Thursday, July 14, 2011

Two Anglicanisms or the Problem of Anglicanism

A lot of discussion has been circulating about the problems of modern Anglicanism. Everyone seems to have some solution, maybe you recognize some of the discussion. I have come to see the problem in a different light than many other contemporary Anglicans because I do not limit the problem to the liberal Episcopal Church but I see the same issues in our conservative Anglican Church in North America and the Anglican Mission. Some may not agree and may criticize me for my assertation.

The problem with modern Anglicanism is that there is no such thing. There are two Anglicanisms. I am basing my conclusions on an article posted by Phillip Jensen on his blog, "From the Dean." He defines the two Anglicanisms as: Confessional Anglicanism and Sociological Anglicanism. These two systems are not really compatible with each other because they do not agree on the fundamental question... What is Anglicanism? Without an essential agreement on this question, Anglicanism cannot stand and will necessarily fall or be absorbed into something else. One of the other oddities in modern Anglicanism is that these two rivaling systems are often weaved together into the same national body, such as the ACNA.

Jensen defines sociological Anglicanism as, "the religion of the English people and their worldwide descendants... On this understanding, whatever the Church in England does or believes is Anglican. Similarly, the descendents of the English, scattered abroad as a result of Britain's erstwhile Empire, determine what is Anglican by whatever they do or believe. Sociological Anglicanism is about belonging not believing. You belong irrespective of what you believe or what you do." Jensen does not go into much detail but I have been thinking about this distinction between sociological and confessional Anglicanism. When one sees this, it is natural to think, "Oh, that's the Episcopal Church," considering they don't believe much of anything. This is true that often, sociological Anglicanism takes a liberal form. However, there are conservative forms of sociological Anglicans, meaning people who have conservative and generally orthodox views but are nonetheless sociological Anglicans because they depart from the teaching of the Prayer Book and the Articles. I will elaborate further below.

Jensen defines confessional Anglicanism simply as professing the, "beliefs of the Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles of Religion. These include the great creeds of the ancient worldwide church (the Apostles, Nicene and Athanasian Creeds)." Quite simple, isn't it? But there has been at least 150 years of taking the clear meaning of the Articles and making it into something else, first pioneered by John Henry Newman. This is where conservative, sociological Anglicanism shows itself. Anglo-Catholicism, for example, can be very conservative (it can also be extremely liberal), taking conservative viewpoints on the ordination of women and Christian morality but it still departs from Anglican teaching. For example, the Articles clearly condemn purgatory, praying to saints (or with saints or whatever the current catchphrase is), benediction of the Blessed Sacrament, transubstantiation, consubstantiation, relics, the idea of seven sacraments, the Sacrifice of the Mass, and praying for the dead, all beloved practices of Anglo-Catholics and central to their theological system, yet contradictory to Anglican teaching. Likewise, many conservative Evangelicals follow Zwinglian beliefs about the Eucharist and eschew liturgy altogether, this is equally departing from Anglican teaching.

If Anglicanism is to solve its problems it needs to figure out what it is. Either we have to accept what our Church teaches and follow that. The other option is to not follow our church's teaching which would mean that we would be nothing and everything is acceptable belief as seems the policy in modern Anglicanism. Our Church needs to reaffirm its committment to the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and the teaching contained therein if we want to survive as a vital Church for the generations to come.


Anonymous said...

"Likewise, many conservative Evangelicals follow Zwinglian beliefs about the Eucharist and eschew liturgy altogether, this is equally departing from Anglican teaching."

Ironically enough, the Jensen brothers and the Sydney Archdiocese are some of the worst offenders in the world where this is concerned. Most of their churches never use the BCP, or use it only at the early service, and if they robe it is likely to be in a Geneva gown!

The Hackney Hub said...

Exactly! This is something occurs on both sides of the issue. Both Anglo-Catholics and neo-evangelicals can go beyond what our formularies allow.

I do feel I must add that the gown was a regular, Anglican vestment before the Oxford Movement. It can be a dignified vestment if worn rightly.

Anonymous said...

I agree that the gown can be a dignified vestment. I grew up in a (relitivly) high-church Methodist context where it was the norm. But it is symbolic of teaching authority, not sacremental consecration, and should, IMHO, only be used at the Daily Office, not for celebrating the sacrements. More important than Sydney "Anglicans" indifference to vestments is their push to allow laypeople and deacons to preside at the Eucharist, their Zwinglianism, less than weekly Eucharists, and their abandonment of liturgy. I could live with priests in golf shirts if they were using an authorized liturgy.

The Hackney Hub said...

I believe the gown was originally a vestment used for sermons. The surplice was not popular among colonial Anglicans and early Episcopalians, most often substituted for the gown or street clothes. I agree with you about Sydney though, although I doubt they wear gowns! They've abandoned classic, Anglican Evangelicalism, sadly, such a great churchmanship that one rarely finds nowadays.