisted that worship must be in the language of the people, so that the whole people of God can participate. Further, in the Holy Communion, the people receive both bread and wine, while even now the normal Roman Catholic practice is for lay communicants to receive only the consecrated bread. But the most important Protestant element is that the Sermon is given very important place in Anglican Worship along side the Sacraments.

ii. Trinitarian /Incarnation and Justification by Grace through Faith.

A second gem in the Book of Common Prayer is the balance between classical, orthodox doctrine of the early Church’s Ecumenical Councils and the Reformation’s recovery of Justification by grace through faith.

On the one hand, the Book of Common Prayer teaches through the Creeds, through the Collects, and through the texts of the Baptismal and Eucharistic Rites both the essentials of historic, Catholic doctrine and Protestant correctives to medieval doctrinal distortions regarding God’s gracious reconciling action in Christ. The Catholic essentials are the two great ancient teachings of the Ecumenical Councils, specifically Nicea (325) and Chalcedon (451) These are the dogmas that God is Holy Trinity and that Jesus Christ is both divine and human, one Person in two Natures. These teachings are expressed in the Creeds that the Book of Common Prayer prescribes being confessed at every Holy Communion Service and Baptism. These essential dogmas of the Catholic (universal) Church are also reflected in the Collects and other prayers in the BCP.

On the other hand, our Church is thoroughly Protestant in the central place it gives to justification of the sinner by grace, through faith. Anglicanism appropriated Luther’s teaching that God initiates bringing sinners into right relation to Himself and that the basis for this right relation is and remains Jesus Christ. A right relation between sinful humans and the holy God does not occur because of the good works we must do to cause God to forgive us. Anglican doctrine teaches justification by grace through faith, not by works. This teaching is explicit in the Collects and other prayers, in the Liturgies of Baptism and Eucharist and in the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion.

iii. Enabling Participation of the Whole Body

The Book of Common Prayer is a treasure house for each member of the Church. It is a means whereby each member of the Church , not just the clergy, can participate fully in the whole life of the Anglican Communion and of the larger Catholic Church. This is a third gem in the Treasure of the Prayer Book.

When people unfamiliar with Anglican worship share in it, a common experience they have is sensing they are participants in the worship of this local body of believers. This is largely because of the Book of Common Prayer.

First, the Book of Common Prayer places in the hands of the congregation, and not just of the clergy, the full text of the service of worship, whether that is Morning or Evening Prayer, other of the Daily Offices such as Compline, or the Dominical Sacraments of Baptism and Eucharist.

Second, these texts are, in the respective Provinces of the Anglican Communion, “in the language of the people.” That the Bible and Rites of worship be in the language of the people was an essential issue at the time of the English Reformation.

Third, The Book of Common Prayer is a total package, so to speak. It contains forms for private prayer and public prayer. It contains historic documents for Christian education. It contains the liturgies for the liturgical rites, so that every Christian can read and study these. The, in some cases, ancient Collects draw from the riches of the whole Christian tradition. The Episcopal Church’s present BCP also has educational material, such as the Catechism, the Articles of Religion and the Lambeth Quadrilateral and the texts of the Nicean and Chalcedonian dogmas of Trinity and Incarnatio.

True, some Provinces of the Anglican Communion have, in recent decades, revised their BCP with little regard to the historic shape of the BCP as received from the Church of England. Nevertheless, each of the Provinces has a BCP that has common characteristics. These Prayer Books put all the key services of the church in the hands of the laity. They all encourage and enable private as well as public worship. They are all in the language of the people. They all provide resources for Christian teaching. They all contain historic collects. They all insist on the serial reading of the Bible throughout the Church Seasons. To that extent, the various Anglican Prayer Books have a family resemblance.

The Book of Common Prayer is truly a great Anglican Treasure. Its holding together Catholic and Protestant teaching, balancing sacramental worship with standing under God’s Word, written, and its ability to equip and enable the whole body to share fully in worship could serve a a postmodern Anglicanism. These features could also commend themselves to the world Christian church.

A postmodern Anglicanism and Christianity must include both sacramental worship of Baptism and Eucharist and living under the Word of God, written and preached. On the one hand, only such a balance is true to the witness to the New Testament. That witness teaches about the Last Supper, which Jesus commands his followers to repeat in his memory. That witness also teaches Jesus’ command to proclaim the Gospel to all nations. A one-sidedly sacramental church or a one-sidedly “church of the Word” does not meet the test of the authority of Scripture and, ipso facto disqualifies itself for the church in any period.

But postmodern Christianity must meet the religious requirements of a sound and whole religion. One mark of such a “whole” religion is that it contains the participatory, sharing elements of sacramental worship and the prophetic “distance” of speaking and hearing God’s Word, coming, in judgment and with grace, to the Church from beyond itself by the Holy Spirit, through the Word of God, written. A postmodern Christianity must be a sound, balanced religion, and the features of the Book of Common Prayer discussed above can help a postmodern Christianity to move in that direction.

