Post-Anglican Anglicanism: Part II

| September 1, 2012 | 6 Comments More

Post-Anglican Anglicanism: Part II

What do I mean by a “Post-Anglican Anglicanism?” The phrase I’ve coined is deliberately ironic (and even oxymoronic!) I’m employing it to suggest that Anglican identity will be an even more complex and difficult thing in the 21st century than it has been in the past.

In previous blogs, I’ve defined Anglicanism in terms of structural, normative, and stylistic definitions or identities. The question is, “What does contemporary Anglicanism look like in terms of each of these definitions?”

Structurally, Anglicanism has become more confusing and blurry, as is the case with most institutions in the postmodern situation. The Anglican Communion served for much of the 20th century as a convenient way of seeing how Anglican churches relate to one another in a common identity and has been for many (as I discussed in an earlier blog) the most definite and common definition of Anglicanism.

But with the ongoing orthodox Anglican realignment and the rise of GAFCON as an alternative to the decaying Anglican Communion, the structural definition of Anglicanism has become much more difficult and complex. The present situation has provoked the question of whether or not communion with Canterbury is necessary or not to Anglican identity.

There’s more to it. The scramble by many orthodox Anglicans to create new wineskins for new wine has led to the development of overlapping jurisdictions, something that has been frowned upon for the most part in church history. To make matters more confusing, Anglicans are choosing which bishop they serve under based not on geography but on “affinity.” While this might seem a necessary move if the bishop in a certain jurisdiction is heretical, what will develop when this democratic notion is used to select bishops based on churchmanship or other issues? The issue of women’s ordination also contributes to the increasing fragmentation of a structural definition of Anglicanism, a development, we should remember, that’s only 35 years old.

It’s ironic as well that the structural definition of Anglicanism as being those churches in communion with Canterbury has risen to prominence at the very time when structural definitions are most problematic.

The present situation forces Anglicans to ask the question of how shall we govern ourselves and relate to one another without the power of the State to coerce us into such decisions. It’s a question Anglicans haven’t had to ask themselves for a very long time.

It might seem at first, then, that normative definitions will fare much better in such confusing times and will provide some much needed stability. However, the two most important distinctively Anglican formularies – the Prayer Book and the Thirty-nine Articles – are increasingly contested authorities.

And identity is intimately related to authority.

Some Anglicans have rejected the Articles. The 1979 Prayer Book relegates them to the “Historical Documents” where they have been ignored for the most part. And Anglo-Catholics for the most part have a sometimes not so secret hostility towards the Articles. While GAFCON and the ACNA may have the Articles as official theological norms, the reality on the ground may be very different.

As for the Prayer Book, in global terms the traditional Prayer Books are falling into disuse. While the 1662 Prayer Book is still the official formulary for the Church of England, virtually all parishes have effectively replaced it with Common Worship, which allows for such a wide variety of disparate usage that it’s hard to see what aspects of worship are still in common. Many other provinces have replaced the traditional Prayer Books, most notably in TEC. And some other orthodox Anglican churches prefer home-grown liturgies or a smorgasbord of usages from any Prayer Book in existence.

I’m guardedly optimistic about the ACNA producing a sound Prayer Book, but perhaps the larger question there is will anyone use it?

Stylistically, the divergent orthodox Anglicans spiritualities that currently exist stretch the boundaries of a coherent Anglican to the breaking point and beyond. In previous posts I’ve explored ways in which the Evangelical, charismatic, Anglo-Catholic, and Global spiritualities have all challenged the earlier Anglican consensus.

This issue of diversity threatening to undo any coherent identity can be illustrated in the following provocative question: “What does an Anglo-Catholic who is against women’s ordination, hates the Thirty-nine Articles and uses the Missal have in common with an Evangelical who favors women’s ordination, adheres to the Articles, and uses a homegrown liturgy?”

It appears likely, then, that a post-Anglicanism will have the following characteristics:

1. Anglican identity will continue to be contested, without the power of the State to resolve disputes and disagreements.

2. Many will be comfortable being a particular brand of Anglican. For example, being Anglican Evangelical over Evangelical Anglican, or being primarily. This is related to the concept of hybridity – Anglicanism will be mixed with other things.

3. Many people will be cafeteria Anglicans, picking and choosing what aspects of Anglicanism they wish to embrace.

5. Boundaries will be blurred. Many will continue to call themselves Anglican, but it will be increasingly difficult to say why.

6. Anglican churches will have to re-negotiate what being Anglican means and what’s most essential to being an Anglican Christian.

All of this should alarm us and bring us to attention.

But it should also, strangely, encourage us because we will be forced to do theology, practical theology, in which the love of God and the mystery of Christ and His Bride are worked out in our common lives. The truth is that Christian identity, including Anglican identity, has always been constructed. When it becomes too easy to say “I’m an Anglican” or “I’m a Christian” without having to define this and live by it, then the Church becomes impotent.

