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WHAT IS ANGLICANISM ANYWAY?

I realize that an attempt to define who and what we are as an Anglican/Episcopal Church is a difficult and perhaps a foolish task. I’m up very early in the morning, one of the side effects of chemo, don’t want to wake Pat with tea yet, and so here goes. I hope what I propose inspires thought and perhaps debate and response. (my email address is anthony.clavier@gmail.com).

1. We believe ourselves to be the Church, the One Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church, locally expressed, territorially based and community-committed. Attempts to express such an ideal by “branch theories” in fact lessen the impact of such a belief. Anglicanism is not a flavor of Christianity, not a distinct form of Christianity, not a denomination and not a sect. Of course Anglicanism has features which while not unique may seem so to be. Anglicanism has its own family likeness, history and tradition, largely shaped by the territory in which it finds itself in mission. The claim to be the Church in microcosm, in place, is one of mission intent and not in anyway a reflection on other Christian churches, or an attempt to upgrade ourselves at their expense. As they share in baptism and many other aspects, or all the aspects we enjoy of Christianity, they are partners in missions and not rivals.

2. It follows that we do not own our ecclesial reality, we claim no specific, unique doctrines of our own and we do not own the sacraments including ordination. Neither our claims to be the Church, our formularies (doctrine, discipline and worship), nor our sacramental rites and ceremonies are self-generated: we didn’t invent them. Historical events including moments of local creation – when and how was TEC founded, when was the diocese founded, when was the parish founded – are legitimate examples of how the Church in its local expression organizes itself for mission. They are not acts of creation. It follows that an Anglican Province at all its levels exists for all people in community, however community may be expressed from time to time. Anglicanism rejects the sectarian ideal that churches are for like-minded “saints”who agree about each others’ virtue, or election, or enlightenment, or on an agenda other than the Catholic Faith as described in the Liturgy and other documents, and in the living voice of scripture, the living experience of the Tradition and the living application of sanctified reason.

3. It follows that the mission of the Church and of an Anglican Province is to the world and to all people everywhere. The gracious offering of the Gospel, the Great Commission in the context of the Great Commandment is of Dominical authority and is to the whole world, to whole people in whole places. It brings down the mighty and exalts the humble and meek. It confronts worldly power with servant power. It rejects the usurped authority of any Imperial force – for Jesus is Lord – and holds the powers that be in their role as ministers of God. The Church exposes as frauds those who claim ownership of the earth and its resources, who exploit human labor, or who refuse to feed the poor, the starving, to heal those with diseases or who use military might to impose their will except in very limited and precise circumstances.

Yet the Great Commission cannot merely be expressed in such terms. It depends not on programs or policies, however virtuous, but fundamentally in the Good News in Jesus the Lord, in whom, and through whom and with whom lies the grace to transform individuals, groups and finally, in the fullness of time brings all into that servant subjection under the servant Emperor, Jesus when the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our Lord Christ.

4. The corporate life of the Church and our church is anchored to the Christian Year, in the Calendar and in the lectionary and not to idiosyncratic choices of lessons, occasions or festivals. This round of seasons, feasts and fasts, collects and lessons enables us to participate in the life and mission of Jesus and in the lives of good and holy women and men who have been lights in their several generations.

5. The liturgy, all corporate worship, and particularly the Eucharist authenticates the church, feeds the church, challenges the church and energizes the church. It reminds us that the church is always corporate, that its activities are always corporate and that its faith is always corporate. The church does not exist to promote individual religion or individual variations of belief. It tests such belief at the bar of the corporate life and mind of the Church. Liturgy is doctrine and mission in action. Liturgy is a participation in the reality of the Church’s eternal unity, in itself, in Christ, through the Holy Spirit towards and from the Father in the unity of the Trinity.

6. The authority of the Church and any Province of the Church lies in its communion with the Trinity. Through inspiration of God – nothing to do with the modern heresy of fundamentalism – the Scriptures occupy a unique position as the voice of the Word of God and as tests of what we believe.

The experience of the Church through history -God is a God of history and in history -is termed the Tradition and is located in the writings of Divines, sermons, hymns, poetry, liturgy, ceremony, church history, spirituality, the deeds of the saints and the lives of ordinary women and men. Tradition is not something past, static and dead, but something which continues and will continue until Kingdom Come.

In creating human beings God inspired us with minds to apprehend the wonders of God’s purposes and creation. As Jesus is the fount of all truth, whether religious or “secular”, human reason takes account of and participates in the discovery of all truth whether sacred or secular, scientific, philosophical or by what ever label a discipline is defined. The prerequisite for the use of reason in matters of faith is humility before God and an actively sanctified mind. This does not mean a closed or narrow mind or one incapable of changing.

7. Anglicanism’s ordained ministry, incorporated by a succesion of minister and faith into the Apostolic College is learned and pastoral. It clergy have usually been general practitioners! Their studies have been lined with books old and new, sacred and secular. Their learning more often begins in and is produced to the world from study than from university or seminary. The ordained are trained to be parish priests devoted to communities, to the application of the Gospel to the lives of women and men in places and communities. The best prophetic priests or bishops have been noted pastors, whose zeal has been created by hands on encounters with injustice or irreligion and the consequences of evil.

8. Anglicanism has always recognized and elevated the ministry of the laity, founded in baptism, as its list of saints and holy people attests. One thinks of Isaak Walton, Sir Thomas Browne, William Wilberforce, Florence Nightingale, Dorothy Sayers, TS Eliot, CS Lewis to name a few. We can all add contemporary examples of servant-empowered men and women from different ethnic and social backgrounds from within our church.

9. The mission of Anglicanism to be inclusive, to be the Church, locally expressed, for everyone who will avail themselves of her ministry is limiting for those who seek single-issue communities, “prophetic communities”, or levels of right-thinking, moral righteousness, political correctness, enlightenment or orthodoxy beyond the capabilities of most humans or the embrace of a people whose backgrounds, origins, race, gender, “class”, political opinions are as diverse as the communities the church serves. Anglicanism rejects judgmentalism, the division of the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the weeds, the pure from the impure, the right-thinking from the bigot. It made a stand for inclusion in the 16th. Century and in so doing was obedient to the commandments of Jesus.

To some, perhaps many, this vision m
ay seem quaintly Victorian. Indeed it is a softer version of the faith of Hobartian High Church people and Chase’s church evangelicalism. At the turn of the last century PECUSA began to slide into a very low, nationalistic, structural vision of the church, later accompanied ironically by a growing ensemble of elaborate rites and ceremonies. Perhaps, as one who embraces a high and universal theology of the church, I may have the temerity to offer this not quite extinct vision of Anglicanism for debate and comment?

3 Responses

  1. Since you tried the other path (gathering with like-minded types) I particularly respect your journey to this place.

  2. Fr. Clavier,
    As a kibbitzer on the HOB/D list I just want to say thank you. I pray that the list would seriously discuss this journey (as ann put it)
    Michael

  3. I am very interested in Anglicanism, however, I was wondering if this ministry incorporates all races?

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