An Anglican Dilemma

 

I encountered a blog post, from a Scottish Anglican who was struggling with a dilemma. They had to make the choice of choosing between:

  1. An Anglican Church that is liturgically Anglican, but is devoid of orthodox, biblical teaching that is line with the Anglican formularies, Creeds and with the Reformation doctrines embedded within.
  1. An Anglican Church that has orthodox, biblical teaching that is line with the Anglican formularies, Creeds and Reformation doctrines embedded within but is devoid of Anglican liturgy.

 Sadly the individual could not find an Anglican church that is liturgically Anglican where the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is preached faithfully, where orthodox doctrine is clearly and unashamedly expounded. The author writes:

What this means is that I have to make a choice. Worship in a way that I think brings great glory to God and where I am at my most natural in my response to His unchanging glory, or hear sermons where the Gospel is preached and orthodox doctrine clearly and unashamedly espoused and expounded.

 So for the author the only way to solve this dilemma was to resort to the third option.

  1. Become a member of the Presbyterian Church.

Again he writes:

It is easier for me to worship with non-Anglicans than Anglicans who don’t act Anglican. I use the BCP in my own private worship and sometimes turn up at Anglican churches for weekday services as well as my local Orthodox Church.

He writes of another evangelical Anglican, raised low-church evangelical, who faces the same dilemma but has gone to a liberal Anglo-catholic church but is thinking of going Baptist due to the lack of faithful teaching. He draws the conclusion:

What we two represent are the result of the tough choice that the liturgically-minded evangelical must face.

After reading this I thought to myself, “Why is there the dichotomy between Anglican liturgy and faithful Biblical preaching and teaching? Why does there exist this Anglican Dilemma?

After he retired as Bishop of the Diocese of Armidale, Australia, the Rt Rev Peter Brain spoke to a group of Evangelical Anglicans in the diocese of Perth[1], noted that people are desiring to be part of liturgical churches, yet here in Australia, Evangelical Anglican churches are being the very thing that young Christians in the UK and the USA are trying to move away from. He said:

The evidence from the UK & the USA is showing that people aged 25-40 year old age group are leaving Evangelical/charismatic/independant/non liturgical churches for liturgical churches and this is due to ‘the IKEA model[2]’) – our services have become very flat liturgically… There is an irony in that the only Anglican churches where you don’t have four Bible reading are Evangelical churches. And this is a challenge. There is pressure when there are independent non-liturgical churches nearby and don’t have liturgy so we feel we have to copy them, but people are looking for something more.

His observations echo an article I read recently entitled Young Evangelicals Are Getting High[3], where the author writes:

The world can give them hotter jeans, better coffee, bands, speakers, and book clubs than a congregation can. What it can’t give them is theology; membership in a group that transcends time, place and race; a historic rootedness; something greater than themselves; ordained men who will be spiritual leaders and not merely listeners and buddies and story-tellers. What the kids leaving generic evangelicalism seem to want is something the world can never give them–a holy Father who demands reverence, a Saviour who requires careful worship, and a Spirit who must be obeyed. They are looking for true, deep, intellectually robust spirituality in their parents’ churches and not finding it.

Retired Australian Anglican Bishop Paul Barnett lamented that the biggest threat to Evangelical Anglicanism was not liberals, but Evangelicals themselves. He writes:

The situation today is that many evangelicals today 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-anglicanising of our churches.  Many rectors have not resisted these pressures. [4]

 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-X-ers were teenagers. For example 1998 in my twenties, my wife and I left Sydney (and a great Anglican Church) and went to an Anglican Church in the upper Blue Mountains and to my shame I ignorantly wrote the church off as “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’, yet we decided that it was both because they simply used the Prayer Book[5].

Why is this dichotomy so prevalent? Is it possible that one of the main contributing factors is that Evangelical Anglicans may be experiencing a lack of Anglican Identity? In their opposition to Anglo-catholicism (though not so much today in Australia) and in particular liberal Anglo-catholicism, the extremely rapid rise in secularism within Australian culture, combined with the desire to be culturally relevant, is it possible that some Anglican evangelicals have sadly thrown the Anglican baby out with the liberal bath water? Could this explain why there are Evangelical Anglican Churches that are theologically Anglican, but in terms of forms consist of a bland generic evangelicalism? Could this be the reason why the Book of Common Prayer is not used, read, seen, or even heard of? Could this be the reason why younger Anglicans have not even heard of Cranmer and don’t even care?

