Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Why I am Anglican - Part Two


About a month ago or so, I had the pleasure of being in the historic church of the The Falls Church to hear a discussion by Archbishop Robert Duncan, Primate of the Anglican Church in North America (ACANA). During this discussion, the Archbishop described Anglicanism as an “adequate” expression of Christianity. Without disrespect towards his grace, I disagree with this as he seemed to almost be apologizing. No, Anglicanism is a majestic and powerful expression of historic Christianity. I’d be both arrogant and foolish to say that it is the only legitimate expression; its one of several. Where the Archbishop seemed to give Anglicanism a C+ - B-, I would grant the expression a rock-solid A. Frankly, I don't see an A+ expression until the bride is joined to her bridegroom, and we’re perfected in the image of the Almighty.

I my first essay, I discussed the the journey to my Anglican identity. Between that fateful Easter Sunday in 2005 and today, much has occurred. There was the resignation and surrender of my ministerial license with the Church of God. There was a long and protracted period of discernment and formation. And finally, there was the ordination to the office of vocational Deacon in November 2009. Suffice to say, this was a slow and deliberate process that wasn’t entered into without counting the cost and considering the vows of an Anglican cleric. Today, in Easter week 2010, four reasons for my being Anglican are Leading, History, Historicity, and continuity.

I place “Leading” at the top of the list for two very important reasons, First, I’m absolutely convinced that the hand of the Almighty was very present on the path from point a to point b. Though there were no burning bushes or talking donkeys, there multiple providential events that given careful thought, reveal Divine fingerprints. Too, there was the watershed when the celebrating priest broke the bread at the Fraction. I was filled with an overwhelming presence of the Holy Spirit; my eyes welled with tears and my heart cried “I’m home”. Despite the fact that the Episcopal church was listing to the left and taking on water, there was a clear sense of being at the center of God’s will.

This faith is a historic faith, with her roots sinking deeply into the post-apostolic era when the Gospel was carried to the British Isles by faithful missionaries. She gave birth to Celtic Christianity and thrived for centuries until being eclipsed and absorbed my the Roman expression of Christianity. Even so, Anglo-Christians seemed to flow along different lines than their continental and eastern cousins. It was within the Anglo-Christian expression where the Spirit moved on proto-reformers like Wycliffe and Tyndale.

My Roman brothers will contend that Anglicanism is rotted from its roots. They may contend that a lecherous murdering despot attended the birth of Anglicanism. True enough, that gout-ridden old goat was present but I contend that Anglicanism was born not because of Henry VIII, but in spite of him.

Again, providence was in play. While Mr. Tudor was playing the bad actor, the Holy One moved upon faithful men the likes of Doctors Cramner, Lattimer, and Ridley. Like their Reformation brothers on the Continent, they sought not to scuttle the faith, but to see it reformed of error and returned to a state of Biblical and Christian orthodoxy. Tides would ebb and flow. There would be a bitter blowback following the aborted reign of Lady Jane Grey and the ascent of the reactionary Mary of Tudor. Ultimately, the matter was settled in the reign of Elizabeth I. To this day, Anglicanism is expressed in three interwoven streams, these being Catholic, Reformed, and Charismatic.

The catholic stream sees Anglicanism as part of the universal church of Christ Jesus, in unbroken continuity with the apostolic church, and later medieval church. This is expressed through its subscription to the historic councils and creeds of the church, those being the Apostles’, Nicene, and Athanasian Creeds. The reformed stream has been shaped by the theology of the sixteenth century protestant reformation. This stream is probably best expressed in the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion. Its charismatic stream recognizes that without the leading, guiding hand of the Holy Spirit, its would be both completely ineffectual and powerless as a witness in the world.

So much of this flies in the face of American evangelicalism and pentecostalism, which finds its roots in Anabaptist thought and theology. Unlike the reformed or Anglican fathers, the Anabaptist fathers sought a complete break with the church. These seemed to think that the “
gates of hell” had stood against the church, and the whole institution needed to be scrapped. In the contemporary, we see those who would try to reinvent the way they “do church”. There were even those in my former circles who seemed to convey the idea that the church lay dormant between the close of the Apostolic age, and the pentecostal revival in the 1880’s.

I believe that in this line of thought, much of American evangelicalism has unwittingly robbed itself of many blessings and unknowingly separated itself from historic, orthodox moorings.


jmw said...

I don't think criticism of Henry VIII holds water anyway as the church was re-founded [if you will] by Elisabeth.

Andy said...

JW, I think you're correct. I do wish that Lady Jane could have ascended the throne and left her mark on Anglicanism. Funny, but to my history Prof's consternation, I would refer to her as "Queen Jane".