The emerging postmodern world will, whatever other features it will have, be a highly critical world. As already said, institutional hierarchies will be subject to the critical deconstruction informed by the social sciences of social psychology, comparative anthropology and historiography. The postmodern critique of totalistic worldviews, its hermeneutic of suspicion informed by Freud, Marx and Nietzsche, will not spare the postmodern Church any less than it does political, educational, economic institutional or patterns of gender relationships. Any form of Christianity that, in principle, disqualifies the majority of the Church, i.e., the Laity, from full empowerment in the governance and worship of the church will be subject, and justifiably, to withering postmodern critique. The Book of Common Prayer, as a book of empowerment for laity in the Church’s first task, i.e., the worship of God, offers a healthy example for emerging postmodern Christianity.

III. The Third Treasure: Anglicanism’s Respect for Human Reason and Learning

I have already said that Anglicanism honors theological tradition and biblical teaching in and through the Book of Common Prayer. Here I want to identify a third treasure of Anglicanism: its distinctive style of giving faithful reason a place in teaching and learning and its worthy scholarly tradition. A recent publication from the Episcopal Office of Communication, distributed as a learning tool preparing for the upcoming General Convention, describes the trait I mean as “we ask our questions and listen for the answer in prayer and in the words of others in our communities.” This description could mean that Anglicans use prayer to seek God’s will and use listening to others as sources of insight into what God wills for our lives today. This formulation of the Anglican trait I want to discuss in this section puts more emphasis than I would on opinions, attitudes and practices of my own immediate generation.

Rather, the trait I want to identify as a Treasure of Anglicanism is first, respect for and openness to the verified results of human learning, whether in the human sciences, e.g., history and philosophy, or in the natural sciences. This trait also implies a readiness to consider the insights of reason guided by Scripture and the insights of long human experience as sources for insight into God’s will for Christian understanding and practice today. Finally, the trait I refer to is a culture of teaching and learning at all levels of the Church. I name this respect for Reason and Learning as a third Treasure for a possible postmodern Anglicanism or post-Anglican Church.

Of course, I don’t mean Anglicanism alone respects human learning, scholarly knowledge or an inquiring mind. St. Augustine’s example of faith seeking understanding, made explicit and normative in St. Anselm’s writings, has shaped the whole Christian Church. Indeed, compared to the depth and breadth of Roman Catholic scholarship in doctrine, church history and Scripture, Anglican scholarship, at least today, hardly appears on the scholarly screen. And, Anglicanism has no one, save arguably Richard Hooker, to compare to the magisterial power and influence of Luther or Calvin as theological teachers for their traditions. And, modern Anglicanism has no one comparable to Reformed theologian, Karl Barth, or Roman Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner, in the field of dogmatic theology. The trait I refer to here is not exclusively academic scholarship, although Anglicanism has contributed well in biblical and in historical scholarship, especially in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The Treasure I mean includes the non-authoritarian climate for faithful inquiry into the faith, into the historical critical study of Scripture, into the historical roots of the Church in Patristic times, and a liberal tolerance for attempts to relate the church to the contemporary world. This climate of openness to inquiry, so long as it does not cut itself loose from Scripture and Tradition, is the Treasure I want to name here.

Granted, respecting Reason, along with Scripture and Tradition, is a very fragile Treasure. In western modernity, the danger has been that Christian Reason becomes unhooked from doctrinal tradition and the biblical witness. The consequence is either an irrational, uncritical and illiberal religion, visible in the resurgent religious fundamentalisms we find in major world religions. Or the result of unhooking human reason from doctrinal tradition and Scripture is that Christian teaching and practice is emasculated by aggressive secularism and the secular ideals of the modern world. Then the Christian churches simply echo Enlightenment and Modernist dogmas of meliorist social action, absolute individualism, emancipation from social traditions, expressive individualism, adding only a religious glaze to these secular vessels achievements. A postmodern Anglicanism and Christianity must try to avoid the alternatives of mindless believing or secular domestication of the faith.

I would give the following three reasons why this Anglican Treasure could serve a postmodern Anglicanism or a post-Anglican Church.

i. Using our minds in our Christian lives can be given a biblical and theological basis. It is biblical to teach that God wants us to love and serve Him with our whole mind, heart and strength. God has a rightful claim, as creator and redeemer, over all aspects of our being. Our life includes not just our wills and emotions and our bodies, but also our minds, with all its ways of perceiving, appreciating and appropriating reality. The imaginative beauty of the Revelations of St. John, the rich imagery of the Fourth Gospel, the sustained theological reflection of a St. Paul, model faithful minds freely subject to and enlivened by the Word of God.

ii. Second, the respect given to Reason since the Enlightenment and validated in daily life by the application of modern scientific knowledge in modern technology will continue in the postmodern world. Whatever the shape of postmodernity, it will continue Modernity’s institutionalization of natural science and its technological application. Likewise, the critical application of critical reason, that second aspect of modern rationality, exemplified since the eighteenth century Enlightenment by an Immanuel Kant and continued in such nineteenth century philosophers as Friedrich Nietzsche, and in the twentieth century by a Michael Foucault, will continue in the postmodern world.