My study of church history, especially Anglican history has taught me that there is no Golden Age of the Church, and yet every age is the Golden Age.

Perhaps Charles Dickens said it best, when he said: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.” (A Tale of Two Cities)

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  1. Lee Poteet says:

    Charles, unlike yourself I have no faith that the ACNA will manage to produce an orthodox and faithful prayer book. Instead I think they will come up with a prayer book designed to look vaguely Anglican but without any real connection the doctrine, discipline and worship that the traditional prayer books were intended to require. I would be absolutely overjoyed to be proven wrong. The problem is that I don’t seen any of the local ACNA types making the smallest attempt to approach the standards of the historic books. And that is truly distressing.

  2. Gregory R Anderson says:

    Fr Charles, many thanks for these very informative and thought provoking articles. 🙂

  3. Hello Fr. Erlandson,

    While the contemporary scene is murky, you may find Edwin Palmer’s essay on the ‘Destiny of Anglican Churches’ (1931) useful. You may have already read his treatise, but just in case or for the benefit of others:

    He predicts a time when many parts of the Anglican Communion, for lack of a better term, will cease using Anglican standards (foremost the prayer book) yet keep the ethos of a ‘reformed catholicism’ within their respective or emerging national church(es). In this sense, it seems the ‘three streams’ schema may have a greater purpose, especially in the Global South– not necessarily identifiable or enslaved to historic Anglicanism but Reformed and Catholic nonetheless. I think we be open and honest about a possible communion future where we are (or helping to build) a non-Anglican church(es), and say such without disparage.

    The trick seems to be recognizing the ultimate future of the so-called Anglican Communion as a conference of Reformed Catholic bodies, peppered by some classical Anglican presence, hopefully Canterbury, but more likely certain dioceses or Bishops that have a stronger relationship to the historic English character as described by Palmer.

    Another dimension of account is the rapid growth of affinity or non-geographic relationships. This was something Palmer missed, making ‘place’ less relevant.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking series!

    Sincerely, Charles

    • Charles says:

      Good thoughts, Charles. These are issues I discuss in a little more detail in my Ph.D. thesis and ones that, like it or not, we’ll all have to come to grips with. We’re in a different phase of Anglicanism where things are not so clear. I’m trying to see and help others to see both the problems and opportunities in our current situation.

      • Thanks Fr. Erlandson. I think what you said here is very important. It indeed appears we are ‘turning the bend’ as the old colonial churches in Africa, and elsewhere, mature into ‘Reformed Catholic’ provinces of their own accord, no longer tied to English customs or habits. In this respect, I think we’re witnessing the realization of Palmer’s several predictions.

        But Palmer is weak on the plight of former-Englishmen, or ‘ethnic Anglicans’ (as Ian Doublas calls it), scattered abroad, left to their own devices either with the collapse or rejection of empire. Palmer sort of brushes over this, pointing to New Zealand’s strong identification with the CoE. Palmer’s finest equivocation on this point is where he claims, “What is called Anglicanism is the result of this meeting of the English character with Christ’s life offered to it through His Church. It might have been English Christianity, but alas! the Church of England has not succeeded in keeping within itself all the English reactions to Christ’s life as it has been poured out into England. Still, undoubtedly Anglicanism is a Christianity which is typically English”.

        Here, I tend to think other ‘English reactions to Christ’s Life’ might allude to English or British Dissent which, in some ways, was a ‘class reaction’ to the 18th century Hanoverian establishment. Yet Dissent quickly took root and prospered in the States.

        Perhaps Americans are essentially children of England, yet we’ve also taken a life of our own, significantly influenced by a frontier as well as the republican ethic. Nonetheless, a continuity with Britain exists, and historic methodism has much to answer respecting our religious situation. The fact our PECUSA founders believed the 1689 liturgy better suited American circumstances says a lot about our national origins.

        Thankfully, we did not entirely bend this way, but Muhlenberg would re-embrace the question, inspiring the American revision of 1892 and 1928, introducing greater flexibility and brevity by increasing catholic content. This is a very ‘methodist’ solution, btw, and anglo-saxon countries generally began moving in the same direction toward a ‘high and broad’ prayer book. Even England took a jab. But WWII followed and the anti-imperialist movements gained steam, sort of unraveling the project.

        What’s interesting about the 1929 era of revision is it represents a convergence, or swelling standard, from what effectively were republican provincial churches. England itself was attempting to address social upheaval, so the 1928/9 revisions was like a cultural sandbag laid to shore up an endangered anglo-american alliance. In other words, the “methodist republicans” and Anglican establishment were coming half-way.

        So, I think this period of history kind of answers to points raised by Palmer. First, the colonial or ethnic Anglicans would regroup around a early-20th century prayer book revision project. Secondly, this would join two classes previously divided by civil liberties, finally incorporating “all English reactions to Christ’s life”. There is something incredible with the late-19th and early-20th century revision projects, kept in the 1928, and very much part of the national church discussion.

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