A Surprising Threat to Anglicanism

Bishop Paul Barnett

Bishop Paul Barnett gave a lecture at Ridley College in 2013 entitled Remember to Survive: The Strengths of Historic Anglicanismand he talks about the threats to Classical Anglicanism. It is definitely worth the read…but what may surprise some readers is that what or rather whom he identifies as being the threat to Classical Anglicanism.

In his article +Barnett states that Anglican evangelicals  have an important role to play in Australian Christianity.

In particular, they can provide a theological and ecclesiastical stability that will buttress and support Christianity in our nation. An important part of that stability would be a hoped for commitment to received practices like Bible reading and Bible- based preaching, (contemporary) liturgy, creeds, use of church Calendar and the Collects and – not least – willingness to apply constructive church discipline.

Yet +Barnett identifies (what I have observed within some Evangelical Anglican circles) –  Evangelical Anglicans being uncomfortable, unfamiliar or even suspicious of traditional Anglican elements, so much so that the use of them is seen as a distraction from the main goal, which is of course is to make disciples and build up the disciples that we already have. They have also placed emphasis on preaching above everything else in the service so that everything else is mere preliminaries. And as a result “often pay scant attention to liturgy, sacraments, the church calendar or the ‘form’ of the meeting of the saints”.

+Barnett notes the ‘unwelcome consequences’:

One is the ‘cult of the preacher’ with the equivalent devaluing of the congregation, the ‘church of God’; also with it a kind of iconoclasm and cultural philistinism. Another is that the emphasis on the existential, the ‘now’ that can leave a weak sense of our past (‘where we have come from’) or our future (‘where we are going’)… Evangelical emphasis on the ‘now’ might mean an impact ‘today’ but might mean little or none for ‘tomorrow’. Good liturgy requires systematic Bible reading, a reminder of our need for divine forgiveness, the sharing of creeds that reinforce what we believe, the observation of a calendar to remind us of great doctrines of the faith. They are useful vehicles and in the long term better than no vehicles.

+Barnett writes very helpfully about the Apostle Paul’s healthy balance of liturgy and the use of spiritual gifts; the importance of the Book of Common Prayer (though he acknowledged that the original BCP liturgies were rather long-winded and over-due for shortening or modernising). But what stood out to me was Barnett’s observation that perhaps most younger Anglicans had had little or no exposure to classical Anglicanism,

The situation today is that many evangelicals would regard even a modern Prayer Book Service as “high church” rather than what it truly is, simply Anglican.

Evangelical Anglicans are often ‘victims of their own success’. Their skills in Bible Teaching and the orthodoxy of their churches have attracted the membership of many from other denominations where the Bible has been set aside. Through lack of understanding of ‘Anglican’ elements (notably liturgy) these new members have often influenced the de-anglicanizing of our churches. Many rectors have not resisted these pressures. Furthermore, the impact of modern ‘songs’ and the use of technology (e.g., Power Point) have put pressure on more traditional employment of liturgy. But Anglicanism and technology can join in a happy marriage given the good will to do so. If Classical Anglicanism is to service, its values must be instilled at Seminary. Here we face the challenge that many who study theology are not heading for ordination, indeed many are not Anglican. While this [theological study] is a matter for rejoicing, it also presents a challenge. Chapel services are often weakly Anglican and Anglican doctrine and practice do not feature in the syllabus. Inevitably, therefore, those seminary graduates who enter ordained ministry do so with little understanding of the BCP and its treasures. It’s not so much that they are ‘anti’ as uninformed.

From my experience +Barnett is right and he is wrong. I think he is right on what he is saying, but wrong on the timing. It is not a situation that is happening today, as if it has only just started. It started when us Gen-Xers were teenagers. It happened back in 1998  my wife and I left Sydney (and a great Anglican Church in Sydney) and went to an Anglican Church in the upper Blue Mountains and to my shame I ignorantly wrote the church off as “obviously being High Church” when in reality the service was the normal standard Holy Communion Service from the 1978 An Australian Anglican Prayer Book. The church was not ‘high church’ at all yet we decided that it was simply because the Prayer book was being used.

+Barnett said that many “non-conforming” clergy were not conscientiously able to fall in line with the Book of Common Prayer when it was revised in 1662 and about a thousand were forced out of the Church of England. They were to be honoured for their integrity. He states:

Unfortunately some ministers today make oaths to comply with doctrines and liturgies that they either don’t intend to keep or which they fail to keep. Where is the integrity in that? 1662 gave us a three-legged stool – the Book of Common Prayer, the Ordinal and the Thirty Nine Articles of Religion.

Post-modernism puts emphasis on the individual and evangelicals tend to be robust individuals. Many depart from the principle of commonality and uniformity and design their own services away from the BCP. There is one Bible reading (or even none), there is no creed (or just occasionally); there is no calendar and no collects.

For them preaching, the preacher is the all-important thing. The loss of liturgy means that the voice of the congregation is substantially silenced, leaving only a single voice of the leader or preacher. For many, the preacher has replaced the liturgy as the defender of true doctrine. This is not the spirit of classical Anglicanism.

The  the Very Rev. Dr. Justyn Terry
Dean/President Emeritus Emeritus Professor of Systematic Theology puts it this way:

What excites me about Anglicanism, and what I have come to see all the more clearly with the benefit of further study, is that it offers the historical anchoring that many evangelicals seek. It allows us to root our convictions in the riches of the tradition of Christian thought and prayer that faithful followers of Jesus Christ have passed down to us. We can discover an ancestry that goes back two thousand years – right back to the teaching of Jesus himself, with great theologians, liturgists and saints whose writings can help us to be the disciples that Jesus calls us to be. It also makes us more clearly part of the one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.

These are some of the reasons why I am an Anglican and seek to promote evangelicalism amongst Anglicans and Anglicanism amongst evangelicals. This blend of biblical authority and evangelistic fervour makes for a powerful Christian witness and nutritious soil for growing disciples.

 Amen to that brother, and it is my hope and prayer that more Gen X clergy will be see how wonderful our Anglican distinctives are, and will use reveal them boldly and model this to up and coming Millennial Clergy.



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