Traditional Anglicanism is not grumpy or irrelevant

June 18, 2012

I attended a little meeting the other day at which the matter of traditional Anglicanism was brought up. How can we hang on to our traditions when so many have faded into history. Despite a moment of uneasiness, it was still a good question.

To begin at the ending, traditional Anglicanism can be properly described as the faith and practice of the reformed and catholic Church of England. Anglicans of the traditional mindset have a high view of the church and sacraments and seek guidance from the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion and 1662 Book of Common Prayer. Now, some of my friends just jumped up and shouted, “what about scripture.” The authority of scripture is wrapped up in the Articles. We believe the Bible without worshiping it.

In the course of the conversation, somebody observed that, perhaps, some of our traditions were no longer effective, and I am certainly open to the argument. We should not become slaves of a faint memory of a foggy and never-was past. It was furthermore noted that there were probably some people who disapproved of the 1928 American Book of Common Prayer when it was first published. One supposes that this proves the silliness of sentimental old fogies who cannot let go.

People with a healthy sense of tradition keep an open mind and live in the “real world.” Back in 1928 there were some folks who were awfully upset at the new edition. For one thing, for the first time in an Anglican prayer book, the idea of prayers for the dead was introduced. This speaks directly against the Articles of Religion position on Purgatory. By the way, we are against the doctrine of Purgatory. The Baptism ceremony removed Luther’s “flood prayer,” and the essential theological¬† connection of Old and New Testament. Revisers in 1979 have, to their credit, attempted to restore this serious omission. The word “militant” was removed from the Prayer for all of Christ’s Church. The Ten Commandments were relegated to occasional usage in the Lord’s Supper. The Prayer of Humble Access in the Lord’s Supper was moved to after the Eucharistic Prayer, that is, after the words of consecration said over the bread and wine. This was done under Anglo-Catholic influence in order to compel faithful Protestants to kneel before the bread and wine, something that is suggestive of the erroneous doctrine of transubstantiation. Again, something that is denied in the Articles as, “repugnant to the plain words of Scripture, overthroweth the nature of a Sacrament, and hath given occasion to many superstitions” (Article XXVIII).

Now that sounded a bit grumpy.

If the Articles of Religion are discomforting and politically incorrect, then so is this truth. There were plenty of good reasons to oppose the innovative 1928 BCP, but many supposedly traditionalist Anglicans cling to it as if the first volume was personally handed down from the cross by Jesus. This kind of blind acceptance of previous practices is akin to ancestor worship and speaks to a childish and shallow spirituality. Those are strong words from a fan of the late Peter Toon. Still, too many Anglicans have too much affection for a happier time when all was well in the Episcopal Church. The only problem with such a narrow view is that Bishop Pike was fresh out of seminary and the “progressives” were already gaining firm control while so-called traditionalists were getting high on incense.

Traditional Anglicanism has been an enormous force for social change (though that is by no means a first-order mission for the church), and carried the gospel to tens of millions around the world. Traditional Anglicanism, the largely Protestant 1662 Prayer Book variety, is not afraid to get its hands dirty in some developing country. It trusts the Holy Spirit and looks forward more than back.

The liturgical aspect of traditional Anglicanism is, however, taking a beating. One reason is the wholesale departure from the “faith once delivered” by so many who call themselves Anglicans. The law of prayer is the law of belief (Lex orandi, lex credendi). The traditional prayer books (pre 1979) present a more cohesive and consistent theology. The problem is that very many smart people who have charge of souls seem to have forgotten that the BCP is not a mere collection of rites for church services, but a spiritual way of life.

Despite their faults, the older prayer books are simpler and easier to follow. You can get help in praying for the country, for a healing, for those near death, and for families suffering loss. Our Christian faith is molded in a life of prayer, we would be so much more blessed if we only knew how to use this valuable too. Please get this straight, I like the 1928 BCP, but I would never suggest it for usage in any modern congregation. One could readily endorse a modern language version of the older versions, fixing the plainly anachronistic language but keeping the general structure of sentences and services.

Traditional Anglicans need to discover their voice and speak up against the constant Romanizing influences and the Mass vestments, genuflections, bowing, communion tables that look like sacrificial altars, and the Angus Dei. There is nothing wrong with any of these kinds of items taken by themselves, There is not just one proper way to worship the Living God. The problem is the ceaseless trajectory to Rome. This deprives us of our Protestant quality and proper catholicity.

Traditional Anglican loves Holy Scripture and makes a special place for it in liturgy. We have an interest in society and a love for fallen humanity. We believe in the gospel and trust the Holy Spirit. This is but one expression of Christian belief, one room in the Household of God. There is a value in Anglican tradition and the world needs our many God-given gifts.

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