This post was written in response to reading the following article by Fr. Lucie-Smith for the Catholic Herald: http://www.catholicherald.co.uk/commentandblogs/2011/11/30/why-do-catholics-become-anglicans/. It deals with the subject of why Catholics become Anglicans. After reading this article, I feel that Mr. Lucie-Smith has presented a realistic picture of why many Roman Catholics choose to become Anglicans. The problem with these reasons is that they are poor reasons for choosing any religion, not just Anglicanism, and show the complete lack of knowledge of our rich theological and liturgical heritage as contained in the Articles of Religion and the Book of Common Prayer.
In this post, I will comment briefly on Mr. Lucie-Smith's observations and offer what I think are better reasons that Roman Catholics should join the Anglican Churches.
Firstly, Mr. Lucie-Smith presents his first observation:
"Firstly, marriage, and in recent times, civil partnerships: Because the Anglican church will often bless unions the Catholic Church does not recognise, some people have gone to the vicar for weddings or services of blessing and then stayed with the vicar’s community."
The laxity of discipline in Anglican churches is well-known in the Christian world and many people like to take advantage of it. Historically, the Church of England held very strict standards in marital discipline. Divorce was not allowed in most cases. The only case in which divorce was tolerated in Protestant orthodoxy is in cases of adultery (based off the passage in Matthew's Gospel). Over time, many churches have adopted the "no-fault" divorce policy of American culture, lamentably, the Episcopal Church has done just that, even though the Canons direct that remarriage should not occur unless the previous marriage has been annulled.
His second observation is that,
"Secondly, aesthetic reasons: I know of some who have decided that their pretty village church with its warm-hearted community is the place where they want to be. Many of these people, in my experience, have not been particularly religious. While they may consider themselves parishioners, they would but infrequently go to the Anglican Church."
Even though he intends this as an insult to Anglicans and, while it should not be the only reason for joining the Anglican church, there is a nugget of truth in this statement. The Church of England is the catholic Church of the English people, just as the Protestant Episcopal Church is the national, catholic Church in the United States. It is decent and right and proper that all citizens should be part of their national, Catholic Church and not one that is foreign and centered in Rome. However, one should not be a part of a Church to which they do not adhere creedally. Anglican churches are reformed catholic Churches which teach the Protestant and catholic faith of the early Church.
His third reason is,
"Thirdly, church politics: usually when people have a blazing row with the parish priest over the positioning of the hymn board or some other cutting edge matter, they vamoose to another parish. Sometimes, though I have heard of only one case, they storm off “to join the other lot”, as they put it."
I hardly think that church politics is unique to Anglican-Roman conversions. Practically speaking, this is probably the most common reason given for changing denominations.
"Fourthly, female ordination: some Catholic women have left the Church to join the Anglicans so that they can be ordained. Some lay people may have joined the Anglicans because they support female ordination."
Regrettably, the Anglican Communion has opened the can of worms known as women's ordination. Although we are technically still in "dialogue" about this issue, it seems that the Church at large is going to normalize the ordination of women in the Anglican Communion. While many Romans might be supportive of the ordination of women, they should know that the issue is still not normalized in all of the Churches of the Anglican Communion. For instance, the Church of England still does not ordain women to the episcopate. Some African Churches do not ordain women at all. The Province of the Southern Cone ordains women only to the diaconate. The Protestant Episcopal Church ordains women to all three orders of ministry, unfortunately.
He admits that these are small and insignificant in comparison to the greatest reason of them all,
"The above would all be significant but relatively small groups of people. The single largest phalanx of ex-Catholics, as far as I can gather, as those lukewarm Catholics who have been evangelised by Anglicans and have joined a thriving and lively evangelical congregation. My evidence for this is anecdotal, but my guess is that a place like Holy Trinity Brompton contains a significant number of people who were baptised Catholics, but who have now come to Jesus through the Alpha course."
This seems to be the most emotionally-charged of his claims. He seems to be implying that evangelical Anglicans are "preying" on ignorant Catholics to fill their pews.
Under what circumstances should a Roman Catholic join the Anglican Church?