Therefore, an intellectually authoritarian Christianity, a Christian style that punishes liberal inquiry and faithful probing of belief, is both unscriptural and needlessly alienates itself from this emerging postmodern world. Likewise, a religion that eschews Reason, equating faith with obedience to Church authority, or appeals only to religious experiences and tumultuous emotions will not be tough enough to survive the withering critiques of postmodern secular reason.

iii. The Postmodern world needs Christian rationality. A feature of Postmodernism is a tendency toward relativity and settling for preliminary understandings. Postmodern philosophers like J. Habermas, E. Levinas, R. Rorty, Georges Foucault, Jean-Francois Lyotard and Jacques Derrida rightfully suspect and try to deconstruct all totalizing points of view. These totalizing worldviews include the secular ideologies of Scientific Humanism, Marxism and Maoism. Given the dehumanizing and destructive fruits of totalizing worldviews, Christians can affirm this suspicion. However, the option for local and limited discourses (Lyotard’s les petites histories) will never satisfy the human heart.

God created us in His image. That image includes the Divine Word, in and through whom we and the cosmos were created.. Therefore, Truth is one and the human heart hungers for that comprehensive, inclusive Truth. Christian faith, being grasped by this Truth, is properly understood, not a totalizing worldview, which closes the Christian believer to the Other. Faith, properly understood, is not a possessing of Truth but a being graced by the reality of Truth. Therefore the form of Christian Truth is love and true faith issues in openness, not hostility, to the Other. But God is One and God’s Truth, in and through which we were created and to which we are called, is One.

Postmodern people can never be satisfied by the self-called modesty of multiple, unrelated discourses. Humans were created by Truth, in Truth, for Truth. Christian faith discovers and confesses that Truth in Jesus Christ. The postmodern world needs this witness. We owe to God a responsibility to witness to the Ultimate truth, who is neither an idea, nor a system, but the One Person, divine and human, Jesus Christ. Christians as witnesses to the Truth who has known them owe to the postmodern world confession that that Truth belongs to the ultimate texture of reality, that Truth has occurred in our world, and that this Truth offers itself ever anew, through the Holy Spirit, to every person.


Probably the strongest rebuttal to this essay is that the very three Treasures I have named are exactly the causes for the crisis of the Communion. Dispersed authority allows each Anglican Province to ignore the religious conscience of fellow Anglicans in the other Provinces. The Book of Common Prayer, as a medium for worship, can mislead Anglicans to thinking that their identity consists only in a way of worship, not also in affirming specific beliefs about God or affirming specific moral norms. And, honoring Reason, and providing a climate of tolerance for intellectual inquiry, opens the window for the Zeitgeist and not just the Holy Spirit to fly into portholes of the Ship. Someone, therefore, could argue that the very Anglican Treasures I commend would certainly mean incoherence and ineffectiveness for a post-Anglican world Church.

My response is two slogans. One is Abusus non tollit usus. The actual or possible abuse of an Anglican Treasure should not require its total rejection or negate its possible continued or future usefulness. The second slogan is “the corruption of the best is the worst.” A feature of all talents and gifts of God is that they can be misused. In the strongest gifts inheres the potential for greatest misuse. Given the truth of these slogans, we can assess the Treasures of our tradition without too quickly dismissing them,. Rather, aware of the fragility of all earthen treasures, let us fight for and commend the best we know as possibilities for God’s postmodern world and Church.

(The Rev.) David Scott, Ph.D.
Murnau, Germany
May, 2006

TOPICS: Mainline Protestant

1 posted on 05/31/2006 7:50:12 PM PDT by sionnsar
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | View Replies]

To: ahadams2; meandog; gogeo; Lord Washbourne; Calabash; axegrinder; AnalogReigns; Uriah_lost; ...
Traditional Anglican ping, continued in memory of its founder Arlin Adams.

FReepmail sionnsar if you want on or off this moderately high-volume ping list (typically 3-9 pings/day).
This list is pinged by sionnsar, Huber and newheart.

Resource for Traditional Anglicans:
More Anglican articles here.

Humor: The Anglican Blue (by Huber)

Speak the truth in love. Eph 4:15

2 posted on 05/31/2006 7:50:55 PM PDT by sionnsar (†† | Iran Azadi | SONY: 5yst3m 0wn3d - it's N0t Y0urs)
[ Post Reply | Private Reply | To 1 | View Replies]

Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.

Free Republic
Browse · Search
Topics · Post Article

FreeRepublic, LLC, PO BOX 9771, FRESNO, CA 93794 is powered by software copyright 2000-2008 John Robinson