One way of beginning to understand the present confusion and division, within what has been generally called Anglicanism since the middle of the 19th century, is to notice how “Anglican” is defined in the phrase, “Anglican Communion.” We may notice three basic definitions.
C of E centered
The word “Anglican” obviously comes from England and is derived from the Latin name of the Church of England, ecclesia anglicana. So to be Anglican is to be a member of the Church of England or of one of the churches in the world derived from It and maintaining Its major characteristics. And the Anglican Communion is a fellowship of autonomous, independent Churches that are in communion with the Church of England via the See of Canterbury. To bring the Bishops or representatives of these Churches known as Provinces together has been seen as the duty of the Incumbent of the See of Canterbury, known as the Archbishop of C. Thus since 1867, when it began, the Archbishop in office at the time has invited Bishops to the Lambeth Conference and been the President of the assembly, which is not a Synod but a Conference. He is also present on other unifying groups as Chairman or President (e.g., Primates’ Meeting).
This approach sees itself as similar to, but not exactly the same as, the place of the ancient Patriarchates of the East in Orthodoxy and of Rome in the West. In his providence, it is held that God has ordered the Anglican Way in this form, even as he has ordered the Orthodox and Roman Ways in other forms.
Centered outside of the West entirely
Here to be Anglican is primarily to have a certain style of worship, doctrine, morals and polity, derived originally from the historic Prayer Book, Services of Ordination and Articles of Religion, and placing the Bible in the center. The ancient connection with the See of Canterbury is discounted as being somewhat out of date and belonging symbolically to the colonial era. The general demise and secularization of the Churches of the West is seen as making them no longer the leaders under God in worldwide mission. The emphasis here is on evangelization in the modern world in fellowship one with another so that the work is truly Global and to all nations, fulfilling the Great Commission.
This model is seen as being provided by the providence of God as the right approach for the 21st century, and it is very much associated with the African Provinces of Rwanda, Nigeria, Uganda and others. In general, it favors (a) the absence of “Gospel-based Bishops” from the 2008 Lambeth Conference; (b) attendance at a Global Anglican Conference instead; and (c) expulsion of unfaithful and heretical dioceses and Provinces from the Anglican Family of Churches.
“Traditional Anglican Communion”
While the two models above compete for the attention of the same 38 Provinces of what has been known as the Global Anglican Communion, one of the “continuing Anglican churches” [ACA] which began in 1977 as a secession from the American Episcopal Church, is now part of a fellowship of traditional people of like-mind in various countries, headed by Archbishop John Hepworth, and known as “The Traditional Anglican Communion,” This group has no desire at all to be in communion with the See of Canterbury but has applied to be recognized by the Roman Catholic Church as a special Anglican-Rite Church, using developed forms of the services of The BCP.
In the U.S.A.?
It appears that those Anglicans in the Common Cause Partners and in the Anglican Communion Network, because of their direct links to African Provinces and support of GAFCON, have chosen the new definition of the Anglican Communion. This in part explains the widespread and often not well informed criticism of both the present Archbishop of Canterbury and of the C. of E. heard often in the U.S.A.
On the other hand, The Episcopal Church (less its Anglican Network Dioceses) remains within the classic model of Anglicanism—and this despite its widespread infidelity to the Gospel. One may remark that there is a real possibility that TEC will be reprimanded, even disciplined in some way by the common will of the Lambeth Conference of 2008.
Therefore, those Anglicans who wish to remain in Communion with the See of Canterbury but have been badly treated by TEC are in somewhat difficult situation at this moment of time!
[For the commitment of TEC to communion with the C of E see the Preface in the editions of the BCP of 1789, 1892, 1928; and for that of the Church of Canada see the Solemn Declaration printed at the beginning of the BCP 1962.]
Oh that those Bishops, who have decided that a new model of what is the Anglican Communion is necessary, would NOT see this decision as causing them to stay away from the Lambeth Conference.
Oh that these Bishops would go, graciously and courageously, to explain to the other 600 or so Bishops of the Anglican Family what has led them to their new understanding , and why they must say, as it were: “Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God.”
Oh that they would delay any major decisions and implementation of policies until they have sought for 20 days on the university campus in Canterbury to persuade others of the need for a change in both the structure and the ethos of the Anglican Communion, so that it is a viable way of Mission and a carrier of Biblical Orthodoxy in the coming century.
Oh that they would see that to go to Lambeth, with a message of reform and renewal, is not to compromise their principles, or to submit to the liberal policies of the A. of C., but is to serve the Lord and his Church in the most practical way at this time and in this place.
Dr Peter Toon www.pbsusa.org Septuagesima 2008 firstname.lastname@example.org
[For a CD in pdf of the Reports of all the Lambeth Conferences 1867 and following, go to www.anglicanmarketplace.com ]