Monday, January 07, 2008

Authentic Anglican Life in the U.S.A.—attainable in 2008?

The last day of 2007 is an appropriate day as an Episcopalian or Anglican in the United States of America, the land of the free, and in the context of all that has occurred to the Episcopalian Religion and Anglican Way, to ask this question:

Is it possible in 2008 truly and genuinely to be an authentic (rather than a nominal or make-believe) Anglican in the United States of America?

Or in this form:

Has so much already happened to the Episcopal Religion or the Anglican Way in the United States of America to make impossible the full profession of Anglican Christianity in 2008?
My e-mail correspondence causes me to realize that this basic question is present in many souls but usually below the surface waiting to bubble up.

Let me begin by saying that this question has no meaning if one understands forms of Christian profession in the general way that they are done in the vast offering of Christian churches, denominations, sects, groups, networks and the like that one encounters in the yellow-pages of the phone books of every American city. That is, in the separation of State and Church, and the free exercise of religion, every citizen and resident alien has the right to start and manage (or attend) a church of his/her choice, and each different entity has as much right to exist not only before the law on earth, but also before the Throne of God in heaven.

However, if one starts—as a growing number of thinking Americans are doing—from the Anglican Formularies (the classic BCP, Articles & Ordinal—say of 1662, and as found in the USA BCP of 1928) one employs a different evaluation and initially comes up with a definition of an Anglican or Episcopalian in the following or similar terms.

An Episcopalian or Anglican is a person,
1. Who trusts in the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation, follows him as Lord and is baptized in the Name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit, as the Holy Scriptures teach.
2. Who is authoritatively guided in what to believe by the Creed, in how to behave by the Commandments, and in how to pray by the Lord’s Prayer—as the Catechism teaches.
3. Who is a member of a parish, whose local Pastor/Minister is a presbyter (priest) and whose chief Minister is the Bishop of the Diocese (which is itself part of a Province, which itself is in communion with the Church of England through the See of Canterbury).
4. Who shares in common worship based on The Book of Common Prayer and creates habits of life molded by the seasons, rhythms, doctrines and devotions of the same BCP. In this, the daily reading of Holy Scripture and praying of the Psalms are fundamental as also is the weekly receiving of the Sacrament of Holy Communion on the Lord’s Day with the Lord’s people.

For the wholesome expression and practice of The Anglican Way—as found in either the BCP English edition of 1662, the American of 1928 or the Canadian of 1962—there can only be one diocese and one province in the one geographical area. (Here we see an immediate difference in the American model of religion where there can be multiple forms of the same thing in one place in active competition for souls.)

So the answer to the questions posed at the beginning seems to be that in 2008 it is not possible to be a full-minded or full-blooded Anglican in the U.S.A. simply because there is no longer one Anglican diocese and one province in one place; but, on the American model of religion, there are competing forms of what purport to be Anglican dioceses and provinces.

Let us recall how we got to this situation for 2008. From its beginnings in the 1780s, as the continuation of the colonial Church of England under new management and with adjusted BCP, Ordinal and Articles of Religion to fit into a Republic, the Protestant Episcopal Church was the Anglican presence in the expanding United States and abroad through missions. It remained so until the last third of the twentieth century (the minor secession of the evangelicals to form the very small Reformed Episcopal Church in 1873 –a church often most Presbyterian in doctrine and devotion than Anglican—is only a blip on the radar screen). In 1977 we saw the secession of those who eventually formed several Continuing Anglican Churches and these, or their offshoots, are still with us, each of them, though tiny, claiming to be the true Anglican Church of the U.S.A.

More recently, we have had the secession of those initially reacting to the Gene Robinson affair, and these folks have gone in various directions via secession in support of affirmation and adoption by bishops from overseas. And into the U.S.A. into this very messy Anglican situation, adding to the intervention of individual bishops for individual congregations, have entered five overseas provinces (4 from Africa and one from South America) and each of them has its own bishops in the U.S.A. and Canada, and some of them have set up elaborate ecclesiastical systems.

So to put it simply, there are on offer now across the U.S.A. and Canada, but mostly the U.S.A., choices of Anglican or Episcopal menu—the liberal offerings of The Episcopal Church & Anglican Church of Canada (but with traditional food available at not a few locations ); the traditional 1950s form of the use of the traditional Prayer Book in high-church style in the 1977 Continuing churches—often with the Missal to flavor the meal; the varied charismatic and generic evangelical offerings in much of the Anglican Communion Network, AMIA, CANA and so on; and other distinctive special menus here and there. The whole is an amazing smorgasbord but it is far away from a basic Anglican menu.

Again on the principles of American religion this diversity and choice are great—consumer choice in both where to eat and what to eat! The fact that the restaurants—to continue the analogy—are in competition and exist on the same street does not matter; as long as they are doing their job and keeping to the health and safety rules of the State then all is fine.

However, from the point of view of the classic Anglican mindset, formed from the Bible and the Formularies, parallel and competitive Anglican dioceses in one geographical area are a denial of the doctrine of the Church and a clear rejection of the principles of The Ordinal and the repeated pronouncements of the Lambeth Conference. One may imagine ONE replacement for The Episcopal Church if is it is judged by the Anglican Family meeting in council in an orderly way to be wholly faithless; but due to individualist reactions we have twenty or more replacements. One may also imagine the existence of various holding positions for congregations truly forced out of TEC; but these do not need to be denominations, jurisdictions and entities in law but simply temporary means of holding together until the larger Anglican Family works out how best to help. What ought to be temporary resting places have become permanent hotels with rooms to offer.

So where are we now?

To be an authentic Anglican in the U.S.A. is not possible for the doctrine and polity of the “Church” is in shreds.

However, it is possible to a limited extent to follow the Anglican form of worship, doctrine and devotion in a congregation, in a family and by oneself, and to do so by making full use of the received, classic Book of Common Prayer (1662, 1928 & 1962). One may do this longing for better days! December 31 2007

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