Of course doctrine is more important, substance matters more than the form, and to put form before substance is to give the Anglican denomination the throne of which Christ is seated. However form still matters. If Bishops Brain and Barnett are right, if clergy are not resisting the pressures to deviate from Anglican distinctives, if Evangelical Clergy see themselves as Christians first and being Anglican a very poor and distant second, who view Anglican distinctives as something to apologise for, tolerate or even reject, then this will be modelled to the laity and in my view this Anglican dilemma will only widen . We may even end up with laity and clergy who are Anglicans by accident rather than by conviction.[6]

Over the years people have asked me “so why are you an Anglican”? At one level I had no say in it. Although both my parents are not Christians, on my school forms my Mother wrote Church of England, (even though she is Scottish!) So growing up, the Anglican Church (The C of E it was known then) to me was simply ‘the Church’ even though I was not a Christian and never went to church. However it was through the ministry of an Anglican church and through the attendance of that Anglican Church that I came to faith in Lord Jesus in High School. So in essence it was all I knew.

I am so thankful to God for the ministry of that Anglican Church in Sydney as what that being a Christian is about being three things:

“Biblical” because we are careful to give the scriptures their rightful place as the primary source of our knowledge of God and our faith.

 “Evangelical” because we preach the Good News of Jesus atoning sacrifice on the cross, which justifies all those who trust in Jesus as their saviour and submit to him as Lord.

 “Reformed” because of our commitment to belief in the sovereignty of God and the other doctrines of grace rediscovered in the Reformation of the 16th century.

As an Anglican Christian and Anglican priest, I have strived, and still strive to be Biblical, Evangelical, and Reformed. Yet as a younger man I had a very pragmatic approach to denominations and one could say that I was rather ‘post-denominational’ and I saw the Anglican church as merely being ‘a good boat to fish from’ which of course it is. However over time I have come to see Anglicanism in a much more vivid way. To be an Anglican Christian is also about being:

“Historical” because Anglicanism embodies a way of worship that was crafted in the first century, found new vigour in the reformation, and is still fresh with vitality.

“Liturgical”, because Anglican life is rooted and rhythmic. And through the liturgy it is collaborative, actively engaging all in the work of worship. And what a great blessing the Book of Common Prayer is!

A good analogy for to articulate this is to use the example of being colour blind. I am colour blind and although I think what I see is normal and it is what everyone else sees, it turns out that what I see is very different to what normal colour visioned people see. My journey as an Anglican Christian and as an Anglican Priest has been like a person who over time has come to see more colours, and I find this to be very exciting.

The Very Rev. Dr. Justyn Terry who up until very recently was the Dean/Presidentof Trinity School for ministry nails it as far as I am concerned about the strengths of Anglicanism and thus I think he should have the last word in this piece:

“What excites me about Anglicanism, and what I have come to see all the more clearly with the benefit of further study and experience, is that ‘Anglicanism offers the historical anchoring that many evangelicals seek (and I believe should 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. This blend of biblical authority and evangelistic fervour makes for a powerful Christian witness and nutritious soil for growing disciples”[7].

 

Notes

[1] His address can be listened to here.

[2] IKEA – is a brand of furniture from Sweden that is very popular in Australa. It is very modern, and comes in pre fabricated packaging that is very simply to set up and comes in flat packaging.

[3] http://thechristianpundit.org/2013/07/17/young-evangelicals-are-getting-high/

[4] This annual public lecture for the Anglican Institute at Ridley Melbourne was delivered by Bishop Paul Barnett on 13 May 2013. Bishop Barnett, who was Bishop of North Sydney from 1990-2001, is Fellow in Ancient History at Macquarie University; Teaching Fellow at Regent College, Vancouver, Canada; and Professor at Beeson Divinity School in the US.

[5] The church had no one our age, it was rather stuffy, the minister was about to retire and looking back it was not suitable for us as young married couple. But at the time I put this down to the notion that the church was ‘high church’.

[6] A friend of mine who is also An Anglican Priest once stated that he could easily become a Presbyterian Minister. On the Website of the Anglican Diocese of Sydney where the author points out that”On more than one occasion I’ve heard ordained Anglicans murmer that believers baptism is more biblical than infant baptism”. You can read the article here.

[7]. http://www.tsm.edu/about_trinity/a_case_for_evangelical_anglicanism

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