As we see from the comments made by this gentleman, the Anglican Church has lost credibility among the other denominations, especially Rome. This is entirely our own fault, for we have not upheld our own standards, either of doctrine or of worship. If we were true to our own standards, we would have Morning and Evening Prayer every day, Holy Communion on every Sunday and Holy Day, we would have a rigorous fasting regimen, and a robust reformed catholicism backed by Scripture and the early Church Fathers. Instead, due to generations of theological liberalism and Romanzing tendencies among Anglo-Catholics, we are known for moral and liturgical laxity, doctrinal confusion and even the lack of doctrine entirely, and generally, a mock of Christian denominations. The reasons for this complex but I think, principally, it is the loss of confidence in our own formularies as standard-bearers of catholicity. In order to regain our sense as a tradition, we have to recover our confidence in the catholicity of our formularies.
Regaining this confidence in our own standards logically reveals the only circumstances in which Roman Catholics should be admitted as communicants in our parishes.
First, have they been convinced that, "Holy Scripture containeth all things necessary to salvation" (Article VI)? If not, send them to the library and give them a list of patristic fathers to read in conjunction with the Sacred Writ and the writings of the Reformers. If they are so persuaded after reading the evidence, then they should be admitted to our Church, if not, humbly explain to them that this is the doctrine of our Church.
Second, have they been convinced by the Spirit that "We are accounted righteous before God, only for the merit of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ by Faith, and not for our own works or deservings" (Article XI)? If not, again, provide them with an explanation of the teaching of our Church and if they cannot accept it, humbly admit that they are not ready for communion with our Church.
Third, have they been convinced that, "the Church of Rome hath erred, not only in their living and manner of Ceremonies, but also in matters of Faith" (Article XIX)? If not, explain to them the errors of the Roman Church and if they cannot yet accept the common errors of the Church of Rome, humbly admit that they should consider this decision in constant prayer and come back after consulting the Sacred Scriptures.
Fourth, have they been convinced that, "The Romish Doctrine concerning Purgatory, Pardons, Worshipping and Adoration, as well of Images as of Relics, and also Invocation of Saints, is a fond thing, vainly invented, and grounded upon no warranty of Scripture, but rather repugnant to the Word of God" (Article XXII)? If not, explain to them the error of these superstitions to the corporate body of Christ and to their own soul. If they are still yet unconvinced, commit them to prayer and dedicate your time to explaining the gravity of these errors.
Fifth, have they been convinced that there are two Sacraments of the Gospel and that, "Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say, Confirmation, Penance, Orders, Matrimony, and Extreme Unction, are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel" (Article XXV)? If not, explain to them the nature of the Christian Sacraments and where the Church of Rome "hath erred" in this matter.
Sixth, have they been convinced that, "Transubstantiation (or the change of the substance of Bread and Wine) in the Supper of the Lord, cannot be proved by Holy Writ; but is repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions," and that "The Sacrament of the Lord's Supper was not by Christ's ordinance reserved, carried about, lifted up, or worshipped" (Article XXVIII)?
Seventh, most importantly, have they been convinced that, "The Offering of Christ once made is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction, for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual; and there is none other satisfaction for sin, but that alone. Wherefore the sacrifices of Masses, in the which it was commonly said, that the Priest did offer Christ for the quick and the dead, to have remission of pain or guilt, were blasphemous fables, and dangerous deceits" (Article XXXI)? If they are not yet convinced of this truth of the Gospel, remind them of Christ's, "full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world," which cannot be repeated or added to by human priests. Exhort them to trust in Christ alone for salvation but if they cannot accept this truth of the Gospel, they are not yet ready for communion with our Church.
Eighth, are they convinced that all the clergy may marry freely according to the Articles? Will they cease in using superstitious forms of prayer in public and private?
Only if they can submit to these teachings, should Roman Catholics be admitted to communion with our Church. To admit someone to our Church who, either knowingly or unknowingly, disregards our doctrine, does help either them or the whole body of Christ. If they are admitted to our Church without properly being instructed in our doctrine, what is to stop them from spreading false rumours about our Church? The fault is not theirs but ours, for we cannot blame the ignorant. The Gospel is not served by lowering our expectations to fill the pews.