Why I am still an Anglican

September 15, 2012

The summer academic  term is a memory now, and it is a good one. As a student, I participated in an academic class at the Anglican School of Ministry, “BIB 505: Using Exegetical Tools.” It is a new offering at ASM and one of the most difficult and useful classes I have taken. (I am in the new MMin program.)  It is especially appropriate for an adult learner who does not have biblical languages. Anybody handling the scriptures needs to have a knowledge of several academic topics and the use of concordances, lexicons, dictionaries, and so on.

On the other side of the educational world, I conducted a “continuing ed” level course on “Anglicanism>” It was enlightening and frustrating. It is clear that, since the 1500s (actually since about 30 AD) the church has faced the same issues dressed up in period costumes according to historical context. We are troubled by the failings of ego, status seeking, tunnel vision, inflexibility and the ever dominant pride. Did I leave out greed?  If there is any of that in the Anglican experience, I do not find much of it. Maybe I am wrong. Fallen human nature is a unified collection of moral weaknesses.

It is difficult to speak coherently about American Anglicanism because there seems to be very little common ground. The Book of Common Prayer is, in the first place, more typically a pamphlet of common prayer, or the projection screen of common prayer. This is a far journey from a single unifying book of liturgy and doctrine. The modern freedom of word processing permits “cut and paste” worship, and that means that every parish will have a distinctive expression of faith. That may seem benign, but the underlying problem is that the cutting and pasting is often accomplished by people, sometimes educated and  well-intentioned, who are ill-equipped to appreciate the importance of moving or removing a line or two here or there.

The people in my class do not, for the most part, use a prayer book and wonder if Amazon sells them. Those that have picked up a BCP have the 1979 edition. Now, when I was a baby Anglican, about eleven years ago, I began reading the Daily Office online from used the ’79 and I immediately discovered that I agreed with the politics. It’s there. The politics is subtle but I am such a hard-head that I refuse to be manipulated by political activists, even if I am on the same side on many issues. There were other sites that allowed one to do the DO online, but they were not as good. I bought a copy of the American 1928 and the rest is history.

At this point, I am obliged to add that I do not believe the 1928 American version of the BCP is generally appropriate for public worship.We need theologically solid and liturgically cohesive worship services derived from the traditional sources (American 1892/1928 and COE 1662). The King James language of that biblical translation and the associated prayer book is not intelligible to modern ears. Bishop Fitz Allison and the late Peter Toon made a fair effort with An American Prayer Book. I understand that the REC has a good version and the ACNA is working hard on a new project. I have a paper on this site about that work in progress.

Anglicanism without a Book of Common Prayer is like the NFL without the pigskin, or NHL hockey without fistfights. Even the orthodox end of Anglican faith seems to be uncomfortable with the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion. They ask how modern people are supposed to draw meaning from a 16th century confession and there are those embarrassing passages against Roman Catholicism. Can’t we all get along?

Of course, Christians should be respectful and kind to each other, but there is a difference between respect and acquiescence. The Articles are Protestant. Anglicans oppose the errors of Rome. It is possible to hold that position while, at the same time, appreciating our indebtedness to the Church of Rome for its protection of many important doctrines, including the Doctrine of God. Anglicans still oppose sacrifices of the Mass, transubstantiation, veneration of relics, and the centralization of church authority in a single human being. Anglicans see ritual as part of our journey of spiritual understanding.

The weakened doctrinal and liturgical positions make Anglicanism vulnerable to serious problems. As evidence, I offer as exhibit one The Episcopal Church. They need our prayers more than criticism.

This section of the household of God has a serious problem with authority. Americans instinctive resist authority. It’s that George III thing. I am saying that the office of Bishop is in a terrible state. Although it is nowhere mentioned in the Thirty-Nine Articles, Apostolic Succession is a cornerstone of the Anglican development of Christianity. We are not guaranteed sound doctrine, but the act of passing on church government by the laying on of hands represents continuity with the Apostolic teaching. Bishops – Schori, Spong, Murphy, Duncan, George, Dolan, Ratzinger and all bishops consecrated in apostolic succession – deserve respect because of the high office.

it is probably a vain hope that, as lay people learn to speak more moderately and carefully about bishops, they men in purple will begin to act the part. God’s grace is available, the Holy Spirit is with us, Jesus promises not to leave us as orphans.  The church is the “keeper and witness” of scripture. The church is where we heard the word of God preached and the sacraments rightly administered. This is the Anglican view. It is a grave sin to make trouble in the house of God.

Our behavior should always be the type that makes atheists wonder about the gracious and gentle concern of Jesus’ followers. Anglicans must start taking themselves seriously because we have something to offer this sinful world. Anglicans have a tradition of public bible reading in our liturgy. This shows respect for God’s revelation of himself and his place among us. Our faithful administration of the Dominical Sacraments (Baptism and Holy Communion) shows our faith in his covenant promises. Our preaching has a tradition of clarity and provocation to good works and spiritual growth.

Anglicanism encounters the world and invites people of different cultures and folks who get their hands dirty. This is the soul of evangelical practice. 150 years ago, Anglican preachers armed with the Church of England 1662 Book of Common Prayer converted large areas of Africa and Asia. As you can see, it stuck! Anglican worship allows a wide range of music and cultural expression.We have the tradition, the cerebral understanding of God’s plan of reconciliation and the energy to proclaim the gospel to a culture that has heard about Jesus and rejected his gospel

Anglicanism must take itself seriously.

Anglicanism must renew its devotion to the Book of Common Prayer, not as an idol of Elizabethan prose, but a tool of evangelical zeal and church unity. It is something that keeps the church on the same page, connects us with Christians around the world and the communion of saints. The BCP instructs us with right belief and guides us to develop a life that is more in touch with God and his inspired word.

Anglicanism must do the work of incorporating the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion as a living source of correct belief and practice. Jesus never called us to merely come along, but to be “disciples.” Jesus demands that we learn and teach others (Matt 28:19-20). We must learn them and learn from them because the Articles are not only the center of traditional  Anglican understanding but the standard by which clergy, leaders and teachers are held accountable.

Anglicans must respect and pray for their bishops, and all bishops in apostolic succession. If we cannot engage them, we can let them know we are watching. This involves having an interest in the local parish, and it has positive and negative aspects. There should be a determined reaching out to people who are different from us. That means different races, young people, poor people, suffering people, and people who hate religion. This means getting out of the comfort zone. The negative element falls in the area of accountability. Hold leadership and clergy to the standards of the Articles and the Prayer Book. This ought to be the natural consequence of learning and teaching the Christian faith.

Anglicans must develop strong personal prayer lives that include Morning and Evening Prayer based on the one-year lectionaries of the traditional prayer books. I use the 1945 readings from the 1928. No, it is not perfect and I have expanded the readings  Do something. Start prayerfully reading scripture at least once a day. Pray for your church, your minister, and your bishop

I am still an Anglican because there is a tradition of lay people proclaiming the gospel. C. S. Lewis did fairly good job and it I am one-ten-thousandth as good, the kingdom will have been advanced. The Anglican house is big enough to welcome all and should be strong enough to keep out heresy. The world needs our modern expression the faith and practice of the reformed and catholic church of England.


One Response to “Why I am still an Anglican”

  1. Patt Says:

    I have modern ears and the 1928 Book of Common Prayer worked fine for me and my kids! 🙂 I think it would be nice if Anglican Churches would do the early/traditional service with the 1928 and then more modern one with the 1979 and just let the congregation choose which they like best.

    I enjoyed this and I agree we need to be in prayer for those in leadership and for the Anglican Church across the spectrum.

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