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.