Sunday, April 22, 2012

Are Churchmanship Labels Effective?



I've been busy the last few weeks and unable to write here but I do have a thought for you today.

I'm wondering if our churchmanship labels are effective at describing theology and praxis.  If I tell someone I am a "High Churchman" what images does that conjure up in their mind?  I wonder because when I say that to certain people, there tends to be an expectation of what I believe and prefer ceremonially that doesn't line up with my belief or praxis.  To add another layer of complexity to the issue, most of the times "high" and "low" are associated with ceremonial descriptions, at least in the Episcopal Church, while they originate as theological terms.  Essentially, until the latter part of the 19th century, there was no ceremonial diversity in Anglicanism, almost all parishes followed the same guidelines for worship.  In fact, the only diversity that existed was between parish churches and cathedrals (and collegiate chapels).  The designations of "High" and "Low" started out to create a dichtomy between people who had a high regard for the Established Church and those who preferred lattitude in the Church.  Obviously, those terms have evolved much over the centuries.

When I say that I am High Church, I mean that I have a high regard for the visible church in general and the Anglican Church in particular.  The emphasis lies on the visible means of grace and the continuation of ministry in the three-fold ministry of bishop, presbyter, and deacon.  The focus on the visible means of grace follows the historical, Reformational understanding of the Sacraments as means of grace for the Christian, yet denies not that justification is by faith alone.  Neither does an emphasis on the visible church imply that the three-fold ministry is necessary for the existence of the Church.  I hold to Waterland's theory of how baptism and regeneration are related.  I hold to the "dynamic receptionism" of the same, in regards to how the body and blood of Christ are received in Holy Communion.  I prefer a dignified yet ceremonially simple service according to the Usage of the Prayer Book.  This is the position of famous Caroline Divines such as Laud, Taylor, and Cosin, and lesser known figures such as Van Mildert, Hobart, and Hopkins.

I'm not sure that this theology or ceremonial is best summed up with the word "High Church" anymore.  The problem is, I'm not sure what words we can use to describe this type of churchmanship anymore.

6 comments:

epeuthutebetes said...

Protestant high churchman, then?

conciliaranglican said...

The word you're looking for is "Anglican," because frankly, the kind of classical high churchmanship that you're talking about is essentially what Anglicanism is. You're absolutely right, though, that people don't understand these terms that way today. We live in the shadow of the nineteenth century and everything is seen through the lens of Anglican parties and Anglo-Catholic vs. Evangelical, when in fact true Anglicanism is both and neither. I don't mind the high church label too much as my ceremonial preferences are pretty high. I like smells and bells. But underneath all of that lies simply the prayer book and the theology it champions, which is Reformed Catholicism, no less and no more.

The Hackney Hub said...

That's the formula I usually use, epeuthutebetes, "Protestant High Church", that tends to get the point across but it often revolves around a ceremonial understanding of "high church" which I'm not sure is accurate for my ceremonial preferences. Can one be a "low" High Churchman, in today's confusing labels?

The Hackney Hub said...

Good to hear from you, Fr. Jonathon. You're right, historic Anglican church parties weren't that different from each other. It would be interesting to compare someone like Hobart with say Keble and Ryle. It's not that I'm opposed to ceremonial, I just dont' attach any real significance to it, meaning I don't think a service has to have incense and acolytes to be "valid". I fancy the classic "low" style of north end and quire dress but I also enjoy vestments, chants, and incense. For me, it's a matter of good theology.

guyer said...

I think labels are wholly useless. They confuse much and, what is worse, are used anachronistically - and this only adds to the confusion. Because Anglican church parties originated in the mid-late 19th century, use of such labels basically traps us in the time period when those labels were originated. So drop 'em - drop 'em I say! Let's think more creatively and more critically!

The Hackney Hub said...

What would you use in place of the labels we're used to Guyer? Is there a more effective way of describing theological and/or ceremonial outlook than the labels we have? I'm interested in your thoughts!