Thoughts from a friend to friends in order to initiate prayerful activity
Since the Continuing Anglicans are known to be users of the last authentic edition of the American form of The Book of Common Prayer, since their total numbers in many small churches are known to be not all that much more than a couple of very large Baptist congregations, and since I am currently President of the Prayer Book Society, people ask me regularly questions about why the genuine “Continuers” do not either unite as one denomination or work together as a association or communion. Then, it is suggested, they could benefit from a greater number of spiritual gifts, engage in mission and evangelization more effectively, represent their stance more dynamically to the larger Anglican world, and generally be more productive for the glory of God.
When I express these views, more often than not, I get a defense of the right of each of the groups, which trace their origins to the 1977 St Louis Congress of Anglicans planning on leaving The Episcopal Church. In this defense, it is generally admitted that the aim of those present at St Louis was to form one, “pure” branch of the Anglican Way, and for it to be only in communion with those parts of the existing Anglican Communion at that time that were judged to be orthodox and not “apostate,” as were The Episcopal Church (TEC) and The Anglican Church of Canada (TACC), because they had ordained women as priests. However, the pragmatic American argument then usually follows, the argument that justifies the tremendous variety of denominations and groups within the American supermarket of religions. This put simply is : we have the right to organize ourselves in the best way that we think will promote the truth that we feel called to uphold.
However, it is well known that the divisions that soon occurred amongst those who left TEC & TACC via St Louis in 1977 were created by human weakness, frailty and pride, working through doctrinal and organizational factors. And, further, it should be admitted that far more money and energy have gone into both the maintenance of the fractured parts and justifications for their existence and autonomy, than has gone into efforts to seek to unite them, urging them to be led by the Holy Spirit into communion, cooperation and unity.
Let us pause for a moment. The very idea of “Common Prayer” used by all of them suggests a commonwealth, that is a society, group, community that is as a family, united and working together, getting over problems that inevitably arise through patience, understanding and kindness. And praying together!
More importantly, the very Scripture, read daily in the Offices and at Holy Communion, teaches that there is One Lord, One God, One Father, One Saviour, One household of God and of Faith, and so on. The New Testament looks for maintaining the truth in love, and truth with unity, truth in communion, and truth with grace. From the perspective of the teaching of Jesus and of his apostles there is no basis whatever of any kind for Christians of the same faith and practice to be organized in separation and often in opposition.
I think that it is clear that in the present crisis of The Anglican Way, the spotlight of the Word of God from the exalted Lord Christ is shining on all of us who are Anglicans. It is so easy for Continuers to continue to point to the errors and heresies of TEC & TACC; but perhaps they are now ready to be aware that the spotlight which shines on these Churches also shines on them, and in this light, they too are in need of repentance and renewal, holiness and charity. And in their case it is perhaps the more urgent for they make the loudest and most extensive claims to truth and orthodocy.
Let me draw to a close. If we wear the Anglican badge today and we live in the West, then we would be wise to see ourselves under the chastisement – perhaps the very judgment – of our Father in heaven. If we were now under his blessing then the situation both in the Provinces of the Anglican Communion and in the groups and jurisdictions outside would be very different – it would be looking more like the picture of the Church in the NT, e.g., in Ephesians.
Let us not doubt but that God our Father desires to revive his people and make them to shine as a light in the world for his glory and for the benefit of humanity. But God has to work with us, with human beings, and until we are ready then God may choose to withhold what he desires to pour out upon us.
When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain; or command the locust to devour the land, or send pestilence among my people, if my people who are called by my name humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive them and heal the land. (2 Chronicles 7:13-14)
The Rev'd Dr. Peter Toon MA., D.Phil (Oxford)