Thursday, November 16, 2006

IDENTITY—a problem for Anglicans

Proof of identity is now required before doing things—e.g., withdrawing money—or going places—e.g. on an aircraft—or entering the workplace. Each of us, it seems, needs to know who we are and to be able to prove that identity to others by birth certificate, driver’s license, passport, or some other means.

In the ecclesiastical sphere, both to each other and to the larger Christian Church, Anglicans are now being asked to declare or prove who and what they are. The primary reason for this is that there is widespread confusion as to Anglican Identity. There have been—and continue to be—so many innovations in worship, doctrine and morals abounding in the West/North and so much difference in religious mindset between the Global (conservative) South and the progressively liberal West/North that to know what is Anglican is problematic not only for observers but also for the principal players.

Over the last forty years or so there have been those in the West/North who have knowingly and deliberately been attempting by both synodical and propaganda means to create a new identity for Anglicanism, that is an identity different to that which they received within their own Province by means of its inherited doctrine, common prayer, liturgy, morality, polity and canon law. While they have not agreed in details, yet in general outline they have been seeking to make Anglicanism credible in contemporary western culture and where human rights, freedoms, dignities and equalities are embraced by the Church as revelation from God through “Experience,” and also ecumenical, in the sense of conforming to the insights of the wider “liberal” Christian scene. Many such activists continue to propagate this message.

Also there have been those who have knowingly sought to provide a false identity for Anglicanism—both from the right and the left. On the right is the minority who, being devout and catholic-minded, use Roman Catholic forms of worship (either Tridentine or Vatican II) because they believe Anglican ones to be “Protestant”, and on the left is the minority who, being totally committed to progressive liberalism, use highly secularized rites and ceremonies to propagate what is at best panentheism or more usually pantheism.

Then there are those who have taken up the search for real identity, which they realize they have lost. Such are often people of evangelical and/or charismatic background who have used the Anglican Way as a kind of “good boat to fish from” and have essentially embraced a kind of generic evangelicalism (as promoted by Christianity Today). The crisis in North America over sexual ethics and biblical authority and interpretation has caused them to learn Anglican history (or to refresh their minds) and to consider afresh the founding documents of the new period in history of the Church of England from 1549 onwards. And often they are inspired, even amazed at what they find concerning the original and continuing Identity of the Anglican Way. But also the search for identity has been taken on at the level of the leadership as is demonstrated by the creation of the commissions and then the work of the commissions which have produced in recent times The Virginia Report and The Windsor Report. Here, in these reports, it is Identity for a global communion that is being sought.

Then there are those who seem to be humbly confident of their identity and are moving ahead in evangelism and church planting with the forms of worship, doctrine and polity that they received from missionary endeavor and have adapted to their cultural situation. Such it seems is much of the large Anglican Church in Nigeria and in other African provinces, as also in Singapore and other Asian dioceses. Not that these situations are perfect but that those involved from laity to bishops are reasonably clear concerning their Anglican identity and thus are able to engage in mission and evangelization without stopping to ask who they are! Happily, these people are the Majority in the Anglican Family even though they have the very minimal form of press attention in the West.

As the question of Identity is faced or avoided in the West/North, people daily are leaving Anglican Churches. We need to agree on an answer which serves to glorify God in pure worship and service and which creates a missionary Church!

In my essay/large booklet, ANGLICAN IDENTITY Keeping the Global Anglican Family Together, November 2006 (available from for individual copies or bulk orders call 1-800-727-1928) I seek to face this pressing question of who and what we are as Anglicans. I invite you to read it! November 16, 2006

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