Thursday, June 23, 2011

High Church Principles in Contemporary Mission

Those who have been reading this blog for a while have most likely encountered the series, "The Curiuous Case of the Old High Churchmen," which chronicles the life of that strand of churchmanship throughout Anglican history and specifically deals with its decline in conjunction with the Oxford Movement. This post should be read with that series of posts and with the final installment (yet to be posted) for I did not begin to write those articles for solely historical reasons. I have always had in mind a practical application of the historical knowledge I have acquired from reading various books, articles, and online websites which I believe are extremely applicable to contemporary Anglicanism.

I think what post-modern people are looking for is an identity. We are less concerned in our postmodern society with facts and figures that dominated the modern phase. Fundamentalism was a failed Christian response to the challenges of modernism by trying to credit to the Bible a complete factually accurate basis from which a Modern person could trust. In postmodern society and thought, less emphasis is placed on facts and figures but it seems more on identity. The essential quesiton of "Who am I?" plays such a crucial part in shaping one's perpsective, especially now, but not exlcusively as this question marks the journey of human beings which we undertake throughout our lives.

This quest for identity is true in religion too. The Anglican Church has been has had an identity crisis since its confience in its own catholicity was shaken up by the Oxford divines. Real Anglican High Churchmanship holds the answers to our identity crisis. Kelvin Randall includes a pithy statement which differentiates Anglican High Churchmen from Anglo-Catholics, "High Churchmen took as their standard of catholicity the Anglican formularies supported by scripture and antiquity; Tractarians used the appeal to antiquity to correct and supplement the Anglican formularies." Anglican High Churchmanship offers us a genuine faith tradition which is solely the catholic faith as it has been practiced in England and by the English people since its arrival in England in the late 6th century. We must remember that the High Churchmen were those who championed the Establishment and really gave a theology for the Settlement. We can thank the High Churchmen for preserving the Anglican tradition as we have received it today. One can think of the many times throughout English history when we could have lost a valuable treasure due to partisan pressure at any given point but when faithful churchmen resisted the changes, we benefit by keeping treasures such as the Prayer Book and Articles which have been deemed unsatisfactorily reformed by dissenters who do not understand the beauty of our liturgy and doctrine.

How does this relate to 21st century Anglicanism? It may be all well and good that the High Churchmen championed Anglicanism in the 1600's but there has to be a way for it to apply for us today in the United States. I think that the old High Church tenets can offer an alternative to those who have bought into Anglo-Catholic rhetoric and doctrine and bring that line of thought into classical Anglicanism. It also creates a bridge for neo-evangelicals who have abandoned Common Prayer for the latest fad evangelism program.

A modern High Church parish would rest firmly in the Anglican tradition but would be open to expressing itself to modern Christians. For example, the parish would not shy away from modern language versions of common prayer for the sake of maintaining Elizabethan English. Ideally, the parish would offer both for both forms of prayer are valuable and edifying ways to offer worship to God. The High Church parish would not condemn modern music but would ensure its doctrinal orthodoxy before using it in public worship. It would continue using hymns as they have faithfully expressed Christian doctrine for a long time. It would gladly sing Psalms with Anglican chant or through metrical versions. It would have dignified, reverent ceremonial without stinking of Romanism. It would emphasize the preaching of the Word in addition to the godly administration of the Sacraments. It would value catechism and diligently teach the catholic faith to all who attend.

A High Church parish would cherish all aspects of the Anglican tradition and not look to Rome or Geneva for supplements because a High Churchman knows that his church has faithfully maintained the catholic faith to this day. At the same time, he would not confuse "catholic" with "Roman" knowing fully that to be Roman is to cease to be catholic. He would not be infatuated with the Eastern Orthodox churches but would realize they have their own cultural and doctrinal issues which a High Churchman need not worry about.

All in all, the High Church parish loves to be Anglican, cherishes being Anglican, shamelessly so, and desires to share the wealth of this tradition with all its neighbors.